The United Nations is warning of a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, describing an assault on the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta as a “monstrous campaign of annihilation.” Aid workers report at least 300 people have been killed over the past three days. Many of the victims are women and children. Targets have included hospitals and residential apartment buildings. This is Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Ravina Shamdasani: “The high commissioner for human rights is talking about this being a monstrous campaign of annihilation of Eastern Ghouta, with no regard for civilian lives. How many more children dying do we have to see? How many more hospitals bombed? How many more doctors killed do we have to see, before the international community can come together with one voice and take resolute action on the situation in Syria to bring this violence to an end?”
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday called for an immediate halt to fighting, calling the situation in Eastern Ghouta “hell on Earth” for 400,000 trapped residents. Later in the broadcast, we’ll host a roundtable discussion about the crisis in Syria.
In Florida, survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre descended on the state Capitol in Tallahassee Wednesday, demanding lawmakers address gun violence before the legislative session ends in two weeks. This is Ashley Santoro, a student who survived the massacre.
Ashley Santoro: “I sat hiding in a closet, fearing for my life, for my future, when all of us are that future. If we are going to protect our future, why are we not protecting our children?”
The students’ lobbying efforts came a day after Florida lawmakers rejected an open debate on whether to ban large-capacity magazines and semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 used by the shooter, a former student named Nikolas Cruz.
Meanwhile, students across the United States—from Minnesota to Colorado to Arizona—walked out of classes Wednesday to demand stricter gun laws. They carried signs reading “Make us safe” and “Bring on the politicians! We will rise!” Outside the White House, hundreds of students from Washington, D.C.-area high schools rallied and staged a sit-in protest.
Inside the White House, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hosted a listening session with students and families affected by school shootings. This is Stoneman Douglas student Samuel Zeif, who lost his best friend during last week’s shooting.
Samuel Zeif: “And I don’t understand why I could still go in a store and buy a weapon of war, an AR. I was reading today that a person, 20 years old, walked into a store and bought an AR-15 in five minutes with an expired ID. How is it that easy to buy this type of weapon? How have we not stopped this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook? I’m sitting with a mother that lost her son. It’s still happening.”
President Trump proposed ending “gun-free zones” at schools, and called for teachers to be armed with concealed handguns.
President Donald Trump: “It’s called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training, and they would be there, and you would no longer have a gun-free zone. Gun-free zone, to a maniac—because they’re all cowards—a gun-free zone is, ’Let’s go in, and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us.’”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday evening, survivors of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School sparred with politicians during a town hall hosted by CNN. This is shooting survivor Cameron Kasky questioning Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida over his NRA ties.
Cameron Kasky: “This is about people who are for making a difference to save us, and people who are against it and prefer money. So, Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?”
Sen. Marco Rubio: “People buy into my agenda. And I do support the Second Amendment. And I also support the right of you and everyone here to be able to go to school and be safe. And I do support any law that would keep guns out of the hands of a deranged killer. And that’s why I support the things that I have stood for and fought for during my time here.”
Cameron Kasky: “No more—no more NRA money? More NRA money?”
Sen. Marco Rubio: “I—there—that is the wrong way to look—first of all, the answer is, people buy into my agenda.”
Cameron Kasky: “You could say no.”
We’ll have more of that exchange and more on the student-led national uprising against gun violence after headlines, when we go to Fort Lauderdale to speak with Shana Rosenthal, a former intern for Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who’s begging him to do something about guns.
Police in South Whittier, California, say they’ve thwarted a planned mass shooting by a 17-year-old at the community’s El Camino High School. A school resources officer says he overheard the student mumble to himself that he was planning to bring a gun to campus. After serving a search warrant at the boy’s home, police say they discovered a weapons cache of two semiautomatic rifles, two handguns and 90 high-capacity magazines.
Amnesty International released its annual Human Rights Report Wednesday, warning that President Donald Trump set a tone of “hate-filled rhetoric” for 2017. Speaking from Washington, D.C., Secretary-General Salil Shetty said Amnesty was releasing the report from the U.S.A. for the first time ever, because of the “significant and serious new threats to human rights” brought by the Trump administration.
Salil Shetty: “The rising rhetoric of hate translated into horrific real-world consequences. That is the bad news from 2017. But there’s also a lot of encouraging news. 2017 showed us what happens when people mass in great numbers to say that they will not accept the injustices they face. Rather than capitulate to narratives of fear, ordinary people clamored for justice, breathing new life into long-standing struggles and igniting a new era of social activism. There’s no better example of that than what we’ve seen with the kids in this country standing up against gun violence in the last few days.”
In Nigeria, police say 111 girls went missing from a state-run boarding school in the northern town of Dapchi, following a raid by militants with the group Boko Haram. Parents of the children say fighters armed with machine guns abducted the girls, though there were conflicting reports over whether some of them were subsequently rescued by Nigeria’s military. Reuters reports two of the girls were found dead.
Brazil’s Senate has lent its support to President Michel Temer’s decree ordering the military to take control of security in Rio de Janeiro amid a spike in violent crime in Brazil’s second-largest city. Heavily armed soldiers in armored vehicles are now patrolling Rio’s impoverished favelas. The military’s deployment follows a wave of violence carried out by Brazil’s police, who killed over 4,200 people across the country in 2016, with nearly 1,000 of those killings in Rio de Janeiro alone.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a bill Wednesday that would toughen France’s immigration and asylum laws. The bill would allow authorities to double the time they can detain migrants to 90 days—while shortening the deadlines for migrants to apply for asylum. It would also allow for a 1-year prison term and fines for migrants found to have illegally crossed into France. Amnesty International France Director Catherine Gaudard said the legislation unfairly sorts asylum seekers into “migrants” and “refugees.”
Catherine Gaudard: “This reductive discourse is nefarious for two reasons. First of all, it contributes to dehumanize persons who have been exiled, reducing them into a confrontation between good ones and bad ones, in some way. In fact, migrants are individuals who have their own stories, their own journeys, their own reasons for leaving their countries. And although they don’t all have the same status, they all have rights.”
Back in the United States, The Washington Post reports the parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents and are poised to gain citizenship—likely relying on a family reunification process that’s been attacked by President Trump as “chain migration.” During his State of the Union address last month, President Trump called for an end to the U.S. policy, which allows citizens to sponsor their parents and siblings for legal residency. Legal experts say the program likely benefited Melania Trump’s parents, Amalija and Viktor Knavs, immigrants from Slovenia who’ve been living in the U.S. on green cards. A spokesperson for Melania Trump refused to comment.
A wealthy son-in-law of a Russia-based billionaire has struck a plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller, pleading guilty to a charge of lying to federal investigators probing allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Alex van der Zwaan, son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, admitted Tuesday he lied to FBI agents about his contacts with former Trump campaign official Rick Gates. This comes as the Los Angeles Times reports Gates has agreed to plead guilty to charges of money laundering and illegal foreign lobbying, and will testify against Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, who also faces charges of illegal lobbying and money laundering.
Back in the U.S., unusual weather patterns have seen record low temperatures in Rocky Mountain states and parts of the Pacific Northwest, while temperatures spiked to record highs along much of the Eastern Seaboard. Newark, New Jersey, saw thermometers top 80 Wednesday—the highest temperature ever recorded there in February. The wild weather came as the National Snow and Ice Data Center warned global warming has driven wintertime sea ice levels to the lowest levels seen since record-keeping began. January 2018 saw Arctic sea ice reach just 13 million square kilometers—an area 10 percent smaller than the average for recent decades. This week, temperatures in the Arctic rose by more than 45 degrees Fahrenheit above normal—with the world’s northernmost weather station in Greenland recording winter temperatures above freezing.
In Wyoming, state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would bring steep penalties to protesters who engage in civil disobedience aimed at halting fossil fuel extraction. Wyoming’s Senate File 74 would make “impeding critical infrastructure” a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison with a fine of up to $100,000. One of the bill’s co-sponsors has said it’s a reaction to protests against the Dakota Access pipeline led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Wyoming bill comes on the heels of similar bills introduced in Iowa and Ohio—legislation that hews closely to a template bill written by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
In West Virginia, schools are closed today, after some 15,000 public school teachers launched a two-day strike in order to protest for better healthcare and pay. Teachers haven’t seen an across-the-board pay raise since 2014, even as healthcare costs have risen sharply—leaving many teachers with dwindling take-home pay. West Virginia is a so-called right-to-work state where strikes by public employees are prohibited. Asked by reporters about the legality of today’s action, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said, “What are they going to do, fire 15,000 people?”
And Christian evangelical leader Billy Graham has died at the age of 99. Over a career that spanned decades, Graham built a ministry that saw him preach in so-called crusades to millions of people around the world, bringing Christian evangelism into the mainstream. Graham famously told The Saturday Evening Post in 1963, “We are selling the greatest product on earth. Why shouldn’t we promote it as effectively as we promote a bar of soap?” Graham served as an informal adviser to presidents from Harry Truman to Donald Trump. In 2002, Graham apologized after he and former President Richard Nixon were heard making anti-Semitic remarks on a presidential tape recording. Graham was stridently anti-communist and once backed Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare in the 1950s. Billy Graham died Wednesday morning at his home in North Carolina after a long series of illnesses.