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The state of Arkansas on Thursday carried out its fourth execution in eight days, injecting 38-year-old Kenneth Williams with a three-drug cocktail that paralyzed him and stopped his heart. An Associated Press witness said Williams’s body jerked 15 times in quick succession as he was administered the drugs, before slowing for a final five movements. He was pronounced dead at 11:05 p.m. A spokesperson for Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, who did not witness the execution, called Williams’s movements “an involuntary muscular reaction.” An attorney for Williams called the claim a “whitewash” and called for an investigation. Arkansas rushed to carry out an unprecedented series of killings as its supply of the sedative midazolam was set to expire at the end of the month. Midazolam has repeatedly failed to make prisoners unconscious in other executions, leading to painful deaths. Arkansas carried out Kenneth Williams’s execution after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene. Ahead of Thursday’s execution, the daughter of one of Williams’s victims, Kayla Greenwood, pleaded for the state to call off its plans, writing, “His execution will not bring my father back or return to us what has been taken, but it will cause additional suffering.”
The Trump administration sent mixed signals on North Korea Thursday, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is open to direct negotiations with Kim Jong-un’s regime over his country’s nuclear program, while President Trump hinted at a possible nuclear war. Trump made the remark in an interview with the Reuters news service.
President Donald Trump: “Well, there’s a—there’s a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely.”
Trump’s comment came as Secretary of State Tillerson told NPR he’s open to direct talks with North Korea if the country is serious about permanently abandoning its nuclear program. Meanwhile, President Trump told Reuters that South Korea should pay the $1 billion price tag for a THAAD missile defense system the U.S. recently began installing. Trump suggested the U.S. could cancel a free trade deal between the two countries if South Korea doesn’t accept the demand.
On Capitol Hill, House Republicans have called off their efforts to revive a bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The White House had been pushing for a vote as early as today, as President Trump sought to win his first major legislative victory ahead of Saturday, which marks his 100th day in office. Trump’s initial push for a healthcare bill failed after members of the far-right Freedom Caucus insisted the legislation didn’t go far enough toward rolling back President Obama’s signature healthcare bill.
The Pentagon has launched an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after he ignored a warning by the Defense Intelligence Agency not to collect payments by foreign governments. Despite the warning, Flynn accepted tens of thousands of dollars of fees from Russian sources, including RT, the Kremlin-funded television network. Flynn’s firm also collected more than a half-million dollars for lobbying work that may have benefited the government of Turkey. On Capitol Hill, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said Flynn appeared to break the law by accepting the payments.
Rep. Elijah Cummings: “We have no evidence, zilch, that he obtained permission from the secretary of the Army and the secretary of state to accept any foreign government payments as required by law.”
White House spokesperson Sean Spicer sought to deflect blame for the growing Michael Flynn scandal, noting the Obama administration granted Flynn security clearance in 2016. Rep. Cummings fired back, accusing Spicer and the White House of covering up for Flynn.
President Donald Trump is set to sign an executive order today that would further expand offshore oil drilling in the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans. Trump will order a review of the government’s 5-year oil and gas drilling plan, seeking to reverse protections set by former President Barack Obama.
Trump’s order comes as new data show last month was the hottest March on record for a year without an El Niño episode. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the average global temperature last month rose 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit—or 1 degree Celsius—above normal. The finding came as the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii said atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide reached a record 410 parts per million this month. Climate scientists say the maximum safe level is 350 parts per million.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley introduced a bill Thursday that would transition the U.S. to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Sen. Jeff Merkley: “Our responsibility is to stop burning fossil fuels and stop putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s why we have to rapidly transition from an energy economy based on fossil fuels to one based on clean and renewable energy.”
Merkley’s bill came as climate activists from around the country are converging on Washington, D.C., on Saturday for the People’s Climate March. Over the past 100 days, Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, begun dismantling President Obama’s climate legacy and revived the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. He has also put climate change deniers in charge of several key agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and proposed slashing the budget of the EPA and other climate programs. Democracy Now! will broadcast five hours of live coverage from the climate march Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. You can go to our website at democracynow.org to tune in. And after headlines, we’ll speak with climate activist Bill McKibben.
In Texas, state lawmakers have approved SB 4, a harsh anti-immigrant bill that will outlaw sanctuary cities and allow police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they detain. The Texas House of Representatives approved the bill on a final vote of 94-53 Thursday afternoon, after a marathon debate Wednesday evening that stretched past 3 a.m. Democratic Representative Mary González of El Paso broke down in tears as she recounted how she was a victim of sexual assault, pleading with her colleagues to reject an amendment that she said will prevent undocumented victims of similar crimes from contacting police or testifying in court.
State Rep. Mary González: “The people who will be—who will feel the biggest most effects of this are the most vulnerable, are the women and the children who are survivors of sexual assault, of rape, human traffickers, the people who will feel the disconnect from law enforcement, the people who are supposed to make them safe. … If I have the bravery to stand up here and tell you things that I don’t like to share, in the hopes that maybe it’ll change your mind, to not do the wrong thing—I’m asking you to be as brave as me.”
Despite the plea, the Republican-dominated House approved the amendment, which will allow police to check the status of anyone detained, including those stopped for traffic violations or jaywalking. Democrats warned the measure will lead to racial profiling. Republicans also rejected an amendment that would have prohibited police from interrogating children about their immigration status. The debate drew hundreds of protesters, who dressed in black and packed the Capitol Rotunda and House gallery. The House version of SB 4 will have to be reconciled with a Senate version of the bill, which Governor Greg Abbott has promised to sign.
In Washington, D.C., Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly officially opened the office of VOICE—or Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement—which the Trump administration says is aimed at helping the victims of crimes committed by unlawful immigrants.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly: “We are giving people who were victimized by legal—by illegal aliens for the first time a voice of their own. All crime is terrible, but these victims, as represented here, are unique, and they’re all too often ignored.”
Critics say the VOICE program will demonize undocumented immigrants, comparing it to Germany’s Nazi-era policy of publishing lists of crimes committed by Jews. Meanwhile, a hotline set up by VOICE to report crimes committed by aliens has been flooded with calls from people reporting they’ve been victimized—by extraterrestrials. One Twitter user urged her followers to dial the hotline, tweeting, “I plan on calling every day to report how badly these green aliens from outer space are treating me. How about you?”
In Syria, witnesses said warplanes bombed a pair of hospitals in the rebel-held province of Idlib on Thursday, killing 10 people, including two newborn babies. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations says eight medical facilities in Idlib were deliberately attacked so far this month, leaving thousands without access to medical care. Local medics said either Russian or Syrian planes were to blame for the assaults. The attacks came as Israel launched a series of airstrikes around Damascus’s main airport. The strikes appeared to target weapons caches bound for Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.
In the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, Palestinians shut down businesses and halted services Thursday in a general strike held in solidarity with prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails. This is Hebron resident Shadia Sultan.
Shadia Sultan: “The solidarity is very nice and organized. Everything is closed. Everyone is in solidarity with the prisoners. Even the store owners have put up 'closed' signs in their stores reading, 'Today we are on a strike in solidarity with the prisoners,' which gives a sense of pride and freedom to the prisoners.”
More than 1,000 prisoners began refusing food on April 16 to protest poor conditions in Israeli jails, as well as Israel’s policy of administrative detention, which allows Palestinians to be held for months without trial.
In Senegal, a court has upheld a life sentence for the former U.S.-backed dictator of Chad, Hissène Habré, who was convicted last year of crimes against humanity. A 1992 Truth Commission in Chad determined Habré systematically tortured his opponents, killing up to 40,000 people during his eight years in power in the 1980s. Habré was tried in a special African Union-backed court established after a two-decades-long campaign led by his victims.
In Brazil, labor unions have called a nationwide general strike today to protest President Michel Temer’s plans to dramatically roll back pensions and weaken labor laws. Organizers predict it will be the largest work stoppage in Brazil’s history. The strike comes just over a year after the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, who called her ouster a coup, and amid a huge corruption scandal involving much of Brazil’s Congress and a third of President Temer’s Cabinet.
United Airlines has reached a settlement with Dr. David Dao, a passenger who was beaten and dragged from a United flight earlier this month after he refused an order to give up his paid seat. As part of the deal, Dr. Dao will not disclose the terms of the settlement or the amount paid out. Viral video of the incident shows a bloodied Dr. Dao being dragged semi-conscious down the aisle of a United jet by an airline security officer. Dr. Dao reportedly suffered a concussion, a broken nose and lost teeth in the incident.
After 17 years on the air, one of the longest-running community news programs, Free Speech Radio News, will go dark after its last weekly broadcast today. The worker-run news collective produced a daily newshour for the Pacifica Radio network until 2014, when it switched to weekly. FSRN helped pioneer a decentralized grassroots model for independent international journalism with reporters covering issues in their communities but says it has struggled to find “firm financial footing.”
And in New York City, hundreds of people rallied Thursday at City Hall and then marched to the Metropolitan Correctional Center federal prison on the first anniversary of the arrest of the “Bronx 120”—120 young men who were arrested en masse in what’s been described as the largest police raid in New York City history. The city says the militarized raid on the Eastchester Gardens public housing project targeted gang members. But family members and residents say the raid racially targeted young black men, many of whom, they say, were not part of gangs. The organizers of Thursday’s rally say more than 1,000 New Yorkers have been arrested in a series of mass police raids over the last year alone.