Headlines: January 13, 2020
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Protests in Iran are raging over the Iranian regime’s erroneous shooting down of a passenger plane carrying 176 people last week. Among the dead were 130 Iranian nationals. Protesters slammed the Iranian government led by President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Reports are emerging of security forces firing live rounds into the crowds, shooting several people in the back. Universities in particular are sites of unrest as many of those killed on the passenger plane were students heading to Canada for study. Even prominent celebrities and local officials have issued stinging rebukes against the hardline government. Here in the US, President Donald Trump praised the protesters on Twitter hoping to further erode the credibility of the regime he has politically targeted and militarily threatened.
The Iranian government’s explanation for its downing of the Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 included “US adventurism,” in the words of Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif. That wording referenced the US’s missile strike on Iraq on January 3rd that killed the top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Initially President Trump had claimed that the missile strike was based on evidence of planned attacks by Iran on US embassies. But on Sunday Defense Secretary Mark Esper admitted in an interview that he had not seen any intelligence to that effect. He said on Face the Nation, “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies…I share the president’s view that probably — my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country.” Meanwhile NBC reported that in fact Solemani’s killing was part of a list of military options that President Trump had approved 7 months ago.
Americans are unhappy with the Trump Administration’s handling of the Iran situation. A new ABC News/Ipsos poll has found that 56% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s dealings on Iran. Fifty two percent said that Solemani’s killing has made Americans less safe. The US House of Representatives last week passed a resolution 224 to 194 restricting Trump’s ability to launch a strike on Iran without Congressional approval.
The House is also readying a vote this week on whether to send two articles of impeachment to the US Senate for a trial over whether President Trump should be removed from office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been withholding the articles that the House passed late last year after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a biased trial in complete coordination with the White House. In an interview on ABC on Sunday Pelosi said, “We’ve done our job. We have defended the Constitution of the United States. We would hope the Senate would do that as well.” She added, “Now the ball is in their court to either do that or pay a price.” President Trump raged on Twitter on Sunday, demanding that Pelosi herself testify at a Senate trial. Meanwhile House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff has said he is considering formally issuing a subpoena for former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify to the House about his knowledge of Trump’s impeachable conduct. Trump countered in a Fox News interview that while he would love for Bolton to testify he would invoke executive privilege to block him.
Six Democratic candidates for their party’s Presidential nomination have qualified for Tuesday’s debate taking place in Des Moines, Iowa, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses. One state-wide poll showed Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg tied at 23%, but another showed Sanders leading the pack. As Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren slips in the polls, her campaign released a statement accusing Sanders’s campaign of setting out to “trash” her. In what appears to be the end of an unwritten pact of non-confrontation between the two leading candidates, Warren was referring to a Sanders’ campaign talking point that Warren’s backers were restricted to, “highly educated, more affluent people.” Meanwhile Mayor Pete Buttigieg faced protests at a campaign event in Iowa by members of a Black Lives Matter group accusing him of being “anti-black,” and “anti-poor.” And, Senator Cory Booker – the only candidate of color left in the field – announced on Monday that he was withdrawing from the race.
The US military has decided to expel about a dozen Saudi Arabian trainees from the Pensacola Air Base where a Saudi national last month shot and killed 3 Americans. The expulsions came after a review of hundreds of Saudi trainees and while those being removed from the air base were not found to have aided the gunman, some were found to have ties to other extremist groups while others were apparently consuming child pornography.
The US Labor Department – which is meant to help protect labor rights – has just proposed a major new rule making it harder for workers to sue franchise owners. The New York Times explained that, “Under the rule, which will take effect in March, employees of a fast-food franchise like a McDonald’s restaurant, for example, may struggle to win a legal claim against the parent company if a franchisee violates minimum-wage and overtime laws.” Millions of workers are owed back-wages and this new Labor Department rule would make it much harder for them to recover their earnings.
Two major newspapers in Texas have blasted Gov. Greg Abbott for his recent decision to turn away refugees from his state invoking a Trump administration executive order giving him the authority to do so. Both the Houston Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News accused the Governor of playing politics with the lives of refugees. The Dallas Morning News editorial board in particular wrote, “This is about creating space for people with clear and approved asylum claims, and we are sorry that in his letter Abbott chose to conflate Texas’ border struggles with the decision to reject refugees.” In other immigration news, a lawsuit over poor conditions at Border Patrol detention centers filed under the Obama administration is finally going to trial. The suit names 8 Border Patrol holding centers in Arizona.
A major new study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco on abortion, has found that by and large most women who have abortions are happy with their decision years later – a finding that undermines a frequent claim by anti-abortionists that women regret their abortions. According to the Washington Post, the study found that five years after they had abortions, “84 percent reported either primarily positive emotions or none at all.” Additionally, “Immediately after their abortions, 95 percent of those who agreed to interviews said they had made the right decision. At five years, that percentage increased to 99 percent.”
Puerto Rico has continued to be hit by earthquakes for nearly two weeks as the island’s residents remain traumatized by the powerful seismic activity. The US Geological survey is predicting a small chance of another quake this week. As former President Barack Obama urges support for those affected, Puerto Ricans wait to see if President Trump will sign an emergency declaration to offer federal relief. Trump has repeatedly refused to adequately fund hurricane disaster relief for Puerto Rico.
And finally, tens of thousands of people in the Philippines are fleeing the massive eruption of a volcano in the town of Maralit near the capital Manila. Hundreds of flights have been canceled as the Taal volcano spewed ash and smoke. So far there have been no direct casualties. According to AP, “The volcano’s last disastrous eruption happened in 1965, when more than 200 people were killed.”