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In Houston, Texas, floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey have begun to recede, revealing human remains and mass devastation to the nation’s fourth-largest city. Texas officials say at least 44 people were killed by the storm and nearly 100,000 homes are damaged by flooding. More than 30,000 people remain in shelters. Health officials are taking steps to minimize the spread of diseases such as cholera and typhoid, and nearly 150,000 homes have been told to boil their water. East of Houston, in hard-hit Beaumont, drinking water remains completely shut off, and emergency workers have begun evacuating Baptist Beaumont Hospital.
This comes as a chemical plant that is swamped by about six feet of water in Crosby, about 25 miles northeast of Houston, saw two explosions early Thursday morning, sending thick black smoke into the air. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday downplayed the threat posed by the plant’s chemicals. But Federal Emergency Management Agency head Brock Long said a plume of chemicals leaking from the plant was “incredibly dangerous.”
Brock Long: “So, the bottom line is, is that we do what’s called plume modeling, and that’s what we base a lot of the evacuations on. And so, by all means, yes, the plume is incredibly dangerous.”
In South Asia, heavy monsoon rains continued to inundate Nepal, India and Pakistan, leaving more than 1,200 people dead and about a third of Bangladesh underwater. In Mumbai, India, rescue workers scrambled to reach more survivors trapped in the rubble of a six-story building that collapsed following torrential rains and flooding, as the death toll in the disaster rose to 33. In the Pakistani city of Karachi, at least 13 people died after heavy monsoon rains caused flooding throughout the region.
In Yemen, at least 18 people are dead, with dozens more missing, after monsoon rains triggered flash flooding across the country. Large parts of Yemen have been left in ruins after more than two years of bombardment from the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition, and Al Jazeera reported that damage to infrastructure, including drainage systems, may have contributed to the death toll.
Meanwhile, in Niger, thousands of people were left homeless this week after torrential rains pounded the capital Niamey. Niger’s government says at least 44 people have died from extreme weather since the rainy season began in June. Scientists have linked increasing rainfall and deadly flooding to climate change from human activity.
Back in the United States, President Trump is expected to decide the fate of the immigration policy known as DACA as early as today, threatening to overturn the Obama-era program that protects nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. Fox News, Reuters and McClatchy all reported Thursday that Trump will end DACA, citing an unnamed senior administration official who said the U.S. will let DACA recipients remain in the U.S. for up to two years until their work permits expire. But at the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted the president has not yet come to a decision. Immigrant rights groups and their allies have pledged mass mobilizations in response to any move to cancel DACA. Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington tweeted Thursday, “Dear @realDonaldTrump, If you end DACA, we will make your life impossible. Signed, The 5 million who marched on January 21st. #DefendDACA” Trump’s imminent decision comes a week after he pardoned anti-immigrant Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court for defying a court order to stop his deputies from racial profiling. Trump’s third wife, first lady Melania Trump, is an immigrant who in 1996 was paid for 10 modeling jobs before she was legally authorized to work in the U.S.—that’s according to the Associated Press.
The Trump administration on Thursday ordered the closure of three Russian diplomatic buildings in the U.S., in response to a similar move taken by Russia one month ago. Thursday’s State Department order will see the closure of Russia’s San Francisco consulate, along with trade missions in New York and Washington, D.C. Russia won’t be required to reduce the number of diplomatic staff, who can be reassigned to other consulates or the Russian Embassy in Washington. The move follows the Kremlin’s decision in late July to expel 755 U.S. diplomatic staff from Russia, after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea—and over allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. This is White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “We’ve taken a firm and measured action in response to Russia’s unfortunate decision earlier this year. We want to halt the downward spiral, and we want to move forward towards better relations. We’ll look for opportunities to do that, but we also want to have equity in the decisions.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller is teaming up with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, expanding the investigation into alleged ties between Russia and Donald Trump and his associates. Politico reports the investigation is centered around Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and has collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering. Schneiderman’s presence in the Russia probe raises the possibility that President Trump or his associates could be prosecuted for crimes in New York state. Unlike federal charges, the president cannot pardon people facing state charges.
In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared Tal Afar liberated from ISIS control Thursday, following a bloody 11-day battle backed by U.S. air power that leveled swaths of the northern Iraqi city. Many civilians had fled Tal Afar ahead of the U.S.-backed offensive, but the journalistic monitoring group Airwars reported hundreds of civilians were killed by shelling and airstrikes during the campaign.
In Syria, up to 20,000 people remain trapped amid fierce fighting in the ISIS-controlled city of Raqqa, where U.S. airstrikes have left much of the city in ruins. The devastation drew criticism Thursday from Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Office.
Ravina Shamdasani: “What we are concerned about is that the battle to regain Raqqa is being waged at the expense of civilian lives. And the high commissioner for human rights of the United Nations is concerned that perhaps the coalition forces are losing sight of the reason for this battle.”
Ravina Shamdasani: “Meaning that if you’re going to pummel civilians, if you’re going to cause massive loss of civilian life and infrastructure, then what is the point? The point should be to liberate these civilians from ISIL’s murderous regime, not to pummel them so that in the end you have a Pyrrhic victory.”
Back in the United States, the Trump administration moved Thursday to further undermine the Affordable Care Act, ordering drastic cuts to programs promoting the 2018 open enrollment period on the act’s health insurance exchanges. The administration also ordered cuts to funding for local groups that help Americans navigate the process of getting health insurance. After his efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed in the Senate last July, President Trump tweeted, “let ObamaCare implode, then deal!”
A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Texas law restricting second trimester abortions just before it was set to take effect today. The ruling puts on hold a measure signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May that outlaws an abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation,” leaving women seeking second trimester abortions with options that are riskier, more expensive and more difficult to arrange. Thursday’s ruling will put the law on hold for at least two weeks, giving opponents more time to mount a legal challenge.
The Trump administration said this week it’s ending the collection of data on the wage gap between men and women, as well as on differences in pay based on race and ethnicity. In a letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Trump administration said it was ending the Obama-era rules, which require businesses with over 100 employees to collect pay data. The move was supported by Trump’s daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump, who previously campaigned for women’s equality during her father’s 2016 presidential run.
Google’s executive chair, Eric Schmidt, pressured an influential Washington think tank to fire an employee who wrote a paper critical of the company. That’s according to The New York Times, which reports the New America Foundation fired staffer Barry Lynn after he wrote a letter applauding a record $2.7 billion fine levied against Google by European regulators. Google and Eric Schmidt’s family have provided $21 million to the New America Foundation, and Schmidt previously served as the foundation’s chair.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday he’s reconsidering an Obama administration plan for a new $20 bill that would swap out a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson for famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Mnuchin said he would base his decision on anti-counterfeiting measures, but told CNBC reporters, “It’s not something I’m focused on at the moment.”
In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke resigned Thursday as multiple news outlets reported he will take a job with the Trump administration. It’s not clear what role Clarke will play, but Politico reported he’s likely to take a White House appointment that does not require Senate approval. Sheriff Clarke is a staunch supporter of Donald Trump who has compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the Ku Klux Klan. Clarke and his employees face multiple lawsuits alleging they have abused and neglected prisoners at the Milwaukee County Jail, in cases that have led to the death of an infant as well as 38-year-old Terrill Thomas, who died of dehydration after being denied access to water for a week.
In Georgia, a Cobb County police lieutenant resigned Thursday just before he was to be fired, after video surfaced showing him telling a woman during a traffic stop, “We only kill black people.” The dash cam video, taken in July of 2016, shows Lieutenant Greg Abbott ordering a woman at a DUI traffic stop to use her cellphone to make a call. The woman indicates she’s afraid to reach for her phone because she’s seen too many videos of police shootings.
Lt. Greg Abbott: “But you’re not black. Remember, we only kill black people. Yeah, we only kill black people, right? All the videos you’ve seen, have you seen any white people get killed?”
The interaction took place just days after the death of Minnesota motorist Philando Castile, an African-American man who was shot to death by a police officer in an incident that was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend.
And New York state environmental regulators have denied a key permit for a natural gas pipeline to a $900 million power plant being built north of New York City. The ruling is a major victory to environmentalists opposing the 650-megawatt plant in Wawayanda, New York, who say it would increase hazardous air pollution and consume gas fracked in neighboring Pennsylvania and other states. Among opponents of the plant is Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell, who was sentenced to a week behind bars for taking part in a nonviolent protest outside the plant’s construction site in late 2015. This is James Cromwell speaking recently on Democracy Now!
James Cromwell: “We basically came up with an idea to chain ourselves together. We chained ourselves together with bicycle locks, and we blocked the entrance to the plant for about—according to the prosecution, about 27 minutes. And the judge and the prosecution seemed to imply that it made absolutely no difference to what happened with this plant. But it does make a difference. What we’re trying to get out is the message that this is one instance, but it is happening all around this country and all around the world.”
That was James Cromwell, speaking on Democracy Now! the day before he went to jail.