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.
Russia sells weapons systems to Syria
America’s longtime geopolitical frenemy Russia has once again stymied U.S. efforts abroad, this time with the shipment of advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to the government of Syria. The move shores up the Assad regime by giving it sufficient firepower to deter foreign interference in Syria’s civil war, which is going to make U.S.-backed efforts to facilitate a government transition much more difficult. Russia, for its part, claims the missiles are meant purely as a defensive measure for the Syrian government and say that the missiles would not alter the balance of power between the Assad government and rebel forces. Coupled with the Russian placement of warships in the Mediterranean near Syria, it seems Putin’s government is doubling down on its support of Assad.
Obama faces down three potential scandals
Obama just faced what may have been the worst week of his presidency, with three separate stories threatening to boil over into administration-threatening scandals. The first controversy centered around Benghazi, with some Republicans alleging that the administration knowingly engaged in a cover-up. The second story dealt with unnecessary federal investigations of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, while the final controversy revolved around a seizure of Associated Press phone records by the Department of Justice. It now seems as though the White House was largely free of wrongdoing: The State Department did almost all of the spin on Benghazi. The investigation issue is purely the domain of low-level IRS employees, and the seizure of AP records — though distasteful -- is not illegal. Despite the potentially damaging nature of these stories, Obama’s approval rating held steady this week.
Japan begins economic recovery
After more than two decades of economic stagnation, Japan may finally be back on the rise. Economic reports from the first quarter of the year indicate a 3.5 percent annual GDP growth rate. Assuming this trend holds, this will be Japan’s best rate of growth since 1991 (with the exception of 2010, though that was mostly just due to a balance of major losses in 2008 and 2009). Analysts are attributing this growth to inflationary policies from Japan’s new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, who has tried to weaken the yen to increase the profits of Japan’s export industry.
Hagel vows to stop sexual assault in the military
Following a series of high-profile incidents, the U.S. government has been reassessing the military’s sexual assault programs. First, the U.S. Air Force officer in charge of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit was charged with sexual battery following an assault in a Virginia parking lot, only two days ahead of a report that indicated a sharp rise in sexual assaults in the military. Earlier this week, news of a similar incident surfaced involving an Army sergeant in Fort Hood. In response, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has given military leaders a week to devise a new plan for sexual assault prevention. Whether this training will be enough to effectively combat sexual assault in the military is up for debate.
Red Line closures begin in Chicago
A major lifestyle change is coming to the South Side of Chicago this week. Sunday marked the last day that Red Line trains would run south of the Roosevelt Road station, and many commuters will have to find alternate routes to work in the five months of closures. It is not yet fully clear how this change will impact the predominantly black South Side Red Line community, though the traffic at the Garfield station on the Green Line is projected to swell to ten times its usual intensity as riders from the southernmost parts of the Red Line switch to the Green Line.
Entertainment bonus story
Kanye West performs on SNL, reveals name of new album
Rap star and “voice of this generation” Kanye West took the world by storm this weekend with a weird marketing campaign and a performance on Saturday Night Live. On Friday, West officially premiered the song “New Slaves,” the first to be revealed from his upcoming album, with visual projections at 66 locations across the world, including Northwestern’s own Ryan Field. He followed up that debut with a performance on SNL, where he performed both “New Slaves” and another song apparently titled “Black Skinheads.” Saturday also brought news of West’s new album, titled Yeezus, which is set to come out on June 18. Though strange, and perhaps ammunition for critics who accuse him of having a Messiah complex, the title is certainly fitting for an album that will allegedly include a song called “I Am A God.”
The week ahead: UK’s Cameron faces internal dissent over EU membership
The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, is facing a challenge to his authority from inside his own party, as fellow Conservative politicians push him toward renegotiating between the U.K. and the European Union. It started last week when members of the Conservative party tried to pass a motion formally regretting the omission of a reference to a referendum about the U.K.’s European Union membership in the Queen’s Speech (the rough U.K. equivalent to the State of the Union). In response, Cameron offered up a draft bill that would provide for just such a referendum, a move that critics (including a former Conservative leader) say was motivated by fear of his own party. Following the success of that draft bill on a Private Member’s Ballot (which allows members of Parliament to introduce their own bills), expect to see more debate in the weeks ahead about the ideal relationship between the U.K. and the European Union, as well as debate over Cameron’s ability to control his own party.