Headlines: August 7, 2018
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In today’s news headlines, the trial of President Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort continues with federal prosecutors on Monday bringing former Trump aide Rick Gates to the stand. Mr. Gates, considered the government’s star witness in the Manafort case, “calmly acknowledged having embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from Paul Manafort and said the two had committed crimes together by stashing money in foreign bank accounts and falsifying bank loan documents,” as per AP. Gates was considered Manafort’s “right hand man.” Many of the millions that Manafort and Gates stashed away in foreign bank accounts, out of the reach of the IRS, was from Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting work.
Meanwhile in the wake of President Trump admitting that his son and campaign advisors broke the law when they met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in 2016 to gather dirt on his opponent, the White House has attempted to do some damage control. According to Raw Story, “[o]n Monday, White House correspondents reported that the White House had issued a ‘lid’ on presidential travel and questions from the press.” The President departed for his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey last week and plans to remain there vacationing until mid-August.
Trump has been repeatedly tweeting support for GOP Congressional Candidate Troy Balderson in a special election, taking place in Ohio on Tuesday. The closely watched race is being considered a bellweather for the November midterms. Balderson faces Democrat Danny O’Connor. On Monday Trump also threw his weight behind Kansas’ controversial State Secretary Kris Kobach in his bid for governor. Trump tweeted that Kobach, “has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military,” in part because he was, “a strong and early supporter of mine.”
The Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California has now become the biggest blaze in the state’s recorded history. It is only one of about 18 fires being battled by more than 14,000 firefighters across the state. Climate change has spurred hotter, drier summer weather that has created conditions perfect for such fires to grow in – an outcome predicted by climate scientists for years. President Trump’s weekend claim that California’s environmental laws are to blame for the fires because of water being diverted to the ocean was widely ridiculed on Monday. State officials said they have plenty of water to battle fires.
Meanwhile a new study released Monday underscores the dangers of our new climate era. A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warned that we may be pushing the Earth into a so-called “hot-house” state – a tipping point from which it would be hard to emerge. The scientists who hail from Denmark, Germany, and Australia, warn in their paper that, “Hothouse Earth is likely to be uncontrollable and dangerous to many.” They added, “A 2 Celsius warming could activate important tipping elements, raising the temperature further to activate other tipping elements in a domino-like cascade that could take the Earth System to even higher temperatures.” This cascade “may tip the entire Earth system into a new mode of operation,” unless nations transition to a green economy immediately. President Trump has fought the claims of climate scientists at every turn and done his best to promote fossil fuels instead.
A court has ruled against the federal government’s ban on transgender troops in the military. The Monday decision was the second time a court had ruled against the ban. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued the ruling in a case brought by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders representing several soldiers and recruits.
Facebook was under fire on Monday once more – this time after the Wall Street Journal published a piece about how the social media platform, “has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking-account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users.” The report added that, “Facebook has told banks that the additional customer information could be used to offer services that might entice users to spend more time on Messenger,” but that it could be trusted not to use that information to target users with ads. The banks in question include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and US Bancorp. The public uproar over the potential privacy violations detailed by the report led to Facebook issuing a statement saying they’re not asking for financial data, they are simply “partnering” with banks.
In immigration news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions slammed a federal court’s decision to restore the Obama-era DACA program. DACA – or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – offered work authorization for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as babies or children. After Trump rescinded the program, Friday’s ruling in a lawsuit against the government has ordered DACA to re-start on August 23rd. But Mr. Sessions has vowed to “take every lawful measure,” to keep that from happening.
A pro-immigrant action on Monday in Nashville, Tennessee has resulted in the arrest of 19 people. Activists with the group No Exceptions Prison Collective, blocked the entrance to CoreCivic corporation’s headquarters. The company runs a number of private prisons around the nation that are being used to detain undocumented immigrants. According to the Associated Press, “Demonstrators linked their arms through barrels weighed down with cement and through pipes, and one was seated on a swing-like perch about 25 feet up in the air, suspended from a large tripod made with logs.” Among those arrested were two women: a reverend and a former CoreCivic Corrections officer.
Activists in Washington DC gathered outside the offices of Mayor Muriel Bowser to protest her silence in the wake of several recent ICE raids. They delivered a letter signed onto by dozens of advocacy groups asking for a meeting with the mayor to discuss her position on immigration enforcement. The letter said, “For D.C. to be a true ‘sanctuary city,’ ICE raids in our communities cannot be met with silence. We ask that you show leadership and stand up to ICE on behalf of D.C. …We cannot sit idly by while our immigrant friends, colleagues, family members, and neighbors are terrorized by ICE.”
Amid calls to ‘Abolish ICE,’ President Trump nominated acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ronald Vitiello to assume the role formally. Upon nominating Vitiello – who replaced the retiring Tom Homan – Trump tweeted that ICE was, “protecting our Country from some of the most vicious and dangerous people on earth.” Meanwhile the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called for the dismissal of a New Jersey ICE Spokesman named Emilio Karim Dabul. CAIR says Mr. Dabul has, “ties to anti-Muslim hate groups and designated Islamophobes.” Dabul, “edited and wrote for anti-Muslim hate groups including ACT for America and David Horowitz Freedom Center.”
Enthusiastic Trump supporter and peddler of right-wing conspiracies, Alex Jones, is finally being punished. After the music streaming service Spotify announced it would remove some of his episodes, Facebook, Youtube, and iTunes have banned the Infowars host. Jones, who asked Trump for help, is being sued by parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre over his claims that the mass shooting was an elaborate hoax.
The new episode of comedian trickster Sacha Baron Cohen is out and an online teaser shows that his latest right-wing target is former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio who was notorious for his anti-immigrant racism and was convicted of breaking federal laws. Arpaio was controversially pardoned by Trump. On his Showtime program Cohen pretended to be a Finnish TV host interviewing Arpaio through a talking donut and using sexually explicit language that Arpaio did not seem perturbed by.
In international news, Venezuelan authorities have released a video showing the moment that President Nicholas Maduro was interrupted by the sounds of a loud explosion while speaking at an event. The explosion was later linked to an attempted attack by an armed drone. Mr. Maduro blamed Columbia’s leadership as well as the US for the attempted assassination. Here is an excerpt of an Al Jazeera report.
The US has finally issued a report admitting to the killing of 77 civilians that died in several air raids aimed at Raqqa, Syria last year. Amnesty International had issued a report about the killings in June, which the US military had denounced. On Monday the US-led coalition issued a report saying, “although all feasible precautions were taken and the decision to strike complied with the law of armed conflict, unintended civilian casualties regrettably occurred.” There were 24 children and 25 women among those the US is responsible for having killed.
Iran has responded angrily to the US’s resumption of sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised interview on Monday, “If someone has knife in the hand and seeks talks, he should first put the knife in his pocket,” implying that President Trump is threatening violence. He added, “I have no pre-conditions” for negotiating with America “if the U.S. government is ready to negotiate about paying compensation to the Iranian nation from 1953 until now,” and that, “The U.S owes the Iranian nation for its intervention in Iran.” Trump has recklessly rolled back the carefully crafted agreement made with Iran by the Obama administration and European allies. Meanwhile Iran’s leaders are facing mass protests inside the country focused on the nation’s ailing economy.