August 20, 2017
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HEADLINES: June 16, 2017

Courtesy of Democracy Now

Rep. Steve Scalise Remains in Critical Condition After 3 Surgeries

Republican Congressmember Steve Scalise remains in critical condition two days after he and four other people were wounded when a gunman opened fire on Wednesday at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia. Scalise was practicing for a charity congressional baseball game, which took place last night. Doctors say Scalise’s condition has improved in the last 24 hours, after undergoing three surgeries, but he is expected to remain hospitalized for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, more information has come to light about the Capitol Hill police officers who were credited with saving Scalise’s life and preventing the shooting of other lawmakers. Capitol Police special agent Crystal Griner is an African-American lesbian. She is a former college basketball star who got married to her wife Tiffany Dyar in 2015. Special agent David Bailey, who is also African-American, joined the Capitol Police about nine years ago. He hobbled out onto the field last night to throw the first pitch in the congressional baseball game. Both sustained injures in a firefight with the gunman, James Tommy Hodgkinson, who was shot dead. Griner remains in the hospital, after being shot in the ankle. In the wake of the mass shooting, some Republican lawmakers are openly discussing weakening gun regulations in Washington, D.C., to make it easier for lawmakers and other residents of the district to carry guns, while others are calling for stronger gun control.

Pence Hires Private Lawyer Amid Widening Probe of Trump Admin. Ties to Russia

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On Capitol Hill, Vice President Mike Pence has hired a private lawyer, amid the widening investigation into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia and alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating President Trump for possible obstruction of justice. He’s also investigating Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and other top Trump aides for possible financial crimes.

On Thursday, President Trump again attacked the investigation, tweeting, "You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history–led by some very bad and conflicted people!"

Meanwhile, Richard Burt, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany who has more recently represented Russian interests in Washington, has contradicted Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s testimony under oath earlier this week. On Tuesday, Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee he didn’t have any contact with lobbyists working for Russian interests during Trump’s campaign. But Richard Burt told The Guardian that he attended two dinners where Sessions was in attendance over the course of the campaign.

Pentagon Planning to Deploy Nearly 4,000 More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan

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The Pentagon is reportedly planning to deploy nearly 4,000 more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan. This comes after President Trump gave the Pentagon authority last week to set troop levels there. There are currently 8,400 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan. The U.S. war in Afghanistan is the longest war in U.S. history.

Trump Slated to Roll Back Relations with Cuba Today in Miami

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London: Outrage Grows over Fire at Public Housing Building as Death Toll Rises to 30

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In London, outrage over the deadly fire at a 24-story public housing building earlier this week is mounting, as the death toll continues to rise.

The fire at the 24-story Grenfell Tower apartment building in West London killed at least 30 residents. As many as 70 residents are still missing, meaning the death toll could eventually top 100. The first of the fire’s victims to be named is Mohammed Alhajali, a 23-year-old Syrian refugee.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed "requisitioning" vacant luxury apartment buildings in order to house those who have been made homeless by the massive fire. Residents are demanding answers about why their safety concerns were routinely ignored ahead of the deadly blaze. The building underwent a recent renovation that residents say was dangerously shoddy. This is Pilgrim Tucker of the Grenfell Action Group.

Pilgrim Tucker: "The standard of works was really, really shoddy and really, really poor—boilers in front of front doors, pipeworks sticking out inches outside of the walls. There were power surges that weren’t looked into, where the lights in the building went dead. In the fire, the emergency lighting didn’t come on. And these residents asked again and again and again, and they were threatened with legal action. They tried to get lawyers, but because of the legal aid cuts, they couldn’t get lawyers."

The residents, who are mostly low-income, say the renovation was largely aimed at making aesthetic improvements to the exterior of the building in order to make it blend in with the new luxury high-rises in the rapidly gentrifying West London neighborhood. New revelations suggest that the shiny exterior paneling installed during the renovation was highly flammable and is responsible for accelerating the fire. This is one of the building’s residents.

Resident: "Ten million pounds, they’re talking about, and put these shoddy plastic things on there that set up alight, because they want more reasons to knock these blocks down."

British Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a full public investigation into the fire.

Russian Military Says It May Have Killed ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

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The Russian military says it may have killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during an airstrike last month in Raqqa. A statement by Russia’s Defense Ministry says the airstrike may have killed al-Baghdadi and other ISIS fighters. Neither ISIS nor the Syrian government has commented on his possible death. There have been a number of previous false reports of al-Baghdadi’s death in the last few years.

Egypt: Dozens of Activists Arrested in Raids Ahead of Planned Protests Today

In Egypt, dozens of activists were arrested in a series of sweeping raids nationwide Thursday, ahead of planned demonstrations today protesting Egypt’s agreement to hand over control of two islands to Saudi Arabia. Critics say the islands belong to Egypt and that their transfer is linked to the billions of dollars the Saudis have given to support Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government. The raids come amid a nationwide crackdown against human rights activists and journalists.

Trump Admin. Rescinds Deferred Action for Parents of Americans Program

Back in the United States, the Trump administration has formally rescinded President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program, or DAPA, which would have shielded millions of immigrants with U.S. citizen or permanent resident children from deportation. DAPA had been blocked by the courts and was never implemented. This comes as the Trump administration has said explicitly for the first time that recipients of DACA—that’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—will not have their work permits canceled before their expiration dates. DACApermits last two to three years. However, the statement by the Department of Homeland Security did not say whether the administration will grant renewals of DACA permits.

Pennsylvania: Jurors Deadlocked in Sexual Assault Trial of Bill Cosby

In Pennsylvania, jurors remain deadlocked as they head into their fourth day of deliberation in the criminal sexual assault trial of comedian Bill Cosby. Cosby faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Andrea Constand, the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, has accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004. Cosby was an alum of Temple University. Constand is one of about 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back decades.

Trump Taps His Family's Wedding Planner to Run Largest HUD Office in U.S.

President Trump has tapped his family’s wedding planner to run the largest HUDoffice in the United States. Lynne Patton has planned events for the Trump family since 2009, including the wedding of Lara and Eric Trump. She has also helped run the Eric Trump Foundation, which is now under investigation by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over whether the charity took money intended to go to children with cancer and instead funneled it into the for-profit Trump Organization. Lynne Patton has no experience running public housing. On her LinkedIn page, she lied about having a degree from Yale University and Quinnipiac Law School. She’s been tapped to oversee the public housing for New York and New Jersey, which involves managing billions of dollars of federal money.

Ithaca: 28-Year-Old Transgender Woman Kendra Marie Adams Murdered

Ferguson, MO: Reverend Carlton Lee, Mike Brown Sr.'s Pastor, Dies at 34

And the president of the National Action Network’s Ferguson, Missouri, chapter, Reverend Carlton Lee, has died at the age of 34. Lee was the pastor of Flood Christian Church in Ferguson. He was an outspoken activist for justice for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was killed by police in 2014, sparking an uprising in Ferguson. Lee received dozens of death threats for his activism. His church was also set on fire amid the protests over Brown’s death. Rev. Carlton Lee died Tuesday morning from a heart attack.

Egypt: 6 Men Sentenced to Death Based on Testimonies Extracted Under Torture