World update: January 22 2018


Whatever else may be going on the world, it’s nice to see that unfettered crony capitalism is keeping on keeping on:

The gap between the super rich and the rest of the world widened last year as wealth continued to be owned by a small minority, Oxfam has claimed.


Some 82% of money generated last year went to the richest 1% of the global population while the poorest half saw no increase at all, the charity said.


Oxfam said its figures – which critics have queried – showed a failing system.


It blamed tax evasion, firms’ influence on policy, erosion of workers’ rights, and cost cutting for the widening gap.



Afghan officials are trying to piece together how the Taliban were able to attack the Kabul International Hotel over the weekend. So far the official death toll stands at 22 but there’s good reason to believe that’s low, either because the government is suppressing the real figure or because it’s waiting until bodies can be identified to release the actual figures. Attention is already turning to the private company contracted to provide security at the hotel and its possible relationships with leading Afghan politicians. There are indications that the security guards didn’t handle the attack very well, enabling the attackers to get into the hotel where they could really inflict some damage. The investigation into something like this is obviously important, but it would be a shame if it were used as a political weapon.


Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi says his government will seize control of charities linked to Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba founder believed to be the mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Abbasi is certainly saying what Washington wants to hear, but this is the same government that let Saeed establish a political party and can’t seem to figure out how to keep him in custody despite the copious evidence that he’s behind LeT.

Ankit Panda argues that China is not watching gleefully as the US and Pakistan break up:

First, even as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor gains steam, it is important not to conflate what Pakistan gains from China with what it gains from the U.S.. Both states provide important assistance to Pakistan, but in different ways.


Second, a broader decline in Pakistan-U.S. relations could lead to the U.S. attempting to influence China’s relationship with Pakistan. Beijing has a broad and difficult agenda with the U.S. already, with areas of contention ranging from the South China Sea to the Korean Peninsula. Having its activities in Pakistan come under U.S. scrutiny would be unwelcome.


Finally, Beijing no doubt understands the geopolitical limitations a sufficiently close U.S.-Pakistan relationship poses for U.S. freedom of manoeuvre with regard to India. While ties between New Delhi and Washington have grown increasingly untethered from America’s attitude towards Pakistan since the mid-2000s, Indian scepticism persists.

I think his last point is especially important, but they’re all relevant. Any aid Pakistan stops getting from the US it’s going to want China to replace, and China obviously would rather not do that though I think it probably will if push comes to shove. And the last thing the US-China relationship needs is yet another thing to haggle over.


Sunday was a day of rest along the Kashmir border, but Monday not so much. At least one person was killed early Monday morning as Indian and Pakistani soldiers traded fire across the line of control. The recent surge in cross-border fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people and destroyed entire villages on both sides of the line.


Bangladeshi officials announced on Monday that they’re postponing the repatriation of Rohingya refugees due to concerns that they’re going to be forced to return to Myanmar against their will. Repatriation was supposed to begin this week, but with no assurances from Myanmar that the Rohingyas’ rights or even their lives would be protected, it’s no wonder nobody wants to return.


Rodrigo, buddy, I’ve got some bad news:

“If I overstay and wanted to become a dictator, shoot me, I am not joking,” Duterte told soldiers during an army base visit, adding that security forces should not allow anybody to mess with the constitution.


“It is your job to protect the constitution and to protect the people. Remember, it is your solemn duty.”

Duterte, who already governs like a dictator except for the “overstaying” part, was talking about the effort to amend the Philippine constitution to federalize the country. While this would provide some welcome autonomy for the archipelago’s provinces, the measure being considered would also remove term limits. Which would leave Duterte in position to more than overstay.



George Weah was officially sworn in as Liberian president on Monday.

This is Weah in 2016, but you get the idea

Apart from being the recipient of Liberia’s first peaceful transfer of power since the World War II era, Weah is a former football (the soccer kind) star and is pretty popular, if his wide margin of victory in last month’s runoff is any indication. He’s promised to clean up corruption and narrow the gap between rich and poor, things Ellen Johnson Sirleaf failed to do while she was in office, but of course we’ll see about both.


The African National Congress is likely going to force President Jacob Zuma to step down sometime in the next two weeks, according to party officials. That would give heir apparent Cyril Ramaphosa time to get the party out from under Zuma’s cloud of corruption before next year’s elections.



Another new poll of the Czech presidential election shows challenger Jiří Drahoš with a 47 percent to 43 percent lead over incumbent Miloš Zeman, a fair lead but still not over the 50 percent mark. There seems to be a consistent finding of about 10 percent undecided in these polls, which is more than enough to be decisive in such a close race.


Social Democratic Party leader Martin Schulz says he plans to reopen all issues in negotiations with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc on forming a governing coalition. After only 56 percent of SPD members voted in favor of opening formal talks with the conservatives–that was much lower than Schulz was apparently expecting–there’s a real chance that party members will reject the final deal unless it includes significant concessions to the SPD. The conservatives don’t seem inclined to budge on what is already in the negotiating framework, which could put everybody at an impasse.


Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont managed to go from Belgium to Denmark without getting arrested on Monday, which is kind of a big deal when you’re wanted by the Spanish government. Puigdemont still wants to serve as regional president again even though he can’t actually reenter Spain, and Madrid still says it will reject a Catalan government with him at its head.



Two thousand people protested in Port-au-Prince on Monday against Donald Trump for…well, do you really need to ask? Anyway they seem to have had a good time:

“Trump is a vulgar racist, and a racist is a very poor-minded person,” said Marvel Joseph, holding a Haitian flag. “We don’t feel any resentment against the American people, who we know largely disapprove of Trump’s behavior in the White House.”


Protesters brandished posters of Donald Trump sporting an anus where his mouth was supposed to be, and other caricatures of the president making reference to the body part.

You know what’s revelatory to me? The news that Trump doesn’t literally talk out of his ass and that drawings to that effect are actually intended as funny ridicule.


First of all, watch The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan on drones and blowback:

Now with that out of the way, I’d like to plug my own work if I may. Last year I interviewed foreign policy experts Andrew Bacevich and John Mearsheimer to discuss the Obama foreign policy legacy and some of the larger challenges facing American foreign policy. This year I revisited with them to talk about year one of the Trump administration and to talk more about the deeper issues in US foreign policy. Part one of that interview was posted at LobeLog today and it dealt mostly with Trump (they’re, uh, not fans). It’s an interesting discussion featuring two smart analysts who hold views on US foreign policy that you don’t often see discussed in the Washington/media mainstream, so I hope you’ll check it out.

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