The News Memo
Let's dive in to what you need to know this week:
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Sri Lanka: Threats Linger After Easter Bombings Leave Hundreds Dead
On Easter Sunday, a group of nine suicide bombers detonated explosives simultaneously at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka (video footage shows aftermath: some content may be disturbing). Two of the churches were Catholic churches, the other evangelical. The bombs were extremely strong, some blowing of the roof tiles of the churches.
The results of the bombing were devastating:
Religious tensions are very high in Sri Lanka, partly owing to the demographic makeup of the country:
Sri Lanka Received Warnings Before Attacks Occurred
Reports emerged after the bombings that Sri Lankan officials had been warned about potential attacks weeks in advance. Indian intelligence officials had warned the Sri Lankan government of the Islamic group's whereabouts and plans, and officials gave contact information for the group’s leader.
The warning was received as early as April 4th that the group was planning attacks on Catholic churches, but the information was never relayed to any of the churches.
Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, has received tremendous criticism for not responding to the intelligence reports before the attacks, as some of the grief at funerals this week turned to anger over the government’s lack of action. Some have pointed to the government's intense in-fighting, especially between the prime minister and the president as a possible reason why no preemptive action was taken. On Wed (Apr 24), President Sirisena asked two top security officials to resign amidst the fallout.
What we know about the attackers
Jama'ath emerged around 2016, when they split off from a more well-known Islamic group in Sri Lanka. ISIS has stepped up its call in recent weeks for followers to conduct attacks in retaliation of the attack on Muslim worshippers in New Zealand.
What we know about the victims
Most of the victims in the attack were Sri Lankans, but there were foreigners killed, including at least 4 American citizens, one of whom was a 5th grade girl.
Threat of more attacks remain
Supreme Court Divided on Census Citizenship Question
Every 10 years there is a national census in the U.S. (decennial), mandated by the Constitution (read section here) to calculate the population of the U.S. This is used to determine the number of House of Representatives each state receives, as well as allocating funding for public services (health, education, etc).
The issue currently in dispute is whether a citizenship question (Is this person a citizen of the United States?) can be included in the census. Some in favor of the question say it would help better enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires information on the location and numbers of minorities eligible to vote in an area. The question of citizenship has not been used on decennial census since 1950, but it has been asked in smaller censuses since.
For cities with heavy immigrant populations, the citizenship question could undercount the population (reducing the accuracy) and lead to fewer congressional seats and less funding. The debate comes amidst a trend of declining survey response rates, stemming from privacy concerns and changes in how people use the phone and email.
The Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, began discussing implementing the question since 2017. Three federal judges have blocked the order to add the question.
What happened this week
The Supreme Court heard verbal arguments on Tue (Apr 23) regarding the question. The justices’ stances are split:
Justice Elena Kagan questioned Ross’ motive for including the question, considering the evidence from the Bureau research: “I searched the record,” she said, “and I don’t see any reason.”
The U.S. Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, whose office appealed the lower court decisions, responded to the argument that it would reduce response rates: “At the end of the day, if you add any particular question onto the census, you’re always trading off information and accuracy.”
Two primary points of debate are 1) what Ross’ motivation was for including the question, 2) whether the appropriate procedures were followed to add the question (video explaining more). In court documents, it shows that the question was discussed by Ross in its early stages with Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist known for his hardline immigration stance.
What to watch moving forward
A final decision from the Supreme Court is expected in June in order to have the census form ready for 2020.
Joe Biden Launches 2020 Campaign With Video
The former Vice President Joe Biden announced his 2020 presidential bid on Thursday Apr 25, joining a field of 19 other Democratic candidates. At 76 yrs old, it will be his 3rd time running for president.
In his announcement (watch video here), Biden positioned himself as a return to normalcy in the era of Trump. He went after President Trump’s response to the white supremacist attack in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017 saying “We are living in a battle for the soul of this nation.”
Biden vs. Trump Polls
In a hypothetical matchup between President Trump, Joe Biden leads 42% to 34% making him the most likely Democratic candidate (at this time) to beat Trump.
Biden vs. Democratic Candidates
Biden also leads among Democrats, topping 30% nationally in front of Bernie Sanders at 24 and
Can Biden Rally the Progressives?
Although Biden is polling well nationally, he still needs to win over the Democratic base in order to win the primaries. A series of CNN town halls featuring Democratic candidates signaled that Biden may struggle to rally the progressive base of his party.
Bernie Sanders pitched free college, free universal healthcare, and the right for felons (including the Boston Bomber) to vote in prison, while Elizabeth Warren said she would push for a plan to eliminate student loan debt, along with free college tuition.
Although Mr. Biden hasn’t taken any official positions on the campaign trail, his record in public office shows nothing close to the proposals given by his fellow Democratic contenders.
President Trump responded to Biden's announcement tweeting, “Welcome to the race Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign. It will be nasty - you will be dealing with people who truly have some very sick & demented ideas. But if you make it, I will see you at the Starting Gate!”
China Delivering Surveillance Technology to Foreign Countries
China is exporting sophisticated surveillance technology to countries around the world as part of their global infrastructure plan, according to a report by the NYTimes. There are 18 countries that use Chinese-built surveillance systems, including Germany, Ecuador, and Pakistan. In Ecuador, for example, some 4,300 cameras across the country record information which is sent to a control center, where police monitor and zoom-in to catch potential drug deals and muggings. The systems in developing countries are often financed through Chinese government loans.
Many are concerned that the surveillance systems represent a massive threat to privacy. However, in developing countries, the potential tradeoff is between privacy and safety, as crime rates are typically very high.
In China, the surveillance systems are more widespread, as the government collects extensive data by using millions of facial recognition cameras to build registries and keep tabs on its citizens.
A fascinating video from the BBC gives an inside look at what the surveillance systems are like.
There is an underwater mailbox used to store mail. Susami, a small Japanese fishing village, has the world’s deepest mailbox at 10 meters underwater, that receives ~ 1,000 - 1,500 letters every year. People must use water-resistant letters and oil-based ink.
The end. We hoped you enjoyed this week's Memo.
*The News Memo is edited by Madeline Krumel