Headlines: March 28, 2019
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News reports have emerged about the extensive length of the Special Counsel’s report on election 2016 wrongdoing. The New York Times on Thursday morning cited named sources from the Justice Department confirming that Robert Mueller’s report is more than 300 pages long. The length – akin to that of an average book – calls into question the succinct 4-page summary made public by Attorney General William Barr. Meanwhile 9 House Republicans are calling on California Representative Adam Schiff to resign as chair of the House Intelligence Committee for daring to claim that there is evidence of President Donald Trump colluding with Russia. Representative Mike Conaway of Texas wrote a letter that he read out loud, saying, “The findings of the special counsel conclusively refute your past and present exertions,” despite not having seen the entire report.
Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is facing questioning from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday ahead of a confirmation vote to make his position permanent. The Democrats on the committee are calling into question Bernhardt’s recent past as an oil industry lobbyist. As Interior Secretary Bernhardt oversees hundreds of millions of acres of public land and coastlines. He would be replacing Ryan Zinke who resigned in disgrace over ethics scandals. During his committee hearing on Thursday a woman in the audience sitting behind Bernhardt quietly donned a green monster mask which activist and environmental organizations are identifying as, “a swamp monster,” – perhaps a statement about the influence of industry lobbyists in government. President Trump had promised to “drain the swamp,” as a candidate but has only filled the swamp with as many business insiders as possible. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden questioned Bernhardt on Thursday morning at a committee hearing.
A federal judge in Washington DC has blocked work requirements for Medicaid recipients in Kentucky and Arkansas. Both those states are headed by Republicans who have tried to reshape the Medicaid program as per Trump’s vision. In the case of Kentucky, Judge James E. Boasberg slammed the Department of Health and Human Services for the, “arbitrary and capricious,” work requirements, and also criticized the department for assuming that the Medicaid law enacted by Congress allowed the HHS Secretary to feel, “so unconstrained, nor that the states are so armed to refashion the program Congress designed in any way they choose.” In the case of Arkansas, the judge’s decision according to the Washington Post, “strips away the federal basis on which that state added work requirements last June that apply to more than 115,000 poor and working-class Arkansans under a part of Medicaid, known as Arkansas Works.” There are half a dozen states where Medicaid work requirements have been proposed and the judge’s decision could have an impact on those.
President Trump, in a brief tweet early Thursday morning decided seemingly unilaterally that Empire Actor Jussie Smollett ought not to have been exonerated by prosecutors in Chicago over an alleged faked hate crime. Trump tweeted, “FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago.” Without a hint of irony he added, “It is an embarrassment to our Nation!”
Meanwhile an executive with the social media platform Twitter made an announcement on Wednesday in an on-stage interview with the Washington Post about hateful content. Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust was asked why those of President Trump’s tweets violating the company’s guidelines against inappropriate content are allowed to remain online. Gadde explained how Twitter was hoping to label President Trump’s bullying tweets without deleting them, as is done with other inappropriate tweets.
Facebook on Wednesday announced that it would begin banning content that it deemed “white supremacist” and “white nationalist.” The social media platform was responding to criticism that its earlier set of internal rules continued to allow racist content to flourish and proliferate. In a Facebook post the multi-billion dollar company explained that, “our conversations with members of civil society and academics who are experts in race relations around the world have confirmed that white nationalism and white separatism cannot be meaningfully separated from white supremacy and organized hate groups.” The recent massacre of 50 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, highlighted the use of Facebook as a platform for hate when videos of the shooting continued to be shared widely. Civil rights groups praised Facebook’s decision but said that more needed to be done. In a statement Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said, “Putting in place the correct policy is a start, but Facebook also needs to enforce those policies consistently…Without proper implementation, policies will prove to be just empty words, and white supremacy will continue to proliferate across its platform.”
The social media giant also faces other challenges. On Thursday the Department of Housing and Urban Development charged Facebook with Housing Discrimination on the basis of its ad-targeting system. According to Associated Press, “Facebook is allowing advertisers to exclude people based on their neighborhood by drawing a red line around those neighborhoods on a map and giving advertisers the option of showing ads only to men or only to women.” Additionally, “HUD, which is pursuing civil charges and potential monetary awards that could run into the millions, said that Facebook’s ad platform is ‘encouraging, enabling, and causing housing discrimination’ because it allows advertisers to exclude people who they don’t want to see their ads.”
Ricardo Rosselló, the Governor of Puerto Rico, is so angry with President Trump and his desire to strip the Hurricane-hit island of federal funding that he threatened to punch the President. Rosselló in an interview on CNN said, “If the bully gets close, I’ll punch the bully in the mouth…It would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage.” The Governor has been trying hard to meet with Trump in person but the President has been actively avoiding him. According to CNN the governor’s aides said that, “during a tense encounter at the White House on Wednesday they were warned by senior White House officials that representatives for the US territory were pushing too hard to arrange a meeting aimed at discussing the island’s dire situation with the President.” Meanwhile Democratic Representative Darren Soto of Florida introduced a bill on Thursday to make Puerto Rico the US’s 51st state. Speaking alongside Mr. Rosselló and others, Soto said, “I’m excited about the possibility of finally ending this historic injustice. It’s time for all Puerto Ricans to be united behind a noble and Democratic effort.” He added, “It’s time to let the old battle lines fade away. It’s time to end 120 years of colonialism.”
A federal jury on Wednesday ended a long-drawn out case over Monsanto’s responsibility in causing the cancer of a 70-year old man named Edwin Hardeman. The six-person jury delivered its verdict saying that the pesticide manufacturer should be held liable for not putting a cancer warning on its RoundUp Ready weed killer and has awarded Mr. Hardeman $80 million in damages. The case is a momentous victory against Monsanto, which for years has been able to stave off legal responsibility for its damaging and toxic products. Hardeman suffers from non-Hodgekins Lymphoma after having used RoundUp Ready for years.
And finally in Britain, the on-going saga over how Britain exits from the European Unionhas reached a new and urgent phase. Embattled Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday offered to resign after a vote on her latest Brexit offer if MPs agreed to approve it. There will be a new vote on Friday but it is not yet clear what the outcome will be. The Friday vote will only be on the withdrawal agreement but not on future trade and security relations with the EU. May’s government has been trying unsuccessfully for more than 2 years to secure a deal with the EU that the Parliament also approves of.