Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed on Thursday as Kiev and eastern Ukrainian separatists accused one another of ratcheting up the violence in the Donbas.
In an effort to prove to the European Union that it really stands for democracy and isn’t just trying to amass power, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party on Friday…shepherded through the approval of a law that will pretty much allow it to rig elections from now on. The new law lets parliament, which Law and Justice controls, pick election commissioners, rather than the courts. Man, Poland’s courts are either a totally incompetent/corrupt mess or else they’re making for a very convenient scapegoat for a reactionary party that’s trying very hard to suppress any possibility of opposition.
The Hungarian government is very angry at Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose for remarks he made about the Székelys (or Szeklers)–an ethnic Hungarian population in Romania. On Wednesday, Tudose told Romanian TV that “if the Szekler flag flies on institutions there, they’ll all fly next to the flag,” which seems to imply that he’s planning to hang Székelys who agitate for autonomy. Romania’s foreign ministry said the PM’s remarks were about upholding law and order and not about mass executions, even though they kind of were, and Tudose was roundly criticized not just in Hungary, but in Romania as well. I was just thinking that what Europe could use is a really interesting separatist dispute, because when’s the last time they had one of those? So this should be fun to watch.
The Kosovar government is thinking about shuttering the tribunal it’s set up to prosecute ex-Kosovo Liberation Army members accused of committing war crimes during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War. But the EU is warning that Kosovo’s “relations” with Brussels could be adversely impacted by such a decision. I guess that counts as a threat?
Bosnian media is reporting that Russian-trained mercenaries are helping to train paramilitaries loyal to separatist-minded Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik. Which seems fine. What could go wrong, you know?
Czechs finish voting on Saturday in their presidential election, where the choice seems to be between incumbent Miloš Zeman and Jiri Drahos, an academic with a pro-West record. There are other candidates as well but these are the two leading contenders and the two who will likely face off in the runoff in two weeks. Zeman, with his quirky blend of left-wing economic ideas and right-wing race theory, is likely to win but it’s far from a lock. Czech presidents don’t have very much power, but Zeman is a very big fan of embattled Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who has been having trouble forming a government that can pass muster with the Czech parliament. If Zeman wins he’ll likely keep giving Babiš chances to form such a government, but Drahos may not be so inclined.
Negotiators for Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance and the Social Democratic Party appear to have reached an agreement on a general framework for establishing a governing coalition. And there was much rejoicing. However, SPD leaders now have to go back to their party rank and file, who have been far more skeptical of getting into another coalition with Merkel, and convince them to support the coalition. It’s not at all clear that SPD has wrung enough concessions out of Merkel for that to happen. Merkel’s future as chancellor could be riding on the outcome of the SPD’s internal deliberations.
The New York Times reports on the story of Emilie König, a French woman who traveled to Syria and became a major figure as a propagandist for ISIS. König was either captured or surrendered in Raqqa and wants to go home now, and her case is illustrative of the problems returning foreign fighters pose to their home countries:
European countries, no doubt, would prefer that the fighters never came back, or that they were prosecuted for war crimes and terrorist activities in the countries where they were captured. But the latter is hard to pull off, given that European countries are opposed to the death penalty and are not confident that countries like Iraq and Syria can hold fair trials.
The Kurdish region of Syria, where Ms. König said she was being held in a video released Monday, is a legal gray area. The Kurds administer justice and carry out many government functions, but as a matter of international law the region is still part of Syria — albeit a self-governing one — and not recognized by France or any other country.
If the fighters do return, while the French can prosecute them for giving support to a terrorist group, it would be difficult to prosecute them for the serious crimes they may have committed while in Syria or Iraq.
The Spanish government says that Carles Puigdemont cannot serve as Catalan president while in self-imposed exile in Brussels. And on the one hand they would say that, right? But on the other, really, how can you serve as president of Catalonia from Brussels? Spanish officials say that the regional president must appear in person at the Catalan parliament to be sworn in, and you can imagine that Spanish police would be waiting right outside the parliament building for Puigdemont to exit. Puigdemont’s former deputy, Oriol Junqueras, could be a compromise candidate/stalking horse, but he’s actually in Spanish custody and it’s probably also true that you can’t serve as president of Catalonia from inside a jail cell.
There’s been a lot of talk over the past couple of days about Britain holding a second Brexit referendum. Britain’s national village idiot, for example, says he’s totally in favor of a second referendum in order to shut Remainers and Soft Leavers up. But there’s not going to be a second Brexit referendum, and I can give you two reasons why:
- Because “Leave” might win again
- Because “Remain” might win
Either one puts Britain deeper in the shit than it already is. If “Leave” wins again then it strengthens hardliners who chafe at making any concessions to the EU in a negotiation in which the EU holds all the actual cards. It then becomes exceedingly likely that Britain will crash out of the EU with no trade deal in place and then the fun times should really begin. On the other hand, if “Remain” wins then the last year and a half of turmoil in British politics will pale in comparison with what happens next, which will be an absolute shitshow. May’s government will collapse (hell, the Tories might be supplanted by UKIP as Britain’s main right-wing party), and even if you’re really excited by the possibility of a Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn, he’d be taking over in the middle of a total political crisis that would undoubtedly sap much of his political capital.
And, by the way, it’s not even clear that Britain could actually reverse its decision to leave the EU now that it’s invoked Article 50. It would either need the rest of the EU to vote unanimously to let Britain take it all back or appeal to the European Court of Justice, which UK right-wingers loathe, for relief.
Donald Trump announced on Thursday that he will not be going to London to open the new US embassy there. And you can understand why. Trump is loathed in London and there would probably be huge crowds of angry protesters waiting for hi–I’m sorry, that’s not the reason he gave?
Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2018
Oh, uh, OK, that’s weird. It’s also pretty much entirely a lie, but I’m sure you’d already guessed that part.
At least three people have been killed and 16 injured during two days of rioting over food shortages in the western Venezuelan town of Arapuey.
US Ambassador to Panama John Feeley resigned on Friday because of Donald Trump:
In his letter of resignation, John Feeley, a career diplomat and former marine helicopter pilot said: “As a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies.”
“My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come,” Feeley said, according to an excerpt of the letter read to Reuters.
Obviously the titles of tonight’s posts refer to the “shithole countries” remark that Donald Trump allegedly (in fairness he sort of denies it) made during a meeting with congressional leaders regarding immigration:
President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they discussed protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to several people briefed on the meeting.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to countries mentioned by the lawmakers.
I don’t know how much really needs to be said here–obviously it’s a gross comment, but we’d all pieced together that Trump is a racist by now, right? There was obviously strong reaction from all over the world, with American diplomats hearing formal protests and ambassadors of other countries to the US speaking their minds. And of course Trump is–at the risk of wearing the word out–completely full of shit.
But while we’re shouting our outrage at Trump for his racism and his general repulsiveness, maybe we should also consider the reality that underlies his comments. Haiti, El Salvador, Nigeria, etc. are not “shitholes,” but for many people in those countries life is unbearably hard. It’s so unbearably hard that people are prepared to uproot their entire lives, leave their families and friends, and come to America in search of a better life. I had a hard time moving from Pittsburgh to Chicago many years ago and I had a car and movers to help me bring all my stuff–imagine the pressure someone has to feel to leave El Salvador to come to the United States with maybe nothing but the clothes on their back, and with no car to make getting here easier. It’s wonderful that they come and America should be open and welcoming to them because what they bring to this country is far greater than what they take out of it.
But for the people who are left in Haiti, El Salvador, etc., life continues to be very, very hard. And in many cases a big part of the reason why life continues to be so hard is American foreign policy. We brutalize countries with sanctions, bombs, or both. We support autocratic regimes that suppress their people and suck dry their potential to make life better. We uphold a grotesquely unfair global economic system that creates a permanent underclass of nations that our reality TV buffoon of a president then has the nerve to call “shitholes.” Donald Trump is an asshole, but frankly so are the rest of us. He’s a national embarrassment, but we should have already been embarrassed.
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