Over the past few days, both hardline anti-communist historian and neoconservative icon Richard Pipes, 94, and Middle East historian and neoconservative icon Bernard Lewis, 101, passed away. They say it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, so…let’s move on.
Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman resigned on Tuesday to protest the end of mayoral elections in that city. The Sverdlovsk regional parliament voted last month to make the Yekaterinburg mayor, already a largely ceremonial position, indirectly elected by the city council rather than directly elected, and as a frequent critic of Vladimir Putin it’s unlikely that Roizman would have been able to hold on to his office anyway.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says that the latest draft of a law establishing an anti-corruption court has incorporated “the absolute majority” of recommendations made by international observers who had criticized previous versions of the law. It’s not entirely clear what that means, but Ukraine’s ability to obtain future International Monetary Fund loans is dependent on demonstrating that this court will be both empowered and independent.
Opinion polling shows the Slovenian Democratic Party leading ahead of June’s national election, due to its–what else?–anti-immigrant policies. Slovenian politics are thoroughly atomized, so “leading” in this case amounts to having 14.9 percent support, about five points higher than the second-place list. Which means that SDS, due to its extremism, is unlikely to wind up in a governing coalition even if it does wind up as Slovenia’s largest single party after the election.
The Five Star Movement and the League finally agreed on the person to lead their coalition government: Giuseppe Conte, a lawyer and Five Star member with no political experience. He’s a completely out of left field pick for a completely unorthodox coalition. But there’s a problem: it appears Conte has been creatively embellishing his resume. Conte refers to having “perfected and updated” his legal education at NYU, but what that turns out to mean is that he did some reading in the NYU law library in the summers between 2008 and 2012. No, seriously. He may also have been puffing up other aspects of his educational background. Italian President Sergio Mattarella has the final say on Conte’s fitness for the prime minister position, and it’s unclear if this revelation will impact his decision.
It’s no secret what the biggest story was during my absence, right? Oh yeah, you know I’m talking about the royal weddi–just kidding. Who gives a shit?
Tragically, the Michel Temer era appears to be over. The Brazilian president, who would be even-money to lose an election to a MRSA infection, has decided not to run for reelection and will instead throw his support, such as it is, behind his former finance minister, Henrique Meirelles. That should really boost Meirelles’ chances.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro won reelection on Sunday with 67.7 percent of the vote against challenger Henri Falcón. And, you know, maybe he actually did, even though pre-election polling suggested a tight race and Falcón even led in some polls. With the country’s main opposition parties boycotting the vote, turnout was only 46.1 percent and it’s entirely possible that most of those voters were Maduro loyalists. On the other hand, fraud is not out of the question here and, man, winning just about two-thirds of the vote is a neat, round result, isn’t it? I’m just saying it’s possible this wasn’t entirely on the up and up.
Maduro’s reelection, or “reelection” if you’re of such a mind, was of course met with international outcry, with several Latin American countries declaring that they will not recognize the results and the United States imposing new sanctions on Venezuela. In response, the Venezuelan government on Tuesday expelled US charge d’affaires Todd Robinson from the country along with another senior US diplomat. The Trump administration seems increasingly bent on encouraging a military coup against Maduro, which might be easier said than done at this point and at any rate promises to inflict more pain on the Venezuelan people.
The United Nations refugee agency says that the displacement problem in Central America is getting significantly worse:
The number of asylum seekers and refugees who had abandoned the region increased from about 18,000 in 2011 to 294,000 at the end of last year, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, announced. That number grew 58% last year alone.
The UNHCR said the number of Central American applications for refugee status had also risen sharply. Of the 350,000 applications between 2011 and 2017, 130,500 – nearly 40% – were filed last year.
Francesca Fontanini, a Mexico-based UNHCR spokeswoman, said those being displaced were largely seeking shelter from rampant gang violence in what is one of the world’s murderous regions.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela says he plans to reopen an investigation into the 1994 crash of Alas Chiricanas Flight 901 shortly after takeoff from Colón. Investigators have long suspected the plane crashed because of a bomb, but that theory has never been confirmed. Varela now says he’s received new evidence from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that points the finger at Hezbollah.
At least one person, an infant, was killed and 15 more wounded when gunmen (presumably affiliated with one of Mexico’s drug cartels) attacked Mexican Labor Secretary Luis Carlos Nájera in Guadalajara on Monday evening and subsequently torched several busses to serve as roadblocks covering their escape. Nájera suffered only minor injuries, while six suspects were reportedly arrested.
The sketchy ties between the Trump 2016 campaign and Gulf plutocrats are beginning to come into sharper focus as convicted pedophile/lobbyist George Nader continues to cooperate with the Mueller investigation:
Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor.
The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office, according to several people with knowledge of their encounters.
Erik Prince, the private security contractor and the former head of Blackwater, arranged the meeting, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emissary, George Nader, told Donald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were eager to help his father win election as president. The social media specialist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s ability to give an edge to a political campaign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a multimillion-dollar proposal for a social media manipulation effort to help elect Mr. Trump.
The whole affair was the product of Nader and Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who set themselves up as a conduit, apparently via Prince, for Gulf royals seeking to buy influence with Trump. According to the AP, that effort largely focused around influencing the administration’s response to the Saudi/UAE plan to diplomatically isolate Qatar:
In return for pushing anti-Qatar policies at the highest levels of America’s government, Broidy and Nader expected huge consulting contracts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, according to an Associated Press investigation based on interviews with more than two dozen people and hundreds of pages of leaked emails between the two men. The emails reviewed by the AP included work summaries and contracting documents and proposals.
The AP has previously reported that Broidy and Nader sought to get an anti-Qatar bill through Congress while obscuring the source of the money behind their influence campaign. A new cache of emails obtained by the AP reveals an ambitious, secretive lobbying effort to isolate Qatar and undermine the Pentagon’s longstanding relationship with the Gulf country.
At a minimum, neither Broidy nor Nader ever seems to have registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, which is a crime though one that’s almost never enforced. Broidy insists that his anti-Qatar lobbying was entirely his own idea and that he was never compensated for it, he just cared so damn much about the issue. But there’s now abundant evidence that he’s been lying. Broidy allegedly channeled Gulf money into an anti-Qatar media campaign, including funneling cash to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies to pay for an anti-Qatar conference in May 2017.
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