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On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers are moving closer to pass a sweeping $1.5 trillion tax cut that largely benefits the wealthy and the nation’s largest corporations. The House passed its version of the bill on Thursday by a vote of 227 to 205. Thirteen Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the legislation. The massive tax cut was approved without the House holding a single hearing. Hours later, the Senate Finance Committee approved its own version of the bill, but it is unclear if the Republicans have enough votes for it to pass the full Senate. One of the biggest beneficiaries of the tax bill may be President Donald Trump’s own family. An NBC News analysis based on his 2005 tax return found Trump would personally save $20 million under the House bill, while his heirs could save $1.1 billion. Meanwhile, the Senate plan will actually result in higher taxes for workers who earn less than $75,000 by 2027, according to a new analysis by the Congress Joint Committee on Taxation.
A radio broadcaster in California has accused Democratic Senator Al Franken of groping her while she slept and forcing her to kiss him in 2006. On Thursday, Leeann Tweeden posted a photo showing Franken appearing to place his hands on her breasts over her Kevlar vest while she was sleeping on a plane. The two were on a tour entertaining U.S. soldiers abroad. At the time, Franken was working as a comedian. Tweeden said the photo was taken after Franken forcibly kissed her while rehearsing a skit.
Leeann Tweeden: “And he just put his hand on the back of my head, and he mashed his face against—I mean, it happened so fast. And he just mashed his lips against my face, and he stuck his tongue in my mouth so fast. And all I can remember is that his lips were really wet, and it was slimy.”
Senator Franken apologized and called for an Ethics Committee investigation of himself. President Trump has weighed in on the controversy. He wrote on Twitter, “The Al Frankenstien [sic] picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” Trump himself has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by at least 16 women.
This all comes as the U.S. Congress Office of Compliance says it has paid out more than $17 million in settlements for sexual harassment, racial discrimination and other issues.
There has been a major oil leak from the Keystone 1 pipeline in South Dakota. The pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, says 210,000 gallons of oil leaked on Thursday near the town of Amherst. It is the largest Keystone spill to date. The leak comes just days before authorities in Nebraska are scheduled to make a key ruling that could decide the fate of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Environmental and indigenous groups have long warned about the dangers of pipeline leaks. This is Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.
Tom Goldtooth: “We just caught wind yesterday of the Keystone XL 1 spill. It’s something that we’ve been saying all along, as Native, as indigenous peoples, that every pipeline is going to spill, is going to leak.”
We’ll speak with Tom Goldtooth later in the broadcast here in Bonn.
In international news, the World Food Program is warning 150,000 children in Yemen could starve to death in the coming months if the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition continues to block food and medicine from entering Yemen. Save the Children says 130 children are already dying every day in Yemen. Lily Caprani, deputy executive director at UNICEF UK, appeared on Channel 4 on Thursday.
Lily Caprani: “This is now the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. UNICEF and the other agencies, we’re still there. We’re still in the country, in fact, working in all of the areas of Yemen. But we can only save those lives if we can get the humanitarian supplies in that we need. And at the moment, this blockade is making that look dangerously unlikely. So, we have been able to purify water, to stop more waterborne diseases like cholera breaking out, and deliver therapeutic food to save the lives of starving babies. But if those supplies run out—and they might well do—then we can’t do that, and these children will die.”
An 18-month investigation by The New York Times has revealed the U.S.-led military coalition is killing far more civilians in Iraq than it has acknowledged. The Pentagon claims that during its air war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, just 89 of its airstrikes have killed civilians since 2014. But an on-the-ground investigation by reporters Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal found the actual rate of civilian deaths may be 31 times higher than the U.S. is admitting. They write, “In terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe emerged from house arrest today to attend a university graduation in the capital of Harare. This marked his first appearance in public since the Zimbabwean military launched an apparent coup earlier this week. Mugabe has resisted calls by the military to resign. The 93-year-old Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since it became an independent country 37 years ago.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Burmese military of committing widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims. Human Rights Watch spoke to 52 Rohingya women and girls who fled to Bangladesh. Twenty-nine of them said they were raped. Some of the rape victims agreed to speak on camera.
Rohingya rape victim: “I have a younger sister. We tried to flee, but some soldiers caught us. They took us behind my house and raped us. I felt like I was dead. Then I lost consciousness.”
The director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Homeland Security, the Rev. Jamie Johnson, has resigned after CNN unearthed a series of racist and Islamophobic comments he made prior to taking office. Johnson was appointed to the position in April by then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. This is Johnson speaking on a radio show in 2008.
Rev. Jamie Johnson: “And it’s an indictment of America’s black community, that has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity.”
CNN also uncovered audio recordings of Johnson repeatedly disparaging the Islamic faith.
Rev. Jamie Johnson: “I agree with [conservative political commentator] Dinesh D’Souza, your friend and mine, who says, really, all that Islam has ever given us is oil and dead bodies over the last millennia and a half. And they are not our friends.”
In media news, the Republican-controlled FCC has voted 3 to 2 along party lines to loosen long-standing media ownership rules. The vote clears the way for the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting to expand its local TV empire. Sinclair already owns 193 TV stations. It is attempting to buy Tribune Media, which controls another 30 stations. In other media consolidation news, Comcast and Verizon have made moves to purchase Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox.
In climate news, the fossil fuel divestment movement got a major boost on Thursday when the Norwegian government announced it is considering selling off $35 billion in oil and gas stocks. Norway would become by far the largest entity to join the divestment movement. Norway’s $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund controls about 1.5 percent of all global stocks.
And the Senate Judiciary Committee is pressing President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to hand over more documents, saying he failed to give investigators several emails related to Russia and WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. One email discussed a “Russian backdoor overture.” The senators learned of the emails after obtaining them from other witnesses.
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