Briefing: Trump's tax plan, Saudi Arabia lifts female drivers ban, South Africa protests

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  • Executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter have been asked to testify by both houses of the United States Congress on how Russian state actors used online platforms to possibly influence the 2016 presidential election. All three technology companies have yet to respond to the request. This comes hours after President Donald J. Trump criticized Facebook Inc. for being “anti-Trump” from his personal Twitter account.
  • President Donald J. Trump’s administration announced it will lower the maximum number of refugees admitted into the United States to 45,000 a year, less than half of the 110,000 annual cap established under the previous Barack Obama Administration. Reuters reported that an official from the administration cited “safety and security” as the reason behind the decision. The change in policy does not require action from congress.
  • Militants attacked the Kabul airport where United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis landed at hours before. The Islamic State and Taliban took credit for the attack which consisted of mortar fire and suicide bombing. U.S forces responded with an airstrike that resulted in the death of civilians, the exact number is currently unknown.
  • President Donald J. Trump’s administration has released its long-awaited overhaul to the tax code. The plan includes slashing corporation tax from 35 to 20 percent and reducing the top rate of income tax from 40 to 35 percent. Politico summarized the immediate reaction. Read the plan here.
  • Protests against corruption and the leadership of President Jacob Zuma have drawn thousands of people in South Africa. The ruling ANC party is due to select a new leader in three months, and backers of Zuma’s opponents organised the protests, though they were nominally just about corruption and allegations regarding the political influence of the Gupta family and their business empire.


  • The Kurdistan regional government in Iraq has rejected a demand from Baghdad to hand over control of its international airports. The Iraqi government told the KRG, the region’s governing body, to cede control of the airports after it carried out an unauthorised independence referendum on Monday. Iran has suspended flights into Iraqi-Kurdistan and closed its border, while Turkey has warned of similar sanctions to discourage the Kurds from attempting to secede from Iraq.
  • The EU has put forward a new plan for the resettlement of migrants and refugees ahead of the expiry of its current plan later this year. The proposals include plans for a resettlement scheme that would accommodate 50,000 migrants – the 2015 plan provided for the resettlement of 150,000 migrants, though only around a quarter of this target was met. The proposals also open the possibility of allowing countries to impose stricter border restrictions for two-year periods.
  • Thailand’s ex-PM,  Yingluck Shinawatra, has been found guilty of criminal negligence, over a rice subsidy scheme and sentenced to five years in prison. She was absent for the verdict. Ms Yingluck, who was ousted by the military in 2014, denies all charges and fled the country last month.
  • The United Nations has released a report which says 6 out of 10 children and teenagers globally are failing to reach basic levels of proficiency in learning. It warns that more than 600 million school-age children do not have basic skills in math and reading. (You can download the report here).
  • The Irish government has said it will hold a referendum next year on whether to change the country’s laws on abortion. Under current Irish law, a woman convicted of having an illegal abortion faces up to 14 years in prison. However, women can travel abroad for abortions.
  • UK Prime Minister Theresa May says she is “bitterly disappointed” after the U.S. Department of Commerce placed a tariff of almost 220 percent on Bombardier aircraft. The plane manufacturer, which is one of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers, recently agreed a major deal with U.S. airline Delta, but rival Boeing says that state aid from the Canadian government gives Bombardier an unfair advantage.
  • U.S. Republicans have fallen short in their seven-year drive to repeal Obamacare. This week Republican senators indicated they would not vote for a new bill that sought to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. The defeat raises more questions about their ability to enact President Donald Trump’s agenda. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana explained the situation simply: “Through events that are under our control and not under our control, we don’t have the votes.”
  • Saudi Arabia has reversed a longstanding policy banning women from driving. The order will be implemented by June 2018, the Saudi Press Agency reported. It was given by King Mohammed bin Salman in a broader effort to modernize Saudi Arabian society. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to forbid women from driving. Full story here. 
  • U.S. President Donald J. Trump says that a military option for North Korea would be “devastating” but was not preferred in dealing with the hermit state. His words come as the Washington Post reports that North Korea is looking to arrange talks with Republican analysts to make sense of Trump’s intentions.

What we are reading and watching

  • As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi continues to come under criticism for failing to address the state-led persecution of Rohingya, Reuters analyses the other winners, where they came from and whether they lived up to the award. – Jack Barton
  • Four hundred engineers have been working for two years on a £2.5bn project to create a “radical” electric car. The plan is the latest from Dyson, the engineering company best known for its vacuum cleaners and fans. “I’m not a Johnny-come-lately to electric cars,” said company founder Sir James Dyson. “It’s been my ambition since 1998 when I was rejected by the industry that has happily been creating dirty vehicles, and governments have kept on allowing it.” Sales of the car are expected by 2020.
  • BBC reporter Quentin Sommerville is on the streets of Raqqa with Syrian Democratic Forces. He finds a city devastated by Islamic State rule and Western-led bombardments. Civilians are trapped – with many being used as human shields. Welcome to the city fit for no-one.
  • Twitter is planning on doubling the size of its messaging service. The social media site is looking at expanding its character limit from 140 to 280. However, some are concerned that the charm in the site’s focus of brevity will be lost. “Consider that President Donald Trump may soon have double the characters on Twitter,” writes German Lopez on Vox.
  • A report released today by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that Cameroon’s military has forcibly returned 100,000 refugees to Nigeria, returning them to the threat posed by Boko Haram. HRW alleges that since early 2015, Cameroonian soldiers have tortured, assaulted, and sexually exploited Nigerian asylum seekers in remote border areas and denied them access to the UN refugee agency. – Jack Barton


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