Europe/Americas update: June 3-4 2017

UNITED KINGDOM

Saturday night’s terrorist attack in London killed at least seven people, and with 21 people reportedly in critical condition there’s still a danger that figure could rise. Just before 10 PM local time, a van struck a crowd of pedestrians on London Bridge, and then drove to Borough Market, where three attackers got out and carried out a series of knife attacks on patrons in nearby establishments. All three attackers, who were wearing “suicide vests” that turned out to be fake, were killed by British police. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, naturally, but there’s no indication whether these three attackers were acting on their own, were part of a local network, and/or had support from overseas. The low-tech, minimal-planning nature of the attack (see those phony “suicide vests”) argues against an overseas component, but the fact that British authorities have already arrested 12 people in connection with the attack suggests that they think, at least, these guys were part of a larger network.

Most of Britain’s major political parties–all except the contemptible UKIP–suspended campaigning through Sunday evening, but Prime Minister Theresa May was accused of politicizing the tragedy with her declaration that “enough is enough”:

In her address, following a Cobra emergency meeting, May said that internet companies must not allow extremism a place to exist.

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed – yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide,” she said.

“We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism planning,” she said.

That all sounds wonderfully draconian, but the truth is I don’t think May has any idea what she’s doing right now. That’s just the impression I’ve gotten seeing her speak after this attack and after the Manchester Arena attack, so your mileage may vary.

Though it seems almost inhuman to bring this up, these attacks have taken place in the shadow of an election and there is no way to avoid the fact that they will affect that election. Recent polling has been very favorable for Labour–it’s looking like those ultra-pessimistic YouGov polls weren’t so much outliers as they were ahead of the curve–but polling in the UK is generally off and usually in the direction of the Tories, owing to the “Shy Tory Effect.” Moreover, May is the incumbent, so she should capture any “rally round the flag” effect, and has staked out the anti-immigrant ground where she would seem to be in position to capitalize on voters’ fears. On the other hand, May is vulnerable in precisely this situation, because as Home Secretary she oversaw a cut of 20,000 police officers that can reasonably be blamed for leaving Britain less secure. Also, Tories in general are vulnerable to accusations of too-close ties with Saudi Arabia, whose government funds radicalizing mosques all over the world. And again, while I know this is subjective, she’s seemed out of her depth in the public appearances I’ve seen her make after both of these attacks.

EUROPE

CYPRUS

UN Secretary General António Guterres met over dinner with the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot factions on Sunday evening and–wait, holy shit, they actually accomplished something. After things got so bad in this situation that the UN’s Cyprus envoy basically quit a couple of weeks ago, Guterres announced after his dinner that the two sides have agreed to resume talks later this month in Geneva.

RUSSIA

In a Sunday evening interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied having compromising information on US President Donald Trump. And I know I’ve already used this phrase once tonight, but this also seems like the kind of thing where if you’re having to deny it, you’re already in trouble. Putin also said he barely even met Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn at a now-infamous 2015 Moscow dinner celebrating the RT television network.

I didn’t watch the interview, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Putin said he’d never heard of the United States or Donald Trump until today. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly let him get away with it.

REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA

Putin also presumably has never heard of Macedonia, even though recently-leaked documents from Macedonia’s intelligence community suggest that Moscow has been actively subverting Macedonian politics since 2008 in an effort to keep the country out of NATO and the European Union:

Russian and Serbian efforts to push Macedonia away from the west have contributed to the country’s long-running political and ethnic crisis, the leaked documents suggest.

For the last nine years, Macedonia has been “undergoing strong subversive propaganda and intelligence activity” directed from the Russian embassy, according to a briefing prepared earlier this year for Vladimir Atanasovski, director of Macedonia’s administration for security and counter-intelligence (UBK).

That influence operation began in 2008 when Greece blocked Macedonia’s attempt to join Nato. Greece, its southern neighbour, disagrees with the use of Macedonia as the country’s name.

The document says: “By using the assets and methods of so-called soft power, as part of the strategy of the Russian Federation in the Balkans, the goal is to isolate the country [Macedonia] from the influence of the west.”

MALTA

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s Labour Party appears to have won Sunday’s snap elections. Muscat was forced to call for new elections after a spate of corruption allegations against his wife raised questions about his legitimacy, but a win sets him up for a new five year term.

FRANCE/GERMANY

French President Emmanuel Macron’s main plan for EU reform seems to involve the creation of a shared eurozone finance ministry. This could, if it isn’t just a cosmetic thing, actually go a long way toward resolving the fundamental problem with the euro, the thing that makes it such a shitty deal for any country not named Germany: the lack of a common eurozone fiscal policy. Asking countries to give up control of their monetary policy without offering a shared fiscal policy is a sucker’s bet, and it leads directly to situations like Greece. Consequently, of course, its very questionable whether Germany will go for it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel seems amenable to some eurozone reforms, but nothing this sweeping.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Brazilian authorities have arrested a close friend of President Michel Temer’s over charges related to the corruption investigation that is just about to land in Temer’s lap. Former Congressman Rodrigo Rocha Loures was allegedly recorded carrying a bag full of money courtesy of the same Brazilian businessman who has also allegedly been recorded discussing bribe payments with Temer.

COLOMBIA

FARC rebels are threatening to delay their demobilization under the terms of last year’s peace accord. They claim the government violated the deal by recently arresting a rebel fighter.

VENEZUELA

President Nicolás Maduro is going ahead with plans to hold a vote to elect a constituent assembly on July 30, even though this move is likely to increase political tension. Maduro’s opponents accuse him of trying to get around the opposition-controlled legislature this way, and say he’s rigged the process for electing the assembly to ensure that his party wins the vote (which they say they’re going to boycott anyway). Meanwhile, the Trump administration is reportedly considering imposing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector, which would really bring a hammer down on Maduro…and, of course, on the Venezuelan people. Venezuela is America’s third-largest oil supplier and oil exports to the US are a huge chunk of Venezuela’s economy.

NICARAGUA

I owe Nicaragua an apology. When President Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, putting it in company with Syria and Nicaragua as the only three countries outside that accord, I just assumed Nicaragua hadn’t signed on for bad reasons. But apparently I was wrong:

Nicaragua’s reason for refusing the deal, though, is not because it wanted to burn more fossil fuels, but because the agreement did not go far enough.

The country already gets more than half of its energy from renewable resources, and plans to bump that up to 90% by 2020.

A 2013 World Bank report labelled it “a renewable energy paradise”, with extensive opportunity for geothermic, wind, solar and wave energy.

When the Paris deal was being negotiated, Nicaragua said there was a total mismatch between what the document said was needed to protect the climate, and what signatories proposed to do about it.

Fuck yeah, Nicaragua, that is some righteous-ass shit right there. Props, and my apologies.

UNITED STATES

The Donald Trump Apology Tour continues:

US secretary of defense James Mattis has urged allies to “bear with us”, noting it would be a “crummy world” if Americans retreated into isolationism.

Mattis was responding to questions at a conference in Singapore about US leadership and commitment to a rules-based international order, in the wake of Donald Trump’s announcement that his administration will leave the Paris climate change accord, putting the country in the company of only Nicaragua and Syria.

“As far as the rules-based order, you know, obviously we have a new president in Washington DC,” Mattis said at the event organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “We’re all aware of that. And there is going to be fresh approaches taken.”

“Bear with us,” he said before going to paraphrase a quote from Winston Churchill: “Once we’ve exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing.”

America: from “E Pluribus Unum” to “Bear With Us” in the space of a single presidential election. What a time to be alive.

And speaking of Donald Trump, I don’t really have the energy to write much about this, but could somebody at the White House please tell him and his collection of asshole sycophants to shut the fuck up after horrific tragedies, at least until the bodies are cold?

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

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