The News Memo
Stories this Week:
27 Days and Counting: The Longest Government Shutdown Ever Continues
What Is a Government Shutdown?
Congress has the responsibility of choosing where government money is spent. These spending bills can last as long as one year or one month, but when they expire, a new bill needs to be approved in order to continue funding large portions of the government. A government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass a spending bill or the bill is vetoed by the President.
What’s happening now?
The partial government shutdown (nine federal departments are affected), which started on December 22, is trudging its way forward as President Trump and the Democrats haven’t reached an agreement. The current spending bill is stalled because of conflicting views on how money should be spent on border security. Below is a brief explanation of what both sides want:
Some 800,000 federal employees have been furloughed or are working without pay. A furloughed worker is a government employee considered non-essential that is asked to take unpaid leave from their work. Congress and President Trump approved a bill that secures that those who are working without pay will receive their paychecks once the shutdown is finished, but not until then. Amid the chaos this week, President Trump ordered thousands of furloughed workers back to work.
Across the country, many airports are experiencing delays in security lines due to number of absent TSA employees. While TSA employees are considered “essential,” and are therefore required to work without pay during the shutdown, some have either left to find different jobs, while others have called in sick. On Monday, the absence rate was 7.6%, compared to 3.2% on the same day one year ago.
Trump and Pelosi spar over State of Union, Pelosi Trip
On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sent President Trump a letter, suggesting that the State of the Union address on January 29 should be postponed or delivered in written form due to the government shutdown. Pelosi cited security concerns as the reason. Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security director, responded to Pelosi’s concerns, saying the U.S. Secret Service “are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”
In turn, Trump wrote a letter to Pelosi on Thursday, informing her that her planned foreign trip to Brussels and Afghanistan was being cancelled, just hours before Pelosi was set to depart. The President cancelled the trip by denying the use of a military plane and government security envoy. “I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown," the President wrote. President Trump also cancelled a government delegation to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland next week, citing the government shutdown.
Vote on Brexit Deal Fails; May Survives Vote of Confidence
What happened this week?
The proposed Brexit plan was thoroughly defeated in Parliament on Tuesday, by a vote of 432 to 202. Frustrated by how the plan was progressing, Labour Party opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn initiated a vote of no-confidence in the government. A vote of no-confidence is a motion claiming the leader in power is unfit to hold office. The previous vote of no-confidence against PM Theresa May in December 2018 was initiated by May’s own Conservative Party. May narrowly survived the vote of confidence on Wednesday by 19 votes.
Brexit negotiations recap
Although Britain and the EU reached a tentative Brexit deal in November 2018, any deal must still be approved by the British Parliament. The proposed plan would have left Britain fairly attached to the EU, even after they officially exit the bloc. Britain is scheduled to leave on March 29.
There is deep division between the people of Britain and between lawmakers in Parliament. Many people feel like the government is going back on its promise to leave the EU. Members of May’s conservative party are worried that the proposed Brexit deal keeps the UK tied too closely to the EU. They are Brexit hard-liners, and want to ensure they are independent of the EU’s oversight.
A primary sticking point in the deal is over the so called “Irish backstop” agreement. The backstop deals with the stretch of border between Northern Ireland (part of Britain) and the Republic of Ireland (EU member). Both sides want the border to remain open to the free flow of goods without border inspections. Under the current proposed deal, however, the whole UK would remain inside the EU’s customs area (border checks, tariffs), something Brexit hardliners say leaves the UK too attached to the EU. If no deal is reached, it is possible that a hard border between the two countries reemerges, which is something that both sides desperately want to avoid.
Is there a path forward?
Although May passed the vote of no-confidence, the path forward remains highly uncertain. These are some possible outcomes moving forward:
Attack Claimed by ISIS in Syria Kills 4 Americans; Terrorist Attack in Nairobi Kills More Than 20 People
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber in northern Syria detonated himself, killing a total of 19 people, including four Americans, two of whom were military service members. The military convoy was stationed inside a restaurant eating dinner when the explosion occurred. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
How does this complicate the troop withdrawal from Syria?
As you may recall, in December, President Trump ordered a complete withdrawal of U.S. military troops from Syria. There are currently some 2,000 service members stationed in Syria. The order was originally intended to withdraw the troops immediately, as President Trump claimed ISIS was defeated in Syria. However, in recent weeks the Trump administration has indicated the pullout will be conditional on certain objectives, such as the continued defeat of ISIS and ensuring Turkey does not attack the U.S.’ Kurdish allies in the region (you can read about the Syria withdrawal in more detail here). The attack on Wednesday could further delay the withdrawal.
What happened in Nairobi?
Another terrorist attack occurred on Wednesday of this week, this time in Nairobi, Kenya, at a luxury hotel complex (it is unrelated to the attack in Syria). Militants deposited car bombs before entering the hotel complex, where they open fired on those inside; a suicide bomber detonated himself upon entering as well. The attack, which has left at least 21 people dead so far, including a U.S. citizen, was carried out by al-Shabaab militants. The attackers were killed by military officials upon arrival.
Who is al-Shabaab?
Al-Shabaab is an Islamist terrorist group based in Somalia, that operates throughout East Africa. They are an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, the Islamist militant group founded by Osama bin-Laden in the Middle East.
China’s Huawei Technologies Targeted for Theft of Trade Secrets
The WSJ reported this week that federal prosecutors are leading a criminal investigation against Huawei Technologies for alleged theft of trade secrets from U.S. businesses, including technology for a robot developed by T-Mobile.
How does this fit with recent tensions between the U.S. and China?
The U.S. and China are engaged in an intense trade war and battle for global influence, especially as it relates to technology. Trade officials are currently negotiated how to end the tariff war between the two countries (to learn more about the situation between U.S. and China, read this Memo here). Huawei is a leading Chinese tech company and a pivotal point of contention for the current trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, as the U.S. believes Huawei imposes a cyber security threat.
In December, by an extradition order from the U.S., Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou, CFO and daughter of the founder of Huawei Technologies, for alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. The Chinese government was angered by this action, escalating the tension between the U.S. and China, and pulling Canada into the fray.
Over the next few weeks following the arrest of Wanzhou, China detained two Canadian nationals, claiming they were endangering national security. Additionally, on Monday this week, a Chinese court sentenced Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian national, to death for suspected drug smuggling. Schellenberg had originally been sentenced to 15 years in prison. The reversal is a startling development, and highlights the back-and-forth battle between China and the U.S. and Canada.
Viral Gillette Ad Sparks Debate Over Toxic Masculinity
The popular razor company for men, Gillette, released a viral video that has received over 19M views in just four days on YouTube, sparking a fiery debate online about toxic masculinity and men's role in society. Here is a link to the video: We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film)
The video starts with radio and news sound bites of the #MeToo movement, bullying, and toxic masculinity, panning to men looking into the mirror while the narrator in the video asks, “Is this the best a man can get?” It continues by showing scenes of men joking about women in the workplace, and committing sexual harassment and assault against women. It also shows a line of men standing behind grills and repeating to themselves “boys will be boys” over and over. The ad ends by stating that some men are doing the right thing, but “some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”
What is Toxic Masculinity?
Toxic Masculinity has become a trendy and controversial phrase in today's era. Although it doesn’t have a formal definition, the website tolerance.org defines it as such: “the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness.”
Reactions to the Video
Many are happy with the video and claim it to be a clear and direct message to men to change their ways in wake of the #MeToo movement.
Others find the ad over the top and insulting because it highlights male stereotypes.
The ad currently has more dislikes on YouTube than likes, which can be an indication of how well it’s been received.