News roundup: March 8 – March 21
Here are the top stories from March 8 – March 21 from Texas, the United States and around the world.
Minimum Wage – Texas could see the minimum wage rise after lawmakers file almost 10 separate bills in the House of Representatives. Texas currently uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25, but these new bills propose raising it to $10.10, $15, or allowing local governments to choose their own amount.
Mosquitoes – Harris County officials are considering genetically modified mosquitoes to combat the rise in mosquito populations and the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. Oxitec, the British biotech company responsible for developing the genetically modified mosquitoes, has successfully reduced mosquito populations by up to 90 percent in field trials.
Abortion Rights – Democratic State Representative Jessica Farrar introduced HB 4260, or the “Man’s Right to Know Act”, March 10. The bill would fine men $100 for masturbating and would allow doctors to invoke “personal, moralistic, or religious beliefs” in refusing to perform an elective vasectomy or prescribe Viagra. Rep. Farrar hopes her “proposed satirical regulations” will foster communication on women’s rights.
Border Wall – Texas residents have begun receiving notices of land condemnation from the U.S. Department of Justice for President Trump’s proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Yvette Salinas of Los Ebanos received a 21-page document offering $2,900 for 1.2 acres near the Rio Grande and threatened seizure through eminent domain if she refused. Similar action is being taken in west Texas in and near Big Bend National Park, where local politicians are opposed to the 30 foot wall proposal.
Donna Brazile – Donna Brazile, former Democratic National Committee Chair and CNN contributor admits to leaking questions ahead of a debate to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in an article posted to Time. When DNC emails leaked and news broke in Oct. showing Brazile aiding the Clinton campaign, she initially denied the allegations. In her confession, she still denies playing favorites and insists on an independent investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia.
UN Human Rights Council – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has threatened to leave the United Nations Human Rights Council unless the group undergoes “considerable reform.” Tillerson, in a letter to the council, said the United States is skeptical about the inclusion of states with troubled human rights records like China and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. has been butting heads with the council over its treatment of Israel since the council’s inception in 2006.
FBI Testimony – FBI Director James Comey acknowledged March 20 before a House Intelligence Committee that the bureau is investigating potential collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia during the presidential election. Comey also said there was no evidence to support President Trump’s claims that he was wiretapped by the Obama Administration or by British surveillance.
Healthcare – Per an independent analysis by the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the American Health Care Act would cause 14 million more Americans to be left uninsured by 2018 compared to current figures, with another 10 million uninsured by 2026. Health Secretary Tom Price says the White House disagrees with these figures, calling the estimates are “just not believable.” However, an internal White House document released to Politico shows a predicted 26 million people losing coverage over the next decade.
Travel Ban – Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, New York, Minnesota and Massachusetts have all launched legal challenges against President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban. The states argue that the new Executive Order retains much of the same language that caused the first Executive Order to be stalled. The initial lawsuit called the EO unconstitutional and harmful to state businesses and schools, with a dozen other states filing briefs in support of restraining the travel ban.
NASA Funding – President Donald Trump signed legislation March 21 to authorize $19.5 billion in spending to NASA, with the added goal of sending humans to Mars. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla, also supports continued use of the International Space Station through 2024 and the continued use of private sector companies partnering with NASA. Trump will also be re-launching of the National Space Council, with Vice President Pence as chairman.
Norway – Norway has been named the happiest nation in the world as stated by the annual World Happiness Report, an international study conducted in part with coordination from the United Nations. Norway replaced Denmark at the top of the list, which combines social factors, economic data and confidence in government. The United States dropped from 13th to 14th place on the list.
South Korea – South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye was removed from office following impeachment by the country’s parliament. Park was charged with allowing Choi Soon-sil, a close friend, to influence state affairs. South Korea will hold a presidential election sometime in the next 60 days.
Letter Bomb – A letter bomb from Greece detonated at the International Monetary Fund building in Paris, France. The explosion, which injured one unidentified employee on the face and arm, follows one day after police intercepted a bomb mailed to German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Pirates – Somali pirates hijacked a Sri Lankan oil tanker off the coast of Somalia and are demanding ransom. The pirates are holding the eight-member crew hostage. Piracy has dipped since 2012, but this event could mark a resurgence of violence on the Somali coast. Locals along the coastline say some of the violence is due in part to illegal and foreign fishing and special contracts between the local government and the foreign fishing vessels.
On the bright side:
Texas A&M – Texas A&M elected its first openly gay student body president March 20. Bobby Brooks will represent the roughly 66,000 students of Texas A&M. Brooks fought through slurs and public verbal attacks, but holds A&M in high regard, saying, “I couldn’t do this for any other university; Texas A&M has always had my heart, and it always will.” Brooks won the election after his opponent and front runner was disqualified amid three allegations of voter irregularities.
Also published on Medium.