Headlines: April 17, 2019
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:28 — 7.7MB)
President Donald Trump vetoed a bi-partisan Congressional war powers resolution to stop US support for the Saudi war on Yemen. In a statement to the Senate on Tuesday Trump explained his justification for the veto saying, “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.” He also apparently used his veto based on the fact that there are no US troops, “commanding, participating in, or accompanying military forces of the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis in hostilities in or affecting Yemen.” The bill was based on Congress’ authority under the War Powers resolution and passed the House 247-175 and the Senate 54-46. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement on Tuesday night, “The conflict in Yemen is a horrific humanitarian crisis that challenges the conscience of the entire world. Yet the President has cynically chosen to contravene a bipartisan, bicameral vote of the Congress and perpetuate America’s shameful involvement in this heartbreaking crisis.” On Monday The Intercept published an investigative piece revealing classified documents showing that, “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are overwhelmingly dependent on Western-produced weapon systems to wage their devastating war in Yemen.”
Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday announced a new rule barring detained asylum seekers from posting bail as part of the Trump administration’s war on immigrants. The DOJ order could result in thousands of detainees remaining incarcerated while awaiting their paperwork. The New York Times explained that, “For more than a decade, migrants who are deemed to have a ‘credible fear’ of persecution in their home countries have been allowed to request a bond hearing so they can be released on bail while they wait for their asylum cases to be heard, sometimes months or years later.” In fact a federal judge just earlier this month reaffirmed the rights of asylum seekers to post bail within seven days of their request. Now, with Barr’s new rule, those rights could be denied. The rule will go into effect within 90 days unless legally challenged – which is likely.
In other news, Attorney General Barr plans to release his redacted version of the Special Counsel’s report on Thursday. But already Democrats are planning to subpoena the redactions as early as Friday. Last month the House voted 420 to 0 to see the full un-redacted report by Robert Mueller. The Washington Post reported that Mr. Barr plans on redacting four types of information: “grand jury material; details whose public disclosure could jeopardize ongoing investigations; details that could ‘compromise sources and methods’ used in intelligence gathering; and anything that would ‘unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties’ associated with Mueller’s investigation.” Democrats plan to use the full subpoena power of Congress to obtain the information. Leaders of other House committees have already issued multiple subpoenas to access information about Trump’s personal and business finances. Trump’s attorneys have been moving aggressively to resist the subpoenas.
An 18-year old armed woman named Sol Pais in Denver, Colorado was confirmed dead by the FBI on Wednesday after an intense manhunt ended. Pais, who was from Florida, reportedly purchased a shotgun and was described by the FBI as being “infatuated” with the Columbine shooting 20 years ago. Schools across Colorado including Columbine High School were closed on Wednesday. It was on April 20, 1999 that two young men massacred 12 students and a teacher at the school. Some gun-obsessed Americans including the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook shooters elevated the Columbine perpetrators as heroes.
The Justice Department on Friday charged dozens of doctors, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists in several states for illegally prescribing opioid pain medication to patients. The indictments involve 60 medical professionals in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Alabama and West Virginia for writing upwards of 350,000 prescriptions for more than 32 million pills, in some cases trading pills for sex and cash. Among them is a dentist who allegedly extracted teeth without cause in order to prescribe the pain pills. Brian Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General announced the charges on Wednesday.
The New York Times this week published a story about how it built a piece of facial recognition software for less than a $100 and identified thousands of people using publicly available data from surveillance cameras in New York City. The article, which is part of the paper’s Privacy Project, is intended to show how easy it is to violate the privacy of Americans without their knowledge. “Over decades, businesses and individuals have installed millions of cameras like the ones we used, inadvertently setting up the infrastructure for mass surveillance,” wrote the authors. They explained, “In the past, a human would have to watch the video feed to identify people, making it impossible to comprehensively record everyone’s movements. But the accuracy and speed of modern facial recognition technology means that building a dragnet surveillance system is now feasible.” There are almost no regulations in place to protect people’s privacy violations using this technology.
In international news, Peru’s former President Alan García has died after shooting himself on Wednesday. García, a two-term President had been accused of accepting bribes from a Brazilian construction company named Odebrecht in exchange for lucrative government contracts. Police were attempting to arrest him early on Wednesday when he shot himself in the head. He was pronounced dead later. The company in question admitted to paying nearly $1 billion in bribes to politicians from a large number of Latin American countries including Mexico, Argentina, and Peru. In 2016 the US Justice Department fined the company $3.5 billion. Peru is thought to have been the most impacted with the last three presidents in that nation facing allegations of being involved in the scandal.
And finally Indonesians went to the polls to vote in Presidential elections this week and early returns show the incumbent Joko Widodo leading with a comfortable margin. He faced a challenge by a former military commander but appears to have a 9% advantage so far. The Guardian Newspaper described Mr. Widodo’s tenure as being marked by, “his commitment to building infrastructure and expanding social welfare, but [he] has drawn criticism for failing to address past human rights abuses and chronic corruption, and most recently for leveraging the state apparatus, including law enforcement agencies and Islamic groups, to solidify his support base.” It was the first time that Indonesia held Presidential and Parliamentary elections at the same time. Indonesia’s elections are a massive logistical exercise given that the nation’s 264 million residents live on thousands of islands. Official election results from the world’s third largest democracy are expected next month.