Headlines: October 22, 2019
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:20 — 7.6MB)
William Taylor, the acting US Ambassador to Ukraine testified before House committees on Tuesday as part of the on-going Democrat-led impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Like the other hearings, this one was also held behind closed doors. However what is known publicly is that, like his predecessor Marie Yovanovitch, Taylor was deeply disturbed by the Trump administration’s insistence on withholding US military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure them to obtain incriminating political information on Trump’s perceived political rival Joe Biden. According to text messages that Taylor had sent to other diplomats, he referred to the situation as a, “nightmare scenario,” and, said that it was, “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Taylor had previously served in the role of US Ambassador to Ukraine before retiring and is considered, “an elder statesman,” whose credibility among both parties is strong. According to the New York Times, “Taylor is a potentially damaging witness for Trump, because he appears to have no political or personal incentive to protect the administration. Unlike other State Department witnesses, he has neither his government career nor his personal standing with Trump at stake.”
Meanwhile, President Trump, feeling cornered as a clearer picture of his wrong doing continues to emerge daily, lashed out on Twitter saying, “All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching.” His use of the historically fraught word referring to the racist terror that whites inflicted on black Americans was swiftly condemned by Democrats and even some Republicans. Representative Bobby Rush, a long-time civil rights activist said, “Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you. Delete this tweet.” But some of Trump’s most ardent supporters continued to back the President including Senator Lindsey Graham who said “this is a lynching in every sense.”
Meanwhile President Trump appeared in an interview with his favorite Fox News host Sean Hannity, during which the two turned into an echo chamber with Hannity’s questions similar to Trump’s answers. Trump spent the entire interview lamenting the impeachment with Hannity sympathetically chiming in. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a 4-page fact sheet on Trump’s call to Ukraine’s President Zelensky using Trump’s own words in the call transcript to make the case for why it is clear he was pressuring Zelensky. Pelosi on Monday led Democrats in blocking a vote brought by Republicans to censure House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff. Schiff had parodied Trump’s words to Zelensky in his opening remarks at a hearing after the call transcript was released. Democrats are under pressure to hold open hearings on impeachment and admitted that their timeline to have their inquiry completed by Thanksgiving may not pan out. The New York Times reports that, “after a complicated web of damaging revelations about the president has emerged from private depositions unfolding behind closed doors, Democratic leaders have now begun plotting a full-scale — and probably more time-consuming — effort to lay out their case in a set of high-profile public hearings on Capitol Hill.”
News emerged on Tuesday morning that among the world leaders who influenced Trump on his Ukraine policy was Hungary’s ultraright wing nationalist leader Viktor Orban. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton apparently objected to the meeting but was outvoted by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. According to one report, “Mr. Trump’s conversation with Mr. Orban on May 13 exposed him to a harsh indictment of Ukraine at a time when his personal lawyer was pressing the new government in Kiev to provide damaging information about Democrats. Mr. Trump’s suspicious view of Ukraine set the stage for events that led to the impeachment inquiry against him.”
In other news, the Trump administration has proposed cutting school meals for poor children as a cost-cutting measure. At a savings of $90 million a year the federal government would stop providing free or low-cost meals to school children from low-income families. The Los Angeles Times pointed out that the savings amount to, “two thousandths of a percent of the $4.4-trillion federal budget.” Among other attacks on low-income children, is the news that one million fewer children are enrolled in the federal Medicaid program according to the latest numbers available. One analysis concluded that, “there is growing evidence that administrative changes aimed at fighting fraud and waste — and rising fears of deportation in immigrant communities — are pushing large numbers of children out of the programs, and that many of them are now going without coverage.” Also on healthcare, health insurance premiums for programs through the Affordable Care Act are dropping a few percentage points and more insurers are offering plans. President Trump is taking credit for this trend in spite of the fact that he has relentlessly attacked the “Obamacare” law legally and rhetorically.
The major accounting corporation Ernst and Young is under fire for a program for its staff that promotes antiquated sexist and patriarchal gender stereotypes. The seminar, titled, “Power-Presence-Purpose,” was first held in 2018 has now been canceled after public outrage. The Huffington Post, which first reported the training program revealed that among the advice female executives were given was this: “When women speak, they shouldn’t be shrill. Clothing must flatter, but short skirts are a no-no. After all, ‘sexuality scrambles the mind.’ Women should look healthy and fit, with a “good haircut” and “manicured nails.” The program also contained claims about the differences between men and women’s brains. Ernst and Young has defended the program, saying the details were taken out of context.
In international news, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan met one another hours before a ceasefire between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish fighters was set to expire. Putin and Erdogan are filling the vacuum created by departing US troops after Trump abruptly decided to abandon the US’s long-time Kurdish allies in Northern Syria. Those troops leaving Syria are heading to Iraq but now Iraqi authorities are saying – in contradiction to Defense Secretary Mark Esper – that they do not have permission to remain there.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has failed to form a coalition government weeks after the election, indicating that his role as Prime Minister may finally be coming to an end. Benny Gantz’ whose party won one more seat in the Knesset than Netanyahu’s Likud Party now has 28 days to form a government.
And finally Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to have saved his seat into a second term after elections on Monday. Trudeau’s Liberal Party lost its majority in the House of Commons but won enough seats to form a government with the support of two smaller left-leaning parties. Among those are the NDP, or New Democratic Party, led by the charismatic Jagmeet Singh, the first non-white Canadian to lead a major party in Canada. Among the other winners were the Bloc Québécois, a party promoting Quebec’s independence from Canada, which surprisingly won the third largest number of seats.