In Syria, 33 Turkish soldiers were killed Thursday in an airstrike by Russian-backed Syrian forces in rebel-held Idlib province, in a major escalation in the all-out offensive by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Turkey vowed to respond in kind, as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire, saying “the risk of even greater escalation grows by the hour.” Fighting in Idlib has displaced some 900,000 people since December, and many children have frozen to death in the dire conditions. This is UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore, who testified Thursday to the U.N. Security Council.
Henrietta Fore: “Tens of thousands are now living in makeshift tents, in public buildings, in open air, huddled under trees, exposed to rain and snow in sub-zero cold of the harsh Syrian winter. The recent strikes on these makeshift camps in Idlib — and on the children and teachers horrifically killed just two days ago as 10 schools were attacked — are both reprehensible and morally repugnant. Also these acts clearly demonstrate the terrifying daily conditions of those living through this nightmare.”
We’ll have more on the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Syria after headlines, when we’ll speak with the head of Doctors Without Borders USA.
Immigrant rights groups are expressing outrage after the Trump administration said Wednesday it’s creating a task force to strip the citizenship of naturalized Americans who were born abroad. Critics say the Justice Department’s so-called Denaturalization Section is likely unconstitutional. The immigrant rights group CHIRLA said in response, “Trump is weaponizing the DOJ to make naturalized immigrants look like second-class citizens.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden is continuing to campaign in South Carolina today ahead of Saturday’s presidential primary. This week, Biden picked up an endorsement from Democratic House Whip Jim Clyburn, South Carolina’s most prominent African-American lawmaker. Clyburn’s endorsement came as Biden’s campaign admitted that then-Senator Biden was not arrested in South Africa during a congressional delegation trip in the 1970s, as Biden falsely claimed from the campaign trail at least three times this month. Biden first made the claim in 2013, saying he “had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto” as they tried to reach Mandela in his prison on Robben Island. Robben Island is over 750 miles from the township of Soweto. Biden’s campaign now says he was separated from his black colleagues at the airport in Johannesburg.
Front-runner Bernie Sanders held a massive rally Thursday in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he called his campaign a “movement that cannot be stopped.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “It is a movement for economic justice, for social justice, for racial justice, for environmental justice. And when millions of people stand up and fight back, nothing on Earth can stop us.”
Sanders also rallied Thursday at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, where he led a march of hundreds of students to an early-voting site. Later Thursday, thousands of Sanders supporters packed a rally in Richmond, Virginia — another Super Tuesday state.
The New York Times interviewed dozens of Democratic establishment leaders who will serve as “superdelegates” at the party’s nominating convention in July, and found the vast majority are so opposed to Bernie Sanders’s candidacy, they’re willing to risk damage to the Democratic Party. Of 93 superdelegates surveyed by the Times, nearly all said they would vote against Sanders in a brokered convention, if Sanders were to arrive with a plurality — and not a majority — of pledged delegates.
Many of the superdelegates are corporate lobbyists with healthcare clients opposing Sanders’s Medicare for All legislation. The Intercept’s Lee Fang reports one of them, Democratic National Committee member William Owen, donated exclusively to Republican Senate candidates during the last election cycle — including an $8,500 contribution to a joint fundraising committee designed to benefit Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Owen is backing former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2020.
Billionaire presidential hopeful and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg refused to apologize Thursday for his oversight of a secret New York Police Department intelligence program that targeted Muslim communities. For years, the NYPD’s so-called Demographics Unit secretly infiltrated Muslim student groups, sent informants into mosques, eavesdropped on conversations in restaurants, barber shops and gyms, and built a vast database of information. The program was established with help from the CIA, even though the agency is barred from domestic spying. The former head of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division testified in 2012 that the Muslim surveillance program failed to yield a single criminal lead. This is Mayor Bloomberg speaking to Judy Woodruff of ”PBS NewsHour.”
Michael Bloomberg: “You’re talking about right after 9/11, when everybody was petrified about another terrorist attack. We were super careful to always obey the law. Number one, it was the right thing to do. And number two, you knew people would be looking at it. We went — we sent some officers into some mosques to listen to the sermon that the imam gave. The courts ruled it was exactly within the law. And that’s the kind of thing we should be doing.”
Arab American Institute Executive Director Maya Berry wrote in response, “As Mayor, Michael Bloomberg surveilled where American Muslims ate, socialized, gathered, prayed and studied. The NYPD literally mapped our communities across three states, causing systemic self-censoring, distrust of any interaction with the government, and untold harm to our communities.”
ProPublica reports Michael Bloomberg met in 2017 with Mortimer Sackler, son of a co-founder of OxyContin producer Purdue Pharma, to discuss ways the billionaire Sackler family could combat growing outrage over the company’s role in the opioid crisis. Bloomberg reportedly steered the family to a crisis communications specialist who had been his mayoral press secretary.
In Georgia, newly surfaced emails show then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp mocked reports of voter suppression during the 2018 gubernatorial race. Kemp is a Republican who went on to narrowly win the election over Stacey Abrams, who was vying to become the first black woman governor in the United States. The race was marred by widespread allegations of voter suppression carried out by Kemp. In one email, Kemp used a laughing-from-crying emoji to reply to a press release by a lawmaker who warned that Georgia had canceled a half-million voter registrations in a purge that systematically targeted Democrats. In another email, Kemp praised campaign officials for blunting an article on voter suppression in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writing, “Good work, this story is so complex folks will not make it all the way through it.”
The Veterans Administration’s inspector general is probing allegations that VA Secretary Robert Wilkie sought “damaging information” to smear the reputation of a senior veterans affairs policy adviser, after she reported she was sexually assaulted at a VA hospital in Washington, D.C. Andrea Goldstein, a staff member of the Women Veterans Task Force of the House veterans’ committee, reported last September that a man slammed her below the waist and pressed his body against hers as she tried to buy a snack at the medical center’s cafeteria. At the time of the alleged assault, Goldstein had just come from Capitol Hill, where she was working on a bill designed to curb sexual assault and harassment. In January, VA Secretary Wilkie called the sexual assault claims “unsubstantiated” in a letter to Goldstein’s boss. Goldstein responded in an op-ed, writing on the website Jezebel, “He used coded language, but the words still stung. The Secretary of the second largest federal agency knew how his words would resonate. … He was implying that I was a liar.”
A federal investigation has concluded that the University of Southern California mishandled dozens of reports of sexual assaults by student health center gynecologist George Tyndall, which may have allowed the abuse to continue for years. Over 400 survivors say Dr. Tyndall raped or forcibly touched them, and made racist and misogynistic comments while he sexually abused them.
In Costa Rica, 45-year-old land defender Yehry Rivera of the Brörán indigenous community was murdered Monday by an armed mob, after he joined a campaign by indigenous families to reoccupy their ancestral lands. It was the second murder of an indigenous land defender in the past year. Under a law passed in 1977, Costa Rica’s 24 legally recognized indigenous groups are entitled to reclaim lands taken from their ancestors, but the law has never been implemented.
In Mexico, one of the men who participated in the murder of award-winning journalist Javier Valdez was sentenced Thursday to nearly 15 years in prison. Heriberto Picos Barraza served as a getaway driver for two other men who are charged with dragging Valdez from his car and shooting him 12 times. The murder in May 2017 came less than a block from the office of Ríodoce, the newspaper Valdez co-founded in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
In California, hundreds of unionized graduate student workers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, walked out of classes and onto picket lines Thursday to demand a COLA — or cost-of-living adjustment. The grad students, who work as teachers’ assistants, say they’re severely burdened by high rents and low wages. Meanwhile, grad student workers at UC Davis say they’ll refuse to submit grades unless administrators agree to a monthly housing stipend to help offset skyrocketing rents in Davis.