By Robert A. Vella
Yesterday, a group of about thirty hardcore Trump supporters in the House of Representatives disrupted the impeachment inquiry testimony of Defense Department official Laura Cooper and delayed it for five hours. Their stunt was a desperate attempt to shift attention away from a series of witness testimonies, evidential disclosures, and public admissions of guilt, all of which have clearly exposed President Trump’s illegal coercion of a foreign government for personal political gain. Cooper’s testimony was conducted in private, and no details have been released yet.
Additional revelations have emerged from Tuesday’s testimony by U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor concerning Trump’s withholding of congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine in order to force that government to dig up dirt on his political rival Joe Biden. New reporting indicates that Volodymyr Zelensky felt the pressure from Trump after he was elected president but before he took office, and that White House aides suspected Trump was using backchannel means to communicate with Ukraine. A federal judge has ordered the State Department to release any documents related to Ukraine, and the New York City Bar Association has demanded that Attorney General William Bar recuse himself from the matter.
In other Trump-related news, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was grilled yesterday by congress-members over the social media giant’s role in spreading political disinformation which has been increasingly threatening democracy in recent years from extremist ideological groups and from foreign adversaries such as Russia. So far, most states are not cooperating with the Commerce Department’s request for personal driver’s license information in the Trump administration’s continuing attempts to undercount minorities in the upcoming 2020 census. Maryland’s attorney general has filed a lawsuit against a property management company owned by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner for unfair/deceptive rental practices and for causing deplorable living conditions. Student loan activist groups have filed suit against Education Department secretary Betsy DeVos for essentially colluding with exploitative private schools and financiers.
Finally, I’ve included some important stories on climate change, environmental problems, and international news.
After her testimony was delayed for five hours as non-committee member Republicans stormed the secure hearing room, top Pentagon official Laura Cooper finally spoke for over three hours on Wednesday.
KIEV, Ukraine — To Democrats who say that President Trump’s decision to freeze $391 million in military aid was intended to bully Ukraine’s leader into carrying out investigations for Mr. Trump’s political benefit, the president and his allies have had a simple response: There was no quid pro quo because the Ukrainians did not know assistance had been blocked.
But then on Tuesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top United States diplomat in Kiev, told House impeachment investigators that the freeze was directly linked to Mr. Trump’s demand.
The timing of the communications, which have not previously been reported, shows that Ukraine was aware the White House was holding up the funds weeks earlier than acknowledged.
It also means that the Ukrainian government was aware of the freeze during most of the period in August when Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and two American diplomats were pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to make a public commitment to the investigations.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg struggled to explain the social media company’s new policy on fact-checking political ads under questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during a Wednesday hearing.
The company recently announced that to protect political speech it would no longer fact check ads from politicians, essentially allowing campaigns to pay Facebook to spread disinformation.
On Oct. 9, Facebook said that it wasn’t removing an ad from the Trump campaign that contained lies about former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine. On Sept. 19, Zuckerberg and Trump had a surprise meeting at the White House, which the president referred to as “nice.” Facebook announced a change in policy on Sept. 24: It would not fact-check or remove content by politicians even if the posts violate the company’s rules. Nick Clegg, the company’s vice president of global affairs and communications, wrote, “it is not our role to intervene when politicians speak,” adding that would be done only if a politician’s speech endangers people.
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — An effort by the U.S. Census Bureau to collect state driver’s license records as part of President Donald Trump’s order to gather citizenship information has been a bust so far.
As of Wednesday, the vast majority of state motor vehicle agencies had not agreed to share their records with the bureau, according to an Associated Press survey of the 50 states. The effort over the past couple of months has alarmed civil rights groups, which see it as part of a backdoor move by the Trump administration to reduce the political power of minorities.
BALTIMORE — Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has sued an apartment management company owned by senior White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, alleging it routinely used “unfair or deceptive” rental practices while running rodent-infested apartments in Baltimore and the surrounding region.
Attorneys in the Consumer Protection Division of Frosh’s office argued in a statement of charges filed Wednesday that Westminster Management and 25 other companies whose properties it managed have “victimized consumers, many of whom are financially vulnerable, at all stages of offering and leasing” their rental units in Maryland. The companies committed “hundreds of thousands of violations” of consumer protection laws along the way, the statement said.
Two student advocacy groups have filed separate lawsuits against Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, one alleging her Department of Education allowed an operator of for-profit schools to mislead students and sack them with debt they are now unable to repay, and another that accused her of continuing to refuse to discharge the student loan debt of borrowers previously enrolled in for-profit schools that abruptly shuttered.
Soaring deforestation coupled with the destructive policies of Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, could push the Amazon rainforest dangerously to an irreversible “tipping point” within two years, a prominent economist has said.
After this point the rainforest would stop producing enough rain to sustain itself and start slowly degrading into a drier savannah, releasing billions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, which would exacerbate global heating and disrupt weather across South America.
The warning came in a policy brief published this week by Monica de Bolle, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC.
Air pollution is killing more people during the Trump administration than it was under President Obama. Air pollution was responsible for 9,700 more deaths in 2018 than it was in 2016, according to a new paper by economists at Carnegie Mellon.
The researchers, Karen Clay and Nicholas Muller, argue that some of the increase is due to non-regulatory factors, like an increase in wildfires and economic growth. But they note a decline in Clean Air Act enforcement under Donald Trump that could be responsible as well.
But the specific kind of pollution addressed in the new study is what experts call PM2.5: microscopic particles 2.5 micrometers or less wide (a small fraction of the diameter of a human hair) arising from human industry, including coal mining and burning, gasoline combustion, construction dust, etc.
Millions of Americans are drinking unsafe water because the federal drinking water standards are outdated, according to the latest analysis from the Environmental Working Group.
The organization updated its searchable Tap Water Database on Wednesday to include analysis of tests conducted by external entities between 2016 and 2017. After scrutinizing 32 million results for 517 contaminants or groups, the organization said that chemicals proliferate in almost 50,000 water utilities across the country.
More than 160 substances found in U.S. tap water are unregulated and the Maximum Contaminant Levels for other contaminants haven’t been updated in five decades, the EWG said. This means that though drinking water may meet national standards, it doesn’t render it safe, the group said.
British police have said that all 39 people who were found dead in a truck in a UK industrial park on Wednesday were Chinese nationals.
Their cause of death has yet to be established, the police added, as they “must undergo a full coroner’s process … before we move on to attempting to identify each individual within the trailer. This will be a substantial operation and, at this stage, we cannot estimate how long these procedures will take.”
On Wednesday, 25-year-old Northern Irish truck driver, Morris Robinson, was arrested on suspicion of murder after a truck, originating from Northern Ireland, and a container with the victims were found at an industrial park in Grays, Essex, a town 20 miles east of London.
Protests in Lebanon entered a second week on Thursday with demonstrators blocking main roads in Beirut and other parts of the country, AFP correspondents and Lebanese media reported.
Sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on calls made through messaging apps, the protests have morphed into a cross-sectarian street mobilisation against a political system seen as corrupt and broken.