Here are the main events in Politics that occurred over the past week:
1. Tensions Between North Korea & The US Heat Up
Over the past week, tensions between North Korea and the US reached a boiling point and the chance for conflict between both countries is at its highest level since the end of the Korean War almost 65 years ago. The war of words between both countries began when President Donald Trump stated that any threats made by North Korea towards the US and its allies such as South Korea and Japan will be met with “fire, fury, and a massive show of force” and threatened to launch a pre-emptive strike against a country that has been under constant US sanctions and international isolation since the early 1950s. In response, North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un declared that his country would respond to such threats by attacking US territories in the Pacific such as Guam and Hawaii. Critics have argued that such rhetoric on the part of President Trump threatens to spark a large-scale military confrontation in one of the most volatile regions of the world and has the potential to get countries such as Russia and China involved. Additionally, the Trump administration’s overall policy towards North Korea can be considered to be an embodiment of US imperialism, in particular, the goal to have dominion over countries that are opposed to the current US-led global order.
2. The Russia Probe Against President Donald Trump Intensifies
This week the investigations into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump campaign took a major turn with the announcement that the FBI raided the home of Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager. Manafort is being investigated for possible money laundering and has been targeted as someone who might testify against former colleagues in exchange for plea bargaining and immunity from prosecution. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called the raid a “highly significant step” and said it was “typical of the most serious criminal investigations dealing with uncooperative or untrusted potential targets.”
Another possible indicator of collusion between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin was revealed by the President’s reaction to Russia ordering some 775 US diplomats to leave the country. As opposed to criticizing the move, President Trump praised Putin’s actions as beneficial because he said it helps him cut the U.S. government’s payroll. Even though Trump’s comments seemed to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, they point to a common trend in him not criticizing the policies by the Russian government and perhaps point to some form of collusion that helped to get him elected President.
3. Charlottesville Rally & Protests Take a Deadly Turn
On August 11, a group of several hundred white nationalists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan launched a rally in the small city of Charlottesville, Virginia. Known as the “Unite the Right rally,” the main purpose of the demonstration was to protest the removal of Confederate memorials from public spaces in Virginia and to come out in support of the policies and political positions of President Donald Trump. Some of the prominent speakers at the rally included Neo-Nazi activist Richard Spencer and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke, who both endorsed and campaigned for President Donald Trump. In response to the vile and bigoted nature of the rally, a counter-protest emerged led by organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Democratic Socialists of America, and Antifa. The protests became deadly on August 12 when James Alex Fields Jr. rammed his 2010 Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people protesting the rally, killing one and injuring another 19.
The response to the tragedy has overall been strong and forceful. Virginia Governor Terry McCaullife and Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer directly addressed the participants in the rally and stated that they “are not wanted in this great commonwealth” and that the rhetoric of President Donald Trump is partially responsible for such events. President Donald Trump’s response has been roundly criticized by individuals on all sides of the political spectrum due to the fact that he did not specifically denounce the white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis attendees and hinted that he felt that the counter-protesters deserved the lions share of the blame.
4. President Donald Trump Continues to Criticize Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
President Donald Trump continued his ongoing public attacks against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week. In particular, Trump has criticized the Senate majority leader for the recent failure by the Republican Party to repeal the Patient Protection Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and replace it with a suitable substitute. Trump responded on Twitter three times following criticism from McConnell that the President had “excessive expectations” of Congress and that “artificial deadlines” hurt the GOP agenda and prevent effective public policy proposals from being successfully implemented. The increased level of criticism on the part of the President to a once-key political ally threatens to stall the agenda of the Trump Administration during a critical point in the legislative calendar year. For example, the increased criticism may make Senate Majority Leader McConnell less willing to move forward on some of the Trump Administrations key policy proposals such as tax reform, infrastructure spending, and the passage of the annual federal budget.
5. Iranian Parliament Softens Drug Death Penalty Laws
On August 12, the Iranian Parliament (Majiles) passed an amendment to its drug trafficking laws raising the thresholds that can trigger capital punishment. Even though the legislation still needs to be approved by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, it gained parliamentary approval after several months of debate. According to Amnesty International, Iran is one of the several countries in the world that relies on capital punishment for various crimes (though the number of people executed in Iran pales comparison to other countries such as the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia). and a majority of its executions are related to drug possession. Additionally, Amnesty International noted that the number of executions in Iran has declined by as much as 42% since 2016 and have steadily declined over the past five years due to the election of moderate political leaders such as President Hassan Rouhani.
The new law raises the amounts that can trigger the death penalty from 30 grams to two kilos for the production and distribution of chemical substances such as cocaine and heroin. The new law will apply retroactively, thus commuting the sentences for many of the 5,000 inmates currently on death row for drug trafficking and possession. The law also restricts the death penalty to individuals who lead drug-trafficking efforts, exploit minors less than 18 years of age, carry or draw firearms while committing drug-related offenses, or have a previous conviction of the death penalty or a jail sentence of more than 15 years or life in prison. Despite having strict laws for the possession of harder drugs, Iran also has relatively liberal laws regarding the possession of Marijuana and is considered a model of sorts for advocates of drug policy reform in much of the Western world.