5 important stories you may have overlooked
After a week of hand-wringing over President Donald Trump’s 100-day assessments, Republicans celebrated what’s probably been the biggest step forward on the president’s manifesto with Americans: On Trump’s 105th day, the House passed its version of the American Health Care Act.
Last week’s victory came six weeks after lawmakers failed get to an earlier version of the bill through the House. Democrats, who unanimously opposed the bill, sang to Republicans on the floor — “Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey hey hey. Goodbye.” — believing the bill’s passing will spell political doom for Republicans in the midterms. (You can listen to that audio from the chamber here.)
“You have every provision of this bill tattooed on your forehead,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said, suggesting that moderate Republicans who helped tip the vote in the end were marked.”You will glow in the dark on this one.”
Time will tell. Until then, here are five important stories that didn’t invite the same level of reaction from politicos.
1. Under Trump, what’s next for the Black Lives Matter movement?
The Black Lives Matter movement is reconfiguring its strategy.
Alicia Garza, co-creator of the original #BlackLivesMatter social media campaign, told The Washington Post last week that the shift means less demonstrations and more policy-oriented activism.
The original #BlackLivesMatter hashtag took social media by storm after neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012 in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman claimed self-defense in his encounter with Martin, who was black and unarmed. Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013.
Today, the BLM network — with 39 local chapters across the country — is dedicated not only to bringing awareness to police shootings of black and brown people, but also to Islamophobia, LGBTQ rights and issues facing black women.
Throughout the 2016 presidential election, the movement engaged in several highly-visible demonstrations, from prominent appearances at campaign events for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to various protests during Trump rallies. One part of the movement’s new approach is instead focusing on policies at the local level.
Atlanta and Memphis chapters, for instance, are fighting the “money bail” system, which targets people in jail who cannot finance even the smallest guarantee of their appearances at trial. Advocates say it’s a way of forcing them to plead guilty to lesser charges without first seeing a judge or jury.
BLM chapters have also introduced resources for mobilizing, such as the “Resistance Manual,” an online resource for how to push back against policy, and a site called OurStates, which assists the public with combating Trump’s agenda in Congress, the Post reported.
Why it’s important
BLM’s refreshed platform arrives in the wake of three recent high-profile officer-involved shootings.
There was the fatal shooting of Jordan Edwards, a black 15-year-old, last month in Texas. Officer Roy Oliver was fired for violating “several departmental policies,” and on May 5, was arrested and charged with murder. He posted bond and now awaits trial.
And in Louisiana, justice officials found insufficient evidence for federal charges against the white police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, a black resident of Baton Rouge. The case will instead be given to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who will determine whether state charges should be applied. Law enforcement braced for massive protest turnout following the announcement, but only a handful of arrests were made — a departure from the kind of action we’ve seen in the past; during a weekend of BLM demonstrations in July 2016, for instance, at least 200 individuals were arrested, The Advocate reports.
Activists say the future of BLM is about more than just protest.
“It can look like voting … it can look like calling your representatives,” Aditi Juneja, a law student who works with Campaign Zero, a police reform effort launched by BLM, told the Post. “For many people the work is very personal, and it isn’t going to stop. The question is how it will sustain and how it will continue to manifest.”
The movement will also be about more than simply policing, scholar Peniel Joseph told WBUR’s “Here and Now.”
“They’re not just criticizing the justice system. They’re making a claim that the justice system in the United States is connected to unemployment, public school segregation, environmental racism and inequality,” he said. “So it’s just basically the police are the tip of a larger iceberg of systemic oppression.”
2. Puerto Rico announces its largest school closure in history.
After years of contracted economic depression, Puerto Rico attempted to reduce its $120 billion of debt and financial obligations in bankruptcy court. The filing last week is the largest municipal bond bankruptcy in U.S. history.
As Puerto Rico’s economy worsened, the population has dropped, with hundreds of thousands fleeing the island for Florida and other parts of the U.S. The economic downturn has also meant scaled-back public services, including the announcement last week that nearly 180 schools will now be closed, affecting about 27,000 students.
Officials said the closure will save the government millions of dollars in a given year. ABC News reported that the announced school closure is the biggest in the island’s history; by comparison, 150 schools were closed over five years from 2010 to 2015, they added.
Aida Diaz, president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Teachers, told ABC News that the schools targeted in this announcement were insufficient or catered to few students, adding that the plan was “backed up with data and information.”
Parents of those 27,000 students, however, must now find another school for their children.
Why it’s important
Watch Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló talk to PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan about the crisis.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told the NewsHour last week that the school closures will provide some monetary relief, “but the objective is for our children to actually consolidate and to get more human resources to give a better service to the children of Puerto Rico.”
Rossello added that Puerto Rico being a colonial territory of the U.S. “puts us in a very significant disadvantage to all of the other states,” a point echoed by Puerto Ricans who move away from the island.
“As a matter of comparison, the U.S. citizens, the Puerto Ricans that live in the United States, have much better incomes, more than twice as much, participate in the labor force in greater scales, have better results in the education system and so forth.
The U.S. commonwealth is home to about 3.4 million people. Of those, about 46 percent live below the poverty line, Bloomberg pointed out in the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data. The rate is one-third that in the U.S.
Back in 2015, the Puerto Rico’s governor signaled it couldn’t pay back its debts, telling The New York Times that the island was nearing an economic “death spiral.”
“We don’t have representation. We have a difficult time getting funding from the federal government,” Rossello said, adding that this was a “critical component” that needed to change.
3. Is the french fry grease market the new “scrap-metal business”?
Bloomberg reports that the rising value of used cooking oil, which can be refined into biodesiel fuel, has led to an explosion in restaurant theft. One Buffalo, New York area contractor said he had to replace “1,000 locks” on restaurant grease containers over the course of six months due to theft.
“It’s like crack money,” Sumit Majumdar, president of Buffalo Biodiesel Inc., told Bloomberg. There’s an actual market for stolen oil. It’s almost like a pawn shop or scrap-metal business.”
Why it’s important
U.S. biodiesel production hit record levels in 2016, but tax credits expired at the end of the year. A bipartisan group led by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., proposed a new tax credit with a focus on U.S. production — which means the underground grease market could grow, too.
4. Things are ‘not fine’ in Venezuela
Venezuela has descended into a violent, chaotic state of unrest.
For weeks, thousands of Venezuelans have marched in the streets to protest Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, whose rule many blame for widespread hunger and the deterioration of a once oil-rich economy. Inflation will reach more than 1,600 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund; hospitals and other services are facing massive shortages.
Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader who assumed power after Hugo Chávez’s death in 2013, has been criticized both for his continuation of Chavez’s policies and grabs for power that some liken to those of a dictator.
Though the opposition party took control of the country’s National Assembly in 2015, its attempts to recall Maduro in 2016 were stalled by the courts, the military and other government powers.
Since then, there have been almost daily protests in the streets, particularly in the capital of Caracas. The unrest escalated late last week after Maduro called for an assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. Masked youth built barricades, launching trash and other items at police brandishing tear gas and pepper spray.
At least 37 people — including protesters, bystanders and security forces — have died in the street clashes since April 1, Reuters reports; 1,845 people had been detained.
On Monday, members of the opposition boycotted an invitation from Maduro to join the new “popular assembly” charged with rewriting the constitution, calling it a fake gesture that does not meet any of the demands — rescheduled elections, a free and fair independent electoral board and government approval for humanitarian aid, among others — laid out by protesters.
Why it’s important
Chavez was carried into power in the late ’90s by a wave of populism not unlike those we saw on both sides of the 2016 elections in the U.S.
“Venezuela’s fate stands as a warning: Populism is a path that, at its outset, can look and feel democratic. But, followed to its logical conclusion, it can lead to democratic backsliding or even outright authoritarianism,” Max Fisher and Amanda Taub wrote in the New York Times last month.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez compared the situation to the unrest that led to Syria’s civil war.
Something’s got to give, the Times said this weekend — specifically, key leaders’ support of Maduro. Experts call it an “elite fracture” — “in which enough powerful officials break away to force a change in leadership.”
Along with Rodriguez, chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz, a longtime supporter of the government, condemned March’s attempted takeover of the National Assembly. The White House said members of Trump’s administration have met with members of the opposition, and stressed the need for Maduro to respect the country’s constitution. Over the weekend, the Pope — who hosted reconciliation talks between the opposition and the government in December — called for a new solution to end the violence, too.
But, at the moment, Maduro hasn’t budged on an earlier date for elections, now scheduled for 2018.
If the government “continues with this madness,” Venezuela will be “ungovernable,” opposition governor Henrique Capriles told Bloomberg.
5. Pepe the Frog is dead.
Pepe the Frog, once a stoner comic frog of “Feels Good Man”-fame, was co-opted by the so-called “alt-right,” a racist movement that included white nationalism and neo-Nazi beliefs.
The group was a small slice of support for Donald Trump during the presidential election last year.
Trump has since denounced the movement.
But now, Pepe’s original creator, Matt Furie, killed his creation in a one-page comic that was available for free over the weekend as part of Fantagraphics’ “World’s Greatest Cartoonists” on Free Comic Book Day, Comic Book Resources reported.
The strip depicts Pepe’s wake with the other “Boy’s Club” characters, who first appeared on the artist’s MySpace blog in 2005. Over time, the character was re-appropriated by the darkest corners of 4chan as a symbol with Nazi insignia or used for Trump memes.
Why it’s important
Furie has repeatedly said Pepe was only ever meant to be a “chill frog.”
Furie, along with the ADL, tried to resuscitate Pepe’s association with hate with the #SavePepe campaign, but that appears to have failed.
This is not likely to stop white supremacists from using the image as their own, CBR wrote, but Pepe’s death “was, perhaps, the most effective way for Furie to reclaim his character; Pepe’s soul has returned to his creator.”