OurWeek in Politics (10/8-10/15/18)

Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:

1. Diplomatic Rift Emerges Between Saudi Arabia and Turkey Regarding the Possible Assassination of Dissident Saudi Journalist on Turkish Soil

The disappearance and likely murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has resulted in much international outcry this week.

The disappearance of the Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi this week has set off a diplomatic feud between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, a bipartisan uproar in the US Congress, tremors of uncertainty about how to deal with Saudi Arabia, and a noisy spat between the White House and its closest Arab ally. Khashoggi was last seen on October 2 in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, retrieving paperwork for a marriage. Turkish officials and Turkish President Erdogan allege that he was killed by a team of Saudi assassins, whereas Saudi officials state that he left the facility on his own volition. If it transpires that Khashoggi was killed, either deliberately or in a botched kidnapping, it will strengthen the sense that Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the Saudi crown prince, and de facto ruler, is more of a rogue than a reformer and that his reformist rhetoric is little more than a facade. Additionally, such a revelation may negatively impact Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the West and prevent the country from assuming status as the major power in the Middle East.

Jamal Khashoggi was well known and well liked by journalists and diplomats who traveled to the kingdom. He had worked in the Saudi embassies in Washington and London, and some suspected he had also worked for Saudi intelligence. Then, over the years in the Saudi news media, he established himself as a kind of unofficial spokesman for the royal family, which often preferred to speak through surrogates. His independent streak and empathy for the Western perspective made him a uniquely talented, well-liked contact for foreign journalists and diplomats seeking to understand the royal perspective. The rise of Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) into power in 2016 and the subsequent increase of political oppression within Saudi Arabia, however, convinced Khashoggi that he no longer had a place in Saudi Arabia. He then relocated to the US and became a columnist for the Washington Post, in which capacity he relentlessly criticized the Saudi government (particularly its oppression of Shi’a Muslims and other minority groups, support for Israel, and involvement in the Civil War in Yemen). Due to his sharp criticism of the Saudi Government, he soon became a significant target for the Saudi government to eliminate.

Overall the disappearance and possible death of Jamal Khashoggi has resulted in mixed reactions amongst the international community. The Turkish government has condemned Saudi Arabia for their actions in the investigation, claiming that they are deliberately covering up the truth and that the assassination of a dissident journalist may have “negative implications” regarding the relationship between both countries. On the other hand, the Trump Administration has thus far handled the incident in a cautious manner. In a Twitter post on October 15, President Donald Trump said in a Twitter post that he had just discussed the case with King Salman, who denied any knowledge of what had happened to Khashoggi, and that he was “immediately sending” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with the king. Later, in brief remarks to reporters, Trump said that from his conversation with the king, “it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers, who knows.” US officials have speculated that if Saudi Arabia confirms suspicions that Khashoggi was killed, it will propose that rogue elements acted on their own, not under orders from the highest levels of power in the kingdom. Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s ally Israel similarly supported the statements by the Saudi government in the matter, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating that “Israel does not trust the reports on Khashoggi coming out of Turkey and has more trust in what Saudi Arabia is saying.”

2. President Trump Signs “Music Modernization Act” Into Law

President Donald Trump signed the Music Modernization Act, a landmark media law revision, into law this week.

On October 11, President Trump signed the Music Modernization Act into law Thursday, finalizing landmark reform to United States copyright law. praised by industry leaders and musicians alike, the act offers vital renovations to copyright law in a digital streaming era. The bill reached President Trump’s desk following unanimous passing votes in the US Senate and House of Representatives. Flanked by musicians including Kid Rock, Mike Love, Sam Moore, John Rich, and Kanye West, President Trump stated that the law “closes loopholes in our digital royalties laws to ensure that songwriters, artists, and producers receive fair payment for licensing of music.” “I’ve been reading about this for many years and never thought I’d be involved in it, but I got involved in it. They were treated very unfairly. They’re not going to be treated unfairly anymore.” Trump further stated.

The Music Modernization Act was passed unanimously by both houses of Congress and is praised as a rare piece of bipartisan legislation. The law itself includes three critical updates to existing copyright laws implemented in 1976 and 1998.

  • One such provision is the creation of an organization, led by songwriters and publishers, charged with overseeing a mechanical licensing database. The organization plans to ensure copyright owners are paid when songs are streamed on services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon.
  • Additionally, under the new law, artists and their descendants receive royalties on songs recorded before 1972. This closes a digital radio loophole that prevented satellite radio providers from being obligated to pay royalties on songs released before 1972. This provision will potentially make all recordings produced in the US going back to 1889 (the first year in which pre-recorded cylinder records were offered for sale to the public) copyrighted.
  • The final provision of the law was the establishment of a uniform payment process for music producers to receive royalties.

Overall, the reaction to the Music Modernization Act has thus far been positive, though recorded sound archivists have criticized some of the provisions of the bill In a statement. Recording Industry Association of America president Mitch Glazier said, “The Music Modernization Act is now the law of the land, and thousands of songwriters and artists are better for it. The result is a music market better founded on fair competition and fair pay. The enactment of this law demonstrates what music creators and digital services can do when we work together collaboratively to advance a mutually beneficial agenda.” On the other hand, recorded sound archivists have expressed some concern with the provision stipulating that all recordings produced in the US potentially fall under copyright law. They feel that expanded copyrights will discourage efforts to preserve historic sound recordings. Additionally, they also note that enforcing this provision will be difficult at best considering that information regarding many of the earliest recording artists is difficult to find at best and that their proper descendants may not be able to be identified.

3. President Donald Trump’s Approval Rating Increases Ahead of Midterm Elections, Boosting Republican Chances at the Polls

President Donald Trump’s approval rating has increased steadily over the past two months, potentially boosting Republican chances in the November midterm elections.

President Trump’s approval rating rose five percentage points since late August but remains substantially below 50% heading into the midterms, according to a poll released on October 15. The most recent survey by ABC/Washington Post found that 41% of adults approve of President Trump’s job performance, up from 36% in late August. The poll found that 54% of those surveyed disapprove of Trump’s performance. Trump was bolstered in the latest poll by strong marks on his handling of the economy and foreign policy, with over 50% approving his handling of both areas. On the other hand, a majority of voters still criticize President Trump for his alleged ethical violations and feel that he does not have the proper temperament characteristic of prior Presidents.

President Donald Trump’s overall approval rating has remained between 32% and 45% in all of the polls administered since he assumed office. Additionally, nearly all of the polls show that President Trump has the approval of over 90% of all Republican voters, 45% of political independents, and only 5% of all Democratic voters. A possible explanation for President Trump’s increase in approval is the confirmation of his second Supreme Court nominee, Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The confirmation followed a bitter fight over Kavanaugh’s nomination, which ended with a 50-48 vote to put him on the nations highest court. Additionally, the continued economic growth is another factor that has helped President Trump retain approval amongst many voters.

Overall, the improving poll numbers of President Donald Trump and several policy victories may end up helping the Republican Party going into the midterm elections. For example, the Republican party has gained much ground in many key Senate races and is now in the lead in the critical states of Tennessee, Arizona, New Jersey, and Nevada, previously thought to be leaning towards the Democratic party in this year’s Senate races. Additionally, President Trump’s steadily increasing poll numbers may have helped Republican Senate candidates solidify their leads in states such as Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, and Florida. Despite the improving poll numbers of Republicans in many Senate races, the Democratic party holds a 17% lead in polling for the House of Representatives and are likely to have a net gain of gubernatorial seats. This polling may result in a relatively unusual Congressional situation next year, with the Republicans having a more substantial Senate majority than they currently have, but the Democratic party controlling the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010.

4. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley Announces Her Resignation

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced her resignation from the Trump cabinet this week.

President Donald Trump announced on October 9 that US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has resigned and will leave her post by the end of the year. Sitting side-by-side in the Oval Office, Trump praised Haley as a “fantastic person” who has “done an incredible job” and said he would gladly welcome her back into his administration down the line. “She’s done a fantastic job and we’ve done a fantastic job together. We’ve solved a lot of problems and we’re in the process of solving a lot of problems,” Trump said. “She told me probably six months ago, ‘You know maybe at end of the year — at the end of the two year period — but by the end of the year I want to take a little time off, I want to take a break,'” he added. Ambassador Haley served almost as a shadow secretary of state during the first year of the administration, wielding more influence than the man who held the job, Rex Tillerson, and winning the confidence of President Trump with her strong defense of his policies at an institution filled with foreign officials opposed to his worldview, even as he sometimes chafed at her ambition. Her influence has been curtailed in recent months as new national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reclaimed policy and political ground that their predecessors ceded, but she departs with her relationship with Trump intact.

Nikki Haley portrayed her departure as coming at a natural time, after accomplishing what she wanted. Many senior officials were surprised by the announcement and learned she was leaving just minutes before the news leaked, she was already in the West Wing with Trump preparing for the announcement, and lamented that it came so quickly after the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, which the White House hoped would continue to receive heavy news coverage. “It was a blessing to go into the UN with body armor every day and defend America,” Haley said. “And I’ll always do that; I’ll never truly step aside from fighting for our country. But I will tell you that I think it’s time.” With questions swirling about what she will do next, Haley was quick to shoot down the idea that her ambitions include taking on Trump if the president looks vulnerable heading into his reelection in 2020. “For all of you that are going to ask about 2020, no, I’m not running for 2020,” Haley said unprompted with Trump sitting beside her. “I can promise you what I’ll be doing is campaigning for this one. So, I look forward to supporting the president in the next election.” Trump grinned through her remarks, but they startled White House aides who already viewed her warily as a potential threat and a skeptic of the president’s overall agenda. “That’s so good, Nikki,” Trump said. “Thank you.”

Overall Nikk Haley leaves behind a mixed legacy as UN Ambassador. Whereas many support her relentless defense of American interests in a rapidly-changing world stage, critics argue that she used her position to defend serial human rights violators such as Saudi Arabia and Israel and stood by while they committed various crimes throughout the Middle East. Additionally, Ambassador Haley is criticized for he overtly aggressive rhetoric towards the governments of Russia, China, Iran, and Syria, arguing that such rhetoric increases the chances of war between the US and all four countries. There has been much speculation regarding who PResident Donald Trump will appoint to replace Ambassador Haley. Thus far, President Trump has narrowed down his choice to five individuals, including White House aide Dina Powell, former German Ambassador Richard Grenell, and even his son-in-law Jared Kushner. President Trump announced that he will name Haley’s successor shortly before she steps down this coming January.

the author

Matt is a student at Seton Hall Law School and graduated from Monmouth University. Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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