Europe/Americas update: June 6 2017

FRANCE

What appears to have been an attempted terrorist attack was thwarted by French police on Tuesday outside Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral. A man carrying knives and a hammer approached officers and began striking one with the hammer, while reportedly shouting “this is for Syria,” before at least one of the officers shot and wounded him. The attacker hasn’t been publicly identified but he may be Algerian.

In less important news, another poll on France’s upcoming parliamentary election was released on Tuesday that shows Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche movement not only winning a majority, but winning a landslide:

Macron’s centrist Republic On The Move (LREM) party, which launched in April last year and has revolutionized the French political scene, was seen scoring 29.5 percent of the vote in the June 11 first round, the Ipsos Sopra-Steria poll found.

With a solid lead ahead of other parties, LREM would go on to win 385-415 seats out of 577 in the lower house of parliament in a June 18 second round of voting, the poll showed.

The projected majority fits with a Cevipof survey for Le Monde on Friday, and would be the strongest since voters rallied behind former president and wartime hero De Gaulle in 1968 after student revolts and nationwide general strikes.

The conservative Republicans and their allies were seen at 23 percent, with the National Front on 17 percent, the hard-left France Unbowed 12.5 percent and the Socialists 8.5 percent.

While this is indeed a strong mandate for Macron assuming it’s accurate, it’s also a stunning repudiation of France’s former major parties–and particularly the Socialists.

EUROPE

CYPRUS

Representatives from both the Turkish and Greek sides are reportedly set to collaborate on a security roadmap that would then form the basis for ongoing reunification talks. Since Cyprus’s eventual security posture, and specifically the future of Turkish troops on the island, is the major issue standing in the way of reunification, if this roadmap comes together it could be the key to a unified Cyprus.

RUSSIA

There seems to be an epidemic of Russian oligarchs who are choosing to give up their Russian residency rather than comply with a 2014 law requiring Russians to disclose offshore wealth:

No official data has been made public on how many people have given up Russian residency to escape the law, or the overall size of the assets they have shielded from Russian tax jurisdiction through the practice.

But Russian law firm Egorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev and Partners said it had conducted a survey of around 300 wealthy Russians and found as many as 40 percent of those with offshore companies had given up residency in Russia. Another 9 percent transferred the assets to relatives who are not tax residents.

This is potentially keeping billions–tens of billions–of dollars off Russian tax rolls, but it may not just be taxes keeping these pillars of society from having some semblance of civic responsibility. At least some of these oligarchs may be worried that if the government knows just how much money they have, it will shake them down, or provide that information (wittingly or not) to their rivals.

Elsewhere, a Russian fighter jet reportedly intercepted a US B-52 bomber flying near Russian airspace in the Baltic region on Tuesday. The presence of the nuclear capable Cold War relic B-52s in Europe, for training exercises, has been very badly received by Moscow.

UNITED KINGDOM

Theresa May seems to be scrambling a bit. While her Conservative Party still leads in most polls and is a safe bet to retain or increase its majority in Thursday’s vote, polling has been moving toward Labour for at least a couple of weeks, and people are a) nervous after two terrorist attacks in short succession and b) angry at what appear to have been some pretty massive failures by British security services in not seriously investigating the perpetrators of both attacks. Fortunately, the prime minister has a plan to make Britain safe. No, she’s not going to rehire the 20,000 police officers she fired as Home Secretary, but she is going to, uh, tepidly criticize Donald Trump, whose friendship is probably not doing her any favors with British voters. Oh, and she’s also going to strip people of their human rights.

Wait, what?

May said authorities needed to be able to do more, including to restrict the movements of suspected militants when police had enough evidence to suspect they presented a threat, but not enough to prosecute them.

“If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it,” she said to cheers and applause at an election rally.

Oh, cool, That kind of talk is never a slippery slope to someplace very bad.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Brazil’s electoral court has opened its hearing into alleged campaign violations by heavily embattled President Michel Temer. This case is different from the “Car Wash” graft case currently surrounding Temer, the one that may well see him impeached. This case has to do with illegal contributions Temer allegedly received while running for vice president in 2014, and if he’s found guilty he won’t be impeached–instead, his 2014 election will be nullified and he will be removed from office for that reason. This would be a cleaner outcome for Temer than impeachment, but it’s seen as a long shot:

However, this is thought unlikely, because the tribunal is presided over by the supreme court justice Gilmar Mendes, who is close to Temer – and is himself accused to conspiring to pervert the course of the Car Wash investigation.

Most analysts believe Temer can count on the support of a majority of the seven-judge tribunal. A verdict could come as early as Thursday or be postponed for several weeks.

Temer’s approval ratings are in single digits, but he still has utility to his right-wing backers, who want him to fall on a grenade for them by pushing through pension “reforms” that are unlikely to go over very well with voters. Since Temer can’t really get any less popular, he’s the perfect guy to take the fall for conservatives robbing people blind. Ergo, he’s still a fair bet to stay in office despite all his alleged misdeeds.

VENEZUELA

Reuters is reporting that some 14 Venezuelan army officers were arrested shortly after the most recent round of anti-Nicolás Maduro protests in April. It’s not clear if any of them has been charged with anything, but the sheer fact of their arrests is raising fears that Maduro is trying to purge the military of possible dissenters in the face of increasing public opposition.

UNITED STATES

Donald Trump is causing problems for a lot of people, but here’s one group I bet you hadn’t thought about:

When he announced his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change agreement last week, Donald Trump did something unexpected: he embraced sentence structure and basic grammar. You could almost hear his speechwriters exhale when they realised he was – for the most part – sticking to their script.

There must have been a similar sense of relief among the world’s interpreters, who have grown accustomed to making sense of the president’s frequent mangling of the English language.

Interactions with world leaders have left interpreters scratching their heads about how to communicate what Trump is trying to say, when his speech baffles even native English speakers.

His idiosyncratic take on the English language is causing trouble for interpreters around the world. In Asia, where the middle classes pride themselves on their English ability, Trump’s fumbles are widely mocked. But translating Trump for almost two-thirds of the world’s population is causing chaos among translators.

HA HA! It is funny because the President of the United States is a fucking idiot! I am laughing about this very much!

Last but not least, I have to leave you with The Intercept’s huge scoop from yesterday, one that I confess barely registered for me because I was doing so much Qatar stuff. According to a document obtained by a leaker who was allegedly working as a National Security Agency contractor, Russia did in fact make two attempts to hack the 2016 election:

RUSSIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

This is shocking stuff, shocking enough that even if you don’t draw “too big a conclusion” from it you can still draw some pretty major conclusions. It’s not clear whether or to what extent these hacking efforts impacted the election, but proof that they were attempted at all is significant. That some of them might have succeeded makes a pretty compelling argument for reforming the way we vote in this country. If we’re going to move to hackable electronic voting mechanisms, then our government has an absolute duty to ensure that those mechanisms are clean and that our elections stay legitimate.

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

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