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HeadlinesMay 13, 2019

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Sweden Reopens Julian Assange Sexual Assault Case, Seeks His Extradition

May 13, 2019

In Sweden, prosecutors are reopening an investigation into sexual assault allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and are seeking his extradition to face charges in Sweden. Prosecutors had dropped the investigation in 2017 because they said the case could not proceed while Assange was holed up at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he lived for seven years before being forcefully removed by British police last month. Assange has since been sentenced to 50 weeks in jail in Britain for skipping bail in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden. Assange has denied the sexual assault accusations. Assange previously faced another sexual misconduct allegation, but its statute of limitations expired in 2015.

WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson said, “Since Julian Assange was arrested on 11 April 2019 there has been considerable political pressure on Sweden to reopen their investigation, but there has always been political pressure surrounding this case. Its reopening will give Julian a chance to clear his name. This case has been mishandled throughout.” The United States is also seeking Assange’s extradition over the publication of leaked documents by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, which showed evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq.

Pompeo to Discuss Iranian “Threats” in Europe as U.S. Ramps Up Military Presence

May 13, 2019

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has canceled a visit to Moscow today and is instead heading to Brussels to meet with European leaders to discuss “recent threatening actions and statements” from Iran, according to the State Department. The nature of the threats has not been specified, but the U.S. announced it is sending additional bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to act as a “deterrent.” The European Union reiterated today its continued support for the Iran nuclear deal in the face of mounting tensions with the U.S.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is calling for internal unity as the nation faces sanctions that could have worse consequences than the war with Iraq in the 1980s and that he said amount to “a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution.”

Saudi Oil Tankers Damaged in “Sabotage Attack” Off UAE Coast

May 13, 2019

As tensions rise in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia is claiming two of its oil tankers were damaged in what it describes as a “sabotage attack” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The Saudi energy minister said one of the ships was due to pick up Saudi oil to deliver to the United States. The attacks reportedly caused damage to the vessels but no casualties or oil spills. Last week, the U.S. warned that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting ships in the region. Iran responded to the latest news by warning about a “conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers” to undermine the region.

187 Countries, Not Including the U.S., Agree to Landmark Deal Curbing Plastic Waste

May 13, 2019

In environmental news, nearly all the countries in the world have agreed to curb plastic waste—except the United States. In a landmark agreement, 187 governments agreed to add plastic to the Basel Convention, a treaty that regulates the movement of hazardous materials between countries. The U.S. was not involved in the negotiations because it is one of just two countries that has not signed the treaty. The amended treaty will make it more difficult for rich countries to send their plastic waste to poorer nations. The U.N. estimates there are 100 million tons of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. This is the U.N.’s Rolph Payet.

Rolph Payet: “Plastic is everywhere. And we need a force to solve it. It cannot be the responsibility of only one country; it has to be all the countries of the world. All consumers, all organizations have to come together, including the private sector, the plastic producers, you know, have to come together for us to find a solution.”

U.S.-China Trade Talks End Without Deal, Increased Sanctions

May 13, 2019

Trade talks between the United States and China ended Friday without a deal as President Trump followed through on his threat and imposed a 25% tariff on over $200 billion of Chinese goods and accused China of trying to renegotiate a deal. A U.S. trade representative said Friday that Trump also planned to raise tariffs on the $300 billion worth of remaining Chinese imports. Both parties said talks will eventually resume, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow indicated Trump could meet with President Xi Jinping at the G20 meetings in Japan next month.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace Sunday, Larry Kudlow admitted U.S. companies and consumers will effectively end up paying for the increased tariffs, contradicting a statement by Trump last week that China would “mostly pay” for them.

Chris Wallace: “The president says China doesn’t—that China, it pays the tariffs. They may suffer consequences, but it’s U.S. businesses and U.S. consumers who pay. Correct?”

Larry Kudlow: “Yes, to some extent. Yeah, I don’t disagree with that.”

Pentagon Redirects $1.5 Billion to Fund Border Wall

May 13, 2019

The Defense Department said Friday it will redirect $1.5 billion from other military projects to fund President Trump’s border wall. The Associated Press reported the funds would be diverted in part from the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, from a project to destroy chemical munitions as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and from Air Force programs. This comes after the Pentagon already redirected $1 billion of military funds in March. Democrats blasted the news and accused the Pentagon of again circumventing Congress and prioritizing Trump’s campaign promises over more urgent needs, including disaster relief.

Afghanistan: Gunmen Kill Ex-Broadcast Journalist and Gov’t Adviser Mina Mangal

May 13, 2019

In Afghanistan, women’s rights advocates are calling for justice after two gunmen shot dead a prominent former broadcast journalist and government adviser in Kabul Saturday. Mina Mangal was killed on her way to her job at the Afghan Cultural Affairs Commission. Days earlier, she posted on social media that she was receiving threats and feared for her life.

In more news from Afghanistan, authorities say they have captured the Taliban intelligence chief responsible for last week’s attack on police headquarters in the northern province of Baghlan that killed at least 13 officers and wounded dozens of others, including civilians.

Pakistan: Attack on Hotel Kills At Least 5

May 13, 2019

In Pakistan, a Saturday attack on a luxury hotel in the port city of Gwadar has killed at least five people, according to local reports. Four hotel employees and a special forces soldier died in the raid that was claimed by separatist group, the Baloch Liberation Army.


Burkina Faso: Gunmen Kill 6 People, Incl. Priest, and Burn Down Church

May 13, 2019

In Burkina Faso, gunmen have shot dead six people, including a priest, during the celebration of Mass in a church in the north of the country, before burning down the church. Attacks by extremist militias have been on the rise since 2017, although no group has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s killing.

At Least 65 Migrants Drown After Boat Sinks in Mediterranean, U.N. Reports

May 13, 2019

The U.N. reported at least 65 people drowned when a boat carrying migrants across the Mediterranean sank Friday. The migrants came from a range of countries, including Bangladesh, Libya, Morocco and several Sub-Saharan African nations. This is a survivor of the shipwreck from Egypt, Mandour Mohamed.

Mandour Mohamed: “There were 75 of us. We sailed a little bit. Then, because of how many people were on the boat, the boat started filling up with water. It then sunk and capsized. This was 12:00, at midnight. We kept floating in the water until 8:00 in the morning. A small Tunisian boat then came to our rescue. They came and took us along with the Tunisian army. Thank god we are here in Tunis.”

Although the number of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean has gone down since its peak in 2015, the U.N. warns the journey is increasingly fatal for those who undertake it. According to the International Organization for Migration, nearly 2,300 migrants died or went missing in the Mediterranean last year.

1 Killed, Dozens Injured in Weekly Gaza Great March of Return Protests

May 13, 2019

In Gaza, mourners gathered over the weekend for the funeral of 24-year-old Abdullah Abdelal, who was shot and killed by Israeli forces during Friday’s Great March of Return protest. Another 30 people were injured at the weekly demonstration along the separation barrier with Israel. The killing comes amid a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Gaza following a series of deadly clashes the previous weekend that killed 25 Palestinians and four Israelis.

U.N.: 1,700 Injured Palestinians May Have to Get Amputated Due to Lack of Funding

May 13, 2019

Last week, the U.N. warned that 1,700 Palestinians with gunshot wounds to their limbs may have to undergo amputations because of a lack of funding for reconstruction surgery and other medical treatments. The U.N. reports 29,000 Palestinians have been injured while taking part in Great March of Return protests over the past year, of which 7,000 had gunshot wounds, mostly in the legs. $20 million is needed to make up for the shortfall in funding.

Biden Under Fire for Seeking “Middle Ground” on Climate Change Policies

May 13, 2019

Back in the U.S., former vice president and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden has come under fire from environmental groups and fellow presidential hopefuls after a recent Reuters report quoted an adviser qualifying Biden’s approach to environmental issues as seeking a “middle ground” on climate change policy. Biden has sought to elevate his credentials as a centrist in a crowded Democratic field with candidates touting progressive policies on a range of issues, including support for a Green New Deal. Biden supports remaining in the Paris Climate Agreement and reinstating Obama-era regulations on vehicles and coal plants, while retaining nuclear energy and natural gas production.

The Sunrise Movement issued a statement saying, “A 'middle ground' policy that’s supportive of more fossil fuel development is a death sentence for our generation and the millions of people on the frontlines of the climate crisis.” Similarly, Senator Bernie Sanders, who supports the Green New Deal, tweeted “There is no 'middle ground' when it comes to climate policy.”

Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Sanders, New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, are joining a rally today at Howard University in Washington, D.C., as the final stop on Sunrise Movement’s nationwide “Road to a Green New Deal Tour.”

Bernie Sanders & AOC Introduce Legislation to Cap Credit Card Interest Rates

May 13, 2019

In more news from Capitol Hill, Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced legislation that would help millions of Americans saddled with credit card debt by capping credit interest rates at 15%. This is Congressmember Ocasio-Cortez speaking alongside Senator Sanders last Thursday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “When everyday banks start to charge higher and higher interest rates, essentially your credit card becomes a payday loan. And this is not anything radical, because we had these laws for a very long time in red states. We had them in blue states. We had them in half of the United States, had usury laws, until 1978, when they were repealed. And ever since then, it’s given a blank check for credit card companies and for big banks to charge extortion-level interest rates to the poor.”

The bill also calls for the U.S. Postal Service to start provide banking services again to address the lack of access to financial services for poor communities.

Democrats Subpoena Trump’s Taxes

May 13, 2019

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal issued subpoenas for President Trump’s tax returns after the Treasury Department failed to comply with a request to hand over the records by Monday of last week. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin wrote in a letter last week that the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.” If the Treasury and IRS continue to withhold the tax records, the battle will likely head to the courts.

House Passes Relief Bill Despite Ongoing Battle over Funds for Puerto Rico

May 13, 2019

The House passed a $19 billion relief bill Friday, despite President Trump’s objection to the package over its funding for assistance to Puerto Rico. The legislation includes $600 million in nutrition assistance to the island—a number that Democrats previously said was too low to adequately aid the many Puerto Ricans still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria. A similar proposal in the Senate stalled last month.

Trump has continuously lashed out at Puerto Rico’s political leaders, accusing them of misusing federal funds. Last year, he reportedly told White House officials he wanted to withhold any additional recovery assistance from the island.

Hollywood Threatens Georgia Boycott After State Passes Draconian Abortion Law

May 13, 2019

Hollywood actors and production companies say they will boycott the state of Georgia after Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country last week. The law bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which often occurs at around six weeks into pregnancy, before many women even realize they are pregnant. In response, entertainers including Amy Schumer, Christina Applegate, Alec Baldwin and Alyssa Milano pledged to boycott movie and television production in Georgia if the law goes into effect. Production companies Killer Films and Duplass Brothers Productions have said they will not shoot in Georgia. Meanwhile, filmmakers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams vowed to donate 100% of the fees from their new HBO series “Lovecraft Country,” that is set to film in Georgia, to the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia. Alyssa Milano also called for a sex strike on Twitter, asking women to join her in withholding sex from men until abortion rights are restored. Many were quick to criticize Milano’s tweet for commodifying women’s bodies and its heteronormative implications.

Tulsa Officials to Oversee Search for Mass Graves Nearly 100 Years After 1921 Race Massacre

May 13, 2019

And in Tulsa, Oklahoma, city officials have formed a committee to oversee the search for mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. On May 31, 1921, a white mob killed as many as 300 people, most of them black, after a black man was accused of assaulting a white elevator operator. Over two days, white mobs set fire to homes, businesses and churches in Greenwood, a thriving African-American business district known at the time as the Black Wall Street. The massacre was largely overlooked by most Americans at the time, but local community leaders in Tulsa are ramping up efforts to uncover mass graves and seeking to bring public awareness to the area’s history as the 100th anniversary of the massacre approaches. Click here to see Democracy Now!’s coverage of the Tulsa race riot.

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