In Syria, the evacuation of rebels and civilians from eastern Aleppo resumed today, after thousands were left stranded on Wednesday amid heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures. Syrian government forces said they expected the last of the evacuees to board buses within the coming hours, leaving the Syrian Army to take total control of the city, which has been devastated by months of heavy bombing and siege warfare. The evacuation resumed after the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to establish a team to investigate war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the Syrian civil war. Syria and Russia led the opposition to the proposal. We’ll have more on Syria after headlines.
Donald Trump has named an ardent critic of China to head the White House National Trade Council, in the latest sign the Trump administration could launch a trade war with China. Peter Navarro is an economist at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the books “The Coming China Wars” and “Death by China.”
Meanwhile, Trump has named billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn as a special adviser on regulatory reform. The 80-year-old Icahn is the 50th richest man in the world. Beginning in 1985, he took over the airline TWA and systematically stripped it of its assets.
Donald Trump’s son Eric said Wednesday he would no longer solicit donations to his charitable foundation, after critics accused him of peddling influence in exchange for donations. One online fundraising auction for the Eric Trump Foundation offered a chance to have coffee with his sister, Ivanka Trump. It had bids approaching $70,000 before the auction was called off. Eric Trump’s promise to cease soliciting funds came after the Center for Public Integrity revealed that Eric and Donald Trump Jr. recently founded a separate charity, called the Opening Day Foundation, which drafted invitations offering million-dollar donors a chance to meet the new president at a private reception, as well as a hunting trip with one of Trump’s sons. The Trump transition team later said the invitations were “initial concepts that have not been approved or pursued by the Trump family.”
In Germany, migrants and refugees face an anti-immigrant backlash after Monday’s truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, which left 12 people dead and 48 wounded. Authorities across Europe are hunting for suspect Anis Amri, a Tunisian ex-convict who had been denied asylum in Germany and was considered a security risk. This is Yaser, a 32 year-old refugee from Syria.
Yaser: “We don’t feel good, as refugees, after what happened. Whenever someone commits a crime in Germany, regardless of what his nationality is, we, as refugees, become suspects.”
Monday’s attack is threatening to undermine Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy, which last year saw over 1 million migrants and refugees resettled in Germany. On Wednesday, members of the far-right AfD party protested outside the chancellor’s offices, holding placards reading, “Merkel, you have the blood of your people on your hands,” and, “There will be war.”
Back in the United States, Donald Trump responded to the attack in Germany by reiterating his pledge to create a national registry for Muslims and to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. Trump responded to a question from a reporter outside his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, saying, “You’ve known my plans all along, and it’s––they’ve proven to be right, 100 percent correct.”
Trump’s comments came as the Electronic Information Privacy Center reported that a company co-founded by billionaire Trump adviser Peter Thiel provided secret assistance to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection as it tracked travelers and immigrants. The tools built by Thiel’s data mining firm, Palantir, could help Trump limit migration to the U.S. and create a “Muslim registry.” Thiel’s company already has contracts with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the Departments of Justice and Defense, and the CIA. Thiel drew fire earlier this month when he refused to confirm whether he’d signed an ethics agreement to recuse himself from any matter affecting his self-interest.
In Minnesota, a judge has sentenced a woman to six months in prison after she ordered a Somali-American woman to “speak English” before smashing a beer mug into her face for speaking Swahili. Jodie Burchard-Risch pleaded guilty to last year’s assault at an Applebee’s restaurant, which left Asma Jama with a bloodied face and 17 stitches in her lip. Jama addressed her attacker in court at a sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
Asma Jama: “My religion teaches me to forgive so I can go on with my life. If I hold a grudge and I hold the hate you hold towards me against you, it’s not going to serve me well. So, in front of everybody here, I do forgive you, and I hope that you choose love over hate.”
Minnesota is home to a large Somali-American community, which has faced a rash of hate crimes. In a campaign stop last month shortly before Election Day, Donald Trump railed against Somali immigrants, saying some had joined ISIS and describing Somali immigration as a “disaster taking place in Minnesota.”
Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly is under fire for embracing white nationalism, after he accused leftists of seeking to take power away from the “white establishment.” O’Reilly made the remarks on Tuesday’s broadcast of “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Bill O’Reilly: “The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with. … Summing up: Left wants power taken away from the white establishment. They want a profound change in the way America is run. Taking voting power away from the white precincts is the quickest way to do that.”
In July, O’Reilly sparked outrage when he said the enslaved Africans who built the White House were “well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government.”
In North Carolina, lawmakers failed on Wednesday to overturn the state’s anti-LGBT law, which denies transgender people the use of the bathroom, changing room or locker room that matches their gender identity. House Bill 2, or HB 2, known as the “bathroom bill,” also prevents local governments from boosting the minimum wage. HB 2 has prompted boycotts of North Carolina by companies, sports leagues and performers. As lawmakers adjourned from a one-day special session without a repeal of HB 2 in place, protesters chanted, “Shame! Shame!” Democratic State Representative and Equality North Carolina Director Chris Sgro condemned the failure.
Protesters: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Rep. Chris Sgro: “There’s 275 days after this body passed the worst anti-LGBT bill in the entire nation. Every single day, transgender North Carolinians have suffered and been at risk for discrimination and violence. And every single day, our economy has lost millions upon millions of dollars. PayPal is not coming here. Bruce Springsteen is not coming here.
Protesters: “Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Rep. Chris Sgro: “We are going to continue to be sat out as a state because of the image that we are portraying to the rest of the nation and the rest of the world.”
Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper said Republicans reneged on a promise to repeal the law. Last week, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a pair of bills stripping the governor of many powers. Expecting that the repeal of HB 2 would take place, the Charlotte City Council, which had passed the initial anti-discrimination bill, repealed their bill, because the Legislature, they thought, in exchange, would repeal HB 2.
In news of capital punishment, a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center finds the number of U.S. executions in 2016 fell to its lowest level in 25 years. Texas and Georgia accounted for 16 of the year’s 20 executions. Nationwide, juries sentenced fewer people to death than in any year since 1972, when the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment. Public support for the death penalty is declining, with one poll showing support for capital punishment at less than half the population.
In climate news, forecasters are predicting parts of the Arctic will see temperatures rise above freezing in the coming days, with temperatures near the North Pole today set to reach as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. The freakishly warm temperatures come as Arctic sea ice levels are at a record low. Scientists say the changes would not have been possible without greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
In China, tens of thousands of residents have fled their homes amid an air quality “red alert,” as a thick blanket of toxic smog settled in over nearly a half-billion people. Since Friday, authorities have warned of off-the-charts air pollution levels in at least 23 cities, mostly in northern China. Visibility from the smog was so bad in places that officials closed highways and grounded airplanes. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, which is largely responsible for the smog.
In the Philippines, the Committee to Protect Journalists is calling for the arrest of those responsible for murdering newspaper publisher Larry Que. Que was shot in the head Monday morning, shortly after he wrote a column alleging “official negligence” over an illegal methamphetamine laboratory recently raided by police. Another journalist who covered the same raid later reported receiving death threats. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte launched a brutal so-called war on drugs that has seen thousands of people killed by police and vigilantes, and many journalists say they fear they’re now targets.
In Mexico, at least 34 people were killed and dozens more left injured after a massive series of explosions ripped through a fireworks market near Mexico City. Tuesday’s explosions shook nearby towns and sent a plume of smoke thousands of feet into the air. The open-air market was the site of two previous explosions, and a government fireworks regulator recently called it the “safest fireworks market in all of Latin America.”
California has ordered Uber to remove self-driving vehicles from the streets of San Francisco, after the car service company defied regulators and began a pilot program that saw the automated cars break traffic laws and endanger lives. Sixteen of the company’s high-tech vehicles had their registrations revoked on Wednesday, after they were spotted running red lights, blocking intersections and turning illegally across bike lanes. Uber had already been ordered not to deploy the self-driving cars, but defied the order in a move that the company called an “important issue of principle.”