In Sri Lanka, government officials have lowered the death toll from the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels to about 253. That’s more than 100 lower than the previous estimate. Authorities said there were so many body parts at the bombing sites it was difficult to obtain a precise death toll. More than 500 people were injured. Over the past day, Sri Lanka’s top police official and defense secretary have both resigned in response to the government’s failure to follow up on warnings that an attack was imminent.
Former Vice President Joe Biden recently reached out to Anita Hill prior to entering the presidential race. Biden has long been criticized for his handling of Hill’s allegations that now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her in the workplace. Biden was chair of the all-male, all-white Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 when Hill testified. He forced Hill to discuss in graphic detail Thomas’s sexual comments, and he did not invite other women to testify who could have corroborated Hill’s allegations. Anita Hill told The New York Times she was not satisfied with Biden’s comments during their phone conversation. Hill said, “I cannot be satisfied by simply saying, ’I’m sorry for what happened to you.’ I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”
In other campaign news, Biden marked his first day on the campaign trail by attending a $2,800-per-person fundraiser in Philadelphia at the home of Comcast’s top lobbyist, David Cohen. Attendees included Daniel Hilferty, chief executive of Independence Blue Cross, the largest health insurer in the Philadelphia area. Senator Bernie Sanders criticized Biden for holding a fundraiser in the home of a corporate lobbyist. Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who co-hosted the Biden fundraiser, appeared on CNN this morning, and said the fundraiser attracted the top 1%.
Ed Rendell: “For 90% of the people who attended last night’s fundraiser, they’re contributing against their own financial interest. They will do better with a Republican president, because they’re in the top 1%. So they’ll do better with a Republican president. It will probably cost them money if Joe Biden wins, because I think he’ll bring some sense to the tax cut and he’ll probably raise rates on the top 1%. So, all these people gave money even though it was against their own financial interest.”
In other campaign news, Biden has hired Symone Sanders to be a senior adviser to his campaign. Sanders is a prominent African-American political strategist who served as press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ presidential run in 2016. Last month, Symone Sanders donated $250 to the campaign of Pete Buttigieg.
In Sudan, hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered outside Sudan’s Defense Ministry Thursday calling for civilian rule following the recent military coup that ousted Omar al-Bashir. About 100 Sudanese judges joined the protests, chanting, “Civilian, civilian, protected by the judiciary.” In a concession to the protesters, three prominent Sudanese generals have agreed to resign from the ruling Transitional Military Council. Protesters are vowing to stay in the streets until military rule has ended.
Awad al-Bashir: “All of our demands have been carefully studied, are well known, and we insist on them. We will not leave this sit-in until all our demands are met, at the forefront of which is a civilian government.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has wrapped up his first-ever meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Kim criticized the United States for acting in bad faith during his recent nuclear summit with Trump and warned that the situation on the Korean Peninsula could return to what he described as its “original state.” On Thursday, Putin said the international community—not just the United States—should be involved in negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program.
French President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to cut taxes and increase pensions as part of a package of reforms aimed at quelling the 6-month-old yellow vest protests. Macron outlined his proposals in an over two-hour press conference in which he also told French workers they must work harder.
More than 40,000 people have died in Venezuela since 2017 as a result of U.S. sanctions. That’s the conclusion of a new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the economist Jeffrey Sachs. The report examines how U.S. sanctions have reduced the availability of food and medicine in Venezuela and increased disease and mortality. Jeffrey Sachs said, “American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.”
In the second time this week, a federal judge has blocked a new rule that would have stripped federal funding known as Title X for Planned Parenthood and other clinics that refer patients for abortions or even mention abortion as an option. U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian of Washington state ruled against the changes on Thursday, saying they would require clinics “to face a Hobson’s choice that harms patients as well as the providers.” The judge’s ruling halts the so-called gag rule, which was announced by President Trump in February and was scheduled to go into effect on May 3. This came two days after an Oregon judge issued a preliminary injunction to stop the gag order from going into effect.
A federal judge has temporarily blocked a Texas law that bans state contractors from boycotting Israel. Under the law, state contractors are required to sign a pledge vowing not to boycott Israel and not to take any action that is “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.” The bill was widely viewed as an attempt to criminalize support of the BDS—Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—movement. On Thursday, Federal Judge Robert Pitman issued an injunction, saying, “The statute threatens 'to suppress unpopular ideas' and 'manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.' This the First Amendment does not allow.” Part of the case stems from a lawsuit filed by Bahia Amawi, an Arabic-speaking child language specialist in the Pflugerville Independent School District. She lost her job of nine years for not signing the boycott pledge. Bahia Amawi appeared on Democracy Now! last year explaining why she couldn’t sign the pledge.
Bahia Amawi: “And I sent the email to my speech coordinator telling her, 'Listen, I cannot sign this. This is against my principles, against my constitutional rights. And it's also against my moral and ethical values, considering that I am a Palestinian American and I have family that actually live in the Occupied Territories, so it affects me personally, as well.’ So, it affects me in both ways—as an American citizen and as a Palestinian American, too.”
The founder of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, is at the center of a growing controversy over free speech on college campuses. Waters is scheduled to speak on a panel titled 'Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech and the Battle for Palestinian Rights' at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on May 4 about the backlash against pro-Palestinian voices. Other speakers include Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who has faced death threats for her outspokenness, Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill, who was recently fired from CNN for speaking up for Palestinian rights, and sportswriter Dave Zirin. The event has sparked protests on campus. A group of UMass students filed a lawsuit claiming they will “suffer irreparable harm” if the event takes place. The Massachusetts Republican Party and the Massachusetts Jewish Republican Committee have condemned the event, claiming it is anti-Semitic. Another 80 groups have urged UMass to pull its support for the panel. On Thursday, the university announced the event will go ahead despite the protests, saying it is committed to the principles of free speech and academic freedom.
A Coast Guard lieutenant accused of plotting to kill high-profile liberal figures may soon be released from pretrial detention. On Thursday, a federal judge in Maryland said he did not find Christopher Hasson’s detention appropriate based on the charges against him. While prosecutors claim Hasson was plotting a domestic terror attack, he has only been charged with gun and drug offenses, not terrorism or attempted murder. At the time of his arrest, Hasson reportedly had a stockpile of 15 guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition. His “hit list” included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, civil rights pioneer Angela Davis, freshman Congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, MSNBC host Chris Hayes and Democratic presidential hopefuls Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, among others.
The National Security Agency has quietly recommended that the Trump administration abandon a surveillance program collecting metadata on the phone calls and text messages of hundreds of millions of Americans. The program was launched secretly under President George W. Bush after 9/11 without the approval of federal courts. The secret program’s existence was revealed in 2013 by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. For years the NSA defended the surveillance as an essential tool to fight terrorism, but the NSA now says the surveillance program is no longer worth the effort needed to maintain it. Snowden responded on Twitter by saying, “First they laugh at you, then they fight you, then… they admit you were right all along and maybe shouldn’t have been violating everyone’s rights in the first place?”
A Pentagon ethics investigation has cleared acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan following accusations that he unfairly favored the weapons contractor Boeing. Shanahan spent over three decades as an executive at Boeing.
Calls are growing for the mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, Catherine Pugh, to resign after the FBI and IRS raided her two homes and her City Hall office as part of a probe into her business dealings. Part of the probe may center on the mayor making more than $700,000 by selling large quantities of her self-published children’s books to businesses with government ties, including the University of Maryland Medical System. Pugh has been on indefinite leave since April 1. Following the FBI raid, Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan called on her to resign.
In London, climate activists with the group Extinction Rebellion concluded 10 days of civil disobedience on Thursday by disrupting the center of London’s financial district. Some activists glued themselves to the entrance to the British Treasury. Others targeted Goldman Sachs, the London Stock Exchange and the Bank of England. Over the past 10 days, more than 1,100 activists have been arrested as part of the Extinction Rebellion protests. Among those arrested on Thursday was Phil Kingston, who marked his 83rd birthday by climbing onto the roof of a train.
Phil Kingston: “I’m here because I have a belief that there is something greater than us, which tells me that we don’t own this Earth. So, I am just not accepting that we treat it as though it is our just property to do with what the heck we like. And it’s doing terrible damage. The current economy is now using 1.7 Earths, and we in the human population are being taught that this is the way of life. It isn’t. It’s the way of death. And that’s because the more we take, the less there is for future generations, for the poorest peoples, who already got next to nothing, and the rest of others in human nature, which is as important as we are.”