Headlines: December 18, 2018
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UPDATED: White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested on on Fox News on Tuesday morning that there might be other ways to obtain funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall than threatening a partial government shutdown. So far there has been no progress made toward meeting a December 21st deadline for a spending bill to fund the federal government. Meanwhile, Trump was busy pushing anti-immigrant propaganda on Tuesday to make his case for the wall. He claimed on Twitter without evidence, “Illegal immigration costs the United States more than 200 Billion Dollars a year. How was this allowed to happen?” Huffington Post on Monday speculated that if Trump makes good on his threat to shutdown the government, he could be playing golf over the holidays – as he likes to do – with Secret Servicemen going without pay to protect him. Trump is scheduled to fly to his Florida golf resort on Friday for a 16-day vacation and the Secret Service staffers are among those who paychecks are on the line as pawns in Trump’s border wall funding demand.
President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn heads into his sentencing hearing on Tuesday, but it is likely that the judge will not give him any prison time, as requested by the Special Counsel due to his extraordinary cooperation with the investigation. The President on Tuesday morning wished Flynn “Good luck“ on Twitter, and hoped out loud that Flynn did not testify to prosecutors about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian representatives. On Monday Special Counsel Robert Mueller released a redacted version of the January 2017 testimony that Flynn had made to the FBI during which he lied. Trump had claimed that Flynn did not lie or did not know it was a crime to lie to federal investigators.
More details have emerged from the report prepared for the Senate on Russian-led propaganda efforts ahead of the 2016 election and in the months following. The Washington Post on Monday explained that a targeted campaign to discredit Special Counsel Mueller was a large part of the effort. According to the paper, “The Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies.” The campaign, according to the report, was vast and used different social media platforms to specialize in different types of targeting. For example, “Twitter hit political and journalistic elites. Facebook and its advertising targeting tools divided the electorate into demographic and ideological segments ripe for manipulation…YouTube provided a free online library of more than 1,100 disinformation videos. PayPal helped raise money and move politically themed merchandise designed by the Russian teams…Tumblr, Medium, Vine, Reddit and various other websites also played roles.” The report was prepared by an organization called New Knowledge.
The President and his Vice President Mike Pence are expected to launch a new military “Space Command,” this week as a step toward a new branch called Space Force. Space Force, which started out as a spur-of-the-moment idea during one of Trump’s speeches early in his tenure, is rapidly on its way to becoming a reality and could increase the Defense Budget by billions. Mr. Pence is expected to visit the Pentagon and the Kennedy Space Center this week as part of the launch of Space Command.
Therese Okoumou, the woman who climbed the Statue of Liberty this summer in protest of Trump’s immigrant family separation policies, has been convicted of trespassing, interfering with governmental administration, and disorderly conduct. Okoumou is a Congolese American who said her independence-day protest was an act of civil disobedience. Each conviction carries a maximum sentence of 6 months. She spoke to supporters and press outside the court on Monday. Okoumou is an activist who faces prison time for her act of civil disobedience in climbing the Statue of Liberty to protest anti-immigrant policies.
In other immigration news, the Department of Homeland Security announced that border patrol agents involved in the detention of a 7-year old Guatemalan girl who later died, will not speak with members of Congress. Jakelin Caal was traveling with her father to the US when she was detained and separated from her parent. She died at an El Paso, Texas hospital a day later. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus want to know what happened and why she died. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has used the girl’s death to showcase the dangers of immigrants traveling to the US, and illustrate the need for deterrents.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development this week released its annual report on homelessness and found that the number of homeless Americans has slightly increased this year, and the increase has happened for the second year in a row. The Trump administration spun the numbers in a positive light saying in a press release that, “Homelessness in the U.S. remained largely unchanged in 2018.” A former HUD secretary told NBC that the increase in homelessness was largely due to the lack of affordable housing.
The manufacturer Johnson & Johnson has responded swiftly to a recent Reuters investigation into its baby powder that found the company knew for decades about asbestos contamination that caused cancer in its users. The company took out full-page ads on Monday defending itself as its stocks plunged billions of dollars in value. The Reuters investigation spurred Senator Ed Markey to request the Food and Drug Administration investigate whether Johnson & Johnson lied to the public and whether its products caused harm.