Saturday, the 22nd of July
Welcome back,

Here's everything you need to know but may have missed. This week we dive deep into a few major announcements concerning US internal and foreign policy. After that we investigate why a possible successor to Xi Jinping has fallen from favour. Brief visits to Jerusalem and Kabul follow.

Happy reading. 

- Tom
It's been a huge week in American politics. The collapse of support for the revised Senate healthcare bill was a stinging blow to President Donald Trump and the Republican party. But even as one electoral promise was forfeited, another was fired up: Trump's investigation into voter fraud during the 2016 election. 
Donald Trump pretends to drive a fire-truck while the healthcare bill collapses.
Healthcare - Conservative politician howled in protest when Barrack Obama initially passed his healthcare reform in 2010. The policy was (per Obama's own admission) an imperfect piece of legislation tackling a devilish problem. The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. 'Obamacare') aimed to untangle the knots of inequity that result in Americans paying more for healthcare than any developed nation and yet receiving staggeringly poor outcomes. While it stopped short of being a single payer solution, Obamacare was nonetheless viewed by Republicans as a deeply socialist policy. So the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare has been seven years in the making.

It has also been an abject failure. Despite controlling both houses of the government, the GOP has succeeded only in showing that it was not equal to the task. In May the Senate failed to rubber-stamp a bill that narrowly passed Congress. The upper house then went back to the drawing board, only to produce a bill almost identical to its predecessor. The new bill retained too many contentious elements: tax cuts for the wealthy coupled with deep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. It would also cause tens of millions to lose their health insurance. The calculus may have been appealing to the GOP but it certainly rattled the nation: $420b worth of savings over a decade at the cost of 32 million citizens losing their coverage.

So it was unsurprising that despite Trump's threats and remonstrations, a handful of Senators withdrew support, fearing they would lose their own seats at the 2018 midterms. McConnell and some of the other do-or-die GOP senators are still pushing for another vote on the bill next Tuesday but they've done little so far to win back their wayward colleagues. The bill is not expected to pass. 

Voter fraud - During the 2016 election campaign Trump said he was concerned about the spectre of widespread voter fraud. Experts questioned the claim, pointing to data that voter fraud has not been even a minor issue, let alone a significant one, in any modern US election. Even so, and despite having won the election, the possibility of voter fraud has become something of an obsession for the US president. The Federal Electoral Commission states unambiguously that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.87m but suffered a defeat in the Electoral College. Regardless, Trump has pushed ahead with his theory and has appointed US Vice President Mike Pence as the head of the voter fraud commission. 

This new commission gathered for its first public meeting this week amongst widespread criticism of its aim and reason for existence. One commissioner, Kris Kobach, appeared on national television and gave the bewildering assessment that "we may never know" how many people voted for Trump and Clinton. None are more perplexed than the officials at the FEC. At the meeting a method for detecting interstate double-voting was proposed. But this method has been ridiculed for having a 99% margin of error. In fact, Pence's team seem to be running into roadblocks by the dozen: 44 states and the District of Columbia have already refused to hand over voter registration data. 

Syria policy - Also this week, in an apparent move to improve relations with Russia, the Trump administration directed the Central Intelligence Agency to halt its support of anti-Assad rebels in Syria. While US policy in Syria has certainly been piecemeal and reactive, the supply of weapons and training to moderate rebels in the south had an obvious imperative. Officials expressed dismay over the decision which hands a tactical and PR victory to Russia's client, Bashar al-Assad. 
A rising star burns out.
Chongqing chief ousted - In the space of a few short hours Sun Zhengcai went from the Communist Party boss of China's third-largest city to political has-been. The 53-year-old Sun had an ambitious career trajectory; he was the youngest member of the Politburo and appeared destined for the top job. But on Saturday he was detained, questioned and replaced. The move came as the state's anti-corruption watchdog revealed that it has punished 210,000 officials in 2017.

In Chongqing, Sun replaced Bo Xilai - another rising star in the Party who had fallen afoul of President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption purge. In an extraordinary and salacious case, Bo and his wife were jailed for life, although many believed that his real crime lay in posing a credible threat to Xi's leadership. Ostensibly, Sun failed to clean Chongqing of Bo's corruption, and so has also run out of luck and time. 

Such is the dearth of information in China that most Sinologists remain thoroughly puzzled: Was Sun a threat to Xi's 2022 reappointment? Was he a scapegoat ahead of this year's 19th Party Congress? Is the Chongqing post simply a poisoned chalice? Or do Sun and Bo represent a streak of dissent in that city?
Tensions soared in Jerusalem this week.
Clashes at al-Aqsa - The juxtaposition of the third-holiest site in Islam, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the world's premier synagogue, the Dome on the Rock, is yet again proving to be a problem. The proximity and importance of these two places of worship is not lost on agitators of any stripe. Last Friday three Israeli Arabs attacked the site, gunning down two Israeli policeman before suffering the same fate. In response, Israeli security forces cancelled Friday prayers and rolled out a series of defensive measures at the entrances (including turnstiles and metal-detectors).

That seemingly prudent move has sparked a full week of bloody protests, highlighting the religious and political sensitivities that surround the complex. Palestinians have persisted in praying outside the mosque and demonstrators have been met with rubber-bullets, sound-grenades and truncheons. 50 protestors (and half a dozen paramedics) were injured on Tuesday alone as clashes continued through the night. Israeli security personnel justified the move as preventative, but the Palestinians of East Jerusalem (already living under Israeli military rule) see this as a stepping-stone to a total takeover of their mosque. 
Spurned: Abdul Rashid Dostum.
Warlord, vice-president, exile - Abdul Rashid Dostum is a towering figure in Afghanistan's tribal politics. Described by the United States as a "quintessential warlord", Dostum's fighters constituted an integral part of the Northern Alliance that had swept the Taliban out of power in 2001. It's believed that hundreds of Taliban prisoners died under his command, many by his own hand, during and after the war. The Northern Alliance disbanded to form the political parties of the post-Taliban era, but Dostum himself made the transition to peacetime with his former tendencies intact. He is now under investigation for abducting, assaulting and sexually assaulting a political rival.

Dostum was awarded the vice-presidency of Afghanistan by President Ashraf Ghani in 2014. The two have been locked in a power-struggle ever since. Earlier in the year Dostum was essentially exiled to Turkey, where he has licked his wounds and drummed up support amongst old allies. However, his triumphant return to the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif was foiled by the central government who stopped his plane from landing. We don't imagine this debacle is going to do anything positive for the country.
Trump worked-over an old ally this week.
  1. Trump Jr associate found laundering money.
  2. Junior, Kushner and Manafort due to testify.
  3. Mueller looking into Trump finances.
  4. Trump aides looking into Mueller and team.
  5. Trump lashed Sessions for recusing himself.
  6. Deutsche Bank preparing to be subpoenaed.
  7. Trump gave another bizarre interview to NYT.
  8. A secret Trump-Putin meeting was reported.
  9. Trump launched ‘Made in America Week’.
  10. He falsely claimed Akie Abe can’t speak English.
Grabbing life with both hands.
Miracle surgery success - Zion Harvey's hands are the delight of the medical community. Having lost both of them to sepsis at the tender age of two, the young American understandably struggled with basic life skills. However a radical new surgery (involving four teams of doctors working for more than 11 hours) replaced both his arms. The procedure has been a resounding success and is being heralded as a breakthrough in transplant surgery.

A wedding worth the price - Sarah Cummins had spent tens of thousands of dollars on the venue and catering for her wedding. But just before the ceremony, she and her partner hit the rocks and they called the wedding off. Despite her unenviable position, Cummins was a quick-enough thinker to use the food and venue: she invited homeless people and veterans to have a meal on her.
Back at it again.
Another own goal - FIFA officials just cannot help themselves. The laughably corrupt organisation has been dogged by graft allegations for decades but cannot meaningfully reform itself. In this latest scandal, senior VP Angel Maria Villar Llona was arrested (along with his son) by a Spanish anti-corruption team. 

More Catholic abuse - In revelations that have become all-too-familiar over the last decade, it was revealed that more than 500 boys had been physically and sexually abused at a Bavarian Catholic choir school. The report described abuses that spanned the second half of the 20th century as being like a concentration camp.
Your weekend long read... The six-month mark of Trump's presidency calls for a six-point review of the ways in which he is dismantling the United States. Enjoy (or perhaps, don't).