4 Americans killed in Syria


Staff & Wire Reports

President Donald Trump walks to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, to travel to Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump walks to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, to travel to Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump speak to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Trump paying tribute to Americans killed in Syrian attack


Associated Press

Saturday, January 19

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AP) — President Donald Trump was paying tribute Saturday to the four Americans killed in a suicide bomb attack in Syria this week as he set off to Dover Air Force Base for the return of their remains.

The trip was not listed on the president’s public schedule that was released Friday night, but he tweeted the news before he left the White House in the morning.

“Will be leaving for Dover to be with the families of 4 very special people who lost their lives in service to our Country!” he wrote. He later told reporters: “When I’m going to meet relatives of some of our great, great heroes that have fallen, I think it might be the toughest thing I have to do as president.”

The visit comes during a budget fight that has consumed Washington for the past month, shuttering parts of the federal government and leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without pay. Raising the stakes in his dispute with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the president on Thursday abruptly canceled her military flight, hours before she and a congressional delegation were to depart for Afghanistan on a previously undisclosed visit to U.S. troops.

Trump planned an afternoon announcement that was expected to outline a deal the White House hopes might pave the way for the shutdown’s end.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij that came about a month after Trump had declared that the militants had been defeated and that he was withdrawing U.S. forces from the country.

The attack highlighted the threat still posed by IS despite Trump’s assertion and could complicate that withdrawal plan. Some of his senior advisers have disagreed with the decision and have offered an evolving timetable for the removal of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops.

The bombing, which also wounded three U.S. troops, was the deadliest assault on U.S. forces in Syria since they went into the country in 2015.

At least 16 people were killed, and the dead were said to have included a number of fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have fought alongside the Americans against IS.

The Pentagon has identified three of the four Americans killed:

—Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Florida, who was based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

—Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Shannon M. Kent, 35, of Pine Plains, New York, and based at Fort Meade, Maryland.

—civilian Scott A. Wirtz from St. Louis.

The Pentagon hasn’t identified the fourth casualty, a civilian contractor.

Trump has made one other visit to Dover during his presidency, soon after taking office. On Feb. 1, 2017, Trump honored the returning remains of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in a raid in Yemen. Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens, a 36-year-old from Peoria, Illinois, was the first known U.S. combat casualty since Trump became president.

Over the past month, Trump and others have appeared to adjust the Syria pullout timeline, and U.S. officials have suggested it will likely take several months to safely withdraw American forces from Syria.

In a Dec. 19 tweet announcing the withdrawal, Trump had said, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” He said the troops would begin coming home “now.” That plan triggered immediate pushback from military leaders and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

A leading U.S. voice on foreign policy, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said during a visit Saturday to Turkey that an American withdrawal from Syria that had not been thought through would lead to “chaos” and “an Iraq on steroids.” Graham, R-S.C., urged Trump not to get out without a plan and said the goal of destroying IS militants in Syria had not yet been accomplished.

Trump said before arriving in Dover that IS has lost almost all its territory but “that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have somebody around.” He also said “we can be pulling back but we’ve been hitting ISIS very hard over the last three weeks … and it’s moving along very well.”

Manbij is the main town on the westernmost edge of Syrian territory held by the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, running along the border with Turkey. Mixed Kurdish-Arab Syrian forces liberated Manbij from IS in 2016 with help from the U.S.-led coalition.

But Kurdish control of the town infuriated Turkey, which views the main U.S. Kurdish ally, the YPG militia, as “terrorists” linked to Kurdish insurgents on its own soil.

Trump reinforced his withdrawal decision during a meeting with about a half-dozen GOP senators late Wednesday at the White House.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who was at the meeting, told reporters on a conference call that the president remained “steadfast” in his decision not to stay in Syria or Afghanistan “forever.” But the senator did not disclose the latest thinking on the withdrawal timeline.

Paul said Trump told the group, “We’re not going to continue the way we’ve done it.”

Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj

Trump ‘appreciates’ Mueller’s statement on report’s accuracy


Associated Press

Saturday, January 19

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has issued a rare public statement disputing the accuracy of BuzzFeed News’ report that President Donald Trump’s former attorney told Mueller that Trump directed the lawyer to lie to Congress.

“It was a total phony story and I appreciate the special counsel coming out with a statement last night. I think it was very appropriate that they did so,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Saturday.

BuzzFeed, citing two unidentified law enforcement officials, reported that Trump directed lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate project and that Cohen told Mueller the president personally instructed him to lie about the timing of the deal.

The report said Mueller’s investigators learned about Trump’s directive “through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”

The report said Cohen acknowledged Trump’s instructions when he was interviewed by the Mueller team.

The statement by Mueller’s office on Friday night doesn’t cite any specific errors. Spokesman Peter Carr said that “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”

BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal said the publication stands by its reporting and urged readers to “stay tuned” as they worked to determine what Mueller was denying. Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, also said the publication stands by its reporting and the sources who informed it.

“We urge the special counsel to make clear what he’s disputing,” Smith said.

Immediately after the special counsel’s statement was issued, Trump retweeted several posts that called the story fake news. He later tweeted: “A very sad day for journalism, but a great day for our Country!”

The extraordinary statement from Mueller’s office came after congressional Democrats had pledged to investigate whether the report was true.

The Associated Press had not independently confirmed the report. Any evidence that Trump directed a witness to lie to investigators would place him in the greatest political and legal jeopardy yet.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating the Trump Tower project on Trump’s behalf during the heat of his presidential campaign. The charge was brought by Mueller and was the result of Cohen’s cooperation with that probe.

Cohen admitted that he lied when he told lawmakers he had never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow project and when he said that he’d decided by the end of January 2016 that the “proposal was not feasible for a variety of business reasons and should not be pursued further.”

He was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes that included arranging the payment of hush money to conceal his boss’ alleged sexual affairs, telling a judge that he agreed time and again to cover up Trump’s “dirty deeds” out of “blind loyalty.”

Lanny Davis, a Cohen adviser, declined to comment.

Cohen is scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, said Friday that he expects Cohen to talk to that committee in February.

Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller in Washington and Jonathan Lemire and Jim Mustian in New York contributed to this report.

Colombia blames ELN for bomb, presses Cuba to arrest leaders


Associated Press

Saturday, January 19

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia called on Cuba to arrest 10 National Liberation Army commanders currently in Havana for stalled peace talks after a car bombing blamed on the leftist rebels killed 21 people and injured dozens at a police academy in Bogota.

President Ivan Duque said late Friday that he had revoked a decree suspending arrest orders against leaders of Colombia’s last remaining rebel group, known as the ELN for its Spanish initials, who have been living on the communist-run island.

“It’s clear to all of Colombia that the ELN has no true desire for peace,” Duque said in a televised address, citing a long list of 400 terrorist attacks attributed to the guerrillas since peace talks began in 2017.

“We would like to thank the Cuban government for the solidarity it expressed yesterday and today, and we ask that it capture the terrorists who are inside its territory and hand them over to Colombian police,” he said, adding that no ideology could justify the cruelty of Thursday’s attack.

Duque’s comments came after authorities claimed that a one-armed ELN explosives expert was the person who carried out the attack, the deadliest in the South American nation in 15 years.

Even though Jose Aldemar Rojas had no criminal record, authorities said that the 56-year-old man is the same individual who shows up in intelligence reports as alias Mocho Kiko. He is believed to have lost part of his right arm manipulating explosives during a long clandestine career with an ELN cell near the border with Venezuela. He died in Thursday’s attack.

The shock bombing recalled some of the bloodiest chapters of Colombia’s recent past and has raised tough questions about lingering security threats in the wake of a 2016 peace deal with the larger and far more lethal Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

It would also appear to mark Duque’s return to the law and order platform on which he was elected last year but then somewhat moderated once he took office.

While Duque stopped short of shutting the door entirely to a negotiated end to decades of fighting with the ELN, he repeated his demands that the groups immediately cease all attacks and release 16 people it is believed to be holding captive as a condition for restarting stalled talks.

He also vowed to condemn any government that provides safe haven to the group — an indirect shot at Venezuela, considered by some a valuable rearguard for the clandestine cell that Rojas is accused of belonging to.

“Systematic deception and irrational violence have been the constant in three decades of failed talks with the ELN,” said Duque, who earlier in the day fielded phone calls of support from several foreign leaders as well as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Cuba, which had been sponsoring peace talks and helped broker the historic 2016 deal with the FARC, offered its condolences to Colombia.

Cuba’s foreign ministry “will act with strict respect for the Protocols of Dialogue and Peace signed by the Government and the ELN, including the Protocol in Case of a Rupture in Negotiations,” wrote foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez.

The death toll of 21 made it the worst tragedy since a 2003 car bombing carried out by FARC rebels against an elite Bogota social club that killed 36. It proved especially unsettling because the target, the General Santander police academy, is one of the city’s most protected installations.

With the help of security cameras and fingerprints on his one-remaining hand, investigators were able to quickly identify Rojas and determine that he was the owner and driver of a 1993 Nissan-pick up that was loaded with 80 kilograms (175 pounds) of pentolite carried out the attack.

Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said Rojas entered the heavily guarded facility via a side entrance used for deliveries, driving fast through a gate opened to allow the exit of a few motorcycles. He then maneuvered into the heart of the leafy campus where the vehicle exploded in front of a red tile-roofed barrack used by female cadets just after an honor ceremony had ended.

Less than 10 minutes before the blast an unidentified man descended from the vehicle at a nearby bus stop — an indication the bomb may have been activated remotely and not an unprecedented suicide bombing as some had initially speculated.

Investigators are now trying to determine whether that man is Ricardo Carvajal, who acknowledged taking part in the attack in phone calls intercepted by police. Carvajal was arrested in a pre-dawn raid in Bogota on Friday in which authorities also seized a rebel combatant manual.

“This was an operation being planned for more than 10 months,” Botero said.

Only a small number of the 20 deceased cadets have been fully identified because the bodies of the young victims were badly mutilated.

Little is known about Rojas.

Records show he bought the car 10 months ago from Mauricio Mosquera, who authorities said was charged in the past for terrorism and rebellion. The car was last inspected six months ago in the eastern city of Arauca, near the border with Venezuela.

The same border region is a stronghold of the ELN, which has been stepping up its attacks on police targets and oil infrastructure in the volatile area. Authorities said Rojas traveled on several occasions to Venezuela to train rebels in the use of explosives.

In the past two decades the Cuban revolution-inspired group, which is believed to have around 1,500 fighters, has never been capable or shown much interest in carrying out high-profile act of violence.

But they’ve gained strength since the 2016 peace accord with the FARC led to the demobilization of some 7,000 guerrillas.

AP writers Christine Armario and Cesar Garcia contributed to this report.

Romney backs Trump in shutdown showdown, questions Pelosi


Associated Press

Saturday, January 19

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said Friday he supports President Donald Trump’s push for a border wall that has led to a government shutdown and questioned why Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won’t agree to “another few miles” of barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Romney also said he plans to keep working with other senators to find interim solutions, such as legislation that would make sure essential government employees still working get paid now.

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee and new Utah senator acknowledged that it “takes two to tango” but backed Trump’s position and chided Pelosi for hers. That’s noteworthy from Romney, who despite being a Republican like Trump, has frequently criticized the president.

“You (Pelosi) and your fellow Democrats have voted for over 600 miles of border fence in the past, why won’t you vote for another few miles now?” said Romney, speaking in the northern Utah city of Ogden after visiting with county commissioners about the shutdown’s impact on the community. “I don’t understand their position, I really don’t.”

He implored the two sides to “make a deal” and end the suffering of federal workers who aren’t getting paid, suggesting Pelosi should offer a certain amount of money for the border wall and make a proposal to the president about border security. He said Trump is willing to allow participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to stay in the country.

“On policy, it strikes me like there’s not a big gap but the politics have drawn people into different corners,” Romney said.

Romney said the country deserves border security, which includes more barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border. He said there is “humanitarian pain” being suffered by people entering the country illegally and being stopped at the border.

The backing for Trump in the shutdown dual illustrates Romney’s stated goal of calling the president out when he disagrees while supporting him when he feels he’s staking out the right position.

His most recent critique of the Trump came two days before he took office in an op-ed for The Washington Post in which he said Trump’s conduct in his first two years in office had “not risen to the mantle of the office.”

Romney said he backs an idea by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that would enssure essential government workers who are still working, but without pay, get paid. He said the goal is to get legislation before the president.

“It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me that we ask people to work, we insist that they work, we tell them that if they don’t work they may lose their pension and may lose they their job, so they show up, but we aren’t paying them,” Romney said. “Somehow that just doesn’t seem right.”

Romney met Friday with Weber County Commissioners about the impact on the city of Ogden, home to about 5,000 federal employers who work for the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Forest Service.

About 3,750 workers IRS workers in Ogden were on furlough, though about 1,000 were called back this week to prepare for tax-filing season.

The city of 87,000 residents is about 35 miles north of Salt Lake City.

After meeting with Romney, Weber County Commissioner James H. Harvey called it a “desperate time” for federal workers and their families.

“We want those messages heard so that there will be some action,” Harvey said.

The Conversation

What’s an index fund?

January 18, 2019

Author: Jordan Schoenfeld, Accounting Faculty, Georgetown University

Disclosure statement: Jordan Schoenfeld does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The creation of the index fund in 1975 revolutionized investing, lowering costs for millions of ordinary investors.

Their inventor John Bogle died on Jan. 16 at the age of 89.

Bogle took a complex universe of thousands of stocks and reduced it to a simple, singular entity, the index fund. Through index funds, investing in the stock market became easy, and one could do so at low cost while minimizing risk.

Practitioners and academics have researched the drivers and consequences of index fund investing – myself included. Here is some of what we know.

Investing before index funds

In the 1970s, academics and others began finding that many highly paid stock pickers do not outperform broad market indices. That is, investors could earn higher returns by simply holding a diversified portfolio of stocks and avoiding speculation altogether.

But at the time, the average investor didn’t have an easy way to this because an investment vehicle for such diversification did not yet exist.

So Bogle stepped in and created the index fund.

An easy way to diversify

In a nutshell, index funds are designed to give investors exposure to a diversified set of stocks at a very low cost.

The name “index” reflects the idea that by buying the fund an investor in effect immediately owns a broad index of the underlying stocks. All you must do is pay an intermediary – like Vanguard, the investment company Bogle founded, which now manages US$5.1 trillion in assets – a small, built-in fee in exchange for spreading your money out across the market.

In part, that’s because index funds are bought and sold just like individual stocks and many even have their own stock symbols.

For example, if you want exposure to a mix of all the companies in the S&P 500 index, you can buy the stock VOO, and your money will automatically be invested in a value-weighted portfolio of the S&P 500 companies. If you want to divest, simply sell your shares of VOO.

Why they’re so popular

The underlying logic of index funds still prevails today.

Academics regularly find that stock pickers – who continue to be highly paid – do not outperform the market, on average. It should thus not be surprising that, according to Moody’s, nearly one-third of all investments in the U.S., or almost $6 trillion, are now in index funds or other passive investments. Analysts expect this amount to increase further over the next decade.

Economies of scale resulting from their popularity have caused the fees for some index funds to hit zero. And by one estimate, Bogle’s creation is saving investors $100 billion every year.

Bogle’s innovative investment philosophy overturned an industry, which in my view makes him one of Wall Street’s superstar investors.

President Donald Trump walks to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, to travel to Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/01/web1_122163564-a1234132457846ddb9f2998e7ffa4c0b.jpgPresident Donald Trump walks to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, to travel to Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump speak to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/01/web1_122163564-0da14447ee9540498e540cb672558f63.jpgPresident Donald Trump speak to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Staff & Wire Reports