Talks between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s former spy chief, Kim Yong-chol, have entered a second day here in New York. Kim is the most senior North Korean official to visit the United States in two decades. The meeting comes just days after President Trump called off a June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but there is still hope the summit will take place. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in Pyongyang, where he met with Kim Jong-un.
The Federal Reserve has voted to loosen the Volcker Rule, a key financial regulation enacted after the 2008 financial crisis. The rule bars banks from using customers’ deposits to make the banks’ own risky bets. It was one of the key aspects of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. This comes as banks are taking in record profits — $56 billion during the first three months of this year.
In news from Afghanistan, U.S. forces reportedly killed dozens of Taliban leaders while they were holding a meeting in Helmand province last week. According to the U.S., the dead included the deputy Taliban shadow governor of Helmand.
Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko showed up at a press conference on Wednesday, just one day after he was reportedly murdered. He revealed he had worked with Ukrainian security services to fake his own death in an effort to catch those who were trying to kill him. He apologized to his friends and wife, who were not informed of the plan.
Arkady Babchenko: “I have buried both friends and colleagues many times, and I know this horrible feeling of having to bury them. I would like to apologize for what you have all had to go through, but there was no other way of doing it. Separately, I want to apologize to my wife for the hell that she’s been through during these two days. Olechka, I am very sorry, but there were no other options.”
Arkady Babchenko is a veteran war correspondent who has been sharply critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
President Trump has finally weighed in on ABC’s cancellation of its hit show “Roseanne,” after its star, Roseanne Barr, fired off a series of racist comments on Twitter. Trump made no reference to Roseanne’s racist tweets about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett. Instead, Trump criticized ABC for never apologizing to him about what he described as the “horrible statements made and said about me on ABC.” Meanwhile, Roseanne blamed her comments on sleeping pills. She said she was “Ambien tweeting.” In response the drug’s manufacturer said “racism is not a known side effect” of its drug.
In related news, the cable news networks are facing criticism for spending far more time covering the Roseanne story than the stunning new Harvard report that found at least 4,645 people died in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria. That figure is 70 times higher than the official death toll. According to Media Matters, the main cable news networks covered Roseanne for over 10 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday morning. They covered Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico for just over 30 minutes. Fox News spent just 48 seconds covering the Puerto Rico story. On Wednesday San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz posted a message on Twitter reading, “Never forgotten! Never again!” In an attached photo, she was wearing a hat with the number 4,645.
A coalition of more than 40 racial justice and civil liberties groups have called on the Department of Homeland Security to release a secret memo about governmental efforts to monitor black activist groups and what the FBI calls “black identity extremists.” The memo is known internally as simply the “Race Paper.” A redacted version of the memo was released in 2016, but the government blacked out the entire document. In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the civil rights groups wrote, “We are concerned that biases and inaccuracies reflected in the 'Race Paper' could result in unconstitutional law enforcement activities throughout the country that disproportionately impact activists, protesters, and communities of color.”
In Charlottesville, more than 400 theologians, ethicists and religion scholars have asked the University of Virginia to drop charges against a theology student who was arrested for refusing to leave an office in the school’s law library where white supremacist Jason Kessler was doing research. Kessler organized last year’s deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. The student, Eric Martin, defended his act of nonviolent civil disobedience. He said, “It was done with a rosary in my pocket. This is what it is for me to be a Christian, to resist things that are evil. White supremacy is evil.” Martin is a graduate student at Fordham University, where he is writing his dissertation on Father Daniel Berrigan.
In environmental news, a former top attorney for the chemical industry has been named to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Task Force. Steven Cook worked for two decades at the chemical giant LyondellBasell. ThinkProgress reports Cook will now be responsible for overseeing the cleanup of Superfund sites polluted by his former employer.
Illinois has become the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. This potentially means just one more state is now needed for the ERA to be added to the U.S. Constitution. The proposed amendment states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The amendment was passed by Congress in 1972.
In New York, Harvey Weinstein has been indicted on charges of rape in the first and third degrees and a criminal sexual act in the first degree. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison. The movie mogul was arrested last week on charges related to two women—a total of more than 100 women have accused him of sexual misconduct. Weinstein is expected to plead not guilty.
At the White House Wednesday, a 13-year-old student reporter named Benje Choucroun took part in the White House press briefing. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders briefly choked up while answering his question about school shootings.
Benje Choucroun: “We recently had a lockdown drill. One thing that affects my and other students’ mental health is the worry about the fact that we or our friends could get shot at school. Specifically, can you tell me what the administration has done and will do to prevent these senseless tragedies?”
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “I think that, as a kid, and certainly as a parent, there is nothing that could be more terrifying for a kid to go to school and not feel safe. So, I’m sorry that you feel that way. This administration takes it seriously, and the school safety commission that the president convened is meeting this week again, an official meeting, to discuss the best ways forward and how we can do every single thing within our power to protect kids in our schools and to make them feel safe and make their parents feel good about dropping them off.”
Republican Congresswoman Diane Black, who is running for governor of Tennessee, has weighed in on the cause of school shootings. Huffington Post reports Black recently told local pastors in Tennessee that access to pornography was a root cause of gun violence in schools.
In news from North Dakota, a water protector who took part in the protests at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline has been sentenced to 36 months in prison. Michael “Little Feather” Giron was arrested on October 27, 2016, while defending the Oceti Sakowin treaty camp. He has been held in jail for the past year. Little Feather’s wife Leoyla Cowboy said on Wednesday, “The legacy of genocide and broken treaties has shown us that when indigenous people stand up to protect the water and the land from the colonization of resources, we will always be met with repression and violence. This struggle continues.”
In news from Mexico, a top United Nations official has said there are “strong indications” Mexican security forces have been involved in the recent disappearances of nearly two dozen people in in the city of Nuevo Laredo. The city is located across Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. Elizabeth Throssell is a spokesperson for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Elizabeth Throssell: “Well, the U.N. Human Rights Office has documented 21 cases of disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas, over the past four months. And there are strong indications that members of the federal security force may have been involved in their disappearances.”
In other news from Mexico, a journalist has been beaten to death in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Héctor González Antonio becomes at least the sixth Mexican journalist killed so far this year.
CNN is reporting the United States has quietly funded and equipped elite paramilitary police officers in El Salvador who are accused of illegally executing gang members. One U.S.-backed police unit killed 43 alleged gang members in the first six months of last year. The U.S. funding came as part of the “Mano Dura,” or Firm Hand, program, which began in 2003 and was expanded by President Obama in 2014.
Brazilian oil workers are waging a 72-hour strike, in a new blow to President Michel Temer. This follows a nationwide 10-day trucker strike that is coming to an end. Oil workers oppose plans to privatize the state-run oil firm Petrobras.
Nascimento da Silva: “This company belongs to the Brazilian people. Oil belongs to the Brazilian people. We are fighting for that, and we’re not taking a step back.”
In news from Florida, the family of an African-American father shot dead by authorities in his own garage has been awarded just four cents by a federal court jury. Gregory Hill Jr. was shot dead in 2014 by a white St. Lucie sheriff’s deputy who was responding to a complaint about loud music. The deputy shot Hill through a closed garage door. The jury initially ordered $4 in damages—$1 to Hill’s mother for funeral expenses and $1 to each of Hill’s three children. But since the jury found the sheriff’s office was only 1 percent liable for Hill’s death, they reduced the amount to just four cents.