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President Trump said Thursday he would not block the release of a secret memo on FBI surveillance drafted by Republican House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, clearing the way for its release as early as today. Trump’s move prompted a chorus of outrage from Democrats on Capitol Hill and fed speculation that Trump’s own handpicked head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, could resign in protest over what the bureau called “grave concerns” over the memo’s accuracy. The memo purports to show that the FBI abused its power when it began surveilling Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in 2016 due to his dealings with Russia. The memo is expected to lay blame on the actions of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—the same man who is the only official with the authority to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. This is California Congressmember Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, speaking Thursday.
Rep. Adam Schiff: “The White House knows it would face a firestorm if it fired Bob Mueller. What’s more effective is to fire Bob Mueller’s boss. Now, why is that more effective? Rod Rosenstein decides the scope of Bob Mueller’s investigation. … If Rod Rosenstein is fired and someone else takes his place that is a yes-man for the president, then they can limit Bob Mueller’s investigation in ways we will never see.”
In Los Angeles, police arrested a 12-year-old girl Thursday, charging her with negligent discharge of a firearm, after a shooting at the Sal Castro Middle School left four people injured. Police now say the girl unintentionally triggered a semiautomatic handgun brought into a classroom. Among those hurt was a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the head. Officials said he was expected to fully recover. The U.S. Gun Violence Archive reports this was the 166th accidental shooting so far this year—with over 2,000 such incidents last year alone.
A new study finds many schoolchildren across the U.S. face toxic levels of air pollution in their classrooms, with low-income groups and students of color far more likely to be affected. The findings, published in the journal Environmental Research, rely on EPA and census data to examine some 90,000 U.S. public schools. The study found that African-American and Latino students, in particular, are more likely to attend schools near industrial sources of air pollution tied to neurological harm—including lead, mercury and cyanide.
A warning to our TV viewers: This next story contains some disturbing imagery. The Associated Press reports that scores of minority Rohingya Muslims from a village in Burma were massacred and buried in mass graves last August, after government forces opened fire on defenseless civilians and sought to cover up their crime.
The AP cited interviews with two dozen survivors or family members of victims, along with cellphone video footage of the attack’s aftermath, smuggled past police by a villager who filmed the corpses after they were unearthed by heavy rains. The video corroborates witness accounts that Burmese soldiers used acid to partially dissolve the bodies of their victims to make their identification more difficult.
At the United Nations, the special human rights envoy on Burma said Thursday that the video showed “the hallmarks of a genocide.” Since August, nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled Burma’s Rakhine State to neighboring Bangladesh after vigilantes and Burmese soldiers unleashed rape and murder while burning hundreds of villages.
Meanwhile, a pair of Reuters journalists who were arrested after covering the persecution of Rohingya villagers have been denied bail by a Burmese court in Rangoon. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo face up to 14 years if convicted on the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, despite international condemnation over their arrests. This is Wa Lone speaking briefly to reporters as police led him away in handcuffs from a courtroom on Wednesday.
Wa Lone: “The police told us to sign a document about our arrests, when we were detained. They said they will add more charges, unless we sign the document.”
On Thursday, the office of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for the journalists’ release, citing the “erosion of press freedom” in Burma.
In Amman, Jordan, the head of the Arab League warned Thursday that the Trump administration’s decision to withhold tens of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinian refugees threatens the stability of the entire Middle East. The comments came after the U.S. State Department said it would withhold $65 million of $125 million for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, known as UNRWA. This is UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, speaking to Arab League leaders.
Pierre Krähenbühl: “What is at stake, excellencies, is the dignity of Palestine refugees and regional stability. If 525,000 students no longer have access to education, if 3 million patients cannot access healthcare in UNRWA clinics, if 1.5 million people can no longer receive emergency assistance, we will undoubtedly witness and see a catastrophic rise in insecurity.”
In Cuba, the eldest son of Fidel Castro committed suicide on Thursday, following a long struggle with depression. Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, who was known affectionately as “Fidelito” or “Little Fidel” for his resemblance to his father, was 68 years old. Castro Díaz-Balart was a nuclear physicist who studied in the former Soviet Union. He was also a relative of some of the most strident anti-Castro Cuban exiles living in the United States and cousin of Congressmember Mario Díaz-Balart and former Congressmember Lincoln Díaz-Balart—both Republicans from Florida.
Kenya’s government is defying an order by the nation’s High Court to allow three of Kenya’s largest television channels to temporarily resume operations, after the stations were forced off the air for broadcasting footage of the symbolic inauguration of opposition candidate Raila Odinga. Odinga took second place in a presidential vote last year that was later overturned by courts, who cited mismanagement by the electoral commission. Odinga boycotted a revote in October, paving the way for an easy victory by incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta.
In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party is considering plans to end homelessness by forcing some landowners to sell their lots at a reduced price in order to expand the construction of publicly funded affordable housing. The proposal comes after party leader Jeremy Corbyn said this week that, if elected prime minister, he would immediately purchase 8,000 homes for homeless residents.
In the Pacific Island nation of the Maldives, a court has thrown out “terrorism” charges against former President Mohamed Nasheed and several other former politicians. Mohamed Nasheed was the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, known internationally for his work on climate change. In 2012, he was ousted in what he called an armed coup by supporters of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and has since been living in exile in Great Britain.
In Cape Town, South Africa, officials have ordered water use cut in half, as the city is expected to run out of water on April 16—a date that’s been dubbed “Day Zero.” Officials say a combination of urban sprawl and climate change is responsible for the water crisis in South Africa’s second-largest city.
Meanwhile, in California, officials with the Department of Water Resources said Thursday the state appears to be headed into another drought, after an annual measurement of the winter snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains yielded just 13.6 inches—or about 14 percent of normal levels. Between 2011 and ’16, much of California faced an “exceptional” drought unprecedented in recorded history, before heavy rains and snow from an El Niño weather pattern brought a reprieve last year. Climate scientists have warned that human-induced global warming is making much of California far drier than its historical norm, threatening crops and helping to fuel unprecedented wildfires.
In Austin, Texas, city councilmembers voted 10-1 on Thursday to bar their city from doing business with any company involved in the construction of President Trump’s expanded wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Austin joins dozens of other cities that have moved to divest from border wall contractors. In response, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke this week accused cities of “blackballing” companies, telling a crowd at the Border Security Expo in San Antonio the practice is something “we shouldn’t be tolerating.”
In California, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón says he will throw out more than 3,000 marijuana-related convictions dating back decades, while reviewing whether to reduce thousands of other drug convictions from felonies to misdemeanors. This comes just weeks after California’s legalization of recreational marijuana use went into full effect with the new year.
And Dennis Peron, longtime medical marijuana advocate, has died at the age of 72. Peron was a leader in the campaign that resulted in passage of California’s Proposition 215 in 1996—the first-ever state law legalizing cannabis for medical use. Peron was an activist during the HIV epidemic of the 1980s and advocated for the use of marijuana to treat symptoms of AIDS patients. Peron was a Vietnam veteran who blamed exposure to Agent Orange for the lung cancer that ultimately contributed to his death.