Monday, April 30, 2018

Bill Cosby Convicted on Sexual Assault Charges

Comedian and actor Bill Cosby was convicted last week of aggravated indecent assault, stemming from a 2004 case involving a woman, Andrea Constand, who went public with her allegations. She alleged that Cosby drugged her drink and proceeded to grope her. Cosby admitted to drugging women’s drinks in a 2005 deposition, but disputed the specific charges by Constand.

The jury found Cosby guilty on all three counts, which means the 80 year old, now nearly blind, could spend the rest of his life in prison if each sentence is served consecutively, with each carrying a maximum 10 year penalty. It  is still unclear if Cosby will serve the maximum and whether he will serve them consecutively or concurrently.

Korean Détente? Two Countries Could Achieve Some Form of Peace

In a series of unlikely events, the two Korean leaders talked peacefully and publicly, something that has not occurred since the Korean War in the 1950s. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in met at the border between the two countries on Friday, with Kim stepping into South Korea. The two leaders also announced their commitment to denuclearize the peninsula as well as formally ending the Korean War, which ended de facto in 1953. This comes after Kim’s announcement that the North will stop its missile testing.

These announcements also come after President Donald Trump announced earlier this year that he plans to meet with Kim, in which, if carried out, will make Trump the first sitting US president to meet with a North Korean leader. The meeting is currently scheduled to take place sometime next month or in early June.

The prospect for even the peace talks just a few months ago would have been almost unimaginable given the North’s increased frequency of missile tests and the bellicose rhetoric between Kim and Trump, in which the former called the latter a “dotard” and the latter called the former “rocket man.” For now, the insults have stopped, but the prospect of lasting peace is far from certain.

North Korea still possesses nuclear capability and the North may not truly be committed to denuclearization, which it promises only to proceed with if the US does not invade. Trump has implied that military action will not be off the table if the North does not move forward with eventual denuclearization.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Britain, Russia Face Diplomatic Spat over Attempted Killing

The United Kingdom and Russia are engaged in a diplomatic brawl after an attempted killing of a ex-spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter with a nerve agent. The former spy is a Russian who defected to the UK sometime prior, was poisoned on British soil on March the nerve agent, believed to have been manufactured in Russia. The niece of the poisoned man has said that both only have a slim chance of surviving, which would make the attempted killing an actual killing.

In response, Britain expelled  23 Russian diplomats from the country earlier this month. In addition, other countries have condemned the action and expelled Russian diplomats, including the United States, which is closing the Russian mission in Seattle.

Russia has responded, announcing that it will expel 50 British diplomats and diplomatic staff from the country, as well as diplomats from other countries. This comes as Russia has faced global criticism for its foreign policy, increasingly domestic authoritarianism, and its meddling in foreign elections.

Trump White House Faces Turnovers, Continuing Controversies

The Trump White House has continued to suffer staff turnover this month, with the secretary of state, secretary of veteran’s affairs, and national security adviser all fired this month. More strikingly, the announcements were made official, especially in the case of State Secretary Rex Tillerson, through tweets from the President himself.

None of the staff changes were completely unexpected. Tillerson and Trump had long had a rocky relationship, especially since Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron,” a charge Tillerson never completely denied. Both had disagreed over certain foreign policy issues, such as North Korea, publicly and often contradicted each other. Trump has nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed Tillerson.

VA Secretary David Shulkin, who faced criticism over his handling of the VA (much like his predecessors in the Obama administration, in which Shulkin served as deputy VA secretary), will be replaced (if confirmed) presidential physician Ronny Jackson.
National Security Adviser HR McMaster will also be leaving the Trump administration; he will be replaced by John Bolton, who served under George W. Bush as US ambassador to the UN. Bolton has remained an active figure in conservative circles, appearing at conferences and delivering commentary on Fox News. Bolton, known for his hawkish foreign policy views, does not require Senate confirmation.

Trump is also facing controversy over alleged payouts by his personal attorney to conceal an affair with pornographic actress Stephanie Clifford (professional name Stormy Daniels) . The affair allegedly occurred in 2006, when Trump had already married Melania. Trump has denied any affair took place.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Winter Olympics End, US Fails to Impress as Politics Took Center Stage

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea ended n Sunday, following two weeks of sporting events. Norway emerged the strongest nation, winning in both number of gold medals won (14) and total medals won (39). The US came in fourth in both categories, with 9 gold and 23 total. While the American performance was the worst in recent Winter Olympics, the women’s ice hockey team defeated Canada to win the first gold for the US in the sport since 1998.

Politics laid a cloud over this year’s games as well. While the North Korean and South Korean teams marched under a united flag at the opening ceremonies, as well as competed together in women’s ice hockey, tensions remain as North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, continues his nuclear weapons program and testing of rockets. His sister, Kim Yo-jung, made an appearance at the opening ceremony and stood near US Vice President Mike Pence. Some American media outlets were criticized for the positive coverage they gave her given her position as propaganda director for the brutal regime.