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In A Nutshell January 28th - February 3rd

Political Unrest Continues in Venezuela

Protests began 1/23, Events mentioned happened 1/30

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in the nation’s capital of Caracas this week to protest the reign of President Nicolás Maduro. The fight for government power between Maduro and opposition leader and interim president Juan Guaidó has grown following Maduro’s 2018 election win. Amidst historically low voter turnout and internal turmoil for that election, countries like the United States were quick to consider the vote undemocratic. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted announcing his decision to support Guaidó, adding onto public statements of support made by Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton. Maduro responded to these statements by threatening the United States if they were to get involved militarily. Guaidó rose to power with the support of the Venezuelan people who were worried about Maduro’s perceived turn towards a dictatorship. On Wednesday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court sought to impose a travel ban and freeze the bank account of Guaidó, reigniting the protests. To further push for regime change, the United States imposed sanctions on a Venezuelan state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), a major source of income for the country and for Maduro’s regime, with the hope that the lack of funds will discourage the current military support of Maduro.

The Polar Vortex Freezes the Midwest

Monday-Thursday

This week the Midwest was struck by an invader from the North -- the polar vortex, a swirling area of low pressure and cold air in the poles. The breakup or split of a polar vortex can release that air, so many scientists credit climate change and the consequential melt of sea ice in the Arctic (where the polar vortex hails from) for the conditions that released extreme weather -- Chicago tying its fifth coldest recorded day on Wednesday with a low of 23 below zero. The cold also caused some areas to lose power, water and internet. So far, 21 Midwesterners have died in relation to the cold and a considerable number of schools closed during some of the coldest weather in decades. In Naperville, residents joined other Americans hearing sudden bangs or pops in the night, discovering “frost quakes” or “cryoseisms” produced by soil and rock cracking under pressure from freezing and expanding water underground.

U.S. and Taliban Negotiations a Major First Step

On Jan. 21, the Taliban and the U.S. entered peace talks that appeared to be successful. A major breakthrough was that the Taliban seemed open to meeting with the Afghan government, something it has strongly resisted in the past. Negotiators drafted part of an agreement that would result in U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan if the Taliban meets several requirements. They must ensure that Afghan territory is not used by terrorist organizations, agree to a cease-fire, and agree to set up talks with the Afghan government, along with other stipulations. While there is still a long way to go before there is a concrete deal on the table, this is the closest negotiators have gotten to a peace deal. A successful deal would mean the end of a 17-year-long war that has killed tens of thousands of people. However, the path forward is far from simple. Many Afghan women worry that the steps they have taken towards equality, such as having women serve in the Afghan Parliament, will be erased if the U.S. were to pull out off the area. Also, the Afghan government currently only controls about half of the country, and the rest is either under Taliban control or has no clear allegiance. Unifying a country with such starkly differing ideologies is certain to be a difficult task. To further complicate things, the U.S. Senate voted on Jan. 31 to advance an amendment to rebuke the President’s withdrawal of troops from both Syria and Afghanistan. This bipartisan amendment passed through with an overwhelming majority of 68-23. The entire bill is not expected to be voted on until next week. Regardless of what occurs in the U.S. Senate, the pressure is now on negotiators to figure out a deal that not only includes the Afghan government but also ensures that the region will remain stable after the removal of U.S. troops.

Fake University Ensnares Student Visa Abusers

In 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began an undercover sting operation to catch undocumented immigrants abusing the student visa system. DHS agents posed as the owners and staff of a fabricated university to attract the attention of foreign persons who hoped to stay in the country through privileges granted by a student visa. The University of Farmington located in Farmington Hills, Michigan did not exist, yet it hired multiple recruiters who in turn enrolled over 600 students to the bogus university. According to the DHS, both the recruiters and “any students who were affiliated with the school knew they were taking part in a scam.” On Jan. 31, eight recruiters were arrested along with 130 of the students who claimed they attended Farmington. Some students claimed they were tricked, but Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University, denied the idea. "It's creative and it's not entrapment…The government can put out the bait, but it's up to the defendants to fall for it," Henning said. This is not the first time the DHS has partnered with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to create a fake university to coax out foreign students. After the operation was revealed to the public, the University of Farmington's website was shut down and the fake college shut its doors.

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Photo Credits: Wikipedia/NASA.gov/Wikimedia/Pexels

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