In Our Headlines …
The longest government shutdown in the history of the United States ended after a 35day stalemate between President Trump, House Republicans and Democrats, over the former’s insistence on $5.7 billion for a wall along the southern border. Trump announced a deal on Friday, Jan. 25 in the Rose Garden; it passed in both Congressional chambers that night. The wall, which came to symbolize Trump’s demonization of immigrants, was a central campaign promise upon which he has thus far failed to deliver. Simultaneously, Congressional Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi have never been more popular following the blue wave in the House of Representatives this past election season. The partial shutdown deprived nearly a million government workers of pay, thousands of welfare and healthcare and a nation of entities such as Homeland Security and the Departments of Treasury and State. Additionally, experts estimate that the shutdown cost the American economy nearly $11 billion—$3 billion of which will never be recovered (The Washington Post, “Trump signs bill to open the government, ending the longest shutdown in history,” 01.25.2019).
A grand jury under the office of special counsel Robert Mueller indicted former Trump campaign official Roger Stone this past Friday, Jan. 25, in connection with the WikiLeaks publication of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta. According to the indictment report, Stone and two associates served as middlemen between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to obtain material stolen by the Russian government attempting to influence the 2016 Presidential Election. The indictment report spells out Stone’s false and misleading testimonies in 2017 regarding contact he allegedly had with WikiLeaks in August 2016 and the extent of his contact with the organization. Republicans at various levels attempted to distance the President from the Russia investigation by emphasizing the focus on Stone’s false statements to Congress. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded to the news on Friday morning, stating, “The president did nothing wrong … There was no collusion” (NPR, “Roger Stone Indictment Raises More Big Questions About Russia, Trump 2016 Campaign,” 01.26.2019).
Last week, the police arrested four young men in Greece, NY accused of attempting to bomb the Muslim enclave of Islamberg near the Catskill Mountains. The settlement was founded around 1980, mostly by Black Muslim converts from New York City, but conspiracy theorists and Islamophobic groups have propagated a negative portrayal of the area as a den of Jihadists and extremism. These false messages of hate on the internet motivated the arrested individuals to stockpile bombs and firearms with the intention of harming Islamberg. The community has long forged relationships with local law enforcement, state officials and neighboring towns, but it finds itself vulnerable in the age of technology. Major William F. McEvory, the regional State Police commander, corroborated, “They are law-abiding … positive, solid members of the community.” Hussein Adams, one such member whose family has resided in Islamberg for three generations, further commented,“These kids in Greece, they’ve never been to Islamberg … They go on the internet and they’re fed all this fake news and all this misinformation, and they come up with a plan” (The New York Times, “They Created a Muslim Enclave in Upstate N.Y. Then Came the Online Conspiracies,” 01.28.2019).
Around the World …
Officials from the United States and the Taliban agreed to a framework for a deal in which insurgents relinquish the usage of Afghan territories and may serve as a precursor to the total pullout of American troops from Afghanistan, according to Chief Negotiator and U.S. Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad. The Special Representative also stated that concessions from the Taliban would require a ceasefire agreement and direct talks with the Afghan government, with whom the Taliban have long been at odds. In an interview with The New York Times, Khalilzad stated, “We have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement … The Taliban have committed, to our satisfaction, to do what is necessary that would prevent Afghanistan from ever becoming a platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.” The United States, in response to Sept. 11, 2001, first entered Afghanistan to curb Al Qaeda and prevent further attacks against Americans. This is the largest tangible progress made in nine years of negotiations for a peace deal with the Taliban, who are currently conferring with their leadership about holding direct talks with the Afghan government for a cease-fire (The New York Times, “U.S. and Taliban Agree in Principle to Peace Framework, Envoy Says,” 01.28.2019).
Nearly two years after Brits voted to leave the European Union, Brexit is now fast approaching. There are only two weeks to go before UK Prime Minister Theresa May forges a deal—approved by both EU officials and Parliament—that will prevent the U.K. from leaving the EU on March 29 without a transition period or plan. May has survived two no-confidence votes within the past several months. The first was called by her Conservative colleagues at the end of last year, while the second one was recently called by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn following the disastrous defeat of her Brexit package in Parliament. The British economy loses money every day due to foreign investors’ fear of Brexit’s ramifications. The EU is urging May to use the “Irish Backstop,” which ensures there will no longer be a visible border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic following Brexit, as a measure of securing a deal in Parliament. There is also a low likelihood of extending Article 50, which is what triggered the March 29 deadline two years ago upon activation, as EU leaders were concerned that Brexit distracted from other political issues (BBC, “Brexit: High risk of UK crashing out EU negotiator,” 01.28.2019).
Venezuelan Leader Nicolas Maduró began a second term on Jan. 10, as per the results of an internationally denounced election. The nation faces a political crisis as Juan Guaidó, the leader of the National Assembly, declared himself interim president, swore an oath and was soon thereafter recognized as the legitimate leader of Venezuela by the United States. In response, Maduro ordered the arrest of Guaidó and the expulsion of American diplomats. The Lima Group will meet on Feb. 4 in Ottawa to discuss steps to support Guaidó and remove Maduro, and the U.S. envoy to Venezuela is meeting with federal officials to ease tensions. Meanwhile, the Bolivar’s value continues to devalue, dozens are dead and hundreds have been arrested in protests against Maduro (Al Jazeera, “Venezuela in Crisis: All the latest updates,” 01.28.2019).