Europe/Americas update: June 14-15 2017

UNITED STATES

The biggest news in the US over the past couple of days has obviously been the shooting incident in Virginia on Wednesday at a baseball practice being held by Congressional Republicans in advance of the big Congressional baseball game that was held Thursday evening. There’s nothing I could say about this that hasn’t already been said for better or worse someplace else, and so I’ll restrict myself to wishing for a full recovery for all the victims, including Republican House Whip Steve Scalise.

Well, OK, I will say one thing: people who have been arrested on domestic violence charges should not be allowed to buy guns.

Alright, I’ll say one more thing: please don’t take this occasion to offer your take on how violence and American politics don’t go together. They so, so do. American politics is violence, whether we’re making it harder for the poor to stay alive, waging outright war on another country, or just making life harder to live for people unlucky enough to live in a country we don’t like. To wit, the Senate on Thursday voted almost unanimously to levy additional sanctions against Russia (for being bad during last year’s presidential election) and Iran (for being bad since 1979). The new Iran sanctions in particular put more pressure on the Iran nuclear deal, which is already in danger from the Trump administration. And while they’re intended to target individuals and institutions in both countries that are doing specific things counter to American interests, history shows that the second-order effects of sanctions often fall on people who don’t deserve them and will suffer greatly for it.

Finally, there were a few developments in the Trump Russia investigation worth noting:

  • Richard Burt, an American who lobbies on behalf of Russian interests, says he attended two dinners hosted by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the 2016 campaign. On Tuesday, Sessions testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he’d had no contact with any Russian lobbyists during the campaign. Oops.
  • Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating Donald Trump himself on obstruction charges related to his firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Oops oops.
  • Polls show that over 2/3 of Americans are “moderately” or “very” concerned that Trump and/or his associates have had improper ties to Russia. OOOOPS.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual televised Q&A session on Thursday and pretended that he might not run for reelection next year. He did, however, promise to reduce poverty and improve housing for all Russians, not that he’s necessarily going to be in a position to do that of course.

Putin is of course going to run and he’s going to win handily–even if there was a chance he could lose (and there isn’t, if his consistently high-80s approval ratings can be trusted), it would be dealt with. It’s not even clear anybody is going to run against him. The one person who openly talks about running, anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, probably won’t be allowed because of his criminal record (a criminal record he argues was manufactured just to make sure he’d never be able to run for president).

ROMANIA

Romanian politics are in gridlock at the moment. Yesterday, the governing Social Democratic Party pulled its support for Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu’s cabinet, at which point Grindeanu could have taken the high road and resigned…or could have done what he did, and refused. So next week the Romanian parliament will take a no-confidence vote that Grindeanu will surely lose, and things will go from there. Grindeanu lost public support when his cabinet attempted to decriminalize low-level corruption charges, which went over really well with the Romanian people, and his unpopularity is now stifling the SDP’s broader legislative agenda.

GREECE

The Greek government has managed to draw enough blood from a stone to satisfy its creditors, and so it’s getting another last-minute bailout from the Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund to the tune of $9.5 billion. The IMF isn’t disbursing its contribution yet, though, because it has yet to reach an agreement with Greece’s European lenders about debt relief. Where those European creditors are resistant to debt relief for political reasons, the IMF–for all its many faults–seems to realize that piling austerity on austerity is only going to keep shrinking the Greek economy and making it harder and harder for Athens to keep making debt payments. Austerity cultists insist that Greece can cut its way to a budget surplus and pay its debts in full, but here in the real world we know that bullshit doesn’t work. Emmanuel Macron has been pushing a debt relief plan tied to Greek economic growth.

UNITED KINGDOM

The House of Commons is now set to open its new session on June 21. While there haven’t been any other details that I’ve seen, this strongly suggests that Theresa May’s negotiations with the Sons of Jacob Democratic Unionist Party, described as “very positive” earlier in the day on Thursday, have reached a satisfactory conclusion…or, well, a conclusion, anyway.

It remains to be seen, of course, how much time Theresa May has left in her political career, but there’s a good chance it’s not much. Her alliance with the fringe-right DUP discredits the Conservative Party fundamentally, and May herself continues to be a shockingly inept politician–she’s even managed to fuck up meeting with fire victims, which is simply amazing.

Brexit talks are expected to begin next week with UK Brexit Minister David Davis offering to guarantee the rights of European Union citizens currently living in the UK. London would like to get a reciprocal guarantee out of Brussels for UK citizens currently living elsewhere in the EU, but that may not be forthcoming. Meanwhile, the EU’s Brexit negotiator poured some cold water on all the recent “Britain can still change its mind” talk on Wednesday by insisting that if the UK reverses course now, it will have to stay in the EU under the same rules as everybody else–i.e., don’t expect any special budget exemptions and, maybe, get ready to say goodbye to the pound and hello to the euro. That may just be posturing, but who knows. Britain–hell, literally any country–would be nuts to join the euro absent serious Eurozone reform.

AMERICAS

COLOMBIA

FARC leader Rodrigo Londono says that the former rebels will turn in all their weapons by June 20, as required under the terms of their peace deal with the Colombian government. From there, the next step will be working out the details of the ex-rebels’ amnesty and the formation of their new political party. Among the new party’s priorities, according to Londono, will be landmine removal and offering relief to farmers so they maybe don’t have to grow coca to keep from starving.

VENEZUELA

President Nicolás Maduro has lost so much popular support he’s even started losing supporters of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez:

The most prominent dissident in Venezuela’s government is Luisa Ortega Diaz, a Chávez loyalist who has served as attorney general for nearly a decade. In late March, she criticized an attempt by the pro-Maduro supreme court to dissolve the opposition-controlled congress, saying it was against the law. In early May, she upbraided the government for its role in violence against protesters. And last week, Ortega came out against a plan by Maduro to rewrite the constitution, saying it was “destroying the legacy of President Chávez.” She asked the supreme court to annul the process , a request that was denied.

On June 6, a prominent retired general in the Venezuelan army resigned from a senior government job. Maj. Gen. Alexis Lopez Ramirez, who had formerly served as director of Chávez’s presidential guard as well as commander of the army, was a top defense adviser to Maduro. Lopez said in a statement on Tuesday that he stepped down due to his “disagreement with the process” used by Maduro’s government to convene an assembly to change the constitution.

Many proud socialists who served in top roles in Chávez’s government have turned on Maduro. They tend to be particularly alarmed by the attempt to strip the legislature’s powers and by Maduro’s plan to hold a vote later this summer to elect delegates to change the constitution.

The word “Stalinist” gets thrown around once in that piece, by one of Chávez’s former ministers, and I don’t think she means it in a nice way. These disaffected chavistas, many of whom are not entirely motivated by principle but are responding to outside economic pressure, are talking about possibly forming a new political party, which would deeply undercut Maduro’s support. But of far greater concern for Maduro is that Venezuelan security forces are pretty much hitting their limit in terms of how much they’re prepared to brutalize civilian protesters on their president’s behalf.

CUBA

Say, remember how Barack Obama ended almost 60 years of pointlessly cruel US policy toward Cuba that literally accomplished nothing apart from immiserating Cubans? Well, you can kiss that goodbye, because President Trump is going back to the pointlessly cruel stuff:

Ignoring widespread calls from members of his own party, business leaders and human rights groups, President Donald Trump will announce a rollback of some of the Cuba-friendly policies undertaken by his predecessor, White House officials said Thursday.

US citizens will no longer be able to engage in individual leisure travel to Cuba, the officials said. The US government will also ensure that no profits from American businesses benefit Cuba’s military.

“The new policy going forward does not target the Cuban people but it does target the repressive members of the Cuban military government,” a senior administration official told reporters during a briefing ahead of the announcement.

The problem with that distinction is that, during the almost 60 years of the US Cuba embargo–over five decades during which the US deliberately impoverished Cubans and constantly threatened Cuba–the Cuban military was just about the wealthiest institution in the country. Ergo, it owns a massive chunk of the overall Cuban economy. So ensuring that “no profits from American businesses benefit Cuba’s military” basically means ensuring that no American businesses do business with or in Cuba. Even if it were possible to untangle the military’s connections to the rest of the economy, the complexity entailed in doing so and the risk of potentially missing something and running afoul of American legal penalties is probably too great for most, or any, companies to bother trying.

The Trump administration is citing Cuba’s poor human rights record for the policy change, and, you know, nobody could ever question Donald Trump’s willingness to take a tough, righteous stance against countries with terrible human rights records.

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

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