December 16, 2017
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HEADLINES: AUGUST 28, 2017

Five Dead as Unprecedented Hurricane Harvey Bears Down on Texas

In Texas, at least five people have died amid catastrophic flooding in Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States. The crisis began on Friday when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Rockport, Texas. It was the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years.

The National Weather Service issued a warning saying, "This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced. Follow orders from officials to ensure safety." The Washington Post reports the storm has already dumped more than 9 trillion gallons of water—enough water to fill the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City twice. And meteorologists project another 5 to 10 trillion gallons of water could be dumped on the region in coming days. This is U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Karl Schultz.

Karl Schultz: "This is a very, very dangerous storm with catastrophic consequences. Folks need to not underestimate that it is going to be a sustained challenge for the coming days. Many times, folks wrongly presumed the wind event is going to be the most challenging event. I’ve seen over the course of my career, it was actually the water event, and we are in for a real significant water event in the coming days."

Both the death toll and the flooding are expected to rise in the coming days.

1,200 Die in South Asia amid Historic Flooding in India, Bangladesh and Nepal 

In more climate-related news, more than 1,200 people have now died amid historic flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. This year’s monsoon season has brought torrential downpours that have submerged wide swaths of South Asia, destroying tens of thousands of homes, schools and hospitals and affecting up to 40 million people. On Sunday, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of the flooding.

Pope Francis: "Dear brothers and sisters, in the past days major floods have hit Bangladesh, Nepal and northern India. I express my closeness to the people, and I pray for the victims and those who suffer because of this calamity."

Scientists have linked increasing rainfall and deadly flooding in South Asia to climate change.

China Hit by a Severe Tropical Storm, Days After Historic Typhoon Kills 22

Southern China is also reeling from extreme weather as a severe tropical storm made landfall on Sunday, only days after a historic typhoon killed 22 people. Typhoon Hato was the fiercest typhoon to hit Macau, on China’s southern coast, in nearly 50 years.

Trump Pardons Notorious Racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Back in the United States, as Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Texas, President Trump pardoned the notorious racist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court for defying a court order to stop his deputies from racial profiling. Arpaio has been a major supporter of Donald Trump. Arpaio’s policies have included detaining immigrants in a scorching outdoor tent city jail, which Arpaio once referred to as his own "concentration camp." He was voted out of office as Maricopa County’s longtime sheriff after immigrants organized a massive grassroots election campaign against him. Immigrant rights activists have widely condemned the pardon, saying Trump’s pardon sanctions illegal discrimination against immigrants. This is Francisca Porchas of the group Puente Arizona, speaking on Democracy Now!:

Francisca Porchas: “For us, it’s a slap in the face of all of the years of organizing that it took for us to hold him accountable, the lawsuit that came because of his racial profiling in the streets. Who should be pardoned are the people who he criminalized, the people who are now not ever going to be able to come out of the shadows, as you may say, and have a real chance at living normal life.”

White Knights Member Arrested after Shooting at Black Man During Protests in Charlottesville

The United Nations has condemned Trump over his response to the deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, saying it was "deeply concerned" by "the failure at the highest political level of the United States of America to unequivocally reject and condemn" the violence. Trump has faced widespread backlash over his response, including from National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who reportedly drafted up a resignation letter following Charlottesville. In an interview with the Financial Times, Cohn said Trump’s administration "must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups.”

In recent days, three people have been arrested and charged in connection to the violence on August 12, in which white supremacists killed one person and wounded dozens more. Among those arrested was Richard Wilson Preston, the imperial wizard of the Baltimore-area Confederate White Knights, who was charged with firing a gun near a school. Video footage shows Preston, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, walked up to an African American man at close range and fired a shot at the ground right in front of him. Preston then turned around and walked past a line of state troopers, who witnessed the shooting but did not move.

Oklahoma Police Chief Resigns over Ties to Neo-Nazi Website

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, the newly appointed police chief of Texoma has resigned after the local news revealed he was the owner of a neo-Nazi website. The Southern Poverty Law Center says former police chief Bart Alsbrook was also previously the Texas coordinator of the skinhead group Blood & Honour.

Sebastian Gorka Leaves White House and Rejoins Breitbart News

Trump’s former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka has left the White House and says he’ll rejoin the far-right-wing website Breitbart News. The White House claims it fired Gorka, though Gorka claims he resigned. The Jewish newspaper The Forwardhas reported that Gorka has ties to a Hungarian far-right, Nazi-allied group and that he supported an anti-Semitic and racist paramilitary militia in Hungary while he served as a Hungarian politician. At Breitbart, Gorka will work alongside former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who also left the White House earlier this month.

Trump Signs Directive Banning Transgender People from Military

On Friday President Trump signed a directive instructing the military to stop paying for medical treatment for transgender people currently serving in the U.S. military and halting an Obama-era plan that would have allowed transgender people to be recruited into the U.S. armed forces. The move follows Trump’s announcement last month on Twitter that he’d ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. Among those who have criticized Trump over the ban is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s daughter Jennifer Detlefsen, who is a Navy veteran, and said of Trump, "This man is a disgrace." This is ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, speaking on Democracy Now! on Friday, just before the memo was signed.

Chase Strangio: “The reality is that the military has $1 billion in its budget for healthcare, and this is a fraction of that. And what it reflects is a misunderstanding and discrimination of transgender individuals.”

The U.S. military currently spends about $8.4 million on medical services for transgender troops—a fraction of the military’s budget. In contrast, the Center for American Progress says President Trump has run up a $29 million budget on his 11 trips to his private golf resorts Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster so far this year.

Yemen: Saudi-Led Airstrike Kills 16 Civilians in Sanaa 

In Yemen, a U.S.-backed Saudi-led airstrike killed at least 16 civilians when it struck a residential neighborhood in the capital Sanaa on Friday morning. Among the victims were eight children. The United Nations says at least 42 civilians were killed by Saudi-led bombing last week alone.

U.S. & Somali Troops Carry Out Raid That Leaves 10 Dead, Including 3 Children

In Somalia, U.S. soldiers and Somali troops carried out a raid in which ten people were shot dead, including three children, in a village near the capital Mogadishu on Friday. Local lawmakers say the victims were farmers. This is an eyewitness to the attack.

Muqtar Moaalim Abdi: "American forces attacked us in our farms and killed these people, including children. Those killed were farmers who were innocent and not al Shabaab fighters."

South Sudan: U.S. Journalist Killed in Fighting Between Gov’t and Rebels

In South Sudan, at least 19 people were killed, including a U.S. journalist, amid fighting between South Sudanese forces and rebel soldiers in the southern town of Kaya on Saturday. 26-year-old freelance journalist Christopher Allen was embedded with the rebel soldiers when he was killed. He’d graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. Fighting in South Sudan has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than a million since 2014.

Iraqi Military Says It’s Seized Control of Tal Afar from ISIS

The U.S.-backed Iraqi military says it’s seized control of Tal Afar from ISIS militants. The eight-day offensive to take control of the city, which sits about 50 miles west of Mosul, was backed by a U.S. bombing campaign.

ISIS Suicide Bomb Attack in Kabul Kills 30 at Shiite Mosque

In Afghanistan, a suicide bomb attack at the entrance to a Shiite mosque in the capital Kabul killed up to 30 people gathering for Friday prayers. ISIS militants have claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, at least 13 Afghan soldiers and civilians were killed in a suicide bomb attack on a military convoy in Helmand province Sunday. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for this attack.

Half a Million Attend Peace March in Barcelona, Spain 

In Spain, a half a million people poured into the streets of Barcelona on Saturday for a peace march, following the attack earlier this month in which 15 people died after a van plowed into a crowded walkway along Las Ramblas—the city’s most famous avenue. The protest was the largest in Barcelona since the 2003 march against the Iraq War. This is protester Gemma Figueres.

Gemma Figueres: "We have to say we are not afraid, but you obviously feel it can happen to you at any time and that is scary. But fear cannot beat us, and we cannot stand still. We have to show that we keep living; that is what we have to do."

Thousands Attend Funeral for 8-Year-Old Palestinian Run Over by Israeli Settler

In the Israeli occupied West Bank, thousands of people attended the funeral for an eight-year-old Palestinian girl who was run over and killed by an Israeli settler on Saturday near Nablus. The girl, Asil Abu Oun, was leaving a supermarket with a friend when she was struck and killed by the Israeli settler in broad daylight in front of her father.

Burma: At Least 100 Killed in Army Crackdown against Rohingya Muslims 

In Burma, more than one hundred people have been killed amid clashes and a widespread crackdown by the Burmese army against persecuted Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine region.

Burmese authorities say members of an armed Rohingya group launched a raid on a police station on Friday. Residents say that, in response, Burmese security forces stormed Rohingya towns, opening fire on civilians, torching homes and forcing thousands to flee. This is one Rohingya refugee, Mujibur Rahman, who fled into Bangladesh.

Mujibur Rahman: "In our village there was huge fighting, so I have come here, taken shelter near the border. And we want to stay here in Bangladesh, because in our country there is much repression, so we are here. We appeal to the Bangladesh government to allow us to stay for some days. After that, when there is peace in our country, we will go back."

Rohingyas have long faced persecution and violence in Burma, where they are denied citizenship.

Guatemalan High Court Blocks President from Expelling Head of U.N. Anti-Graft Unit

In Guatemala, protesters poured into the streets of Guatemala City on Sunday to protest against corruption, amid a standoff between Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and the highest court over whether Morales could expel the head of a U.N. anti-corruption taskforce.

President Morales ordered the expulsion of Ivan Velasquez, the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, on Sunday—only days after the commission said the president should be investigated for illegal campaign financing. Only hours later, Guatemala’s constitutional court suspended the president’s order. This is protester Patricia de Leon.

Patricia de Leon: "The problem the president has is not just the allegations against him and his family. He is a president who has not carried out his duties in these two years, and the people of Guatemala are sick of so much poverty, of so much corruption, highways you can’t use, children who are malnourished. And there has been no position from this government. Morales is a clown, a buffoon and corrupt."

President Morales, a former comedian, took office in 2016 after massive anti-corruption protests ousted the now-jailed former President Otto Pérez Molina, who is also formerly a U.S.-backed military leader during Guatemala’s dirty wars.

Trump Admin Imposes New Economic Sanctions on Venezuela

The Trump administration has imposed new economic sanctions against Venezuela, amid Trump’s threats of a possible U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. The sanctions will further restrict Venezuela’s ability to borrow money from U.S. creditors, making it possible that Venezuela will default on its debts later this year.

Trump Slated to Lift Ban on Transfer of Military Equipment to Local Police

The Trump administration is slated to lift a ban on the transfer of military equipment to local police departments. The 1033 program was halted after widespread protests and outrage following the local police’s military-style occupation of Ferguson, Missouri, amid the uprising over the police killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown.

NYC Mayor de Blasio Considers Removing Columbus Statue amid Protests 

And in New York City, protesters rallied on Friday night at Columbus Circle in Manhattan to demand the 76-foot statue of Christopher Columbus be removed, amid a nationwide movement calling for the removal of statues celebrating Confederate generals and other racist leaders.

Columbus has long faced criticism for opening the door to the European colonization of the Americas, the genocide against native peoples and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Columbus himself enslaved Arawak indigenous people and forcibly trafficked them from the Caribbean to Spain. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio says he is considering ordering the removal of the Columbus statue in Manhattan.


Courtesy of Democracy Now

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