The United Nations is calling for an immediate one-month ceasefire in Syria, after more than 85 people were killed on Tuesday by Syrian government bombing and artillery strikes against two rebel-held enclaves: Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the capital Damascus, and the northern province of Idlib. Tuesday was the deadliest day so far in a weeks-long escalation by the Russian-backed Syrian government against the two rebel-held areas. This is a United Nations spokesperson.
Jens Laerke: “We are talking about Idlib governorate, where we have about 2 million people of concern. Jan Egeland called it the other day it’s like one huge refugee camp. And that is essentially what it is. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are internally displaced there, on the run, extremely vulnerable, and they are being—they come under attack and under bombardment. That is completely unacceptable.”
With the 2018 Winter Olympics slated to begin on Friday, North and South Korea continue to use the games as an opportunity to de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has sent a 500-person delegation of athletes, musicians and performers to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the games are being held. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister will also attend Friday’s opening ceremony. But as the peninsula tries to de-escalate the threat of nuclear war, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence warned the U.S. is slated to impose another round of sanctions against North Korea. This is Pence speaking in Japan.
Vice President Mike Pence: “We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games. … We will continue to intensify our maximum pressure campaign until North Korea takes concrete steps toward complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. … To that end, I am announcing today that the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever.”
President Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly has sparked outrage with his comments implying that young undocumented immigrants were lazy if they didn’t sign up for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Trump rescinded last year.
John Kelly: “Some of them didn’t hear about the program. Hard to believe, but OK. Some of them were perhaps a little bit concerned about signing up, when many, many people in the neighborhood signed up three times, two or three times. But OK, fine. But I’ve got to tell you, the rest of them who are now claiming—not even claiming, have been granted, essentially, DACA status by the president of the United States, who has become the champion, I believe, for 1.8 million people who are now considered kind of DACA—I’ve got to say that some of them just should have probably gotten off the couch and signed up.”
Immigrant rights advocates slammed General Kelly’s comments as “ignorant,” pointing out that signing up for DACA costs hundreds of dollars every two years and requires navigating the program’s complicated age and date requirements, which advocates say restricted far more immigrants than Kelly claimed.
The Washington Post reports President Trump has given the Pentagon marching orders to stage a massive military parade later this year. The Post reports Trump demanded the parade during a January 18 meeting with top military generals, after having been inspired by the one in Paris during Bastille Day. One military official who spoke to the Post said, “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”
In news on Puerto Rico, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, is facing criticism after it was revealed that only a fraction of the 30 million meals slated to be sent to the island after Hurricane Maria was actually delivered. FEMA approved a $156 million contract for a one-woman company to deliver the 30 million meals. But in the end, FEMA canceled the contract after she delivered only 50,000 meals, in what FEMA called a logistical nightmare. FEMA has also faced criticism for approving a $30 million contract for emergency tarps and plastic sheeting—of which not a single tarp was ever delivered.
On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives has passed a bill overhauling the secretive process for reporting sexual harassment in Congress. The legislation would bar lawmakers accused of sexual harassment from using taxpayer money to settle lawsuits. It would also provide legal representation to those alleging they have been sexually harassed. Under the current system, the accused sexual harassers are already provided a lawyer. Critics, however, say the legislation takes away a level of accountability by sidelining the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog agency.
Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn has resigned from his company, Wynn Resorts, after being accused of sexually harassing women employees for decades in an explosive Wall Street Journal article published last month. Wynn has also resigned as the fundraising chair for the Republican National Committee. Wynn is a close friend of President Trump, who has also been accused of sexual harassment, misconduct or assault by at least 16 women.
In London, a judge ruled Tuesday to uphold the British arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for more than five years. Assange’s lawyers tried unsuccessfully to argue the British arrest warrant for jumping bail should be rescinded, because it’s related to a Swedish sexual assault investigation against Assange, which has since been dropped. Tuesday’s ruling means Assange’s legal situation has not changed. After Tuesday’s ruling, Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno said Ecuador would continue to protect Assange.
President Lenín Moreno: “We are not afraid of anything, of nothing other than those that escape the respect of freedom, respect for dignity. That is the only thing we can fear. Mr. Assange is an inherited problem. He is a problem that is not comfortable, under no circumstances. No country would be comfortable in a similar circumstance. However, we have made a commitment from the start to continue protecting the life of Mr. Assange, which we think is in danger.”
Hong Kong’s highest court has thrown out the prison sentences for three pro-democracy student organizers: Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law. Tuesday’s ruling reverses the August 2017 verdicts in which the three were sentenced to months in prison for helping organize the 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” protests. The activists, however, cautioned against celebrating the ruling, as the court warned them that any future organizing could result in imprisonment. This is Joshua Wong.
Joshua Wong: “According to the judgment handed down by the Court of Final Appeal, in the future, if there are any similar actions, protesters will still receive imprisonment. So I will not, in any way, describe this as a win, and do not see it as a reason to celebrate.”
Back in the United States, New York City taxi drivers held a vigil on Tuesday to honor livery car driver Douglas Schifter, who killed himself in front of City Hall on Monday morning after writing a long Facebook post condemning local politicians and Wall Street-backed apps like Uber for pushing him into financial ruin. In the post, Schifter describes working 100 to 120 hours a week for the last 14 years. He went on to condemn the executives of the ride-hailing apps for driving down rates, and wrote, “I will not be a slave working for chump change. I would rather be dead.” We’ll have more on this story after headlines.
In Baltimore, Maryland, closing arguments are slated to begin today for two Baltimore police officers who face racketeering conspiracy and robbery charges, as part of what The New York Times is calling one of the most startling police corruption scandals in a generation. The officers were part of an elite plainclothes unit called the Gun Trace Task Force. Six other members of the task force have already pleaded guilty to an array of crimes. Prosecutors say the task force stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from city residents, broke into people’s houses, stole drugs and then gave them to drug dealers, and even carried around BB guns they could use to plant on people they shot. We’ll have more on the case later in the broadcast.
In San Francisco, a federal court has upheld a $25 million settlement against President Trump over his now-defunct Trump University. The ruling means the students defrauded by Trump University will finally get some of their money back. Trump’s lawyers settled the lawsuit after he won the 2016 election.
And New York Congressmember Nydia Velázquez has introduced a private immigration bill that, if passed, would provide New York City immigrant rights leader Ravi Ragbir with a path toward permanent immigration status. Ravi is the executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition. He was detained last month by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at his ICE check-in and now faces the possibility of deportation as early as this Saturday, February 10.