Headlines: September 18, 2018
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Disaster continues to unfold in North and South Carolina with an unusually persistent Hurricane Florence continuing to flood the areas. On Monday ten additional counties in North Carolina were added to a list eligible to receive federal aid, bringing the total to 18. One of the most hard hit cities is New Bern where a third of all homes have been flooded. Three TV stations in the city of Wilmington – which was cut off by floodwaters – will go dark after using up their emergency power generators.
Meanwhile a tornado linked to Florence touched down in Richmond, Virginia on Monday and one person died as a result when a building collapsed. The official death toll from the Hurricane has now increased to 32. Among them was a 1-year old boy who slipped out of his mother’s grasp when she lost control of her car in a flooded river. Here is North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper addressing press on Monday.
The head of FEMA, Brock Long, is under investigation for improperly using his government car for personal transportation from Washington DC to his home in North Carolina and for putting up his aides in hotels. Long and two other personnel face possible criminal charges for breaking about 6 laws.
President Trump addressed reporters at the White House on Monday and spoke about his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh amid an accusation by a California-based professor who has said the nominee sexually assaulted her decades ago. There is to be a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing held next Monday where both Kavanaugh and Ford will testify about the incident. That means that the originally scheduled confirmation vote for Kavanaugh that was to be held this Thursday has now been delayed.
Senator Dianne Feinstein issued a reminder that when Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, then President George H. W. Bush asked the FBI to conduct an investigation. She said that in Kavanaugh’s case Trump has not asked the FBI to investigate. On Monday the Justice Department said that Ford’s accusation, “does not involve any potential federal crime.” CNN reported that the White House’s strategy of defending Kavanaugh will rely heavily on a public relations effort that centers women vouching for the nominee’s integrity.
The President’s son mocked Kavanaugh’s accuser Ford on social media on Monday. This is how AP described it: “Donald Trump Jr. posted an image on Instagram with the caption ‘Judge Kavanaugh sexual assault letter found by Dems…’ The photo attached shows a crumpled-up piece of notebook paper with a scribbled message: ‘Hi Cindy will you be my girlfriend, Love Bret.’ The note has boxes to check for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and seems to compare Kavanaugh’s accuser to a schoolyard crush.”
President Trump in yet another stunning move, on Monday ordered the Director of National Intelligence to release all classified documents, including text messages, related to the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. They include documents that Republican leaders had previously asked to be made public about the surveillance request for Trump’s former aide Carter Page as well as all text messages by former intelligence staffers who Trump has slammed for criticizing him: former FBI Director James Comey, Former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and current Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has said it is working on a declassification review process. Many intelligence officials are worried the release could compromise intelligence methods and sources. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said, “President Trump, in a clear abuse of power, has decided to intervene in a pending law enforcement investigation by ordering the selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative.”
In a rare show of bipartisanship Democrats and Republicans in the Senate voted 99-1 on a bill aimed at addressing the opioid epidemic. The bill includes added security for international mail that may contain mail-order addictive drugs, as well as easing research requirements into painkillers that are not addictive. The Senate bill comes months after the House passed a similar bill. The two chambers have scheduled a compromise bill that they hope to pass and send to the President’s desk for a signature by year-end.
The independently funded watchdog group at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has called out the agency for defunding a Congressionally mandated program to phase asbestos out of schools. Among its findings, the agency’s Inspector General cited an EPA office in Dallas, Texas as not having done a single asbestos school inspection between the years 2012 to 2016.
The Air Force has made public a financial assessment of the cost of establishing a Space Force – a program to militarize space that Trump flippantly mentioned last year. According to the estimate it would cost the government nearly $12 billion over five years. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has suggested that the Pentagon ask Congress to authorize the funds to establish a Space Force headquarters by 2020. In her proposal she wrote, “Strategic competition with Russia and China is the focus of our approach.”
The Trump administration has proposed reducing the annual cap on refugees to the US to a mere 30,000, down from the already lowered 45,000. The US has so far let in only about 20,000 asylum seekers this year, one quarter of the number allowed in President Obama’s last year in office. Here is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making the announcement on Monday. State Secretary Mike Pompeo on Monday justifying a further reduction on the refugee cap to only 30,000 a year. He failed to mention that the government’s own review last year concluded that the refugee program posed no risk to the US and could continue with small changes. Jennifer Quigley, a spokesperson for Human Rights First said, “Today’s announcement … is a shameful abdication of our humanity in the face of the worst refugee crisis in history.”
And finally in international news, the heads of state of the two Koreas are once more meeting this week. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in are in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. It will be the third such summit this year and is taking place as ongoing negotiations between the US and North Korea have stalled over the issue of denuclearization. The 3-day summit will focus on Mr. Moon’s attempt to salvage the US-North Korea talks.