December 16, 2017
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HEADLINES: OCTOBER 4

Puerto Rico Death Toll Rises as President Trump Lauds Hurricane Response 

President Donald Trump traveled to Puerto Rico Tuesday for a five-hour whirlwind visit, two weeks after Hurricane Maria knocked out power across the island and left more than half the territory’s nearly 3.5 million residents without access to clean water. Throughout the trip, Trump repeatedly praised his administration’s response to the storm, comparing it to George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

President Donald Trump: "If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering—nobody’s ever seen anything like this—and what is your—what is your death count as of this moment? Seventeen?"

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló: "Sixteen certified."

President Donald Trump: "Sixteen people certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people, all of our people, working together."

Trump’s comment came as Puerto Rican officials raised the official death toll from 16 to 34, though the Center for Investigative Journalism reports that number could rise into the hundreds in the final count. During one point in his trip, Trump handed out supplies to hurricane victims and tossed rolls of paper towels into the crowd, an action that drew online condemnation for being out of touch, considering the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Protesters in San Juan Blast Trump's Hurricane Response, U.S. Militarism

In San Juan, protesters gathered outside the convention center, the base of U.S. relief operations. This is Sonia Santiago Hernández of the group Mothers Against the War.

Sonia Santiago Hernández: "It’s a good opportunity for him to show to the world that he’s visiting the colony, the territory of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. But in reality, he’s not going to solve anything. What we’re seeing is that the Puerto Rican people is strong, and we’re together, helping ourselves. What we see in our communities is a military occupation. We are not really seeing the so-called help that the military are supposed to be providing."

On Tuesday evening, President Trump shocked observers by suggesting that he might seek to cancel Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt. This is President Trump speaking with Fox News.

President Donald Trump: "Well, we’re going to work something out. We have to look at their whole debt structure. You know, they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we’re going to have to wipe that out. That’s going to have to be—you know, you can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that. We have to do something about it, because the debt was massive on the island."

Leaked Photos Show Las Vegas Shooter's Arsenal

In Las Vegas, new details have emerged showing how 64-year-old Stephen Paddock carried out Sunday night’s massacre at a country music festival, which left 59 people dead and 527 others wounded. Leaked photographs from the crime scene on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel show Paddock’s body on the floor near what appears to be a handwritten note on a table. It’s not known what’s written on the paper. The photos also show a number of assault rifles strewn around the room, including one with a scope on a bipod used to steady the gun. Other photos show high-capacity magazines. Twelve of Paddock’s rifles had bump-stock modifications that effectively made them fully automatic machine guns. Police say Paddock rigged two video cameras in the hallway outside his room and another over the peephole to his door in order to look for approaching police or security officers.

Casino Workers Say They Witnessed Las Vegas Shooter Abuse Girlfriend

Meanwhile, authorities in Manila say the FBI is preparing to interview Stephen Paddock’s partner, Marilou Danley, after Paddock wired $100,000 to her account in the Philippines last week. Danley returned to the U.S. on Tuesday, and though authorities don’t believe she was involved in the shooting, she’s being treated as a "person of interest" in the case. This comes as the L.A. Times reports that workers at a Starbucks at a casino in Mesquite, Nevada, saw Stephen Paddock verbally abuse Danley on multiple occasions. In one incident, Paddock scolded Danley over a coffee purchase, saying, "I’m paying for your drink, just like I’m paying for you." Although Paddock had no convictions for domestic abuse, a large loophole in Nevada law allows abusers to acquire high-powered rifles and other guns. This is Elizabeth Becker, former head of Nevada’s chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, speaking Tuesday on Democracy Now!

Elizabeth Becker: "People who are convicted domestic abusers are legally prohibited from purchasing weapons. … This is why the gun show loophole, as we call it, is so dangerous, because if someone is a prohibited purchaser in Nevada, they are very aware that they can go get weapons without a background check just by going through a private sale."

President Trump is scheduled to travel to Las Vegas today, where he’s set to meet with first responders and survivors of the massacre.

House Suspends Silencer Bill as Senate Leader Rejects New Gun Controls

On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was suspending a bill that would make gun silencers widely available. Ryan appeared to leave open the possibility that lawmakers would take the bill up again later in the fall. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected calls Tuesday by some Democrats for new gun control laws in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre.

Sen. Mitch McConnell: "Yeah, I think it’s particularly inappropriate to politicize an event like this. It just happened within the last day and a half. It’s entirely premature to be discussing about legislative solutions, if any. … We’re in the middle of the investigation. We’ll see what that reveals. And at the end of that, there’ll be an appropriate time to discuss it. In the meantime, our priority is on tax reform. As my colleagues have indicated, we’re going to press ahead with that."

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Tax Bill Would Give $52 Billion Break to Walton Family 

The Republican push for massive tax cuts comes as tax policy groups warn Trump’s plan would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. On the Senate floor, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders said Tuesday that cuts to the estate tax alone would shower tens of billions of dollars of tax breaks on the Koch brothers and the Walton family, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: "Does anybody for one second think that at a time when so many of our people are struggling, when we have a $20 trillion national debt, that we should be passing legislation that gives the wealthiest family in this country up to a $52 billion tax break by repealing the estate tax?"

Defense Secretary Mattis Opposes Withdrawal from Iran Nuclear Deal

Defense Secretary James Mattis told senators Tuesday he opposes a move to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear agreement—putting him at odds with President Trump, who campaigned on a promise to "rip up" the deal. Mattis’s comments come less than two weeks before the U.S. faces a deadline on whether to recertify Iran’s compliance.

Defense Secretary James Mattis: "If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then, clearly, we should stay with it. I believe, at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with."

NBC: Secretary of State Tillerson Called President Trump a "Moron"

Defense Secretary Mattis also downplayed a split between President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Last weekend, Tillerson said he was open to direct talks with North Korea, prompting Trump to tweet that Tillerson was "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man." This comes as NBC News reported Tillerson was on the verge of resigning last summer over his repeated policy disputes with President Trump. At a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with Cabinet officials and members of Trump’s national security team, Tillerson reportedly called the president a "moron."

U.S. Expels Cuban Diplomats Amid Dispute over "Sonic Attacks" 

The Trump administration said Tuesday it is expelling 15 Cuban diplomats from the U.S. in response to a series of bizarre, unexplained health problems suffered by U.S. diplomats in Cuba. The move comes after the State Department said it’s withdrawing more than half its diplomatic staff from its Havana embassy, after workers there suffered hearing loss and brain injuries in what’s been described as a likely "sonic attack." Cuba denies any involvement and says it’s helping to investigate the incidents. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on Tuesday accused the Trump administration of rolling back a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations begun under President Obama.

Bruno Rodríguez: "The unwarranted and motiveless political decision to demand that 15 employees of our embassy leave the territory of the United States is an act of an absolutely political nature that only benefits those who want to derail the possibility that relations between both countries continue to move forward, and those who want to turn back the progress achieved over the past few years."

Spain: Hundreds of Thousands Join Catalan Independence Protests

In Spain, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of cities throughout the Catalonia region Tuesday, joining a general strike aimed at protesting police violence last Sunday against prospective voters in a banned independence referendum. Catalan regional President Carles Puigdemont said he was preparing a major address from Barcelona later today, vowing to declare independence from Spain within the coming days. The protests came as King Felipe VI lashed out against the Catalan independence movement in a televised national address.

Parts of French State of Emergency to Become Permanent Under New Bill

In France, Parliament approved a sweeping bill Tuesday that will make many of the government’s emergency powers permanent. Under the new anti-terrorism bill, police have wide latitude to arrest people without judicial oversight and raid homes without a warrant—even at night. The bill also allows police to prevent public gatherings, restrict people’s movements and close mosques—all without the permission of a judge. France has extended a state of emergency six times since terror attacks struck Paris in November of 2015.

Former Iraqi Leader Jalal Talabani Dies at 83

Former Iraqi president and Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani has died. Talabani became Iraq’s first non-Arab president in 2005, at the height of the U.S.-led occupation. Talabani’s supporters credit him with smoothing over Iraq’s sectarian tensions, but his government was repeatedly accused of operating death squads and torture centers.

Mexico: Earthquake Death Toll at 366 as Last Body Recovered from Site 

In Mexico, officials have raised the death toll from last month’s massive earthquake near Mexico City to 366. On Tuesday, rescue workers said they were working to recover the last remaining body from a collapsed office building.

Scotland Bans Oil and Gas Fracking

Scotland has banned the oil and gas drilling process known as fracking, in a major win for environmentalists. Scotland joins Wales, which banned fracking in 2015, and the move increases pressure on lawmakers in England to reverse their support for the environmentally destructive practice.

Equifax CEO Apologizes to Congress over Data Breach Affecting 143 Million

Back in the United States, former Equifax CEO Richard Smith apologized to lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday over a security breach that left sensitive personal information for 143 million Americans exposed to hackers. The apology came after Fortune magazine reported Smith retired from Equifax with a golden parachute worth as much as $90 million—or roughly 63 cents for every customer whose data was potentially exposed.

Yahoo Says All 3 Billion User Accounts Were Breached in 2013 Hack 

Meanwhile, executives at Yahoo said Tuesday that a security breach in 2013 was far worse than previously reported—with all 3 billion of the internet company’s user accounts hacked—making it the largest data breach in history.

Ben & Jerry's Signs Labor Agreement Protecting Farmworkers

And dairy workers who supply ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s have signed a labor agreement that will see new protections for the mostly immigrant farmworkers in Vermont. The legally binding deal, known as the Milk with Dignity Program, creates a farmworker-authored code of conduct for Ben and Jerry’s supply chain, gives workers a bonus in each paycheck and creates a third-party monitoring agency to enforce the agreement.


Courtesy of Democracy Now

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