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The Wall Street Journal is reporting the U.S.-backed effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is just the first step in the Trump administration’s plan to reshape Latin America—with Cuba next on its radar. According to the report, the U.S. is planning to announce new measures against Cuba in the coming weeks, including new sanctions and restoring Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. The moves could severely hamper foreign investment into the country. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. then plans to target Nicaragua. In November, national security adviser John Bolton dubbed the three nations the “troika of tyranny.” Last week, Vice President Mike Pence said that President Trump is “not a fan” of U.S. interventions abroad, except for in “this hemisphere.”
In the latest news from Venezuela, opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaidó said he has reached out to both Russia and China. The two countries are Venezuela’s top foreign creditors and have refused to recognize Guaidó’s claim to be president.
This comes as Reuters is reporting the Maduro government plans to sell gold from central bank vaults to the United Arab Emirates for cash, as new sanctions from the U.S. threaten to further cripple the country’s economy. There are also reports that the Venezuela-owned oil company Citgo is considering filing for bankruptcy. On Thursday, hundreds of workers from the state-owned oil company PDVSA marched in Caracas in support of President Nicolás Maduro. This is Vice President Delcy Rodríguez addressing the march.
Vice President Delcy Rodríguez: “All masks have been removed, from Donald Trump, president of the United States; from his vice president, the dislocated Mike Pence; from the national security adviser, John Bolton. All, without exception, have said they are coming for the oil of Venezuela. And what is our response? Yankee, hands off our oil industry! They will not return to govern Venezuela or come to take our oil!”
The Trump administration announced it is formally withdrawing from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty today. President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty in 1987 to ban all nuclear and non-nuclear missiles with short and medium ranges. Critics warn the U.S. withdrawal could spark a new nuclear arms race. The U.S. has accused Russia of noncompliance with the deal. The withdrawal would take effect six months after official notice is given.
Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation Thursday that would lower the threshold for paying estate tax on inheritance, which is now at $11 million after the passage of the 2017 tax bill. The measure would lower the amount to $3.5 million of assets, after which the estate tax would apply—the same level as in 2009. The change would only affect the richest 0.2 percent of Americans, and the revenue would help pay for social programs like Medicare for all.
The measure comes after other high-profile Democrats introduced their own tax proposals on the wealthiest Americans. Last week, 2020 presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed her “ultra-millionaire tax” on the top 0.1 percent, while freshman congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been advocating for a 70 percent top marginal tax rate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advanced a measure Thursday opposing the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, in a rare challenge to President Trump. The nonbinding measure declared that the Islamic State was still active and a threat to U.S. interests. It was backed by most Republican senators, while Democrats remained split on the measure, with critics saying it could unnecessarily prolong the wars.
With two weeks left before another government shutdown deadline, President Trump doubled down on his demand for border wall funding Thursday and dismissed the bipartisan conference committee currently in talks to come up with an agreement that both Trump and Congress will approve before February 15. He said Republicans on the committee are “wasting their time.”
President Donald Trump: “We’ve set the stage for what’s going to happen on the 15th of February. I don’t think they’re going to make a deal. I see what’s happening: They all say, 'Oh, let's do this, but we’re not giving one dime for the wall.’”
In turn, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated that there would be no funding for a physical wall and that the committee should be allowed to do their work.
Meanwhile, freshmen progressive Congressmembers Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar wrote a letter calling on their Democratic colleagues to “Cut, … not increase funding,” for the Department of Homeland Security as part of any upcoming funding deal. The letter, which is expected to be read on the House floor in the coming week, reads: “The upcoming FY2020 budget process will be a critical opportunity to take up conversations about reforms to the agency. In the meantime, not another dollar.”
A federal court in Washington, D.C., found the Syrian government responsible for the 2012 killing of celebrated U.S. war reporter Marie Colvin. Colvin, a reporter for The Sunday Times, died in Homs, Syria, after a direct strike on a building where she was staying with other journalists. The court ordered Syria to pay $300 million in punitive damages. Colvin’s family brought the lawsuit against the Syrian government, saying they targeted Marie Colvin hours after she had broadcast live from the building on CNN and spoke of indiscriminate shelling by the Assad government. French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik also died in the attack. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 126 journalists have been killed covering the conflict in Syria.
In Somalia, a U.S. airstrike killed 24 al-Shabab fighters Wednesday, according to U.S. military officials. The air raid is the ninth so far this year. The U.S. carried out at least 45 air raids on al-Shabab targets in 2018. Last month, al-Shabab militants attacked a hotel in Kenya, resulting in the deaths of at least 21 people, plus five assailants.
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to refrain from setting limits on harmful chemicals found in drinking water, raising alarm among public health advocates and some lawmakers. These chemicals are the same as those found in common household products such as Teflon and Scotchgard. Scientists have linked the chemicals to a number of diseases, including cancer.
In Boston, a trial is underway against pharmaceutical executives who prosecutors say ran “a criminal enterprise” by bribing doctors to prescribe a highly addictive fentanyl spray to patients who didn’t need it. John Kapoor, the founder of Insys Therapeutics, and four other drug executives are accused of organizing fake speaking events to pay and influence doctors. One of the defendants allegedly gave a lap dance to a doctor at a company event in order to persuade him to prescribe the drug.
Details have emerged about how the Department of Homeland Security set up a fake college in Michigan as part of an elaborate sting operation to crack down on immigration violations. The website of the University of Farmington claimed to be a “nationally accredited business and STEM institution.” But in fact the school did not exist. Earlier this week, eight student recruiters were indicted for conspiring to help foreign citizens enroll in the fake school in an attempt for them to remain in the country illegally. In addition, immigration agents have arrested about 130 people who attempted to enroll in the school.
In Texas, ICE agents have been force-feeding six immigrant prisoners who are on hunger strike at an El Paso detention center. Nearly 30 men in total are believed to be participating in the strike. The prisoners are mostly from India and Cuba. They say they are refusing food to protest verbal abuse, lengthy wait times behind bars, and deportation threats from prison guards.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is openly criticizing a new House bill that would make Election Day a federal holiday.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy? A brand-new week of paid vacation for every federal employee who’d like to hover around while you cast your ballot? A Washington-based, taxpayer-subsidized clearing house for political campaign funding? A power grab.”
In response, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted, “Voting isn’t a 'power grab'. It’s democracy, and it’s literally the entire point of our representative government. And by the way: Not only should Election Day be a federal holiday, we need automatic voter registration and universal mail voting, too.” The majority of democracies hold general elections on the weekend, while some others which hold elections on a weekday have made the day a public holiday.
The website Jezebel is reporting the FBI warned law enforcement about so-called pro-abortion extremists in a 2017 domestic terrorism briefing. The briefing warned of both “pro-choice” and “pro-life” extremists, even though only anti-abortion advocates have been found guilty of violence and criminal activity based on their beliefs, including death threats and at least 12 murders of medical providers since 1993.
The briefing was brought to light by the government transparency group Property of the People, which also recently revealed the FBI surveilled the California-based civil rights group By Any Means Necessary for “domestic terrorism” after they protested a white supremacist rally in 2016. Documents revealed language by the FBI portraying the group’s members as possible terror threats, while saying, “The KKK consisted of members that some perceived to be supportive of a white supremacist agenda.”
In Texas, Catholic leaders identified 286 priests who were accused of sexually abusing children dating back to 1950. The revelation is the latest in the ongoing sexual abuse crisis rocking the Catholic Church. It’s not clear if any priests in Texas will be prosecuted.
And New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has announced he will run for president in 2020. Booker was the mayor of Newark before becoming a senator. In the Senate, he has advocated for criminal justice reform and was a co-sponsor of the First Step Act. He has also called for legalizing marijuana. Cory Booker has faced criticism from the left for his relationship with the pharmaceutical industry and Wall Street. In 2014, he was the top recipient of Wall Street money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2018, he announced he would stop taking corporate PAC contributions, and has come out in support of Senator Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan.