In Puerto Rico, a vast stockpile of food, water and medicine is piling up at the main port in San Juan, as a shortage of truck drivers and fuel prevents the aid from being delivered to the island’s 3.5 million residents, many of whom remain without electricity, communications and clean water more than a week after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. At least 10,000 shipping containers containing the aid are stockpiled at the port, overwhelming the 4,400 U.S. military members who are scrambling to distribute to rural areas where much of the infrastructure is in shambles. On Thursday, the Trump administration said it would waive the Jones Act for 10 days, after Puerto Rico’s governor and others demanded the U.S. waive shipping restrictions under the law.
In San Juan, thousands of Puerto Ricans boarded a Royal Caribbean cruise ship Thursday, joining evacuees from the U.S. Virgin Islands bounds for the mainland U.S. This is Lara Brown, who sent her children off on the ship.
Lara Brown: “I’m here because I’m sending my children to Miami so they can be more comfortable, because they don’t have electricity here. Sometimes they have water, sometimes they don’t. My husband and I have to work, and we don’t have anywhere to send them. Sometimes I can’t communicate with them all day, because there’s no signal. I’m afraid to leave them at home alone.”
On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers accused President Trump of neglecting millions of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. New York Congressmember Nydia Velázquez, who was born in Puerto Rico, said the White House showed far more urgency responding to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which devastated parts of Texas and Florida—two states that voted for Trump.
Rep. Nydia Velázquez: “Unfortunately, this administration’s response has been inexcusably slow and ineffective. … To the people who are collapsed in the airport, trying to get off the island; to those of you in houses without roofs, waiting for the power to come back, worried you are running out of drinking water; to those on the mainland who are worried about their loved ones on the island, let me say this: We’re going to keep fighting for you. Do not give up. We will not give up.”
The fallout from this year’s record hurricane season comes as a new study finds extreme weather fueled by climate change has cost the U.S. economy at least $240 billion a year over the last decade—and that’s before an estimated $300 billion in losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria are factored in. The report from the Universal Ecological Fund predicts the cost of climate change to the U.S. is expected to rise to at least $360 billion annually over the next decade.
In Syria, anti-government forces say at least 152 civilians were killed and dozens more injured in opposition-held parts of Idlib province over the last week, saying Syrian and Russian warplanes bombed six hospitals, five civil defense centers, power stations and camps for displaced civilians. Meanwhile, fighting continues to rage in the city of Raqqa, where a Kurdish commander said Thursday ISIS is cornered and “breathing its last gasps.” The journalistic monitoring group Airwars reports U.S.-led coalition attacks have killed at least 61 civilians in Raqqa since Saturday, including a young child, described as the son of Osama Kadoor, and Sa’id Mohammed al-Sa’id, a father of six.
In Somalia, seven people were killed and six others injured when a car bomb exploded Thursday near a bus stop in the capital, Mogadishu. It’s not clear who carried out the attack, but local officials blamed the militant group al-Shabab.
In Bangladesh, the bodies of 13 Rohingya refugees—including eight children—washed ashore Thursday, after their boat capsized. The dead were among 130 Rohingya aboard the vessel who were fleeing a government-backed ethnic cleansing campaign in neighboring Burma. At the United Nations, the Security Council heard Thursday from U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who warned systematic violence risked spilling further into Burma’s Rakhine state, where an additional quarter-million Rohingya might be displaced.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “We have received bone-chilling accounts from those who fled, mainly women, children and the elderly. These testimonies point to excessive violence and serious violations of human rights, including indiscriminate fighting of weapons, the presence of landmines and sexual violence. This is unacceptable and must end immediately.”
Back in the U.S., Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price apologized Thursday for chartering military aircraft to take him and his wife on overseas trips—flights that Politico reports cost taxpayers over a half-million dollars. The flights took him to cities in Liberia, Germany, Switzerland, China, Vietnam and Japan. Price reportedly spent another $400,000 in taxpayer dollars for private charter planes on domestic routes that typically had commercial flights available. The White House approved Price’s requests, which are highly unusual for a Cabinet secretary, but when news of the flights became public, President Trump said he was “not happy” about the expenses and wouldn’t rule out firing his HHS secretary. Price said Thursday he’d repay about $52,000—a small fraction of the trips’ costs to taxpayers.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, hundreds of protesters gathered Thursday outside a Harvard University forum where Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was delivering a speech on school choice, while scores of students protested silently inside the event, raising their fists and unfurling banners reading “white supremacist” and “Our students are not 4 sale.” The protesters say they oppose DeVos’s efforts to privatize public schools and roll back civil rights and sexual violence protections for millions of students. This is Harvard graduate student Jeff Rousset confronting DeVos in a Q&A after her speech.
Jeff Rousset: “Hi. My name is Jeff Rousset. I’m a master in public administration student here at the Kennedy School. So, you’re a billionaire with lots and lots of investments. And the so-called school choice movement is a way to open the floodgates for corporate interests to make money off of the backs of students. How much do you expect your net worth to increase as a result of your policy choices? And what are your friends on Wall Street and the business world, like the Koch brothers, saying about the potential to get rich off the backs of students?”
DeVos fired back, “I have written lots of checks to give parents and students lots of options to go to the school of their choice. The balance on my income has gone very much the other way.” Joining the protest were sexual assault survivors opposed to a recent move by DeVos to roll back Obama-era rules on how universities investigate campus sex crimes.
On Capitol Hill, Republican Representative Steve Scalise returned to Congress Thursday for the first time since he was nearly killed by a gunman last June, walking gingerly on crutches as he returned to the floor of the House of Representatives to thunderous applause. Scalise is House majority whip, a climate change denier and a staunch opponent of gun control laws. His return to Capitol Hill fueled speculation that he could eventually replace Paul Ryan as the next speaker of the House.
The Trump administration said Thursday that immigration agents arrested nearly 500 undocumented immigrants around the U.S. over the past week. The arrests came as part of Operation Safe City, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweep targeting sanctuary cities including Denver, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, where local police refuse to serve as de facto immigration agents.
In North Dakota, the chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault II, conceded defeat Thursday in the tribe’s first election since massive protests erupted over construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Tribal Councilman Mike Faith won with about 63 percent of the vote; he’s pledged to refocus attention on Standing Rock’s economy, in a region that’s one of the poorest in the United States.
And in Brussels, Belgium, over a thousand people marched near European Union buildings Thursday, calling for safe, legal access to abortion across Europe. Many of the protesters focused on Ireland and Northern Ireland, where abortions are legal only when they preserve the life of the mother. This is Emma Cassidy, one of the protesters.
Emma Cassidy: “When I talk to my work colleagues in Brussels, they’re still consistently shocked at the situation for women in Ireland. The Eighth Amendment of our constitution practically makes abortion in all situations, apart from the risk to a woman’s life, illegal. So it’s very important for me to be here, particularly at a time when we know we have a referendum coming up soon.”
The event marked International Safe Abortion Day and came as the World Health Organization warned that, worldwide, 25 million unsafe abortions occur each year. To see Democracy Now!’s interview with Irish abortion rights campaigner Emma Campbell as we reported from Belfast, Northern Ireland, last month, you can go to our website at democracynow.org.