Headlines: September 20, 2019
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The whistleblower complaint made by an intelligence official to their agency’s inspector general has triggered a new front in the battle between Congress and the President. The incident revolves around President Donald Trump allegedly making a promise to an unnamed foreign leader during a phone conversation. Now news reports have emerged that Ukraine was one of the nations involved in the conversation. A few weeks before the date of the complaint President Trump did have a phone conversation with newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In fact Democrats in the House were already investigating a public claim by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine’s new President to dig up dirt on Trump’s rivals in the 2020 election. After this week’s whistleblower complaint came to light, Mr. Giuliani gave an interview on CNN during which he blatantly contradicted himself. In a closed door briefing on Thursday the intelligence inspector general Michael Atkinson refused to reveal details of the whistleblower complaint. California Representative Adam Schiff, head of the House Intelligence Committee spoke to press after the briefing.
In other news, tropical storm Imelda has dumped record amounts of rain in Texas specifically over Houston, resulting so far in at least two deaths. Many are comparing the storm to Hurricane Harvey two years ago that caused tremendous damage. Associated Press reported that, “Officials in Harris County, which includes Houston, said there had been a combination of at least 1,700 high-water rescues and evacuations to get people to shelter as the longevity and intensity of the rain quickly came to surprise even those who had been bracing for floods.” Meanwhile, underscoring the increasing frequency of such deadly storms is a massive global climate strike taking place Friday all over the world. There were marches and rallies led by young people, many of them skipping school to strike for climate action. The earliest marches of the day began in Australia where record numbers of people took to the streets of cities in numbers that rivaled the anti-Iraq war protests. On the same day as the climate strike, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a $60 billion plan to take climate action after an all-night set of negotiations between parties.
A new scientific report has found that bird populations in the US and Canada have fallen dramatically. There are now nearly one third fewer birds in the two nations compared to 1970. That amounts to about 3 billion missing birds. A spokesperson for the National Audubon Society called the study’s results, “a full-blown crisis.” Among the reasons that scientists think are behind the decline in bird populations are modern methods of agriculture, rapid development, and the widespread use of neonicotinoids-based pesticides that have decimated the insects that birds feed on. Climate change is also a factor– one that will only worsen the problem as the planet heats up.
In other news, the House passed a short term spending bill this week that funds the federal government through to the end of November. The bill puts off a larger fight over government funding that is likely to be stymied by President Trump’s staunch demand for a border wall. The stop-gap measure ensures that some agencies whose funding runs out on September 30th will remain solvent. The Senate will take up the measure next week.
Meanwhile in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally relented on an election security bill – which he had stalled on. Democrats, worried about Russian interference in US elections, labeled him “Moscow Mitch.” McConnell has now decided to back a $250 million bill that would bolster election security measures in states around the country. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer expressed relief saying, “I made umpteen speeches here at this chair, and the Republican leader denied the need. But now, thank God, he has seen the light.”
California’s effort to demand President Trump’s tax returns ahead of the 2020 election has hit a wall. A federal judge just ruled in favor of Trump’s lawsuit against a law that the state recently passed requiring all Presidential candidates to make their returns public. The judge says he will issue a formal ruling on October 1st. Meanwhile, on another front in the battle between the state and the White House, California has joined nearly 2-dozen other states in suing the Trump Administration against its roll back of state authority over vehicle emissions standards. The suit is expected to eventually end up at the Supreme Court.
In immigration news, in the same week that migrants’ cases were being adjudicated en masse in makeshift tent-courts in Texas, there are reports that Border Patrol agents are now conducting “credible fear” interviews instead of asylum officers. In pointing out the dangers of such a move, the LA Times remarked, “Border Patrol agents — law enforcement personnel who detain migrant families at the border — will also have authority to decide whether those families have a ‘credible fear’ of being persecuted in their home countries.” In fact Border Patrol agents are wearing the same clothing as asylum officers even though they have far less training to conduct interviews. Meanwhile, after coming under intense criticism for deporting migrants who were in the midst of receiving life-saving medical treatment, the Trump Administration has just announced it will reverse that policy and grant deportation exemptions to those who qualify.
On the electoral politics front, there is to be a forum in the key state of Iowa on Friday, bringing together a number of Democratic Presidential candidates to discuss issues of importance to the LGBTQ community. Among the attendees will be Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who just announced that his campaign has reached 1 million donors making him the first candidate for 2020 to reach the milestone. Meanwhile, a wealthy Democratic donor named Neil Bluhm said at a recent high-dollar fundraiser for former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign that Sanders does not represent the Democratic Party. Sanders shot back saying, “Mr Bluhm is right — the Democratic Party I represent is the party of the working class, not billionaires. That’s why we’re going to win.” And New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio has become the latest Democrat to drop out of the 2020 race.
On the international front, the war in Afghanistan has continued to escalate sharply. A US drone strike in Jalalabad that authorities say was meant to target the Islamic State, instead hit a group of pine nut farmers who were resting. At least 30 civilians were killed. One resident told Reuters, “Such mistakes cannot be justified. American forces must realize (they) will never win the war by killing innocent civilians.” In southern Afghanistan, the Taliban, with whom the US just abandoned peace talks, targeted a hospital killing 39 people. Ninety-five were injured. There are Presidential elections scheduled for Afghanistan on September 28th, after two postponements.