President Xi Jinping of China is set to rule the country indefinitely after Chinese lawmakers passed changes to the country’s constitution abolishing presidential term limits. The National People’s Congress voted 2,958 in favor of the amendment, two opposed and three abstained. Xi assumed leadership of China’s Communist Party in 2012 and has consolidated power to levels not seen since the era of Mao Zedong. The change in presidency now aligns with other posts Xi holds, as head of the Communist Party and head of the military, neither of which have term limits.
After becoming president in 2013, Mr Xi fought corruption, punishing more than a million party members. Critics say he has used the anti-corruption purge to sideline political rivals. At the same time, China has clamped down on many emerging freedoms, increasing its state surveillance and censorship programs which critics attain was a move to silence opposition.
The constitutional change officially allows him to remain in office after the end of his second term in 2023. Many believe that now that the constitution has been altered- that Xi Jinping intends to rule for the rest of his life unchallenged. There has been no national debate as to whether a leader should be allowed to stay on for as long as they choose.
The two-consecutive-term limit to China’s presidency was put in place by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 in order to avoid the kind of chaos and tumult that can sometimes happen when you have a single authoritarian leader, as China had with Mao Zedong. Among many campaigns launched by Zedong were “The Great Leap Forward” in 1957 that aimed to rapidly transform China’s economy from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. This campaign led to the deadliest famine in history and the deaths of more than 45 million Chinese people between 1958 and 1962. Zedong also initiated the Cultural Revolution in 1966, a program to remove “counter-revolutionary” elements of Chinese society that lasted 10 years and was marked by violent class struggle and widespread destruction of cultural artifacts. It has officially been regarded as a “severe setback” for the Peoples Republic of China.
The National People’s Congress is also likely to confirm China’s new government line-up for the next five years, kicking off Xi Jinping’s second term as president, ratify a law to set up a new powerful anti-corruption agency and ratify the inclusion of the president’s political philosophy in the constitution. His philosophy is officially called “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era”. Schoolchildren, college students and staff at state factories will have to study the political ideology, which the Communist Party is trying to portray as a new chapter for modern China.
Student protests for changes in gun control laws occurred around the country in the days following the Florida school shooting. Many of the protests were ignited by the impassioned pleas of young Parkland survivors in the hours and days after the shooting. Facebook and Twitter have amplified attendance; Snapchat and Instagram have documented the marches, signs and chants.
Under the rallying cry #NeverAgain, students and staff who survived the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been on a quest for new gun control measures. After attending funerals of the victims, they set aside their grief and boarded three buses to demand better gun control measures and school safety from state lawmakers more than 400 miles away. While they traveled on the buses, Florida lawmakers voted down a motion to even consider a ban during a session that opened with a prayer for the 17 people killed in the shooting. The vote was 36-71.
Disappointed but undeterred, many have given countless interviews pleading with lawmakers on both sides to meet in the middle so that the school shootings stop. Relatives of the Stoneman Douglas victims kept up the pressure in Florida’s capital with emotional testimony during a legislative hearing to discuss passing a bill that would, among other things, raise the age limit to buy long guns from 18 to 21. The bill also would create a program that allows teachers who receive law-enforcement training and are deputized by the local sheriff’s office to carry concealed weapons in the classroom, if also approved by the school district. The school’s superintendent has spoken out firmly against that measure. The House Appropriations Committee’s 23-6 vote in favor of the bill followed more than four hours of emotional discussion with the parents of some of the 17 killed, and nearly two weeks of activism by students on social media and in televised debates.
During a listening session held by President Trump a week after the shooting, Andrew Pollack, a parent whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, brought up a valid point as he was also overwhelmed with emotion and anger as he stood next to his sons to address the president. “We need to come together as a country and work on what’s important, and that’s protecting our children in the schools. That’s the only thing that matters right now,” he said. “We protect airports, we protect concerts, stadiums, embassies, the Department of Education that I walked in today, that has a security guard in the elevator. How do you think that makes me feel?” “I’m very angry that this happened because it keeps happening. 9/11 happened once and they fixed everything. How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here with this administration and me. I’m not going to sleep until it’s fixed. And Mr. President, we’re going to fix it.” “It’s enough! Let’s get together, work with the president and fix the schools. That’s it. No other discussions. Security, whatever we have to do.”
From South Florida to Bellingham, Wash., local walkouts were proliferating. A national event has been planned for March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, when students and teachers plan to leave class for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim. On March 24, students will protest in Washington at an event organized by March for Our Lives, the group formed by Parkland survivors, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from celebrities. Another mass walkout is scheduled for April 20, when students will commemorate the 19th year since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
Haiti has suspended the British charity Oxfam as it investigates reports that it tried to cover up sex crimes by senior aid workers in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake. An internal Oxfam review concluded in 2011 that senior aid workers hired prostitutes at Oxfam properties in Haiti and then tried to cover it up. Prostitution is illegal in Haiti, but Oxfam refused to report the activity of its aid workers to Haitian police. Oxfam’s internal report also includes claims that three Oxfam staff members physically threatened a witness during the internal investigation.
The report confirms that Roland van Hauwermeiren, the country director in the Caribbean nation for Oxfam’s Great Britain arm, admitted to hiring prostitutes to his official residence. A news report revealed there had been at least one “Caligula orgy” with women dressed in Oxfam T-shirts. No public disclosures were made of the alleged abuse at the time, though the 2011 report shows that the director and six others were dismissed or resigned for misconduct, including three who did so because of “use of prostitutes.” All of the names in the document were redacted besides van Hauwermeiren. Oxfam said in a statement that the full un-redacted reports will be given to the Haitian government. The Charity Commission has said it was not told the full story when Oxfam first looked into the allegations in 2011.
The scandal around van Hauwermeiren, who also faced allegations about work in Chad in 2006 where he presided over an office with employees accused of hiring prostitutes. The history of alleged abuse, and the fact that he was allowed to go on to work for another charity in Bangladesh, prompted Oxfam to call for an independent review of itself by women’s rights groups.
An internal investigation by the charity into sexual exploitation, the downloading of pornography, bullying and intimidation is claimed to have found children may have been exploited by employees. The report also clarifies that the charity was aware of concerns about the conduct of two of men at the center of the Haiti allegations when they previously worked in Chad.
Oxfam has been hit with dozens more misconduct allegations involving a slew of countries, in the days since The Times of London revealed Oxfam tried to cover up the sex crimes by senior aid workers in Haiti. The charity now faces worries about funding from the British government and its ability to fundraise while multiple prominent ambassadors for the group have resigned.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed suit against chemical giant DuPont, charging the company with illegally dumping a toxic chemical from its Washington Works plant into the Ohio River for decades. The Ohio lawsuit comes as the Environmental Protection Agency ordered DuPont to test water near its Washington Works plant for another chemical, GenX—which was billed as a replacement for C8 but which is linked to many of the same health problems.
The suit charges DuPont released the chemical, which is used in Teflon coating, even though it knew of the dangers of PFOA, also known as C8, which has been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol and low birth weight in babies. Studies have found Tristate residents have a higher level of the chemical in their bodies, likely a result of industrial discharge into the Ohio River.
“Human Exposure to PFOA — even at very low levels — has been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and low birth weight, high cholesterol and ulcerative colitis,” the lawsuit says. PFOA is known to be toxic and carcinogenic in animals and is resistant to typical environmental degradation processes. The lawsuit alleges DuPont negligently caused environmental contamination and created a public nuisance by allowing PFOA to enter air, soil and water in Ohio. “DuPont’s conscious disregard for the right of Ohio and the safety of its citizens has caused and continues to cause substantial harm to Ohio, and the property and natural resources it holds in a trust for its citizens and will likely cause substantial harm in the future,” the lawsuit says.
DuPont has been hit with a number of lawsuits in recent years after many have said the company released toxins into the environment. The company now faces 3,500 lawsuits filed in federal court by Mid-Ohio Valley residents in a 185-square-mile area around Parkersburg, West Virginia. An Ohio man who developed cancer was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages against DuPont in 2016.
A New Jersey city filed a $1.1 billion lawsuit against DuPont, alleging the company spun off the Chambers Works facility to avoid environmental cleanup costs. It alleges the Chambers Works site, where Teflon has been manufactured since 1938, is polluted because of a toxic chemical used in the product’s manufacturing. The lawsuit claimed DuPont dumped over 100 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the water and ground since the plant opened in 1892. Toxins from these products, which generated billions of dollars in sales for DuPont, impacted residents as far as two miles away from the plant. Hazardous substances including mercury, benzene and ethyl chloride were all used at the plant. DuPont settled that class action suit for $8.3 million.
Alaskans were left panicked after they were jolted awake overnight Tuesday by a powerful earthquake in the Gulf of Alaska – then by sirens that warned of a possible tsunami. A magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck at 12:32 a.m. off the Alaska coast. The quake itself was far enough away not to cause major damage but occurred in an area that triggered a potential tsunami.
Evacuation sirens blared “Attention, a tsunami warning has been issued for this area,” officials warned over loudspeakers. “The National Weather Service’s Tsunami Warning Center has advised that widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible.” That warning covered not only most of coastal Alaska, but also the entire coast of British Columbia. Tsunami watches were posted from Washington state to California — and even Hawaii and as far away as American Samoa.
Within minutes, the roads in the seaside town of Kodiak, Alaska, were filled cars heading to higher ground. Residents of Kodiak were asked by police to move at least 100 feet above ground as a precaution. For two hours, many braced for the worst but by 4 a.m. — less than four hours after the quake hit — all warnings were lifted. The only tsunami was an 8-inch wave in Kodiak.
Around 4 a.m. local time, officials canceled tsunami warnings for coastal areas of South Alaska, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. Warnings were also called off for Hawaii and the Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and California coasts. Tsunami warnings were later canceled in other parts of South Alaska and the Alaska Peninsula, specifically the coastal areas from Hinchinbrook Island, about 90 miles east of Seward, to Chignik, Alaska.
The US Geological Survey (USGA) said the earthquake was located in an area south of where the Pacific tectonic plate converges with the North America plate and at a depth of about 12 miles. Research geophysicist for USGA Will Yeck said the quake occurred on a fault within the Pacific plate that had not been previously charted and the area that ruptured is approximately 140-by-30 miles. Yeck said there have been at least 30 aftershocks from the initial quake, the largest being a magnitude 5.3.
From Indonesia, to Japan, to Hawaii and Alaska, the entire region sits in what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – an extremely volatile chain of active volcanoes, tectonic plates and earthquake zones. Most of the world’s earthquakes happen in this region. That’s the same spot which saw the second largest earthquake ever recorded: A 9.2 magnitude in March 1964 that caused widespread destruction and death in Alaska. That earthquake occurred over an area measuring 155 miles wide by 500 miles long. The epicenter was about 12 miles north of Prince William Sound, and 75 miles from Anchorage, the state’s largest city.
A school shooting in Kentucky at Marshall County High School on Tuesday morning, left 18 students injured and two dead. Prosecutors say the suspect, a 15 year old student at the school, opened fire in the common area. The victims are Bailey Nicole Holt and Preston Ryan Cope, both 15 years old. Another 14 victims were shot, while four others were injured as they tried to flee the chaotic scene. Five students are still hospitalized in critical condition. All of the victims were aged between 14 and 18.
The suspected shooter barged into the school’s common area around 8 a.m., unleashing a hail of bullets that killed Bailey Nicole Holt and Preston Ryan Cope. Secret Holt, who received a phone call from her daughter before she died, said, “All I could hear was voices and chaos in the background and she couldn’t say anything.” “I called her name over and over and she never responded, so we rushed to the high school.” After the shooting, buses took surviving students to another school, where parents waited. Secret and Jasen Holt waited for their daughter Bailey to walk off one of the buses but she never did. They were later told Bailey Holt died at the scene.
Brian Cope said he knew his son Preston was shot when he arrived at the school. He peered into an ambulance and saw the socks he laid out for his son the night before. Preston Cope, who was shot in the head and hand was airlifted to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center, died during the flight en route to the hospital.
Gage Smock, Bailey’s boyfriend- was also shot in the head but is in stable condition. His father, Gary Wayne Smock, fought back tears as he told reporters that he’s been able to speak with his son but there’s no word from doctors on when the boy will be released from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. No other victims have been identified to the media so far.
The suspect appeared to fire his handgun at random, prosecutors said. Students tried to break down fences and gates to escape the building as shots rang out. Authorities have not identified the shooter because he is a juvenile but he has been identified as Gabe Parker, the son of an online newspaper editor. When Parker’s mother, Mary Garrison Minyard, heard gunfire had broken out at school, she rushed to the scene only to learn the suspected shooter was her own son. The suspect appeared in front of a judge at the Marshall County Judicial Center in Benton, less than five miles from the crime scene. He has been charged with two counts of murder and 12 counts of first-degree assault, according to Marshall County assistant attorney Jason Darnall, who is prosecuting the case. Darnall told reporters that his office would move to have the 15-year-old tried as an adult.
A joint visitation for Preston Ryan Cope, 15 and Bailey Nicole Holt, also 15, will be held 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Reed Conder Memorial Gymnasium at Marshall County High School.
Baltimore parents, teachers and students are protesting frigid conditions at public schools, with schoolchildren left shivering in classrooms and temperatures barely rising above freezing. Photos shared widely on social media show children bundled in winter parkas seated on a classroom floor; a high school classroom and a gymnasium left badly damaged after they were flooded by burst pipes; and a thermometer measuring one classroom’s temperature at 42 degrees.
In a letter sent to families, students and staff members on January 2nd, they were told that workers had visited the buildings over the winter break to try to ensure they were ready and that principals are combining classes if one room is colder than another. School uniform rules had been lifted so students could choose warmer outfits.
On January 3rd, the Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English sent a letter to Sonja Brookins Santelises, the chief executive officer of Baltimore City Public Schools. The letter was also published in The Baltimore Sun. The letter condemned the conditions as “unfair” and “inhumane” and called on officials to close schools for the rest of the week. According to the letter, students and teachers have endured dangerously low temperatures in buildings that are struggling to operate with bursting boilers and drafty windows. Ms. English wrote “I implore that you close schools in the District until your facilities crew has had time to properly assess and fix the heating issues within the affected schools in Baltimore City.
That day, as temperatures dipped in the low 20’s, four schools were closed and three released their students early because of the heating issues in their buildings. As blizzard conditions raged along the East Coast on January 4th, the closings extended to all Baltimore city schools, as well as those in other major cities including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.
After receiving the letter, Santelises published a Facebook Live presentation where she said that as some schools are fixed, others might encounter problems elsewhere in the district, making a request to shut down all the schools an “overly simplistic” measure. “I don’t knee-jerk close anything down just because I have one perspective,” she said. She said that other factors went into the decision to keep schools open despite frigid classroom temps such as considering the impact on students’ access to hot school meals and adult supervision while parents work. Dr. Santelises added “About 60 schools have been affected over the winter break and this week by heating problems, representing about one-third of the schools in the system. Maintenance workers have been sent to schools as the district gets complaints about them and as some fixes are made at some schools, problems arise at others as workers try to keep ahead of the problems. “It is a juggle, and I don’t think we get it perfect every time,” she added.
State Senator Bill Ferguson—a former Baltimore public school teacher—said the city’s schools requested funds for heating and air conditioning but were denied due to “fiscal constraints.” Ferguson blasted Republican Governor Bill Hogan on twitter- writing, “Governor Hogan suggests enough money has gone to Baltimore City, additional resources not needed.”
North Korea has called the most recent U.N. Security Council sanctions “an act of war” and warns that the US and other nations which supported the strict measures will pay a heavy price. The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted US-drafted sanctions against North Korea in response to their last intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test which experts have said are the most advanced yet. The new sanctions will strangle North Korea’s energy supplies and tighten restrictions on smuggling. Then, just days after the new sanctions were imposed; the United States imposed two additional sanctions on two North Korean officials. The new U.S. Treasury sanctions will freeze all U.S. assets of two North Korean officials accused of being behind the missile program.
North Korea’s foreign ministry lashed out against the latest sanctions, saying the US is intimidated by the nation’s nuclear power. “The United States, completely terrified at our accomplishment, is getting more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country,” the statement said. North Korea warned that if the United States “wishes to live safely, it must abandon its hostile policy” toward North Korea. “We define this ‘sanctions resolution’ rigged up by the US and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our Republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula,” the statement said.
Korea foreign ministry described the new resolution as a “complete economic blockade” and threatened nations that helped pass it. “Those countries that raised their hands in favor of this ‘sanctions resolution’ shall be held completely responsible for all the consequences to be caused by the ‘resolution’ and we will make sure for ever and ever that they pay heavy price for what they have done,” the statement said.
The sanctions cut exports of gasoline, diesel and other refined oil products by a total of 89%. It also bans the export of industrial equipment, machinery, transportation vehicles and industrial metals to North Korea, and requires countries currently hosting North Korean migrant workers to repatriate them within 24 months. According to the UN, around 100,000 North Koreans work overseas and most of their wages are sent back home, bringing an estimated $500 million each year for Kim Jong Un’s regime. The new UN resolution also prohibits countries from smuggling North Korean coal and other prohibited commodities by sea and authorizes member states to inspect, seize and impound any vessels in their territorial waters found to be transporting prohibited items. This month, Washington asked the UN to ban 10 ships from entering ports across the world over alleged dealings with North Korea.
Three months ago, the UN passed a US-drafted resolution that at the time was described by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley as “by far the strongest measures ever imposed on North Korea.” The previous measures, adopted in September, had been designed to accomplish six major goals: cap North Korea’s oil imports, ban textile exports, end additional overseas laborer contracts, suppress smuggling efforts, stop joint ventures with other nations and sanction designated North Korean government entities.
Twelve people were killed and four critically injured, after a fire broke out in an apartment building in the Bronx borough of New York City. Dozens of other victims were rescued with injuries but were expected to recover. The fast moving fire sent residents running into the freezing temperatures for safety just before 7pm on Thursday.
The fire was started by a three year old boy who had been playing with the burners on the stove in a first floor apartment. The boy’s screams alerted his mother that a fire had erupted. The mother fled the burning apartment with the boy and his 2-year-old sibling, leaving the apartment door open. That fatal mistake allowed the fire to spread quickly through the 5 story building-trapping families on the floors above.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the apartment’s stairway acted “like a chimney” as the fire burst from the apartment, feeding the flames and allowing them to spread throughout the building. The smoke from the fire filled the stairway and halls, quickly cutting off visibility to those trapped inside. The 26-unit apartment building was required to have self-closing doors, which swing shut on their own to keep fires from spreading, city Housing Preservation and Development Department spokesman Matthew Creegan said. Investigators will look at whether the door to the apartment was defective or if an obstruction prevented it from closing, he said.
Killed in the blaze were Maria Batiz, 58; her 8 -month-old grand-daughter Amora Batiz; Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48; Justice Opoku, 54; Solomon Donkor, 49; William Donkor; Hannah Donkor, 17; Shantay Young, 19; Karen Francis, 37; Kylie Francis, 2; Charmela Francis, 7 and Emmanuel Mensah, 28. Mensah, has been hailed a hero for heading back into the fire to save others. Private Mensah, had been home from Army duty for the holiday after finishing basic training in Georgia. His father said he had been awarded a medal for marksmanship and was planning to join the military police. He was scheduled to head to Virginia and from there to battlefields unknown. His sister wept as she said he always put others before himself.
Mensah, lived in Apartment 11, on the 3rd floor with a friend of his father’s who was at home with his wife and four children when the fire broke out. After Mensah got that family to safety, he returned and pulled out four more people. He was last seen heading back into the fire to help others. When he couldn’t be found, family members said they were hoping he was among those injured in the fire. His remains were found in Apartment 15 on the 4th floor.
One family, the Stewarts, lost four family members during the deadly blaze. Karen Stewart-Francis, Kylie Francis, Charmela Francis, and their cousin Shawntay Young were killed. In all, 13 family members — cousins, uncles, aunts – all lived in the building after emigrating from Jamaica between 1980-2004 and deciding to stay close. Another family member, Holt Francis, emerged alive from the deadly mix of smoke and flames, but was put into a medically induced coma with a dire prognosis. Family members say he’s a fighter and the family wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. His wife Karen was killed in the blaze.
Two men have been arrested in the grisly murders of a same-sex couple and two children in Troy, New York. James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 24 have been charged with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder. The victims were 36-year-old Shanta Myers, her partner 22-year-old Brandi Mell and Myers’ two children, Jeremiah, 11, and Shanise, five. Myers’ oldest son, 15-year-old Isaiah, was not home at the time of the murders.
Their bodies were discovered in their basement apartment around noon on Dec. 26th by the property manager while doing a well-being check. According to family members, the Myers family moved in with Brandi Mells following an eviction earlier this year but because of apartment’s small size, Isaiah stayed with a relative.
Mells’ cousin, Sharonda Bennett said she last spoke to Brandi on Dec. 19 to discussed holiday plans The couple were deciding between celebrating in Troy or in Paterson, New Jersey, where the Mells family lives, she said. She said that the couple became unreachable around 11 p.m. on Dec. 21st, after Mell’s mother couldn’t reach her by phone and no one answered at the apartment. Bennett said her calls to Brandi went straight to voicemail and she assumed maybe they had decided to spend Christmas in New Jersey.
Two days later, Isaiah stopped by to deliver Christmas presents to his siblings but no one answered the door, which was locked. He left for a basketball tournament, thinking they’d stepped out for a bit. After still not being able to reach them the day after Christmas, Mells’ mom called the property manager and asked the manager to see if her daughter was home. The manager found the bodies and immediately called cops.
The motives of these murders have not been revealed but Troy Police Chief James Tedesco said these victims were targeted and confirmed that the victims were killed late in the evening of Dec 21st. He called the slayings the worst “savagery” he’d ever seen in his 42-year career. Police did not detail how they caught the suspects, and a family member of one of the victims said that she had never heard of the men and knew no reason why the women and children would be targeted.
Police have said Justin Mann was “acquainted” with Brandi Mells. He said that both suspects have a criminal history and that Justin Mann was on parole. Department of Corrections records show Mann was released on parole in June 2017 after serving time for a first-degree robbery conviction in 2014. Both men, from nearby Schenectady, were apprehended without incident Friday night and arraigned Saturday. Both are being held without bail in the Rensselaer County Jail with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 4th.