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Turkey’s powerful military has massed troops and heavy weapons on its border with Syria, as U.S. troops heeded President Trump’s order to step aside while Turkish troops prepare an offensive against Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Trump’s abrupt decision to abandon the U.S.'s Kurdish allies in Syria came after a phone call on Sunday with Turkey's authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump insisted he’d won assurances that Turkey would limit the scope of its fight against Kurdish forces, tweeting, “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.” Trump’s move drew condemnation on both sides of Washington’s political divide. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, called the withdrawal “shortsighted and irresponsible.” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it “a deeply disturbing development.”
House Democrats expanded their impeachment inquiry Monday, subpoenaing documents from the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon. It’s part of an investigation into a whistleblower’s complaint that President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for a promise that its leaders would help Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
On Monday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent failed to appear for a scheduled deposition with three House committees. Those committees were set to interview another key figure in the scandal today: Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. But on Tuesday morning, the State Department said it had ordered Sondland not to testify to Congress. House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff blasted Sondland’s canceled appearance as, “additional strong evidence of obstruction.”
Sondland is a wealthy hotelier and real estate magnate whom Trump tapped as U.S. ambassador to the European Union after he donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Text messages reveal Sondland helped to mediate conversations between Ukrainian officials and Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, aimed at winning a promise by Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden and his son and to look into a conspiracy theory that the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee’s email server was initiated in Ukraine. When the top U.S. diplomatic official in Ukraine texted, “Are we now saying that security assistance and White House meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland texted back, “Call me,” later adding, “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”
This comes as The Washington Post reports that House Democrats are considering ways to conceal the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint spawned the impeachment probe. Democratic leaders are considering having the person testify by video stream, with their image and voice obscured, out of fear that Republicans would betray their identity to the White House. President Trump has accused the whistleblower of espionage and treason and suggested they should get the death penalty.
A federal district court in Manhattan has rejected President Trump’s attempts to conceal eight years of tax returns from New York City prosecutors. In a 75-page ruling, District Judge Victor Marrero rejected Trump’s claims that the president is immune to criminal prosecution, writing, “This court finds aspects of such a doctrine repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.” President Trump immediately appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued an administrative stay that will keep Trump’s tax documents secret, at least for now. Last month, Manhattan’s district attorney subpoenaed President Trump’s accounting firm for the tax returns as prosecutors investigate hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In Ecuador, tens of thousands of demonstrators are set to march in the capital Quito today, as protests against government-imposed austerity measures enter their sixth day. The protests erupted after President Lenín Moreno ended a decades-old fuel subsidy program, spiking the cost of energy by up to 120%. The austerity met a key demand of the International Monetary Fund as part of a $4.2 billion deal agreed to in February. As more than 20,000 indigenous people streamed toward the capital Quito on Monday, President Moreno said in a national address he was temporarily moving government operations to the southern city of Guayaquil. He accused his political opponents of attempting a coup and vowed not to restore the fuel subsidy. Labor and indigenous groups who have teamed up for protests say they’re expanding their demands. This is Nelson Erazo, the leader of the Popular Front of workers and students.
Nelson Erazo: “Our message to the federal government is: This struggle isn’t only against the economic measures. It’s in defense of water, in defense of territories. It’s against the expansion of the oil industry in our country. It’s in defense of the natural environment. It’s in defense of the rights of workers, who are thirsty for justice and who are overshadowed by the national government and the Ministry of Labor.”
President Moreno has declared a state of emergency, allowing police to raid homes without warrants, while suspending the right to assembly. Nearly 500 people have been arrested.
In northern Bolivia, heavy rains over the Amazon in recent days have brought raging fires under control, after nearly 10 million acres of land burned over the last two months. Many of the fires were intentionally set to clear land for agriculture. Climate scientists say a combination of increasing global temperatures and a lack of forest canopy are exacerbating severe droughts that have made Bolivia’s fires more intense. Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of the province of Santa Cruz, outraged over President Evo Morales’s response to the fires and his administration’s environmental policies. The region of Santa Cruz has been the hardest hit by the fires.
More than 700 activists from Sydney to New York City have been arrested in coordinated climate protests across the globe, as activists with Extinction Rebellion shut down streets and occupied public landmarks to demand action on the climate crisis. Nearly 300 were arrested in London after taking over 11 sites in the Westminster area. In New York City, nearly 90 activists were arrested after staging a die-in on Wall Street, pouring fake blood on the iconic bull statue outside the New York Stock Exchange. Dozens were also arrested in Amsterdam, Vienna and Madrid. In Brisbane, Australia, an activist hung from Story Bridge in a hammock for six hours. Activists also took to the streets in Chile, Colombia and Mexico. We’ll have more on Extinction Rebellion’s ongoing protests after headlines.
Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined the global protests from South Dakota, where she led a march in downtown Rapid City.
Greta Thunberg: “We’re standing up right now, and we will not back down, because we know what is at stake, and we will never give up.”
Over the weekend, Greta Thunberg met with young climate activists on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. Today she’ll visit the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, where indigenous-led protests in 2016 forced President Obama to halt construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, before President Trump greenlighted completion of the project as one of his first acts in office.
The Supreme Court opened a new term Monday, hearing oral arguments on a case that will decide whether states can eliminate the insanity defense in criminal prosecutions. Notably absent from the bench was Justice Clarence Thomas. Chief Justice Roberts said the 71-year-old was ill with an undisclosed illness. Eighty-six-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who received radiation treatment for a cancerous tumor over the summer, was present and asked the first question of the session.
On the U.S.-Mexico border, Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro on Monday escorted 12 asylum seekers to the U.S. port of entry at Brownsville, Texas, in a challenge to President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. All 12 were turned around by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The group included a disabled Salvadoran woman and her relatives, as well as nine LGBTQ people from Cuba, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of them report they’ve been threatened and assaulted while they’ve been forced to wait in the Mexican border city of Matamoros. On Twitter, Castro wrote, “By law, these migrants are supposed to be exempt from the Remain in Mexico policy—but @CBP had decided to ignore their due process. Outrageous.”
In Washington, D.C., acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan left an immigration policy conference at Georgetown University’s law school Monday after he was shouted off the stage by protesters. McAleenan was billed as the event’s keynote speaker. As he was introduced, audience members rose and unfurled banners reading “Hate Is Not Normal” and “Stand with Immigrants.” They drowned out McAleenan’s opening remarks with protest chants, before reciting the names of children who died after they were jailed in ICE custody.
Protester: “Felipe Gómez Alonzo, age 8.”
Protester: “Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, age 2.”
Protester: “Darlyn Valle, age 10.”
McAleenan left the stage after the names of the dead were read aloud. His appearance at Georgetown came despite widespread opposition on campus, with over a dozen campus groups and hundreds of students, faculty and alumni petitioning for his removal.
In financial news, PayPal has canceled participation in Facebook’s plans to launch a new global digital currency called Libra. PayPal’s exit is a blow against the social media giant’s plans to partner with credit card companies, banks and gig economy giants to create a cryptocurrency that could reshape the world’s financial system.
California will become the first state to offer HIV prevention drugs without a prescription, after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law Monday expected to greatly increase access to the life-saving medication. Newsom said in a statement, “All Californians deserve access to PrEP and PEP, two treatments that have transformed our fight against HIV and AIDS. I applaud the Legislature for taking action to expand access to these treatments and getting us close to ending HIV and AIDS for good.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday refused to rule out turning to China’s military to quell pro-democracy protests that have been raging for weeks, as demonstrators defy a ban on face masks that went into effect last week.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the NBA stands accused of bowing to Chinese censorship, after the pro basketball league apologized for a tweet by a Houston Rockets executive in support of Hong Kong protesters. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted the message “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” — then quickly deleted it as China’s state broadcaster said it would suspend broadcasts of preseason NBA games.
In related news, Chinese authorities have banned the long-running cartoon “South Park” after Comedy Central aired an episode mocking Hollywood for tailoring U.S. films to please Chinese censors. South Park’s co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker issued a fake apology on Twitter, writing, “Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”
The future of New York’s longtime community-supported radio station WBAI is up in the air. On Monday, the Pacifica Foundation abruptly laid off WBAI’s staff and ended local programming. But then, on Monday night, a New York state judge issued a temporary restraining order enjoining Pacifica from shutting down the station. A court hearing is set for October 18. Local programming is expected to resume today. WBAI is one of five stations in the Pacifica Radio network, which was founded in 1949 by the peace activist Lew Hill.