Headlines: April 26, 2019
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President Donald Trump is meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday at the White House. They will be joined by financial advisers from both nations to discuss a number of issues including trade and economic ties in the energy and technology sectors. According to Bloomberg, “The US is pushing to reduce its trade deficit with Japan and gain better access to the Asian Nation’s agricultural market,” and “Japan is looking for a concrete promise that it won’t be hit by possible tariffs on auto imports.” High on the agenda will also be North Korea’s denuclearization– a discussion that comes on the heels of a high-level meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The Trump administration on Thursday released a plan to open up more than a million acres of public and private land to hydraulic fracturing in Calfornia. The lands being targeted cover several Central California counties including eastern Fresno, western Kern, Kings, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura. California has had a 5-year fracking moratorium on federal land after a judge ruled for a pause in operations to better study the health and environmental impacts. Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity told the Los Angeles Times, “The Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the nation, and we know fracking and drilling make air quality worse.” The plan is expected to be blocked by lawsuits that environmental groups are already readying.
President Trump addressed the annual NRA convention on Friday in Indianapolis, rewarding the lobby group with his presence as he has done at least 4 times in the past. This year’s conference comes at a time when multiple reports suggest the NRA is politically weak. But Trump addressed the audience as if he were at a election campaign, warning of leftists wanting to take away their guns.
Meanwhile a Federal judge on Friday sentenced Russian national Marina Butina to 18 months in prison for being an unregistered foreign agent of the Russian government. Butina had attempted to infiltrate the NRA and other conservative groups apparently at the behest of a Russian government official. According to CNN, “She is the first Russian citizen convicted of crimes relating to the 2016 election, though her efforts to infiltrate Republican circles appeared to be separate from the Kremlin’s sweeping election-meddling campaign detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.” Butina has already served 9 months while awaiting trial. Her lawyers had asked for her to be sentenced to time served.
Hundreds of students and staffers at Cal State Los Angele and UCLA were quarantined this week after Los Angeles County declared a measles emergency. According to the New York Times, “Those at risk of having contracted measles were given health officer orders — legal orders issued by county officials — to stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible.” It was determined that earlier this month a student who had been infected with measles attended classes at UCLA. The strong response underscores the infectiousness of the measles virus which can spread to an unvaccinated person just by breathing the air of someone who has the disease – even hours later. Measles has been spreading around the country in large part because of the unfounded fears of among those who believe that vaccines cause autism. Speaking to reporters on Friday morning Trump was asked about the growing incidence of measles cases around the country and this is what he said.
The US Commerce Department released figures on Friday suggesting that by conventional economic standards the US economy continues to grow, surpassing 3%. The pace of growth even surpassed most economists’ expectations. Much of the growth was based on consumer spending which was down last December and January. The report does indicate that business spending was still slow. President Trump, who had promised to oversee an economic growth of more than 3% hailed the report and took credit for its results.
The same day that former Vice President Joe Biden formally made his announcement to run for President in 2020, a woman deeply impacted by his actions spoke up. Professor Anita Hill who testified against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, says she received a call from Biden ahead of his announcement. Biden had overseen the contentious televised 1991 hearing and many hold him responsible for making decisions that helped confirm Thomas and humiliate Hill. Biden’s campaign team disclosed that he had recently called Hill and expressed, “his regret for what she endured.” But in an interview with the New York Times she said, “I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you.’...I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.” Professor Hill also held Biden responsible for enabling the kind of contentious hearing that took place last year when Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
In immigration news, the Pentagon is expected to expand the role of the US military at the border with Mexico. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has reportedly approved 300 waivers for troop interactions with migrants from the south. The Pentagon says it is responding to a request from Homeland Security for military lawyers, cooks, drivers, and other support personnel. Meanwhile the US has just charged an immigration judge in Massachusetts and a court officer for allowing an undocumented immigrant to escape their courtroom from ICE Agents that were waiting to arrest him. Under Trump ICE agents have routinely sought to arrest immigrants while they are in court – a practice that critics have denounced. And, Judge Dana Sabraw has just given the federal government a six-month deadline to reunify thousands of children with their parents. Reports came to light earlier this year that the Trump administration separated many thousands more families than were initially known last year. The government had asked the judge for a 2-year period to reunify families.
The Supreme Court in Kansas has just ruled against that state’s 2015 anti-abortion law banning second-trimester abortions. The justices in making their ruling wrote that the, “right of personal autonomy” means that state laws cannot violate the right, “to control one’s own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation and family life — decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.” The ruling is expected to help legal cases against harsh anti-abortion laws in other states.
And a judge in Texas just ruled in favor of a Palestinian American woman who was fired from her public school district job for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Bahia Amawi worked as a speech therapist in a Texas school district near Austin and when she was fired for refusing to sign the Orwellian pledge, she sued on the grounds of her First Amendment rights. The judge’s ruling is the third such decision on anti-BDS policies around the US. BDS stands for the movement to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel over its human rights violations of Palestinians.