10 Mind-Blowing Things That Happened This Week (11/22/19)
In today’s hyperfast political environment, keeping on top of the news can seem a Herculean task. So why not let us do the hard work for you? Every Friday, Listverse rounds up the most essential stories from the week, from the world-changing, to the shocking, to the inspiring.
In this second week of our rebooted, renamed news column, the airwaves once again found themselves groaning under the weight of the dreaded I-word. Yep, impeachment was big news again, as it probably will continue to be for the foreseeable future. You can scroll down to the bottom to find out just what shenanigans were happening on Capitol Hill. But first, we’re gonna be discussing the continuing protests in Hong Kong, Israel’s continuing inability to form a government, and the bizarre way rich and powerful idiots continue to defend Jeffery Epstein in car crash TV interviews. Ready to gracefully dive into the Olympic-sized swimming pool of news? Let’s go.
10 Israel Once Again Failed to Form a Government
Are you a Brit tearing their hair out at the endless paralysis and repeat elections Brexit is causing? Just be glad you’re not an Israeli voter! Back in April, an early election failed to return a workable government. So a snap election was called for September. That, too, failed to produce a clear winner.
After incumbent PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to cobble together a coalition broke down, the baton was passed to Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White alliance, and holder of the most seats in the Knesset. He was given three weeks under Israeli law to form a government. Late Wednesday night, that time limit expired. Although the next attempt goes to the Knesset, it seems unlikely that will result in a government. Israel is almost certainly headed for its third election within twelve months.
But will another election solve anything? Israeli politics is so fractured, and so many parties are refusing to work with other parties, that its hard to see how the math could work. Things have further been complicated by Israel’s attorney general last night finally charging Netanyahu with bribery and corruption.
9 Prince Andrew Gave a Car Crash Interview on Jeffery Epstein
You all know Jeffrey Epstein, the hyper-connected billionaire sex trafficker and child abuser who committed suicide after his recent arrest (or did he? See below). But nobody apparently knew him like Britain’s Prince Andrew. After criticism for his connections to Epstein – including allegedly sleeping with a minor Epstein trafficked for him – the Prince finally sat down for a BBC interview to try and clear his name. To call it a car crash would be to do a disservice to freeway pileups.
At the bare minimum, you’d expect a guy who’d been super close friends with a convicted sex offender to offer a heartfelt apology to Epstein’s victims. Prince Andrew didn’t even do that. Instead, he dodged questions about why he attended Epstein’s 2010 release party; told the interviewer that his main fault was being too honorable towards his friends; claimed he couldn’t have had sex with an underage girl because he was eating pizza at the time; and declared an injury from the Falklands War meant he was incapable of sweating.
The backlash was as swift as it was predictable. Charities and companies severed ties with the Prince, who was withdrawn from his official palace duties.
8We Discovered the FBI are Investigating Epstein’s Death as a “Criminal Enterprise”
Sticking with the rich and powerful’s favorite sex offender for a moment, this was also the week we learned the FBI are now investigating Epstein’s death as the result of a possible “criminal enterprise”. The statement came courtesy of Bureau of Prisons Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, who was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although she also said she had no evidence Epstein’s death was “was anything other than a suicide,” it was still a clear sign that not everyone is satisfied with the official narrative.
The story goes like this: on the night of August 9, Epstein was left alone in his cell. The guards were meant to check on him every thirty minutes, but instead apparently fell asleep. Epstein wasn’t monitored for three hours, during which time the cameras outside his cell malfunctioned. He was found dead the next morning, in what was later ruled a suicide.
Epstein was a guy connected to many, many powerful people. And not just Prince Andrew powerful. He was friends with both Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Perhaps unsurprisingly, quite a few people now think he was murdered to keep him from spilling the beans. We’ll see what the FBI investigation concludes.
7 Sweden Dropped its Rape Case into Julian Assange
In 2012, Julian Assange fled into the Ecuadorian embassy in London to escape a Swedish arrest warrant for rape. At the time, Assange claimed he was afraid complying with the warrant would end with him being extradited to America for leaking classified government material. This April, his time in the embassy ended unceremoniously when Ecuador dropped his protections and he was dragged out by London police.
Since then, Assange has been sitting in a London jail, serving 50 weeks for breaching bail conditions, both the Swedish and American extradition orders hanging over him. This week, Sweden abruptly dropped their charges against Assange. While that sounds like good news for the Wikileaks co-founder, it also means he might wind up in a US court even sooner than anticipated.
When dropping the case, Swedish prosecutors were very clear that they still believe Assange committed the crime, and that it’s only the deterioration of evidence over time that makes the case not worth pursuing.
6 Malta Finally Arrested the Alleged Mastermind Behind a Journalist’s Murder
On October 16, 2017, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia got inside her car and started driving. Seconds later, an explosion engulfed the vehicle. At the time of her death, Galizia had been uncovering corruption within both the Maltese government and business communities.
The car bomb that killed Galizia triggered outrage in Malta, but a slow response from the police. Authorities were accused of dragging their feet, lest someone powerful be implicated in Galizia’s murder. Finally, after intense international pressure, the assassination’s so-called “middleman” was arrested. He was offered immunity from prosecution in return for naming the mastermind. It seems likely he took it. This week prominent businessman Yorgen Fenech was arrested on his luxury yacht. We may know soon if he ordered the hit.
Fenech owns 17 Black, a company Galizia had accused of facilitating bribes to Maltese politicians. His arrest echoes the fate of Slovak businessman Marián Ko?ner, who was recently charged with ordering the notorious 2018 murder of journalist Jan Kuciak. Both men deny the allegations.
5 Bolivia Plunged Further into Chaos
Just last week, we told you how Bolivia’s indigenous leftwing leader, Evo Morales, had fled the country following mass protests over recent election irregularities. But rather than calm things down, his exit only seems to have fanned the flames. Bolivia has spent the last week in a state of chaos, as Morales supporters have blocked roads and clashed with police. At time of writing, the death toll of the protests stands at 31, with the unrest showing no signs of abating.
Morales’ supporters claim the president’s removal was part of a right wing coup orchestrated by the opposition. While this conveniently overlooks Morales apparently rigging recent elections, it’s worth noting that the interim government has already overstepped its bounds. Under Bolivian law, the interim government is just there to call fresh elections and ensure they’re properly run. Instead, president Jeanine Anez has taken a chopper to Bolivia’s foreign policy and purged many of Morales’ appointees. No-one is playing fair, it seems.
Bolivia is now facing chronic shortages due to roadblocks, and the potential for the situation to deteriorate. Things haven’t been helped by Morales repeatedly hinting he’ll return from exile to lead his supporters.
4 Hong Kong Also Plunged Further into Chaos
Another week, another flotilla of bad news from Hong Kong. After months of pro-democracy protests paralyzing the territory, things escalated to dangerous new heights as the weekend. On Sunday, protestors barricaded themselves inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University. When police tried to clear them, they responded with petrol bombs. So the police unleashed teargas and rubber bullets and laid siege to the campus. At time of writing, the siege is still ongoing.
The siege is the most dramatic incident in a half-year of dramatic incidents. Protestors who tried to escape the University have been beaten back with water cannons, leading to insane scenes like dozens of students trying to abseil 8 meters from a bridge onto a glass-strewn road where motorbikes waited to speed them away. Others have attempted to crawl out through sewers. Most, however, have been caught by the police. 400 have been arrested. They face charges of rioting and 10 years in prison.
At the heart of the standoff is the protestors’ fear of police, who they accuse of brutality and torture. This means simply surrendering isn’t seen as an option. With only a few dozen students still holding out inside the university, it’s only a matter of time before the siege is broken.
3 Iran’s Plunge Redefined Notions of Chaos
“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” So says Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker in the smash hit film of the same name. Perhaps one of the reasons the film has been such a smash is because we can all relate: it really does seem to be getting crazier. As protests continued to shake Bolivia, Hong Kong, and Chile (see last week), yet another country found itself paralyzed by demonstrations. After the government hiked fuel prices, Iran exploded. Just as in other countries, the authorities’ response soon turned dangerous.
Almost from the moment the protests ignited last Friday, Tehran shut down the internet and sent armed soldiers out onto the streets. While the combined death toll of the protests in Bolivia (31), Chile (19), and Hong Kong (2 – excluding suicides) is comfortably under 60, in Iran it has already exceeded 100. Groups like Amnesty claim Iranian authorities have fired live rounds indiscriminately into crowds in the worst Iranian crackdown since 2008.
Tehran has now claimed “victory” against the protestors, but it’s a Pyrrhic victory at best. The scale of violence this week in Iran shows that a) people are MEGA pissed, b) the authorities are scared, and c) the Iranian regime may not last much longer.
2 Roger Stone was Convicted of Lying to Congress
Remember the Mueller investigation? Remember how it was all meant to be a big “nothingburger”? Well, the fallout from it is still ongoing, and still taking down plenty of people. Last Friday, it was the turn of former Trump advisor Roger Stone. Stone stood accused of lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice, pretty much all of it relating to Wikileaks’ publishing of sensitive Democrat emails during the 2016 election. After two days’ deliberation, a jury convicted him on all counts. He now faces years in prison.
During the 2016 campaign, it came to Stone’s attention that Wikileaks had compromising emails from the Democrat party. He attempted to coordinate with the website to find out when they would be releasing them, and then subsequently lied about it before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in September, 2017. It’s further been alleged that his reason for lying was to protect Trump.
The trial itself was a huge embarrassment for the president. Former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates testified under oath that Trump and Stone had discussed the Wikileaks emails on the phone – something the president has denied under oath.
1 Yet Another Bombshell Blew Up the Impeachment Inquiry
And so here we are again, at the big story of the 2019 fall-winter season: impeachment. Just last week, we told you about William Taylor’s bombshell testimony that Trump was overheard demanding a quid pro quo from Ukraine, with military aid being withheld until Kyiv opened an investigation into Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden’s son.
This week, another rhetorical artillery shell landed in the form of testimony from Gordon Sondland, the former hotelier and Trump friend turned US ambassador to the EU. In answer to the question “was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland responded: “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.” He then went on to implicate numerous officials, including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, vice president Mike Pence, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Per Sondland: “everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
As bombshells go, they don’t come bigger or shellier than that. In Sondland’s telling, everyone around Trump was quietly colluding to let the president’s reelection prospects dictate foreign policy. Worryingly for the president, this testimony isn’t coming from a nevertrumper or a disgruntled careerist ambassador, but one of his handpicked Washington outsiders. If things keep going on like this, expect to see more impeachment stuff occupying the #1 spot.