Europe/Americas update: June 28-29 2017

TRAVEL BAN

The Supreme Court’s decision to reinstitute Donald Trump’s travel ban isn’t going over well in the Middle East, and you can understand why. As it turns out, though the decision did leave exceptions for travelers with “bona fide” connections to the United States, the court, in its inimitable way, decided not to explain what that means. Thankfully, and as you would expect from a group of normal, well-adjusted people, the Trump administration has offered a reasonable interpretation:

But the court’s decision nonetheless created a new set of potential legal landmines because the justices carved out an exception for people with a “bona fide relationship” to a person or organization in the United States. The administration has spent the past several days grappling with how to interpret that vaguely worded exemption.

They determined that travelers from nations named in the ban would still be eligible for U.S. visas if they have a parent, parent-in-law, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, or half sibling, including step relationships, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote in a cable sent Thursday to State Department consular officials around the world.

But the cable, obtained by POLITICO and first reported by The Associated Press, stated that “close family” did not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, fiancés, and any other “extended” family members. That could prompt pushback from people seeking to visit or live with more distant relatives.

You think so? I wonder if going this assholishly maximalist route won’t make it more likely that the court will rule against the ban when it actually hears the case in the fall, but that doesn’t do much good for people trying to see their loved ones right now.

EUROPE

NATO

NATO members are planning to boost their defense spending by 4.3 percent this year. Success for Donald Trump? Well, yes and no. I mean, he does want the other alliance members to start paying more for their collective defense, but this increase is probably more about Vladimir Putin:

Trump has also taken credit for NATO’s defense spending boost, but top NATO and European officials insist the wake-up call came from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and not the man in the Oval Office.

In the wake of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, which caught Washington and its allies flat-footed, NATO members pledged to reach collectively the 2 percent threshold by 2024 through incremental spending increases. NATO defense spending grew 1.8 percent in 2015 and 3.3 percent in 2016. Many national governments hashed out these increases before Trump’s surprise presidential victory last November.

Nevertheless, I think we’re all excited to see European national spending more on their militaries, something that historically has always led to good outcomes.

CYPRUS

A new and potentially decisive–either way–round of reunification talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot factions began Wednesday in Switzerland. Perhaps in an effort to intensify pressure to reach a deal, which it does, the UN says it will end its 50 year peacekeeping mission on the island if the talks collapse, but there’s hope that a basic agreement in principle could be announced as soon as Friday. The main sticking point, as always, remains Turkey’s willingness to give up its role as protector for the Turkish Cypriots. There’s a sense that Turkey would like to do a deal, but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not going to be inclined to anything that makes him look weak.

RUSSIA

The European Union has extended its sanctions against Russia through January. Russia plans to extend its counter-sanctions against the EU through the end of 2018. Like sands through the hourglass, these are the Days of Our Lives.

Five Chechen men were convicted on Thursday of the 2015 murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov’s supporters and family are dissatisfied because these five were merely the button men for somebody else, probably Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, likely on behalf of his pal Putin. Russian authorities say they’re still investigating to find out who paid the men to murder Nemtsov, but nobody’s sure how hard they’re really pushing that investigation.

Donald Trump has reportedly asked his aides to come up with some concessions he could offer Putin if/when they meet next week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany. There seems to be some concern that Trump is planning to just offer something to Putin, perhaps the return of two diplomatic compounds that the Obama administration seized from Russia late last year, without asking for anything in return. He’s tried to relax sanctions against Russia, again in exchange for nothing, but has hit stiff opposition in Congress. Hence the concern, I guess.

UKRAINE

As more is learned about the cyberattack that hit Ukraine and spread worldwide on Tuesday, it seems less like a ransomware attack and more like a straightforward attempt to disable major Ukrainian computer systems. Which means suspicion is back on Russia, the most obvious pick for a country that might be interested in launching a major cyberattack against Ukraine. The target seems to have been computers running the type of tax software that all Ukrainian tax preparers are required to use by law, which gave the attackers a direct line into every government system. In other words, it seems to have been specifically targeted to inflict chaos in Kiev rather than to spread widely in hopes of maximizing ransom payments. Additionally, there doesn’t seem to have been any code in the malware for removing it in the case of a ransom payment. While there’s still reason to be skeptical–Russia suffered the second-most infections after Ukraine–the fact that this attack doesn’t seem to have been about money does change the thinking about who was behind it.

Also on Tuesday, a colonel in Ukrainian military intelligence was killed by a car bomb in Kiev, an attack that is also suspected of being a Russian operation.

POLAND

Trump is planning to visit Poland before the G20 summit in what leaders in Brussels worry is going to become a big old Europe-bashing affair. Trump naturally has a lot in common with reactionary, anti-Europe governments in Hungary and Poland, both of which will be at the “Three Seas Summit” that Trump is visiting, and so there’s a real concern that Trump is going to do or promise something that will reinforce the worst/most xenophobic/most authoritarian tendencies of those governments.

GREECE

Athens sanitation workers have been on strike for almost two weeks in the middle of peak tourist season and, hey this is nice, a heat wave. The strike ended Thursday but it’s likely to take through the weekend to fully clear the trash from the streets. What was the sanitation workers’ union striking over? Did you guess “austerity”? Because it was austerity! Surprise! They’re demanding permanent jobs for workers who can only get temporary contracts on account of how the EU and IMF apparently believe that leaving rotting trash in the streets is a great way to get a country’s financial situation in order and make sure that the real heroes–the creditors–get their pound of (fresh, not rotting) flesh.

GERMANY

Angela Merkel plans to make climate change the centerpiece of the G20 meeting, either in a panic over Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement or in an effort to embarrass Trump or, hell, probably both.

The German government is renewing its warm relations with Erdoğan by telling him he’s not allowed to hold any rallies with Turkish nationals in Germany during or after the G20 meeting. I’m sure he’ll take that in stride like he always does.

ITALY

The Italian government is considering closing its ports to migrant vessels after receiving 11,000 migrants in five days. This is likely a bluff to coerce financial and resettlement concessions out of the rest of the EU, because actually closing ports to these boats would probably violate international law.

FRANCE

A man was arrested Thursday for trying to drive his car into a crowd of Muslims outside a mosque in a Paris suburb.

OK, now, can we talk about Emmanuel Macron for a second? Obviously it’s good that he was elected over Marine Le Pen, I get that. But this guy is openly a monarchist, and by that I don’t mean he’s nostalgic for the days of the French monarchy, I mean he thinks he’s the fucking king of France:

French President Emmanuel Macron will address a parliamentary session for both houses next Monday, a rare event which opponents said signaled his intent to concentrate power in the presidency.

Such a joint session of parliament is known as a Congress and takes place at Versailles, the sumptuous palace of France’s former monarchy built outside Paris by Louis XIV – the ‘Sun King’ – to symbolize absolute power.

Macron has said he wants to embody a “Jupiterian” vision of the presidency – whereby the president, very much like the Roman god of gods, speaks rarely except to issue orders. He has strived to be seen as above daily politics, leaving the running of parliament to his prime minister.

Now he says he plans to forego the traditional press conference that French presidents give every year on Bastille Day, because he’s too smart for people to understand so why bother. No, really:

French President Emmanuel Macron will break with tradition and not give a news conference on Bastille Day because his “complex thoughts” may prove too much for journalists, reports say.

A presidential source said Mr Macron’s thinking did not “lend itself” to a question and answer session.

The comments, quoted by Le Monde, are likely to be seized on by Mr Macron’s critics who portray him as arrogant.

Arrogant? Whatever do you mean? I have to hand it to the guy, though: treating the French people like a bunch of morons on Bastille Day takes a special kind of temperament.

UNITED KINGDOM

The Queen’s Speech passed the House of Commons on Thursday, so Theresa May gets to remain prime minister, for now at least.

The EU remains unhappy with Britain’s proposal for handling EU nationals who remain in the UK post-Brexit:

The UK’s offer to guarantee the rights of EU citizens after Brexit falls well short of existing rights and protections and lacks clarity and legal certainty, according to a preliminary assessment by the European Commission seen by BuzzFeed News.

The assessment, which was presented to member states this week, covers five main areas: reciprocity, legal certainty, clarity, the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and protection against future changes to UK law. On all five points the EU finds Britain’s offer to be lacking.

The EU’s overarching conclusion is that the UK proposal is “clearly below today’s EU rights”, and isn’t reciprocal.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Something totally bizarre happened in Caracas on Tuesday:

It was like a scene from a movie. On late Tuesday afternoon, residents in Caracas saw a blue police helicopter circling the capital, carrying a banner that read “Libertad,” or “freedom,” and the number “350” — a reference, my colleagues explained, “to the article in the Venezuelan constitution that allows people to ‘disown’ their government if it acts in an undemocratic way.”

Government officials said the chopper then dropped a number of grenades on Venezuela’s Supreme Court buildings and strafed the Interior Ministry. On Wednesday, authorities were on the hunt for the alleged ringleader of the attack, Oscar Perez, an actor who also served in the country’s special forces.

There’s been growing concern that President Nicolás Maduro may be reaching a tipping point whereby parts of his army are going to refuse to continue violently suppressing protesters on his orders. That way lies civil war, potentially, so that’s why the helicopter thing was so troubling. Perez, who actually has been in movies, recorded a video that he posted online in which he railed against Maduro’s tyranny, but there are more than a few people in Venezuela who suspect Perez staged this incident, in which there were no casualties, on Maduro’s behalf, to give the president a justification for cracking down even harder and maybe a little more leeway with his military. On the other hand, Maduro accused Perez of links to the CIA–and, hey, stranger things have happened.

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, former Maduro ally turned foe Luisa Ortega Díaz, has been barred from leaving the country and had her assets frozen while she’s investigated on corruption charges that Maduro may be fabricating. Meanwhile, even though she’s been stripped of her authority, Díaz on Thursday charged the head of the Venezuelan national guard, Antonio Benavides Torres, with human rights violations over excessive use of force in quelling anti-Maduro protests.

UNITED STATES

Donald Trump is a normal, well-adjusted person who does what other normal, well-adjusted people do. I have no interest in litigating the absurd Mika Brzezinski affair from earlier today, but I will share this:

What a fucking narcissist.

I’ll also note, for Ambassador Haley’s benefit, that while it’s OK for other countries to think that American foreign policy is a haphazard, chaotic mess that could go critical at any moment, it’s not good for American foreign policy to actually be a haphazard, chaotic mess that could go critical at any moment. Richard Nixon (a high bar indeed when it comes to good presidenting) was able to fake the madman routine. Trump isn’t faking.

So here’s the big news, involving our dear pal Michael Flynn:

Russian hackers discussed during the 2016 presidential campaign if they could obtain emails deleted by Hillary Clinton and get them to Michael Flynn, the retired general who was then a member of the Trump campaign, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The newspaper attributed the revelation to US officials with knowledge of intelligence about the hackers’ communications. That intelligence is being reviewed by US investigators who are examining if the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election, the Journal reported.

The hackers hoped to get the emails to Flynn via an intermediary, the Journal reported. Around the same time, a Republican with a history of opposition research against the Clintons was working to get the emails from hackers, including some with ties to the Russian government.

Well then. Still no evidence of collusion, but it appears to be getting there.

Also, Rex Tillerson doesn’t seem like a very happy camper:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s frustrations with the White House have been building for months. Last Friday, they exploded.

The normally laconic Texan unloaded on Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for torpedoing proposed nominees to senior State Department posts and for questioning his judgment.

Tillerson also complained that the White House was leaking damaging information about him to the news media, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Above all, he made clear that he did not want DeStefano’s office to “have any role in staffing” and “expressed frustration that anybody would know better” than he about who should work in his department — particularly after the president had promised him autonomy to make his own decisions and hires, according to a senior White House aide familiar with the conversation.

The episode stunned other White House officials gathered in chief of staff Reince Priebus’ office, leaving them silent as Tillerson raised his voice. In the room with Tillerson and DeStefano were Priebus, top Trump aide Jared Kushner and Margaret Peterlin, the secretary of state’s chief of staff.

Poor guy. I guess his internship for Prime Minister Kushner isn’t all he hoped it would be

Finally, for the first time in 16 years there’s a glimmer of hope that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, arguably the absolute worst thing ever adopted by the US Congress (which is really saying something), which by this point has been used to justify everything from putting US forces in Syria to spending federal money to buy more of Donald Trump’s fake Time covers, might be on its way to a well-deserved oblivion:

A powerful congressional committee just threatened to repeal a military authorization used by Presidents from George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Donald Trump to fight the so-called global war on terror.

The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment on Thursday to an annual defense spending measure that would repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

The measure was introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)—the lone “no” vote against the bill in both houses of Congress when the AUMF was first approved in 2001, just days after the September 11 attack.

There’s a strong likelihood that Republicans will ditch Lee’s amendment behind closed doors, probably in conference with the Senate, but like I said, at least there’s a glimmer of hope.

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Author: DWD

writer, blogger, lover, fighter

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