Europe/Americas update: November 28 2017



The State Department says that a new Russian law allowing the government to categorize foreign media outlets as “foreign agents” threatens freedom of the press. And they’re absolutely right about that. But if I may, it also threatens freedom of the press when the US registers foreign media outlets as “foreign agents,” as it’s now done with RT. I’m not going to defend RT any more than I would defend Fox News, but I don’t think either should have to be registered simply because they exist to push a particular viewpoint. You know what else threatens freedom of the press, by the way? When the President of the United States tweets stuff like this:

If Donald Trump wanted to be the media critic for the New York Post or whatever, he should’ve just done that and left the rest of us alone. But he’s president now, and the actual threat to freedom of the press is coming from inside the (White) House.

Rex Tillerson had some harsh words for Moscow in a speech at the Wilson Center on Tuesday. And if I actually thought Tillerson had a job in this administration (apart from systematically closing down the department he’s supposed to be running), I’d probably talk about them.


Greek police raiding several addresses in Athens on Tuesday morning found a bunch of bomb-making equipment and detonators. The addresses are believed to have been used by the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front, a Turkish Marxist group that has periodically carried out attacks in Turkey since the 1990s, and really back into the 1980s under its former name, “Revolutionary Left.”


A Belgian court has overturned the government’s effort to deport Abdelhadi Sewif, an imam at the Grand Mosque of Brussels. Sewif, along with the rest of the mosque’s leaders, is accused by Belgian authorities of preaching a Wahhabist message (the mosque is run by the Saudi royal family) that has contributed to the rise of extremism in Belgium’s Muslim community. Sewif denies these accusations, and while it’s reasonable to argue that Wahhabism contributes to radicalization, the Belgian government has never been able to show the kind of direct link from the mosque and its leaders to terrorism that it would need to show in order to take legal action.


The British government has apparently conceded on one of the main sticking points in Brexit negotiations, agreeing to a “divorce payment” that could be as high as £89 million but will probably come in somewhere between £50 million and £60 million. That should be enough to convince France and Germany to allow negotiations to move forward to a discussion of the future UK-EU trade relationship. However, the other two outstanding issues could still prevent that forward progress. Ireland has already said it will veto a move to advance the talks if substantial progress hasn’t been made toward figuring out the status of the Northern Ireland border, an issue that frankly I think may not be resolvable, and London is likely going to have to make more concessions on the rights of EU nationals who remain in the UK after Brexit, or else a number of smaller EU members are going to have issues with moving the talks forward as well.


Irish Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald resigned on Tuesday, which should mean there’s no chance of the government collapsing between now and the end of the year at least. But Leo Varadkar’s government is likely to be permanently weakened by this scandal, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see snap elections relatively soon.



Evo Morales is going to be allowed to run for a fourth term as Bolivian president:

Bolivia’s Constitutional Court has allowed President Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2019.


The court has annulled the result of a referendum held last year, in which a majority of Bolivians rejected his proposal to change the constitution.


It said Mr Morales had lost the vote by a narrow margin because of an illegal defamatory campaign.

Morales will have been in office for 19 years at the end of his hypothetical fourth term, and he probably only needs another 30 or 40 years to really implement his agenda. But as a rule I start to get nervous even about nice lefty politicians when they stay in office past, oh, let’s say the 12 year mark.

I particularly get nervous when a court overturns the results of a constitutional referendum, for what seems to be a legitimate reason, and, instead of ordering that the referendum be be held again, simply decides that the losing side would have won if only there hadn’t been any shenanigans. I’m not a lawyer, but that seems like it would be beyond the court’s purview.


Honduran election authorities resumed counting votes from Sunday’s presidential election–after an unexplained and much-criticized delay on Monday–and, hey what do you know, incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández is suddenly doing a lot better against challenger Salvador Nasralla. Nasralla’s formerly five point lead is now down to just under three points with a third of the ballots still to be counted.

If he holds on to win, Nasralla says he plans to discuss the future status of the 500 American service members based at Soto Cano. He might want to tread carefully on this issue:

In 2008, former President Manuel Zelaya said he would turn the base into a civilian airport to serve the coffee-exporting country of 9 million people.


A year later, Zelaya was ousted in a coup that his ally, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said was orchestrated from the base. U.S. officials denied any involvement in the coup.

Nasralla has said he wants to deepen Honduras’s ties with the US, so maybe the base is an issue that can be worked around.


In a stunning development, the US government believes that Sunday’s Cuban elections were illegitimate:

The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday that municipal elections in Cuba over the weekend were flawed because authorities used “intimidation, arcane technicalities and false charges” to keep independent candidates off of the ballot.


Rex Tillerson wants you to know that he is not gutting the State Department:

“We’re keeping the organization fully staffed,” Tillerson said during remarks at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington. “There is no hollowing out.” He was giving a speech on U.S. alliances ahead of a trip to Europe next week.

Like any good downsizing CEO, Tillerson knows how to play this game. You keep overall staffing levels relatively constant while whittling away the most experienced and therefore most expensive members of your staff. Unfortunately in this case he’s not golden parachuting a bunch of useless corporate vice presidents, he’s turfing experienced diplomats and replacing them with cheaper, dumber, and far more ideological political staffers. But it’s OK! The administration–this one, the one led by Donald Trump with his registered imbecile son in-law as his chief peacemaker–is cutting down the State Department…because of all the conflicts it’s going to end!

“Part of this bringing the budget numbers back down is reflective of an expectation that we’re going to have success in some of these conflict areas, of getting these conflicts resolved and moving to a different place in terms of the kind of support that we have to give them,” he said, without specifying the conflicts he expected to resolve.

He didn’t specify! Probably because he doesn’t know! Which is likely because the only thing these people have done since taking office is to make all those conflicts worse, mostly because they have no idea what the fuck they’re doing! What a time to be alive.

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