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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. For over two decades, we've produced our daily news hour without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting. How is this possible? Only with your support. Right now every donation we receive will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else. Thank you! -Amy Goodman
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Fifty people were charged Tuesday, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, 13 college coaches, and powerful CEOs, for taking part in a scheme where wealthy parents paid exorbitant sums to secure spots for their unqualified children in elite schools, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, UCLA, USC and Wake Forest. Parents reportedly paid up to $6.5 million to gain access to the schools. This is U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announcing the charges.
Andrew Lelling: “These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege. Based on the charges unsealed today, all of them knowingly conspired with Singer and others to help their children either cheat on the SAT or ACT and/or buy their children’s admission to elite schools through fraud.”
At the center of the scheme is Newport Beach, California, man Rick Singer, who promised parents he could get their children into the schools—for a hefty fee. Singer pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. He also bribed school coaches to give to his clients admissions slots reserved for student athletes in sports including crew and soccer. He went as far as to stage fake photos of his student clients engaging in sports they never played, or to digitally place the faces of his clients onto images found online of athletes. Prosecutors also accuse Rick Singer of helping students cheat on their college entrance exams. We’ll have more on this story later in the broadcast.
European aviation regulators joined a growing list of countries and airlines that are grounding Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircrafts, three days after the deadly Ethiopian Airlines disaster which killed all 157 people on board. Regulators in China, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, New Zealand, Lebanon, Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia have also barred the plane from flying in their airspace.
The U.S. has so far resisted mounting pressure to do the same. On Tuesday, the chief executive of Boeing reportedly spoke to President Trump and assured him the aircraft was safe. The Wall Street Journal is reporting a fix to the flight control software had been planned but was delayed for five weeks due to the recent government shutdown. We’ll have more on this story after headlines.
California Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to sign an executive order today putting a moratorium on the death penalty. Over 700 prisoners are currently on death row in California, although the state has not performed any executions in over a decade because of legal challenges to the state’s lethal injection procedure. Prepared remarks by Newsom cite racial discrimination and wrongful convictions, as well as the high cost to taxpayers. The order does not abolish the death penalty in California but would temporarily ban the practice during Newsom’s tenure as governor.
Democratic lawmakers introduced the Dream and Promise Act Tuesday, an immigration proposal that aims to provide a path to citizenship for up to 2.5 million immigrants. The legislation builds on the existing DREAM Act and would benefit those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status, as well as individuals with temporary immigration protections known as TPS. The bill is expected to pass in the House, but its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is unclear.
Diana Pliego of the National Immigration Law Center said in a statement, “After several failed cycles of Congress tethering 'Dreamer' protections to the White House’s demands for harmful, hate-filled policies, the Dream and Promise Act rejects Trump’s extortionist tactics and takes a far better approach: ending the untenable status quo with an eye toward inclusivity and what will benefit all of us in the long term.”
In Brazil, police have arrested two former police officers suspected of murdering human rights activist and city councilmember Marielle Franco last March. The drive-by shooting in downtown Rio de Janeiro also killed her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes. Ronnie Lessa is believed to have shot Franco and her co-passengers, while Élcio Vieira de Queiroz drove the pair’s getaway car. After news broke of the arrest, a photo appearing to show Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro with Queiroz circulated on social media.
Franco, who was black and a vocal member of the LGBT community, was a longtime critic of Brazil’s police, who have been linked to hundreds of killings and thousands of incidents of brutality in Rio’s impoverished favela neighborhoods. Mass demonstrations are planned for Thursday, marking the first anniversary of Franco’s death.
In news from Venezuela, the U.S. is withdrawing remaining diplomatic staff from its embassy in Caracas and says it will soon impose new sanctions against the government of Nicolás Maduro. In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy,” raising questions about whether the U.S. is coming closer to a military intervention in Venezuela.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s top prosecutor has called for the supreme court to investigate whether opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó was involved in the “sabotage” of the power grid, which has plunged Venezuela into a nearly week-long blackout. Members of the opposition say at least 21 people have died since the power outage started.
In Britain, lawmakers voted against an amended Brexit deal Tuesday in the latest blow to Prime Minister Theresa May. The vote comes just two-and-a-half weeks before the United Kingdom is scheduled to depart the European Union. Members of Parliament will vote later today on whether to back a dreaded “no-deal Brexit.” If that option is rejected, lawmakers could vote next to extend the current deadline of March 29, provided the European Union agrees. Some British citizens and members of Parliament have been calling for a new referendum on Brexit—which the opposition Labour Party indicated last month it may support.
Australian Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years in jail for sexually assaulting underage boys. Pell was convicted last month, after he was found guilty of multiple sexual crimes and the abuse of two choir boys in 1996. He served as the Vatican’s chief financial officer and is the highest-ranking member of the Catholic Church to be convicted of a sexual crime. Crowds gathered outside the Melbourne courthouse reacted to the verdict.
Rob House: “No sentence is really long enough for taking the innocence of a child. But under current laws, I think it reflected a stronger message that these things can’t be tolerated anymore.”
In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinian men in two separate incidents Tuesday. Twenty-three-year-old Mohammad Shaheen was shot during a raid in the city of Salfit, while at least 40 others were injured. In the city of Hebron, Israeli soldiers killed Yasser Fawzi Shawki near an illegal Israeli settlement after an alleged knife attack.
The United Nations reports at least 535 people were killed, and tens of thousands displaced, in western Congo over a 3-day period in December, in what could amount to crimes against humanity. U.N. investigators say the chiefs of opposing factions helped plan and carry out the violence in response to an alleged territorial dispute, and local authorities failed to intervene to protect residents. The U.N. warns that more acts of violence are likely unless the government acts to ease tensions between rival factions.
Two weeks of talks between U.S. and Taliban officials in Qatar ended without an agreement Tuesday but with negotiators saying they’ve made progress on two key issues. The U.S. said the two parties have reached a draft plan for a future withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, as well as a commitment from the Taliban to cut ties with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Talks are expected to resume later this month.
Back in the U.S., a new study finds that Latinx and black communities suffer the most from the effects of pollution, despite white Americans disproportionately creating more emissions. The report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that Latinx and black Americans are exposed to over 50 percent more fine particulate matter than is directly caused by their consumption habits, while white people are exposed to 17 percent less pollution than they are responsible for. Particulate matter comes from industrial pollution, coal-fired power plants, agriculture and vehicular pollution.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a growing number of counties across the country are joining the so-called Second Amendment sanctuary movement. County sheriffs and prosecutors in rural areas of blue states are resisting new gun control proposals by declaring they will not enforce any new laws. In New Mexico, as Democratic lawmakers recently passed legislation requiring background checks, the majority of county sheriffs reportedly vowed to disobey the new requirements. Russell Shafer, a New Mexico sheriff, told the Journal, “If a state or city can become a sanctuary for illegal immigration, then we can become a sanctuary for Second Amendment rights.” Other states where county officials have adopted or are considering Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions include Illinois, Washington state and Colorado.
And on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers grilled Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan Tuesday over the bank’s practices of predatory lending, misleading and defrauding customers, and its relationship to the NRA, private prisons and the fossil fuel industry. California congressmember and Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters called Wells Fargo “a recidivist financial institution.” After the hearing, she told reporters she would call a vote on a bill to break up megabanks found liable for repeated consumer violations. This is New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioning Sloan over the bank’s role in climate change and its financial backing of the Dakota Access pipeline, which she noted has leaked at least five times since it started transporting oil in 2017.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “Should Wells Fargo be held responsible for the damages incurred by climate change due to the financing of fossil fuels and these projects?”
Timothy Sloan: “I don’t know how you’d calculate that, Congresswoman.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “Say, from spills or when we have to reinvest in infrastructure, building sea walls from the erosion of infrastructure, or cleanups, wildfires, etc.”
Timothy Sloan: “Related to that pipeline? I’m not aware that there’s been any of what you described that’s occurred related to that pipeline.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “How about the cleanups from the leaks of the Dakota Access pipeline?”
Timothy Sloan: “I’m not aware of the leaks associated with the Dakota Access pipeline.”