Headlines: February 22, 2019
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The North Carolina Board of elections on Thursday ordered a new race to fill the seat that had been officially won by Republican Mark Harris. Harris called for the 9th District election himself after it was revealed that a political consultant on his campaign engaged in a deliberate and systematic voter fraud scheme. The 5-person board, in a unanimous vote tossed out the November 2018 results. Harris says he had suffered from recent strokes as a result of a sepsis infection and that apparently clouded his judgment. His opponent, Democrat Dan McCready is preparing to run again in new election but it seems unlikely that Harris will run. The North Carolina voter fraud scandal has roiled local communities in the state. Earlier in the week Harris’ son John who happens to be a federal prosecutor testified that he warned his father against hiring the political consultant in question.
In other news, Democrats in the House and Senate are preparing to introduce legislation opposing President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration. The House will likely see a bill introduced on Friday while the Senate, which is not in session on Friday, will see a similar bill on Monday. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement, “If the president’s emergency declaration prevails, it will fundamentally change the balance of powers in a way our country’s founders never envisioned. That should be a serious wake up call to senators in both parties who believe in the constitutional responsibility of Congress to limit an overreaching executive.”
Meanwhile the Pentagon has already apparently asked the Department of Homeland Security for a list of priorities along the US-Mexico border to justify the $3.6 billion that Trump wants to re-appropriate. In a move that surprised lawmakers, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters, “We’ve asked DHS for input facts, data, priorities; we are waiting to receive those.”
A federal judge in San Diego is considering expanding a case against the government over immigrant family separation, given that children were being taken away from their parents for many more months than was initially known. The ACLU made the formal request to Judge Dana Sabraw saying that the Trump Administration’s family separation policy went as far back as July 2017. The case originally considered the separation policy to have begun as late as June 26, 2018. Judge Sabraw asked why wouldn’t the case, “include everyone who has been allegedly unlawfully separated? Why would it be tethered to an arbitrary date of June 26, 2018?” In commenting on how little is known about the actual number of children taken away from their parents, Sabraw said, “We simply don’t know. There was no tracking. That’s the harsh reality.” Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart countered that expanding the case to include all separated families would impose a, “significant burden” on the government and, “blow the case into some other galaxy” after the administration has “done all things to correct the wrong.”
California Congressman Adam Schiff who chairs the House Intelligence Committee has written an open letter to Republicans in the Washington Post. In it he chastised his colleagues over their silence saying, “When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didn’t like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.” Schiff also revealed that many of his Republican colleagues had privately complained about the President and had “deep misgivings” about his “lack of decency, character and integrity,” and, “his fundamental inability to tell the truth.” Mr. Schiff added, “The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.”
A US Coast Guard officer named Christopher P. Hasson remains in custody after his recent arrest over his plan for a massive domestic terrorist attack. Hasson was arrested a week ago and found to have had a large weapons cache and espoused white supremacist and other extremist views. Federal prosecutors have labeled him a “domestic terrorist,” over his desire for “focused violence” to “establish a white homeland,” and continued to keep him in custody. Hasson apparently used his work computers to plan deadly attacks against politicians and journalists, and to study the attempts of mass shooters.
Meanwhile Empire star Jussie Smollett turned himself in to Chicago police after being charged with staging an attack on himself. A judge set his bail at $100,000 and Smollett paid a $10,000 bond and was released. Chicago police attributed their charges to interrogations of two men that Smollett had apparently paid $3,500 to for staging the attack. They also cited the city’s vast network of surveillance cameras in tracing the path of the alleged attackers. Law enforcement have been unusually outspoken in the high-profile case with Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson going as far as saying that Smollett was taking, “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
The UCLA College of Social Sciences has just released its annual Hollywood Diversity Report ahead of the Academy Awards. Analyzing the top-grossing films and television shows of 2017, the report concludes that the nation’s increasingly diverse audiences want to watch more diverse films and shows. While there were gains made by non-white communities compared to last year’s report, the report concluded that, “people of color remained underrepresented on every industry employment front in 2016-17.” Additionally women made some progress, particularly as film leads and directors, but, “remained underrepresented on every front in 2016-17.”
For the first time in more than 20 years, Oakland, California’s teachers are walking off their jobs. An official strike began on Thursday as the approximately 3,000 teachers demanded wage raises, and greater support staff such as nurses and counselors. More than 36,000 students at 86 schools are impacted. A massive gathering of parents and children supported the teachers at a rally on Thursday evening outside Oakland City Hall. Mayor Libby Schaaf has expressed support for the striking educators. Negotiations with the district will resume on Friday.
In international news, more than 100 people died in Bangladesh when a car exploded in a busy street in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday night. The car was powered by natural gas and one of its cylinders ignited. The New York Times described how, “A wall of fire surged across the street, engulfing bicycles, rickshaws, cars, people, everything in its path.” Then, “The blast flipped the car. It then ignited several other cylinders that were being used at a street-side restaurant. Then a plastics store on the ground floor of a nearby building caught fire. Then a small shop that was illegally storing chemicals burst into flames.” An architect in Dhaka told reporters, “This isn’t about poverty, it’s about greed… The people storing these chemicals in residential buildings are rich — they have cars, nice homes, children studying abroad.” Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest nations and has been wracked in recent years with deadly fires and infrastructure failures.
And finally in Venezuela, the embattled government of Nicolás Maduro says it will block the nation’s borders in an attempt to keep out aid being forced onto the country by outside powers seeking regime change. Maduro threatened to close the border with Colombia and announced a border closure with Brazil. On Friday, news emerged that a government military convoy shot at a group of indigenous civilians attempting to keep part of the Venezuela-Brazil border open, and killed one woman.