Politics roundup: Iran is hit with U.S. sanctions again


In this week’s politics roundup, the United States keeps up its sanctions-happy streak. Meanwhile, Paul Manafort gets into further trouble.

Iran sanctions go back into effect

On Monday, U.S. officials announced to much contention that they would be re-imposing economic sanctions on Iran. The previous sanctions had been lifted as part of a 2015 deal, under which Iran would have greater economic access in exchange for significantly limiting its nuclear program.

The subsequent changes under this agreement were not enough for the White House administration, however. Independent observers, decreased amounts of nuclear fuel, and the support of every other signer of the treaty did not sustain U.S. participation.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that Iran is welcome to initiate a new deal, provided that it essentially tank its entire nuclear program, including enrichment of nuclear fuel such as uranium. Additionally, it would have to release all American citizens in its custody and end its support of commonly labeled terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthi militias and the Islamic Jihad. Iran would also be obliged to withdraw all of its forces from the ongoing conflict in Syria.

While American officials claim that this move will deescalate Iran’s dangerous and unregulated behavior, others are not so sure. Major European nations, inducing France, the U.K., and Germany, have come out strongly in support of the 2015 treaty. Other signees, such as Russia and China, have significant economic and political interests in the region. A U.S.-based disruption of those relationships could spell further chaos.

From the White House, however, things must seem more black and white. According to the sitting president, countries are either with the United States and its interests, or against them. That sounds familiar, somehow.

Manafort trial moves on with Gates testimony

This week continues Paul Manafort’s trial, focusing on charges of tax fraud and evasion leveled against the former Republican campaign manager. On day six of the trial, Manafort’s former protege Rick Gates took the stand.

Gates did not come to the defense of his colleague, as one would have expected even just a year ago.  Instead, he appeared as a witness for the prosecution, spilling the beans on years of high dollar financial fraud. When asked if he engaged in criminal activity with Manafort, Gates said simply, “Yes.”

Gates claimed that he knew all about the fraud and understood that he was committing a crime. “I was the one who helped organize the paperwork,” he said. Moreover, he helped to conceal a number of foreign bank accounts, along with 15 shell companies used to manage these funds, at Manafort’s direction.

Along with Manafort, Gates became heavily involved with the 2016 Republican campaign that eventually led to the White House. He remained there even after Manafort was ousted, following reports of Manafort’s suspicious association with Ukrainian businesses. Gates even became deputy chairman of the president’s inaugural committee.

Meanwhile, special counsel Robert S. Mueller and his team asked that a conversation between the trial judge, lawyers, and Gates be kept secret. Those questions might “reveal details of the ongoing investigation” into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

When Gates agreed to testify against Manafort in February, he also consented to the help the Mueller investigation. Much has been made of possible connections between Russian interference, foreign interests, and the White House administration. Many speculate the Mueller’s team is closing in on more and more individuals involved in election interference. That said, it is unclear how Gates has helped Mueller, or if he has had anything substantive to say at all.

Special elections outline tensions

Even though the mass of U.S. elections won’t occur until November, they are already stirring up considerable speculation and debate nationwide. That’s not even due to the endless flood of campaign ads and political flyers that have infected your mailbox.

This time, it’s because of special elections and primaries. It seems as if the 2016 presidential election has tipped off far more interested in these occasional and oftentimes one-off elections across the country. People on any part of the political spectrum are gearing up for a major fight.

Republicans may face an especially difficult battle, given recent news out of multiple Midwest states. Kansas still has yet to nominate a Republican governor, thanks to a fight between incumbent Jeff Colyer and far-right Kris Kobach. That said, Kobach’s lead has shrunk considerably as of late. If Kobach were to win, his divisive politics could further fracture Republican voting blocks in an already fragile time.

Races for the House of Representatives are especially tense. Republicans can only afford to lose 22 seats in the House and still maintain a tenuous one-vote majority. Meanwhile, increased activity on the left has made many lawmakers, incumbent or otherwise, nervous.

Yet, given the volatile nature of the political landscape, nothing is for certain until election night itself. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, himself a Republican, has publicly expressed doubt both about his party’s chances and political chaos in general. “In the era of Trump,” he said recently, “Things can change in 24 hours, for good or bad.”

Collins indicted on insider trading

While Gates and Manafort are currently dealing with their own political woes, other political figures have been brought into the legal spotlight. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors announced that Representative Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) was charged with insider trading. Collins, one of the first Congressional members to publicly support Trump, reportedly engineered a biotech investment in order to avoid a significant loss.

Last year, Collins had received word that an Australian biotech firm had just completed an unfavorable drug trial. Rep. Collins then called his son, Cameron, with the information, which would not be made public for days. Reportedly, Cameron Collins and his own colleagues used this insider information to save over $700,000 in investments.

Collins, since released on a $500,000 bond, has pushed back against the allegations, calling them “meritless.” Likely, his fellow House Republicans are hoping that prosecutors will agree; a few of them invested in the same biotechnology firm, at Collins’ urging. Though nothing in the indictment against Collins spotlights any other lawmakers, Democrats in the House say that Republicans may still have to answer some difficult questions about their investments.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

If you ever feel bad about the state of politics or the environment, at least be glad that you don’t live in the Victorian era. If something wasn’t out to deny you the ability to vote or take away the simple joys of a weekend, it was probably going to poison you. It hardly seems worth all of those fancy dresses, but only just.

From our modern perch, free of arsenic and asbestos, the spectacle of Victorians inadvertently poisoning themselves turns into a fascinating subject. If only we could travel back in time and tell our ancestors not to like the color green so much. Turns out that bright, acid-like greens were produced in part by arsenic. Bad news if you just ordered a practically neon green dress. Oh, and you really shouldn’t lick that green wallpaper.

Related Story. Politics roundup: Election interference seems to be everywhere. light

By the way, the Victorians really didn’t care too much for petty things like “color harmony” or “subdued palettes.” Maybe all of those years of rather drab colors and clothing styles made them go a little crazy for the newfangled synthetic dyes. All of a sudden, bright shades from all corners of the rainbow were available. Then again, maybe it was those same shades that drove them crazy and ruined their health, too.

If that didn’t start your stomach churning, then check out the BBC’s list of common Victorian home hazards. The time travelers out there shouldn’t worry too much, though. You’ll be just fine if you never eat bread, drink milk, wash with soap, or use makeup. Whatever you do, don’t take the stairs.