Headlines: July 12, 2019
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President Donald Trump on Thursday backed off from his long-standing demand that a question of citizenship be added to the 2020 US Census, surprising his detractors and supporters. In conceding defeat on an issue that would have benefitted the Republican Party, Trump announced at the Rose Garden after his social media summit that he would be gathering citizenship data from other agencies instead. Trump on Thursday announced his executive order to gather citizenship data on US residents by means other than the US Census.
Trump’s announcement came after his so-called “social media summit,” which was a constellation of right wing extremists who have large online followings and who have complained about censorship of their views. A war of words broke out between former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka and Playboy’s White House reporter Brian Karem in the Rose Garden after the summit calling reporter “a punk” in a confrontation after the White House’s “social media summit.”
In other news Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced his resignation after coming under fire for ensuring a favorable plea deal for billionaire and accused sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in Florida over a decade ago. New federal charges against Epstein revived scrutiny on Acosta’s role, and the Labor Secretary spent all week trying to defend his actions. Trump announced the resignation on Twitter saying, “Alex Acosta informed me this morning that he felt the constant drumbeat of press about a prosecution which took place under his watch more than 12 years ago was bad for the Administration, which he so strongly believes in, and he graciously tendered his resignation.” Meanwhile Epstein on Thursday reportedly asked a federal judge if he could put up his $77 million New York City mansion and a private jet as collateral for bail in order to stay out of jail. According to the New York Times, “He also proposed he be allowed to remain under house arrest in the mansion.” The Times explained, “A handful of superrich defendants have sought and occasionally obtained, over sharp objections from the government, similar bail provisions that allow them to finance a kind of personal jail rather than being held in a government lockup.”
Musician and accused sex offender R. Kelly was arrested Thursday night on federal charges of sex trafficking by New York prosecutors. The 18-page federal indictment includes charges of racketeering, transporting for prostitution, and coercing women and girls. A second federal indictment was filed on Friday in his hometown of Chicago that includes charges of obstruction of justice as well as attempts to cover up video evidence of Kelly with underage girls. According to the Guardian newspaper, “Prosecutors say the defendants paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims and witnesses to make sure they would not cooperate with law enforcement.” The indictment, “also accuses Kelly of using physical abuse, violence and blackmail to prevent victims from providing evidence to law enforcement.”
A number of lawmakers, including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib testified to the House Oversight Committee on Friday about conditions that they witnessed at detention facilities near the border in Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of several Democrats who testified at a House panel hearing on Friday about conditions they witnessed at a border detention facility in Texas. Republicans painted a completely different picture. Ocasio-Cortez has called for the abolishing of the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile federal agencies have taken to accusing one another for the harsh conditions that have been documented, particularly relating to the treatment of migrant children. Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security blamed the Office of Refugee Resettlement for why children were held in facilities for adults saying, “They did not do it timely. They said they had no beds.” Mark Weber, a spokesman for Health and Human Services which oversees ORR, shot back saying, “We accepted every child that was referred” by Border Patrol. “This is a symptom of a broken immigration system.”
Meanwhile Vice President Mike Pence headed to the border on Friday to spin the conditions at the border in a positive light. He angrily told reporters earlier this week, “It is really contemptible that some in Congress have referred to U.S. detention facilities as concentration camps.” And the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) has called on Democratic leader and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit the border and see the conditions for herself. On Friday protest actions in 700 cities around the US dubbed “Light for Liberty“ are aimed at drawing attention to what activists say are concentration camps at the border.
Trump is scheduled to speak in Wisconsin on Friday as part of his reelection campaign strategy. He narrowly won that state in 2016 and has already visited there 5 times before since he became President. He is expected to raise $7 million in that one visit alone as he touts the economy.
As massive storm heads to Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico, observers are warning of a potentially dangerous set of conditions that could breach the levees in New Orleans. The Mississippi River, already many feet higher than normal, could get an additional 2-3 feet from Hurricane Barry. A Weather Service spokesman said, “This is the first time we’ve had a tropical system with water levels on the river this high.” Gov. Jon Bel Edwards said, “there are three ways that Louisiana floods: storm surge, high rivers and rain…We’re going to have all three.”
European nations are moving toward taxing large tech companies, most of which are based in the US. France this week became the first nation to impose a 3% tax rate on the income that corporations like Google and Facebook earn on the digital services they provide. Britain and the EU are also considering similar taxes. The Trump administration has threatened to investigate the taxes and is accusing Europe of unfair trade practices.
And finally Turkey announced on Friday that it had bought a new sophisticated air defense missile system from Russia worth $2.5 billion. Turkish authorities are defending the purchase as a matter of sovereignty but the country risks its position in NATO and risks US sanctions. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the U.S. government has warned that Turkey could face sanctions if it deployed the Russian defense system on its soil, and could lose access to America’s F-35 stealth jet fighter.”