Each week, NBN Politics recaps the top five news stories from the past week and brings you a look at the week ahead. Welcome to the Fast Five.
With the arrival of his second term, President Obama is facing a shake-up in his top deputies and advisors. Big names like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have announced that they will be stepping down at the start of Obama’s second term. Over the past few weeks, the nominations for their replacements have been announced: Sen. John Kerry for Clinton, White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew for Geithner and former Sen. Chuck Hagel for Panetta. Most of these nominations are expected to run smoothly (though Lew's signature has generated some buzz), but Hagel’s is expected to be contentious.
Private visit to North Korea
Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson visited North Korea this past week. Characterized by Richardson as a “humanitarian mission”, commentators assumed the goal of the trip was to negotiate the release of Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old American tour operator being held in North Korea. The trip generated controversy inside the Beltway, as State Department officials feared the trip would lend legitimacy to young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and undermine official efforts to bring sanctions against North Korea. The atmosphere on the peninsula remains tense after a North Korean satellite launch in December and a change of power in South Korea.
New Chinese leadership
Following the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, China unveiled a new set of leaders at the end of November, and last week that leadership faced its first set of challenges. Internally, journalists at the Southern Weekly, China’s most popular weekly paper, went on strike over editorial censorship. The paper successfully negotiated a deal with propaganda officials, but heavy censorship continued after the deal. Outside its own borders, China faces intensifying conflict with neighbors over its maritime interests. Conflict with Japan continues over a set of disputed islands, and an argument from last month continues to simmer in the South China Sea. The East and South China Seas are expected to be a hotbed of tensions in 2013.
Venezuelan inauguration dispute
Following an operation for cancer in Cuba, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez continues to recover in Cuba. Chávez’s absence threatened to turn into a constitutional crisis this past week, as it meant Chávez would miss his official date of inauguration. The Venezuelan opposition argued that Chávez should be declared temporarily incapacitated and his post should be filled in the interim by the leader of the National Assembly. Chávez supporters, in turn, voted to simply delay the date of inauguration, a move which Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled constitutional. This fight over a relatively minor constitutional detail is only a taste of the power struggle expected should Chávez pass away.
Protests in India
The tragic death of a young woman in a gang-rape case sparked a series of protests across India at the end of last year. The protests began a national dialogue about attitudes towards women in a country that continues to be deeply, and at times violently, patriarchal. A movement supporting harsher punishments for rapists and stronger legal protections for women has attracted supporters from groups ranging from Amnesty International to right-wing paramilitary groups, though many argue that such laws do little to address the underlying cultural causes of violence against Indian women.
$1 TRILLION BONUS STORY
The U.S. Treasury Department has officially dismissed suggestions to mint a $1 trillion platinum coin. A surprising and oft-derided solution to the debt ceiling battle, the coin would have enabled President Obama to meet his legal obligation to spend the money Congress required in the budget without having to fight Republicans over the debt ceiling. The controversial idea had gained momentum in the past few weeks with endorsements from writers like the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman and a former head of the U.S. Mint. The Obama administration has no plans to order the minting, though if America is truly lucky the hypothetical coin will be the centerpiece of National Treasure 3.
The week ahead: gun control
Expect the already heated debate over gun control to become even more contentious this week, as Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on gun violence unveils its policy recommendations. Following the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., gun sales have spiked while the conversation about gun control has hit an all-time low with conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones setting the tone for the popular discourse. The nature of the task force’s recommendations remains unknown, though Biden has suggested they may include universal background checks and a ban on high capacity magazines.