Headlines: March 12, 2019
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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders held her first press briefing in a month and a half on Monday during which she honed in on President Donald Trump’s claims that the Democratic Party hates Jews. Sanders jumped on the chance to refer to the controversy surrounding Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s remarks on the power of the pro-Israel lobby and comparing her to Representative Steve King, a known and avowed white supremacist. She defended Trump’s attacks on Democrats as a whole as anti-Semitic. CNN’s Jim Acosta who has often clashed with her and with the President asked her if Trump was going to tone down his rhetoric, to which Sanders responded by pivoting to a story about Democrats’ defense of abortion rights. When a reporter asked her about Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen receiving checks from the President in Fall 2017, she ended the press briefing.
Meanwhile, the media watchdog group Media Matters for America has released two sets of audio recordings of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson speaking on a radio show between 2006 and 2011 and spewing horribly racist, misogynist, and homophobic rhetoric. During an exchange about the US war in Iraq, Carlson repeatedly dehumanizes Iraqi people. (A warning, some of what you’ll hear is pretty disturbing). Carlson is a conservative icon favored by President Trump and his supporters.
The Coast Guard officer arrested for plotting a massive domestic terrorist attack aimed at many of Trump and Fox News’s favorite Democratic Party targets, has pled not guilty to weapons and drug charges. Christopher Hasson appeared in federal court on Monday. Prosecutors have identified his white nationalist and extremist views in making the case against him and cited his own writings where he said he wanted to use “focused violence” to achieve a “white homeland.”
In other news, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave a wide-ranging interview to the Washington Post, which was published on Monday. When asked about whether she would pursue Trump’s impeachment, Pelosi said, “I’m not for impeachment…Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.” Some of Pelosi’s colleagues including Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, are actively pursuing Trump’s impeachment.
A Super PAC that supported former Florida Governor Jeb Bush‘s bid for the Presidency has been fined for taking foreign donations. The Right to Rise super political action committee took more than $1.3 million in campaign donations from Chinese nationals and was just fined $390,000 by the FEC for breaking campaign laws. The Chinese company that made the donation was fined $550,000. The Intercept in 2016 had published a story indicating that the Super PAC might be breaking campaign finance laws. Trevor Potter who is a former FEC chair and a Republican remarked, “Today’s action is a rare and remarkable step by the FEC, and a reminder that safeguarding our elections against foreign interference is in America’s vital national security interests.” He added, “This illegal $1.3 million contribution is unmistakable proof that Citizens United opened the floodgates to foreign money in the U.S., and it is surely the tip of the iceberg.”
A new and innovative study on environmental racism has found that Black and Latino Americans consume disproportionately more pollution than they produce. The study, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined by race those who are exposed to fine particle pollution and how much role they play in creating that pollution through their lifestyle. Fine particle pollution is responsible for 100,000 deaths per year. The study concluded that African Americans consume 56% more pollution than they produce while Latinos consume 63% more. White Americans consume 17% less pollution than they produce. The study’s co-author Jason Hill summarized that, “Even though minorities are contributing less to the overall problem of air pollution, they are affected by it more.”
The US Customs and Border Protection Agency is apparently rushing to install facial recognition software at US ports of entry, bypassing proper vetting procedures in a bid to meet Trump’s deadline set by Executive Order. President Barack Obama had initially signed a bill into law to install biometric verification of the identities of foreign travelers to the US but in March 2017 Trump signed an Executive Order expediting the implementation of that law and demanding that all US airports install such technology by 2021. Privacy advocates are worried that the rush to install the facial recognition systems will result in abuses and false positives. An ACLU spokesperson named Jay Stanley told BuzzFeed, “It’s an extremely powerful surveillance technology that has the potential to do things never before done in human history. Yet the government is hurtling along a path towards its broad deployment — and in this case, a deployment that seems quite unjustified and unnecessary.”
Nearly 50 people were charged and several arrested on Tuesday by federal prosecutors in connection to a massive bribery scheme that involved wealthy parents paying to get their children into top schools. Among those arrested were actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin as well as several athletic coaches. Federal authorities dubbed the case Operation Varsity Blues – apparently the biggest college admissions scandal that the Justice Department has ever taken on. According to Associated Press, “Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes, to alter test scores and to have others take online classes to boost their children’s chances of getting into schools. Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission.”
And finally the Food and Drug Administration has lifted restrictions on genetically modified salmon in the US. A company called Aquabounty can now import genetically engineered salmon eggs from its research and development center in Canada and grow GE salmon in its US facility. FDA head Scott Gottleib released a statement on Monday saying, “This fish is safe to eat, the genetic construct added to the fish’s genome is safe for the animal, and the manufacturer’s claim that it reaches a growth marker important to the aquaculture industry more rapidly than its non-GE farm-raised Atlantic salmon counterpart is confirmed.” The fish, when sold in the US will be labeled as “bio-engineered.”