World update: January 9 2018



A suicide bomber killed six police officers in Quetta on Tuesday. No word as to whether this was an Islamist attack or a Baluch separatist attack, but either is possible.

A Pakistani court has freed Sufi Mohammad, a militant leader who supported the Taliban after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. This is not exactly going to help improve US-Pakistani relations, but Mohammad has been imprisoned since 2009 and was reportedly released on health grounds so there do seem to be some extenuating circumstances behind this decision.


The Iranian oil tanker that collided with a Chinese vessel over the weekend and caught on fire is still burning, and may keep burning for as long as a month according to the South Korean government. That’s in part because the vessel was carrying condensate, which is lighter and more flammable than other types of crude oil. On the minus side that’s a lot of carbon being burned into the atmosphere, but on the plus side the first is consuming what would otherwise be a fairly sizable oil slick. There is a danger, though, that if the ship sinks its remaining condensate cargo plus the ship’s own fuel could seriously contaminate the East China Sea.

On a more positive note, China is likely to become the world’s biggest user of renewable energy over the next few decades. Of course, part of the reason for that is because the Trump administration is trying to take the US energy grid back to the late 1800s, though the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission thankfully threw some cold water on that effort on Monday.


North Korea and South Korea had their big face-to-face meeting on Tuesday, and to be honest things seemed to go pretty well. For one thing, they reached a very quick agreement to allow North Korean athletes to participate in next month’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, which is no small thing from a symbolic perspective. They also agreed on further military talks aimed at reducing tensions on the peninsula, and on maintaining the hotline the two countries just reopened last week after it had been dormant for two years.

On the other hand, if for some reason you were hoping that these talks would end with a denuclearized North Korea, today’s talks didn’t bring any good news. North Korean representatives seem to have flatly rejected any talks on that subject. The North Koreans did assure the South Koreans that all of their nuclear weapons are “pointed at” the United States, which is a fairly meaningless concession given that North Korea can pulverize Seoul with conventional artillery in a matter of hours after a conflict starts.



Muhammadu Buhari thinks he’s diagnosed the communal violence that continues to plague Nigeria’s Middle Belt:

“President Buhari holds the view, as do many experts, that these conflicts are more often than not, as a result of major demographic changes in Nigeria,” said an emailed statement issued by the presidency.


“While the land size has not changed and will not change, urban sprawl and development have simply reduced land area both for peasant farming and cattle grazing,” said the statement, urging people to remain calm and cooperate with security agencies.


It said Nigeria’s population was around 63 million when the west African country gained independence in 1960, compared with a population now “estimated at close to 200 million”.

Nigeria’s population explosion is undoubtedly a big part of the problem, though at least some of this conflict was probably baked into the cake when Britain cobbled modern Nigeria, and its many internal frontiers, together in the first place.


At least one person was killed in Kinshasa on New Years Eve when protesters turned out to demonstrate against President Joseph Kabila and his ongoing efforts to cling to power. Kabila, as you know, should have been out of office as of the end of 2016, but agreed last December to hold an election by the end of 2017 and then step down. He, uh, didn’t do any of that, and his government now says the election will happen in December of this year. There’s only one response to that:

The UN is taking a dim view of the way Kabila’s security forces handled the NYE protesters (which included the use of live ammunition, naturally), and indeed of Kabila himself:

The U.N. peacekeeping chief condemned “violent repression” by Congo security forces against demonstrators protesting the refusal of President Joseph Kabila to step down and warned Tuesday that further electoral delays risk fueling political tensions.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the Security Council that “the crisis of legitimacy” for Congo’s institutions and a lack of progress toward implementing a 2016 electoral agreement fueled “frustrations, impatience and tensions that led to violence” on New Years’ Eve.


Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s possible retirement threatens to splinter his Movement for Democratic Change just as the ruling ZANU-PF party might be a little vulnerable amid the Mugabe-Mnangagwa transition. Mnangagwa says he wants this year’s elections to be free and fair, and to some extent he needs the international community to at least believe that they are, which would seem to leave an opening for the MDC to gain some ground, provided it can hold itself together.



Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki canned three of his more right-wing cabinet members–Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz, Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, and Environment Minister Jan Szyszko–in an effort to improve relations with the European Union. Morawiecki is worried that Brussels might cut funds to Poland (currently the largest recipient of EU aid), but not worried enough to address the EU’s biggest complaint by reversing the new Polish law that stripped the country’s judiciary of much of its independence.


Protesters stormed into the Greek Labor Ministry on Tuesday to protest legislation that threatens to restrict Greek workers’ right to strike by requiring larger quorums before unions can vote to walk off the job. The legislation is being pushed at the behest of the country’s EU and International Monetary Fund creditors as part of their ongoing forced austerity measures.


Prime Minister-designate Andrej Babiš’s cabinet is expected to lose a parliamentary confidence vote on Wednesday, largely due to a corruption scandal that continues to engulf Babiš himself. If he loses the vote his government will remain in power while a new cabinet is formed, and Czech President Miloš Zeman has said he’ll give Babiš at least one more crack at forming a government that sticks. But the corruption scandal isn’t going away and it’s not clear what more Babiš can do to win support among enough of the country’s other political parties to get his cabinet installed.



Ciudad Guayana has been hit by protests and looting two days running, as people demand food and other supplies. The region is being hit by a malaria outbreak, and demand for anti-malaria drugs may have triggered the outburst.


The tens of thousands of Salvadorans who are now on the verge of being deported by the Trump administration are facing forced relocation away from the US, where many have lived for 20 years or more, to one of the most violent places on the planet. This story is wretched enough just from their perspective. But when you add the perspective from El Salvador, which is utterly unprepared to handle such a large influx of returning migrants and where the economy has come to depend on remittance payments from those migrants, it gets even worse:

Ángel Hernández, 26, worries that an influx of returning Salvadorans will worsen the unemployment rate, which is about 7 percent. “The lack of jobs currently in El Salvador will be even more critical when all those people come looking for work,” he said.


The impact of migrants is felt throughout society, especially in the economy, which is heavily dependent on the diaspora. In 2016, El Salvador received $4.6 billion from abroad, mostly from the United States.


“There are fathers who went up and left their children behind, and send back money for their education,” said Luis Alberto López, 37, director of Cofamide, or the Salvadoran Committee of Relatives of Killed or Disappeared Migrants, a nonprofit that works with Salvadorans whose relatives have vanished while trying to reach the United States.


The influx of returning Salvadorans would saturate an already dismal job market. But there is danger, too, for those returning.


The State Department is opening a new inquiry into the case of those embassy workers who were sickened by…something. This is on top of the FBI’s investigation and whatever the Cuban government might be doing. The prevailing theory still seems to be that these people were exposed to some kind of “sonic attack,” but both aspects of that theory (that it was sonic and that it was an attack) have been seriously challenged. For example, there’s no known sonic phenomenon that seems to be able to explain the symptoms these diplomats have suffered.


For a change, let’s end one of these updates on some good news:

The Trump administration plans to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for US Trident missiles, according to a former official who has seen the most recent draft of a policy review.

Jon Wolfsthal, who was special assistant to Barack Obama on arms control and nonproliferation, said the new nuclear posture review prepared by the Pentagon, envisages a modified version of the Trident D5 submarine-launched missiles with only part of its normal warhead, with the intention of deterring Russia from using tactical warheads in a conflict in Eastern Europe.

Oh shit, that’s not good news, it’s terrifying.

The thing about Trump is that it’s exceedingly unlikely he’s ever going to order the use of nuclear weapons. But the chance that he might seems to be just a smidge higher than it’s been under any president since, I don’t know, Nixon maybe. And because we’re talking about nuclear weapons, that smidge looms pretty goddamn large. When you read stories about the Pentagon relaxing its nuclear doctrine and trying to develop nukes that are Nice and Gentle, so that we can use them without feeling too bad about it…well, those aren’t very comforting things to think about at any time, let alone when Donald Trump is holding the nuclear codes.

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