World update: March 21 2018


A new report finds that water is getting scarcer and access to it more unequal:

Water inequality is increasing in the world’s most environmentally stressed nations, warn the authors of a report that shows more than 800 million people need to travel and queue for at least 30 minutes to access safe supplies.


Despite an overall increase in provision of tap water, the study – the State of the World’s Water 2018 – charts the gaps within and between nations, as poor communities face competition over aquifers and rivers with agriculture and factories producing goods for wealthier consumers.


US Treasury Secretary Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds Steve Mnuchin says that once he and Donald Trump have renegotiated NAFTA and fixed whatever is wrong with the US-China trade relationship, they may reconsider joining the Trans Pacific Partnership.


An ISIS suicide bomber struck the Sakhi Shrine in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least 30 people, mostly Hazaras, who were there celebrating Nowruz, the Iranian new year. The attack is once again highlighting the plight of Afghanistan’s Shiʿa Hazara minority, which has been a frequent target for both ISIS and the Taliban. At least 300 Hazara have been killed in terrorist incidents over the past two years and the community’s frustration with the Afghan government is growing:

While Hazara and Shiite leaders insist they will not be intimidated and do not blame their plight on Sunni Afghans, the rising violence has taken a toll on the community’s nerves. It has also triggered rising frustration with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, which last year allowed local men to arm and patrol Shiite worship places in Kabul, a tacit admission that it could not protect them.


“We are walking on blood on every street,” said Jawed Kazemi, 60, a resident passing the site of Wednesday’s blast between the shrine and the Kabul University campus. Shoes, sandals and bits of human flesh were strewn on the ground nearby. He pointed to red stains on the road.


“This is our life,” Kazemi said angrily. “Poor people are dying. Why doesn’t Ghani order terrorists to be hanged?”


Five members of various Indian security forces and five suspected Kashmiri insurgents were killed in a gunbattle in Kashmir’s Kupwara district that began late Tuesday and continued through part of Wednesday.


The Chinese navy sent its aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, through the Taiwan Strait late Tuesday in one of its periodic shows of force against the island nation/rogue province. The Taiwanese military monitored the carrier’s progress but there were no incidents.


Finnish officials say that this week’s “track 2” talks between North Korean, South Korean, and US representatives in Finland was “constructive,” but it doesn’t seem they went into much more detail than that. On Tuesday, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said that the talks did not cover denuclearization, which is kind of a big issue with the potential Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit looming.


Or, actually, it might be a Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un-Moon Jae-in summit. The South Korean president suggested the possibility of three-way talks on Wednesday in reference to the Trump summit as well as the one he’s supposed to have with Kim in late April. I don’t want to suggest that Moon is uncomfortable with the idea of leaving Donald Trump and his prion-riddled brain alone to talk with Kim, but if you were him wouldn’t you be?


Several African nations signed a major intra-continental free trade agreement on Wednesday, which should increase the surprisingly low amount of trade that gets done within Africa. The continent has several regional trade blocs but few are well integrated, and obviously this is much more ambitious in scope. Its efforts will be hampered by the lack of major transcontinental rail and highway networks, one legacy of a colonial experience wherein the emphasis was on extracting wealth from Africa, not trading it within Africa. It will also be hampered by the fact that South Africa and Nigeria, two of the continent’s largest economies, both opted not to join on Wednesday. However, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says South Africa will join in the future, and Nigeria could do likewise.


Human Rights Watch says that, despite the push for it, Libya is “incapable” of holding legitimate elections this year. I have to say, they make a pretty strong case:

“Libya today couldn’t be further away from respect for the rule of law and human rights, let alone from acceptable conditions for free elections,” Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.


HRW says free speech, rule of law, assembly and a “functioning judiciary that is able to deal fairly and promptly with disputes concerning the elections” must be respected.


But armed groups continue to threaten, intimidate, and attack judicial figures and officials, HRW says.


It also points out that the “legal framework for an election remains opaque”, and has urged the elections commission to conduct “transparent audits of its voter register to rule out any inaccuracies”.


In a surprise development, Boko Haram has released at least 101 of the 110 girls it abducted from a school in Dapchi last month. At least one girl is reportedly still being held by the militants and it is possible that some of the girls died in custody, but at this point the information seems to be sketchy. It’s unclear why they released the girls, but it’s possible that they took grief from the home office (i.e., ISIS) about abducting Muslim girls (indeed, the one girl believed to still be held is Christian). They may actually see a popularity bump over this, which I grant you is almost impossible to fathom but is nevertheless possible. The Nigerian government’s completely botched response to the abduction (initially reporting that nobody had been abducted, then mistakenly reporting that it had rescued 3/4 of the abductees a day later) has made it the target of a great deal of anger from the parents of these girls.


AFRICOM revealed on Wednesday that a US airstrike killed two al-Shabab operatives in southern Somalia on Monday morning. It was the sixth US airstrike in Somalia so far this year.


At this point, you only know Cambridge Analytica as the political consulting firm that mined your Facebook data to help get Donald Trump elected and apparently engages in even dirtier tricks, for example setting politicians up with prostitutes, to affect election outcomes. But Kenyan opposition leaders now say they want to investigate whether the firm may have helped President Uhuru Kenyatta fix Kenya’s presidential election last August. The results of that election were tossed out by Kenya’s Supreme Court, but the redo in October was boycotted by challenger Raila Odinga and so Kenyatta cruised to an easy win.


The fighting between government forces and the Kamwina Nsapu militia had mostly come to an end by late last year, but a new problem is affecting people in the DRC’s Kasai region: starvation. UNICEF says that roughly 400,000 children in the region suffer from acute malnutrition, and they have little in the way of access to proper medical care.


South Africa’s white farming community believes that it is being targeted for violence:

Activist groups promoting the rights of white people in the country claim there have been 90 recorded attacks in 2018 so far, with one farmer murdered every five days on average.


There is no official data supporting the idea that white farmers are more likely to be victims of attacks in South Africa, and the government strongly denies white people are being deliberately targeted and says farm murders are part of South Africa’s wider violent crime problem.

It’s pretty clear that there have been attacks, some quite brutal, against white farmers in South Africa, but the argument that there’s an epidemic of such attacks comes amid an increasing push by the South African government to appropriate and redistribute land belonging to white farmers as part of the process of unwinding the effects of apartheid. The African National Congress is flirting with the idea of allowing land seizures without compensation, a position popular on the fringes of South African politics, which critics argue has legitimized these types of attacks.



As far as I can tell it’s been over two years since the last time somebody set off tear gas in the middle of the Kosovo parliament, so when it happened again on Wednesday I think they were overdue:

Today, as in 2016, the gas was triggered by the Self-Determination Movement, which gets angry every time the Kosovo government negotiates a border deal with one of its neighbors. In this case it’s completed a border agreement with Montenegro that will see Kosovo giving up about 30 square miles of contested territory in exchange for a firm border and, most likely, visa-free travel for Kosovars into the European Union.


Slovak President Andrej Kiska on Wednesday accepted Prime Minister-designate Peter Pellegrini’s second go at forming a new cabinet, which should be in place on Thursday. Pellegrini agreed to swap out his original, politicized choice as interior minister for a more non-partisan figure, which is important because Kiska wants the next interior minister to lead a major investigation into the murder of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak that could touch some of the country’s most prominent politicians.


In the first parliamentary address of her new term as chancellor, Angela Merkel promised to keep twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom:

“At the end of this legislative period, I would like people to conclude that our society has become more humane, that divisions and polarization were reduced and perhaps even overcome, and social cohesion increased,” Merkel said.


Playing on the catchphrase “wir schaffen das” (“we can do this”) that she employed at the height of the refugee crisis, Merkel said Germany could become a more cohesive society and make the technological advances to be ready for the future.


“I am convinced, Germany can do this – and Germany means all of us,” she said.

She might want to check with her own interior minister, who I’m pretty sure does not think Germany can do this and would like to know exactly who “us” is.



Mired in the Odebrecht corruption investigation and facing a very possible impeachment in the coming days, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned his office on Wednesday. Though Kuczynski insists that his ties to Odebrecht are completely innocent, he’s lost nearly all of his public support. The final straw may have come on Tuesday, when video emerged of one of his supporters in Congress apparently trying to bribe other legislators to vote against impeachment. Congress will now consider Kuczynski’s resignation letter, so he’s not officially out of office yet. But given that Congress was likely to have impeached him anyway, it’s hard to imagine that it will reject his resignation.


Robert Mueller’s investigation into the work that lobbyist (and child pornography peddler) George Nader and Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy have been doing on behalf of the United Arab Emirates looks like it might be a real budding scandal:

A cooperating witness in the special counsel investigation worked for more than a year to turn a top Trump fund-raiser into an instrument of influence at the White House for the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to interviews and previously undisclosed documents.


Hundreds of pages of correspondence between the two men reveal an active effort to cultivate President Trump on behalf of the two oil-rich Arab monarchies, both close American allies.


High on the agenda of the two men — George Nader, a political adviser to the de facto ruler of the U.A.E., and Elliott Broidy, the deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee — was pushing the White House to remove Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, backing confrontational approaches to Iran and Qatar and repeatedly pressing the president to meet privately outside the White House with the leader of U.A.E.

One interesting detail about this New York Times story involves Nader’s possible use of Broidy as a go-between to funnel Emirati money to two friendly Washington think tanks: the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. FDD just so happens to be the NYT’s favorite (often only) source for expertise when it comes to reporting on the Iran nuclear deal, despite its well-established anti-Iran agenda. I wonder if the revelation that they might be taking money from a Middle Eastern government opposed to Iran and to the nuclear deal might change the NYT’s approach to its reporting on that issue? Eh, I doubt it.

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