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Last Man Standing 

The 2024 presidential campaign season officially kicked off this week with the Republican caususes in Iowa

Last Man Standing

The 2024 presidential campaign season officially kicked off this week with the Republican caususes in Iowa. (The Democratic caucuses will be held on March 5.) It feels like eons since December 2022, when Ron DeSantis was outshining even Donald Trump in the polls. The Florida governor traveled to every one of the Hawkeye State’s 99 counties in a bid to rack up an early win, and anything but a strong showing is presumed lethal to his campaign.

The final Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom Iowa Poll had DeSantis in third place with 16%, behind Nikki Haley at 20%, a distant second to the former president, who leads with 48%. Still, there’s plenty of ground to cover, and candidates are strategizing how to gather votes of those left in the dust — particularly erstwhile supporters of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who ended his second presidential bid having generated plenty of headlines, but garnered significant support only in New Hampshire.


The government of Ecuador’s attempt to curb the power of drug cartels has been given a harsh reality check. New president Daniel Noboa, sworn in two months ago, tried to strike a tough pose but instead sparked a revolt in seven prisons, resulting in at least 16 deaths and hundreds injured. The most dramatic scenes unfolded at a television station, as a criminal gang brazenly attacked during a live broadcast.

The drug cartels have kidnapped over a hundred people and helped give Ecuador the highest homicide rate in South America and the fifth-highest globally, with 46.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Many cartels chose Ecuador as a strategic distribution point for the drug trade.

Amid myriad internal challenges, the Biden administration has chosen to uphold the enduring American tradition of entering Latin America’s narco-wars and extending a helping hand. However, skeptics can’t help but wonder if this entrance comes fashionably late.

Spam in The Mail

A recent British TV series, Mr. Bates vs. the Post Office, has managed to turn a back-pages scandal into a major news story that is causing political headaches for the government. The four-part series dramatized a horrendous miscarriage of justice that saw over 900 Post Office employees wrongfully prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 for financial shortfalls at local branches that were in fact caused by faulty accounting software.

In 2019, Britain’s High Court ruled that the Horizon accounting system was defective, and the next year the government established a public inquiry that began overturning unjust convictions. But the scandal only became big news after the TV show aired. Now the government is gearing up to pay hundreds of millions of pounds in compensation, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced plans for legislation to overturn all remaining convictions. In the era of automation, it’s a lesson that when tech collides with bureaucracy, humans are pretty much left in the dust.

La Résistance

In a desperate attempt to halt his government’s collapse in the polls, French president Emmanuel Macron revamped his cabinet last week, promoting education minister Gabriel Attal to prime minister, making him at 34 the youngest ever to hold the position. This ambitious politician has climbed the ranks at breakneck speed, ascending from the rank of internal advisor to the president’s right-hand man in just 12 years.

This appointment is seen as an effort to counter the strong advance of the French right led by Marine Le Pen. Polls paint a stark picture: The National Rally party leader holds a commanding eight- to ten-point lead over Macron. Pundits say her lead is largely comprised of voters who aren’t naturally right wing but are simply disenchanted with Macron’s performance.

In appointing Attal, widely seen as a wunderkind, as prime minister, Macron aims to woo back the disheartened center. Nevertheless, many see it as a potential double-edged sword; while Attal is extremely popular among center-left voters, Macron’s image is increasingly tarnished. If the young Attal lives up to the hype and performs well, perhaps the current president will manage to avoid the political guillotine at the next election.

Red Sea Rage

The military strikes by the United States and the United Kingdom on the Houthis have shown that the conflict with the Red Sea pirates is far from over. While the world powers have finally opened fire to prevent terrorists from disrupting maritime trade, the Iran-backed Houthis claimed they “suffered no significant damage” and promised a “strong and effective response” to the military actions taken against them.

Meanwhile, January figures show that shipping through the Suez Canal has plunged by 35%. Vessels are opting for a lengthy detour around Africa. This has led to transportation costs skyrocketing by as much as 300%. With Iran threatening to enter the fray, the confluence of military strife and economic strain has become a ticking time bomb. The big question: What’s next?

“Control Your Client!”

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, to Donald Trump’s lawyer during his New York fraud trial.

Exhibiting classic courtroom theatrics, the former president shattered all protocols by asserting, “I’ve been prosecuted by someone running for office. This statute is vicious. It doesn’t give me a jury. It takes away my rights. We should receive damages for what we’ve gone through.”

This is what prompted the judge’s rebuke. In Trump’s defense, we understand what got on the former president’s nerves. On one hand, Attorney General Letitia James charges that he inflated his asset values to secure better loan terms. James is demanding a $370 million fine and a lifelong ban on conducting real estate transactions in New York.

Trump has already lost a $400,000 libel lawsuit against the New York Times. So he has reasons to be nervous...

The Asian Zelensky

Taiwan has chosen a new president, and Beijing is far from pleased. The victor is Vice President Lai Ching-te, a 64-year-old doctor who, in 1996, left his profession to dive into politics precisely because of the threat from the mainland.

In his victory speech, Lai declared, “We’re determined to safeguard Taiwan from continuing threats and intimidation from China.”

That pronouncement didn’t sit well with Xi Jinping. Beijing rushed to discredit the election results, insisting that “this will not impede China’s reunification.” If the Chicoms are indeed serious (and they tend to be), the Taiwanese leader is in a tough spot: he must find military means to deter China, knowing that the American commitment to the island’s defense is limited. If the (silicon) chips are down, Lai must wonder: Would America ride to the rescue?


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 995)

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