Trump-free Friday politics roundup


Iran has an election, the US still can’t quite figure out what’s going on with Russia, and more in this week’s politics roundup.

Election day in Iran

A critical presidential election is happening today in Iran. Current President Hassan Rouhani, a general moderate, is going up against the conservative Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani, who was elected in 2013, promised increased freedom of speech, greater economic growth, and less fraught relationships with the United States. Under his administration, Iran has also seen growing social and economic freedoms for women.

Raisi, meanwhile, has taken a more hardline stance. He is openly critical of the nuclear deal with the United States and generally favors a more populist line of politics. Raisi is more favored amongst rural and religious voters, while Rouhani is the favorite of younger and more urban Iranians.

Both candidates participated in a volatile televised debate last week. Political spectacle is no stranger to anyone or anywhere, naturally.

Special prosecutor named for Russia investigation

With the ousting of former FBI Director James Comey, the bureau was left without a chief. Moreover, the ongoing Russia investigation was effectively left without someone at its helm.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to oversee the ballooning investigation. Another former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, has taken over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the country’s possible ties with the current presidential administration.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller. Rosenstein stated that

"What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation. Reporters revealed that he had met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, thus raising the specter of Russian interference with the AG himself. Sessions claims that these meetings were part of his general duties as a then-Senator and had nothing to do with the 2016 election.

Mueller, who is respected by many Democratic and Republican members of Congress, will have a unique and inevitably tense role. He now has full authorization to direct the investigation and can only be fired by Rosenstein. Furthermore, Rosenstein, if he does want to oust Mueller, must provide good cause and give notice to Congress. Mueller can also prosecute federal-level crimes that may be uncovered during the course of the investigation.

This Comey mess is still going on

It’s not as if we shouldn’t still be paying attention to the debacle that was James Comey’s firing. It raises serious concerns about conflicts of interest, Russian interference, and how much Comey tried to keep up the judicial ethics of his bureau.

Of course, who would blame you if the fiftieth news feature on the subject makes you want to stumble out into the street and scream obscenities at the sky? I certainly wouldn’t, anyway.

At any rate, people are still wondering about the exact details of the Comey firing. Why, exactly, was the FBI Director booted out of office? Was it really for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, as the presidential administration claims?

Or, wait, the president eventually said it was related to the Russia investigation, a statement which probably meant that at least one White House staffer burst into tears of frustration. Our money is on embattled White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Sources have even said that the president asked Comey to stop the investigation into Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor. Flynn was eventually fired regarding his undisclosed contacts with Russian officials.

Comey, meanwhile, was “unsettled” by the president’s attempts to establish closer ties with the FBI and its investigation. He also created extensive memos detailing these interactions and distributed them amongst his staff.

The Director’s attempts to establish boundaries with the White House may very well have spelled the end of his federal career. Even trying to blend into some White House curtains didn’t seem to help him.

Sweden drops charges against Assange

Swedish prosecutors have decided to drop their extradition request for Julian Assange, the programmer and notorious founder of WikiLeaks, an organization dedicated to published classified government documents. Essentially, Assange has been able to evade the requirements of the European Arrest Warrant that would have sent him back to that country for prosecution.

Swedish top prosecutor Marianne Ny made it clear that this was not an exoneration of Assange. “We are not making any pronouncement about guilt”, she said. The plaintiff in the rape case expressed shock at the decision. She maintains her charges against Assange.

Assange had been wanted in Sweden for a rape investigation, leading to his current seven year stint in London’s Ecuadorian embassy. The United Kingdom, which has an extradition agreement with Sweden, had promised to arrest Assange and transport him for trial.

This does not mean that you’ll see Assange strolling about the streets of London any time soon, however. The UK says that it could arrest him for failing to surrender to a court. This could lead to either a fine or up to a year in prison.

More importantly, it could lead to Assange’s extradition to the United States. US officials want to prosecute him for leaking thousands of classified documents via WikiLeaks. However, the UK has not disclosed whether or not it has received an extradition request from the US.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

So, are we all in agreement that volcanoes are pretty cool? Now, I’m not so keen on the human destruction that a volcanic eruption might wreak. However, the history of volcanism is pretty fascinating and worth a few minutes of your time.

Take, for instance, the history of volcanoes and eruptions on Iceland. The tiny island country has an outsized geologic history. The Eldgjá eruption in 934 CE was so massive that it spewed over 20 square kilometers of lava across the region.

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This occurred just as Norse settlers were beginning to settle the island. That’s one of the largest flood basalt-style eruptions in known history. It undoubtedly made a mark on the human inhabitants of Iceland, though many refused to leave their new home.

Another Icelandic volcano, Laki, created considerable environmental disruption with its eight month-long eruption in 1783-1784. It was so intense that it may have even helped to kick start the French Revolution.

That’s all for this week’s roundup.