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News Wrap: Democracy supporters in Hong Kong form human chain extending 25 miles

In our news wrap Friday, democracy advocates in Hong Kong formed a human chain stretching 25 miles to show solidarity and appeal for international support. It was inspired by a human chain in the Baltic states 30 years ago that protested Soviet rule. Also, the Assad regime secured another victory in its long fight to reclaim control of Syria, seizing territory near the last major rebel stronghold.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the day's other news, the government of Brazil moved to deploy troops tomorrow to rein in raging wildfires across the Amazon rainforest.

    William Brangham reports.

  • William Brangham:

    Large parts of the Amazon are being engulfed in record-breaking flames. More than 9,500 fires have broken out this past week.

    Today, under increasing pressure to address the crisis, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro talked of sending in the army, saying — quote — "That's the plan."

    He had conceded yesterday that the situation is dire, and that his government lacked the resources to fight it.

  • Jair Bolsonaro¬†(through translator):

    The Ministry of Justice can send 40 men to combat the fight, but do you understand that, 40 men? There are not enough resources. We are in chaos.

  • William Brangham:

    Forest fires are common in Brazil this time of year, but their numbers have skyrocketed to more than 75,000 this year. That's up 80 percent from 2018. And the smoke from them has turned Sao Paulo's midday skies into total darkness.

    Bolsonaro has said, with no evidence, that nonprofit groups started the fires to undermine him. But scientists point to three main causes all stemming from human activity that are driving this crisis, first, rampant deforestation.

    A staggering amount of the Amazon rainforest gets cut down intentionally. In June alone, an area half the size of Rhode Island was lost. Much of the logging is illegal, and driven by rising agriculture in the region. Fire is routinely used by farmers to clear out the brush for farming and grazing.

    Droughts have also played a key role. They occur naturally, but scientists say climate change is likely making them worse and more frequent.

    The right-wing populist president has relaxed environmental protections and prioritized opening up the rainforest for development. Bolsonaro has called the fires an internal matter for Brazilians to resolve, but international pressure for action is mounting.

    French President Emanuel Macron plans to highlight the crisis at this weekend's G7 summit with world leaders in France. And Macron threatened to withdraw French support for a trade deal between the European Union and South American countries, including Brazil, if immediate action is not taken. Ireland quickly followed suit.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Assad regime in Syria scored another victory today in its long fight to reclaim control of the country. Government forces seized a cluster of towns in northern Hama province. That's just south of Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold. A Syrian military offensive in the region has killed more than 2,000 people and forced half-a-million to flee since April.

    In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protesters formed a human chain tonight. People linked hands across the Chinese territory. Organizers said it extended 25 miles to show solidarity and appeal for international support. It was inspired by a human chain in the Baltic states 30 years ago today. Some two million people took part in that event to protest Soviet control.

    Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is free tonight after a month in a Moscow jail for calling a protest without government permission. Russian authorities clamped down on the mass protests earlier this summer, detaining 1,400 people and arresting dozens of leaders.

    Navalny walked free today, vowing to keep up the pressure and warning of new repression.

  • Alexei Navalny¬†(through translator):

    Now we see the final stage of degradation of this political regime, who used to exist thanks to lies and falsifications. Now we see that lies and falsifications are not enough. It proves that the authorities have no support. They feel it and fear it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The protests began after Moscow barred nearly two dozen independent candidates from running in city elections next month. They are seen as a possible litmus test for national elections in 2021.

    Back in this country, the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court today to rule that federal law does not bar companies from firing workers just because they are gay. The Justice Department argued the 1964 Civil Rights Act was not intended to ban discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people. The department made a similar argument last week in a case specific to transgender rights.

    There is word that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was treated this month for a tumor on her pancreas. A court statement today said the tumor was malignant, but localized. It said there is no evidence that the disease has spread and no need for additional treatment. Ginsburg is 86. She has had several bouts with cancer since 1999.

    One more Democratic presidential candidate dropped out of the running today. Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts had focused on mental health issues, but failed to gain traction in the crowded Democratic field. Moulton is now the third candidate to quit the race in recent days.

    And David Koch has died. He was a billionaire businessman, one-time vice presidential nominee, and conservative mega-donor.

    John Yang looks at his life and legacy.

  • John Yang:

    David Koch helped his brother Charles expand the Wichita-based Koch Industries into one of the largest privately-held corporations in the world.

    He quickly became a notable figure in elite New York social circles. The business eventually became the fuel behind one of the highest-spending political action groups in modern American politics, Americans for Prosperity.

  • Narrator:

    Americans for Prosperity is responsible for the content of this advertising.

  • John Yang:

    The anti-tax, pro-small government group poured hundreds of millions of dollars into conservative candidates and causes, often through untraceable so-called dark money contributions.

  • Man:

    The president's doing a mediocre job.

  • John Yang:

    The oil-and gas-based Koch network spent just under $400 million on the 2012 election, an unparalleled sum at the time that filled the airwaves with attack ads.

  • Narrator:

    President Obama's health care law is actually one of the largest tax increases in history.

  • John Yang:

    Targeting President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, while long denying climate change.

  • David Koch:

    I'm basically a libertarian.

  • John Yang:

    In a 2014 interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, Koch defended his political contributions.

  • Barbara Walters:

    Do you think it's fair that just because you have billions of dollars, you can influence elections?

  • David Koch:

    Well, I contribute to public candidate campaigns, and there's a federal limit on how much you can contribute to each individual candidate. I obey the law in that regard, and feel I'm doing it properly.

  • John Yang:

    Limits on corporate donations to political candidates had been lifted four years earlier, the result of the Citizens United Supreme Court battle that the brothers had helped fund.

    The Koch brothers famously didn't endorse Donald Trump in 2016, over concerns about free trade. But their group did target several Democratic senators in the 2018 midterm elections. In addition to politics, Koch gave millions to cancer research, some PBS programs, and a full wing of the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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