Headlines: October 28, 2019
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President Donald Trump on Sunday gave a televised address and triumphantly announced the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a man considered to be the leader of the notorious terrorist organization called the Islamic State or ISIS. Al Baghdadi was reportedly cornered by US forces while hiding in a compound in Syria in a raid that took years of planning. Associated Press reported that, “The stout, bearded militant leader wore a suicide vest and dragged along three children as he fled from the American troops.” He then blew himself and the children up. There have been previous reports of Al Baghdadi’s death that were revealed to be false but, as per AP, this time, “Lab technicians conducted an onsite DNA test to make sure and within 15 minutes of his death, positively identified the target.”
Trump’s announcement drew instant comparisons to President Barack Obama’s announcement of the assassination of Osama bin Laden as he used denigrating terms to describe the killing in contrast to Obama’s more measured tone. The New York Times summarized how, “He repeated the word ‘whimpering’ six times and made a point of repeatedly portraying Mr. al-Baghdadi as ‘sick and depraved’ and his followers as ‘losers’ and ‘frightened puppies.’” Meanwhile House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released a statement on Sunday evening saying that, “The House must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the administration’s overall strategy in the region.” When asked by reporters if he had informed Pelosi Trump admitted, “No, I didn’t. I didn’t do that. I wanted to make sure this kept secret. I don’t want to have men lost, and women. I don’t want to have people lost.” He gave no evidence for why he thought the House Speaker would leak details to the press.
Details have also emerged that Trump knew of the US military’s planned raid to kill Al Baghdadi when he decided unexpectedly to pull US troops back from Northern Syria some weeks ago. His decision reportedly complicated the planning of the raid and forced military strategists to move faster and take greater risks. The New York Times noted that, “The president cast the death of the ISIS leader as validation of his disengagement strategy. But it required intelligence agencies and allies he has spurned.” Trump described the video of Al Baghdadi’s killing akin to “watching a movie,” and announced on Monday that he might authorize the release of parts of it to the public. And Syrian Kurdish Forces have announced that just after Al Baghdadi’s killing, they conducted a joint raid with US forces and killed the ISIS leader’s top aide and possible successor, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir.
In news from the impeachment inquiry, House committees overseeing the probe of how Trump improperly used US military aid to Ukraine to extract political campaign information, have scheduled several depositions of current and former members of the National Security Council. Given Trump’s directive for White House staff to refuse compliance with the inquiry, it is not clear if all will turn up. And, Republican Senator Ron Johnson, has now emerged as a key figure in the Ukraine scandal with the report of a former Ukrainian diplomat named Andrii Telizhenko having met with Johnson to discuss details about the 2016 election. On Monday Gordon Sondland, a Trump loyalist and the US ambassador to the EU returned to Capitol Hill to review the transcripts of his deposition to House Committees. His appearance was a surprise and after last week’s damning testimony by Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, lawmakers are saying Sondland needs to explain some prominent gaps in his testimony.
Former Representative from Michigan, John Conyers Jr. has died. The elder statesman who resigned in 2017 after accusations of improper conduct from 2 employees, was 90 years old. He served on the House Judiciary Committee for so many years that he became the only sitting member of that committee who had been in office for two impeachment proceedings – against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Conyers was a stalwart liberal, having spoken out against multiple wars including the Vietnam and Iraq wars. He was also a very early proponent of a nationalized health system and was one of the original founders of the Congressional Black Caucus. Meanwhile, Conyers’ former colleague Elijah Cummings who chaired the CBC and who passed away over a week ago, was formally laid to rest on Friday and was eulogized by Barack Obama and others.
President Trump made a couple of appearances over the weekend where he was clearly not wanted. On Friday he showed up at Benedict College, a historically black college to accept an award ahead of a scheduled forum on criminal justice that 10 leading Democratic Presidential contenders were due to speak. During his speech he went as far as comparing his own situation to the mistreatment of African Americans by the criminal justice system saying, “We’ll never let up on our efforts to ensure that our justice system is fair for every single American. And I have my own experience, you know that. You see what’s going on with the witch hunt.” Then on Sunday he showed up to the World Series game when baseball fans booed him loudly and chanted “Lock Him Up.” A group called Veterans for Impeachment also showed up to the game and held up a visible sign bearing their group’s name right behind the home plate.
In California, wildfires continue to plague the state with the Kincade fire in Sonoma County still wreaking havoc and heading toward the county’s biggest population center in Santa Rosa. So far 200,000 people have been evacuated from the area. And in Southern California, a fire broke out on Monday in the Brentwood area causing evacuations. Meanwhile Pacific Gas and Electric is continuing power outages that it says are preventing new fires being triggered by its aging power lines. So far 2 million people have suffered blackouts, the largest intentional power outages in California’s history. The LA Times reported that residents struggled to obtain evacuation orders for fires because they were without power.
Members of the United Auto Workers have approved General Motors’ deal with their union and ended their lengthy strike. The deal was passed with 57% of members voting yes, not exactly a massive mandate.
The Trump administration on Monday surprisingly announced that it would extend the Temporary Protected Status or TPS for hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran nationals living in the US, a majority residing in Southern California.
And finally elections in Argentina returned former President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner back to power, this time as Vice President to Alberto Fernández. The election was a resounding defeat for incumbent Mauricio Macri who had imposed severe austerity reforms to the country. Ms. Kirchner said she would, ““ask the president who is still in office that he please take all the measures that should be taken to lighten the dramatic financial reality the country is undergoing.” The election is seen as part of an on-going left backlash to rightwing neoliberal governments and policies in Latin America in recent months.