World update: December 15 2017

IMPORTANT SITE UPDATE: All this time, without realizing it, I’ve had accelerated mobile posting turned on and as a result anybody coming to this site via a mobile link has been landing on a dull AMP page rather than the nice premium (as in I’m paying for it) theme page that I specifically chose for this site and for which I specifically format these posts. I’m going to experiment with turning AMP off starting with tonight’s updates, which apparently will render any past mobile Twitter links (at least, I don’t know about Facebook and elsewhere) useless because Online fundamentally sucks. If this change winds up causing trouble for you, please say something in the comments or hit me up on Twitter or something. If enough people have issues I’ll turn AMP back on.



Analyst James Dorsey argues that China’s Belt and Road Initiative may be meeting resistance in partner countries who fear the deals China is offering are only going to benefit China:

In a rare challenging of Chinese commercial terms that underlie the country’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative, Pakistan and Nepal have withdrawn from two dam-building deals. The withdrawal coincides with mounting questions in Pakistan, a crown jewel in Chinese geo-strategic ambition, about what some see as a neo-colonial effort to extract the country’s resources.


The withdrawals and questioning call into question China’s economics-centred approach to geopolitics based on the long-standing win-win principle of Chinese policy, the notion that all parties benefit from Chinese investment and largesse.


Critics have charged that the principle boils down to China wins twice, a notion that is supported by Chinese plans for Pakistan’s agricultural sector; the extraction of Pakistani onyx, granite, and black gold marble; the disagreement over the dams; and the debt traps that forced countries like Sri Lanka to surrender control of key assets.


The White House has apparently told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to knock it off with the North Korea outreach stuff, and Tillerson has gotten the message. In stark contrast with his “I just want to talk with the North Koreans, no preconditions, we can just talk about the weather” message from earlier this week, on Friday Tillerson told the United Nations Security Council that “a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin.” Glad we were able to hash that out.


Say, the Trump administration finally got around to naming an ambassador to South Korea: Victor Cha, a former member of George W. Bush’s National Security Council. No rush, I mean it’s not like there are any rapidly developing potential catastrophes in that part of the world or anything. Cha covered East Asia and the Pacific for Bush, so he wasn’t involved in Iraq, but he presumably was involved in fucking up that administration’s approach to North Korea, so he should make a great addition to the Trump team.



Amazigh (Berber) communities in northern Algeria have been protesting this week following parliament’s decision to reject a budget amendment that would have allocated funds for the teaching of the Tamazight language in public schools. Well over 90 percent of Algeria’s population is Arab-Berber (it’s almost impossible to distinguish after centuries of intermixing), but only about a third of the country speaks Tamazight because of explicit government policies intended to Arabize the country (one of the few exceptions to this was the 2002 decision to make Tamazight the country’s second official language). Areas of the country where Amazigh identity is strong (which, probably not coincidentally, are also some of the poorest parts of the country) want the government to do more to preserve their cultural heritage, including the language.


It’s good to see Salva Kiir fighting for justice for the victims of war crimes amid the South Sudanese civil war:

South Sudan‘s president has given top jobs to three generals facing U.N. sanctions over alleged violations during a four-year-old civil war.


Campaign group Human Rights Watch called the promotions “a slap in the face of justice” – but the presidency said the three men were good officers who had been falsely accused.


In a decree read out on state radio late on Thursday, President Salva Kiir appointed Marial Chanuong as his new head of army operations, training and intelligence, and Santino Deng Wol as the head of ground forces.


Gabriel Jok Riak was named deputy chief of defense.

Oh, wait, that’s actually the opposite of fighting for justice for the victims of war crimes. If you’re wondering, Chanuong is accused by the United Nations of slaughtering civilians in 2013, and Wol of doing likewise in 2015. Riak is accused of violating a ceasefire but I’m not sure whether civilians were involved. Kiir insists they’ve all been falsely accused. Isn’t that always the way?


The International Criminal Court ruled on Friday that ex-warlord Thomas Lubanga, currently serving time in a DRC prison, is liable for $10 million in reparation payments to the families of the children he used as soldiers back when he was a free man. Lubanga is of course broke now, so the actual funds will be paid from other sources.



This week’s European summit achieved one major bit of business (more on that later), but for the most part its agenda–to settle intra-union differences over migration and to discuss French President Shango Emmanuel Macron’s proposals for EU reform–went unsettled. The reason is that everybody’s boss, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is having such a rough political time back home:

Mr. Macron has laid out an ambitious set of reforms for the eurozone and the bloc itself, pushing for more centralization, more “Europe” and more solidarity, both in economics and defense. The European Commission, the bloc’s bureaucracy, has proposed a similarly centralizing set of changes.


This was the summit meeting where European leaders were supposed to grapple with Mr. Macron’s sweeping proposals for institutional change. But Ms. Merkel cannot move without a mandate. And while she participated in a relatively acrimonious dinner discussion Thursday night over migration, defending past policy about the need for bloc solidarity in distributing refugees, she has been noticeably media-averse, canceling her normal after-dinner news briefing.


“There is a strong sense in Europe that something has to change and Germany will have to be at the center of that,” said Jan Techau, a German political analyst. “But whether the issue is the economy or defense, I’m not sure Germans feel that they can get it done, given Merkel’s declining political capital. The problems are huge, but Germans are not sure we’re up to it.”


Vladimir Putin is looking to get the formality of Russians 2018 presidential election behind him as quickly as possible, scheduling it for March 18 to allow for the usual three month campaign season. It would take a meteor strike for Putin not to win that election, but he’s concerned that voter apathy and therefore low turnout could put a blemish on his political record. Putin will probably go full Russian nationalist, telling voters that they can send a message to the assholes in Washington by turning out and giving him a nice big mandate to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule them like a king.

putin bob
Actually I can kind of see the resemblance


Speaking of Merkel’s problems, leaders of Germany’s Social Democratic Party voted Friday to open talks with her Christian Democrats on forming a coalition government. So she’s got that going for her.


As I noted above, the EU summit did manage one thing: everybody agreed to advance to the next phase of Brexit talks and start talking about the future trade relationship between the UK and the EU. Which is not to say that anything from the first phase of the talks has really been settled, just that it seems like they’re making progress. The first order of business will likely be negotiating some kind of transition arrangement to carry Britain through the 2019 Brexit deadline and soften the blow to British businesses.

Instead of enshrining that Brexit deadline into British law as she’d wanted, British Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly planning to back a compromise measure that would allow parliament to extend the deadline if the rest of the EU concurs. May’s effort to establish March 29, 2019 as a hard legal deadline appeared to be headed to a defeat in the House of Commons, and rather than take a second embarrassing L in just the past couple of days, May is opting for a different approach.



After he came in first in November’s first round of presidential voting, once and (he hopes) future Chilean President Sebastián Piñera seemed like a safe bet to win the runoff  against Senator Alejandro Guillier and steer the country in a more right-wing direction. But the runoff is this Sunday and, well, Piñera’s chances don’t look quite as good as they did a couple of weeks ago:

“What it is showing, though, is that there’s practically a tie between the two of them,” said Javier Sajuria, a lecturer in politics at Queen Mary University of London.


Pinera oversaw annual economic growth averaging 5.3 percent during his first term. But the 68-year-old conservative struggled to deal with massive protests over inequality and education rights and left office with low popularity ratings.


“Since (Guillier) is not very popular, he has tried to turn the election into a referendum on Pinera. As a former president, Pinera has high negatives,” said political scientist Patricio Navia of New York University.


Remember how I said a couple of days ago that Ecuadorean Vice President Jorge Glas is the highest ranking official in any country to get swept up by the growing Odebrecht corruption scandal? Well, that might not be true for very much longer:

Political parties in Peru’s Congress have submitted an impeachment motion against President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.


He has been accused of receiving illegal payments by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.


The motion, which was signed by politicians from most parties, says Mr Kuczynski lacks the “moral capacity” to lead the country.

Kuczynski denies the charges, of course, and has refused to resign. If it comes to a vote, 87 members of Peru’s 130 seat parliament would have to vote against Kuczynski for him to be removed from office. Unfortunately, Kuczynski’s own party currently only holds 18 seats in the parliament, so he might want to start courting votes now just in case.


Dominican Republic-hosted talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition leaders on ending that country’s political crisis broke down on Friday, but negotiators say they plan to give them another go in mid-January. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro wants opposition help to convince the United States to ease sanctions, but the opposition isn’t prepared to do that without concessions from Maduro.


Supporters of Honduran opposition leader Salvador Nasralla blockaded highways on Friday to protest the country’s still-unresolved presidential election. No winner in the November 26 vote has yet been declared–even though the official tally shows incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández with a small but clear lead–because of serious concerns about the process by which the votes were counted. Honduras’s election commission has even reportedly completed its partial recount, but it still hasn’t officially named a victor.


Finally, the Trump administration may not yet have solved the North Korean crisis, or negged Iran into submission, or achieved peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, or ended the South Sudanese civil war, or alleviated world hunger, or…I’m sorry, I’m getting off track here. Anyway, there is one thing the Trump administration has achieved on the global stage: it’s inspired the UN to write a report excoriating the United States for its insane levels of inequality. Hooray:

The United Nations monitor on poverty and human rights has issued a devastating report on the condition of America, accusing Donald Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress of attempting to turn the country into the “world champion of extreme inequality”.


Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has completed a two-week official tour of the US by releasing an excoriating attack on the direction of the nation. Not only does he warn that the tax bill currently being rushed through Congress will hugely increase already large disparities between rich and poor, he accuses Trump and his party of consciously distorting the shape of American society in a “bid to become the most unequal society in the world”.


“American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations,” he writes. “But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”

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