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Lawmakers urge investigation into Pakistan’s election irregularities

Lawmakers held a hearing to discuss the future of democracy in Pakistan and the US-Pakistan Relationship.

Investment Firms Step Away from Chinese Tech Companies After Scrutiny

Lawmakers scrutinized investments in Chinese facial recognition and semiconductor companies connected to the Chinese government’s military and human rights abuses against Uyghur people. Many firms are now taking steps back from investments in China.

‘Putin will not stop at Ukraine’: Biden presses for more aid to Ukraine in State of the Union

The president, in his State of the Union address, pledged unwavering support for Ukraine against Russia, warning that Putin’s ambitions extend beyond Ukraine.

Explainer: What is the Uyghur Policy Act and who supports the bill?

The bill will introduce a new State Department position dedicated to Uyghur issues and make other changes to combat discrimination against the mostly Muslim minority in China.

Congress hears about how Houthi militant attacks are forcing shippers to change course

Companies say they are being forced to absorb added costs because of the conflict in the Middle East affecting crucial shipping routes.

Lawmakers seek answers on better ways to block imports of Chinese goods made by Uyghur forced labor

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers tried to identify better ways of enforcing laws to combat the imports of goods made with slave labor and called on U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to suggest how to improve tracking of goods that violate the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act on Thursday. 

The U.S. has been especially concerned about goods made in China in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, home to the Uyghur people, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group. Over the past few years, the Chinese government has detained Uyghurs in internment camps, forcibly sterilized Uyghur women, forced the population to work in poor labor conditions for little to no pay and attempted to destroy Uyghur culture. 

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act earned bipartisan support in Congress and was signed into law by President Joe Biden in Dec. 2021. 

However, CBP has struggled to identify and prohibit shipments containing forced labor products in part because shippers are taking advantage of  “de minimis” rules, which allow shipments worth less than $800 to enter the U.S. free of some inspections and taxes. 

“Unfortunately, China’s use of forced labor in global supply chains continues to pose a significant enforcement challenge across a wide range of economic sectors, including textiles, minerals, and seafood,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Accountability, which sponsored a hearing on the issue on Thursday. 

The subcommittee had also held a hearing on the matter on Oct. 19, where experts pointed out that de minimis rules were not preventing such imports.

Christa Brzozowski, an acting assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said Thursday that her agency shared the lawmakers’ concerns about de minimis shipments. 

“We do our best with information that we do have,” Brzozowski said. “Over the longer term, we would be open to a conversation with Congress.”

Furthermore, the CBP has yet to use widespread “isotopic testing” – which uses DNA to identify where certain goods like cotton fiber are from – to identify goods sourced from Xinjiang. “It is not clear how widely or routinely such forensic technologies are being used,” Bishop said.

Michael Stumo, CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America and witness at the Oct. 19 hearing, said that some rapidly rising “fast-fashion” Chinese brands like Shein and Temu are continuing to export goods to the U.S. despite the Uyghur law. To Stumo, the de minimis loophole is “ungovernable lawlessness.”

Eric Choy, executive director of trade remedy law enforcement at the CBP’s Office of Trade, said Thursday that CBP has created one new isotopic testing lab and plans to use resources from Congress to create two additional labs in order to increase testing. 

On top of these challenges, Bishop and Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), said they were also worried that the laws aren’t doing enough to deter China from using forced labor in the Xinjiang region. 

According to Choy, when CBP identifies goods produced by forced labor, the agency denies the shipments’ entry into the U.S. However, even when CBP detains the shipments, the importer is often given the opportunity to re-export their shipments, essentially rerouting products made by forced and child labor. 

“My perspective is if we really want to put sanctions in place to punish these companies that are involved in the supply chain and we’ve effectively traced back to forced labor or child labor, allowing them to send [goods] to Plan B for the same amount of money doesn’t seem to really get the message across,” Ivey said.

Service members, advocates call for overhaul of way to help military personnel move into civilian jobs

WASHINGTON — A few months after returning to the U.S. following his deployment to Iraq, army veteran Mike Greenwood began required courses in 2006 for those leaving the military through the Transition Assistance Program, or TAP. 

Greenwood wanted to be a banker following his almost six years of service. But a few weeks into it, he found that TAP, which he referred to as a “fast and furious” process, wasn’t geared to his career goals — instead, instructors directed him toward jobs in trade and vocational fields.

Fast forward 17 years, Greenwood now supports service members who face challenges similar to the ones he encountered. He is the director of Veterans Services at the COMMIT Foundation, a nonprofit that provides specialized support for those transitioning out of the military.

Even though efforts are being made to reform transition services, many veterans and their advocates are frustrated. Among their top complaints: TAP provides too much information in too little time and often pushes service members to pursue outside resources. 

Given the stark differences between military and civilian life and workforces, TAP means to provide necessary resources for service members as they navigate leaving the military. A combination of a lack of awareness and too rigid of a structure has kept this valuable program from benefiting all transitioning service members into new careers.

Recent studies have indicated that a higher percentage of military members today are struggling to transition out of the services than in previous decades.

A 2022 study from the National Library of Medicine found that more than 60% of veterans in the post-9/11 era have reported difficulty in transitioning to civilian life, whereas veterans of earlier eras were at 25%.

“It’s the job of the military to help you support the military. It’s not to get you out and put you into a civilian career and help you figure out who you want to be when you take that uniform off,” Greenwood said. “Their commitment to you ends when you walk out the door.” 

A ‘fast and furious’ transition process

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 250,000 active service members transition out of the military each year. However, most do not start TAP at least a year prior to their departure, even though it is required by law.

A 2023 report by the Government Accountability Office found that among those who left the military from early April 2021 through late March 2023, more than 70% of active service members did not start on time, while more than a third of those who transitioned out began TAP less than six months before leaving – offering little time to take advantage of the program.

TAP, which was founded in 1991, offers mandatory courses for transitioning service members that include “standardized learning objectives,” according to the Defense Department website. However, for each person leaving the military, the program typically does not follow a specific schedule. 

TAP has expanded since its inception, with the program providing pre-separation counseling for service members starting in 2011. The veteran unemployment rate today is 2.7%, a nearly 5 percentage point decrease since the 2011 TAP overhaul, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But, Greenwood said information offered during TAP courses and counseling can still be overwhelming for service members, especially if presented in a short time frame.

“Starting TAP in the last year is really just taking a Thanksgiving dinner plate, throwing everything on the plate and not even knowing if you like everything,” he said.

According to a statement from a Defense Human Resources Activity official, the Defense Department is working to improve the timeliness of initial transition counseling. The DoD is one of several government organizations — including the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security, Education and Veteran Affairs among other agencies — that work to provide TAP.

In the same statement, the Defense Department official wrote that in 2023, agencies involved with TAP “developed Corrective Action Plans” to increase transitioning counsel guidance. Additionally, the TAP Interagency Executive Council has started multiple reviews to identify best practices and areas in need of support for the program.

Similar to Greenwood, army veteran Jacob Pachter — who served from 2017 through 2022 — also wanted to enter a non-vocational field following his service: consulting. But Pachter said he found TAP courses to be “largely unhelpful” and pursued resources outside of the program instead.

Through the Army’s Career Skills Program — an offshoot of the Defense Department’s SkillBridge program — Pachter was hired as an intern at the consulting firm Deloitte, where he works full-time today.

Pachter called CSP the “single best program” for his military transition but added he was able to find it only through personal research.

“I don’t think the average soldier would probably be aware of a lot of these programs or know how to interact with them,” he said.

Better advertising and expanding programs like DoD SkillBridge could help transitioning service members gain experience in fields they are interested in pursuing post-military careers in, he added.

However, the GAO’s report noted that service members who start TAP later are typically unable to take advantage of the DoD SkillBridge Program, whose opportunities take place during the final six months of a service member’s time in the military. 

Employment rates also vary for recently transitioned service members, depending on when they completed their transition programs. 

A Department of Labor study citing data from 2014 to 2021, determined that service members who completed TGPS, which is simply referred to as TAP today, at least six months before leaving the military were more likely to be employed after departing than those who completed it closer to their departure date.

According to Michael Kirchner, an assistant professor of organizational leadership and director of Military Student Services at Purdue University Fort Wayne, those leaving who have an unsuccessful transition process are at risk of pursuing opportunities that don’t match their skills and interests.

In a 2020 entry in the Army University Press co-written by Kirchner, the authors wrote that those leaving the military often lack “tacit and explicit” knowledge on how to function as a civilian, which can make it more difficult for them to transition out. But a successful TAP program can increase a service member’s feelings of self-purpose and knowledge base.

Starting TAP a year before departing the military, however, has proven a challenge for most servicemembers, even though it is required.

Army veteran Princess Gibbs, who served from 2003 up until June this year, began TAP in late summer 2022. She had to start TAP about a month later than she originally planned due to existing responsibilities within her army unit. 

When Gibbs was finally able to start the program, she found the information provided to be both “beneficial,” but also overwhelming, she added.

“By the time your unit gives you that space and opportunity, it’s just so much all at one time,” Gibbs said. “For some people, it just becomes a check on the box.”

Today, Gibbs owns and operates “Better You, Better Us,” an online life-coaching business she founded in 2020. She wanted to start the company a few years prior to departing the military due to “transitional problems” she had heard about. 

The Defense Department official also wrote that service members are excused from regular duties when attending TAP courses.

Fixes In the Works

Both Pachter and Gibbs noted feeling significant levels of stress during their transitions out of the military, a common occurrence among departing service members. 

According to Marquis Barefield, assistant national legislative director at Disabled American Veterans, service members who have undergone unsuccessful transitions may encounter stresses that have a negative impact on their mental health.

New legislation sponsored by Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate is trying to address some of these problems — but with a stalled Congress and ongoing funding battle between both parties, it seems unlikely it will be passed any time soon.

The TAP Promotion Act, which has different versions in the House and Senate, would allow accredited representatives from Veterans Service Organizations, or VSOs, to participate in TAP classes and help transitioning service members file Benefits Delivery at Discharge claims, which includes disability compensation benefits.

While both versions of the legislation are almost identical in content, the House bill prioritizes the ability of chartered VSOs to interact with service members, whereas the Senate version gives equal priority to all accredited VSOs, including those at the state and county levels. 

“The whole idea is to make the transition from active duty status to veteran status as smooth and seamless as possible and as advantageous for the soon-to-be veteran,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said of the TAP Promotion Act. King is one of four senators — including Republicans and Democrats — who introduced the bill in September.

Sponsors of the Senate version of the TAP Promotion Act aim to have the bill go through the committee process early next year prior to a vote on the floor, a veterans policy staffer familiar with the legislation said.

King added, however, that while he hopes the legislation can pass on its own, it may need to be attached to a “larger vehicle” like the National Defense Authorization Act for 2025.

The defense official wrote that “TAP is committed to developing enhanced engagements with VSOs.”

Barefield said the legislation will benefit not just service members, but their families as well while allowing them to ask more questions of organizations like DAV.

But, he added that the military should also consider other methods to ensure service members are able to further dedicate themselves to TAP during the transition period. 

The Defense Department, Barefield said, should consider implementing a transition battalion or brigade for those undergoing TAP. That way those preparing to leave the military can focus solely on their transitions, he said, limiting stress. 

Greenwood added that TAP should further collaborate with vetted non-profit VSOs like the COMMIT Foundation to fill gaps it is unable to fill for service members between 12 to 24 months before their departures. But, he also feels the legislation could represent a potential “great change.”

“The goal is to take care of [service members]. The goal is not just to be there,” he said of VSOs. “The act of saying, ‘Hey, we’re allowing people in.’ That’s huge.”

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Lawmakers consider legislation to protect political dissenters abroad amid increased attacks on independent media, journalists worldwide

WASHINGTON — With violence and threats against journalists increasing worldwide, senators on Wednesday heard from pro-democracy advocates who called for increased U.S. government efforts to combat efforts by foreign nations to threaten or kill political dissenters.

Just hours before Wednesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, pro-democracy non-profit Freedom House released a report that found at least 26 nations — including China, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia — targeted journalists abroad with “transnational repression” between 2014 and 2023. 

During the hearing, Michael Abramowitz — president of Freedom House — said findings from the report are likely just “the tip of the iceberg.”

“As a space for free media and dissent has closed in authoritarian countries, governments are increasingly reaching outward to target exiled journalists who continue to do their vital work from abroad,” he said.

Abramowitz echoed the report on Wednesday, calling for increased legal and operational support from governments for victims of harassment across borders. 

He recommends that Congress passes the Transnational Repression Policy Act, which he added could make it easier for U.S. government officials to hold perpetrators accountable. The legislation was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators in March, including committee Chair Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, transnational repression refers to when governments use methods like violence and threats to silence dissenters living abroad.

But, further legislation to address violence against political dissenters is needed, Abramowitz added.

Congress, he said, should also establish a clearer path for exiled human rights defenders to receive permanent legal status in the U.S. 

“Democratic governments should consider appropriate mechanisms, including providing special visas, such as humanitarian visas or visas for human rights defenders (and) activists journalists, to help them receive legal status,” Abramowitz said.

Political dissenters, however, are not the only ones facing serious threats from countries engaging in transnational repression. 

Caoilfhionn Gallagher, an international lawyer representing jailed pro-democracy advocate and media mogul Jimmy Lai, said she has received threats of violence online aimed at preventing her from doing her job. Much of this harassment has been openly misogynistic and sexist, she said.

“They come thick and fast on key days for the case,” Gallagher said of threats by the Chinese government. “I woke up this morning to 17 different rape and death threats on a day when I’m giving evidence before this committee.”

Lai was arrested by the Hong Kong Police in 2020 on “foreign collusion” and fraud charges. He founded multiple media operations in Hong Kong, including the Apple Daily, which was an independent newspaper supportive of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. 

Lai — a British citizen since 1996 — now awaits trial later this month and faces a potential life sentence for allegedly violating Hong Kong’s national security law. Critics say the law invites abuse toward those critical of China and Hong Kong’s governments, including journalists. The U.S. State Department has condemned Lai’s arrest and efforts to dismantle press freedom in Hong Kong.

The new Freedom House report also found that family members of political dissenters targetted by governments can also be at risk. Gallagher said this has been the case for Lai’s son, Sebastien, who has received extensive threats from China’s state media.

Senators from both sides of the aisle agreed with the need for reform, with Cardin announcing that he will be introducing the International Freedom Protection Act in “the coming days.” He did not expand further on specifics of the legislation, but said it would address the use of the transnational repression by “autocratic and illiberal states.”

“The suppression is not only felt by the direct victims of the agents of these regimes. By going after one or two critics, they send a message to the entire exiled community: ‘You’re never safe anywhere. Not even if you are in a democratic nation,’” Cardin said. “That’s what makes transnational repression so chilly. It forces many to stop speaking out or end their activism altogether.”

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‘We want to be whole again:’ Families of Hamas hostages urge lawmakers to bring loved ones home

WASHINGTON – For Ruby Chen, this Thanksgiving holiday served as a reminder of the dark reality his family has faced for 54 days.

“We celebrated Thanksgiving with an empty chair,” Chen said. 

Chen’s 19-year-old son, Itay, has been held hostage by Hamas since its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, when about 1,200 people were killed and 240 were captured, according to Israeli authorities. Itay is a dual American-Israeli citizen and a soldier with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He is one of eight American hostages currently held by Hamas. 

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee roundtable discussion on Wednesday, three families of hostages being held by Hamas called on Congress to do more and to continue pressuring Hamas for the immediate release of their loved ones. 

“Time is running out,” Chen said after placing an hourglass on the table in front of lawmakers. 

Ruby and Hagit Chen, the parents of 19-year-old Hamas hostage Itay Chen, speak with Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia chairman. (Cate Bikales/MNS)

The roundtable comes amid a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel that began on Friday and has been extended through Thursday. Since then, Hamas has released 102 hostages, two of whom are dual American-Israeli citizens. 

Israeli officials have publicly acknowledged that Hamas will demand the release of more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli men and soldiers, like Itay, according to CNN. Currently, three Palestinian prisoners are to be released for every one hostage freed by Hamas. ​​

Only one male Israeli hostage has been released, as of Wednesday, according to NBC

Four-year-old Abigail Edan was in captivity for 50 days after her parents were killed during the Oct. 7 attack. She was the first American hostage released during the pause in fighting.

“Abigail is the hope. We see that people are coming out. We need to keep them coming out,”  Liz Hirsh Naftali, Abigail’s great aunt, said during the roundtable. 

Lawmakers say they are doing everything they can to secure the release of all hostages. On Tuesday, the House unanimously approved a resolution condemning Hamas for its attack and calling for the release of all hostages in Gaza in a 414-0 vote. 

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who is chairman of the Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, said Congress should continue its bipartisan efforts. 

“You can see it’s heartfelt by Republicans and Democrats who stand with you and stand for the release of the hostages kidnapped so mercilessly,” he said. 

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said that every member of Congress “has the hostages on their minds,” adding that he has been critical of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because it did not prioritize the release of hostages in the early stages of the war.

Chen also urged Congress to pressure the International Red Cross to provide greater medical care to hostages. 

“The International Red Cross needs to be vocal,” Chen said. “They are the witnesses. They are the ones who see the hostages going out.”

(From left to right) Ronen Neutra and Ruby Chen, whose sons are being held hostage by Hamas, speak with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). (Rachel Schlueter/MNS)

Orna and Ronen Neutra, whose son Omer is also an American-Israeli soldier for the IDF and is currently being held hostage, also expressed concern about medical attention for hostages. Orna Neutra said Congress should prioritize uniting the international community and demanding Hamas provide basic necessities, including food and medicine, to its hostages.

Ronen Neutra described Omer as a good friend “always with a smile on his face.” A true leader, he said, Omer joined the IDF after graduating high school on Long Island, N.Y. Orna Neutra last spoke to her son on Oct. 6. Omer said was looking forward to what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend. 

“It is unimaginable that after 54 days, not only is [Omer] still held hostage, but that the Red Cross has not been allowed access,” Orna Neutra said. “It is unimaginable that we find comfort in the fact that he was taken hostage and not murdered on that day.”

Abigail’s relatives said that many families of the hostages feel helpless, and that it is up to Congress to fix the problem.

“We’re not politicians or military strategists,” Noa Naftali, Abigail’s cousin, said. “We really trust you to get that work done. All we can do is continue to tell our stories and continue to carry this pain.”

Video: More than 100,000 march in Washington in support of Palestinians in Gaza

WASHINGTON — Over 100,000 people across dozens of U.S. cities came together on Nov. 4 to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

“I had never been to something as big as that in my life before,” said Fredi Cortes, an organizer of Solidaridad Boricua con Palestina in his home Puerto Rico. He was joined by other transportation coordinators across the nation, many of whom woke up as early as 3 a.m. to oversee travel to Washington. 

Watch the video report here:

Lawmakers call for urgent overhaul of UN-supported Palestinian education

WASHINGTON — House representatives and experts are calling for urgent changes to United Nations humanitarian agencies involving Palestinian youth education on Israel over fears that the programs are spreading antisemitism.

“Hatred is taught,” said Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “It’s being taught with aggressiveness every single day to the youngest of Palestinians. That is child abuse.” 

Other members of the committee also accused the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) of perpetuating antisemitic narratives. Rep. Kathy Manning, D-N.C., said UNRWA is among the bodies of the U.N. that has a “single-minded, negative focus on Israel.” 

UNRWA did not respond to several requests for comment. According to its website, UNRWA has operated in the Middle East for nearly 75 years “providing free basic education for some 543,075 Palestine refugee children.”  The U.S. reinstated funding for UNRWA after Donald Trump halted American-backed finances during his presidency.

Lawmakers said they recognize UNRWA is a backbone to humanitarian assistance offered in Gaza, but asserted that bias and discrimination run rampant in their curricula.

“Many U.N. agencies provide essential services, such as vaccines for children, in countries where neither the host government nor any alternative can or will provide those services,” said Manning. “At the same time, I have also long raised concerns about the problematic content in textbooks used by UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza. We will continue to insist that this content be removed.” 

In efforts to address this, the House passed the Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act last Wednesday. The law requires the U.S. secretary of state to annually oversee educational materials in schools in Gaza or governed by the Palestinian Authority. 

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said that congressional actions can’t stop at observation. 

“What is taught comes down to the teacher,” he said. “And we know many staff have an affiliation or affinity for Hamas that has to change.” 

Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, also shared Schanzer’s sentiment, citing a U.N. Watch report released Monday that claimed UNRWA teachers made statements that celebrated the Hamas attacks.  

“The U.N. has failed,” Neuer said. “Its actions only incentivize Hamas to continue their strategy using Palestinians as human shields and maximizing casualties.”

Committee members said they warned of increasing levels of antisemitism in the U.N. in response to the Israel-Hamas war. Smith among others called for the disbandment of UNRWA entirely.

But Jonathan Lincoln, interim director for the Center for Jewish Civilization, said “replacing UNRWA with other U.N. agencies is unrealistic due to its entirely unique operational structure.” 

“Despite its shortcomings, the U.N. is far too important an organization for the US to disengage from,” Lincoln testified. “This is for the sake of Palestinians, Israelis and the world.” 

Ranking Member Susan Wild, D-Pa., called for “robust, pro-active diplomacy on the stage.” Manning said this could be achieved if the U.S. continues to be part of the conversation with UNRWA. 

“U.N. agencies are imperfect. And in certain cases they’re even seriously flawed,” Manning said. “At the same time, the United States tends to have more influence when we have a seat at the table.”

Officials, China watchers urge economic ‘de-risking,’ communication restart ahead of Biden-Xi summit

WASHINGTON – Ahead of the first meeting between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping of China since November 2022, legislators, economic officials and China experts were optimistic about reopening communication channels with China but urged the U.S. to rethink economic and diplomatic relationship between the world’s two largest economies.

“There’s broad bipartisan agreement that we need to be much more focused on how we deal with this strategic competition,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said in a panel discussion Thursday. “That said, those who say we shouldn’t be talking to China, we shouldn’t be traveling to China, are taking the wrong path.”

The discussion, hosted by Foreign Policy and the Quincy Institute, came ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco next week. Biden and Xi are expected to meet on the sidelines in the first face-to-face interaction between the two leaders since the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.

Several senior Biden administration officials have traveled to China to resume diplomatic dialogues between the two countries in the months leading up to the summit. In June, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Xi and top foreign affairs officials in Beijing. His trip was followed by Treasury and Commerce Secretaries Janet Yellen and Gina Raimondo.

In exchange, the U.S. has received China’s foreign minister Wang Yi. The visit was widely seen to have paved the way for the Biden-Xi meeting.

The meeting between the two leaders will come at a critical time for the economic and trade relations between the countries. The Chinese government has made historic investments into the country’s technology sector, specifically the semiconductor industry, that has heightened tensions with the U.S.

Separately, China faces a high youth unemployment rate at over 20 percent, a crisis in its property sector and a 26-year low in foreign investment, said Joyce Chang, the chair of global research at J.P. Morgan.

Because of the volatile state of the Chinese economy, American companies are increasingly reassessing their businesses and investments in China, said Kimberly Glas, a commissioner on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. 

But, Glas emphasized that the U.S. does not seek to decouple with the Chinese economy and instead pushed for the softer term of “de-risking.” 

“It’s not a transparent system,” she said. “I think companies are understanding the opaqueness of that structure actually put some of their assets at risk.”

In the technological brinksmanship with China, the U.S. has enacted a series of outbound investment restrictions and export controls on semiconductors and their manufacturing equipment in an effort to block China from accessing the most cutting-edge technologies in the sector. 

During the panel discussion, Glas defended the Biden administration’s tightening of export controls. She noted that China has also imposed restrictions on the export of rare earth metals, such as gallium and germanium, that are crucial to semiconductor manufacturing. Restrictions like these underline the need for the U.S. to deploy policy tools at its disposal to protect national interests.  

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) also backed a strategy of de-risking critical industries while maintaining channels of communication with China. 

“All this overheated rhetoric about how you can’t even talk to China because that just shows you’re weak is really troubling,” Smith said. “We need to engage in a smart, intelligent way and be competitive against that threat.”

Smith and Van Hollen took the opportunity to urge Congress to send military assistance to Ukraine and criticize the Republican presidential candidates’ foreign policy platforms for being “inconsistent.”

“If we don’t support military assistance for Ukraine, we will send a very bad message not just to … the NATO alliance, but to our partners in East Asia, Japan, South Korea, others and a very bad signal to Xi, who has one eye on Taiwan and another eye on how we are responding,” Van Hollen said.

Against the backdrop of China’s economic woes, military conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and a U.S. presidential election quickly approaching, the APEC summit has the potential to improve the U.S.-China relation, said Bonnie Glaser, the managing director of the German Marshall Fund’s Indo-Pacific program. 

Although the summit is unlikely to change policy, Glaser said she expects the two sides to resume communication between law enforcement agencies and militaries, halted since then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan in 2022. 

“There is interest on both sides in managing the relationship and preventing it from spiraling out of control,” Glaser said. “I think both sides for their own reasons, which are different, have a particular interest at this time in getting this stabilization process to stick.”

Israel-Hamas war prompts lawmakers to debate limit free speech on college campuses, with Cornell incident in spotlight

WASHINGTON — Jewish students and faculty members implored lawmakers on Wednesday to condemn antisemitic incidents and push back against hateful language on college campuses as Congress grapples with flared tensions related to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. 

There has been a documented increase in threats against Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, Middle Eastern and South Asian people, and groups on both sides say universities have not been productive spaces for debates on these political issues. 

“Jewish students are being physically threatened and have legitimate cause to fear for their safety on campuses across the country,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler said during the House Judiciary Committee hearing. “There’s no excuse for that kind of violence at any school, against any student.”

The veteran Manhattan Democrat, who is Jewish, is making his call for more protections for Jewish students two weeks after Patrick Dai, a student at Cornell University, posted a series of antisemitic comments online, including a threat to “shoot up” a dining hall frequented by Jewish students. Dai, whose according to his family has dealt with mental illness, has been arrested and federally charged for posting the threats online.

Cornell student Amanda Silberstein, who serves on Chabad Cornell’s board, said she believes the increased tensions following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel contributed to Dai’s decision to post hate speech online.

“It’s evident that the sentiment created on campus by professors and students alike, of pervasive and just widespread antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric has created such an atmosphere that has enabled [Dai] to make these comments,” Silberstein said. 

Silberstein said social media has “been fueling the fire” on campus by allowing students to falsely think they can hide behind a “veil of anonymity” without fear of repercussions.

“Your words have consequences,” she said. “All students should take that to heart.”

After the arrest, Cornell observed Nov. 3 as a “Community Day”  to help students process the stress.  

Nationally, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has reported 54 cases of antisemitic incidents on college campuses since Oct. 7.

“As a Cornell alum and a father of three children, I can guarantee you that if this is how this university is going to approach antisemitism, my children will not be attending Cornell,” said Rep. Wesley Hunt, a Texas Republican.

Students from other schools, including the state University of Buffalo and the University of Iowa, also testified about the atmosphere on college campuses. 

Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns about how far their Republican colleagues were willing to go to prevent all forms of discrimination. 

In March, President Joe Biden requested a 27 percent increase in funding for the Office of Civil Rights to protect equal access to education by enforcing civil rights legislation. As Republican lawmakers finalize a budget proposal for fiscal year 2024, Democrats said they are anticipating to see those funds slashed.

“If my Republican colleagues were serious about this issue, they would fully fund that request,” Nadler said. “Their promises about antisemitism and their actions disconnect in other ways as well.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released a letter, reminding schools of their legal obligations under Title VI to provide all students a learning environment free from discrimination based on race, color or national origin. 

Witnesses and lawmakers at the hearing also clashed over the difference between free speech and statements promoting violence. 

Public universities operate under broad First Amendment protections for students and faculty. For example, they can protest and hand out flyers as long as the speech does not escalate into targeted harassment or threats, according to the ACLU.

Silberstein raised the issue of the phrase “from the river to the sea” commonly chanted at rallies by pro-Palestinian activists in a reference to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — an area that includes Israel as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The expression in its entirety is “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”; it has been flagged as antisemitic by the ADL, which describes it as a call for the “dismantling of the Jewish state.”

Silberstein contended that calling for such actions amount to the “genocide of the Jewish people,” a characterization that was has been challenged. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., a Palestinian-American lawmaker, was formally censured by her House colleagues on Tuesday night after using the phrase, which she described as “an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate.” 

In a tense exchange, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and Silberstein discussed the relationship between conduct and speech. Silberstein said action often follows words, citing Dai’s comments after marchers on Cornell’s campus had chanted “from the river to the sea.”

McClintock asked Silberstein whether the legality of speech advocating violence depends “on your viewpoint.”

“Who’s to decide, though, whose viewpoint is legal and illegal?” McClintock said. “In a free society, we put all those viewpoints (out in public) and let the people make the judgment themselves.”

The committee hearing itself was frequently interrupted by Palestinian supporters. Ten protesters were arrested for crowding or obstructing a public building, media reports said.

At the start of the hearing, pro-Palestine protesters waited in the back of the room — some with duct tape over their mouths with the word “Gaza” written on it. The protesters interrupted opening remarks, holding up posters with messages like “Free speech includes Palestinians” and “Stop silencing Palestinian students.”

Students who supported Palestinians said they have feared for their safety and losing out on employment opportunities. On college campuses, pro-Palestinian students often speak to reporters solely on the condition of anonymity over worries about “doxxing,” or having their personal information exposed online. Anonymous online blacklists such as Canary Mission compile names and pictures of those organizers deem to be critical of Israel — and some of those profiled have been questioned by the FBI.

Following pressure on college administrators to investigate campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, the ACLU last week penned an open letter in opposition to what it described as universities backpedaling on free speech. Republican lawmakers — who in the past have loudly protested what they see as the squelching of conservative voices on campus — have introduced legislation barring federal funding to schools they say promote antisemitism, citing SJP activities as an example.

The House’s vote to censure Tlaib was also raised during the hearing, by protesters and lawmakers alike. 

“It’s ironic that we’re holding this hearing today about censorship and speech on campus, but last night MAGA Republicans and others censured the only Palestinian voice in the House of Representatives because they didn’t like what she had to say,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. 

Johnson was joined by other Democratic lawmakers in the room as he said Tlaib didn’t advocate for violence but merely stated a different point of view, similar to what he believes is happening on college campuses.

“We’re not setting a very good example here in Congress,” Johnson said.

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Video: Protesters, House progressives push for cease-fire in the Middle East

WASHINGTON — As the Israeli-Hamas war escalates in the Middle East, protesters and House progressives have called for a cease-fire.

On Saturday, Washington D.C. saw ‘the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration in U.S. history,’ according to the International People’s Assembly, with thousands marching from Freedom Plaza to the White House.

Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.) is pushing for the Ceasefire Now Resolution, currently signed by 17 other Democrats. The legislation advocates for the Biden administration to facilitate a cease-fire and deliver humanitarian aid to the region.

With a mounting death toll, over 1,400 among the Israelis and 10,305 among the Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, a majority of Democrats are still supporting President Biden’s plan for humanitarian pauses.

Watch the video report here:

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‘This is the wrong time to walk away’: State Department officials urge Congress to continue aid for Ukraine to keep Russia in check

WASHINGTON — With any Ukraine aid package stalled in Congress, State Department officials warned senators on Wednesday that the United States’ alliances in Europe could be in jeopardy if new funding is not approved soon.

“This is the wrong time to walk away,” James O’Brien, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “Ukraine is winning. It’s already taken back half the territory Putin has seized since February of 2022.”

O’Brien and other witnesses pressed Congress to pass the Biden administration’s proposed $105 billion foreign aid package, which includes $61.4 billion for Ukraine and $14.3 billion for Israel in its war against Hamas.

He said not passing new aid would play into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands and risk failing at U.S. foreign policy objectives. If Ukraine loses the war against Russia, then Putin would likely push into Poland and the Baltic states next, he said.

The supplemental package could also provide much-needed humanitarian assistance for Ukrainians reeling from the conflict, said Erin McKee, assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The package would provide $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for those in Ukraine, among other locations like Israel and Gaza.

“The besieged people of Ukraine are fighting for their country’s survival as a democratic state,” McKee said. “They are also fighting for basic needs, such as food, water, medicine and electricity.”

Without new aid, she said USAID will either have to reduce the number of Ukrainians receiving humanitarian aid by 75% or cease the programs altogether. Ukraine is unable to provide adequate funding for humanitarian aid, McKee said, as most of the country’s annual budget is dedicated to the war effort. 

More than 9,600 civilians have been killed during the war as of September 2023, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

While House Republicans led by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) have expressed opposition to a bill with joint funding for Israel and Ukraine, the Democratic-controlled Senate appears poised to support a package for both nations. But, some Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are resisting efforts to give more funding for Ukraine.

In a contentious exchange, Paul pushed back on O’Brien’s assertion that the supplemental package could benefit the U.S. economy by reinvigorating its industrial base. If passed, the supplemental would allow Ukraine to buy arms and military supplies from the U.S.

Paul suggested that enriching weapon makers through the supplemental would be “reprehensible.” Alternatively, the Biden administration, he said, should consider facilitating negotiations between Russia and Ukraine to end the conflict.

In response, O’Brien rejected the idea of negotiations since Putin is “not serious” about ending the war.

“You don’t have a willing partner on the other side,” he said. “You’re asking for a monologue, not diplomacy.”

Putin wants to wait and see who wins the 2024 U.S. presidential election, he said. While President Joe Biden has maintained support for Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022, former President Donald Trump has bragged that he can end the war in “24 hours” if elected in 2024.

But most Senate Republicans at the hearing did not express opposition to new funding for Ukraine. In his final remarks, committee Ranking Member James Risch (R-Idaho) reaffirmed his past and present commitment to giving Ukraine the materials necessary to win the war.

“You’ve got to escalate. If you don’t escalate you’re going to lose,” Risch said. “Let’s act like we want to win this and move it as quickly as we can.”

With a government shutdown looming, however, committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) worried that it’s less likely that a supplemental request will pass Congress this month. Recent demands by Republicans may complicate efforts to pass new aid.

On Monday, Senate Republicans released multiple U.S. border security proposals as a condition for the U.S. sending new aid to Ukraine. The proposal, released by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jim Lankford (R-Okla.), would make it more difficult for migrants to qualify for asylum and resume construction on parts of the U.S.-Mexico border wall — a non-starter for many Senate Democrats.

Officials urged lawmakers to prioritize money for Ukraine to support the U.S. national security interests in Eastern Europe.

“If you leave when the job is half down, you’re going to have to go back and do it again,” O’Brien said. “Right now, Ukrainians are willing to do this job because it’s in their territory. If we abandon them, then somebody else is going to have to do this job later and it’s likely to be us.”

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The Not-So-Secret Fund That’s Bolstering Ukraine Military Aid: the Presidential Drawdown Authority

WASHINGTON – With a government shutdown looking increasingly likely, Congress has yet to offer up a new funding package to aid Ukraine in its ongoing war against Russia as new House speaker Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) has insisted on separating Ukraine aid from a package requested by President Joe Biden meant to help that country and Israel.

However, the Biden administration has been able to continue supplying Ukraine with weapons and munitions even without new aid through a lesser-known executive power called the Presidential Drawdown Authority, or PDA.  Biden invoked drawdown authority twice in October alone after House Republicans refused to include funding for Ukraine in a continuing resolution signed just hours before the start of the month.

The drawdown authority, first established by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, allows the president to send military supplies and services from the Department of Defense to foreign countries in emergency situations. 

“The intended purpose was quite different [to today],” said Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It was a mechanism for sending mostly obsolescent equipment to allies and partners with underdeveloped materials.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has led to regular reliance on the drawdown ability as a means to speed arms to Ukrainian troops. 

In May 2022, Congress passed legislation to increase the drawdown authority’s cap to $11 billion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2022. That was a major increase from the $100 million that had been allocated each year since the drawdown authority’s establishment. Congress increased the cap to $14.5 billion for the 2023 fiscal year.

The shift in policy, Cancian said, happened because the Biden administration and Congress wanted to have the option to send new, top-of-the-line military equipment directly to Ukraine, rather than through the sales process typically required in a traditional aid package.

According to the Congressional Research Service and Defense Department data, the Biden administration has used the drawdown authority 50 times since August 2021, authorizing around $25.2 billion worth of military assistance to Ukraine.

Until a new aid package is approved, the drawdown authority remains one of the few ways the U.S. can provide continued military assistance to Ukraine without Congress’s specific approval. Ukrainian officials and policy experts, however, note that the authority itself will likely not be enough to help Ukraine beat Russia.

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., told reporters at a journalism conference in late October that Ukraine is unable to purchase or order new military equipment from the U.S. and is therefore reliant on the drawdown authority. But, she added Ukraine will require further aid from the U.S. to beat Russia.

“If we don’t get the support, it’s just a matter of time until Russia starts winning,” she told reporters.

Relief for Ukraine could come in the form of the supplementary aid request the Biden administration has asked Congress to consider. Of the $106 billion requested by the White House, $60.1 billion would go toward supporting Ukraine’s war effort. The intended aid would fund Ukraine’s war effort through the winter, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a Senate hearing last month.

While the Senate, controlled by Democratic lawmakers, is considering a dual-support package, the Republican-led House passed $14 billion in aid for just Israel last week. The Senate will not consider the legislation, Democratic leaders have said.

“Ukraine will come in short order. It will come next,” House Speaker Johnson said during a news conference last week with Republican leaders. “We want to pair border security with Ukraine because I think we can get bipartisan agreement on both of those matters.”

Cancian said it is unlikely that Congress will decrease the drawdown authority’s existing cap because it represents “purely military” transfers rather than allotting new monetary aid.

“Now that Congress has discovered PDA, I think they may be inclined to use it more frequently,” he said.

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Veterans tell policymakers military transition programs ‘miss the mark’ and provide support too late

WASHINGTON — Military veterans who owned small businesses told policymakers on Tuesday that shortcomings in government efforts to aid those transitioning out of the military are making it more difficult for service members to build their own businesses after leaving active duty. 

At Tuesday’s House Veterans’ Affairs hearing, veteran Chris Maynor said information was not readily available through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) when he was trying to build his own business, a men’s clothing store in rural Illinois. He had trouble locating grants through TAP specifically for veterans starting businesses and had to incur debt instead to start the store, he added.

“For a veteran that was fighting PTSD and TBI, it shouldn’t be so hard to look for veteran benefits,” Maynor said. “I believe that we need to come up with a way to help our veterans, especially in small communities.”

Relief could come in the form of increasing Veteran Service Officer’s interactions with those transitioning out of the military, he said. Additionally, Maynor added that a “user-friendly website” that compiles information related to benefits, job applications, grants and funding for veterans could be beneficial.

Joe Gelardi, president and CEO of the systems analysis company Vectrona, cited his own experience with TAP during his transition out of the military as “wholly inadequate.” He said the networks that veterans build while on active duty are not necessarily helpful in finding a career outside of the military.

“The transition programs often miss the mark because information and assistance often come too late in the process,” Gelardi said. “Training is often out of touch with current private sector business practices.”

Beyond discussing TAP, Gelardi also referenced specific economic policies that he said have harmed his business’ growth, like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. He said the legislation, which became effective in January 2018, limits the ability of veteran-owned businesses to innovate by not allowing immediate deductions based on research and experimentation expenses.

Prior to hearing from Gelardi and Maynor, representatives from major U.S. corporations — including Walmart, Verizon and Home Depot — also testified before members of Congress, touting their respective business practices’ role in reducing veteran unemployment rates.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans was 2.8% in 2022, a decrease of 1.6% from the previous year and a 4.2% drop from 2012.

Unemployment rates for military spouses, however, remain high. A 2022 survey commissioned by Hiring Our Heroes found that the unemployment rate for military spouses was 22% and had seen little change since 2012. 

Eric Eversole, president of Hiring Our Heroes and a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the Defense Department’s recently enacted Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot program could be a step in the right direction. The program, which launched in January, provides military spouses with a paid fellowship at employers from various companies.

But, there is still work to do, he said.

“The availability of military spouses to find and maintain careers is forcing too many military families to live through a single source of income,” Eversole said. “It’s creating economic peril for those families both in the near term and the long term.”

New legislation, introduced and sponsored by committee member Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-Pa.) in June, could also relieve burdens on military spouses by establishing new rights for them. The bill, which has yet to reach the House floor, would help spouses retain employment even if their family is required to move due to relocation related to military duties. 

While witnesses praised Defense Department programs like the DOD SkillBridge Program, which aims to provide active-duty service members with civilian work experience, they also discussed difficulties associated with reaching transitioning service members. 

Multiple witnesses mentioned having difficulty accessing active-duty service members through TAP at military bases. 

Committee Chair Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) concluded Tuesday’s hearing by reaffirming his continued support for reforming TAP, but expressed potential difficulty in coordinating reform through both the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs.



Medill Today | March 14, 2024