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Published: Monday, July 09, 2018 @ 3:13 AM
Updated: Monday, July 09, 2018 @ 3:11 AM
ROME — As NATO allies convene, one issue not on their formal agenda but never far from their thoughts is immigration — even though illegal border crossings are decreasing on both sides of the Atlantic.
The separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border and Italy's refusal to let shipwrecked migrants disembark in its ports illustrate the hardening positions on border control in Washington and European capitals.
Lost in the heated political debate is the fact that migrant arrivals in Europe across the Mediterranean from Africa and Turkey are at their lowest level in five years, while arrests on the U.S.-Mexico border — an imperfect but widely used gauge of illegal crossings — are far below levels seen two decades ago.
"The numbers don't support the hysteria," said Joel Millman, a spokesman for the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Organization for Migration. "Politicians know what moves voters, and this is extremely effective in moving voters."
In both the U.S. and Europe, immigration is increasingly a key political fault line. One side accuses those cracking down on illegal immigration of scapegoating immigrants for problems such as crime and unemployment, even when the correlation is weak. The other side says politicians are simply recognizing voters' concerns about national identity and poor integration that have long been ignored.
In Europe, the liberal immigration policies that many governments implemented until recently never had widespread popular support, said Ivar Arpi, a conservative editorial writer at Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. But because Europeans cared more about other issues, such as the economy or education, there was no serious backlash.
That changed in 2015, when 1 million people — most of them from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — crossed into Europe from Turkey and used the lack of border controls in the European Union to roam freely from the Balkans into Austria and onward to Germany and Scandinavia. That surge and the pressures it put on the destination countries pushed migration to the top of Europe's political agenda, where it has remained since.
"2015 fundamentally changed Europe. But it is hard to know how big a change is when you still are in the middle of it," Arpi said. "Nationalism or globalism, this is the new divide between people. It trumps left-right."
Immigration is a major theme ahead of Sweden's elections in September, just as it has been in a series of European votes in the past two years, including Britain's referendum on leaving the EU. Far-right and anti-migrant parties have made gains in Austria, France and Germany, while Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, known for his tough stance on migrants, easily won re-election in April.
Just weeks after taking office in Italy's coalition government, the League — a party vowing to put "Italians first" — has forced other EU nations to grapple with the issue of sea arrivals, which have placed a disproportionate burden on Mediterranean countries in dealing with those seeking a new life in Europe. Things came to a head when League leader Matteo Salvini, Italy's interior minister and deputy prime minister, closed Italian ports to private ships picking up migrants sailing from North Africa in flimsy boats, saying those volunteer rescuers act as de facto "taxi services" for human smuggling networks. As a result, two rescue vessels have had to carry rescued migrants on a much longer journey to Spain, and another spent days in limbo off Malta until European countries agreed to share the responsibility for the more than 200 people on board.
The crackdown comes as the number of those trying to make the perilous crossing is dwindling. Sea arrivals in Italy were already down by 80 percent when the new government took office. Across the Mediterranean, about 45,000 migrants arrived by sea in Italy, Greece and Spain in the first half of the year, according to the U.N. refugee agency. That's the lowest level since 2013 and down from about 100,000 in the same period last year. So far this year, 1,400 migrants are believed to have died trying to cross the Mediterranean.
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who refused to close Germany's borders at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015, has toughened her stance. To salvage her government from a rift over migration, she has agreed to set up transit centers to process migrants and potentially turn them away at the Austrian border. German police recorded fewer than 5,000 illegal crossings of that border in January-May, compared with more than 60,000 in the same period in 2016.
Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and current president of an alliance of liberals in the European Parliament, last week ridiculed concerns over what he referred to as a "so-called" crisis.
"Why I am saying so-called? Because I don't think it is a real migration crisis what we are living in Europe for the moment," he told the assembly, noting that the flow is a tiny fraction of the 68 million displaced people worldwide, according to U.N. figures.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump has made immigration a big issue, with his "zero tolerance" policy to criminally prosecute anyone caught crossing the border illegally. Because children can't be in jail with their parents, more than 2,300 families caught by Border Patrol were separated, generating outrage in the U.S. and abroad. The move has drawn condemnation from religious, humanitarian and political leaders.
The U.S. Border Patrol made about 304,000 arrests on the U.S.-Mexico border in 2017, compared with the record high of 1.64 million in 2000. The highest number this decade was 447,000 in 2010, which is still dramatically lower than what the U.S. experienced in the 1990s and 2000s when the Border Patrol routinely exceeded more than 1 million arrests of immigrants at the Mexico border.
The Pew Research Center, which studies migration trends in the U.S., determined in 2014 that more Mexican immigrants are leaving the U.S. than arriving, which is part of the reason for the slowing rates. The collapse of the housing market a decade ago also contributed as the U.S. economy tanked and jobs dried up.
But one element of immigration into the U.S. that has surged significantly in recent years is the arrival of children who travel without their parents from Central America. In 2010, the U.S. had about 18,000 unaccompanied children taken into custody at its borders, increasing to 68,000 four years later and remaining above 40,000 each year since.
Charles Hirschman, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle who has researched immigration in the U.S., said the popular and political response to immigration is only "loosely connected" to the volume of arrivals. Economic insecurity among workers and "unscrupulous political leaders" who use fear of migrants to mobilize followers, are much more important factors, he said.
"Political leaders who try to hew to a more balanced perceptive are usually at a political disadvantage," he said in a reference to Merkel. "Fear is a very potent political weapon."
Published: Monday, July 16, 2018 @ 1:31 PM
Updated: Monday, July 16, 2018 @ 1:31 PM
— Ohio Gov. John Kasich said he hopes the U.S. and Russia will re-engage in arms control talks following President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
“What I hope they get out of this summit is an agreement to sit down and continue arms control discussions,” Kasich said Monday morning on CNN before the Trump-Putin summit. “It is in all of our interests, the world’s interest, for the two powers who control 90 percent of the nuclear weapons to sit down and re-engage in arms control.”
At a press conference Monday, Putin said he Trump agreed to continue detailed discussions on arms control issues.
Putin said Russia and the U.S. should discuss a possible extension of the 2010 New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and the implementation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. He added that Russia would like to also discuss U.S. missile defense plans and the weaponization of space.
Kasich also said he is concerned the stability of the Western order is “fraying” under Trump’s “wrecking ball diplomacy.” Following Trump’s comments to CBS News over the weekend that he viewed the European Union as a foe, Kasich said Trump’s attitude toward the U.S.’s traditional allies bothers him.
“If you read the papers over the weekend, many of these European leaders are getting fed up, and they really are beginning to wonder if they can trust and rely on us,” Kasich said.
More local coverage:
The Associated Press contributed reporting from Helsinki.
Published: Monday, July 16, 2018 @ 12:40 PM
After several hours of talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Finland, President Donald Trump on Monday called the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections a ‘disaster,’ as he seemingly rejected the findings of his own intelligence organizations, accepting the word of Putin that Russia did not meddle in the last campaign for President, and making the case that the investigation had undermined relations between the two countries.
“President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia,” Mr. Trump told reporters at a joint news conference. “I will say this – I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
“President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial,” Mr. Trump added, as the President wrapped up the news conference by attacking FBI official Peter Strzok, and declaring the probe of Special Counsel Robert Mueller “a giant witch hunt.”
“It’s ridiculous – it’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe,” the President said. “There was no collusion with the campaign.”
Asked directly about Russian interference, the President instead talked about the missing emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the computer server that Russians allegedly hacked at the Democratic National Committee, and ex-House IT aide Imran Awan.
Published: Sunday, July 15, 2018 @ 12:51 PM
Updated: Sunday, July 15, 2018 @ 12:51 PM
— Ohio’s national parks could get more than $100 million in additional funding for much needed renovations if a proposal introduced in the U.S. Senate in June is eventually signed into law by President Donald Trump.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s Restore Our Parks Act would alleviate a $12-billion backlog of deferred maintenance at areas overseen by the National Park Service. The billions in repair jobs that have been put off because of a lack of funding includes parks in every state, according to a listing of deferred maintenance.
It makes sense to try to address park maintenance now before it worsens and in turn costs taxpayers even more to repair, Portman told this news organization.
“I have had a long time concern about this,” Portman said. “I just never thought it was fair to let the infrastructure around these parks deteriorate like they are.”
The Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park at 16 S. Williams St., would get more than $1.8 million if the proposal becomes law, according to Portman’s office. Repairs to the building that houses The Wright Cycle Co. is one of the “highest priorities” on the National Park Service’s list of deferred maintenance, meaning it would almost certainly get funding if some form of the bill becomes law, Portman.
As introduced, the bill would cover the park’s entire deferred maintenance needs as of September 2017, according to documents from the National Park Service.
“Just in general terms, deferred maintenance covers HVAC systems, sidewalk repairs, roofing repairs,” said Kendell Thompson, new superintendent for Dayton’s historical park. “It’s stuff that just needs to be done as a part of a regular maintenance program. As projects are prioritized some will get funded and some will not.”
The William Howard Taft National Historic site in Cincinnati would get more than $2 million from Portman’s bill and the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe, 75 minutes from Dayton, would receive more than $2.1 million from Portman’s bill.
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial in Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island would receive the most funding at $47.7 million. The 352-foot monument was established to commemorate the people who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
Ohio Cuyahoga Valley National Park would receive more than $45.8 million, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument could get $1.9 million, the First Ladies National Historic Site may get $1.1 million and the James A. Garfield National Historic Site may be given nearly $719,000, according to Portman’s office.
Though there are still several legislative hoops for Portman’s parks bill to jump through, but the senator said he’s “hopeful” it’ll become law as it currently has the support of Democrats, Republicans and the White House.
“I’m really interested in getting funding for those kind of purposes,” Portman said. “With the exception to the Department of Defense, the parks have the most assets and a lot of them are falling apart.”
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Published: Sunday, July 15, 2018 @ 5:44 PM
As President Donald Trump flew to Helsinki, Finland for his Monday meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Democrats in Congress demanded that Mr. Trump scrap the summit, pointing to last week’s federal indictments of a dozen Russian Intelligence officers as part of the sweeping investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States election.
“Donald Trump must press Putin hard on the issue of election interference,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer on Sunday, as Democrats made clear they want tough words from the President on the Russia investigation relayed directly to the Putin.
The President’s schedule said Messrs. Trump and Putin would meet one-on-one for 90 minutes, to be followed by a working lunch with top aides.
Schumer said during those meetings, the President should formally request that Russia extradite the 12 Russian Intelligence officers indicted last Friday by a federal grand jury, on charges that they hacked computers in the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee , in a bid to influence the 2016 election.
The Senate’s top Democrat communicated those demands in a Sunday phone conversation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was accompanying the President to the Putin summit.
“If President Trump insists on meeting with Putin, I can’t stop him,” said Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA). “But I will insist he confront Putin at every turn for his interference in our democracy.”
On the eve of his meeting with Putin, the President wasn’t taking shots at the Russian leader, but rather, the U.S. press corps, Democrats, and the Russia investigation in general.
“Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people,” the President tweeted on Sunday, as he prepared to leave his golf retreat in Scotland for the flight to Finland.
Over the weekend, Mr. Trump brushed off the highly detailed indictments leveled against Russian Intelligence, blaming the success of cyber attack on the Obama Administration.
“Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?” the President tweeted.
Lawmakers in Congress were not only focused on the issue of election interference, but also expressing concern about what Mr. Trump might do with regards to other issues, as Democrats also publicly urged the President not to relax economic sanctions placed on Russia, after its moves to annex Crimea, and amid ongoing Russian-sponsored military action inside eastern Ukraine.
While GOP lawmakers say they want a better relationship with Moscow, they have publicly cautioned the President to be careful in negotiations with the Russian leader.
“Putin is tough, he’s smart, he’s ruthless,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). “He’s probably going to want to get a lot, and give nothing.”
“President Trump is doing the right thing,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said Sunday about the meeting with Putin, though the Kentucky Republican made clear that, “Russia shouldn’t meddle in our elections.”
“Putin is an autocrat, he’s a thug,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” as he urged the President to realize who he’s dealing with.
In recent days, the President has given no indication that he will bring up the issue of election interference in 2016 by Russia, as Mr. Trump continues to deride the investigation of possible ties between Russian actions and his campaign as a ‘witch hunt’ and a ‘hoax.’
But last Friday’s indictments painted the most complete picture yet of just how active Russian Intelligence was in hacking emails and documents from Democrats, spreading those materials to Wikileaks via the fake persona “Guccifer 2.0” – who claimed to be Romanian.
When a company hired by the DNC publicly blamed Russian Intelligence for hacking efforts in June of 2016, prosecutors said the Russians simply lied.
“In response, the Conspirators created the online persona Guccifer 2.0 and falsely claimed to be a lone Romanian hacker to undermine the allegations of Russian responsibility for the intrusion.”
Among the highlights of the latest indictment by the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller:
+ Extremely detailed allegations against a dozen GRU (Russian Intelligence) agents for hacking into the DNC and DCCC.
+ The indictment says a candidate for Congress is 2016 contacted Guccifer 2.0 – which was really Russian Intelligence – and received ‘stolen documents’ about their election opponent.
+ Details about contacts between “Organization 1” – which is clearly Wikileaks – and Russian Intelligence, about leaking emails from John Podesta and other documents from inside the DNC and DCCC. The only response from Wikileaks has been this video:
+ Russian Intelligence not only targeted state election boards and websites, but also county election websites, in at least
three states. Also, more than 100 spear phishing emails were sent to groups involved in elections in “numerous Florida counties.”
+ Russian Intelligence also obtained “analytics” developed by the Hillary Clinton campaign, by hacking into the company that ran its ‘cloud’ resources. It wasn’t clear from the indictment what was done with that inside campaign information.
You can read the latest Special Counsel indictments at this link.