with Mariana Alfaro
When you widen the aperture, recent demonstrations underscore not just a pervasive discontent with authoritarian regimes but also the simmering anti-elite sentiments that led to Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in 2016.
The resignation on Sunday of embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi amid sustained protests for sweeping reform has set the stage for a new political crisis as the ruling class scrambles to address demonstrators’ grievances. A human rights official said more than 430 demonstrators have been killed during two months of unrest. Thousands of demonstrators are still camped out in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. This is the biggest challenge to Iraq’s political order since the U.S.-led coalition topped Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Across the border, the Iranian regime is using more violence than at any time since the Islamist revolution four decades ago to repress protests. Between 180 to 450 people, and possibly hundreds more, have reportedly been killed since the government, facing pressure from punishing U.S. sanctions, jacked up gas prices two weeks ago. Another 2,000 have been wounded and 7,000 more have been detained, according to some reports.
The last wave of major protests, which led to at least 72 people being killed, was in 2009 after a contested election. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the 77-year-old opposition leader who “lost” that election and has been under house arrest, released a rare statement on Saturday that compared this most recent crackdown to Black Friday in September 1978 when the Shah’s soldiers opened fire on demonstrators in Jaleh Square, a spark that ignited the revolution.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, members of the military formed a human chain on Sunday near the presidential palace outside Beirut to prevent violent clashes from breaking out between rival Lebanese protesters as a stalemate over forming a new government continues. Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned about a month ago in the face of protests accusing the elite of corruption and economic mismanagement, but President Michel Aoun has not formally begun the process of forming a new government.
-- In Hong Kong, tens of thousands of demonstrators marching peacefully in one of several authorized rallies on Sunday were dispersed with tear gas, ending a rare period of peace amid half a year of pro-democracy protests in the territory.
“The march in Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side of the city had a clear message: The five demands of the protest movement, including universal suffrage and an investigation into the Hong Kong police, are not to be forgotten,” Shibani Mahtani reports from the ground. “Protesters including the elderly and children, some of whom were carrying banners calling for the end of the Chinese Communist Party, said their fight must go on despite several key successes. Residents voted overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates in local elections last week in what was widely interpreted as a resounding message of support for the cause. Those winners now control 17 out of Hong Kong’s 18 electoral districts.”
These protests began in June when the government took up a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, which would have undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy. The government withdrew that proposal, but that’s only one of the five demands. One of the other four is an independent investigation into police conduct. Authorities have resisted any accountability.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, endorsed an independent investigation into police brutality over the weekend. “I appeal to the government to take important confidence-building measures, including a proper independent and impartial judge-led investigation into reports of excessive use of force by the police,” Bachelet wrote on Saturday in the South China Morning Post. The Chinese government criticized her comments as “inappropriate” and said her op-ed would “embolden the rioters.” (The communists derisively refer to the pro-democracy activists as rioters.)
-- South America is facing its most widespread outbreak of popular uprisings this autumn since the Cold War, from the Caribbean coast to Patagonia. Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier recently explored the causes: “In Chile, fury over a pocketbook issue — a subway fare increase — has snowballed into a deeper movement against elites and a right-leaning, democratically elected government. In Peru, the street rose up to back President Martín Vizcarra in his crusade to close down a corrupt Congress. In Ecuador, indigenous groups and left-leaning students pressured their government into restoring gasoline subsidies. In Bolivia, pro-democracy and right-wing forces drove power-clinging president Evo Morales from office after his socialists stood accused of stealing an election. In Venezuela, an outlier in the current protests, a starving nation has risen up — unsuccessfully, so far — against a socialist dictatorship accused of destroying the economy.
“But all of these events are taking place against a shared backdrop: the painful aftermath of a commodities boom. Rising prices of the fuels, minerals and crops at the heart of the region’s resource-rich economies at the start of the 21st century helped lift millions out of poverty. The revenue also raised expectations — expectations now unmet in the half-dozen years since the boom went bust. A new middle class fears slipping back down the socioeconomic ladder. As nations tighten their belts in leaner times, the pressure is hitting the poor and middle classes disproportionately, while elites are largely shielded — fueling grass-roots rage. Add weak institutions, structural inequality, political polarization and a corrupt ruling class unwilling to cede power, and you have a recipe for regional unrest.”
-- There’s an inspiration factor at play, as the wind of freedom blows across borders. Though their grievances are quite different, for example, activists in the streets of Santiago have cited the struggle in Hong Kong and adopted many tactics of those protesters. Democracy has been in recession for years now, but the streets are speaking. What will come of the unrest? The truth is that we don’t know how these stories will end, which is always true but still always scary.
-- Recent scenes from Hong Kong to Iran are a testament to the power and possibility of American moral leadership when Washington gets engaged. Under bipartisan pressure, on Thanksgiving eve, Trump signed into law the resolution that passed Congress with only one holdout to offer support for the people of Hong Kong. Thousands of pro-democracy protesters celebrated by draping themselves in American flags and singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Many waved posters thanking Trump by name.
-- In protest, China announced today it will suspend U.S. Navy port visits to Hong Kong and sanction several pro-democracy organizations after Trump signed the bill. “While the nature of the sanctions remained unclear, the move appeared to back up Chinese threats that the U.S. would bear the costs of the decision,” per the AP. “The steps are ‘in response to the U.S.’s unreasonable behavior,’ foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, adding that the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act ‘seriously interfered’ in China’s internal affairs. … Along with suspending visits by official U.S. military ships and aircraft, Hua said China would sanction organizations including the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Human Rights Watch, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House, and others that she said had ‘performed badly’ in the Hong Kong unrest.”
-- Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign is achieving its desired impact of punishing Iran, but it remains to be seen whether this will bring Tehran to the table or prompt the theocrats who are calling the shots to lash out militarily. The White House announced late last night that Trump “discussed the threat from Iran” in a Sunday phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi, who is fighting for his political life and facing a possible third national election in a year, accused six European countries on Sunday of trying to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran. “While the Iranian regime is killing its own people, European countries rush to support that very murderous regime,” Netanyahu said in a televised address on Sunday. Israel’s Foreign Ministry singled out Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Trump is meeting with the leaders of these and other European counties at the NATO summit in London on Tuesday and Wednesday.
-- A front-page story in today’s New York Times has details on how the Iranian government has massacred civilians: “It began two weeks ago with an abrupt increase of at least 50 percent in gasoline prices. Within 72 hours, outraged demonstrators in cities large and small were calling for an end to the Islamic Republic’s government and the downfall of its leaders. In many places, security forces responded by opening fire on unarmed protesters, largely unemployed or low-income young men between the ages of 19 and 26, according to witness accounts and videos. In the southwest city of Mahshahr alone, witnesses and medical personnel said, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps members surrounded, shot and killed 40 to 100 demonstrators — mostly unarmed young men — in a marsh where they had sought refuge. …
“Most of the nationwide unrest seemed concentrated in neighborhoods and cities populated by low-income and working-class families, suggesting this was an uprising born in the historically loyal power base of Iran’s post-revolutionary hierarchy. The authorities have declined to specify casualties and arrests and have denounced unofficial figures on the national death toll as speculative. But the nation’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, has cited widespread unrest around the country. On state media, he said that protests had erupted in 29 out of 31 provinces and 50 military bases had been attacked, which if true suggested a level of coordination absent in the earlier protests. … The property damage also included 731 banks, 140 public spaces, nine religious centers, 70 gasoline stations, 307 vehicles, 183 police cars, 1,076 motorcycles and 34 ambulances, the interior minister said.” (The Guardian also has excellent fresh reporting on the regime’s brutal crackdown in Shiraz.)
-- Ultimately, the repression doesn’t solve the underlying frustrations that prompted protesters to so boldly risk arrest across Iran. It seems a safe bet that there will be more violence in the streets going forward. “These riots are not the last ones and it definitely will happen in the future,” said Revolutionary Guard acting commander Gen. Ali Fadavi, according to the AP.
-- Looking ahead in Iraq, a showdown looms in parliament over who will now lead the fragile democracy. Erin Cunningham and Mustafa Salim report from Baghdad: “Abdul Mahdi was appointed after months of political wrangling in parliament. His departure, approved by lawmakers on Sunday, offers authorities a chance to begin enacting real change, lawmakers and analysts said. Iraqis are fed up with high unemployment rates, widespread graft and a lack of government services. … But parliament — which is made up of rival political blocs, none of which hold a commanding majority — is unlikely to agree on a replacement, some lawmakers said. Parliament has just 15 days to choose a prime minister, who will then be granted 30 days to form a government.
“The leaders of the two largest coalitions — Moqtada al-Sadr, a firebrand Shiite cleric, and Hadi al-Amiri, who is backed by Iran — have publicly split over the prime minister’s resignation. In a statement last month, Sadr vowed never to work toward a political consensus with Amiri again after the latter apparently backtracked on an agreement to subject Abdul Mahdi to a no-confidence vote in parliament. Amiri was a key leader of the paramilitary Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of Shiite militias that was formed to battle Islamic State militants and that has enjoyed considerable support from Iran. Iran has played a significant role in Iraqi politics since Tehran threw its weight behind the militias. But that support might have backfired. Demonstrators in majority-Shiite cities such as Najaf and Karbala have stormed or burned Iranian consulates and defaced posters of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. …
“Even as lawmakers paid lip service to the need for change, they conceded that a new leader would inherit a restive and fractured nation reeling from a security crackdown that appears to have only hardened protesters’ resolve. On Sunday, a demonstrator was killed by security forces in Baghdad as the sides clashed on Rasheed Street, officials said. Demonstrators have sought to protect the vast protest site they have set up in Tahrir Square and surrounding streets, which they have transformed into a mini-republic with art installations, medical facilities, restaurants and free libraries. Police have tried to prevent demonstrators from crossing bridges that lead to government buildings and embassies in the heavily secured Green Zone.”
-- The struggle between lower-case-D democrats and autocrats will persist in the 2020s. It’s a brave new world out there. Effective Sunday, for example, the Chinese government began requiring facial scans for anyone to be able to get a cellphone or SIM card. “The policy is part of a broader push by the Chinese government to limit people’s ability to stay anonymous online,” Quartz reports.
Starting today, an 1,800-mile pipeline is set to begin delivering Russian natural gas to China. The $55 billion project is Moscow’s most significant energy play since the collapse of the Soviet Union. “The Power of Siberia pipeline is a physical bond strengthening a new era of cooperation between two world powers that have separately challenged the U.S.,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
As much as Trump may enjoy the company of strongmen, and politicians in both parties preach isolationism and protectionism to soothe constituents who have grown weary of war and nation-building, the United States remains locked in an existential struggle with the dark forces of autocracy that dates to our founding.
-- Closing the book on the 2010s: It didn’t really sink in for me until Thanksgiving that this tumultuous decade is ending. It’s not that I can’t read a calendar. It’s just that there are so many unfinished storylines. Years from now, however, there will be television documentaries and books that isolate the 2010s as a distinct chapter in our nation’s history. If you could sum up the teens in one word or phrase, what would it be? Besides Trump, what do you think was the single most important story of the decade? Email me at James.Hohmann@washpost.com. I’d love to highlight the most thoughtful answers here this week.
-- White House counsel Pat Cipollone told the House Judiciary Committee in a five-page letter last night that Trump would not participate in its first impeachment hearing, scheduled for Wednesday. Mike DeBonis and Felicia Sonmez report: “The invitation from Chairman Jerrold Nadler ‘does not begin to provide the President with any semblance of a fair process,’ Cipollone wrote. … Cipollone did not rule out participating in future hearings but asked Nadler to detail his plans for the upcoming proceedings, including whether he would allow further testimony and cross-examination of fact witnesses, among them those who already testified before the House Intelligence Committee. He also said Republicans should be able to call additional witnesses. … On Sunday, Democrats called on the White House to cooperate, suggesting an innocent person would have no problem testifying. ‘We’re certainly hoping that the president, his counsel, will take advantage of that opportunity if he has not done anything wrong,’ Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) said on ABC News’s ‘This Week.’ ‘We’re certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that.’
“But there is a conflict inside the GOP over the extent to which Trump and his congressional defenders ought to engage, even as Republicans signaled they will continue their aggressive campaign to delegitimize the process as corrupt and unfair. Speaking on ‘Fox News Sunday,’ Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he understood why the White House might want to skip the Wednesday hearing, calling it ‘just another rerun’ covering ground already surveyed in previous Judiciary Committee hearings. ‘This is a complete American waste of time right here,’ he said. But he added that Republicans would be more keen to participate in future hearings — particularly one examining the findings of the House Intelligence Committee as prepared by its chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).” Members of the Intelligence Committee are expected to review the draft of the Schiff report today and vote tomorrow (presumably on party lines) to formally transmit it to the Judiciary Committee.
-- Volodymyr Zelensky is stepping up his fight against corruption in Ukraine, despite the risk that he will anger Trump by doing so. Michael Birnbaum and David L. Stern report: “By the end of this month, more than 500 Ukrainian prosecutors will be out of their jobs as part of sweeping professional reviews under [Zelensky]. Among the prosecutors heading for the exit: a key Kyiv contact for Rudolph W. Giuliani. The prosecutor purge is just one of several corruption-busting efforts set in motion by Zelensky. But it puts into sharp relief Zelensky’s twin challenges — trying to balance his clean-government promises at home with his needs to keep President Trump from turning against him. Zelensky’s bind is not hard to spot. … Now that Zelensky’s reform push is underway, some of those Giuliani-linked officials are in the crosshairs. A prosecutor named Kostiantyn H. Kulyk is one of the first. Zelensky’s new prosecutor general, Ruslan Ryaboshapka — ‘100 percent my person,’ Zelensky told Trump in July — last week gave a dismissal notice to Kulyk, a key player in the effort to provide Giuliani with political ammunition of dubious accuracy.”
-- Zelenksy pushed back on Trump’s claims about corruption in Ukraine: “If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us,” he told Time Magazine and three European news outlets in a sit-down on Saturday. “I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo.” He said that Ukraine still needs U.S. support to have a chance to get back the territory Russia seized in 2014, starting with the Crimean Peninsula. He said Trump calling Ukraine corrupt makes it hard to attract foreign investment. “When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals,” he said.
“Zelensky has already learned to temper his expectations,” Time notes. “He does not expect his first round of peace talks with Russia, which are scheduled to take place in Paris on Dec. 9, to end the war that has been raging along their border for the past five years. Nor does he expect too much from his Western allies going into these negotiations.”
-- Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s personal lawyers who has kept a lower profile than Giuliani, says he voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, according to a New York Times profile. Unlike Giuliani, Sekulow does get compensated for representing Trump. His son Jordan and his law partner Stuart Roth are also on the Trump payroll.
-- Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page spoke to the Daily Beast after two years of silence: “Page, of course, is the former FBI lawyer whose text-message exchanges with agent Peter Strzok that belittled Donald Trump and expressed fear at his possible victory became international news. They were hijacked by Trump to fuel his 'deep-state' conspiracy. For the nearly two years since her name first made the papers, she’s been publicly silent (she did have a closed-door interview with House members in July 2018). I asked her why she was willing to talk now. ‘Honestly, his demeaning fake orgasm was really the straw that broke the camel’s back,’ she says. The president called out her name as he acted out an orgasm in front of thousands of people at a Minneapolis rally on Oct. 11, 2019. That was the moment Page decided she had to speak up. ‘I had stayed quiet for years hoping it would fade away, but instead it got worse,’ she says. ‘It had been so hard not to defend myself, to let people who hate me control the narrative. I decided to take my power back.’ ...
"On Dec. 9, the Justice Department Inspector General report into Trump’s charges that the FBI spied on his 2016 campaign will come out. Leaked press accounts indicate that the report will exonerate Page of the allegation that she acted unprofessionally or showed bias against Trump. How does it feel after all this time to finally have the IG apparently affirm what she’s been saying all along? She said she wouldn’t discuss the findings until they were officially public, but she did note: ‘While it would be nice to have the IG confirm publicly that my personal opinions had absolutely no bearing on the course of the Russia investigations, I don’t kid myself that the fact will matter very much for a lot of people. The president has a very loud megaphone.’”
-- Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) claimed that both Russia and Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, despite the intelligence community’s assessment that only Russia did so. Felicia Sonmez reports: “‘I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election,’ Kennedy told host Chuck Todd on NBC News’s ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday. Todd pressed Kennedy on whether he was concerned that he had been ‘duped’ by Russian propaganda, noting reports that U.S. intelligence officials recently briefed senators that ‘this is a Russian intelligence propaganda campaign in order to get people like you to say these things about Ukraine.’ Kennedy responded that he had received no such warning. … Kennedy argued Sunday that Ukraine’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 campaign have been ‘very well-documented,’ citing reporting by the Economist, the Financial Times, the Washington Examiner and others. … Despite Kennedy’s claim, there is no evidence that the Ukrainian government engaged in a large-scale effort to aid Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.”
-- The only lawmaker involved in three impeachment probes said Trump’s Ukraine conduct is “more serious” than Richard Nixon’s during Watergate. From CNN: “Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who helped draft an article of impeachment against Nixon as a congressional staffer and served on the House Judiciary Committee during President Bill Clinton's impeachment, [said] that she agrees with [Schiff] that Trump's actions involving Ukraine are ‘far more serious’ than Watergate. Congressional Democrats -- including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and, on Sunday, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar -- have compared Trump's involvement with Ukraine to the scandal that prompted Nixon to resign in 1974 rather than be impeached. ... ‘President Nixon's misconduct related to trying to use the levers of government to hide the Watergate burglary ... His misconduct had to do with trying to throw the election but at least it didn't involve involving other foreign nations,’ said Lofgren ... ‘If you take a look at the -- what the founding fathers were concerned about, it was the interference by foreign governments in our political system that was one of the gravest concerns. Nixon's behavior didn't fall into that range. So in that way, this conduct is more serious.’”
-- Montana Gov. Steve Bullock dropped out of the presidential race this morning. He was the only Democratic candidate who had won statewide in a state Trump carried in 2016, and he was the only sitting governor in the race. Bullock said he does not plan to run for Senate. Dave Weigel reports: "Bullock, 53, entered the race in May, arguing that a group heavy on Washington experience needed an outsider from a 'Trump state.' He rejected entreaties from national Democrats to run for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Steve Daines, telling reporters that he had no interest in the job. He affirmed that position Monday. 'While he plans to work hard to elect Democrats in the state and across the country in 2020, it will be in his capacity as a governor and a senior voice in the Democratic Party — not as a candidate for U.S. Senate,' said Bullock’s communications director, Galia Slayen."
-- Former congressman Joe Sestak is also out of the race. Sestak (D-Pa.) launched his long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination about five months ago, Felicia Sonmez reports.
-- Pete Buttigieg is still struggling to win over black voters. This weekend, he used a North Carolina church visit to issue a “moral call to unity.” Isaac Stanley-Becker reports: “The Greenleaf Christian Church is pastored by the Rev. William J. Barber II. Barber’s effort to revive Martin Luther King Jr.’s last major project — the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 — has inspired a multiracial movement to oppose [Trump], with plans for an assembly and ‘Moral March on Washington’ in June 2020. Buttigieg’s decision to worship with the Disciples of Christ congregation underscored the task that awaits him as he seeks to convince voters that he can credibly lead a diverse coalition to capture the White House. … The 56-year-old pastor pointedly declined to ask Buttigieg about his sexuality, saying he would no more put the question to an airline pilot. ‘But I did ask him, ‘Could he fly the plane?’ Barber remarked, as applause rang out in the pews. Barber was hardly silent on the theme, however. He opened the service by denying that anti-gay hostility was pervasive in the black community."
-- ICYMI: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is expected to nominate financial executive Kelly Loeffler to the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R). The Atlantia Journal-Constitution broke the story Friday, and other outlets have confirmed it. This defies a pressure campaign from Trump to get Kemp to put up Doug Collins, who has been an outspoken Trump defender on cable television.
-- Google and YouTube took down more than 300 video ads for Trump that violated the company's policy. From CBS News: “Lesley Stahl asked [YouTube CEO Susan] Wojcicki, ‘Have you taken down any of President Trump's ads at all?’ YouTube's CEO responded, ‘There are ads of President Trump that were not approved to run on Google or YouTube.’ When pressed for an example, Wojcicki added, ‘Well, they're available in our transparency report.’ In response to concerns raised after the 2016 election cycle, Google and YouTube, like Facebook, keep a searchable archive of political ads that have run on the site. 60 Minutes reviewed the archive to learn more about President Trump's problematic political ads. We found that over 300 video ads were taken down by Google and YouTube, mostly over the summer, for violating company policy. But the archive doesn't detail what policy was violated. Was it copyright violation? A lie or extreme inaccuracy? Faulty grammar? Bad punctuation? It's unclear. The ads determined to be offending are not available to be screened. We found very little transparency in the transparency report.”
-- Another reminder that elections have consequences: The Supreme Court will today wade into the gun control debate for the first time in a decade, making advocates for gun control nervous. From NBC News: “The court has steadfastly declined to take up any gun rights cases since ruling in 2008's Washington, D.C. v. Heller that the Second Amendment provides a right to keep a handgun at home for self-defense, and later clarifying in 2010's McDonald v. Chicago that the right applies nationwide. Now the court's willingness to take the New York case — even though the law at issue was recently repealed — has gun rights supporters feeling optimistic that it could lead to a ruling about the right to bear arms outside the home. Gun control advocates, in contrast, fear the court's new conservative majority may produce a decision that the National Rifle Association could use to fight against many of the 300 local gun restrictions enacted since the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. ‘What's really on the line is our progress against gun violence and the future of life-saving gun safety laws,’ said Hannah Shearer of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.”
-- America’s divided left is losing the battle on abortion. From the Times: “Interviews with more than 50 reproductive rights leaders, clinic directors, political strategists and activists over the past three months reveal a fragmented movement facing longstanding divisions — cultural, financial and political. Many said that abortion rights advocates and leading reproductive rights groups had made several crucial miscalculations that have put them on the defensive. ‘It’s really, really complicated and somewhat controversial where the pro-choice movement lost,’ said Johanna Schoen, a professor at Rutgers University who has studied the history of abortion. National leaders became overly reliant on the protections granted by a Democratic presidency under Mr. Obama and a relatively balanced Supreme Court, critics say, leading to overconfidence that their goals were not seriously threatened. Their expectation that Mr. Trump would lose led them to forgo battles they now wish they had fought harder, like Judge Merrick B. Garland’s failed nomination to the bench. Local activists in states like Alabama, Georgia, North Dakota and Missouri where abortion was under siege say national leaders lost touch with the ways that access to abortion was eroding in Republican strongholds.”
MORE ON THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- At least 19 were killed in northern Mexico after members of a cartel battled with police and the army at a city hall. Mary Beth Sheridan reports: “The assault started at around noon on Saturday, the eve of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s first anniversary in office. Polls show Mexicans regard the failure to curb violence as the greatest weakness of the generally popular leftist leader. … The attack in the town of Villa Union, around 40 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Tex., highlighted how the splintering of Mexico’s top cartels has sparked more violence. It was believed to be carried out by the Cartel of the Northeast, an offshoot of the once-powerful Zetas, which is based in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. Several groups that spun off from the Gulf and Zetas cartels are fighting with each other in Tamaulipas and nearby states. The attackers swept into Villa Union in at least 14 trucks, some of them armored and bearing the cartel’s logo ... The gunmen unleashed a furious battle at the town hall, peppering the facade with bullets. Terrified residents shut themselves in their homes as the pop-pop-pop of gunfire filled the air ... The attackers fled after about 90 minutes ... Mexican police and soldiers, backed by army helicopters, chased them in an operation that stretched into Sunday morning ... The dead included four state police officers, 13 alleged cartel members and two civilians kidnapped and killed by the attackers, according to Coahuila Gov. Miguel Riquelme.”
The shootout comes days after Trump said he was planning on designating Mexico’s cartels as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, a move Mexico’s government rejected. Attorney General Bill Barr is expected to visit Mexico City this week to discuss Trump’s plan.
-- Authorities in Mexico arrested several people suspected of involvement in the killings of nine members of the LeBaron family, an extended clan of American Mormons living in Sonora. Sheridan reports: “Officials didn’t provide details, and the attorney general’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. The newspaper El Universal cited sources as saying three people were arrested in Bavispe, not far from La Mora. … Julian LeBaron, a family spokesman and longtime anti-violence activist, said the three suspects detained Sunday were low-level ‘thugs.’ He and about 50 other members of his extended family are scheduled to meet with López Obrador on Monday morning. ‘We think that’s the reason why they went and picked up these local thugs — so these people can say, ‘Yeah, we did something about this,’’ he said. He said the family wasn’t satisfied with the arrests of the triggermen, but wanted the detention of ‘the people who were responsible for giving the order’ to carry out the attack.”
-- Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina. Rachel Siegel reports: “‘Brazil and Argentina have been presiding over a massive devaluation of their currencies. which is not good for our farmers,’ Trump said in Monday morning tweet. He then directed his attention to the Federal Reserve, saying that the body should ‘act so that countries, of which there are many, no longer take advantage of our strong dollar by further devaluing their currencies. This makes it very hard for our manufactures & farmers to fairly export their goods. Lower Rates & Loosen - Fed!’ … The surprise announcement came after it appeared that the White House was preparing to dial back its adversarial trade approach in the months leading up to next year’s elections. … Earlier in Trump’s presidency, in March 2018, top steel suppliers including Brazil, South Korea and Japan complained that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative had yet to establish a process for countries to apply for tariff exemptions just days before tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum were scheduled to take effect. At the time, Brazil was the No. 2 steel supplier to the United States.”
-- The victims in the London Bridge fatal stabbing attack were recent Cambridge University graduates dedicated to prison reform. Kim Bellware reports: “Saskia Jones, a 23-year-old from Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, was identified Sunday by London’s Metropolitan Police as the second fatality in the attack. Jack Merritt, a 25-year-old from Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, was identified Saturday. Both were involved with Learning Together, a prison-based education program of Cambridge. Merritt was a coordinator and Jones was a volunteer, university officials said. Jones’s family described her as ‘a funny, kind, positive influence’ whose death leaves ‘a huge void.’ … Jones’s family also highlighted her dedication to criminal justice. That passion, they said, had prompted her to apply to a police graduate recruitment program in which she hoped to specialize in victim support. … Merritt, the program coordinator at Cambridge’s Learning Together program, was remembered by his family as a ‘beautiful, talented boy’ who ‘always took the side of the underdog.’ … Merritt’s family urged the public not to use his death as a justification for the kinds of punitive sentencing he fought against.”
-- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his rival Jeremy Corbyn traded blame over the early release of London Bridge attacker Usman Khan, a convicted Islamist terrorist who was let go from prison halfway through his 16-year sentence for plotting to blow up the London Stock Exchange. William Booth reports: “Khan, who was freed on parole 11 months ago with an electronic tracking device on his ankle, began his attack Friday afternoon as he was entering a conference intended to rehabilitate violent offenders and terrorists. … Johnson, appearing on a BBC political affairs show, said ‘the reason this killer was out on the streets was because of automatic early release, which was brought in by a lefty government.’ He was referring to the government of former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, which ended in 2010. … Johnson refused to concede any responsibility. Whatever the Tories failed to do in the past, his government will fix it if he wins a majority in the Dec. 12 elections, he said. … Corbyn, Johnson’s principal opponent in the elections, called the government’s early release of Khan ‘a complete disaster’ and called for a ‘very full investigation.’ In a speech in York on Sunday, Corbyn took aim at the cuts to police forces since the Conservatives came into power — a deficit of some 20,000 officers compared to years before.”
-- Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he will step down next month, after an investigation into the 2017 killing of a journalist raised questions about the role of his former chief of staff and ensnared other members of his inner circle. Chico Harlan reports: “‘This is what the country needs at the moment,’ Muscat said in a nationally televised address. He said he would resign as leader of his own party on Jan. 12 and step down as prime minister of the Mediterranean island nation of half a million people in ‘the days after.’ The decision was the largest political convulsion yet in the investigation into the car bomb death of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a widely read investigative journalist who focused on the corruption of Maltese politicians and other power brokers.”
-- Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev warned that Russia and the U.S. must avoid a “hot war.” From CNN: “Back in 1989, the United States and the Soviets were on opposite sides of the conflict, with Washington supporting mujahideen fighters trying to topple the government of Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah's Soviet-backed regime. But just over two years later, the USSR collapsed, assistance to the Kabul government dried up and Najibullah's government fell. Asked what lessons could be drawn from the withdrawal of Soviet troops, Gorbachev said: ‘They must be withdrawn. That is the main lesson. You know, it's like a match. The match is lit, a fire spreads. And these clashes, when the leading, largest countries in this conflict become ever more involved, they are dangerous for all nations.’
"The fall of the Berlin Wall was preceded by another pivotal moment: The signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987. That pillar of arms control effectively fell apart this year, after the United States formally withdrew and the Russian government said it had been consigned to the trash can. Asked about the demise of the treaty that he signed alongside Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev expressed a hope that such arms control agreements could be revived. … The ultimate goal of arms control, he added, must be to get rid of nuclear weapons completely. That, however, seems a more remote possibility, given the enduring mistrust between Moscow and Washington. US-Russian relations are now at their worst since the Cold War, but Gorbachev expressed hope that it would be possible for Washington and Moscow to find a way to prevent a ‘hot war’ in the future.”
-- A U.S. drone strike killed civilians, Afghan officials claimed. From the Times: “An American drone strike on a car carrying a woman who had just given birth in southeastern Afghanistan left five people dead, including the mother, three of her relatives and the driver, Afghan officials and family members said on Sunday. The strike in the Alisher District of Khost Province occurred either late Friday night or early Saturday, they said. The woman, Malana, 25, had given birth to a son, her second child, at home. But her health had deteriorated soon after and relatives had been taking her to a clinic. On their way home, their vehicle was hit. After the strike, there was confusion about whether the newborn was among the victims. Later, it became clear that the baby had not been in the car. Turab Khan, a relative, said the boy was safe at home.”
-- Gunmen in Burkina Faso massacred 14 Christians during a church service. Danielle Paquette reports: “Sunday’s massacre follows a string of attacks by radical Islamist insurgents on military posts, a mining convoy and places of worship in the restive countryside that the cash-strapped military has struggled to contain. The assailants fled on motorbikes after spraying bullets into the Protestant congregation, authorities said. … No group has asserted responsibility for the attack yet, but fighters linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda routinely ambush soldiers and civilians in a campaign to sow division, gain recruits and seize territory. … The church ambush in Hantoukoura follows attacks on places of worship that have killed dozens this year in the country’s borderlands. … The gunfire is often indiscriminate, analysts say, but extremists have targeted men for wearing crosses and Muslim leaders who do not follow their rules.”
-- Political leaders and diplomats are meeting in Madrid for two weeks, starting today, for talks on climate change. From the BBC: The meeting “was due to be held in Chile but was cancelled by the government due to weeks of civil disturbances. Spain then stepped in to host the event, which will see 29,000 attendees over the two weeks of talks. … This meeting in Madrid signals the start of a frantic 12 months of negotiations that will culminate in Glasgow with COP26 in November next year. Some 50 world leaders are expected to attend the meeting in the Spanish capital - but [Trump] will not be among them. However, [Nancy Pelosi] will attend the conference with a congressional delegation."
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Mike Bloomberg, who has had a cozy and transactional relationship with the regime in Beijing, denied that Xi is a dictator:
This video is remarkable, asked about US a greenhouse gas emissions compared to China, Michael Bloomberg goes into a full throated defence of the regime in Beijing on the environment, on their lack of democracy. I can’t believe how bad this is.— Brian Lilley (@brianlilley) November 28, 2019
A Princeton historian noted that public opinion was slow to move initially after the Watergate bombshells:
Interesting to look back and see how many of the bombshell moments during Watergate, including the release of the controversial expletives deleted telephone transcripts, didn't move public opinion as much as people thought they would. pic.twitter.com/kdONezTM8C— Julian Zelizer (@julianzelizer) December 1, 2019
A Post reporter noted the peculiar way Joe Biden greets some voters:
The Biden campaign unveiled its new bus, which sparked some jokes on Twitter:
This branding is kind of the epitome of Biden 2020, in that it— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) December 1, 2019
1. Appeals to nostalgia for 2012, when Biden used "malarkey" in the VP debate with Paul Ryan
2. Plays poorly in Twitterworld, where remembering something more than five years old basically makes you a grizzled shaman https://t.co/ck3JdRQiyF
for sale— Alexandra Petri (@petridishes) December 1, 2019
NO MALARKEY bus
Elizabeth Warren shared an emotional moment with a voter in Iowa:
Wow ok emotional moment at Warren’s town hall in IA. A young woman asks if Warren ever had anyone in her life who she looked up to who didn’t accept her. Warren says: “My mother” recalls when she couldn’t make her marriage work and her mom’s disappointment— Deepa Shivaram (@deepa_shivaram) December 2, 2019
Members of the Trump family celebrated a belated Thanksgiving dinner in Mar-a-Lago:
View this post on Instagram
Squad goals. Fun dinner with @realdonaldtrump and @flotus last night. It was great to see him for a belated family dinner, because while we all missed him at Thanksgiving, he was doing something more important... having dinner with our incredible troops in Afghanistan. Always thankful for family and time spent together. @kimberlyguilfoyle @erictrump @laraleatrump #thanksgiving #thankful
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I feel personally for this whistleblower. I know what he’s going through,” said Valerie Plame, America's most famous ex-spy, of the CIA employee who blew the whistle on Trump's Ukraine call. “His career is over. His world, it’s already been upended. I don’t think he’ll remain anonymous for long.”
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
The first lady unveiled this year’s White House holiday decorations:
Jill Biden almost hit her husband while gesturing at a campaign event, and he responded with a nibble:
Trevor Noah took a look at the latest tool the Department of Education is offering students: