Sri Lanka’s defense minister says Sunday’s coordinated bombings at churches and hotels across the island nation were a response to last month’s attacks on mosques by a white nationalist gunman who killed 50 Muslim worshipers in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Sri Lankan officials say a little-known Muslim organization called National Thowheed Jama’ath carried out the Easter Sunday bombings with another Sri Lankan group known as the JMI. Separately, the self-proclaimed Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the bombings, though it offered no evidence. The death toll from the bombings rose today to 321, with more than 500 injured, as Sri Lanka marks a national day of mourning.
The Trump administration said Monday it will fully enforce unilaterally imposed U.S. sanctions against Iran, ending a waiver program that allowed some nations to continue buying Iranian oil without suffering penalties from the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the tightening of sanctions Monday, saying the move will benefit Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the Gulf.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “The United States has been in constant discussion with allies and partners to help them transition away from Iranian crude to other alternatives. And we have been working with major oil-producing countries to ensure the market has sufficient volume to minimize the impact on pricing. Both the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have assured us they will ensure an appropriate supply for the markets.”
Chinese authorities immediately pushed back against the move to ratchet up sanctions, saying it jeopardizes talks with the U.S. aimed at ending President Trump’s trade war. China is Iran’s single biggest customer of oil, consuming about half of the 1 million barrels Iran exports daily. Iran’s economy has suffered heavily since the Trump administration backed out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which gave Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for a promise not to build nuclear weapons.
The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify to Congress on May 21 as part of an investigation into whether President Trump illegally sought to obstruct special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller’s report found McGahn defied President Trump’s demand he fire Mueller, threatening to resign rather than carry out the order. McGahn later did resign.
Meanwhile, President Trump and the Trump Organization have sued House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings in a bid to quash a subpoena demanding 10 years’ worth of Trump’s financial records. Cummings subpoenaed Trump’s accountant to produce the documents after the president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified that Trump routinely deflated his assets to reduce his taxes, while inflating them in order to win bank loans.
Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders warned rank-and-file lawmakers Monday against pressing for President Trump’s impeachment. In a conference call with more than 170 lawmakers Monday evening, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior Democrats warned of the political consequences pressing for impeachment would have on the 2020 election. Pelosi said Democrats should instead focus on committee investigations into Trump. Over the weekend, Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren became the first 2020 presidential candidate to call for Trump’s impeachment. During town hall events hosted by CNN Monday, candidates Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg said they don’t support an immediate drive to impeach Trump, while California Senator Kamala Harris said she supports the idea.
Sen. Kamala Harris: “I think we have very good reason to believe that there is an investigation that has been conducted, which has produced evidence that tells us that this president and his administration engaged in obstruction of justice. I believe Congress should take the steps towards impeachment.”
Elizabeth Warren on Monday unveiled a sweeping plan to cancel most student loan debt while making public colleges tuition-free. Senator Warren’s plan would cost $1.25 trillion, to be funded by her proposed “ultra-millionaire” tax—an annual 2% tax hike on 75,000 U.S. households with $50 million or more in wealth. Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders made free public college a cornerstone of his 2016 campaign—and now his 2020 White House run—though Senator Warren says her idea goes further.
The Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in a case challenging the Trump administration’s plans to include a question on citizenship on the 2020 census. Justices will rule on whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had the authority to add the question to the census. The American Civil Liberties Union and 17 states have sued, saying Ross’s move was aimed at deterring immigrants from participating in the census, leading to a vast undercount in states with large immigrant communities. This is journalist Ari Berman speaking with Democracy Now! last Election Day.
Ari Berman: “The census is basically the DNA of our democracy. It determines so many things that we do, from how $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to how political districts are drawn to how many electoral votes states get. And if the census is rigged, then all of American democracy will be rigged, as well.”
The Supreme Court also said Monday it will take up three cases that will determine whether LGBTQ people will be covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. The Trump administration will argue that the act was not intended to provide protection to gay or transgender workers. Justices will hear arguments in the case in the fall, with a decision likely by June of 2020. In the meantime, LGBTQ activists are calling on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would amend civil rights laws to explicitly protect LGBTQ people against discrimination.
Authorities at the University of Arizona in Tucson have dropped misdemeanor charges against three students who held a nonviolent protest against Border Patrol agents speaking on their campus. During the March 19 protest, the students called border agents “Murder Patrol” and an “extension of the KKK.” Later in the broadcast, we’ll go to Tucson to speak with Mariel Bustamante, one of the so-called Arizona Three.
In Washington, D.C., activists with the groups CodePink and Popular Resistance are occupying the Venezuelan Embassy alongside a skeletal staff of Venezuelan diplomatic workers, where they’re demanding the Trump administration cancel plans to turn the embassy over to Venezuelan opposition leaders. They’re also protesting U.S. sanctions on Venezuela that have exacerbated a growing humanitarian crisis. The U.S. State Department has ordered the group to vacate the building by Wednesday. In response, CodePink’s Medea Benjamin wrote, “Like it or not, the Maduro government is actually the government in power in Venezuela and is recognized by the United Nations. This Trump-orchestrated plan of creating a parallel government and then simply taking over diplomatic premises is totally illegal.”
President Trump said Monday that one of his picks to join the Federal Reserve Board—Herman Cain—has withdrawn from consideration. Trump’s nomination of Cain brought renewed scrutiny to the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, who withdrew from that year’s race after three women accused him of sexual harassment.
Meanwhile, another Trump nominee to the Federal Reserve Board, Stephen Moore, is under scrutiny after CNN uncovered sexist columns he wrote as a paid author at the National Review in the 2000s. In one column, Moore argued that women should be banned from the March Madness college basketball tournament, writing, “Here’s the rule change I propose: No more women refs, no women announcers, no women beer venders, no women anything.”
Burma’s Supreme Court has rejected the final appeal of a pair of Reuters reporters imprisoned for reporting on the systematic expulsion and murder of Rohingya Muslims from Burma in 2017. Just last week, reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were honored with a Pulitzer Prize for their exposé of a massacre of Rohingya committed by the Burmese military in the village of Inn Din. But on Monday, the pair were ordered to serve full 7-year prison terms for violating Burma’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The United Nations, the U.S. House of Representatives and international human rights and press freedom groups have all called for the journalists’ release.
In the Philippines, at least 16 people were killed Monday after a strong 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck west of Manilla during the evening rush hour. The earthquake collapsed buildings, including a four-story supermarket where at least five people were crushed to death by a falling wall. On Tuesday, a second, even more powerful quake struck the southern Philippines, north of the city of Tacloban. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the 6.4 magnitude quake.
In climate news, a new study finds Greenland’s ice sheet is melting at six times the rate it was in the 1980s, in the latest sign that coastal cities around the world will face a catastrophic rise in sea levels. Monday’s findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show Greenland has lost 11 quadrillion pounds of water since 1972, with most of the melt coming in recent years.
In London, the number of people arrested in a series of nonviolent direct actions urging radical action on climate change has topped 1,000 as the Extinction Rebellion enters its ninth day of protests in the British capital. On Monday, hundreds of Extinction Rebellion protesters staged a massive “die-in” in the main hall of London’s Natural History Museum.
And Polly Higgins, a British barrister who spent years campaigning for courts and governments to recognize ecocide as a major international crime, died Sunday of cancer. She was 50 years old. Polly Higgins drafted model laws defining the crime of ecocide and authored two books on the subject. In this video, produced by DeSmog UK and Real Media, she proposed making ecocide a crime on par with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Polly Higgins: “We are legally advising on ecocide crime to become an international crime at the International Criminal Court. Ecocide is the extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems. Existing law does not go far enough in terms of stopping serious harm, ecological harm and climactic harm. We’re talking about criminal law here, so you’re looking at CEOs, directors, ministers, heads of state, who can be held to account within an International Criminal Court.”