What Just Happened? A Weekly Roundup of Politics

It’s been a tumultuous week for not just Jeff Bezos, but also Venezuela and its impending socio-political disaster, a deal (maybe) to fend off another government shutdown over border security, and backlash from a voter mandate in Washington state over raising the age for gun sales.

I’ll save our personal dignity and skip over the sexting drama and nonsense of Bezos’ private life and jump to the fact that Amazon is pulling out of their plan to develop a sprawling headquarters in Long Island City Queens, New York. Apparently, due to significant protests by local community members and a chilly reception by local representatives, Amazon has decided to back out of what would have potentially brought 25,000 high paying jobs to New York City. With skyrocketing rent prices and an extremely high cost of living, I expected an even higher exodus rate from NYC than we’re already seeing at 132 people a day.

Union leaders and lawmakers balked at the nearly $3 billion in tax incentives offered to Amazon as NYC’s subway continues to lag behind user demand, amongst other citywide challenges like affordable housing and school improvement. Jimmy Van Bramer, a City Councilman who represents Long Island City said Amazon’s choice was “a victory against unchecked corporate welfare.’’ It sounds like Amazon will continue to expand their company in NYC, just not to the large degree that it was initially intending — and without the tax subsidies.

The sitting President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, who won his seat in April 2013 after the death of Hugo Chavez, is slowly being unseated after so much drama in the last year it sounds like fiction. Maduro announced an economic emergency in the country in 2016 with inflation destroying the Venezuelan bolivar and widespread chaos. Protests have perpetuated since, even after he won the re-election last May (though many claim it to be a sham election). In August Maduro survived an assassination attack via drone (yeah, whoa) and the US government placed sanctions on his family members.

Enter Juan Guaidó the opposition leader and head of the General Assembly. A few weeks ago he declared himself the acting-president amid massive civil unrest on the same day that Maduro kicked all US ambassadors out of the country. Some call Guaidó’s rise to power a coup in the making. Humanitarian aid withers in Colombian warehouses near the border with Maduro’s armies blockading the roads to allow it in. There has been economic hardship in the country for years and while yes, aid is necessary, many say it’s not nearly enough and just a PR stunt by Guaidó to force the Venezuelan army to decide between the people and the President. Time will tell what happens here, but the US-backed Guaidó seems to be gaining momentum and international support from several countries eager to remove a failing socialist government from power in Venezuela.

So how about that government shut down? It seems the Senate has passed the government spending bill that will allocate only $1.375 billion for 55 miles of border fencing instead of the $5.7 billion Trump sought for a border wall. While Trump plans to sign the deal, he has now stated he will declare a State of Emergency to fund the whole wall. So much for Mexico paying for it, huh? While this move may appease his base, it will face enormous opposition as the House will most likely pass a disapproval resolution which will force a vote on the Senate floor. If it somehow miraculously makes it through Congress I suspect the ACLU is hurriedly working out how to file lawsuits against the declared emergency and will do all it can to stall the monument to Trump’s xenophobia along our southern border.

And finally, ballot initiative 1639 in Washington state passed last November and effective Jan 1, 2019, it required buyers of semi-automatic rifles to be 21 years old, up from 18. On July 1, 2019, new background checks will be implemented during gun sales for these specific weapons. This new criteria is exactly the same as the checks used in the sales of handguns. Washington is the sixth state in the nation to raise the age, and, while numerous lawsuits are awaiting their day in court to challenge the constitutionality of the law, many sheriffs are refusing to enforce it. 13 of Washington’s 39 counties are reportedly not enforcing the age change. This poses all sorts of challenges for potential legal ramifications.

Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in an open letter, “In the event a police chief or sheriff refuses to perform the background check required by Initiative 1639, they could be held liable if there is a sale or transfer of a firearm to a dangerous individual prohibited from possessing a firearm and that individual uses that firearm to do harm.”

While 2nd amendment discussions are always worthy of debate and discourse, it seems that those entrusted to enforce the law are currently choosing to break it. From my extensive research on police-related deaths, I can tell you if a police officer encounters an armed individual there is a much higher risk of that individual or the officer being involved in a gun-related injury or death. From that perspective, I would assume sheriffs would want to see fewer guns in the world, not more. But it seems their view is driven more by constitutionality than the loss of life. This thread of personal agendas overriding the safety and wellbeing of our communities across the globe is nothing new, but it seems to be taking more precedences than not these days.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects up social and environmental justice issues.

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