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HeadlinesAugust 11, 2023

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Maui Wildfire Death Toll Rises to 55 as Residents Survey Unfathomable Devastation

Aug 11, 2023

In Hawaii, the death toll from the historic Maui wildfires has reached at least 55 people and decimated the town of Lahaina, once the epicenter of the Kingdom of Hawaii. One of the more than 1,700 structures that were destroyed is the Na ’Aikane o Maui Cultural Center. Earlier today, Hawaii Governor Josh Green described the sheer scale of the disaster.

Gov. Josh Green: “What we saw was likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history. … We are seeing loss of life here. As you know, the number has been rising, and we will continue to see loss of life. … We also have seen many hundreds of homes destroyed, and that’s going to take a great deal of time to recover from. But that’s why we come together. … But we talked to an old gentleman who hadn’t seen anything like this ever in his life, a wildfire that took a whole city. His neighbors have all lost their homes. His home was intact, but he was in tears. This is a gentleman that doesn’t cry easily.”

Some residents questioned why Hawaii’s emergency warning system didn’t go off as blazes raged closer and closer to their homes. President Biden has declared a major disaster as the Hawaiian tragedy has shone a spotlight on the urgency of the unfolding climate catastrophe, as well as the ongoing exploitation and occupation of the islands by the U.S. After headlines, we’ll spend the hour on the Maui wildfires.

ECOWAS Says Use of Force Is Possible in Niger Coup Response as Bloc Activates “Standby Force”

Aug 11, 2023

Tensions are running high in West Africa after the regional bloc ECOWAS ordered the activation of a “standby force” for possible intervention in Niger in response to the July 26 military coup. This is Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, speaking from yesterday’s emergency ECOWAS summit in Abuja.

President Bola Tinubu: “And you will see from the communiqué of this extraordinary summit that no option is taken off the table, including the use of force as the last resort. … We remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting Niger in their journey towards peaceful and democratic stability in the country.”

The Associated Press reports the Nigerien military coup leaders threatened to kill deposed President Mohamed Bazoum if any military action was attempted to restore his rule.

Meanwhile, The Intercept is reporting the U.S. has trained at least five members of the new ruling junta in Niger. The U.S. has since “paused” security assistance to Niger’s military. African officers trained by the U.S. military have now taken part in 11 coups in West Africa since 2008, including in Burkina Faso and Mali.

One Dead, Six Arrested over Assassination of Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate Fernando Villavicencio

Aug 11, 2023

In Ecuador, one suspect is dead and six others have been arrested in connection with the assassination of Ecuadorian presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. Officials said all suspects in custody are Colombian and alleged members of a drug trafficking group. Ecuador is now under a nationwide state of emergency while authorities continue to search for the possible mastermind behind Villavicencio’s assassination. This is Ecuadorian Defense Minister Luis Lara.

Luis Lara: “The Armed Forces have begun the immediate deployment of their troops throughout the national territory so that there will be an Armed Forces presence in every city, in every town. They will remain there until the conclusion of the electoral process. Citizens have the guarantee that the Armed Forces will provide the necessary security for the polls. The vote of Ecuadorians will be the best response to the mafias and their allies.”

Villavicencio’s murder has thrown Ecuador into further disarray after President Guillermo Lasso dissolved the opposition-led National Assembly in May, blocking efforts by lawmakers to impeach him over accusations of corruption and embezzlement. Meanwhile, Ecuador’s snap elections are still scheduled for next Sunday, August 20, though several presidential and other candidates have suspended their campaigns.


23 Rohingya Refugees Drown, Dozens Missing After Shipwreck

Aug 11, 2023

In Burma, at least 23 Rohingya refugees are dead after their boat sank as they attempted to reach Malaysia. Over two dozen others are still missing. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have taken on the perilous trek to Malaysia or Indonesia after fleeing genocide and persecution in Burma.

Americans Jailed in Iran Transferred to House Arrest on Way to Possible Release

Aug 11, 2023

Five U.S. citizens imprisoned in Iran have been transferred to house arrest in what is reportedly a first step toward being released. Their freedom would come in exchange for Iranian prisoners in the U.S. and for Tehran gaining access to $6 billion in frozen oil revenue to go toward humanitarian needs. The dual-citizen prisoners were jailed in Iran on unsubstantiated spying charges. The move comes after over two years of negotiations, according to The New York Times. This is Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking Thursday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “So, this is a positive step, but I don’t want to get ahead of its conclusion, because there’s more work to be done to actually bring them home. My belief is that this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare and the nightmare that their families have experienced.”

Blinken said any exchange will not include sanctions relief for Iran.


SCOTUS Blocks Purdue Pharma Settlement Deal That Would Protect Sackler Family from Civil Liability

Aug 11, 2023

The Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a sweeping settlement deal for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would shield the Sackler family from civil lawsuits in exchange for paying out $6 billion to thousands of plaintiffs, including state and local governments, that have been devastated by the opioid epidemic. The Justice Department challenged the settlement, which extends bankruptcy protections against liability for Sackler family members, in what the U.S. solicitor general called an “abuse of the bankruptcy system.” Opioid overdoses have killed over half a million people in the U.S. over the past two decades, according to the CDC, including prescription and illicit drugs.

Louisiana Gov. Orders Pardon Board to Review Clemency Requests for 56 Death Row Prisoners

Aug 11, 2023

The Louisiana Pardon Board has begun scheduling clemency hearings for the state’s death row prisoners one day after Governor John Bel Edwards ordered the move. This comes after the board last month refused to set hearings for 56 death row prisoners who filed a mass petition to commute their sentences before Democratic Governor Edwards leaves office next year. Edwards opposes the death penalty.

Trump and Mar-a-Lago Aide Plead Not Guilty; DOJ Requests January Start Date for 2020 Election Trial

Aug 11, 2023

In a Fort Pierce, Florida, court, Donald Trump and his aide and co-defendant Walt Nauta pleaded not guilty Thursday to three additional charges in the case around Trump’s mishandling of classified documents. Trump did not appear at the courthouse in person. The charges came as part of an updated indictment accusing Trump and two aides of trying to delete security footage at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

In other Trump news, federal prosecutors proposed a start date of January 2, 2024, for the trial related to Trump’s bid to overturn the 2020 elections.

Mexico Demands Texas Remove Floating Barrier of Buoys with Saw Blades in Rio Grande

Aug 11, 2023

Mexican officials are demanding Texas remove its border buoys from the Rio Grande, saying the floating barrier, aimed at blocking asylum seekers from reaching the United States, was installed on Mexico’s side of the river. Between the buoys there are circular saw blades. Dozens of asylum seekers, including children, have been severely injured. Last week the bodies of two asylum seekers were found in the Rio Grande, one of them trapped in the buoy barrier. Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena spoke Thursday after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, D.C.

Alicia Bárcena: “On the buoy issue in Texas, we are deeply concerned about the issue, but thankful because the U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the Texas government. And this helps us very much, because we are talking about a delicate situation on our border, in our rivers, in the Rio Bravo, in the Rio Grande, but most of the buoys are on the Mexican side.”

Democrats Ramp Up Calls for Justice Clarence Thomas to Step Down After New Corruption Revelations

Aug 11, 2023

Democrats have renewed their calls for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to resign, following yet another bombshell report from ProPublica detailing even more lavish gifts from right-wing billionaires, including “38 destination vacations.” California Congressmember Ted Lieu said Thomas had “brought shame upon himself and the United States Supreme Court. … No government official, elected or unelected, could ethically or legally accept gifts of that scale. He should resign immediately.”

Jess Search, Documentary Champion Driven by Film’s Transformative Power, Dies at 54

Aug 11, 2023

Jess Search, award-winning producer and co-founder of Doc Society, has died at 54 after a battle with brain cancer. The visionary filmmaker was a champion of documentary film, which she believed had the power to change the world, often telling others, “If you are going to move people to act, first you have to move them.” During her 18 years at Doc Society, formerly BritDoc, the organization supported such films as Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning “Citizenfour” about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. More recently, Jess Search was an executive producer on the acclaimed “While We Watched” by director Vinay Shukla, about journalist Ravish Kumar, who took on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Lucy Walker was one of many who paid tribute to Search, saying, “She championed so many underdogs — because she loved them. She knew their potential because she’d once been the underdog.” Jess Search is survived by her wife, filmmaker Beadie Finzi, and their two children.

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