Europe/Americas update: June 20 2018


John Feffer has some thoughts about how the world is treating refugees on World Refugee Day:

This week, as the international community marks World Refugee Day, 22.5 million people have fled their countries to seek refuge elsewhere. In 2016, a mere 189,000 were resettled. That’s less than 1 percent. It’s as if the entire population of Taiwan were uprooted and forced to find a new country, but only a single neighborhood from the capital city managed to find safe harbor.

Donald Trump is at the forefront of this scandalously cruel approach to refugees. But he’s not alone. Here are four examples from around the world of how governments continue to turn away the modern-day equivalents of the MS St. Louis.


OPEC leaders are meeting in Vienna this week in an effort to get some agreement on oil production targets. In the face of anger from Donald Trump and concerns about the US fracking industry, Saudi Arabia is pushing for an increase in global oil production in order to stabilize or even lower oil prices a bit, and has agreed with non-OPEC member Russia to do so. But it faced pushback on Wednesday from, unsurprisingly, Iran:

“The real reason for the current oil price hike lies with the United States president himself,” Bijan Zanganeh, the Iranian minister, said in a speech. Referring to American sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, Mr. Zanganah added, “You cannot impose unilateral trade sanctions against two founding members of OPEC, two major oil producers, and at the same time expect the global market not to show adverse reaction.”

“The United States cannot expect OPEC to act against two of its founding members,” he said. “On the contrary, OPEC is independent, mature and reasonable.”

It’s unclear whether the Saudis will be able to convince the rest of OPEC to increase supply, especially since the Saudis are pretty much the only OPEC member that can fill any production increase and so they’ll be the only ones to benefit from it.


The European Union will begin levying tariffs against select US products on Friday, in response to Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminum. The tariffs appear politically targeted, with Harley Davidson motorcycles (from Paul Ryan’s home state) and Kentucky bourbon (from Mitch McConnell’s home state) both on the list. Overall, this isn’t nearly as big a trade spat as the one Trump is cultivating with China.


“Let’s have a Space Force,” he said. “A Space Force will be cool,” he said. “Nothing could go wrong if we had a Space Force,” he said:

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the move appears to signal Washington’s intention to deploy weapons in space. She warned that the militarization of space “could be fraught with consequences no less harmful than the nuclear arms race.”

Zakharova said that taking weapons to space would “upset strategic stability and international security.” She noted that Russia and China have proposed an international treaty that would ban space-based weapons.

We managed not to weaponize space during the Cold War, but two years of Donald Trump is flushing that down the toilet. Don’t get me wrong, I’m skeptical this will actually happen. But the very idea is so stupid it could only come from this president.

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu says that Russia has enough weapons in Crimea to repel any invasion. Which I don’t think anybody was threatening to attempt? But OK, noted.


The North (?) Macedonian parliament on Wednesday ratified an agreement with Greece to change the country’s name to incorporate the aforementioned “North” modifier. Of the three hurdles this deal had to clear, this was clearly the easiest. Passing the Greek Parliament and a North (?) Macedonian referendum are going to be much tougher tasks.


Hungary’s parliament on Wednesday approved a bill, dubbed the “Stop Soros” law, that criminalizes giving aid to undocumented migrants. On World Refugee Day, of course. “Aid” here could include financial assistance or helping migrants navigate the asylum process or seek legal recourse to change their status.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán continues to blaze new trails for his fellow right-wing racist authoritarian world leaders:

Hungary’s slide into authoritarianism under Orban—or “illiberal democracy” as he calls it— has earned him criticism from abroad, but he’s had a fairly simpatico relationship with the current U.S. administration. Orban was the first foreign leader to endorse Trump’s candidacy in 2016, and the two leaders spoke four days ago, discussing “the need for strong national borders,” just as the domestic backlash to Trump family-separation policy was growing. Steve Bannon has gone as far as to describe Orban, who portrays himself as a defender of Western Christian civilization against Islam, as “Trump before Trump.”

These guys have a whole little club of budding fascists going now, it’s neat.



Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm that was responsible for the 2016 Panama Papers corruption scandal and shut its doors earlier this year, apparently didn’t know the identities of a whopping 75 percent of its mostly ultra-elite clients:

The new leak suggests Mossack Fonseca drafted reports for law enforcement concerning at least a dozen of its own clients following the Panama Papers, in some instances citing articles by journalists as supporting evidence.

The firm also received a flurry of requests for information from law enforcement agencies, including the UK’s Serious Fraud Office.

In one such instance, the firm did not know who owned an offshore company of interest, even though Mossack Fonseca staff were serving as the company’s nominee directors.


As a compromise between his immediate departure and finishing out his term, the Catholic Church is asking Daniel Ortega to hold early elections–legitimate ones–next year:

On the streets, many people say they want the presidential couple to leave now. But the Roman Catholic Church, which is mediating the dialogue, has proposed holding early elections by March.

This week, the State Department said that “early elections represent a constructive way forward.” And the United States ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carlos Trujillo, arrived in the capital, Managua, on Tuesday to meet with the government and opposition groups.


The Salvadoran government is advising would-be migrants to the US to reconsider their plans. Which is, of course, music to Donald Trump’s ears, but it’s hard to find fault with what they’re saying. The thing is, the people making this trip know what awaits them when they get to Donald Trump’s United States. They’re making it anyway, which ought to tell you something about the conditions they’re trying to flee.


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being heavily pressured to end a 2004 bilateral agreement with the United States that designates the US as a safe place for refugees. The Safe Third Country Agreement requires Canadian border officials to turn asylum seekers back and tell them to apply for asylum in the United States. You know, because it’s safe here. Like the good milquetoast liberal he is, Trudeau is prepared to talk a decent game about how unacceptable the Trump administration’s asylum and migrant policies are, but he’s refusing to do something about it by scrapping this agreement.


Finally, BuzzFeed’s Hayes Brown says more seriously what I’ve been saying very flippantly for the past few days about the Trump administration’s decision to quit the United Nations Human Rights Council:

A few years ago, the US announcing it would abandon the UN Human Rights Council would have been unthinkable. But today, as most of the world — including the UN human rights chief — recoils in horror at the US government’s treatment of migrant children, “inevitable” feels more accurate.

The truth is, this is the right time for the US to step away from its seat at the Human Rights Council, as UN Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley announced Tuesday. Under the Trump administration, the United States cannot perform the role that the world needs it to, marshaling allies — especially the members of the G7 that Trump has alienated — to push forward a clear view of universal values in the council’s resolutions. Right now, we’ve made it difficult to get even Canada on our side.

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