Headlines: January 17, 2019
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Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, faced Senators on Wednesday at his confirmation hearing for the permanent position. Wheeler was the EPA’s Deputy Administrator when Scott Pruitt, the previous EPA head resigned in disgrace under a cloud of ethics violations and other scandals. Wheeler testified in front of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and was interrupted by protesters during his opening remarks saying “Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA,” during Andrew Wheeler’s opening testimony at Wednesday’s Senate confirmation hearing. Like his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, Wheeler is antagonistic to regulations protecting the environment, even though he is vying for the position of chief environment regulator. Until just a few years ago he was working as a lobbyist for the coal and natural gas industries.
Senator Bernie Sanders aggressively questioned Wheeler during the hearing about climate change. Wheeler responded to Senator Bernie Sanders’s question saying climate change was not the greatest crisis facing us. Sanders also questioned Wheeler about California’s wildfires. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist vying for the top job at the EPA, toed President Trump’s discredited theory that poor forest management is to blame for California’s wildfires.
In other news, the longest federal government shutdown in history stretches on with no end in sight. Democratic Representative Raul Grijalva on Wednesday wrote to the Interior Department saying that drilling permits for the oil and gas industry should be put on hold during the shutdown. The Interior Department has apparently been changing employees’ work descriptions in order to continue processing oil lease sales, seismic permits, and more. Grijalva wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, saying, “One of the most striking features of the current government shutdown, brought about entirely by the President’s insistence on building an entirely unnecessary border wall, is the way the administration has bent over backwards to ensure that the pain of the shutdown falls only on ordinary Americans and the environment, and not on the oil and gas industry.”
Among the hardest hit workers in the government shutdown are those working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), providing security at airports and other ports of entry. TSA administrators have announced that growing numbers of TSA workers have not been showing up, opposed to the idea of being made to work without pay, and stressed about their finances. Airports are having to bring in other workers to fill their positions and wait times for security are increasing.
Meanwhile Republican Newt Gingrich who oversaw the nation’s second longest government shutdown during his tenure as House Speaker in 1995, advised President Donald Trump to not negotiate with the Democrats to end the shutdown. He said during a CNN interview, “My advice would be: Why don’t you schedule three rallies in three Democratic districts and have people show up — see how Democrats feel about that kind of direct pressure? He ought to start planning right now. Reaching out to individual Democrats and ignoring Pelosi and Schumer.” In 1995 Gingrich was perceived by the public as being responsible for the 21-day shutdown when he was House Speaker.
In other news Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday triumphantly announced to an annual gathering of American diplomats that the Islamic State had been defeated. He did this just hours after it was confirmed that four Americans were among the 19 killed in a suicide bombing in Manjib, Syria a day earlier. According to the New York Times, “It was at least the sixth major attack by the Islamic State in less than a month…and was one of the deadliest days that the American-led coalition had suffered in the fight against the group.”
The US has arrested an American journalist who works for an Iranian television news station called Press TV. The FBI arrested Marzieh Hashemi in St. Louis this week and took to Washington DC where she remains in custody. Hashemi was born under the name Melanie Franklin in New Orleans and has worked for Press TV for 25 years. Her son Hossein Hashemi explained the circumstances of her arrest to AP. Her arrest by the FBI comes just a week after the Iranian government announced it was holding U.S. Navy veteran Michael R. White in custody – the first American to be jailed by Iran during the Trump administration.
The dust has finally settled in Nairobi, Kenya, where an attack by the group Al Shabab on Tuesday targeted a popular hotel chain and office park. The final death toll climbed to 21 with 28 injured. The five attackers are also dead. Two people who allegedly helped coordinate the attack are under arrest. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta made a televised address saying, “We will seek out every person that was involved in the funding, planning and execution of this heinous act.”
And finally in Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government survived a vote of no confidence launched by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn has urged her to resign over her failure to negotiate a satisfactory Brexit deal with the European Union. If May had lost the vote or resigned, there would have needed to be a snap election in the nation just weeks ahead of the announced EU departure date of March 29th. According to AP, “Many pro-Brexit Conservatives who voted against May’s deal, backed her in the no-confidence vote to avoid an election that could bring a left-wing Labour government to power.”