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US Expels Russian Diplomats, Imposes New Sanctions

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The Biden administration on Thursday announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and sanctions against nearly three dozen people and companies as it moved to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

The actions, foreshadowed for weeks by the administration, represent the first retaliatory measures announced against the Kremlin for the hack, familiarly known as the SolarWinds breach. In that intrusion, Russian hackers are believed to have infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of at least nine agencies in what U.S. officials believe was an intelligence-gathering operation aimed at mining government secrets.

Besides that hack, U.S. officials last month alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations to help Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid for reelection as president, though there’s no evidence Russia or anyone else changed votes or manipulated the outcome.

The measures announced Thursday include sanctions on six Russian companies that support the country’s cyber activities, in addition to sanctions on 32 individuals and entities accused of attempting to interfere in last year’s presidential election, including by spreading disinformation.

The 10 diplomats being expelled include representatives of Russian intelligence services, the White House said.

The White House also said Biden was using diplomatic, military and intelligence channels to respond to reports that Russia encouraged the Taliban to attack U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan based on the “best assessments” of the intelligence community.

Reports of alleged “bounties” surfaced last year, with the Trump administration coming under fire for not raising the issue directly with Russia. The White House did not publicly confirm the reports. “The safety and well-being of U.S. military personnel, and that of our allies and partners, is an absolute priority of the United States,” the White House said Thursday.

It was not immediately clear what, if any, other actions might be planned against Russia. Officials had previously said they expected to take actions both seen and unseen.

The sanctions, presumably intended to send a clear retributive message to Russia and to deter similar acts in the future, are certain to exacerbate an already tense relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

President Joe Biden told Putin this week in their second call to “de-escalate tensions” following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border, and said the U.S. would “act firmly in defense of its national interests” regarding Russian intrusions and election interference.

In a television interview last month, Biden replied “I do” when asked if he thought Putin was a “killer.” He said the days of the U.S. “rolling over” to Putin were done. Putin later recalled his ambassador to the U.S. and pointed at the U.S. history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.

It remained unclear whether the U.S. actions would actually result in changed behavior, especially since past measures by the U.S. have failed to bring an end to Russian hacking. The Obama administration expelled diplomats from the U.S. in 2016 in response to interference in that year’s presidential election. And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin, his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russia’s alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.

U.S. officials are still grappling with the aftereffects of the SolarWinds intrusion, which affected agencies including the Treasury, Justice, Energy and Homeland Security departments, and are still assessing what information may have been stolen. The breach exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government’s own cyber defenses.

The actions would represent the second major round of sanctions imposed by the Biden administration against Russia. Last month, the U.S. sanctioned seven mid-level and senior Russian officials, along with more than a dozen government entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing.

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This former U.N. Ambassador wants America to save the world again

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Former ambassador to the United Nations and administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Samantha Power recently expressed her wishes to bring back America’s prestige by administering vaccines all over the world. This ambitious goal requires the revival of USAID’s capacity and influence to help other nations recover from this pandemic.

Created in 1961 under the John F. Kennedy administration, USAID was an independent agency of the American Federal Government, tasked to deliver foreign aid, as well as development assistance. The agency has been a major force in providing disaster and poverty relief for low-income countries. USAID also focuses on environmental and world issues along with U.S. national interests and socioeconomic development. Unfortunately, USAID has lost much authority in the global arena after the 60’s, as governments started focusing on other

Last month, Samantha Power was confirmed as administrator for USAID through a 68-26 vote by the U.S. Senate. Even though this is her first time working for the agency, her experience in the humanitarian field and as a diplomat is most valuable for the government. Her wisdom working as a U.N. ambassador under Obama’s term, back to her beginnings as a war correspondent in Bosnia is a beacon of light in these dark times.

Power believes that this dream to, once again, bring American aid to poor nations could become true if USAID “is unleashed to design programs around getting vaccines into arms in countries where we’ve worked for generations, for 60 years.” She also believes that, unlike China which relies heavily on big funding, USAID will instead utilize a more grassroots approach. 

The cooperation between the private sector and non-governmental organizations, will be a powerful force behind this project. Because America is a free country where information flows without oppressive regulations, the internet will be an important tool in disseminating information.

During her remarks at her USAID welcome ceremony, she shared her experiences and the struggles that she has witnessed all over the world. Citing America’s remarkable role during times of global adversity.

“I saw it firsthand during the Ebola outbreak that ravaged West Africa in 2014 and gripped the rest of the world in fear.  It was America’s willingness to step into the breach and deploy a whole-of-government effort with USAID at its core that changed the world, that moved the world.  Because America led, because USAID led, the United States was able to rally a coalition of 60 countries to contribute on the ground and secure 134 co-sponsors for a resolution at the UN  Security Council, declaring the epidemic a threat to international peace and security,” Powers said in her speech last April.

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This Democrat Thinks Defunding the Police is a Wrong Idea

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The unfortunate events last May 25, 2020 which led to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a few irresponsible policemen, sparked an endless stream of protests on the streets. It was a chaotic season that has drowned out the underlying coronavirus crisis. Aside from the trending fad that is “Black Lives Matter,” the other famous battle cry was “defund the police.” 

NY City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang said in a debate yesterday, that defunding the police isn’t the right approach in New York. He also stressed that these cops need to be told that their city needs them. Fair enough, America is full of good policemen and women on duty, doing their best to protect the citizens by being on the lookout for criminals. For Yang, removing the bad apples while giving the better ones the needed appreciation and motivation, is the correct thing to do.

“The first thing I’d do as mayor is go to our police force and say that ‘Your city needs you. Your city needs you to do your jobs professionally, responsibly and justly.’ But the police are going to be a core way for us to address the public safety concerns that so many New Yorkers have. And let me be clear, defund the police is the wrong approach for New York City,” said Yang.

Andrew Yang suggested reforming the country’s policing methods, which will include forming anti-violence units within the community. These units will be used to enforce safety, by searching for mischievous elements and preventing them from further creating trouble. 

“These are some of the practices that would help make our people safer, but you have to start by saying to the police very clearly that you are vital to our city’s recovery because there is no recovery without public safety,” Yang stated.

The issue of police funding is a hotly debated topic today and an issue that is not very easy to solve. We do understand that crime can only be prevented if society starts from the root by giving young people better options in life. We know that the world is a better place when compassion takes over violence. However, evil is everywhere today and sometimes force is necessary to prevent or pacify that which could hurt innocent citizens.

The best thing to do is to improve the training of the police force. Perhaps they can revise their ways of handling and de-escalating threatening individuals. Providing them knowledge and training is of utmost importance and that too will require a great deal of funding. 

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Lockheed Martin Withdraws F-16 Crew from Iraqi Air Base

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Due to recent militia rocket attacks, U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin will withdraw their F-16 fighter jets’ maintenance crew from Balad Air Base in Iraq. Balad is the base of the Iraqi Air Force and is situated in the Sunni Triangle, 40 miles north of the capital city of Baghdad.

“In coordination with the U.S. government and with employee safety as our top priority, Lockheed Martin is relocating our Iraq-based F-16 team. “We value our partnership with the Iraqi Air Force and will continue to work with the Iraq and U.S. governments to ensure mission success going forward,” Lockheed said in an official statement.

Back in February 2020, Lockheed also pulled out their workers from the same airbase after top Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qasim Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad. Fears of retribution and prolonged conflict with Iran, prompted Lockheed to secure their team under the State Department’s guidance.

For the past months, other federal contractors have already withdrawn from the region. This information was divulged in a Defense Department Inspector General report that was published recently. There is a huge possibility, according to sources, that Lockheed will continue to assist the Iraqi air force remotely.

Back in November last year, the White House made an announcement that thousands of troops will be withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan while a force of 2,500 crews will remain in both countries. Donald Trump’s administration back then, wanted all remaining American troops out by the spring of 2021.

In an interview with the media, national security adviser Robert O’Brien said “by May, it is President Trump’s hope that they will all come home safely — and in their entirety. I want to reiterate that this policy is not new. This has been the president’s policy since he took office.”

About 7,000 American service members were killed since the war in the middle east commenced as a result of the 9/11 attacks on American soil. During his presidential campaign in 2016, Donald Trump made a promise to end the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

He delivered well during his term, however, the process is a complicated one that requires a lot of effort. Aside from the fact that a total pullout of troops would take a long time to undertake, there are still many legitimate dangers to contend with, even during less chaotic times in the middle east. 

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