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Three Puerto Rican Officials Fired After Unused Hurricane Maria Aid Found in Warehouse

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  • A video streamed on Facebook Live revealed a warehouse in Puerto Rico stockpiled with unused water, food, medicine, and other emergency supplies from Hurricane Maria.
  • The discovery comes as the island has been rocked by numerous earthquakes, destroying many buildings and leaving thousands without homes.
  • Three officials have been fired over the incident, and protests have broken out calling for the governor to resign.
  • Last week, the Trump Administration released $8.2 billion in aid designated to the island for hurricane recovery after Democrats and Puerto Ricans condemned Trump for withholding the aid over concerns of corruption and mismanagement.  

Aid Discovered 

Three Puerto Rican officials have been fired since a viral video streamed on Facebook Live on Saturday revealed a warehouse containing unused food, water, and other emergency supplies stockpiled from Hurricane Maria.

The video, taken in the southern city of Ponce, was taken by a blogger named Lorenzo Delgado, who filmed himself entering the warehouse. Delgado told reporters that he had been tipped off about the warehouse but did not provide a source.

The live stream quickly prompted massive outrage on social media, and Delgado was soon joined by many others, some of whom took supplies from the warehouse.

Puerto Rican Gov. Wanda Vázquez quickly responded by firing the island’s director of emergency management, Carlos Acevedo. She then called for an investigation.

Acevedo defended his department and his actions and said that while some of the water in the warehouse had been distributed, the other goods were not needed because there was not a shortage of supplies in the area.

Vázquez, however, said she had not been informed about the warehouse until the viral video, and the next day she also fired Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar.

“They weren’t able to personally tell me specifically where these centers were located, what they contained and whether an inventory was completed,” the governor said Sunday.

But many Puerto Ricans believe that Vázquez is responsible.

Activists on Monday called for island-wide demonstrations calling for the Vázquez to resign. In the capital San Juan, protestors gathered in front of the governor’s mansion.

The recent protests and posts on social media resemble similar protests back in August demanding that then-governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign. 

Those protests started after private messages were leaked that showed the governor and his close advisers mocking ordinary Puerto Ricans, among other things. But the movement quickly morphed into broader protests against government corruption and the botched response to Maria, eventually prompting Rosselló to step down.

Earthquakes

The discovery of the aid in the Ponce warehouse comes as Puerto Rico has been shaken by significant earthquakes and tremors for nearly a month now.

Since December 28, the island has experienced ongoing earthquakes of varying sizes. The biggest was a 6.4 magnitude that hit on Tuesday, Jan. 7, immediately following a 5.8 magnitude quake the day before.

The island was hit again with a 5.9 magnitude on Sunday, Jan. 11.

The earthquakes have created devastation all over the island, causing houses, schools, churches, and other buildings to collapse. Earthquakes of these magnitudes might not cause so much wreckage in other places, but Puerto Rico is riddled with buildings not up to code or retrofitted for earthquake resilience.

As a result, thousands of people have been displaced, with many seeking shelter in government camps. Thousands of others whose houses are still intact have also taken to sleeping in their cars or outside in public areas out of fear that their houses will collapse on them.

These earthquakes are a massive setback for Puerto Ricans, who are still struggling to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

Many of those recovery efforts have been stalled by allegations of government corruption and mismanagement of disaster relief and funding, which in turn has caused levels of distrust in the government among Puerto Ricans, especially as numerous high-ranking officials have been arrested on corruption charges.

This has been the subject of recent tensions between Puerto Rico and the Donald Trump Administration.

Trump has long accused Puerto Rican leaders of corruption, which he has cited for his administration’s efforts to delay disaster aid after Maria.

For a while now, the administration has been criticized for withholding more than $18 billion in federal funding that Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designated to the island after Maria.

After the earthquakes, those criticisms were sparked again by both Democrats and Puerto Ricans. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the withholding of aid “illegal,” and others called on the president and HUD to release the aid.

The Trump administration did approve the aid Wednesday, though it also placed strict restrictions on how the aid can be spent. The same day, Trump also approved a major emergency declaration in the areas of Puerto Rico most affected by the earthquakes.

That declaration will allow federal funds to be allocated to the island, though it is unclear how much.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Fox News) (NBC News)

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Bernie Sanders Wins New Hampshire Primary

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  • Sen. Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary, with Mayor Pete Buttigieg coming in at a close second.
  • Entrepreneurs Andrew Yang and Sen. Michael Bennet separately announced that they were dropping out of the race before polls closed.
  • While Sanders and Buttigieg have emerged as the frontrunners in the first two contests of the 2020 election, the upcoming Nevada Caucus and South Carolina primary will likely prove to be key tests for both candidates.

Bernie Sanders Wins New Hampshire

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) declared victory in the New Hampshire presidential primary Tuesday night after receiving the most votes in the first primary race of the 2020 election cycle.

With 98% of precincts reporting, Sanders has received 25.7% of the vote, followed by South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 24.4%. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MIN), who had a strong showing, came in third with 19.8%, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with 9.2% and former Vice President Joe Biden with 8.4%. 

Sanders declared victory in a speech Tuesday in front of a cheering crowd of supporters.

“And let me say tonight, that this victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he said.

“With victories behind us, popular vote in Iowa, and the victory here tonight, we’re going to Nevada, we’re going to South Carolina, we’re going to win those states as well.”

Buttigieg congratulated Sanders on his win, but he also argued that the progressive Senator’s movement is divisive.

“In this election season we have been told by some that you must either be for revolution, or you are for the status quo. But where does that leave the rest of us?” he asked.

“Most Americans don’t see where they fit in that polarized vision, and we can’t defeat the most divisive President in modern American history by tearing down anybody who doesn’t agree with us 100% of the time.” 

Even before the polls closed entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) both separately announced that they were dropping out of the race.

“I am the math guy, and it is clear tonight from the numbers that we are not going to win this race,” Yang said.

Biden, seemingly discouraged by his preliminary results, left New Hampshire early to go campaign in South Carolina, where he told a crowd of supporters, “It ain’t over, man. We’re just getting started.” 

Other Highlights and Takeaways

There is some truth to Biden’s remarks. There have only been two elections, only 2% of the total delegates have been allocated.

While these last two races have both shown Sanders and Buttigieg on top, the Nevada Caucus on Feb. 22 and the South Carolina primary the following week will be the real tests for both campaigns.

For Buttigieg, Iowa and New Hampshire have given him a lot of momentum, but many experts say that those elections are not indicative of how he will do moving forward.

Iowa and New Hampshire are two of the whitest states in the country, and while the mayor has shown strength among white voters he polls low with people of color.

His support among non-white voters will be put to the test in Nevada and South Carolina, which are much more diverse states. According to NPR, “Nevada was 41% nonwhite in 2016, and 61% of South Carolina Democratic voters were African American.”

For Sanders, the test will be his ability to mobilize the progressive vote in states he lost to Hillary Clinton by wide margins in 2016.

Sanders may have won New Hampshire this year, but he also won it in 2016.

Another thing that will be interesting to watch is the third-place candidate in these next few elections.

While it was fairly clear after Iowa that either Sanders or Buttigieg would take first and second, third was still up for grabs.

The fact that Klobuchar took that spot, beating out Warren by a large margin of more than 10%, could signal how she will do in other states.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (Fox News)

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Mike Bloomberg Slammed as Racist After Defending Stop-and-Frisk in Audio Clip

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  • #BloombergIsRacist trended on Twitter after an audio clip of Michael Bloomberg defending stop-and-frisk and making other offensive comments went viral.
  • The former New York City mayor, who long defended the controversial policy, recently apologized and said it was wrong just before announcing his bid for president in the 2020 election.
  • This is not the first time Bloomberg has made similar comments, as many Twitter users pointed out, and it is unclear if this audio resurfacing the same day as the New Hampshire primary will hurt the candidate. 

Bloomberg Audio Clip

An audio clip of former New York City mayor and 2020 contender Michael Bloomberg defending the controversial stop-and-frisk policy and acknowledging that it targetted minorities went viral on Twitter Tuesday, prompting #BloombergIsRacist to trend on the platform.

The remarks were made in a speech the former mayor gave in 2015 at the Aspen Institute, an international think tank. According to an article from the Aspen Times published shortly after his speech, Bloomberg had requested that the Aspen Institute not release the footage.

However, Aspen Times journalist Karl Herchenroeder, who wrote the story about Bloomberg’s request to block the footage, uploaded it on his personal YouTube page.

Bloomberg’s remarks resurfaced and went viral after podcaster and journalist Benjamin Dixon posted an audio clip from the speech. In it, the former mayor can be heard discussing the infamous stop-and-frisk policy that gave police the authority to temporarily detain, question, and search people they suspected of committing a crime.

“Ninety-five percent of murders and murder victims fit one M.O,” Bloomberg said. “You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16-25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city.”

“So one of the unintended consequences is people say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities,’” he continued. 

“Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them.” 

Bloomberg’s Stop and Frisk History

Bloomberg responded to the audio clip in a statement later on Tuesday.

“I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused,” he said. “By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should’ve done it faster and sooner.”

But this is not the full story. While it is true that the stop-and-frisk policy was implemented by Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s, it was aggressively ramped up under Bloomberg in the 11 years he was mayor from 2002 to 2013.

Critics have long said stop-and-frisk is racist because it disproportionately targets black and Latino people— the majority of whom end up being innocent. 

But Bloomberg and others who supported the policy argued that it was necessary to keep people safe and that it saved lives by keeping weapons off the street.

According to the New York American Civil Liberties Union, under Bloomberg’s expansion of the policy, stops went from 97,296 in 2002 to a whopping 685,724 in 2011— the year there were the highest number of stops ever recorded in the city.

Of those 685,724 stops, 88% were found innocent. As for the racial makeup of the people who were stopped, 53% were black, 34% were Latino, and 9% were white.

After Bloomberg left, those numbers plummetted to below what they were before he took office.

In November, right before he announced he was running for president, Bloomberg backtracked and apologized for the policy.

“I was wrong, ad I am sorry,” he said. “I didn’t understand back then the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities.”

#BloombergIsRacist Trends on Twitter

However, many people, including those who used the #BloombergIsRacist hashtag, thought his apology was too little too late.

Users on Twitter utilized the hashtag to point out other instances where the former mayor made similarly controversial remarks.

Numerous people shared a clip where Bloomberg discussed the accusation that stop-and-frisk disproportionately impacted minorities.

“I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little,” he said.

Others pointed to an op-ed Bloomberg wrote for the Washington Post in 2013, where he defended stop-and-frisk and responded to the criticism that the policy targets African Americans and Latinos by arguing that they are more likely to commit violent crimes. 

Some also posted various articles of other controversial statements he had made about race and minorites in the past.

Dealing with the fallout from his past remarks about stop-and-frisk policy is not something new for Bloomberg, but it remains unclear how the now-viral audio clip resurfacing on the same day as the New Hampshire primary will impact him in the election.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Fox News) (Slate)

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Facebook and Twitter Refuse to Remove Controversial Pelosi Video

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  • President Donald Trump posted a video that was edited to make it look like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped up his State of the Union speech while he recognized special guests.
  • Democrats demanded Facebook and Twitter remove the video, while others said it would set a dangerous precedent concerning parody videos.
  • Facebook refused to remove the video, saying that it did not violate the platform’s new policy on manipulated media.
  • Twitter also said it would not remove the video because its new policy on manipulated videos does not go into effect until March 5, and the company will not apply it retroactively.

Controversial Video

Facebook and Twitter have refused to take down a controversial video shared by President Donald Trump that was edited to look like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up the president’s State of the Union speech while he was honoring special guests.

The video, shared by Trump on both social media platforms Thursday, took actual footage from the now-viral moment when Pelosi tore up his speech following his State of the Union address.

The video, however, spliced the real footage so that it appeared as though the speaker was tearing Trump’s speech while he was recognizing one of the last Tuskegee Airmen, a reunited military family, and others.

Response

Many House Democrats responded to the video in posts on Twitter, arguing that it was misleading or doctored and calling for it to be taken down.

On the other side, plenty of people also shared and defended the video, like Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the free-speech advocacy group PEN America, who argued that the video “would open door to ban a great deal of parody.”

“Viewers can tell she didn’t rip up speech multiple times in exact same way. Harsh, nasty, underhanded, yes,” she wrote. “But parody often is.”

Benny Johnson, the chief creative officer of Turning Point USA, the conservative nonprofit that originally made the video, defended the move in a thread on Twitter. 

“Here is how we made it: We took real lines from the President’s State of the Union speech and then used a real footage of Speaker Pelosi tearing up Trump’s speech as a transition for each clip,” he wrote. “That’s it. Real events that really happened, in a timeline.”

Johnson also argued that removing the video would set a bad precedent.

“Would you call a Super Bowl highlight reel ‘doctored’ because the footage of the big play it did not show every play before and after in sequence?” he wrote. “Is a news package ‘doctored’ when they clip just a small part of a politicians speech? No!”

Twitter and Facebook Respond

Pelosi’s Deputy Chief of Staff Drew Hammill called for Twitter and Facebook to remove the video in a tweet on Friday.

“The latest fake video of Speaker Pelosi is deliberately designed to mislead and lie to the American people, and every day that these platforms refuse to take it down is another reminder that they care more about their shareholders’ interests than the public’s interests,” he wrote.

In an unusual move, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone responded to Hammill’s tweet.

“Sorry, are you suggesting the President didn’t make those remarks and the Speaker didn’t rip the speech?” he asked, to which Hammill responded, “what planet are you living on?  this is deceptively altered. take it down.”

Stone later told reporters over the weekend that the video did not violate Facebook’s new policy from January on manipulated media and deepfakes.

He specifically pointed to a specific part of the policy that says Facebook will remove that kind of content if it “has been edited or synthesized – beyond adjustments for clarity or quality – in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person and would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say.”

Facebook also said in their post announcing the new policy that the platform “does not extend to content that is parody or satire, or video that has been edited solely to omit or change the order of words.”

A Twitter spokesperson separately told reporters that it too would not remove the video because its new policy regarding manipulated media, which it announced last week, does not go into effect until March 5 and will not be applied retroactively.

The spokesperson also did not answer hypothetical questions about whether or not the new policy would apply to videos similar to the edited one of Pelosi in the future.

According to Twitter’s new policy, users cannot “deceptively share synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm.” Twitter may also label those kinds of tweets. 

Although notably, the criteria outlined by Twitter for what it will consider when removing or labeling posts includes, “Whether the content has been substantially edited in a manner that fundamentally alters its composition, sequence, timing, or framing.” 

The video of Pelosi is expected to be an important test case for how social media companies deal with manipulated media at a time when there is mounting pressure on these platforms regarding the spread of misinformation.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Politico) (Fox News)

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