Border wall funding fight


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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


President Donald Trump speaks to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., during a meeting with Democratic leadership in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


Vice President Mike Pence, center, looks on as House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Donald Trump argue during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


Trump, Democrats dig in for fight over border-wall funding

By MATTHEW DALY and CATHERINE LUCEY

Associated Press

Thursday, December 13

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional leaders were digging in Wednesday for a fight over government funding, a day after a combative White House meeting with President Donald Trump that seemed to raise the likelihood of a partial government shutdown.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump was holding parts of the government “hostage to a petty campaign pledge” to build a border wall with Mexico in order to “fire up” his political base.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, said they have the votes in the House to approve Trump’s request for $5 billion for the southern border wall in a must-pass spending bill — but weren’t sure they wanted to bring it up with no assurance that the plan could get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

The burden “is on the Senate to negotiate what they can get with 60 votes,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C. , a member of House leadership and a key vote-counter.

“It is my hope and it’s my thought that the Senate should work this thing out,” McHenry said.

That appeared unlikely Wednesday, as Democrats reiterated their opposition to spending more than $1.6 billion on border security and Republicans urged Trump to remain steadfast.

“This is a fight we’re going to have. He needs to dig in and not give in,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a key Trump ally.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the central question is, “Who’s going to give? The president doesn’t look to me like he’s going to budge. I don’t think he’s bluffing.”

Kennedy said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi appeared to be calling the shots for Democrats, “and she’s not going to make any concessions because she wants to be the next speaker.”

The funding fight is something leaders of both parties had hoped to avoid as Congress seeks to wrap up its work for the year and adjourn for the holidays. But Trump, who for months had suggested he’d be willing to force a shutdown over wall funding, dashed hopes for a quick resolution on Tuesday, sparring with Pelosi and Schumer during an extraordinary Oval Office meeting that he made sure played out in front of television cameras.

Trump told the Democrats he will be “proud to shut down the government” in the name of border security, declaring: “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.”

Schumer said the American people will “suffer needlessly” if Trump follows through on his threat to shut down parts of the government as of Dec. 21 unless he receives the $5 billion he is demanding.

On Twitter on Wednesday, Trump said a deadly shooting attack in France shows the need for the border wall.

“Chuck and Nancy must give us the votes to get additional Border Security!” he wrote, referring to Schumer and Pelosi.

But the suspect accused of spraying gunfire at a Christmas market in the city of Strasbourg on Tuesday is a French native, not an immigrant. Police were hunting Wednesday for Cherif Chekatt, born in Strasbourg and well-known to law enforcement.

Meanwhile, House Republicans debated whether to try to pass the wall funding to put pressure on Democrats, but it was far from clear if that plan would succeed. With many Republicans who lost bids for re-election or retired staying away from the Capitol, finding enough GOP votes to approve the wall remained a steep challenge.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who supports Trump’s $5 billion request for the wall, said House leaders were “working through” the funding bill. Asked if the House would vote on the $5 billion request, McCarthy said, “That’s the number I always search for.”

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who is set to become the No. 3 House Republican in January, said House Republicans “stand ready to pass whatever the Senate can get passed” and Trump will sign.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the Oval Office spectacle likely helped Republicans get the votes needed in the House to approve Trump’s $5 billion wall request. Republicans were incensed at Pelosi’s repeated statements to Trump that he does not have the votes for the wall in the House.

“There’s nothing like the other side saying ‘You can’t get this’ to make it easier for GOP leaders to say to wavering Republicans, ‘Hey guys we need you on this one,’ ” Cole said.

Still, the question remains, Cole said: “Why ask people to take a hard vote when you know it’s going nowhere in the Senate?”

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., who lost his bid for re-election, said he would oppose the $5 billion request unless it also includes relief for young immigrants who face deportation after Trump moved to terminate a program that allows them to remain in the country.

“I’m for border security, but I’m also for preserving the potential deal we’ve been talking about for some time” on immigration, said Curbelo, who supports a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants known as Dreamers.

Schumer said Wednesday it is “nearly impossible” to negotiate with Trump, accusing the president of peddling “blatant and dangerous falsehoods” about the wall, including his widely refuted claim that Mexico will pay for it.

If the two sides do not make a deal by Dec. 21, about one-quarter of the government will be affected, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks.

Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Kevin Freking and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

THEIR VIEW

BORDER SECURITY

By Robert C. Koehler

It’s the phrase “border security” that freezes my soul every time I hear it uttered, every time I see it in print — so simplistically obvious, the equivalent of keeping your door locked. Did you ever have your cellphone swiped? If you’re careless about this, you’ll pay the price.

“This is a national emergency,” Donald Trump said. “Drugs are pouring into our country. People with tremendous medical difficulty and medical problems are pouring in, and in many cases it’s contagious. They’re pouring into our country. We have to have border security. We have to have a wall as part of border security.”

Seal up that border, with rifles and tear gas and concertina wire … and The Wall. The alternative, apparently, is an insecure border, wide open and unprotected. This seems to be the entirety of the “debate” over on this side of the border. Trump’s opponents may be horrified by the border patrol’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers — the tear-gassing of toddlers, for God’s sake — but surely everyone understands that the border has to be protected and secured. Right?

Here’s where I feel a desperate need to intervene, to roll back the debate all the way to wide open borders … everywhere. Instead of instantly dismissing this as a prelude to hell on earth, why not, instead, begin by asking: What’s wrong with a planet free of bureaucratic “ownership” lines, the violation of which is cause for war? What’s wrong with a planet as open and borderless (except for natural borders) as it has been for 99.999% of its existence? Why, suddenly, do we live in nations as opposed to cultures? And maybe, most gallingly, why do we care about and feel the need to protect only “American citizens”? Do we possess a collective consciousness too small to embrace all of humanity?

“As a Quaker, I believe there is that of the divine in all of us.”

These are the words of Laura Boyce of the American Friends Service Committee, which organized an ongoing protest at the U.S.-Mexican border fence in San Diego this week, where 32 people (so far) have been arrested.

“This belief calls us to stand with those fleeing violence and poverty,” Boyce said, “and to call on our government to uphold the human rights of migrants and end the militarization of border communities. In the face of unfounded fear, racism and violence, courageous action is necessary.”

Perhaps these protesters, and the global community that supports them, are also protecting a border: a moral border, you might say. This is the same border the civil rights movement protected and, at the same time, created.

As I explore the nature of this border, I need to acknowledge that the world is indeed divided into social structures — united by language, culture, geography and, yes, government. There are natural us-them divisions, then, but a crucial question immediately emerges: Are these divisions, and the differences that result from them, somehow sacred and in need of protection at all costs, or should they be open and evolving? And if so, how do we protect what is truly valuable without damaging or destroying what is also valuable? Must this protection be at the point of a gun?

Now we enter debate territory that is utterly taboo in the American mainstream media. Are the borders we protect so rigorously (by which I mean that one border on our southern edge) somehow divinely ordained? How were they determined? An even more taboo question is: How respectful has this country been of other countries’ borders?

This question leads us directly to the present flow of immigrants from the south — particularly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, Central America’s Northern Triangle.

In 1954, the United States helped orchestrate a coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, thus curtailing the social reforms he was attempting to implement, which had negative consequences for American businesses. We supported military juntas instead, with horrific human rights abuses.

Beginning in the 1960s, as the UK Independent points out, “Guatemala and El Salvador both experienced civil wars which spanned decades and killed hundreds of thousands of people collectively… . Honduras did not have a civil war, but it was used as a staging ground for the Contras, a far-right guerrilla group backed by the Reagan administration in neighboring Nicaragua’s civil war. These wars — backed by the American intelligence agencies — destabilized the region and subjected generations to a cycle of extreme poverty and violence.”

And The Nation notes that Honduras, since its 2009 coup, “has been ruled by conservative governments and an elite determined to squeeze personal gain out of the nation’s resources. After the United States helped block a return to constitutional rule, the new leaders declared Honduras ‘Open for Business.’ Today the country has the most extreme pro-corporate legislation in the region.”

The Nation quotes grassroots leader and priest Ismael Morales: “The caravan is the explosion of a pressure cooker, which the Honduran government, in association with a handful of business and transnational elites, has been heating up for at least a decade.”

And the question of “border security” suddenly finds itself in a larger context. As Michelle Chen writes: “Though they have narrowly escaped their hells to seek refuge at the border, Trump’s answer to their humanitarian appeal is to make America as inhumane as possible.”

To which I would add: There is no such thing as inhumane security.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

Senate to vote on aid to Yemen in wake of Khashoggi slaying

By MARY CLARE JALONICK

Associated Press

Thursday, December 13

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators are expected to vote Thursday on a resolution that would call on the U.S. to pull assistance from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a measure that would rebuke Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Senate may also consider a separate resolution condemning the journalist’s killing as senators have wrestled with how to respond to the Saudi journalist’s murder. U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman must have at least known of the plot, but President Donald Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame.

Senators voted 60-39 on Wednesday to open debate on the Yemen resolution, signaling there is enough support to win the 50 votes needed. But it’s unclear how amendments to the measure could affect the final vote, which is expected to come Thursday.

While enough Republicans support the resolution, which was sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and most other Republicans oppose it.

“I think every single member of this body shares grave concerns about the murder of Khashoggi and wants accountability,” McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning. “We also want to preserve a 70-year partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and we want to ensure it continues to serve American interests and stabilizes a dangerous and critical region.”

Senators have been enraged by Khashoggi’s October killing and the White House response, and that outrage prompted several Republicans to support the Yemen resolution because it would be seen as a rebuke to the longtime ally. Others already had concerns about the war in Yemen, which human rights groups say is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians, many of them children, to indiscriminate bombing and disease.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, is preparing the separate, alternate resolution condemning the journalist’s killing. McConnell urged senators to vote for Corker’s measure, which he said “does a good job capturing bipartisan concerns about both the war in Yemen and the behavior of our Saudi partners more broadly.” Corker has not released the full text of that resolution.

It appears unlikely that the House would be willing to consider either measure. House leaders added a provision to an unrelated House rule that would make it harder for lawmakers there to call up a Yemen resolution if the Senate passes it. The rule barely passed, 206-203, after Democrats railed against the Yemen provision.

CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed House leaders on the Khashoggi slaying on Wednesday, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are scheduled to brief the full House on Thursday.

Pompeo and Mattis briefed the Senate last month and told senators that there was “no direct reporting” or “smoking gun” to connect the crown prince to Khashoggi’s death at a Saudi consulate in Turkey. But a smaller group of senators leaving a separate briefing with Haspel days later said there was “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved.

Khashoggi, who had lived in the U.S. and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime. He was killed in what U.S. officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate in Istanbul for marriage paperwork.

Pressed on a response to the slaying, Trump has been reluctant to condemn the crown prince. He said the United States “intends to remain a steadfast partner” of the country, touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the U.S. and thanked the country for plunging oil prices.

Saudi prosecutors have said a 15-man team sent to Istanbul killed Khashoggi with tranquilizers and then dismembered his body, which has not been found. Those findings came after Saudi authorities spent weeks denying Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate.

Whatever is passed this month, lawmakers in both chambers have signaled that they will continue to press Saudi Arabia next year.

The top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, is pushing tough legislation with a growing bipartisan group of senators that would halt arms sales and impose sanctions, to send what he called a “global message” to not just the Saudis but also to other regimes. “Just because you’re our ally, you can’t kill with impunity,” Menendez said.

“The current relationship with Saudi Arabia is not working,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who supports Menendez’s measure and is expected to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2019. “You’re never going to have a relationship with the United States Senate unless things change.”

House Democrats are also expected to keep the issue alive when they take the majority in January. The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said he intends to lead a “deep dive” into Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the likely incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would hold hearings on Saudi Arabia early next year.

Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freking and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

The Conversation

How big data has created a big crisis in science

December 13, 2018

Author

Kai Zhang

Associate Professor of Statistics and Operations Research, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Disclosure statement

Kai Zhang’s research is partially supported by funding from the National Science Foundation DMS-1613112 and IIS-1633212.

Partners

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

There’s an increasing concern among scholars that, in many areas of science, famous published results tend to be impossible to reproduce.

This crisis can be severe. For example, in 2011, Bayer HealthCare reviewed 67 in-house projects and found that they could replicate less than 25 percent. Furthermore, over two-thirds of the projects had major inconsistencies. More recently, in November, an investigation of 28 major psychology papers found that only half could be replicated.

Similar findings are reported across other fields, including medicine and economics. These striking results put the credibility of all scientists in deep trouble.

What is causing this big problem? There are many contributing factors. As a statistician, I see huge issues with the way science is done in the era of big data. The reproducibility crisis is driven in part by invalid statistical analyses that are from data-driven hypotheses – the opposite of how things are traditionally done.

Scientific method

In a classical experiment, the statistician and scientist first together frame a hypothesis. Then scientists conduct experiments to collect data, which are subsequently analyzed by statisticians.

A famous example of this process is the “lady tasting tea” story. Back in the 1920s, at a party of academics, a woman claimed to be able to tell the difference in flavor if the tea or milk was added first in a cup. Statistician Ronald Fisher doubted that she had any such talent. He hypothesized that, out of eight cups of tea, prepared such that four cups had milk added first and the other four cups had tea added first, the number of correct guesses would follow a probability model called the hypergeometric distribution.

Such an experiment was done with eight cups of tea sent to the lady in a random order – and, according to legend, she categorized all eight correctly. This was strong evidence against Fisher’s hypothesis. The chances that the lady had achieved all correct answers through random guessing was an extremely low 1.4 percent.

That process – hypothesize, then gather data, then analyze – is rare in the big data era. Today’s technology can collect huge amounts of data, on the order of 2.5 exabytes a day.

While this is a good thing, science often develops at a much slower speed, and so researchers may not know how to dictate the right hypothesis in the analysis of data. For example, scientists can now collect tens of thousands of gene expressions from people, but it is very hard to decide whether one should include or exclude a particular gene in the hypothesis. In this case, it is appealing to form the hypothesis based on the data. While such hypotheses may appear compelling, conventional inferences from these hypotheses are generally invalid. This is because, in contrast to the “lady tasting tea” process, the order of building the hypothesis and seeing the data has reversed.

Data problems

Why can this reversion cause a big problem? Let’s consider a big data version of the tea lady — a “100 ladies tasting tea” example.

Suppose there are 100 ladies who cannot tell the difference between the tea, but take a guess after tasting all eight cups. There’s actually a 75.6 percent chance that at least one lady would luckily guess all of the orders correctly.

Now, if a scientist saw some lady with a surprising outcome of all correct cups and ran a statistical analysis for her with the same hypergeometric distribution above, then he might conclude that this lady had the ability to tell the difference between each cup. But this result isn’t reproducible. If the same lady did the experiment again she would very likely sort the cups wrongly – not getting as lucky as her first time – since she couldn’t really tell the difference between them.

This small example illustrates how scientists can “luckily” see interesting but spurious signals from a dataset. They may formulate hypotheses after these signals, then use the same dataset to draw the conclusions, claiming these signals are real. It may be a while before they discover that their conclusions are not reproducible. This problem is particularly common in big data analysis due to the large size of data, just by chance some spurious signals may “luckily” occur.

What’ worse, this process may allow scientists to manipulate the data to produce the most publishable result. Statisticians joke about such a practice: “If we torture data hard enough, they will tell you something.” However, is this “something” valid and reproducible? Probably not.

Stronger analyses

How can scientists avoid the above problem and achieve reproducible results in big data analysis? The answer is simple: Be more careful.

If scientists want reproducible results from data-driven hypotheses, then they need to carefully take the data-driven process into account in the analysis. Statisticians need to design new procedures that provide valid inferences. There are a few already underway.

Statistics is about the optimal way to extract information from data. By this nature, it is a field that evolves with the evolution of data. The problems of the big data era are just one example of such evolution. I think that scientists should embrace these changes, as they will lead to opportunities to develop of novel statistical techniques, which will in turn provide valid and interesting scientific discoveries.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/12/web1_121952635-9b8ead5ed6274e4c9a0ed9c739814db3.jpgHouse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump speaks to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., during a meeting with Democratic leadership in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/12/web1_121952635-41393d7b814e468b9f85e8d0559bf898.jpgPresident Donald Trump speaks to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., during a meeting with Democratic leadership in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Vice President Mike Pence, center, looks on as House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Donald Trump argue during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/12/web1_121952635-eb6182b22e73406ebc93dcfb9d6c7492.jpgVice President Mike Pence, center, looks on as House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and President Donald Trump argue during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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