The election is about two weeks away, but millions of American aren’t waiting for Election Day to cast their vote.
More than 4 million people, committed to democracy, already cast their vote early via absentee and mail-in ballots weeks ahead of Nov. 8, according to the Pew Research Center. At this rate, as many as 50 million people could vote early this year, meaning this election could draw the largest early-voting turnout in history.
After all, in the last week, we heard of a firebombed GOP office in North Carolina, some botched Spanish in the final presidential debate, and more emails. Apparently, it’s “pitchfork and torches time in America.”
So, let’s pivot and take a look at several domestic and international stories that have nothing to do with either presidential candidate.
1. Tensions mount over pipeline construction at Standing Rock site
Back in September, William Brangham visited the Standing Rock Reservation, where more than 100 Native American tribes gathered to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Clashes between police and protesters against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline grew more tense over the weekend. More than 80 people were arrested after a group of about 300 tribal members and activists gathered at a private construction site of the uncompleted crude oil pipeline.
Protesters, led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, have repeatedly aired their concerns on the 1,200-mile pipeline and its proximity to the Missouri River, the reservation’s main water supply. Beyond the environmental concerns, the tribe has said the government didn’t properly consult with them about the project.
On Facebook, the sheriff’s office released a statement saying Friday’s arrests illustrated that the protest against the pipeline wasn’t “peaceful or lawful.” Officers reportedly used pepper spray on some activists when they attempted to break through a police line. The standoff lasted five hours.
A statement on the Red Warrior Camp’s Facebook page said more than 140 people were arrested, adding that a peaceful procession of hundreds was “peaceful and prayerful despite [the sheriff’s] allegations of violence and lawlessness.”
More than 220 people have been arrested since protests began in August, the Associated Press reported.
Why it’s important
Jenni Monet, who has been covering the ongoing protests, told NewsHour Weekend that the “intensity here has actually increased.”
“You now see a more largess response from some of the law enforcement here, but also law enforcement that has now been backed by reinforcements from other departments from outlying states … who are sending their sheriff’s deputies to support the Morton County Sheriff’s response to the occupiers here,” Monet said.
In the interview below, Monet also talked about how lead organizers plan to ride out a North Dakota winter.
Meanwhile, organizers also moved an encampment to Cannonball Ranch, which is Dakota Access property, The Bismarck Tribune reported. In a statement, a camp coordinator claimed eminent domain on the land. The sheriff’s office said the camp’s relocation was illegal.
According to the Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of oil a day. On its website, the company said the pipeline was a safer, cost-effective and “environmentally responsible” way to move the oil across four states, while reducing reliance of rail and truck transportation.
2. The combat mission to retake Mosul enters second week
Iraqi forces and their allies opened an offensive last week to wrest the city of Mosul from Islamic State forces. While the Iraqi commander issued a confident assessment, balancing the various factions taking part in the fight is a complicated matter. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports and Jeffrey Brown speaks with former U.S. ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey. Video by PBS NewsHour
As Iraq fights to reclaim Mosul, the country’s second largest city, from the Islamic State, there have been dual narratives about how the battle unfolded in the first week, NPR reported.
“They’re always more optimistic in Washington. And this is no different,” Tom Bowman said of the Pentagon’s framing of the campaign. “But, clearly, privately, they’re very worried about all sort of things. The Peshmerga and the Iraqis are complaining about not enough air strikes,” he added.
Alice Fordham, who’s been reporting from the front lines, said there are also urgent concerns over chemical weapons used by ISIS.
“Yes, there are reports that ISIS had bomb-making factories in Mosul for some time,” Fordham said. “But what’s happened is that al-Mishraq plant, it’s called, part of that has been set alight by ISIS as a kind of giant chemical weapon that is spreading over a large area, including over where American, Western advisers are based, as well as Iraqi forces.”
Why it’s important
If ISIS loses Mosul, the militant group will be pushed back to its headquarters in Raqqa, Syria, “and that could spell the end of ISIS,” James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told the NewsHour.
Gen. David Petraeus, former commander of the Multi-National Force Iraq, also warned of larger considerations in the aftermath, should Kurdish fighters successfully force ISIS out of Mosul. A mixture of ethnicities and religions, who are not always in agreement, will be vying for a role in governance, Petraeus warned.[Watch Video]
The aftermath of the fight to retake Mosul could devolve into a humanitarian crisis. John Irvine of Independent Television News reports and Jeffrey Brown talks to David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, about what the U.N. has done to prepare for the aftermath and the upcoming task of rebuilding the city. Video by PBS NewsHour
Meanwhile, the U.N. warned of growing humanitarian concerns, saying that as many as a million residents could be displaced in the long-planned campaign. NewsHour’s Larisa Epatko covered the story of the residents caught in the crossfire.
3. 10 years ago, a FBI memo warned of white supremacists in law enforcement. What has happened since then?
In 2006, the FBI released a bulletin warning that white supremacists could attempt to infiltrate U.S. law enforcement.
Although the agency has redacted large portions of the document, the memo still specifies that the presence of hate groups “among law enforcement personnel is a concern due to access they may possess to restricted areas vulnerable to sabotage and to elected officials or protected persons, whom they could see as potential targets for violence.”
Why it’s important
FBI Director James Comey has said the agency’s working on a database that’ll track police use of deadly force. He said it’ll be available within two years.
But, as Race Matters reporter Kenya Downs pointed out, this 10-year-old memo demonstrates that “even if there aren’t hard statistics, the problem of racial bias among police isn’t new.” Downs goes through the several incidents since the report’s release where white supremacists have been identified in police departments in Florida, North Carolina, among other states.
Samuel Jones, a professor at the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago, told the NewsHour that the FBI and law enforcement agencies on the state and local level didn’t have sufficient vetting procedures in place to investigate possible links to hate groups within their ranks. That task has largely been left to citizens and organizations like the Southern Law Center, which documents the many hate groups operating in the U.S.
4. The U.S. prison strike you haven’t heard about
Back in September, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, IWOC, announced a “nationally coordinated prisoner workstoppage against prison slavery.”
The strike coincided with the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising in 1971, when thousands of inmates rioted over poor living conditions. As described in Heather Ann Thompson’s book, “Blood in the Water,” the prison didn’t adequately feed its population because it only spent 63 cents per prisoner per day, while the nearly all-white staff racially discriminated the nonwhite prisoners.
Prisoners have reached out to allies and journalists on contraband cell phones to provide updates. Several prisons have denied or kept mum on reports of strikes in their facilities.
Why it’s important
The Guardian noted that it’s been difficult to discern how many prisons across the country have been participating in the strike because access to prisoners can be restrictive, adding that wardens could “put their facilities on lockdown to forestall the action completely.”
The Human Rights Defense Center estimated that about 24,000 inmates pledged to the strike, while the IWOC placed that number to more than 70,000, The Guardian reported.
Weeks after the strike first began, the Justice Department announced a statewide investigation into the living conditions in Alabama’s prisons.
Thompson told The Atlantic that similar conditions could be found in today’s prison system, adding that there’s a “very ironic situation” decades later.
“On the one hand, because of lies told after Attica we have horrendous prison conditions,” she said. “Also because of Attica, we have prisoners who believe that if they stand together and if they speak up they might still find some measure of justice in this system, that they will perhaps humanize the conditions where they’re locked up.”
A second week into the strike, Ben Turk of the IWOC told The Intercept that the “strike has been pulled off, but we’re not quite breaking through to getting mainstream media,” noting a lack of traction on social media.
Last week, an inmate in South Carolina told The Guardian that he considered the strike a success.
“It allowed us to tie into other prisoner groups, link up more, know what we’re capable of, what would work better next time,” he said.
5. William Shakespeare will now have to share the limelight with a known rival.
A great deal of mystery — and conspiracy theories — have followed the famous bard for years, centuries even, including whether he was the sole author of his works.
Now, an international team of 23 academics released research arguing that Shakespeare was more collaborative than previously thought. As many as 17 of his works are believed to include writing from other playwrights, The Guardian reported.
Why it’s important
The New Oxford Shakespeare edition plans to credit Shakespeare rival Christopher Marlowe as a co-author on the three “Henry VI” plays. Latest text analysis appeared to show that Marlowe wrote most of Part 1, while Shakespeare is credited for the lion’s share of Part 3. Lead authorship for Part 2 was left undetermined.
The new research also debunks the theory that Marlowe and Shakespeare were the same person.
Gary Taylor, one of the five researchers for the new volume, told The New York Times that this is the first time a major edition of the Shakespeare’s works will mention that the playwright had help from his colleagues.
“No one has had the confidence to put the name actually on the title page,” Taylor said. “Which is perfectly reasonable because the only reason that we can do it now is because Shakespeare has entered the world of big data.”
Or, maybe, as Julie Newton noted in her letter to the editor to the Times in 2011, “The simple answer to the question ‘Who wrote Shakespeare’s plays?’ is: Who cares? A monkey could have written them for all I care.”
“Let’s be thankful the works exists, and move on,” she added.
Indeed, let’s follow one of my favorite Shakespeare stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”
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