News & Analysis of Economic, Racial, Gender Justice and More

President Donald Trump continued his tactic of obstruction in the impeachment inquiry by barring Gordon Sondland, a State Department official from testifying to three House committees. Sondland is the US Ambassador to the European Union and was expected to testify regarding Trump’s withholding of US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for political dirt on his rival Joe Biden. Writing on Twitter Trump said, “I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away.” House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff spoke to reporters on Tuesday morning saying this.  Ahead of the scheduled testimony a dozen Democrats had called on Sondland to resign saying that the text messages in question suggest he has been complicit in Trump’s attempt to extort political information from Ukraine.

Meanwhile Democrats are considering taking steps to protect the identity of the original whistleblower who filed the complaint about the Ukraine scandal. The Washington Post reported late on Monday that, “House Democrats are weighing extraordinary steps to secure testimony from [the] whistleblower …masking his identity to prevent President Trump’s congressional allies from exposing the individual.” Additionally, “The steps under consideration include having the whistleblower testify from a remote location and obscuring the individual’s appearance and voice.” On Monday Trump continued to dig his heels in claiming that his conversation with Ukraine’s President, whose rough transcript he released, was perfectly above board and acting as though he has nothing to hide.  In fact a major new Washington Post/Schar School poll on Tuesday found that for the first time a majority of Americans now support pursuing an impeachment inquiry: “by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans say the House was correct to open the inquiry. Among all adults, 49 percent say the House should take the more significant step of impeaching the president and calling for his removal from office.”

In other news hearings are underway at the US Supreme Court this week on several cases involving workplace discrimination aimed at LGBTQ Americans. Justices are examining whether the 1964 Civil Rights Law applies to protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, rather than just sex. The conservative Justice Samuel Alito has been outspoken on the issue reportedly saying to the lawyer in the case that, “You’re trying to change the meaning of what Congress understood sex to mean… It’s sexual orientation — it’s not sex.” Attorney Pamela Karlan retorted, “When a man is discriminated against for being gay, he is discriminated against for not conforming to an expectation about how men should behave.”

On Monday disability rights activists won a major victory when the Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal by the fast food corporation Dominoes Pizza over making its app and website accessible to disabled people. The case originated in 2016 when a visually impaired man named Giullermo Robles argued that the company’s website was not accessible to him even through a screen reader software and therefore in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case made its way to the 9thcircuit court of appeals where judges ruled in his favor. Dominoes appealed that decision to the US Supreme Court but the court refused to hear it.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Monday was booed off a stage by protesters at Georgetown University Law school as he attempted to give a keynote speech organized by the Migration Policy Institute.

US Education Secretary Betsy Devos could be facing jail time for violating a 2018 court order to not collect on educational debt from students attending the now-defunct Corinthian College. A judge in San Francisco on Monday said she was “astounded” to learn that Devos had continued to pursue debt payments on federal loans from former students at the now disgraced Corinthian College. Judge Sallie Kim said, “I’m not sure if this is contempt or sanctions… “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet but it’s good to know I have that ability.”

Prison inmates at the Martin Correctional Institution in Florida have created a powerful and disturbing documentary about conditions inside their facility using smuggled cameras. A 34-year old convict named Scott Whitney has been gathering footage since 2017 and compiled a film that he titled Behind the Barb Wire. He turned the film over to the Miami Herald. Among the shocking events captured in the film is rampant drug use inside the prison with the complicity of authorities. Whitney narrates, “You got the war on drugs on the street, but once we get here, you don’t care about the drugs.” The Florida Department of Corrections Office of Inspector General says it is investigating the video. Also in Florida a group of former prisoners are suing the Republican-led legislature over their right to vote. Voters in 2018 passed a sweeping bill restoring voting rights to former convicts but Amendment 4 as it was called was immediately under attack. The Guardian Newspaper explained that, “the state’s Republican legislature introduced a bill that would require the newly eligible population to pay every court fee, fine and lien they might have faced during and after their conviction in order to vote.” Florida Republicans are worried that voters who are former inmates would change the balance of political power in the state.

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg headed to North and South Dakota this week to draw attention to the indigenous-led struggle against fossil fuel pipelines. She spoke at a climate event on Sunday and marched in Rapid City, South Dakota on Monday alongside 16-year old indigenous activist Tokota Iron Eyes. Thunberg heads to North Dakota on Tuesday to join other climate activists at the Standing Rock reservation.

And finally Dick’s Sporting Goods has announced it destroyed $5 million worth of firearms from its inventory and turned it into scrap metal. Speaking in an interview on CBS, CEO Edward Stack explained that his decision came after finding out that the Parkland shooter in Florida had purchased his shotgun from a Dick’s store. Stack admitted that the decision had cost the company about a quarter of a billion dollars in lost revenue.

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