Headlines: December 30, 2019
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President Donald Trump is facing push back over his retweet of a post that named the alleged whistleblower whose complaint to Congress sparked Trump’s impeachment. A constitutional lawyer named Lawrence Tribe told Salon.com that in outing the whistleblower, “Trump has violated yet another law.” Tribe explained that “The Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act of 1998 (ICWPA) outlaws actions by government officials or agencies that directly or indirectly encourage retaliatory actions against employees who legitimately perform a whistleblower role in the intelligence community, as the whistleblower in this case clearly did regarding a matter of urgent concern, as determined by the Inspector General.” Trump has repeatedly urged the exposing of the whistleblower and even suggested he face the death penalty for daring to file his complaint.
The New York Times on Sunday published a lengthy exposé entitled, “Behind the Ukraine Aid Freeze: 84 Days of Conflict and Confusion,” The report is based on, “Interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony.” It paints a detailed picture of Trump’s decision to withhold Congressionally mandated military aid to Ukraine as leverage to demand political dirt on his rivals, and how his scheme stopped in its tracks when the whistleblower filed his complaint. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney emerged as, “a key conduit for transmitting Mr. Trump’s demands for the freeze across the administration.” Additionally, there was much more internal opposition to the Ukraine scheme than previously known and that Defense Secretary Mark Esper, State Secretary Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor John Bolton all expressed strong criticism of it. Another figure, Michael Duffey, an official with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has also emerged as the point person to the Pentagon instructing them to freeze the military aid and keep quiet about it. Analysts are citing the New York Times’ article as severely weakening Trump’s impeachment defense.
Meanwhile State Secretary Pompeo is scheduled to visit Ukraine this Friday to assure the Eastern European country of on-going American commitment to its defenses from Russia. He will be the highest ranking US official to visit Ukraine since the controversial July 25th phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. And Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly called Trump on Sunday speaking with him for the first time since the July Ukraine call. According to a statement from the Kremlin, “Putin thanked … Trump for the information shared via the special services that helped prevent terrorist acts in Russia… Several matters of mutual interest were discussed. An agreement was made to continue bilateral cooperation in the fight against terrorism.”
The suspect in Sunday’s New York stabbing at a Rabbi’s home apparently has no known ties to hate groups and has a history of mental illness. Thirty-seven year old Grafton Thomas was arrested within hours of an attack at a private home of a Jewish rabbi in the New York suburb of Monsey where a large Orthodox Jewish community lives. Five people were wounded during the 2-minute attack on Hannukah. Here have been a spate of incidents targeting Jews in New York City over the past few weeks alone. Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke alongside other community leaders in New York on Sunday about the attack. He also announced a plan to combat anti-Semitic attacks with a greater reliance on police and security cameras.
Meanwhile in Texas, violence broke out in a church in a town called White Settlement. An armed man opened fire killing two people before armed parishioners pulled out their own guns and killed the suspect. The name of the alleged shooter has not been released and no motive is yet known. Defenders of gun proliferation are citing the attack as evidence that more rights for gun owners make for a safer environment even though the so-called “good-guy-with-a-gun” scenario is exceedingly rare. A new report found that 2019 had the highest number of mass shootings on record with a whopping 41 incidents that took 211 lives. The overall homicide rate has paradoxically dropped.
Bloomberg just published its “Billionaires Index” and found that the richest 500 people saw a whopping 25% increase in their already obscene levels of wealth over this past year. The top 500 richest people now sit on nearly $6 trillion dollars, up $1.2 trillion over 2019.
Veteran congressman and long-time civil rights icon John Lewis announced he is suffering from stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The highly celebrated 79-year old Georgia Representative has served 17 years in office and will be undergoing treatment for the disease that has low survival rates. He said, “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly my entire life,” and added, “I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now.”
California retailers are struggling to comply with a new set of rules that go into effect January 1st over the data that they collect from shoppers. The sweeping new law called the California Consumer Privacy Act is modeled after a European law that protects consumer data from big companies that trade in user data. Reuters called it, “one of the most significant regulations overseeing the data collection practices of U.S. companies,” that, “lets shoppers to opt out of allowing retailers and other companies to sell personal data to third parties.” The California law even require retailers to place signs about the regulations inside brick-and-mortar stores.
In international news, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced on Sunday that the US dropped bombs on Iraq and Syria aimed at an Iraqi militia group that Iran was backing. State Secretary Mike Pompeo referred to the bombs as “Precision defensive strikes” after the militia was identified as being responsible for strikes on Friday that killed a US contractor in northern Iraq. The militia, called Kataeb Hezbollah, vowed retaliation against the US and Iraq’s government said it will reconsider its relationship with the US.
The US also dropped bombs on Mogadishu, the capitol of Somalia this past weekend. The US strikes were apparently aimed at the Al Shabaab militant group and resulted in at least 4 deaths of people that the US claimed were “terrorists.” The US Africa Command or Africom has sharply increased its attacks on Somalia after President Trump unleashed the US military. According to the Guardian newspaper Africom has, “killed more than 800 people in 110 air strikes in Somalia since April 2017.”
And finally UNICEF, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, has just released a report detailed worldwide violence against children over the past year. As the 2010s come to a close, UNICEF found that, “Since the start of the decade, the United Nations has verified more than 170,000 grave violations against children in conflict. That’s the equivalent of more than 45 violations every single day.” Nations like Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen – where the US has a deep military involvement – are epicenters of violence against children.