Headlines: January 31, 2019
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The Polar Vortex slamming the Midwest with record breaking cold weather, has claimed at least 8 lives. Among them was a man who was shoveling snow and collapsed and then froze to death in his garage, and a University of Iowa student found frozen outside a school building. Hospital emergency rooms are inundated with frostbite cases. The cities of Minneapolis, Detroit, and Chicago opened “warming centers” for homeless people. Transportation came to a halt, including air, and rail, and schools were shut. In some places postal service was halted. The New York Times explained the dangers of instant frostbite: “Going gloveless for only a minute or two, in double-digit negative temperatures, left hands feeling numb, then clumsy and flipper-like, then white-hot with pain.” The worst of the low temperatures was expected on Wednesday night going into Thursday. The Washington Post reported that, “Power outages roiled swaths of Wisconsin and Iowa, plunging thousands into a brief, unheated darkness.” To summarize, large swathes of the Midwest are experiencing temperatures normally felt at the Arctic Circle.
In other news, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell slammed the Democrats’ new anti-corruption, pro-democracy bill on Wednesday. In particular he viewed the section of the bill calling for election day to be a federal holiday, as a “power grab.” Democratic Representative Ted Lieu tweeted in response, “I’m sort of happy that McConnell fears making election day a federal holiday. It’s such a frank acknowledgement that the GOP’s ideas are not accepted by the majority of American voters.” He added, “Any party that is scared of people exercising the right to vote, will eventually be doomed.”
A new report has found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been force-feeding six detained undocumented immigrants using nasal feeding tubes, that have been on hunger strike for a month. ICE Agents at an El Paso, Texas, detention center told Associated Press that nearly a dozen detainees have been refusing to eat, some of them for more than a month. A man named Amrit Singh, whose two nephews are from Punjab, India, and among those being force-fed said, “They are not well. Their bodies are really weak, they can’t talk and they have been hospitalized, back and forth…They want to know why they are still in the jail and want to get their rights and wake up the government immigration system.” Additionally Associated Press reported that, “Detainees who reached the AP, along with a relative and an attorney representing hunger strikers, said nearly 30 detainees from India and Cuba have been refusing to eat, and some are now so weak they cannot stand up or talk.” There are apparently more hunger-striking detainees in other facilities around the country.
Reuters on Wednesday reported on the Foxconn manufacturing group that President Donald Trump had proudly touted as proof that he was bringing jobs back to the US. Foxconn has received huge subsidies from local and state sources in Wisconsin for its television production but has now announced it will mostly be hiring engineers and other white-collar workers in the US and not the manufacturing employees it originally promised. Foxconn Chief Executive Terry Gou told Reuters, “In terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S. We can’t compete.” Wisconsin’s former Republican Governor Scott Walker had secured $4 billion in tax breaks and other incentives for the company based on a promise of creating 13,000 manufacturing jobs. In 2018, the company hired only 178 people. So far neither Trump nor Walker have publicly commented on the Reuters Foxconn report.
In news from the Special Counsel’s investigation, Robert Mueller announced in a court filing on Wednesday that evidence from the probe was obtained and made public as part of a disinformation campaign orchestrated by a pro-Russia social media campaign. The information was confidential but not sensitive. It is thought to have been leaked by a Russian company named Concord Management and Consulting which has been charged in the Special Counsel probe. Lawyers for Concord were handed evidence, some of which was posted online last year by a pro-Russia Twitter account in order to discredit the Mueller probe. Concord’s founder Yevgeny Prigozhin has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Energy Department on Wednesday admitted that it transported half a ton of weapons grade Plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada last year. The material was secretly sent by truck to a facility 70 miles north of Las Vegas despite objections by the state of Nevada. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak held a press conference on Wednesday saying he was, “beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception.” He accused Energy Department officials of lying saying, “They lied to the state of Nevada, misled a federal court, and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment.” As the federal government seeks to bring more plutonium into the state Sisolak says he will pursue, “any and all legal remedies,” including charging the federal government with contempt of court. Representative Dina Titus of Nevada shared Sisolak’s outrage saying that the Trump administration has viewed Nevada as a dumping ground for nuclear waste.
Members of Congress are moving to introduce a bill to limit the President’s power to unilaterally impose tariffs. Lawmakers from both parties on Wednesday introduced the Bicameral Congressional Trade Authority Act in the Senate and the House. Currently Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 allows the President to impose tariffs without Congressional approval. The new bills would disallow that. Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania who co-sponsored the Senate bill, said, “The imposition of these taxes, under the false pretense of national security, is weakening our economy, threatening American jobs, and eroding our credibility with other nations.” The Trump administration has pushed stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico and Canada, and pursued aggressive tariffs on Chinese imports.
Vice President Mike Pence plans to appear at a political rally in Miami, Florida on Friday in support of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. Mr. Pence has been among the strongest American advocates of regime change in Venezuela, recognizing Guaido as President within hours of his self-declaration. Guaido had twice spoken by phone with Pence personally before declaring himself interim President, indicating coordination with the US. A White House spokesperson said that Pence, “will rally support for the Venezuelan people and reiterate the steadfast support from the United States in their fight for freedom.” Meanwhile Democratic Representative Ro Khanna on Wednesday published an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Why I strongly oppose U.S. intervention in Venezuela.” In it the lawmaker denounced Pence’s interference based on a moral responsibility toward Venezuelans saying, “This is the same argument that led to U.S. blunders in Iraq, Honduras, Syria, Libya and elsewhere.”