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HeadlinesMay 18, 2018

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Gina Haspel Confirmed as CIA Director, Despite Her Record on Torture

May 18, 2018

The Senate has confirmed Gina Haspel as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Haspel is a 33-year CIA veteran who was responsible for running a secret CIA black site in Thailand in 2002, where at least one prisoner was waterboarded and tortured in other ways during her tenure. Haspel also oversaw the destruction of videotapes showing torture at the black site. Haspel’s confirmation came after six Democrats joined most Senate Republicans to approve her.

Sen. Bill Cassidy: “The ayes are 54, the nays are 45. And the nomination is confirmed.”

The Democrats voting yes were Senators Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Bill Nelson, Jeanne Shaheen and Mark Warner. Republican Senators Jeff Flake and Rand Paul voted no, while John McCain was unable to cast a vote as he battles stage IV brain cancer from his home in Arizona. McCain is a former prisoner of war who was tortured in Vietnam, and said of Haspel, “Her role in overseeing the use of torture is disturbing, and her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who’s privy to classified briefings, said of Haspel, “There is much more that the full Senate and the public should know about Haspel’s background, and I am convinced that, if they did, her nomination would be rejected.”

Trump Says North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Could Suffer Same Fate as Gaddafi

May 18, 2018

President Trump said Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could suffer the same fate as Muammar Gaddafi if he refuses to give up his nuclear weapons. Trump’s comment came after National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday the U.S. should use the so-called Libyan model for denuclearization.

President Donald Trump: “The model, if you look at that model with Gaddafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him. Now, that model would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely. But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong-un is going to be very, very happy.”

In 2003, Libya negotiated sanctions relief from the United States in exchange for renouncing its nuclear program and welcoming international inspectors to verify the disarmament. Eight years later, Gaddafi was dragged through the streets and publicly killed by rebels, after the U.S. and its allies intervened with a massive bombing campaign. In response to John Bolton’s threat and to ongoing U.S.-South Korean war games, North Korea has threatened to pull out of a planned June 12 summit between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

Trump to Cut Funds to Women’s Clinics, Reinstitute Abortion Gag Rule

May 18, 2018

The Trump administration will announce a new rule today that would end federal funding to women’s health organizations that provide abortions or refer patients to other clinics for abortions. The rule is aimed at Planned Parenthood, a longtime target of anti-choice activists. This is former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards speaking earlier this month on Democracy Now!

Cecile Richards: “It’s a domestic gag order that would really parallel what’s happening overseas. Women would no longer be able to get information about the legality of abortion, get referral, even mention the word, if a healthcare provider is participating in the family planning program. Planned Parenthood provides more than 40 percent of the family planning through the national family planning program. We would be banned, and women who come to us for healthcare would be banned. It is unbelievably extreme.”

House Farm Bill Would End Food Assistance to Over 2 Million People

May 18, 2018

House lawmakers are set to vote today on a massive farm bill that contains major cuts to SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the bill would cut food assistance to more than 2 million people, while largely offsetting the savings by expanding state and federal bureaucracies. Today’s vote comes as a new United Way study finds 40 percent of U.S. households can’t afford the basics of a middle-class lifestyle—rent, transportation, child care and a cellphone. The study finds that more than 50 million U.S. households are now living in poverty or unable to meet the costs of ordinary expenses.

Senate Intel Committee Republicans Cite Russian Interference in 2016

May 18, 2018

Republican leaders on the Senate Intelligence Committee have broken ranks from President Trump and their House counterparts, saying they see no reason to dispute the conclusion that Russia interfered on behalf of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. election. The finding contradicts an earlier report by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee, which says it found no evidence that Russia was trying to help Trump win. The news comes after President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team have concluded they cannot indict a sitting president.

China Denies Trump Admin Claims of $200 Billion Trade Deal

May 18, 2018

The Trump administration said Thursday that Chinese trade negotiators have offered to spend as much as $200 billion a year to purchase additional U.S. goods, in a bid to prevent President Trump from imposing sanctions on Chinese products. But China’s foreign ministry denies the claim, saying talks aimed at avoiding a trade war with the U.S. are still ongoing. Trump said Thursday he doubts the trade negotiations with China will succeed.

Egypt to Reopen Gaza Border Crossing Until End of Ramadan

May 18, 2018

Egypt’s authoritarian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ordered the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip opened until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on June 14. It would be the longest such opening in years and comes after Israel shot and killed 111 Palestinians and injured thousands more at the “Great March of Return” nonviolent protests that began on March 30.

Congo: WHO Warns of “Urban Ebola” as Virus Spreads to Mbandaka City

May 18, 2018

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, health officials are warning an outbreak of Ebola could potentially explode, after the first confirmed case of the deadly virus was found in Mbandaka—a city of more than a million people. This is Peter Salama of the World Health Organization.

Peter Salama: “Urban Ebola is a very different phenomenon to rural Ebola, because we know that people in urban areas can have far more contacts, so that means that urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do.”

So far at least 45 people have been infected by the virus, with the death toll now at 25. An Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014 claimed more than 11,000 lives.


Colombia Orders Thousands to Evacuate Amid Fears That Dam May Burst

May 18, 2018

Colombia’s government has ordered tens of thousands of people to evacuate areas along the Cauca River, as heavy rains threatened to breach a hydroelectric dam under construction. At least 600 people have been left homeless after workers cleared a blockage at the mega-dam in northwestern Colombia, causing a surge in river levels downstream that flooded homes and destroyed schools, bridges and a health center.

In Reversal, NASA Administrator Says Humans Cause Climate Change

May 18, 2018

Back in the United States, NASA’s newly confirmed administrator Jim Bridenstine affirmed the science of climate change Thursday, in a break from the Republican Party and from his own previous statements denying global warming. Speaking to NASA employees at a town hall meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., the former Oklahoma Republican congressmember said his position on climate change has “evolved.” In 2013, Bridenstine demanded President Obama apologize for funding climate research, and falsely said from the House floor that global temperatures stopped rising early this century.

Jim Bridenstine: “I don’t deny the consensus that the climate is changing. In fact, I fully believe and know that the climate is changing. I also know that we, humans beings, are contributing to it in a major way.”

Republican Rep. Mo Brooks Blames Coastal Erosion for Rising Seas

May 18, 2018

Bridenstine’s new comments came a day after Alabama Republican Congressmember Mo Brooks suggested during a House Science Committee hearing that coastal erosion—and not greenhouse gas emissions—is to blame for rising sea levels. Rep. Brooks made the comments as he questioned Philip Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center.

Rep. Mo Brooks: “What about the white cliffs of Dover, California, where you have the waves crashing against the shorelines, and, time and time again, you’re having the cliffs crash into the sea? All of that displaces water, which forces it to rise, does it not?”

Philip Duffy: “I’m pretty sure that on human time scales, those are minuscule effects.”

President Trump has dismissed climate change as a Chinese hoax and has ordered the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

New York Court Greenlights Summer Zervos Defamation Suit Against Trump

May 18, 2018

A court in New York ruled Thursday that a defamation lawsuit brought by a former contestant on Donald Trump’s reality television show “The Apprentice” can proceed. Summer Zervos has accused Trump of repeatedly sexually assaulting her during a meeting in 2007, saying he kissed her on the lips, pressed his body against hers and groped her breasts, all without her consent. She’s one of at least 16 women who’ve publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct. After Trump called Zervos and other women accusers “liars” during the 2016 campaign, Zervos sued Trump for defamation, demanding an apology and compensation. Trump’s lawyers have argued the president is immune from all civil lawsuits filed in state court until he leaves office.

Fox News Names Longtime Roger Ailes Protégé Suzanne Scott as CEO

May 18, 2018

Fox News has named longtime executive Suzanne Scott as CEO. Scott is the first chief executive at the right-wing TV network since Roger Ailes was forced to resign in 2016 amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment. Scott has been cited in lawsuits by at least two former women employees at Fox who say she covered up their complaints of harassment. She also reportedly worked to maintain Roger Ailes’s demand that women at the network wear “skimpy” outfits, with one former Fox News contributor saying, “You’ve got to wear your skirts short and your heels high.”

Hawaii: Geologists Warn Worst Could Be Yet to Come as Kilauea Erupts

May 18, 2018

In Hawaii, officials are struggling to distribute thousands of gas masks to residents of the state’s Big Island, after the Kilauea volcano erupted violently Thursday, spewing ash high into the atmosphere and throwing huge rocks hundreds of meters from the volcano’s crater. Although Thursday’s explosion was dramatic and led to a surge in toxic sulfur dioxide gas and choking ash, geologists are warning that even more powerful eruptions might soon take place.

New York: Calls Grow for Disbarment of Lawyer Filmed in Racist Tirade

May 18, 2018

And a New York City lawyer caught on camera making racist remarks to Spanish-speaking patrons at a Manhattan restaurant this week has lost his office space and is now at risk of being disbarred. New York Congressmember Adriano Espaillat said Thursday he’s filed a grievance against Aaron Schlossberg, a lawyer in Midtown Manhattan who threatened to call immigration enforcement after overhearing customers and staff speaking Spanish. The racist tirade went viral this week.

Aaron Schlossberg: “And my guess is they’re not documented. So my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country.”

Schlossberg hid from reporters outside his Manhattan home Thursday, wearing a black ski cap and covering his face with an open umbrella. When questioned by a local NBC affiliate, he turned and sprinted down a Manhattan street, away from cameras.

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