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Staying politically engaged over winter break

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A dire trap to be aware of this coming winter break is that, while away from the stress of college life, one might make the horrible mistake of thinking that the world is a good place. Thankfully, a cure for optimism does exist: pay attention to the news. Over the next couple of months in particular, several developing stories stick because of their terrible potential.

BREXIT

In an email interview with the Catalyst, Professor of Political Science Barbara Hicks suggested that Brexit (the word used for the United Kingdom leaving the European Union) would be an important news story to watch.

The future of Brexit is contentious. Theresa May, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, has released her plan for Brexit that has summarily been decried not only by her opposition but from within her own Conservative party. Many criticisms of her proposal hinge on that the UK will still be tied to most European Union regulations, including the continued surrender of trade sovereignty, but will have no voting power within the Union. May’s government needs to present a deal to Parliament by Jan. 21, 2019 and the UK will officially exit the Union on Mar. 29, 2019.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Hicks also raised questions about the possibility that some action will be taken in the aftermath of the newly released Fourth National Climate Assessment. The assessment, released on Nov. 23, could potentially pressure the United States to take some action regarding climate change. The report projects climate change will cost the U.S. up to a tenth of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2100.

“[Climate change is] virtually certain to increasingly affect U.S. trade and economy, including import and export prices and businesses with overseas operations and supply chains,” the report concluded.

The Trump administration has dismissed the economic projections of the report, claiming they are only valid for “the most extreme scenario.”

“The administration can’t on one hand issue this devastating report showing the facts and then on the other do nothing,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s time to act.”

RUSSIA IN UKRAINE

Both Hicks and Professor of Political Science Keith Fitzgerald expressed interest in what might emerge from Russia’s increased aggression towards Ukraine. On Nov. 25, a Russian border guard fired on three Ukrainian ships off the Crimean peninsula and seized their crews. This act has brought international condemnation, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel accusing Russia of violating a long-standing agreement for free movement in the area and calling the crisis “the doing of the Russian President.” The U.S. has also taken a critical stance against Russia, with President Donald Trump canceling a scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Nikki Haley, calling the event “yet another reckless Russian escalation.”

MUELLER REPORT

The investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has been one of the President’s peeves since it began, with President Trump referring to it as a “witch hunt” and “hoax” several times on his Twitter account. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager from March 2016 to August 2016, had his plea deal revoked on Nov. 28, with Mueller’s team accusing him of lying about his personal dealings in Ukraine. Additionally, on Nov. 29, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about President Trump’s business dealings in Russia. Trump has accused Cohen of lying in an attempt to get a lighter sentence.

While no official end date for the investigation has been declared by the Mueller team, there is a widely perceived sense that the end is nearing.  

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he attempted to conclude a report by the end of the year,” Rep. Adam Schiff said in an interview with Public Radio International’s (PRI) “The World.”

STATE GOVERNMENT

New College, like all other Florida state colleges, is managed by the legislature. They decide how much state funding the schools should receive. The current system used to evaluate colleges includes a provision where the three schools ranked as having the worst performance, which last year were Florida A&M University (FAMU), University of North Florida (UNF) and New College of Florida (NCF), are denied performance funding. Changes to the evaluation system, which may include the removal of this provision, are being drafted by the Board of Governors in response to a law passed by the legislature directing them to make a new “performance-based continuous improvement model focused on outcomes that provides for the equitable distribution of performance funds.”

“It sounds boring, but I’d pay attention to the new [Florida] legislature and the beginning stages of the budget process,” Fitzgerald said. “If it doesn’t sound interesting at a ‘big-picture’ level, it’s interesting to the New College community because we’re directly affected by what they do. Honestly, they have been really generous to us over the last few years.”

The Board of Governors will hold their next meeting on Jan. 30, 2019.

Information for this article was gathered from wsj.com, nytimes.com, bbc.com, floridapolitics.com, thehill.com, pri.org and cnn.com.

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