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

In today’s news headlines Hurricane Florence has begun pounding the US coast of North Carolina with fierce wind and rain. The storm changed from a Category 4 to a Category 2 hurricane but authorities are warning that the storm has simply widened and that the rain forecast has not changed. The storm’s path is not yet clear though as models differ in trying to predict where it will head next.

On the other side of the planet an even stronger storm is heading toward the Philippines and China. Super Typhoon Mangkhut has recorded wind speeds of more than 150 mph and could impact tens of millions of people in its path. The storm already passed through the Marshall Islands and Guam – both US territories. Guam lost 80% of its power. Military personnel and federal emergency workers have been distributing aid to the affected areas.

President Trump earlier this week called his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, “an unsung success,” and on Thursday morning he went further in his denial of reality by rejecting the official death toll of nearly 3,000 deaths from the hurricane. He tweeted, “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000.” He added in a second tweet, “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible.” It is not clear if he is deliberately lying hoping that his supporters will not notice, or that he is truly unaware that Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosello ordered the study that concluded 2,975 people died.

Rhode Islanders voted in their gubernatorial primary elections on Wednesday. Pro-business Democrat Gina Raimundo beat a Bernie Sanders endorsed candidate named Matt Brown. She will face Republican Allan Fung in November. Fung ran on a platform of, “term limits for state lawmakers, cutting taxes, and work requirements for welfare recipients,” as per Vox.

Meanwhile New Yorkers are heading to the polls to pick gubernatorial nominees on Thursday where a high-stakes race between incumbent Andrew Cuomo and newcomer Cynthia Nixon has developed. Nixon has accused Cuomo of playing dirty. The governor has moved to the left on some issues, perhaps worried by Nixon’s popularity. But polls show her trailing by 2-digit figures behind him. Still Nixon remained undeterred saying in a radio interview earlier this week, “Don’t believe the polls, don’t believe the hype. We have a chance to strike a blow for real progressives.” She also accused Cuomo of hiding from the press in the last days before the election. Nixon has a platform significantly to the left of Cuomo, although she has notably not been endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders did endorse Zephyr Teachout for Attorney General and Jumaane Williams for Lieutenant Governor. We’ll bring you results from New York tomorrow.

Just days after the news of former President Barack Obama jumping into the electoral fray to stump for Democratic candidates, George W. Bush has now followed suit. He is campaigning for two Texas Representatives, Will Hurd and Pete Sessions. According to Associated Press Donald Trump has, “demonstrated that with one tweet, he can sway the fortunes of Republicans who dare cross him. For Republican candidates in places where voters don’t love Trump, that puts them in uncomfortable positions. So Bush is stepping in…Doing so could help with voters such as independents and women who want Congress to stay in Republican hands.” Notably absent from those Bush is supporting is Senator Ted Cruz who faces a strong Democratic challenger in Representative Beto O’Rourke.

Meanwhile the detention of undocumented children has hit an all-time high. There are now 12,800 immigrant children in US custody compared to only 2,400 last year. The reason for the dramatic difference is that the Trump administration is choosing to imprison immigrant kids rather than release them to sponsors or family members in the US while they await adjudication of their status. The New York Times, which reported the news, said, “Even though hundreds of children separated from their families after crossing the border have been released under court order, the overall number of detained migrant children has exploded to the highest ever recorded — a significant counternarrative to the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce the number of undocumented families coming to the United States.” Members of Congress who obtained the new statistics shared it with the Times. The government has authorized the tripling in size of a “tent city” for kids in Tornillo, Texas. Evelyn Stauffer, the press secretary for Health and Human Services justified the shocking development saying jailing the kids was for their own safety. “Children who enter the country illegally are at high risk for exploitation by traffickers and smugglers,” she said.

CNN is reporting that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has received an extra $200 million from various parts of the Department of Homeland Security’s budget. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley this week publicized a document showing that ICE got $10 million from FEMA’s operating budget. But the total amount of additional funds that the agency received was closer to $200 million. Merkley’s documents show that of that amount $93 million went toward detaining immigrants and the remaining $107 million for the, “transportation and removal,” of deportees. The Senate Appropriations Committee has accused ICE of spending money at, “an unsustainable rate,” and of having a, “lack of fiscal discipline.”

The New York City Council voted on Wednesday to allow people to change the gender designation on their birth certificates in a victory for the rights of non-binary-gender people. The bill was passed 41 to 6 allowing for people to designate the letter “x” under gender on their birth certificates. AP described that it, “will also allow parents to choose the ‘x’ designation for their newborns, and it will permit adults to change the gender on their birth certificates without an affidavit from a doctor or mental health professional.” Mayor Bill DeBlasio has said he will sign the bill into law, allowing it to take effect on January 1, 2019.

Planned Parenthood has finally picked a new leader to replace outgoing head Cecile Richards. Dr. Leana Wen, an immigrant woman of Chinese descent who has served as health commissioner of Baltimore, Maryland, is to be the new head of the organization. Under her leadership Baltimore successfully sued the Trump Administration over the loss of federal funds for two teen pregnancy prevention programs in the city. Although Planned Parenthood has been around for a 100 years, Dr. Wen will only be its sixth president. Wen moved to the US with her family when she was a young child. Her parents were granted political asylum by the US.

The US Food and Drug Administration estimates that e-cigarette use among youth has hit an “epidemic proportion.” The FDA is taking swift action against the manufacturers and distributors of e-cigarettes, giving them just 60 days to make the case that they can prevent minors from smoking their devices. It has the manufacturer of a popular brand of e-cigarettes – Juul – in its sights. The FDA is also putting on notice hundreds of retailers including drug stores and convenience stores, in its effort to curb e-cigarette smoking levels among children.

In international news, the Iraqi city of Basra has been wracked by protests over the past week that ended in violent clashes. More than a dozen people were killed by security forces while protesting rampant corruption, power outages, contaminated water, and more. Reuters said the violence has, “all but ended U.S.-backed Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s chances of winning a second term and shattered Washington’s hopes of shaping the next government.”

And in Syria government forces backed by Iran and Russia have continued to pound the rebel stronghold of Idlib. The US issued a warning this week against the Syrian government saying it would be held responsible for any humanitarian crisis that results from the bombing campaign.

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