Headlines: April 22, 2019
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Nearly 300 people were massacred in a series of coordinated suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday that stunned the nation and the world. About 500 people were also injured. The attacks targeted three Catholic Churches on Easter Sunday, as well as a number of luxury hotels catering to tourists. On Monday Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo was rocked by another blast as police attempted to defuse another bomb. Police have so far arrested 24 people in connection with the attacks and local authorities have pointed the blame at a little known extremist organization called National Thowheed Jamath. So far the group has not admitted to carrying out the attacks. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced that intelligence authorities were aware of bomb threats by the group two weeks ago but that they did not act on the information, and that he was not made aware of it. Some in the government believe there had to have been international coordination to carry out an attack of such magnitude. Of the 290 killed, 39 were foreign to Sri Lanka including 4 Americans. The US is apparently sending FBI agents to help with the investigation.
In London, England, more than 950 people have been arrested so far in a week-long series of climate-related actions by the Extinction Rebellion movement. Thousands of activists occupied four key sites across the city bringing London to a standstill. On Sunday 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who has made international headlines with her stark pleas for action, addressed thousands of people in London. This is part of what she said. The actions that began on April 15th may continue. According to the BBC, “Organisers said there would be a “people’s assembly” at Marble Arch on Monday afternoon to decide what will happen in the coming week.” There were actions all over the world in coordination with London activists. In Southern California where our program is based, activists with Extinction Rebellion LA confronted NBC Universal on Monday with a letter demanding they improve their coverage of climate change.
The FBI has arrested the leader of an armed militia group that has been patrolling the US-Mexico border and illegally detaining asylum-seekers. Federal authorities arrested 69-year old Larry Mitchell Hopkins for illegally possessing firearms and other weapons. Mr. Hopkins is a former felon and leader of the group United Constitutional Patriots that was recently profiled in the news for holding immigrant families in New Mexico until Border Patrol showed up. The group had been posting videos of its actions online but it wasn’t until the ACLU of New Mexico demanded action that authorities arrested Hopkins. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has emboldened such vigilante groups.
President Trump and his sons on Monday filed simultaneous lawsuits against Trump’s former accounting firm and the House Oversight Committee. The lawsuits are aimed at stopping the committee from obtaining information of Trump’s financial and business dealings from his accounting firm Mazars USA via a subpoena. The Washington Post summarized the move this way: “It amounts to Trump — the leader of the executive branch of government — asking the judicial branch to stop the legislative branch from investigating his past.” Committee Chair Elijah Cummings dismissed the lawsuit calling it “baseless,” and saying, “There is simply no valid legal basis to interfere with this duly authorized subpoena from Congress. This complaint reads more like political talking points than a reasoned legal brief.”
Hearings will begin at the Supreme Court on Tuesday over a critical question of whether the government can demand citizenship status of residents as part of the US Census. The Trump administration has made it one of its key platforms to include the question but critics have fought back saying the inclusion of the question will sow fear in communities and is deliberately designed to undercount undocumented citizens. States are appropriated federal funds based on population and those states with high numbers of undocumented residents may lose funding. Eighteen states, a number of US cities, and immigrant rights organizations have led the legal challenge to the inclusion of the citizenship question in what is being considered the Supreme Court’s highest profile case this term.
The nation’s highest court will also be deciding on the rights of LGBT workers to enjoy a discrimination-free workplace. On Monday the court added several cases to its docket for the next term around legal challenges by people identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual or Transgender who say they have faced discrimination at work in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That law forbids discrimination on the basis of sex but federal courts have apparently been unable to decide whether this includes gender identity or sexual orientation.
Workers at the New England-based grocery chain Stop and Shop have declared victory after an 11-day strike came to an end on Sunday. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union represents 31,000 employees of the chain who were on strike for better working conditions and higher wages. UFCW signed a settlement with the company on Sunday night with both sides saying they agreed to a compromise. Although workers returned to their jobs on Monday they have apparently not yet seen their new contract. They will however get the chance to see it and vote on it in the coming days.
Massachusetts Senator and Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Monday released an ambitious new plan as part of her campaign platform to make public universities and colleges tuition-free and to eliminate most college debt. The plan also includes a $50 billion fund supporting historically black colleges. The $1.25 trillion plan would be funded in part by a tax on the nation’s wealthiest families and corporations. This latest plan is part of a slate of ideas that Warren has been amassing, including proposals for universal child care, expanding affordable housing, protecting public lands, breaking up big tech companies and eliminating the electoral college.
In international news, Ukrainians voted in elections and chose comedian and television star Volodymyr Zelensky as their new President. Zelensky’s landslide win over incumbent Petro Poroshenko is indicative of a mass dissatisfaction in Ukraine. But Zelensky, who has never before held office, will have to contend with a long list of contentious issues including dealing with Russian aggression on its border.And finally US State Secretary Mike Pompeo announced on Monday at a press briefing that he was cancelling carve-outs on companies wanting to skirt oil sanctions on Iran. With a clearly stated aim of bringing Iran’s oil exports to “zero,” companies will no longer receive waivers.