Officials from the international mission tasked with monitoring Syria's chemical weapons disarmament say the operation is running on schedule.
"The renewed pace in movements is positive," Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the joint mission between the United Nations and the OPCW, told Reuters. "(It is) necessary to ensure progress towards a tight deadline."
That deadline — April 27 — is quickly approaching, but Kaag said Syria had shipped out or destroyed nearly 80 percent of its declared chemical weapons material. The international community pressured Syria to give up its chemical weapons cache after a sarin gas attack killed hundreds of people in the country last August.
The pace is all the more impressive as the United States and Russia are currently at odds over Moscow's involvement in Ukraine. The two countries had worked together last September to ensure cooperation from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on removing the country's chemical weapons materials, with Russian President Vladimir Putin ultimately securing the agreement.
Even as Syria moves more of its stockpiled chemical weapons out, though, reports continue to surface of new chemical weapons attacks in the country. The government and rebel forces are trading accusations over the most recent alleged incident; a chlorine gas attack which both sides agree took place in the central village of Kafr Zeita.
Should Syria succeed in moving out 100 percent of its declared chemical weapons material by the deadline, the international community will need to bear in mind that key word, anyway: Declared. Sarah Eberspacher
Polluted air, soil, water, and work environments were responsible for one in every six deaths in 2015, a massive new study published in the The Lancet on Friday found. The more than 9 million premature deaths from pollution in 2015 primarily took the form of noncommunicable diseases, including asthma and cancer, with lead pollution contributing to half a million deaths on its own. The study warned that if not addressed, pollution "threatens the continuing survival of human societies."
Poor populations are the most vulnerable to pollution-related deaths, with toxic environments causing a quarter of all deaths in nations like India, Chad, and Madagascar, The Guardian reports. The United States broke the top 10 for countries with "modern" pollution, including fossil fuel-related pollution and chemical pollution.
— Bloomberg (@business) October 20, 2017
The report comes at a sensitive time for the Trump administration, which has been accused of waning to "eviscerate" the Environmental Protection Agency. "Trump has asked EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to help dismantle much of President Obama's environmental legacy," The Week writes, including the "Clean Power Plan, which promotes renewable energy and curbs greenhouse gas emissions; rules requiring cars and light trucks to average 36 miles per gallon (up from 25 mpg) by 2025; and the Clean Water Rule, which expanded the number of small streams and wetlands that qualify for federal protections."
The authors of the Lancet report urged immediate action to curb pollution. Professor Philip Landrigan, who co-led the Commission on Pollution and Health behind the study, said: "We fear that with nine million deaths a year, we are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry." He added: "We always hear 'we can't afford to clean up pollution' — I say we can't afford not to clean it up." Jeva Lange
On Thursday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a conservative think tank that the "intelligence community's assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election," significantly mischaracterizing a report the intelligence community issued in January. A CIA spokesman quickly clarified, "The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed, and the director did not intend to suggest that it had."
The unclassified January report from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) office did "not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election," describing the Moscow-linked activities as unprecedented in scope and aimed at undermining American faith in its institutions and helping elect President Trump. Former DNI James Clapper said on CNN in September that "our intelligence community assessment did, I think, serve to cast doubt on the legitimacy of his victory."
Pompeo, a former GOP congressman, has been accused of downplaying Russian's effect on the election, as does Trump. "This is another example of Pompeo politicizing intelligence," a former senior U.S. intelligence official told The Washington Post. Pompeo "is the most political CIA director since Bill Casey" during the Reagan administration, the official added. "This significantly undermines the intelligence community's credibility." In his talk on Thursday, Pompeo also said the "former CIA talking heads on TV" are required to stay quiet about their work far "beyond the day you turn in your badge." Peter Weber
President Trump assured critics that he would officially declare the opioid crisis to be a national emergency next week, which was apparently news to his own officials. "They are not ready for this," one public health advocate told Politico after discussing Trump's promise with Health and Human Services officials. A senior Food and Drug Administration official agreed, calling it "such a mess."
Opioids are the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States. STAT estimated earlier this year that opioids could kill nearly 500,000 Americans in the next decade. But "Trump's off-script statement stunned top agency officials, who said there is no consensus on how to implement an emergency declaration for the drug epidemic," Politico writes.
Part of the disagreement boils down to how to declare the emergency: The Stafford Act, which is normally used for natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, could open up federal dollars for the opioid crisis but might not be legally sound. Trump could instead declare a more narrowly focused public health emergency, but that would rely on the mere $57,000 in available money from HHS. Trump could also look to Congress, but that approach still hasn't been finalized.
“The reaction [to Trump's promise] was universal," one senior health official told Politico. "Believe it when [we] see it." Read more about why if the opioid crisis isn't a national emergency, nothing is, at The Week. Jeva Lange
At a ceremony Friday, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces declared the "total liberation" of Raqqa, Syria, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate. The Kurdish-led coalition then formally handed over control of the devastated city to a civilian council, though SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the coalition would continue sweeping the city for ISIS holdouts and explosives and guarantee the safety of the city and province. The SDF had declared military operations over on Tuesday, and Silo said 655 local and international fighters died in the 130-day battle to push ISIS out of Raqqa.
The SDF held its ceremony, attended by local officials and regional tribal leaders, in the sports stadium that ISIS had used as a weapons depot, prison, and torture chamber, and where its fighters made their last stand. The point, SDF commanders told CNN, was "to add insult to injury following the extremist group's defeat there." Clearing Raqqa of explosives and making sure ISIS militants are all gone from the tunnel system they built could take months. Silo cheered the "historic victory" over ISIS and its "brutal" defeat, and paid homage to the fallen SDF and allied fighters, but also asked the international community to help rebuild Raqqa. You can see a glimpse of what's left of Raqqa, after three months of battle and many more months of U.S.-led bombing, in the Associated Press drone video from Thursday. Peter Weber
On Thursday, a federal judge in Phoenix ruled that Joe Arpaio is still legally guilty of criminal contempt of court despite the Aug. 25 pardon from President Trump. Arpaio's lawyers and the Justice Department had asked U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton to vacate her July 31 guilty verdict, to wipe his record clean and prevent the conviction from being used against him in other litigation. She refused. Arpaio had been scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 5
"The power to pardon is an executive prerogative of mercy, not of judicial recordkeeping," Bolton wrote in her 4-page ruling, quoting a 1990 appeals court ruling. "To vacate all rulings in this case would run afoul of this important distinction. The court found defendant guilty of criminal contempt. The president issued the pardon. Defendant accepted. The pardon undoubtedly spared defendant from any punishment that might otherwise have been imposed. It did not, however, 'revise the historical facts' of this case."
Arpaio's lawyers immediately filed an appeal with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Arpaio, 85, was sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, for 24 years before being voted out last year. He is an immigration hardliner and significant Trump supporter. After his pardon, Arpaio suggested that he might get back into politics. Peter Weber
Keeping up with President Trump's stance on the bipartisan health-care bill that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) unveiled on Thursday, flanked by 11 Republican and 11 Democratic cosponsors, can be exhausting and frustrating. So Republicans have just started ignoring Trump's opinion, Caitlin Owens reports at Axios, and cracking jokes about Trump's policy inconstancy. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said all 48 members of the Democratic caucus, which would give it 60 yes votes if Republicans bring it up for a vote. But if Trump objects, Republicans see a problem. If.
"Which one's he on now?" Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) asked Owens when she brought up Trump's opinion of the bill. "In this town, at this time, change seems to be the norm," Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said when asked about Trump's shifting opinion. "It is what it is. So we just work around it." A GOP lobbyist told Owens: "They just need to pass it during the 5 minutes he is supportive." Alexander and others suggest that the bill faces better odds as part of a year-end package of must-pass legislation rather than as a stand-alone bill.
Alexander-Murray aims to stabilize insurance markets by extending for two years the cost-sharing subsidies that insurers use to lower costs for low-income customers — Trump ended them last week — and makes it easier for states to get waivers on ObamaCare requirements. Peter Weber
Jordan Klepper says the Melania body-double flap is just a distraction from the real scandal in Washington
This week, for some reason, the internet went crazy over a rumor that first lady Melania Trump has a body double. "Do you have any idea how dumb that sounds?" Jordan Klepper scoffed on Thursday's The Opposition. "Of course Melania has a body double. We free thinkers have known that for years." In fact, "body doubles are everywhere in politics," and have been since Queen Elizabeth I invented them, Klepper said, with much more elaboration and a few examples.
But "this Melania body-double thing is trying to throw you off the scent, like a perfume that tells lies," Klepper said. "The big story? The double that is happening in health care." He noted Trump's rapid flip-flopping on whether he supports the bipartisan Alexander-Murray health care bill. "I know what you're thinking — Trump's body double went off-book. Shut up, that's absurd — Trump doesn't have a body double. They're not ready yet; they've been only growing beneath the Arizona desert for nine months, give them time."
"No, Trump is using an even more advanced technique: the opinion double," Klepper explained. "You see, opinion doubles let Trump occupy multiple stances on health care at the same time. They allow you to play to whichever room you happen to be in. If you have every opinion, you are guaranteed to be right — it's brilliant." If body doubles and opinion doubles are real, Klepper said, bipartisanship isn't. "You think politicians are going to work with their enemies just to help Americans? What's the catch?" And he had the conspiracy theory to prove his point. Watch below. Peter Weber