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HeadlinesMay 20, 2019

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Trump Threatens “Official End of Iran” Via Tweet If It Provokes the U.S.

May 20, 2019

As tensions between the U.S. and Iran continue to flare, President Trump issued a threatening tweet Sunday, writing: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” He did not specify what threat he was referring to. On Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated that Iran does not want war and that no country has the “illusion it could confront Iran,” according to state media.

Earlier this month, the U.S. deployed a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the region, and last week The New York Times reported the Pentagon reportedly drew up a plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if President Trump decides to take military action against Iran.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia echoed a sentiment expressed in recent statements by U.S. officials, saying they do not want war but are prepared to respond to aggression with “all strength and determination [to] defend itself and its interests.” This follows recent attacks on several Saudi oil assets. It’s not clear who attacked Saudi oil tankers.

First Phase of Kushner’s Middle East Peace Plan to Focus on Palestinian Economy

May 20, 2019

The White House announced Sunday the first phase of senior adviser and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan will take place next month in Bahrain and is being billed as an economic “workshop” to encourage financial investment in the occupied Palestinian territories. The workshop will bring together finance ministers with business leaders from around the world. They will reportedly avoid addressing any political issues. Palestinian officials said they were not consulted prior to the planning of the so-called workshop, and dismissed any attempts to tackle peace talks in the region without addressing human rights and the illegal occupation. This is Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh: “The American administration announced there will be a workshop next month about the economic and investment situation in the region, including Palestine, as a first step of the 'deal of the century.' The Cabinet stresses that any solution to the political conflict depends on ending the occupation, achieving the national rights of the Palestinian people, expressed by establishing their independent, sovereign and viable state on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Sweden Requests Detention of Assange as WikiLeaks Accuses U.S. of Illegally Seizing His Property

May 20, 2019

Swedish authorities issued a request Monday for the detention in absentia of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is facing rape charges in Sweden and is currently serving jail time in Britain for skipping bail in 2012. Last week, Swedish prosecutors reopened a sexual assault investigation into Assange which was dropped 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 denied the accusation, and his lawyer representing him in Sweden said he has not been able to get hold of his client to discuss the detention order. WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson has previously said of Sweden’s case, “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.” Assange must reportedly serve 25 weeks of his British prison sentence before he can be released. Assange now faces possible extradition to both Sweden and the United States, where he is wanted for the publication of leaked documents by Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning which showed evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq.

In related news, WikiLeaks is reporting that Ecuador will allow U.S. prosecutors to go through and take possession of Assange’s belongings left in their London embassy. Assange reportedly has two manuscripts at his former living quarters; his lawyers have called it an illegal seizure of property.

Australian Voters Choose Conservative PM Morrison Over Opponent Who Vowed to Tackle Climate Change

May 20, 2019

In Australia, voters and pollsters were left in shock after the conservative government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison won an election that was largely favored to go to the Labor opposition, which ran on a platform of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and taking on the challenges of climate change. Scott Morrison, who is pro-Trump, has backed major coal mine projects and introduced anti-immigrant policies, most notably turning away asylum seekers to Australia and sending them to migrant camps on remote islands.

Austria Calls Snap Election After Far-Right Leader Caught in Corruption Scandal

May 20, 2019

In Austria, a snap election has been called after the Saturday resignation of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who was also the leader of the far-right, nationalist Freedom Party. Strache resigned after a hidden camera video was released showing him promising government contracts to a Russian woman who claimed to be the niece of a powerful Russian oligarch. Strache said he or his Freedom Party never received any money, and apologized for the incident, blaming his actions on alcohol and his desire to impress his female companion. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz dissolved his People’s Party’s coalition with the Freedom Party following the resignation. The news comes as a blow to nationalist politicians in Austria and across Europe who are hoping to increase their political power in the upcoming European Parliament elections taking place later this week.


Protesters Take to the Streets Ahead of European Parliament Elections

May 20, 2019

Tens of thousands took to the streets in cities across Germany Sunday to protest against the rise of nationalism ahead of the European Parliament elections.

Roxana Meifner: “It is alarming how many right-wing parties are active not only in Germany but throughout Europe, and history must be learned from. So, it’s our responsibility to go to the polls and stand against the right and demonstrate.”

Meanwhile, in France, as yellow vest demonstrators marked six months since the start of the anti-government protest movement, many also called for voters to stand against elite and corporate interests in the upcoming EU elections.

Céline: “We believed in Europe. We believed in it completely. But we didn’t understand that Europe is very much for the rich, meaning the first thing that it did was to build a huge safety box to stash away their money.”

Narendra Modi on Track for Second Term as Prime Minister as Voting Ends in India

May 20, 2019

The final phase of voting in India’s six-week-long election concluded Sunday. Exit polls show Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP on track to win or retain enough seats to secure Parliament. Vote counting will begin on Thursday.


Taiwan Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage in Historic First for Asian Continent

May 20, 2019

Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage Friday. Tens of thousands came out in the capital Taipei to support the bill, and broke out in celebration as lawmakers approved the historic legislation. The bill passed two years after Taiwan’s Constitutional Court ruled that the legal definition of marriage as being “between a man and a woman” was unconstitutional—and despite a referendum last year that opposed the move. The new law will go into effect on Friday. LGBTQ activists say there remain other discriminatory laws on the books, including adoption restrictions for non-heterosexual couples.


Protesters in Alabama, Missouri Defend Reproductive Rights from Recent Abortion Bans

May 20, 2019

Back in the U.S., demonstrators gathered in Mobile, Alabama, Sunday to call out the state’s newly passed law effectively banning abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. This is a protester at Sunday’s event.

Genevieve McGinnis: “Making abortions illegal will actually not save lives. There’s many young women and women who are going to end up taking their own lives and taking dangerous measures to not have a child. But legalizing abortions make it safe and give women a place to make a choice with their own bodies. And I don’t feel like men should have a choice over a woman’s body.”

There were also protests in other parts of Alabama, including in Birmingham, where presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders also joined the protest.

Reproductive rights defenders also turned out to protest in Kansas City, Missouri, after lawmakers passed a bill Friday banning abortions after around eight weeks—once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, but before many people realize they are pregnant. The bill does not include exceptions for rape or incest. Republican Governor Mike Parson says he will sign the bill into law. Architects of the highly restrictive abortion bans say they welcome legal challenges in the hopes that the cases will end up at the Supreme Court and eventually lead to the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Trump Considering Memorial Day Pardons for War Criminals

May 20, 2019

President Trump may be considering Memorial Day pardons for American military members accused or convicted of war crimes. One of the requests is reportedly for Navy SEALs Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, who is facing charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing a wounded captive teenage fighter by stabbing him with a knife then staging a re-enlistment ceremony over the dead teenager’s body. Click here to see our recent interview about Edward Gallagher with New York Times reporter Dave Philipps.
Another pardon request is believed to be for Blackwater contractor Nicholas Slatten, who was twice found guilty of first degree murder in the deadly 2007 Nisoor Square massacre in Baghdad which killed 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians. He was sentenced to life in prison last December.

Rep. Justin Amash Becomes First Republican Congressmember to Suggest Impeachment

May 20, 2019

Michigan Congressmember Justin Amash broke with his party to become the first Republican lawmaker to publicly say President Trump engaged in “impeachable conduct” in the wake of last month’s Mueller report. In a lengthy tweet thread Saturday, Amash accused Attorney General William Barr of “deliberately misrepresent[ing]” the special counsel’s report. He also wrote that “Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances” and that “Few members of Congress have read the report.”

Trump lashed out at Amash on Twitter, calling him a loser and writing, “Never a fan of @justinamash, a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy.”

NYT: Industry Leaders Helped Bury NYC Taxi Drivers Under Mountains of Debt

May 20, 2019

A new investigation by The New York Times exposes the financial schemes at the root of the New York City taxi driver crisis. The report reveals that a group of industry leaders artificially inflated the cost of taxi medallions and orchestrated a predatory lending scheme, collecting millions of dollars in the process and putting many drivers into debilitating debt. City agencies did little to curb the system, which a Harvard professor quoted in the report called “modern-day indentured servitude.”
While the advent of rider apps like Uber and Lyft contributed to a loss of income for licensed taxi drivers, the investigation finds that the taxi medallion bubble had already laid the groundwork for the current driver crisis. At least eight drivers have died by suicide since the start of 2018, with at least some of the drivers linking the decision to their crushing debt.

Billionaire Robert F. Smith Will Pay Student Debt of Entire Graduating Class of Morehouse College

May 20, 2019

In Atlanta, billionaire investor Robert F. Smith stunned students at Morehouse College when he announced in his commencement speech Sunday he would pay off the student debt of the entire graduating class.

Robert F. Smith: “Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream. And we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”

Robert F. Smith is the founder of investment firm Vista Equity Partners and is the richest black man in America, according to Forbes.

One of the graduating seniors at the historically black Morehouse College is DeJaun Correia, the nephew of Troy Davis, who was executed by the state of Georgia in 2011 despite major doubts about evidence used to convict him of killing a police officer. Ben Jealous, former head of the NAACP, who championed Troy Davis’s case, tweeted, “Congrats Dejuan! Junior year HS grandma died. You mourned & kept studying. Senior year HS Uncle Troy was executed despite his innocence. You went back to work wiring jets. That same year your mom died: cancer. You graduated on time. Today: You’re a #MorehouseGrad2019! Celebrate!”

The total amount of debt owed by the 396 graduating students reportedly amounts to up to $40 million. Experts have warned about the mounting student debt crisis for years. Nationwide, 44 million people owe nearly $1.5 trillion in student debt. The average debt per student with federal loans is $32,000.

Boeing Admits Flight Simulators for Faulty 737 MAX Jets Did Not Adequately Prepare Pilots

May 20, 2019

Boeing acknowledged for the first time flaws in the software of 737 MAX aircraft. In a statement released Saturday, the company said flight simulators that were used to train pilots were not able to mimic conditions that were present during the fatal crashes on Indonesia’s Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines that together killed nearly 350 people.

Protesters Call on Whitney Museum to Remove Tear Gas Manufacturer’s CEO from Board

May 20, 2019

And in New York City, activists staged another protest at the Whitney Museum Friday to demand the removal of Warren Kanders, CEO of tear gas manufacturer Safariland, from the museum’s board. The demonstration, which took place on the opening of the prestigious Biennial exhibition, capped off nine weeks of actions by a coalition of activist groups who called out Safariand’s role in suppressing popular movements, including in Standing Rock, Ferguson and Palestine, as well as the tear-gassing of migrant families at the border. Last month, 48 artists participating in the Biennial signed on to a letter demanding Warren’s removal from Whitney’s board. Some groups at Friday’s protest also challenged the role of cultural institutions in the gentrification of New York City. This is activist Betty Yu.

Betty Yu: “My name is Betty Yu, and I’m a co-founder of the Chinatown Art Brigade. And the reason why we’re here at the Whitney is we’re making the clear connection between war profiteers and profiteers of mass displacement. So, namely, the Whitney and the High Line behind me, when they opened up, a lot of galleries here in the meatpacking industry moved to Chinatown. We have a 120 galleries gentrifying Chinatown now, and they’re being used by these real estate developers—what we call the 'real estate-industrial complex'—to pit newcomers and gentrifiers against longtime residents. And what they do is they’re the Trojan horses used to raise the real estate value, and then eventually will displace Chinatown tenants and residents.”

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