Political Roundup

In national headlines…

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and attorney Michael Cohen thrust the Mueller investigation into the limelight once again this past week. A series of released court filings displayed both lies told by the former officials in spite of cooperation deals and evidence collected by Robert S. Mueller III into activity surrounding the Trump Organization and presidential campaign. Harvard Law professor Alex Whiting stated in regard to the special investigation, “They are uncovering false statement after false statement, because they are able to prove what actually happened.” Likewise, Mueller may use evidence of communications to pressure Cohen into admitting false statements (The Guardian, “‘Mueller knows a lot’: Manafort and Cohen moves put Trump in line of fire,” 12.01.2018).

Donald Trump announced on Saturday, Dec. 1, that he intends to withdraw from the nearly 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, in a move that places pressure on Congress to approve the USMCA trade deal penned earlier this year and intended to serve as an updated version of NAFTA. He promised to do so after signing the deal in Buenos Aires, announcing while aboard Air Force One, “I’ll be terminating [NAFTA] within a relatively short period of time … And so Congress will have a choice of the USMCA or pre-NAFTA, which worked very well.” Analysts view the decision as an attempt to move the new deal along because it is not popular enough on its own accord, but many business groups expressed support for the USMCA agreement because of its new provisions on digital trade and the protection of intellectual property. The only concern cited by House Democrats, who now have the majority, is that the labor and environmental provisions are too weak (Politico, “Trump says he will withdraw from NAFTA, pressuring Congress to approve of new trade deal,” 12.02.2018).

Congress is deadlocked as Donald Trump demands $5 billion in funding for a wall along the Mexican border, and a partial government shutdown on Dec. 7 remains imminent. The odds of this happening have been put off by the death of 41st President George H.W. Bush this past Friday, Nov. 30. Out of respect, Donald Trump declared the day of Bush’s funeral, Dec. 5, a national day of mourning. Nevertheless, House Democrats and an increasing number of House Republicans remain adamant in blocking any bills pushing for more wall funding (The Washington Post, “Congress, Trump consider postponing shutdown deadline until after Bush services,” 12.01.2018).

Around the world…

Following the murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate of Istanbul, Turkish authorities released details of his gruesome death by strangling and dismemberment. A CIA assessment confirmed that the murder was perpetrated by a 15-man hit-squad dispatched by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS). Saudi Arabia repeatedly denied any allegations before acknowledging the culpability of several Saudi nationals close to MBS in the murder; the Saudi Attorney General’s future actions remain unclear. However, recently revealed text messages between MBS and a senior aide, Saud Al-Qahtani, serve as evidence tying the crown prince to the journalist. The CIA released a written document citing at least 11 texts MBS sent to Qahtani immediately before and after the killing, which resulted in the assessment that MBS’ involvement was at “medium-to-high confidence” (The Washington Post, “Saudi crown prince exchanged messages with aide alleged to have overseen Khashoggi killing,” 12.02.2018).

Israeli Police recommended the indictment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on counts of bribery and fraud on Sunday, Dec. 2, for the third time this year. The charges accuse him of trading favors for positive news coverage in a series of corruption cases and hurt his already weak government coalition, which clings to a one-vote majority in the Knesset. He has also been accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in the form of gifts for political favors. Netanyahu is currently at the mercy of the Israeli attorney general’s decision on whether to indict him; however, such a decision is months away, and Netanyahu may be able to secure his political strength before then by winning another election. He recently took over the position of defense minister after the previous place-holder resigned in response to the conflict in Gaza, and he has sought to build an alliance with predominantly Sunni Muslim countries in the region to counter Iranian efforts to establish Shi’ite leaderships in Syria and Lebanon (The New York Times, “Israeli Police Urge Bribery and Fraud Charges Against Netanyahu. Again.” 12.02.2018).

Paris just experienced its most destructive riots since 1968. After hikes in fuel taxes, protestors eponymously named for their yellow jackets, or gilets jaunes, took to the streets in what began as a peaceful protest of hikes in green fuel taxes and ended with the looting of Paris’ wealthiest districts. French President Emmanuel Macron flew back from the G20 summit in Argentina on Sunday, Dec. 2, following the riots and instructed Prime Minister Édouard Phillipe to meet with the leaders of the protestors in an attempt to ease tensions. From Avenue Kléber to the Champs Élysées, splashes of paint, bombed cars and graffiti displaying phrases such as “‘We’ve chopped off heads for less than this” and “Babylon is burning” replaced the city’s elite shoppers. Smaller protests broke out in the name of the gilet jaunes in towns around France and saw clashes between protestors and authorities. A spokesperson for President Macron stated that policing procedures were under revision to uphold order. Early Tuesday morning, French authorities announced the tax’s suspension (The Guardian, “Paris riots: PM to meet protest groups after worst unrest in decade,” 12.02.2018).

In our backyard…

The New York State Assembly is poised to pass four new gun control measures by January, with incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) stating that the conference was likely to support the gun laws. State Senate Republicans have held control of the chamber since 2011 and allowed for the passage of the Safe Act six years earlier. While this law blocks certain “extreme risk” individuals from purchasing firearms at a judge’s discretion, State Senate Republicans have still blocked any gun control bills (Poughkeepsie Journal, “Gun control in New York: Four ways laws could change,” 11.30.2018).

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