Headlines: September 24, 2019
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President Donald Trump delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday addressing national borders, immigration, Iran, and his trade war with China. Among his strongest assertions was one of nationalism versus a globalist approach, saying directly to the international body that borders were more important than the free movement of people. Trump also slammed the Iranian regime without a hint of irony over the fact that the US is waging multiple wars in the Middle East with routine reports of civilian deaths from US bombs. Trump also railed against China.
A number of other world leaders addressed the UN General Assembly as well, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose comments seemed to be aimed directly at Trump. Erdogan denounced the rise in hate crimes saying they were the result of “populist politicians seeking to garner votes” and “provoking these tendencies.” Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro defended himself against international condemnation of the burning of the Amazon rainforest saying, “We all know that all countries have problems…The sensationalist attacks we have suffered due to fire outbreaks have aroused our patriotic sentiment.” He added, “The Amazon is not being devastated, nor is it being consumed by fire as the media misleadingly says.” And Egypt’s embattled leader Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi also spoke focusing in part on escalating violence in Libya but not referencing the mass protests he is facing back home. A day earlier Trump had praised Al-Sisi saying as they met at the UN, “Everybody has demonstrations…No, I’m not concerned with it. Egypt has a great leader.” Politico joked that Tuesday was “‘Dictator Day’ at the U.N.”
On Monday the Guardian Newspaper reported that Trump was using the US’s position at the United Nations to quietly build an international coalition opposing abortion. In a letter to other states that the paper got a hold of the Trump Administration said, “As a key priority in global health promotion, we respectfully request that your government join the United States in ensuring that every sovereign state has the ability to determine the best way to protect the unborn and defend the family as the foundational unity of society vital to children thriving and leading healthy lives.” The letter denounced the advance of sexual and reproductive rights for women and girls worldwide.
Also on Monday Trump’s brief appearance at a critically important climate-related UN conference caused a stir and a screen grab of the teen climate activist Greta Thunberg glaring toward Trump went viral. Thunberg’s powerful speech was widely covered and Trump re-tweeted an article describing her words with the sarcastic comment: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” Thunberg trolled Trump right back, changing her Twitter bio to quote him. A Fox News guest was under fire for calling Thunberg “mentally ill,” resulting in the network issuing an apology.
In other news at the UN, Trump used his presence at the global gathering to defend himself against a domestic scandal that could be the undoing of his presidency. According to the Washington Post he, “repeatedly defended his conduct in pressing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate unsubstantiated allegations of corruption by former vice president Joe Biden and his family.” The Washington Post reported late on Monday that, according to 3 senior administration officials Trump withheld US military aid to Ukraine a week before his phone call with Zelensky. Then on Tuesday, speaking to reporters, Trump himself confirmed that he withheld the aid. In an interview with Fox News on Monday Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump and avoided confirming if Trump would release the transcript of his phone call with Zelensky.
Meanwhile House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been reaching out to her fellow Democrats under the radar to feel out their positions on impeaching Trump over this issue. According to the Washington Post, “She was making calls as late as Monday night, and many leadership aides who once thought Trump’s impeachment was unlikely now say they think it’s almost inevitable.” And, a group of 7 freshmen Democrats wrote an op-ed in the same paper on Tuesday saying, “These allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect.” Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia all signed on to an op-ed saying, “This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand. To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election.” They added, “If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense.”
In other news, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has just released an ambitious plan to tax billionaires. Using strong language to make his case Sanders said in an interview, “Let me be very clear: As president of the United States, I will reduce the outrageous and grotesque and immoral level of income and wealth inequality.” He added, “I don’t think that billionaires should exist…This proposal does not eliminate billionaires, but it eliminates a lot of the wealth that billionaires have, and I think that’s exactly what we should be doing.” Sanders’ plan goes much further than Senator Elizabeth Warren’s signature wealth tax.
And Andrew Wheeler, head of the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to the state of California this week that threatened to withhold federal funding for highways if the state did not clean up its air pollution. The letter claimed that California had the, “worst air quality in the United States,” and failed to meet its obligations under the Clean Air Act. The letter is bizarre given that Trump just rolled back California’s ability to require higher standards for vehicle emissions. One environmental law professor told the LA Times, “It’s actually hard to think of a more hypocritical move by the most anti-environmental EPA in history than today’s threat to withhold highway funds from California for failing to do enough to fight air pollution while simultaneously taking away the state’s most effective tool for doing so.”
And finally in international news, US-backed Afghan military forces killed dozens of civilians in the latest series of strikes that were supposedly aimed at the Taliban but ended up striking a wedding party. At least 40 civilians were killed in Helmand province.