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The North Carolina State Board of Elections has thrown out the results of November’s congressional race in the 9th District and ordered a new election, after more evidence came to light of a Republican effort to tamper with absentee ballots. The race had pitted Republican Mark Harris against Democrat Dan McCready. Harris initially appeared to be the narrow winner, but the race was never certified. For months Harris, who is a Baptist preacher, had insisted his campaign did nothing illegal, but on Thursday he called for a new election. This came a day after Harris’s own son—Assistant U.S. Attorney John Harris—testified that he had warned his father about hiring a longtime political operative who had a record of illegally collecting absentee ballots and in some cases filling them out in favor of Republican candidates. North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper praised the board’s decision, saying it “sends a strong message that election fraud must not be tolerated.” President Trump—who has repeatedly warned about Democrats stealing elections—has yet to comment about the latest news from North Carolina.
A teachers’ strike in Oakland, California, is entering its second day. On Thursday, some 3,000 Oakland teachers launched the strike, demanding fair wages, smaller class sizes and more resources for their students. Jake Seltzer is a teacher at MetWest High School.
Jake Seltzer: “We’re on strike today to fight for students, the students in Oakland, and, of course, teachers, as well. Like, we’re fighting to make sure that public schools are sustainable. We’re fighting so that teachers can have a living wage and can stay in the city. Like, the teacher pay is not commensurate at all with cost of living. I’ve taught in two other states, and the way that teachers are squeezed here is unlike the other places where I’ve taught, although it’s been a struggle everywhere. We’re also fighting for smaller class sizes for students. We’re fighting for smaller guidance counselor ratios to students.”
Calls are growing for Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to resign, after a federal judge ruled Thursday that Acosta broke the law in 2008, while working as a federal prosecutor, for his role in securing a controversial plea deal for billionaire serial sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein. The deal allowed Epstein to avoid a federal trial and possible life in prison, and effectively ended an FBI probe into the case, which alleged Epstein sexually abused and trafficked more than 30 underage girls. The plea deal was then sealed, in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. A recent Miami Herald investigation described the deal as “one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history.” The deal also gave immunity to Epstein’s co-conspirators. Epstein was known to socialize with many prominent figures, including Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
In news on Venezuela, the State Department has announced Trump’s special envoy, Elliott Abrams, is traveling by military aircraft to the Colombian border as a standoff intensifies on the Venezuelan border. The State Department says Abrams will oversee the delivering of so-called humanitarian aid. This comes as Venezuela’s self-proclaimed president Juan Guaidó is insisting he will lead a series of aid caravans across the border on Saturday. But Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has rejected the aid efforts, saying they are part of a broader plan to overthrow his regime. Maduro has already ordered the closing of Venezuela’s border with Brazil and is considering the closure of its border with Colombia. The United Nations, the Red Cross and other relief organizations have refused to work with the U.S. on delivering aid to Venezuela, which they say is politically motivated.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the peace group CodePink, disrupted an event in Washington, D.C., where Guaidó’s envoy to the United States spoke.
Medea Benjamin: “Excuse me. Just as you are trying to take over the Venezuelan government, I want to say these people are a fraud. They don’t represent the Venezuelan people. They are representing the U.S.-orchestrated coup. This is a very dangerous situation. They want to create a crisis at the border that would be a justification for U.S. intervention. This has nothing to do with a humanitarian situation.”
In news from the Middle East, the White House has announced it will keep 200 troops in Syria. This comes just two months after Trump vowed to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria. The latest move was announced after President Trump spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At the Vatican, a historic summit on clerical sex abuse has entered its second day. On Thursday, Pope Francis called on bishops to “listen to the screams of the little ones asking for justice.” The summit takes place just days after the pope defrocked U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, after the Vatican found him guilty of sex crimes against children and adults. McCarrick was once considered the most powerful Catholic leader in the United States. On Thursday, the Archbishop of Manila Luis Tagle spoke at the Vatican summit.
Archbishop Luis Tagle: “Our lack of response to the suffering of victims, even to the point of rejecting them and covering up the scandal to protect perpetrators and the institution, has injured our people, leaving a deep wound in our relationship with those we are sent to serve.”
Meanwhile, survivors of clerical abuse have been holding their own gatherings in Rome. This is Tim Lennon, president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Tim Lennon: “I was raped and abused by my parish priest when I was 12 years old. At the time, I froze, didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything. I was molested for several months and violently raped. I buried the memories for 30 years, or some memories for 30 years. And it was only when other survivors, other advocates, stood in front of a church and said, 'There should be no more clergy abuse,' and I said, 'That happened to me.' And that was my first realization of my abuse, that, yes, this happened to me, as well.”
More information has come to light about the white nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant who plotted to carry out a domestic terrorist attack. Investigators say Christopher Paul Hasson used his work computer at the Coast Guard to plan his attack. During work time, he read the manifestos of mass killers and studied about how to carry out sniper attacks. At the time of his arrest, he had a developed a hit list of prominent politicians and journalists, and had stockpiled 15 guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Robert Hur is U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland.
Robert Hur: “The sheer number and force of the weapons that were recovered from Mr. Hasson’s residence in this case, coupled with the disturbing nature of his writings, appear to reflect a very significant threat to the safety of our community, particularly given the position of trust that Mr. Hasson held with the United States government.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center is reporting the number of hate groups in the United States has reached a record high of just over 1,000. The group says the number of hate groups has jumped by 30 percent since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015.
In news from Arizona, federal prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against four members of the humanitarian group No More Deaths. The volunteers were arrested after searching for three migrants missing in the Sonoran Desert. But the activists have each been ordered to pay a fine of $250. This comes a month after four other members of the group were found guilty on charges related to their efforts to leave water and food in the harsh Sonoran Desert to help refugees and migrants survive the deadly journey across the U.S. border. They face six months in prison. A ninth member of the group, Scott Warren, is still awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges and felony charges.
President Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone has been barred from speaking to the media by a judge, after he posted an Instagram photo on Monday depicting the judge with crosshairs next to her head. The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, also barred associates of Stone from speaking to the media on his behalf. Stone was indicted last month as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He pleaded not guilty to lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction.
New government data shows U.S. banks made $28 billion in additional profit last year, thanks to President Trump’s new tax code. All told, U.S. banks made a record $237 billion in 2018. According to The Wall Street Journal, 2018 would have been a record-setting year for banks even without the additional boost from the tax bill. Meanwhile, the IRS reports the average tax refund for individual taxpayers has shrunk nearly 9 percent, thanks to Trump’s tax code.
The pharmaceutical firm Catalyst is defending its decision to charge $375,000 a year for a drug that used to be available for free. The drug, Firdapse, is used as a medication for a rare neuromuscular disease. The price of the drug skyrocketed after Catalyst bought the rights to it from another pharmaceutical company, which offered the drug for free through the FDA. Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders recently criticized the company, accusing it of immorally exploiting patients who need the medication.
In Spain, thousands of protesters rallied in the northeastern region of the country Thursday, calling for the release of 12 secessionist Catalan leaders who are on trial on charges of rebellion. In Barcelona, more than 13,000 people took to the streets.
Cristina: “Nobody should be judged for their political ideology in a democracy. I think it’s unacceptable that the government keeps going on about the constitution and does not allow these people to be free. That is why I am here.”
At the trial, Catalan leaders have denied the charges against them, which stem from the 2017 independence referendum and the Catalan Parliament’s declaration of independence. Jordi Sànchez is the former president of the Catalan National Assembly.
Jordi Sànchez: “I consider myself a political prisoner, and I believe that this is a political trial. I believe it’s my obligation, as a citizen who wants to tell the truth in a court that presents itself as being impartial, to prove this innocence. And I am convinced that everything I am accused of by the prosecution is absolutely false.”
In news from Latin America, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has vowed to reopen talks with political opponents for the first time in seven months. The umbrella opposition group Civil Alliance for Justice said it will take part in the talks. The group said a key demand will be the release of hundreds of government critics who have been jailed over the past year. Meanwhile, a Nicaraguan farm leader who helped organize protests against Ortega last year has been sentenced to 215 years in prison. Medardo Mairena was convicted in December of terrorism, murder and organized crime.
Haitian human rights groups are criticizing the Haitian government for letting five Americans leave the country before they were scheduled to go to court for possessing illegal weapons. Two of the Americans are former Navy SEAL officers. One is a former employee of the mercenary firm Blackwater. They were arrested on February 17. CNN reports the men were found to be in possession of six pistols, six automatic rifles, two drones, five ballistic vests, three satellite phones, a telescope and several license plates. This comes amid days of anti-government protests in Haiti.