Headlines: November 13, 2019
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The first day of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry facing President Donald Trump began on Wednesday morning with testimonies from George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, and William Taylor, US Ambassador to Ukraine who was serving as the top diplomat in that country when events unfolded around the President’s withholding of US military aid in exchange for political favors. House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff of California made his opening statements, focusing on Trump’s conduct as well as efforts at obstructing the inquiry. The State Department’s George Kent then gave his opening statements. He was followed by William Taylor, the top US diplomat to Ukraine who revealed an incident that was previously not publicly known.
President Trump meanwhile fired off a series of angry tweets as the hearings began, accusing witnesses of being “NEVER TRUMPERS,” and demanding that people “read the transcript” of his phone call with Ukraine’s President. Meanwhile a new poll found that support for the impeachment inquiry remains steady at about 50% while 41% of Americans oppose it. Progressives, watching the impeachment proceedings, have criticized them for being too narrowly focused on Trump’s conduct in Ukraine and a number of groups including Free Speech for People, Courage Campaign, and the Women’s March marked the first day of public hearings with a document outlining their own articles of impeachment that includes a broader framework for removing the President.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is seen as the main architect of Trump’s Ukraine policy, has remained under the radar given his penchant for making incriminating remarks on live television. But on Monday night he penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal outlining a defense of the President and claiming as a defense that, “out of a five-page transcript Mr. Trump spent only six lines on Joe Biden.” His strategy appears to have backfired however with critics offering counter-examples such as, “Out of all the days he was president, Nixon only spent a handful orchestrating a burglary and cover-up.”
Meanwhile, eclipsed by the impeachment hearing is the news that the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday released its report on Wikileaks and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee email servers in 2016. The committee analyzed data obtained from Facebook and found that Russian hackers tried to publicize details from the hacked emails but it wasn’t until Wikileaks stepped in to publish the emails that the news took off. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has denied that his organization obtained the data dump from Russian hackers.
Speaking of leaked emails, Trump’s White House advisor on immigration, Stephen Miller, has been confirmed as a peddler of white nationalist and supremacist ideas. Miller communicated with the far-right news site Breitbart in the months before the 2016 election and, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch program which analyzed his leaked emails, Miller “promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage.” Hatewatch, found that he focused on a “strikingly narrow” set of issues around race and immigration and that they were, “unable to find any examples of Miller writing sympathetically or even in neutral tones about any person who is nonwhite or foreign-born.” Representative Ilhan Omar who had come under fire earlier this year for calling Miller a “white nationalist,” repeated her claim, vindicated by the leaked emails as proof that her label was justified. She and others have called for his resignation.
Dozens of former state and federal judges have joined the relatives of murder victims in calling on the Justice Department for a moratorium on the federal death penalty. Attorney General William Barr earlier this year lifted a federal death penalty ban and the first executions are set for this December. The letter’s signatories write, “We are chilled by the prospect that people will be killed in the name of our federal government despite serious questions about the fairness and reliability of the system that condemned them.” They add that the death penalty, “exacerbates the trauma of losing a loved one.” Meanwhile the state of Georgia is set to execute a black man named Ray Jefferson Cromartie for a murder conviction. The convict says he is innocent and has been denied the use of DNA testing to prove it.
In climate change news, most parts of the US are being gripped by a serious Arctic cold front that is bringing dead-of-winter weather during the fall. The National Weather Service expects 300 cold weather records to be broken or tied this week. About 30 percent of the entire nation will be blanketed in snow. In Italy, the water-based city of Venice is experiencing its worst flooding in more than 50 years, prompting the city’s mayor to remark, “Venice is on its knees.” And, Australia continues to be on fire with the country’s East Coast experiencing record-breaking bush fires even before the summer season begins.
In foreign policy, President Trump appears to be brushing off the drama of the public impeachment hearings to meet with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump faced pushback for inviting Erdogan to the White House even as his forces had filled the security vacuum in Northern Syria created by withdrawing US forces, and drone footage showed Turkish forces allegedly engaging in war crimes in the area. Turkey has also defied its allies by deporting Islamic State fighters back to their countries of origin as a sort of retaliation against sanctions. On the same day that Trump met Erdogan, the Wall Street Journal reported that Turkey had used, “a Washington law firm to gather information about its critics, including residents of the U.S., who it believed were allied with a political movement that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regards as a central enemy.” Undeterred by any of the negative news on Turkey, President Trump invited Republican Senators to meet Erdogan to “clear the air.”
Israeli forces have been hitting the Gaza strip with a barrage of bombs saying they were targeting locations of the militant group Islamic Jihad. Twenty-four Palestinians have been killed including 3 children. This latest battle began when Israeli forces killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander and his wife in Gaza while they slept. They justified the killings saying that Bahaa Abu el-Atta was responsible for rocket attacks in Israel.
And in Oman, peace talks between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels are taking place, marking a potential end to a devastating war. Finally, in Bolivia, Senator Jeanine Añez Chavez has declared herself President just days after recently reelected President Evo Morales resigned in what he calls a “coup.” Añez’s decision was backed by the nation’s highest court but she faces a tough challenge to cement political power with most of Mr. Morales’s allies remaining in the legislative assembly. Morales is currently in exile in Mexico.