President Trump has threatened to withdraw FEMA from Puerto Rico and abandon the federal recovery effort there, as half the island still has no drinking water and more than 80 percent lacks electricity three weeks after Hurricane Maria. FEMA officials have also acknowledged there is a massive shortage of food being provided on the island, while health officials have warned hospitals are in dire conditions. On Thursday, Trump attempted to blame Puerto Rico for the humanitarian catastrophe, tweeting, “all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.” Trump then tweeted, “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump’s tweet sparked immediate backlash, both across the continental U.S. and on Puerto Rico. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said Trump was threatening to “Condemn us to a slow death of non-drinkable water, lack of food, lack of medicine.” She also appealed to the United Nations, UNICEF and the world to “stand with the people of Puerto Rico and stop the genocide that will result from the lack of appropriate action of a President that just does not get it because he has been incapable of looking in our eyes and seeing the pride that burns fiercely in our hearts and souls.” We’ll have more on the crisis in Puerto Rico after headlines.
In more climate-related news, the death toll from California’s drought-fueled wildfires has surged to 31, as hundreds more remain missing. On Thursday, Sonoma County authorities said they identified at least 10 of the victims and that the majority were in their seventies and eighties. The bodies were so charred, the only way to identify some of them was by the serial numbers on artificial joints or other medical devices. The fires have now burnt nearly 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City.
In Vietnam, at least 50 people have been killed in floods and landslides after a tropical storm hit the northern and central parts of the country. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate, as the flooding submerged more than 30,000 homes. It has also killed up to 40,000 animals. One resident of the hard-hit northwest province of Hoa Binh said, “It’s impossible to fight against this water, it’s the strongest in years.”
The climate change chaos comes as an investigation by The Guardian and Global Witness says more than 150 environmental activists and land defenders have been murdered this year alone, meaning 2017 is slated to be the deadliest year on record. Billy Kyte of Global Witness said, “Investors too have blood on their hands. They should not invest in projects linked to abuses and must speak out when defenders are threatened.” A new report by the group Oil Change International says the world’s largest international development banks invested more than $5 billion in coal, oil and gas projects last year alone. Environmental activists are calling for these banks to divest from fossil fuel extraction.
President Trump has moved to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, after Republican lawmakers repeatedly failed to repeal and replace President Obama’s signature healthcare law. In a late-night announcement, the White House announced it will stop paying billions of dollars in federal subsidies to insurance companies to help cover low-income people’s healthcare plans. Experts say ending the subsidies will dramatically increase insurance premiums and could unravel the healthcare market. This came hours after Trump signed an executive order that would allow insurance companies to sell cheaper policies with few protections and benefits, a move that could also destabilize the current healthcare market. We’ll have more on healthcare later in the broadcast.
President Trump is slated to announce today the U.S. will decertify the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal—although it appears Trump has now backed away from his plans to withdraw the U.S. from the deal entirely. Instead, the White House is expected to instruct Congress to leave the agreement intact, for now. Trump has come under massive domestic and international pressure not to unravel the landmark agreement.
On Thursday, the Trump administration announced it is withdrawing from UNESCO—that’s the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. This is the U.S. chargé d’affaires at UNESCO, Chris Hegadorn.
Chris Hegadorn: “The second issue: Unfortunately, this venue has become politicized, undermining the work of UNESCO across its mandate. It’s become a venue for anti-Israel bias. And, unfortunately, we are taking the decision to withdraw from UNESCO at this time.”
In response, the director-general of UNESCO said, “At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack.” That’s Director-General Irina Bokova. Hours after the U.S. withdrew, Israel then also pulled out of UNESCO.
Both the London and New York police departments have launched investigations into disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, who was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood until a slew of women came forward in recent days to accuse him of sexual harassment, assault and rape. The London police are investigating allegations of sexual assault dating back to the 1980s. In New York, a 2015 NYPD sting operation already recorded Weinstein admitting to groping Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez—but the district attorney, Cyrus Vance, refused to press charges at the time. One of Weinstein’s lawyers donated $10,000 to Vance’s election campaign only days after Vance decided not to prosecute the case.
In news from Guantánamo, hunger-striking prisoners say U.S. military officials have stopped force-feeding them—in a move the prisoners and their lawyers say threatens to kill them. In an op-ed for The Guardian, hunger-striking Guantánamo Bay prisoner Khalid Qassim writes, “They have decided to leave us to waste away and die instead. … Now as each night comes, I wonder if I will wake up in the morning. When will my organs fail? When will my heart stop? I am slowly slipping away and no one notices.” Qassim has been imprisoned for 15 years without being charged with a crime, and writes that a hunger strike was “the only peaceful way I thought I could protest.”
A Louisiana sheriff has sparked outrage after he lamented the scheduled release of nonviolent prisoners, using language that evoked slavery and the U.S.’s long history of imprisoning African Americans in order to serve as free or cheap labor. This is Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator.
Sheriff Steve Prator: “I don’t want state prisoners, OK? They are a necessary evil to keep the doors open, that we keep a few or keep some out there. And that’s the ones that you can work. That’s the ones that can pick up trash, the work release programs. But guess what. Those are the ones that they’re releasing. In addition to the bad ones—and I call these bad—in addition to them, they’re releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchen, to do all that, where we save money. Well, they’re going to let them out.”
Meanwhile, in Washington state, two protesters have been convicted of disorderly conduct after they blockaded a highway to protest a rally by then-candidate Donald Trump in Lynden, Washington, in May 2016. Activists Josefina Mora and Thomas Kaplan have been sentenced to 10 days of labor on a jail’s work crew, after a judge threw out their necessity defense, in which they were arguing the civil disobedience was necessary to prevent the spread of fascism and hate groups, both locally and nationwide.
This is Thomas Kaplan and Josefina Mora at the protest back in May 2016.
Josefina Mora: “And so, right now, I have my arms in two tubes, each side. And on my right, there’s Nia. She is chained to a ladder. And on my left, there’s Thomas, and he’s also chained to a ladder.”
Thomas Kaplan: “It’s a community where white supremacy has been rampant since—since it’s been colonized. And we’re particularly drawing attention to Lynden, because here has been the center of Ku Klux Klan rallies and organizing for at least a hundred years, and right now it’s a hotbed for racism against farmworkers. We’re not going allow Donald Trump to come to our community and spread hate and try to encourage the detention or the terrorism towards people of color and undocumented persons.”