Headlines: May 15, 2019
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The US State Department has ordered its non-emergency personnel stationed in Iraq to leave the country in the latest indication that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering military action against neighboring Iran. The State Department in its announcement said, “The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq.” There has been alarm from European allies about Washington’s aggressive posturing and even US lawmakers are worried. On Wednesday members of the Senate Foreign Relations committee questioned Trump’s intentions toward Iran. Bob Menendez, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee demanded that the White House, “immediately provide this committee with a briefing on the decision to order the departure of embassy staff, the intelligence on what Iran maybe planning to do and any plans to go to war with Iran.” Asserting his committee’s oversight of war plans, he added, “the Trump administration has not provided any information to this committee on the intelligence behind their decisions and what they plan to do in Iraq or Iran.” He also said Trump, “must come to Congress to seek approval,” of any plans to launch war. Meanwhile Iranian authorities informed signatories to the nuclear deal that it was ending some of the commitments it made as part of the deal that Trump withdrew the US from unilaterally. According to Reuters, “Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Tehran does not seek war with the United States,” and that, “Tehran would not negotiate with the United States on another nuclear deal.”
The Alabama Senate on Tuesday passed the nation’s most restrictive abortion ban with a vote of 25 to 6 a few weeks after the state House passed a similar bill. Of the 25 people voting for the bill, 22 were white men. The bill criminalizes doctors who perform abortions at any stage of pregnancy with a felony and sentence of up to 99 years. A number of Democratic amendments to the bill failed including those that would have made exceptions for victims of rape or incest and that would have expanded Medicaid to help the low-income women impacted. The bill now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk for a signature. The bill is one of many passing around the nation with anti-abortionists hoping that legal challenges will end at the Supreme Court where Trump’s appointees will overturn the seminal Roe. V. Wade decision.
The House Intelligence Committee has launched a new investigation into the Trump Administration based on claims that Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen made during his public testimony. Cohen had downplayed meetings between the Trump campaign team and Russian nationals about the Trump Tower Moscow project and is serving a prison sentence for lying to Congress. He said however that Trump’s legal team including Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow edited his testimony to Congress about the meetings with Russians and how they in fact took place all through the summer of 2016 even after Trump became the Republican nominee. Meanwhile Federal Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday about another Congressional probe of Trump – namely acquiring the President’s tax records. Mnuchin has refused to hand over tax records that were lawfully requested by House Ways and Means committee chair Richard Neal. He implied that Congress would have to sue to get them.
In trade news, the Republican Party is starting to question President Trump‘s aggressive imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports. Senator Chuck Grassley who has been faithful to Trump has emerged as a critic on trade and said, “I’m not sure if you talk to him face to face, he hears everything you say.” Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell said, “Ultimately, nobody wins a trade war unless there is an agreement at the end, after which tariffs go away.” Trump has emerged as having no endgame in sight contradicting himself on the China trade war that he launched, first saying that he thought it would end soon and then speculating that it might drag on.
More details have emerged in a fatal police shooting in Baytown, Texas near Houston. Authorities have not released the name of the police officer who fired shots at a black woman named Pamela Shantay Turner on Monday night. A witness shot a video of the shooting which then spread across social media. The video showed Turner shouting that she was pregnant moments before being fatally shot. The officer in question says that she grabbed his taser and used it on him. Baytown police Lt. Steve Dorris expressed sympathy for the officer who has been put on paid leave, saying that cops who kill, “need time to cope with that and wrap their brains around what transpired.” Dorris also slammed the witness for sharing the video of the shooting saying, “It’s extremely disrespectful for everybody involved.”
More than a dozen governments and technology firms on Tuesday in Paris, unveiled a campaign aimed at the online spread of hate in response to the recent mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. The US refused to endorse the “Christchurch Call,” saying it curtailed free speech rights. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron organized the call. Ardern in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on gun control said she does not understand how the US permits it high levels of gun violence.
In other news, the man accused of entering a Synagogue in Poway near San Diego, California, and killing one person has pleaded not-guilty He also pleaded not guilty to similar charges in vandalism of a mosque in Escondido. The man, whose name and face we choose not to publicize, said he was inspired by the Christchurch massacre of Muslims and told a 9-11 dispatcher that he attacked the synagogue, “because Jewish people are destroying the white race.” Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy published an op-ed in the Washington Post on Tuesday denouncing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel saying it promotes anti-Semitism. They cited the Poway synagogue shooting despite the fact that the suspected shooter appeared to be inspired more by Republican leaning white-supremacist values than by criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. This bait-and-switch attack on the BDS movement has become increasingly popular on the right.
And finally the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday published a stunning exposé of the number of sex abuse victims within the Boy Scouts of America. According to the story, “A researcher hired by the Scouts to analyze records from 1944 to 2016 testified earlier this year that she had identified 7,819 suspected abusers and 12,254 victims.” The Times added, “But even those numbers grossly understate how many molesters infiltrated the Scouts’ ranks over the years, according to lawyers who have sued the organization on behalf of hundreds of abuse victims. Most predators were accused of abusing multiple boys, they noted, and many instances of abuse were never reported.”