The Trump administration is poised to radically weaken fuel efficiency and emissions standards on U.S. automobiles, in the latest blow to efforts to curb catastrophic climate change. The planned changes by Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt would roll back Obama-era rules meant to limit greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes, including a requirement that U.S. cars average more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Many U.S. states, led by California, have promised to challenge the rollback.
The lowered emissions standards come as climate scientists have accused the EPA of making misleading statements about global warming. A leaked internal EPA email sent to communications staff by a senior official provides talking points to others at the agency, including the line, “While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.” In fact, some 97 percent of scientists who have written articles for peer-reviewed journals have concluded that climate change is real, caused by human activity, and is already causing devastating problems.
The leaked emails come as The Washington Post reports EPA chief Scott Pruitt paid just $50 a night to live in a Capitol Hill condo linked to a prominent Washington lobbyist whose firm represents a roster of fossil fuel companies. Meanwhile, Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse wrote a letter to the EPA’s inspector general that Pruitt used his security detail in nonofficial trips to Disneyland, a football game at the Rose Bowl and a University of Kentucky basketball game.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, in a face-to-face gathering next month at the so-called truce village in the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. Thursday’s announcement of the planned summit, which comes amid a thaw in tensions on the peninsula, was welcomed Thursday by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “I am very encouraged by the recent developments, very encouraged by the announcement of the inter-Korean summit. And I believe that in this world where, unfortunately, so many problems seem not to have a solution, I think there is here an opportunity for a peaceful solution to something that, a few months ago, was haunting us as the biggest danger we were facing.”
Russia on Thursday ordered the U.S. to close its embassy in St. Petersburg, and said it would expel 60 American diplomats, in the latest escalation of tensions over Russia’s alleged poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, Britain, earlier this month. Russia denies carrying out the nerve agent poisoning. President Trump, who defied the advice of his aides and congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his recent re-election, has made no mention of the poisoning, and on Thursday, Trump did not mention the expulsion of U.S. diplomats during a campaign rally in Ohio.
The Palestinian Health Ministry says at least five people have been killed by Israeli soldiers, and some 350 others injured, many of them by live bullets. Among the dead was a farmer who was killed after an Israeli tank opened fire near the town of Khan Younis. The pair had reportedly wandered near the wall separating the besieged Palestinian territory from Israel. The deaths and injuries came as Gaza residents built a tent city near the wall, as part of a planned 6-week-long protest kicking off today, which is known as “Land Day.” The annual event marks the anniversary of the 1976 killing of six Palestinians protesting the Israeli confiscation of Arab land.
In Egypt, former military general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been declared the winner in a re-election campaign blasted by critics as a farce. Initial returns show Sisi claimed 92 percent of the vote, with a turnout of just over 40 percent of eligible voters. All but one of Sisi’s challengers were barred from running, leading to wide-scale voter ambivalence toward this week’s election. This is Yasmin Madbouly, who declined to cast a ballot.
Yasmin Madbouly: “Honestly, I won’t vote. I see many others already voting, and the result has already been known from the first day. What difference will my vote make? My parents voted, and they are telling me that I must. But I won’t go.”
President Donald Trump has embraced President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as an ally, even as he has continued a wide-ranging crackdown against human rights activists across Egypt, with reports of torture, forced disappearances, mass arrests and extrajudicial killings.
The Pentagon said today that two members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Syria were killed, and another five wounded, after they set off an improvised explosive device. A spokesperson declined to identify the nationalities of the dead and wounded. The report came a day after President Trump told a campaign rally in Ohio that the U.S. was preparing to pull out of Syria.
President Donald Trump: “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out. We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it—sometimes referred to as 'land'. We’re taking it all back, quickly. Quickly. But we’re going to be coming out of there real soon. Going to get back to a country, where we belong, where we want to be.”
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced U.S. troops will remain indefinitely in Syria. Trump’s comments Thursday appeared to catch administration officials by surprise. This is State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, being questioned Thursday by reporter Matt Lee of the Associated Press.
Matt Lee: “So you’re not aware of any policy determination to pull the U.S. out of Syria?”
Heather Nauert: “I am not, no. No.”
Matt Lee: “OK. So the president is just speaking off the cuff and making up policy as he goes along, without telling any”—
Heather Nauert: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I’d have to refer you back to the White House.”
In Washington, D.C., President Trump’s incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, met at the Pentagon Thursday with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It was the first time the pair have met face to face. As they walked past reporters, Mattis was overheard joking, “It’s good to finally meet you, since I’ve heard that you’re actually the devil incarnate.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “Thanks for—thanks for coming. And it’s good to finally meet you, since”—
John Bolton: “Absolutely.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “I’ve heard that you’re actually the devil incarnate, and I wanted to meet you.”
John Bolton is known for his ultra-hawkish views and has openly backed war against Iran and North Korea, including a preemptive strike. He was a prominent supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The Trump administration has ended a policy exempting pregnant women from being jailed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE says its new policy will see agents decide whether to release pregnant women on a case-by-case basis, with most women in their third trimester released. In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union said ICE needs more—not less—transparency and accountability, adding, “This new policy further exposes the cruelty of Trump’s detention and deportation force by endangering the lives of pregnant immigrant women.” Advocates say many women enter the U.S. seeking to escape domestic violence, with some reporting they became pregnant after surviving rape and sexual assault.
Meanwhile, the head of North Carolina’s state prisons has ordered an end to a policy allowing pregnant women prisoners to be shackled while in labor. At least eight U.S. states have no laws preventing the practice, while many other states have loopholes that allow it. In 2010, the American Medical Association condemned the practice, writing, “The use of shackles to restrain a pregnant woman during the birthing process is a barbaric practice that needlessly inflicts excruciating pain and humiliation.”
Fox News host Laura Ingraham apologized Thursday for mocking high school student David Hogg, who survived last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead and 14 others wounded. On Wednesday, Ingraham tweeted, “David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it.” Her comment prompted Hogg to call on his more than 600,000 Twitter followers to boycott advertisers who sponsor Ingraham’s show. So far at least four companies—TripAdvisor, Nestlé, Wayfair and Nutrish—have ended their sponsorship of Ingraham’s program.
In Massachusetts, an outspoken prisoner at the state’s largest prison has gone on hunger strike, after he was placed in solitary confinement for attempting to distribute clean water to other prisoners. Wayland Coleman was placed in solitary at the MCI-Norfolk prison after guards discovered 15 cases of bottled water in his cell. Coleman had collected the water from the prison canteen after a group called the Deeper Than Water Coalition raised funds to distribute it to prisoners, who are otherwise forced to drink foul-tasting, tea-colored water full of sediment from the prison’s aging plumbing. Coleman’s supporters say he’s stopped eating food in protest of his treatment, as he enters his 10th day in a solitary confinement cell.
In Sacramento, California, hundreds of mourners gathered Thursday for the funeral of Stephon Clark, an unarmed African-American man who was shot by police officers 20 times in his grandmother’s backyard. Among those eulogizing Clark was the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Rev. Al Sharpton: “Yesterday, the president’s press secretary said this is a local matter. No, this is not a local matter. They’ve been killing young black men all over the country. And we are here to say that we are going to stand with Stephon Clark and the leaders of his family. We are putting aside our differences. It’s time for preachers to come out the pulpit. It’s time for politicians to come out their office. It’s time for us to go down and stop this madness!”
In Texas, a judge sentenced a woman from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to five years in prison Wednesday on charges of illegally voting, after she cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential election. Crystal Mason, who’s African-American, said she cast a provisional ballot in good faith after she arrived at her usual polling place and was told her name was not on the rolls. Mason was on supervised release from a 2011 felony fraud conviction at the time, making her ineligible to vote under Texas state law. She was sentenced to five years in prison by state District Judge Ruben Gonzalez after she waived her right to a jury trial. According to the Sentencing Project, almost a half-million Texans were disenfranchised in 2016 due to felony convictions.
In Oklahoma, public school teachers say they’re maintaining plans to strike next week, one day after Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill bringing them a $6,100 pay raise and other benefits. The Oklahoma Education Association says the measure is welcome but doesn’t go far enough to improve the lives of its nearly 40,000 members. A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows teachers in Oklahoma have the lowest average wages of any U.S. state.
And in New York City, supporters of Aura Hernández, a Guatemalan woman who’s taken sanctuary in a Manhattan church, gathered outside Trump International Hotel and Tower Thursday for a “Jericho walk,” blasting the administration over its crackdown on immigrants and calling for an end to ICE’s bid to deport Hernández. She is the mother of two U.S.-born children: 10-year-old Victor Daniel and 14-month-old Camila Guadalupe. She entered sanctuary a few weeks ago to keep her family united as she continues to fight her immigration case. She says that in 2005, when she first entered the United States, she was sexually abused while detained by the Border Patrol in Texas. Yesterday, Democracy Now! spoke with Hernández at the Fourth Universalist Society of New York, where she’s taken sanctuary.
Amy Goodman: “What did it mean to have your feet washed by the clergy?”
Aura Hernández: “To feel like there are people that see us as important, because we are fighting for peace within families.”