Political Roundup

[CW: This column makes multiple mentions of rape and sexual assault.]

In the United States…

After one of the most—if not the most—divisive confirmation hearings in the history of the U.S. Senate, Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice on Saturday, Oct. 6. The vote was split almost entirely along party lines, with 50 voting to confirm and 48 against confirmation. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) released statements on Friday confirming their intentions to vote for Kavanaugh, thus establishing the likelihood of that outcome. Likewise, Jeff Flake (R-AZ) voted “yes” in spite of criticism over the lack of results produced by the FBI investigation for which he and Senate Democrats pushed the previous week. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), another swing vote, voted “present” instead of “no,” as her absent colleague Steve Daines (R-MT) would have voted “yes.” Collins has come under criticism for her nearly 45-minute speech on the Senate floor on the evening of Thursday, Oct. 4. She simultaneously praised the #MeToo movement and called for senators to adopt a “presumption of innocence” in considering Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh dating back to their high school days. Collins further stated, “This outlandish allegation was put forth without any credible supporting evidence and simply parroted public statements of others” (The New York Times, “Read Susan Collins’s Speech Declaring Support for Brett Kavanaugh,” 10.05.2018). Supporters of the #MeToo movement took to Capitol Hill to protest the confirmation, and many more are looking to the midterms and 2020 elections as prime opportunities for voting out the Senators who pushed to suppress Ford’s testimony (The New York Times, “Kavanaugh Is Sworn In After Close Confirmation Vote in Senate,” 10.06.2018) (The Hill, “Avenatti pushes back after Collins blasts client’s allegations in Senate floor speech,” 10.05.2018).

Education is quickly becoming an issue that may impact voters’ support for candidates around the country come November, particularly since President Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education in February 2017. In gubernatorial and congressional races this year, such as those in Georgia and Pennsylvania, education came up as a point of concern, specifically in regard to DeVos’ support of charter schools and systemic weakening of public schools. Democratic educators have long cited low wages and lack of resources as detriments to the quality of public education provided in the United States, and many are now seeking elected office to combat these issues. In Wisconsin, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers justified his candidacy, saying, “I am goddamn sick and tired of [Wisconsin Governor] Scott Walker gutting our public schools, insulting our hard-working educators, and destroying higher education.” Likewise, the Associated Press quoted a Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee spokeswoman saying that Maine’s and Minnesota’s state legislatures may be flipped in favor of the Democrats by teachers running for office (The Boston Globe, “Education—and Betsy DeVos—are issues in key political races this November,” 10.04.2018).

In international news…

The Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize on Oct. 5 to Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege. Murad, a Yazidi woman who was forced into sexual slavery by ISIS as a teenager, now serves as an advocate for survivors of rape by ISIS. Mukwege, a Congolese gynecological surgeon, has spent most of his adult life treating victims of sexual assault in what was once deemed “the rape capital of the world” by the U.N. and opened a hospital supporting survivors of sexual assault. The committee cited the winners’ dedication to fighting the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Murad responded to the prestigious honor in a statement by remembering those who have been killed by ISIS and the 1,300 women and children who remain in captivity. Dr. Mukwege was in the operating room when he heard the news, later saying, “This Nobel prize is a recognition of the suffering and the failure to adequately compensate women who are victims of rape and sexual violence in all countries around the world” (BBC, “Nobel Peace Prize for anti-rape activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege,” 10.05.2018).

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared this past Tuesday, Oct. 2, after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials stated that he was murdered by a hit squad. Khashoggi lived in self-imposed exile for over a year in the United States after spending years writing reports for The Washington Post contesting the policies of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told CNN that he was hopeful Khashoggi could be found and that all video surveillance footages of the consulate’s entrances were being examined. Khashoggi reportedly entered the consulate to sign paperwork required of him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Human Rights Watch called for an investigation into his disappearance, stating, “Khashoggi’s reported kidnapping and even murder in the safe confines of the Saudi consulate is a deliberate strategy to sow fear into every Saudi who has spoken out about the government’s shortcomings” (The Guardian, “Pressure on Saudis after disappearance of dissident in Istanbul,” 10.07.2018).

Brazil is poised to choose their next prime minister in this year’s general elections, which require a winning candidate to receive at least half of the valid ballots. Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain and right-wing nationalist whom critics have likened to a Brazilian Donald Trump, is the favorite to win. His main rival is left-wing candidate and former mayor of São Paulo Fernando Haddad, but as the polls closed on Sunday, Oct. 7, it became increasingly evident that the favor lay with Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party. His popularity rose after he survived a stabbing attack at a campaign rally, after which he lost nearly 40 percent of his blood. Supporters praise Bolsonaro’s tough stance against crime, despite his history of racist, homophobic and misogynistic comments (BBC, “Brazil Election: Long queues as Brazilians vote in divisive poll,” 10.07.2018).

President of Interpol Meng Hongwei formally resigned on Sunday, Oct. 7, after China’s top anti-corruption agency stated that he was under investigation for an unspecified crime. Meng was elected to the presidency of Interpol in 2016, a position he was expected to hold until 2020. Meng disappeared in late September of this year and was reported as missing to French authorities by his wife Grace, who stated that he sent her a knife emoji before his disappearance. It is unclear whether he resigned under duress, but either way, the irony of possible corruption charges against the man assigned the role of aiding President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign is apparent. On Sunday, Chinese authorities confirmed that they were holding Meng (The Washington Post, “Interpol president who vanished in China has resigned,” 10.07.2018).

In our backyard…

Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, the Republican gubernatorial candidate campaigning against Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo, was recently filmed wearing a pin of the cartoon character Underdog during an interview. Analysts view the pin as symbolic of Molinaro’s perceived role in the race, seeing as the Yonkers native seeks to win over Westchester and Dutchess Counties in the Cuomo-friendly Hudson Valley. The last Republican to upset a sitting Democratic governor was George Pataki in 1994, who won against Cuomo. However, there are currently 1.5 million more Democrats currently registered and 180,000 fewer Republicans than in 1994, and Cuomo has proven his popularity with a landslide victory against Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primaries. Nevertheless, Molinaro seeks to draw votes from Long Island and other New York City suburbs (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “NY governor’s race: Marc Molinaro’s Trump dilemma in the Hudson Valley,” 10.05.2018).

Dutchess County Legislator Ken Roman resigned on Tuesday, Oct. 2, in a move that will leave a vacancy on the Poughkeepsie Town Board. Roman will instead serve as deputy commissioner of the Dutchess County Department of Emergency Response. The Town Board will now select a replacement for his position among applicants within District 5 of Poughkeepsie, and a confirmation vote will be held during the Oct. 17 Town Board meeting (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Dutchess Legislator Ken Roman resigns; Poughkeepsie town board accepting applications,” 10.05.2018).

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