Massive Earthquake Knocks Out Puerto Rico’s Electric Grid Again

Puerto Rico lost power again this week due to an earthquake.

Puerto Rico is facing an island-wide blackout again, this time due to an earthquake, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said Tuesday. The agency reported that an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude struck the island between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., and that it comes on the coattails of a 5.8-magnitude earthquake that already hit the island Monday and caused power outages to all of the island’s southern areas.

“The magnitude 6.4 earthquake was widely felt,” states a USGS press release, which adds that “strong to very strong shaking occurred across parts of Southern Puerto Rico closest to the event and moderate shaking occurred across the rest of the island.”

More aftershocks may continue in days to come, the agency warned.

This power outage took place two years after Hurricane Maria, which caused months of power outages across the island. Some areas continue to cope with damage caused by this hurricane.

Eight homes in the municipality of Yauco were destroyed, and the town of Guanica suffered mild damage. Several power plants across the island also incurred damage, but the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said that it plans to have power restored by this afternoon.

Puerto Rico is at risk of earthquakes as it is squeezed between two large tectonic plates–the North America and Caribbean plates–according to USGS. The agency reported that hundreds of small earthquakes had taken place within the region, leading up to the major Tuesday earthquake.

The island has not had an earthquake with a magnitude topping 6 in more than 40 years, however, since a 6.1-magnitude earthquake that hit the island in 1970. This earthquake is also the second-worst in the island’s history: The record goes to a 7.7 quake in 1943.

Rocket attack in Iraq kills U.S. defense contractor

Iraqi violence claims another American life.

A U.S. defense contractor died Friday in northern Iraq from a rocket attack that also injured several U.S. troops and Iraqi personnel, the Pentagon said. The statement did not specify how many were injured or how serious the injuries were, but it said that the attack occurred on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk.

Up to 30 rockets were fired at the facility, which hosts both U.S. and coalition troops. The U.S. personnel are among the approximately 5,000 U.S. troops that are still stationed in Iraq.

A statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the U.S.-led mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, said that Iraqi security forces are leading the response and investigation. According to Reuters, security forces have found a launchpad for Katyusha rockets inside an abandoned vehicle near the base.

The U.S. military does not reveal the names of contractors killed in Iraq.

Iraq has witnessed increased violence since October, when mass protests broke out against government corruption, unemployment, and inadequate public services. Many civilian protesters died in subsequent clashes with government forces.

A series of attacks against Iraqi military bases occurred earlier this month, as well. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed these attacks on Iranian proxies and warned against any further violence against U.S. or coalition forces.

“We must also use this opportunity to remind Iran’s leaders that any attacks by them, or their proxies of any identity, that harm Americans, our allies, or our interests will be answered with a decisive U.S. response,” Pompeo said on Dec. 13.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the Kirkuk attack.

 

China and Trump announce ‘Phase One’ trade deal

The China-U.S. trade war is now drawing to a close, Chinese and U.S. officials said.

President Trump and China announced initial agreement Friday on ending the China-U.S. trade dispute that has persisted through the last two years of Trump’s presidency. This “phase one” deal would have both nations substantially reduce tariffs and would boost China’s import of U.S. agricultural goods.

The United States will cut its tariff rate to 7.5% on $120 billion worth of Chinese imports, while keeping the existing 25% tariff in place on another $250 billion, according to an announcement from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. He said that per the deal, the United States will scrap plans to impose another round of 15% tariffs on an additional $156 billion of imports, which would have gone into effect Sunday. Lighthizer said that the United States has also won concessions from China on intellectual property, technology transfer, financial services, and currency.

“President Trump has focused on concluding a Phase One agreement that achieves meaningful, fully-enforceable structural changes and begins rebalancing the U.S.-China trade relationship,” he said.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters that he expects Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He to sign the agreement in the next few weeks. Kudlow called the agreement “an enormous first step” and said that it represents “an opening of China.”

Chinese officials said that they will accept increased agricultural imports from the United States but added that the specifics of this part of the deal will be released at a later time.

The two nations will still need to address certain other issues in a future “phase two” agreement, another administration official said. Those issues include cross-border data transfers, data localization, and cyber intrusions, among others.

Trump tweeted that negotiations on Phase Two will begin immediately.

Trump signs bill to avert shutdown

The federal government avoids another shutdown–at least until December 20.

A funding bill to keep the federal government open until December 20 received President Trump’s signature Thursday, averting partial government shutdowns that would have gone into effect Friday had the bill not cleared his desk. Congress will continue negotiations in the coming weeks over how to divvy up the funds among all federal agencies and keep the government funded from December 20 until the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2020.

The bill had passed the House on Tuesday by a vote of 231-92 and cleared the Senate earlier by 74-20.

The next round of Congressional funding negotiations coincides with Congressional impeachment inquiries into Trump’s purported attempts to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son.

Trump’s demand that Congress provide funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border also remains a major sticking point. One of the funding bills that is still under debate in Congress, a Homeland Security bill, includes $5 billion for border-wall construction. Democrats oppose the wall funding and are also seeking to block Trump from using “emergency powers” to allocate military funds toward the wall.

Democrats have insisted that none of the funding bills be finalized until there is agreement on all of them. But some Democrats have stated willingness in recent days to consider a “cromnibus” that combines new funding for most of the government along with continuing resolutions for the more controversial bills, such as Homeland Security.

“The wall I think is the major impediment. But that’s only one bill: the Department of Homeland Security,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said earlier in the week. “But it ought not to adversely affect the other 11 bills. They’re being held hostage, essentially.”

Former White House official: Quid pro quo came directly from Trump

Recently released transcripts from the House committees investigating President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine further bolster the case that Trump had directly ordered a “quid pro quo.”

White House officials have told the House in closed-door meetings that President Trump ordered the alleged “quid pro quo” making military aid to Ukraine contingent upon the Ukrainian government opening an investigation of former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. These statements appear in meetings transcripts that House investigators released on Saturday.

The testifying officials included Timothy Morrison, deputy assistant to Trump; and Jennifer Williams, a top aid to Vice-President Mike Pence. Morrison and Williams had both listened in on Trump’s July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and expressed concerns about it afterward.

This was the phone call in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate the Bidens and explore purported Ukrainian involvement in interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Williams, testifying earlier this month, said that Trump’s requests of Zelensky were “unusual and inappropriate.”

Morrison, testifying last month, said that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had told Ukrainian officials that a meeting they were seeking with Trump, as well as U.S. military aid, were both contingent on Ukraine publicly announcing investigations of the Bidens. Morrison further testified that Sondland had been “directly discussing” these matters with Trump.

“The testimony released today shows that President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky immediately set off alarm bells throughout the White House. Both witnesses provided the Committees with first-hand accounts after personally listening to the call in the White House Situation Room,” the chairs of the House intelligence, oversight and foreign affairs committees said in a statement on Saturday.

Iranians protest en masse over gas price hikes

Steep gas price hikes and fuel rations have sparked protest in cities across Iran.

One person was killed and others wounded Friday during protests in several cities in Iran over the government’s decision to ration gas and increase its cost by more than 50%. Iranian authorities instituted these measures as part of efforts to mitigate the impacts of U.S. sanctions.

The death occurred during a protest in the city of Sirjan and was reported by the local acting governor, Mohammad Mahmoudabadi. Mahmoudabadi said that the cause of death was “unclear” and that security forces only had authorization to “fire warning shots… which they did.” He added that the protest was a “calm gathering” but that some individuals exploited it to destroy public property and damage fuel stations.

Other protests broke out overnight in nine other cities, including Abadan, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, Birjand, and Shiraz. Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari also reported “sporadic gatherings across the country in different cities” on Saturday morning, following the overnight demonstrations.

The catalyst, according to Jabbari, was government announcements Friday morning that petrol use nationwide would now be rationed using “smart fuel cards,” with fuel for private cars restricted to 16 gallons a month. The government also announced that the price of fuel would jump 50% to 15,000 Iranian rials ($0.13) a liter, and additional charges for any fuel purchased above the allotted ration limit.

The news alarmed Iranian households that are already suffering in an economy that is forecast to shrink 9.5% this year and in the grip of major inflation and a currency crisis, according to Jabbari.

“Without any warning, the prices went up drastically and many here say that this is not something they can really deal with because it will have ramifications in other aspects of their daily life, meaning that the price of bread, eggs and other goods will also rise because of this,” said Jabbari.

Syrian president wants U.S. troops out of Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that U.S. forces keeping guard over Syrian oilfields risk getting bogged down in another costly and bloody Iraq-style occupation, while President Trump said that he is prepared to stay and “fight for the oil.”

U.S. troops staying in Syria risk getting bogged down in another endless war like the U.S. occupation of Iraq, said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said. The Syrian head of state, who is reestablishing control over his war-torn country after more than eight years of combat against the Islamic State and a multitude of antigovernment factions, issued this rebuke to U.S. President Trump’s recently announced decision to keep some U.S. forces in eastern Syria to guard local oilfields.

Assad told Russian television station Rossiya-24 TV that U.S. occupying forces risk “an Iraq-style scenario,” adding that “The U.S. occupation of Syria will give rise to a military confrontation which will lead to losses among the Americans and later to their withdrawal.”

U.S. forces withdrew from northeastern Syria in October, following a drawdown in fighting against the Islamic State. The U.S. departure from this zone allowed al-Assad’s forces and their Russian backers to take control of areas that had previously been in the hands of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who had been allied with the United States against the Islamic State.

But Trump subsequently ordered U.S. forces to secure oilfields in eastern Syria. Trump said in an interview that securing the oil deprives any residual Islamic State forces of a critical source of revenue.

But it isn’t just the Islamic State that Trump wants U.S. forces guarding the oil from: He added that other countries or groups might want to claim the oil.

“We may have to fight for the oil. That’s okay,” Trump said, and added that “we’ll negotiate a deal with whoever else is claming it, or we’ll militarily stop them very quickly.”

Majority of Italians says racist violence is ‘justifiable’

Hate speech, racist attitudes, and even hate crimes are becoming more socially accepted in Italy, a polling firm warns.

Acts of racially inspired violence are at least sometimes justifiable, a majority of Italian respondents said in a recent poll. The results follow a slew of highly publicized racist and antisemitic crimes across the country and mark the first time in a decade in which more than half of respondents did not condemn racism outright.

The polling firm SWG conducted the survey, which obtained responses from 1,500 people. A total of 45% of respondents said that racists acts are acceptable depending on the situation, while another 10% said that such acts are “always” justifiable.

The polling firm has conducted this survey every year for more than a decade, but only this year has it found a majority of respondents defending racist acts. Enzo Risso, scientific director at SWG, placed some blame on increases in hate speech online and the general public “becoming more used to” this rhetoric.

“What this means is that there has been a relaxation in attitudes towards racism—not necessarily that people have become racist, more that they are becoming more accepting of racist acts and do not consider them so scandalous,” said Risso.

Anger and vitriol against immigrants from Africa and the Middle East has flared in many parts of Europe, due partly to native Europeans associating the immigrants with increased crime and other social problems. Anti-immigrant political organizations and parties have gained members and seen their poll numbers grow in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and other nations.

But anti-Jewish activity has also increased in recent years. Italian authorities assigned Liliana Segre, a Holocaust survivor, a polic escort last week after she received a barrage of online threats–including death threats–from far-right extremists.

Trump hosts high-stakes meeting with Turkish president at White House

President Trump will meet with Turkish President Recep Erdogan on Wednesday to attempt to ease tense Turkish-U.S. relations.

President Trump and Turkish President Recep Erdogan will talk about Syria and related issues in a meeting at the White House on Wednesday. The meeting will be their first since Trump’s controversial order to U.S. forces last month to stand down and allow Turkish incursions against Kurdish forces in Syria. It also coincides with the start today of public impeachment hearings against Trump in Congress.

Tensions have flared recently between the United States and Turkey. And the two leaders are expected to discuss key sticking points: the continuing warfare in Syria, as well as Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems and Turkey’s cancellation of an F-35 joint strike fighter program with the United States.

Trump incurred rare criticism from Republican allies after withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria last month, as Turkish forces killed large numbers of Kurds who had been allied with the United States against ISIS. And conservative Christian groups have expressed anger over allegations that Turkish troops are committing war crimes against Syrian Kurds, Yazidis, and Christian minority populations in the areas.

Observers say that Trump may further anger his own party if he appears too friendly toward Erdogan. House Republicans signed onto bipartisan legislation imposing sanctions on Turkey for its northern Sysria operation. Only two Republicans signed a separate Democratic-led letter calling on Trump to cancel today’s visit with Erdogan, however.

“If President Trump can walk a fine line between wanting to repatch the U.S.-Turkish relationship but showing that he’s not throwing the Kurds under the bus, I think Republican lawmakers will be satisfied,” said Luke Coffey, a foreign policy expert at the Heritage Foundation.

Chase Young out due to possible NCAA issue from 2018

The Buckeyes will be without Young.

Ohio State University announced Chase Young will miss Saturday’s tilt against Maryland.

“Ohio State’s Chase Young will not play in this Saturday’s game between the Buckeyes and the Maryland Terrapins due to a possible NCAA issue from 2018 that the Department of Athletics is looking into,” the school said in a statement obtained by NFL.com.

It’s unclear just how Chase’s absence will affect the Buckeyes.

Young issued the following statement on Twitter:

“Unfortunately, I won’t be playing this week because of an NCAA eligibility issue. I made a mistake last year by accepting a loan from a family friend I’ve known since the summer before my freshman year at OSU. I repaid it in full last summer and I’m working with the University and NCAA to get back on the field as soon as possible. I want to thank my family, teammates, coaches and the whole Ohio State community for all the love and support. God bless and go Bucks!”