It’s no small feat. In its final days, the Obama administration is rescinding the “wet foot, dry foot” immigration policy in place since 1995 that allowed any Cuban who could reach U.S. soil to remain in the country. The Castro regime has long sought the shift, which will be controversial among Cuban-Americans. Incoming President Donald Trump, who has been critical of Obama for renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba, can undo the order — though it would be politically difficult for him to establish a more liberal immigration policy.
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Comey’s in the crosshairs again. An independent government watchdog will take a look at how FBI Director James Comey handled Hillary Clinton’s email case and whether there were improper leaks. Clinton’s team has blamed Comey’s public revival of the case in late October for her loss to Donald Trump. Asked yesterday if the FBI was also investigating possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Comey said, “I would never comment on investigations.” Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said members of Congress and the public requested the review.
It was show business as usual. During his first press conference in six months, Donald Trump condemned an unconfirmed leaked report about possible incriminating information Russia may have on him. He refused to answer questions from CNN, calling them “fake news” after the network published information about the report, and he likened U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazis. Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyer confirmed he’ll turn his business over to his sons, but will not divest himself — a plan the government’s ethics chief says won’t resolve conflicts of interest.
They’ve taken the first step. Though Republicans haven’t coalesced around a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, a 51-48 vote in the dead of night passed a budget setting the repeal process in motion. Democrats put forward amendments to protect women’s health services and coverage for pre-existing conditions, but both were defeated by Republicans, and GOP Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado dismissed them as “playing politics.” A House vote on the budget, which specifies that repeal legislation must be written by Jan. 27, is expected tomorrow.
This could mean progress. Officials from Britain, Greece and Turkey are meeting in Geneva today as part of U.N. negotiations to unite the island, currently divided into Greek and Turkish territories, as a two-state federation. Both sides are submitting maps of their desired borders, and Britain, the former colonial power, is offering to relinquish much of the Cypriot territory it still holds to facilitate peace. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hadn’t been expected to take part, and officials say his presence increases the chance for a substantive agreement.
It won’t be an easy ride. Donald Trump’s secretary of state nominee toughened his rhetoric on Russia in his Senate debut. But the former Exxon Mobil CEO’s ties to Vladimir Putin and his lobbying efforts against sanctions came under scrutiny from Democrats — joined by Republican Marco Rubio — and could imperil his confirmation. Meanwhile, Black Democrats John Lewis, a civil rights hero, and Cory Booker, who could have White House aspirations, spoke out against Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general, saying they don’t believe he’ll protect African-Americans equally under the law.
Know This: Obama surprises Joe Biden with presidential Medal of Freedom. The EPA has accused Fiat Chrysler of cheating emissions tests in more than 100,000 vehicles since 2014. Amazon has removed a doormat bearing the Indian flag from its site after India threatened employee visas over what was interpreted as an insult. Mexico’s president says his country “absolutely will not” pay for a border wall with the United States. And former MI6 agent Christopher Steele is thought to be the author of the controversial intelligence report on Donald Trump that was published yesterday.
Remember This: A U.S. National Intelligence Council report predicts that the next five years will see America’s global dominance drawing to a close.
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Taxation without representation no more. That’s the hope from politicians and activists fighting to create the 51st and 52nd states. Some believe their best bet is joining the union as a pair, with the left-leaning District of Columbia and conservative Puerto Rico balancing one another politically. D.C. has already passed a statehood referendum, while Puerto Rico elected a pro-statehood centrist governor who’s talked of a “Tennessee-style plan” to march on the Capitol and demand recognition. If they do, their friends in ”New Columbia” will be nearby.
The robots still have overlords. Tech leaders recently contributed $20 million to the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund, intended to hold artificial intelligence efforts to strict ethical standards. The fund, established by Harvard and MIT, now counts LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar among its donors. Its interdisciplinary research aims to unite diverse perspectives — from social scientists, faith leaders, economists, lawyers, policymakers and philosophers — to collaborate on standards that they hope can make artificial intelligence technology “not only ‘smart,’ but also socially responsible.”
This stings. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared that the once-abundant rusty patched bumblebee, one of the most common American bee species, is officially endangered. In recent years, pollinator populations have taken a nosedive because of habitat loss and pesticides. Though bee activists have been busy raising awareness about good gardening practices, it’s likely that America’s bees will keep declining: Scott Pruitt, Donald Trump’s pick for EPA chief, opposes regulation of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides, which could have serious consequences for ecosystems across the continent.
Dude, where’s my paycheck? The 35-year-old Oscar winner revealed to Marie Claire that for the 2011 romantic comedy No Strings Attached her salary was three times less than that of her male co-star, adding, “I wasn’t as pissed as I should have been.” After the 2015 Sony hack shed light on industry disparities, Portman lamented that in Hollywood women still make “30 cents to the dollar.” Kutcher, for his part, praised Portman “and all women who stand up for closing the gender pay gap.”
It’s the end of an era. Chairman Dean Spanos is expected to announce today that the franchise is flying north after 55 years in San Diego. This fall the Chargers will head to the City of Angels, which suddenly will boast two NFL teams after a two-decade pro football drought. The Chargers had sought a new stadium for 15 years, but San Diego voters blocked a taxpayer-funded downtown complex. Instead, the Rams and Chargers will share a $2.66 billion megastadium, set to open in Inglewood in 2019.