As expected–he really didn’t have much choice considering Congress could’ve and would’ve overridden his veto–President Trump signed into law a bill levying sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korean on Wednesday. While I would argue that the bill has greater ramifications with respect to Iran–it designates the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization, which could have huge repercussions and not all of them good–the attention is all naturally on the Russia sanctions. That’s certainly where Trump’s attention was, anyway, in the two signing statements he attached to the measure expressing his anger at Congress for, I guess, undercutting his efforts to improve US-Russia ties. The second, in particular, is a fantastically Trumpian document, including non-sequiturs like “Congress could not even negotiate a healthcare bill after seven years of talking,” which is relevant to a sanctions bill in some way, and “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars,” because it’s important to let people know that kind of thing as often as possible.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev responded by describing the new sanctions as the declaration of a “full-scale trade war” by the US against Russia, and saying that it “ends hopes for improving our relations with the new US administration.” It remains to be seen whether there will be blowback over these sanctions from Europe, as (depending on how the administration chooses to enforce the new sanctions) several European companies that do business with Moscow could find themselves on the wrong end of these penalties.
In the latest step in his innovative “all problems with neighbors” foreign policy, Russian President Vladimir Putin is now embroiled in a fight with another Eastern European superpower: Moldova. The Moldovan government, as you may recall, expelled five Russian diplomats in May possibly for trying to recruit fighters to go to eastern Ukraine. Today it blackballed Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin over comments Rogozin made alleging that Moldova is controlled by the mafia. Moscow has naturally protested this move and promises retaliation. Separatists in Moldova’s eastern Transnistria region are very pro-Russia, which makes the Moldovan-Russian relationship fraught to begin with.
A recent survey of Polish citizens found something pretty interesting with respect to the country’s harsh refugee policy: most Poles seemingly don’t support it:
A majority of Poles want their government to help refugees, a European Union poll showed on Wednesday, a result that may be seen as in contrast with Warsaw’s opposition to an EU plan to support asylum seekers in the continent.
The nationalist-minded, euroskeptic government in Poland has refused to take in a single asylum seeker under an EU plan meant to relocate across Europe refugees who reach the continent through Italy and Greece escaping wars and persecution.
Poland is under an EU disciplinary procedure for not applying the EU relocation plan for refugees.
However, 56 percent majority of Polish interviewees in a Eurobarometer poll, called for Poland to help refugees in reply to a question on whether the country should do so.
There are reasons to be skeptical of these findings, particularly insofar as this is a Europe-wide poll and so the Polish sample was a mere 1000 people. But the same survey taken last year also found that a majority of Poles, albeit a slightly smaller one, supported aid for refugees. I don’t know how the Eurobarometer poll is conducted, but if those two polls involve two separate samples then it would seem to increase the chances that the finding is accurate. Clearly Polish voters aren’t making political decisions on this issue, though.
The Polish government is kicking around the idea of demanding reparations from Germany over World War II. You know, I’m not going to touch this one. Germany has paid reparations for Nazi crimes, particularly to Jewish families affected by the Holocaust, but I honestly don’t know how much it’s paid to countries that the Nazis invaded. As shitty and reactionary as Poland’s current government is, they might have a point here.
Prince Philip made his final solo public appearance today before retirement, attending a parade held by the Royal Marines. His spokespeople say he may still make public appearances alongside Queen Elizabeth, and honestly I have no idea why I’m even mentioning this except that my wife reads these sometimes and she gets into the whole royal family thing, so this one’s for her.
Donald Trump gave another of his “this would be grounds for committing any other human being” newspaper interviews on Tuesday, this time to the Wall Street Journal, and among his many other bizarre ramblings he said that Scotland voting to secede from the UK “would be terrible.” This is, of course, a huge gift to the Scottish independence movement. Trump is so reviled in Scotland, even more than he’s reviled most everywhere else, that his endorsement of remaining in the union could conceivably sway some voters toward independence.
Brazilian President Michel Temer scored a huge victory in the Brazilian Congress on Wednesday. Not only did his opposition fail to muster the 2/3 majority to refer his corruption case to a supreme court trial and suspend Temer from office, it couldn’t even muster a regular majority in support of the charges. Yes, that’s right–Temer didn’t just survive this vote, he won it outright. This is an astonishing outcome given that polls show 81 percent of Brazilians think Temer should stand trial.
Temer is now expected to be charged with obstruction of justice, which will force another vote like this one. The idea is that legislators may be reluctant to cast two hugely unpopular votes in support of Temer in quick succession, but today’s result suggests that getting to that 2/3 majority is going to be a very uphill climb.
The Venezuelan government claims that over 8 million people voted Sunday to select a new constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution, but electoral council data seen by Reuters shows that only about 3.7 million people had voted by 5:30 PM. For the government’s final tally to be correct, then, the vote total would have had to more than double in the last 90 minutes in which the polls were open. This seems unlikely to say the least. Meanwhile Smartmatic, the firm that handled the vote, says that its data shows that the official vote count is off by at least one million votes, though it didn’t specify whether the official count was higher or lower than its data (either one is problematic–if 9 million people actually voted then that means a million votes were ethered somehow). An exit poll also suggested that the government’s vote claims were wildly inflated.
Sunday’s turnout is a major component of President Nicolás Maduro’s claim that the vote was legitimate, so if he’s caught lying about that it will cast a serious shadow over the whole constituent assembly effort. His elections chef has already dismissed the Reuters report, and Maduro has accused Smartmatic of caving to US pressure to discredit the vote.
Ezra Cohen-Watnick probably isn’t a household name, but until today he was serving as the director of intelligence programs at the National Security Council. He’s now out of that job, finally. I say “finally” because National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster has reportedly been trying to get rid of him for several weeks, but kept being overruled. With the installation of John Kelly as the new White House chief of staff, though, it seems McMaster is finally being given free rein to put his own people on the NSC. Cohen-Watnick was a Michael Flynn devotee going back to their time together at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which means he’s a paranoiac ideologue who shouldn’t come within 500 yards of American foreign policy, let alone serve as the intelligence director on the NSC. He’s an advocate of war with Iran and has already involved himself in the attempt to cover-up Russian interference in the 2016 election, so, hey, good riddance.
Though the Trump administration clearly has no issues with using the post-9/11 Authorization to Use Military Force to justify pretty much anything (to be fair, neither did the Obama administration), on Wednesday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis reportedly both told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a closed session that the administration is open to working with Congress to craft a new AUMF for the fight against ISIS. There’s almost no chance this will actually happen and the administration will certainly try to prevent it, notwithstanding the secretaries’ comments to the SFRC, but I thought you should know anyway.
What’s that? The White House is cribbing arguments from white nationalists again? And the Justice Department Civil Rights Division is now going to focus on protecting the civil rights of white people? How nice for them. This is some government we’ve put in office. And what a cheery note on which to end tonight.
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