Europe/Americas update: December 13 2017


Virginia Tech political science professor Ryan Briggs says that recent gains in the fight against global poverty have essentially come from targeting urban poor, who are often the easiest at risk populations to reach. More work needs to be done to ensure that development and humanitarian aid reaches the poorest and most isolated rural populations:

The good news is that global poverty is falling, according to World Bank data. The bad news? It’s getting harder to reach the world’s poor — 80 percent of global citizens live on less than $1.90 a day, and 75 percent of those living on less than $3.10 per day live in rural areas.


This presents a challenge for foreign-aid donors, and to their goals of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030 and lowering inequality within countries. Meeting these ambitious goals will require donors to direct aid to more remote areas — where the poorest live — rather than urban areas, where aid projects are often easier and cheaper to execute.



Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (Wikimedia | Marek Mytnik)

Polish journalist Remi Adekoya introduces us to Poland’s new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki:

At first glance, Mateusz Morawiecki, the 49-year-old millionaire ex-banker who is Poland’s new prime minister, might seem an odd choice to head a government that has embraced economic populism, encouraged xenophobic nationalism, and engaged in aggressive conflict with Brussels over its trampling on democratic institutions ever since it came to power two years ago. Morawiecki, who replaced Beata Szydlo as the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s designated prime minister, is multilingual, holds an impressive string of credentials from Polish, German, and American universities, and ran Spanish bank Santander’s Poland operations for several years. New to politics, he only joined the nationalist PiS in 2016 after being appointed deputy prime minister in charge of finance and economic development the previous year.


He would seem to be an archetypal technocrat, but make no mistake; Morawiecki is a true believer in PiS’s illiberal revolution, which seeks to entrench the party by stacking state institutions with loyalists and changing electoral laws. If Morawiecki seems an unlikely PiS partisan, that’s in part because the party’s ideology, and that of its revolution, has been misunderstood. PiS has long combined nationalist, welfarist, and socially conservative policies and rhetoric. What these political philosophies have in common is a commitment to asserting the Polish state as one of the country’s most powerful economic and social players.


Speaking of new prime ministers, Czech PM Andrej Babiš’s minority government was installed on Wednesday, but already there are concerns that it won’t be able to win its first parliamentary confidence vote on January 10. Owing in part to corruption allegations that keep trailing Babiš, his ANO party not only was unable to find a coalition partner (it controls 78 of the 200 seats in parliament), but it hasn’t even been able to secure any pledges for a confidence and supply arrangement. Fringe right and left parties have been amenable to supporting ANO so far but it’s not clear they’ll be there for the confidence vote. If Babiš loses the confidence vote he’ll likely get a second crack at forming a cabinet but he’ll need to make additional concessions to at least one other party to shore up his support.


Germany’s Social Democrats are still dragging their feet on opening talks with Angela Merkel on forming another coalition government but the party plans to announce a decision on Friday. SPD leader Martin Schulz seems keen on going back into the government–quite a turnaround for him since the election–but party members are less enamored of the idea. Other possibilities include supporting a Merkel-led minority government (which Merkel says she doesn’t want) or some kind of partial coalition where the SPD agrees to support Merkel on some specified issues but not on others. That seems almost as unstable as a minority government, but what do I know?


The British parliament bucked Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday, voting by a slim majority to give unto itself the right to pass judgment on whatever Brexit agreement May reaches with the European Union. That could complicate her negotiating efforts, because she’s going to get resistance from some factions in parliament no matter what kind of Brexit deal–hard, soft, or somewhere in between–she makes, or if she doesn’t make one at all.

The CEO of something called “Brexit Analytics,” Garvan Walshe, makes what I think is an interesting and maybe-not-wrong argument that May has backed herself into a scenario whereby the only way to achieve a Brexit that satisfies the EU and the Brexit champions in her own party is to effectively break up the United Kingdom:

The only way to avoid a disorderly Brexit now, and to give England’s voters the hard Brexit they want, is to concede a soft one to Northern Ireland and Scotland. This would give control of trade and immigration policy to Belfast and Edinburgh and leave the U.K.’s constituent nations connected mainly by the monarchy and military. Existing formally, but not much in substance, the U.K. would pass to what the famous English writer Walter Bagehot called the “dignified” (as opposed to the “efficient”) part of the constitution, perhaps returning to the pre-1707 situation when the three kingdoms were run separately.



Ecuadorean Vice President Jorge Glas was sentenced to six years in jail on Wednesday in connection with the metastasizing corruption scandal stemming from Brazil’s Odebrecht construction company. Odebrecht leaders have admitted to paying out almost $800 million in bribes throughout Latin America and in a couple of African countries in exchange for being given lucrative infrastructure contracts. Glas is the highest level figure in any country to be convicted in connection with the scandal thus far.



Protests snaking through city streets, nighttime curfews, a raucous political battle over a president’s re-election: Honduras has been seized by a crisis since a disputed vote last month.


The country has lived through a version of this turmoil before. Eight years ago, a leftist president was ousted by a coup in a fight over what his opponents said was a plan to overturn the constitutional ban on a second presidential term. The resistance movement that sprang up to support him has endured, and the discord that split Honduran society then still defines today’s divisions.


Both in 2009 and now, the return of stability in Honduras is important to the United States, which seeks a president there who can be counted on to support American policies to stem the flow of drugs and migrants from reaching the Texas border.


The question is whether the United States is willing to overlook a possibly fraudulent election to ensure that outcome.

America’s response to the 2009 coup is easily one of the most shameful incidents of the Obama presidency and Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. Clinton has acknowledged intervening to ensure the success of the coup that ousted the legitimate Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, and she further fought within the administration to make sure that the coup that removed Zelaya was never officially classified as a coup, which would have triggered automatic economic penalties under US law. It’s no exaggeration to say that lingering resentments stemming from that 2009 coup are contributing to tensions in Honduras right now. So far the Trump administration has let the Organization for American States take the lead in adjudicating the Honduran election, but if the dispute lingers you may see some more direct action from Washington, for better or (more likely) worse.


A new Government Affairs Office report says that the Pentagon, while acknowledging that climate change represents a serious threat to many of its overseas bases, hasn’t done much to deal with the threat. The GAO report recommended a more thorough site-by-site survey of climate risks as well as careful accounting of costs brought on by extreme weather events.

Apparently we’re still torturing people at Gitmo:

Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said he had information that Ammar al-Baluchi – accused of being a co-conspirator in the 9/11 attacks on the United States – was being subjected to treatment that is banned under international law.


“His torture and ill-treatment are reported to continue,” a statement from the U.N. human rights office said, without giving details of the source of Melzer’s information.


“In addition to the long-term effects of past torture, noise and vibrations are reportedly still being used against him, resulting in constant sleep deprivation and related physical and mental disorders, for which he allegedly does not receive adequate medical attention,” it said.

The Pentagon denies the claims, for whatever that’s worth.

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