Top news stories for today – August 31, 2016
IS spokesman killed in Syria
The Islamic State’s Amaq news outlet reported Tuesday that ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani had been killed in the Syrian city of Aleppo, where he was inspecting military operations.
Al-Adnani, considered the terrorist group’s second-in-command, encouraged attacks against Westerners and was believed to be in charge of ISIS’s “external operations division,” which managed recruitment and organized attacks. The cause of al-Adnani’s death has yet to be determined; in Aleppo, ISIS is under attack by American-backed Syrian and Kurdish rebels in addition to “Turkish, American, and Russian airstrikes,” The New York Times reported. The New York Times, NBC News, The Week
Obama commutes sentences of 111 inmates
On Tuesday, President Obama commuted the sentences of 111 federal inmates, most of them jailed on nonviolent drug convictions, and set a new record for most presidential commutations issued in a month. Obama began August commuting the sentences of 214 inmates, bringing his total above the combined commutations of the previous nine presidents; now, at 673, he can add Eisenhower to that list.
Obama’s efforts to free prisoners sentenced under harsher laws than are currently on the books is making only a small dent in the US prison population — there are about 195,000 inmates in federal prison, plus 1.3 million in state facilities. Along with his 673 commutations, the White House says, Obama “has also granted 70 pardons and is committed to continuing to grant additional commutations and pardons throughout the remainder of his presidency.” The Washington Post, The White House, The Week
First US-Cuba commercial flight takes off
On Wednesday, JetBlue is inaugurating the first commercial jet service between the US and Cuba, with a morning flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Santa Clara, Cuba. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will be on the flight, signaling the historic nature of the first regular passenger flight between the US and Cuba in 50 years.
A second airline, Silver Airways, starts flying to Santa Clara on Thursday, and American Airlines begins its Cuba flights on Sept. 7. Since the US still has an embargo against Cuba, American passengers will have to pledge that they qualify for one of 12 categories of travel, including religious actives, humanitarian projects, and support for the Cuban people. The New York Times, JetBlue, The Week
UN Chief insists Rohingya deserve hope
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar to improve living conditions for its Rohingya Muslim minority on Tuesday, ahead of peace talks between leader Aung San Suu Kyi and many of the country’s ethnic armed rebel groups.
Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya will not be represented at the conference starting on Wednesday, but the fact Ban raised their plight – and used the term for the group that is divisive in Myanmar – may add to international pressure on Suu Kyi to address the issue.
Ban and Suu Kyi met reporters as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate launched a push to end decades of fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic rebels. VOA
Brazil Senate to vote Rousseff impeachment trial
Lawyers at the impeachment trial of suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff wrapped up their final arguments early Wednesday morning, and are expected to take a short break before the Senate votes on whether to remove her from office.
Rousseff is alleged to have illegally used money from state banks to cover deficits in the federal budget in an effort to boost her popularity heading into the 2014 presidential election. Rousseff, the country’s first female president, denied any wrongdoing in the matter and accused her political opponents of using the trial as a way to overthrow her and undermine Brazil’s democracy.
Of the 81 senators, 54 must vote in favor of her impeachment for it to become permanent. If removed, Rousseff will be replaced by her vice president, Michel Temer.
US Presidential election
Donald Trump meeting with Mexico’s president Wednesday: Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday night that he has accepted an invitation from Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and will meet him Wednesday. The Washington Post broke the news that Trump was considering flying to Mexico City to meet with Peña Nieto, just a few hours before he is scheduled to deliver a speech in Arizona about immigration. On Twitter, Peña Nieto’s office said he extended invitations to Trump and Hillary Clinton to discuss the relationship between the US and Mexico, and his meeting with Trump will be private. A campaign official told Bloomberg Trump will be joined by Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, an immigration hardliner, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Sources in the US and Mexico familiar with the discussions told the Post Trump, pushed by his campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, decided over the weekend to ask for an expedited meeting. The trip will take place between a fundraiser Wednesday morning in California and the speech in Phoenix at night. The Washington Post, Twitter, The Week
Trump faces close race in Texas: Donald Trump may be in trouble in the most important Republican stronghold state – Texas. Republican candidate John McCain won Texas by 12 points in 2008 and Mitt Romney won it by 16 points in 2012, but a recent poll shows only a 6 percent gap between Trump and Clinton. Texas is important because of its 38 electoral votes, second only to Democratic stronghold California, which has 55. If Trump has to invest time and resources in heavily Republican Texas, it will diminish his efforts in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, where the electorate is more evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. VOA
Trump relying on RNC for Hispanic outreach: In speeches and on social media, Donald Trump has ramped up his outreach to minorities, including Hispanics, but the GOP presidential nominee is relying on efforts already put in place by the Republican National Committee to reach Latino voters. As of Tuesday, his campaign did not have anyone in charge of Hispanic outreach. And while Trump did recently meet with a Hispanic advisory board, the meeting did not take place until mid-August, less than three months before the election. USA Today
- Brazil cut to 'junk' credit rating by Standard & Poor's
- International study shows gun control actually works
- Leave China, Study in America, Find Jesus