Headlines: February 18, 2020
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President Donald Trump has continued his attempts to influence a federal case against his friend Roger Stone despite widespread and bipartisan condemnation of his unethical interference into the matter and even a public denunciation by his own Attorney General William Barr. On Tuesday morning Trump tweeted, “Everything having to do with this fraudulent investigation is badly tainted and, in my opinion, should be thrown out.” He added, “If I wasn’t President, I’d be suing everyone all over the place… ….BUT MAYBE I STILL WILL. WITCH HUNT!” Trump has echoed the request by Roger Stone’s lawyers for a new trial and has also taken specific aim at the federal Judge on the case, Amy Jackson Berman, who refused to delay Stone’s sentencing. She said the sentencing hearing would take place this Thursday as planned. Meanwhile the Federal Judges Association has called an emergency meeting to discuss Trump and Barr’s improper interference in federal cases. The Association’s members include 1,100 lifetime federal judges that ordinarily focus on judicial compensation legislation involving judges, and other non-political matters. And on Sunday more than 2,000 former employees of the Justice Department called on Mr. Barr to resign.
In election-related news, the latest national poll of voter preferences conducted by NPR, PBS Newshour and Marist has found Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders surging by 9 percentage points and retaining his front runner status with 31% support now. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg also jumped 15 points to come in second place at 19%. Former Vice President Joe Biden is now at 15% while Senator Elizabeth Warren is at 12%. Meanwhile Sanders has earned the backing of a prominent Latino organization Mijente. Politico reported that Mijente, which has never before endorsed a Presidential candidate, asked its members to vote for their preference and 70% voted to endorse Sanders. The Vermont Senator drew a massive crowd of 17,000 people at the Tacoma Dome near Seattle in Washington on Monday night and among his main messages was a warning against Bloomberg.
The New York Times over the weekend detailed the immense “Empire of Influence” that Bloomberg has bought for himself, donating billions of dollars of his fortune to organizations, many of which are now loathe to criticize him or have even outright endorsed his presidential bid. The Times explained, “A former Republican who joined the Democratic Party in 2018, Mr. Bloomberg has long mingled support for progressive causes with more conservative positions on law enforcement, business regulation and school choice. He has often given voice to views that liberals find troubling.” Bloomberg and Sanders have been releasing dueling ads against one another. Bloomberg released an ad criticizing the bad behavior of people claiming to be Sanders’ supporters, while Sanders shot back on Twitter with a photo of Bloomberg golfing with Trump.
Meanwhile the Trump administration is rushing ahead to build a border wall with Mexico ahead of the November elections. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf has just waived contracting requirements for builders working on the wall in order to speed up the process. Trump has also re-appropriated military funding for his wall – a move opposed by members of Congress in both parties. In immigration-related news, the Washington Post on Tuesday reported the plight of one of the immigrant families deeply impacted by Trump’s family separation policy. A nine-year old Guatemalan girl named Adelaida Reynoso has been living in Florida for the past 2 and a half years, separated from her mother Maria. The case is one of the longest-known family separations. The Post explained, “Despite a massive legal effort and protest movement, many of the migrant families split up at the border remain apart. The children have now spent enough time in the United States to narrate their stories of separation in fluent English. Their parents are back in Central America, watching sons and daughters grow up over grainy video calls.” And, in order to combat fear among immigrant communities of participating in this year’s federal Census, the US Census Bureau is spending millions of dollars in a public education campaign to assure non-citizen residents that they will not be asked about their citizenship status. The Republican Party together with President Trump pushed hard to scare immigrants from being counted and despite losing their legal battle may have succeeded in their scare tactics.
The Boy Scouts of America has been hit so hard with lawsuits over child sexual abuse that the organization has now filed for bankruptcy. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing will allow the organization to give accusers a limited time to come forward and continue to operate as it attempts to control its finances under the weight of lawsuits. And, jury selection in the Harvey Weinstein case has completed with seven men and five women deliberating the charges of sexual assault and rape brought by numerous women against the Hollywood movie mogul. Weinstein could be sentenced to as much as life in prison if he is convicted.
In Virginia, Democrats joined their Republican colleagues in defeating a landmark ban on the sales of assault rifles backed by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam. The bill was killed in the state Senate Judiciary committee with four Democrats joining Republicans in the effort. Democrats currently control all chambers of the state government in Virginia.
The state of California is set to formally apologize to Japanese Americans for the mass violations of their civil rights during World War II when thousands of people were placed in internment camps. The California Assembly will vote this Thursday on HR 77. The bill reads in part, “The Assembly apologizes to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period.”
Alabama State Representative Rolanda Hollis has sponsored a new state bill requiring men over the age of 50, or those who have already fathered 3 children to get mandatory vasectomies. The bill in intended to point out the hypocrisy of rightwing attempts to ban abortions for pregnant people but Texas Senator Ted Cruz apparently did not get the irony when he tweeted his opposition to the bill. Cruz wrote on Twitter, “Yikes. A government big enough to give you everything is big enough to take everything…literally!” Cruz was targeted by hundreds on Twitter who said he made Hollis’ point. One person shot back, “Yikes. It’s almost like you’re uncomfortable with someone telling you what to do with your body and deciding when and how to have a kid.”
Greenpeace has released a disturbing new study that found the vast majority of plastic products that Americans are putting into their recycling bins are not getting recycled and are instead clogging up landfills. A Greenpeace spokesperson explained, “This report shows that one of the best things to do to save recycling is to stop claiming that everything is recyclable… We have to talk to companies about not producing so much throw-away plastic that ends up in the ocean or in incinerators.” The organization has threatened to sue companies that falsely claim their products are recyclable. Meanwhile, the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, has announced a new foundation called Bezos Earth Fund, pledging $10 billion to combat climate change. Employees of his company Amazon have been campaigning hard to push Amazon to fight for the climate in the face of retaliation and threats.
In international news, the threat of the Coronavirus continues with the Director of the Wuhan hospital in China now reportedly succumbing to the disease. Over the weekend the US evacuated dozens of its citizens who were under quarantine on cruise ships despite warnings against doing so. There were over a dozen infected people among the evacuees. In other news from China, the New York Times published a special investigation into how the Chinese government tracks its Muslim citizens using unprecedented surveillance powers, and selects them for detention.
In Afghanistan where the US continues to wage the longest official war in its history, President Ashraf Ghani has just cemented his second term in office after a 5-month delay in obtaining election results. The news comes just as the Taliban has announced it will sign a peace deal with the US to end the war and lead to a potential troop withdrawal.