Europe/Americas update: July 30 2018

EUROPE

REPUBLIC OF NORTH (?) MACEDONIA

The Republic of North (?) Macedonia will hold a referendum on its proposed name change on September 30, at which point maybe I’ll be able to take the “(?)” out of their name every time I write about them. Cleverly, the Macedonian government has framed the question as one about joining NATO and the European Union rather than about the name change as such:

Sixty-eight deputies in the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of holding a referendum on the question: “Are you in favor of NATO and EU membership, and accepting the name agreement between the republic of Macedonia and Greece?”

This is because the name change in and of itself appears to be fairly unpopular among the Macedonian public. But as that naming deal with Greece is key to the country’s NATO and EU membership bids, and both of those presumably are popular among the Macedonian public, the deal might actually stand a chance of passing under these terms.

GREECE

Dirty Greek hippies are blaming the destruction and high death toll caused by the country’s raging wildfires on austerity, which…well, actually they have a point:

As I have reported yesterday, trade unions and the parties of the left are pointing to the impact of privatisation and austerity on fatally weakening the country’s infrastructure, from water and forest management to the fire service.

Here are a few stark facts in this regard:

  • The fire service budget has decreased from €500 million (£444m) in 2007 to €397m (£352m) this year
  • 4,000 full time firefighting posts have been cut since 2011 – those who have been recruited are on temporary contracts
  • The total fire prevention budget last year was just £8 million, whilst here are many forest fires every summer
  • 700 firefighters have been seconded from the national force to serving the 14 now privatised airports
  • Nine of the country’s ageing Canadair firefighting planes are grounded due to lack of parts, says one pilot from northern Greece
  • There was no emergency evacuation plan for the Rafina area, where there have been decades of unregulated building by developers.

The Greek government, which bears plenty of responsibility for this situation even if it shares it with German bankers, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund, is throwing around allegations that arson might be behind the fires without, as far as I can tell, much or any evidence to back that claim up. Anything to take people’s attention off the man behind the curtain.

ITALY

In their meeting on Monday at the White House, Donald Trump and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte appear to have made the most of their shared hatred of the non-white peoples of the world:

During a joint news conference, Trump said he is the “most closely aligned” with Conte over any of the other five leaders in the Group of Seven nations, which include U.S. allies France, Germany and Britain. The two first met at the G-7 summit in Canada last month, where Trump disrupted what had typically been a close-knit economic dialogue by abruptly yanking support for a joint statement after the conference.

“We’re both outsiders to politics — can you believe it?” Trump said, standing next to Conte in the East Room.

And you’re both racists! Wild stuff man! Trump praised Conte for–what else–his efforts to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from getting into Italy.

I’m being a little unfair to Conte. There’s not that much evidence that he himself is racist. There’s plenty of evidence, though, that his boss/interior minister is, and that’s having some wonderful societal effects in Italy:

Opposition politicians accused far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Monday of creating a climate of hate in Italy following a spate of racist attacks that have coincided with his anti-immigration drive.

In the latest assault possibly motivated by racism, black Italian athlete Daisy Osakue was injured early on Monday when unknown assailants drove alongside her in a street near the northern city of Turin and hurled an egg at her face.

Many Italians–presumably Salvini’s base–have taken to shooting air rifles at anybody who appears insufficiently Italian. So far eight African migrants have reportedly been shot along with one Roma infant who may be paralyzed as a result.

UNITED KINGDOM

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is going to start playing hardball with these European Union wankers and let them know just how much a no-deal Brexit is going to hurt them:

On his return to Europe, Hunt will travel to France and Austria, meeting their foreign ministers Jean-Yves Le Drian and Karin Kneissl, and trying to gain support for Brexit proposals set out by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this month.

“I will be explaining to my counterparts in Paris and Vienna that it is time for the EU to engage with our proposals, or we potentially face the prospect of a no-deal by accident, which would be very challenging for both the UK and EU,” Hunt said.

Yeah, guys, I don’t know if the entire British government has been in a fugue state since Brexit talks began, but if you guys haven’t figured this out yet let me clue you in: the EU doesn’t give a shit. Yeah, a no-deal Brexit will hurt the EU. It’ll hurt Britain a lot more. And yeah, there are some incentives for the EU to offer Britain some kind of super special bespoke economic arrangement because Britain is just so nice and we just love it so much or whatever. But Brussels has far greater incentives to make Brexit as painful as absolutely possible for Britain in order to discourage other countries that might be thinking about quitting the union.

The Tories seem to be perpetually operating under the notion that it’s 1880 and the British Empire is the envy of the world. It’s not, and frankly Britain just isn’t that big a deal anymore. Certainly not a big enough deal for the EU to risk its entire model just to make London happy. The biggest threats Britain has in its bag of tricks are all nickel-and-dime shit like the fact that a few thousand European investment funds will have a hard time staying in business without a deal on financial services. Meanwhile British officials are talking about the need to stockpile food just in case a no-deal Brexit leaves the country literally scrambling to import enough to keep the British people from starving. The stakes couldn’t be more unequal here. Britain has almost no negotiating leverage. It’s stunning that the UK government doesn’t seem to have figured that out by now.

The British public, for what it’s worth, does seem to be getting the hint. A new Sky News poll finds that 65 percent now believe whatever Brexit deal London manages to strike will be a bad one, and half want another Brexit referendum with options to take whatever deal is on offer, to crash out of the EU with no deal, or to stay in the EU after all. The poll also found that 48 percent of respondents now prefer staying in the EU, a substantial plurality (27 percent prefer no deal and just 13 percent support the government’s deal).

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

From the “you literally couldn’t make this up” file:

An annual gathering of Venezuelan socialists took an unexpected turn when the lights went out just as they were about to select President Nicolas Maduro as their party’s leader.

The blackout happened Monday right as Diosdado Cabello was urging socialist party delegates to give Maduro unlimited power to “strengthen the party and revolution.”

Cabello raised his hand and asked others to follow suit in electing Maduro, but the lights abruptly went out and the live television transmission cut off.

Maduro claims that the event was sabotaged. Sure, why not, let’s go with that.

NICARAGUA

The White House announced on Monday that it’s revoking or restricting US visas for any members of Daniel Ortega’s government who are found to have been involved in the country’s crackdown on protesters since April. Hundreds of people have been killed violently since the crackdown began–estimates range from just shy of 300 to 485 or more–and refugees have started pouring over the border into Costa Rica to escape the fighting. Ortega says he wants to resume dialogue with the opposition.

UNITED STATES

I don’t usually repeat entries from one night to the next, but I know people don’t necessarily like to click the links, and so I want to urge you to read David Kirkpatrick’s piece in the New York Times from Sunday about how the Obama administration dealt with the 2013 coup that replaced Egypt’s elected albeit majoritarian and badly managed Muslim Brotherhood-led government with a return to military dictatorship under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In particular I think it’s worth noting the contempt in which even the supposedly liberal internationalist, open-minded Obama administration held Arabs:

Mr. Kerry told me he had argued at the White House that Mr. Morsi’s removal was not, in fact, a coup. General Sisi had merely bowed to the public will in order to save Egypt, Mr. Kerry said, noting that the general had announced a plan for new elections. (Mr. Sisi was elected president the next year and again in 2018, each time with more than 95 percent of the vote.)

“In Egypt, what was the alternative? It wasn’t Jeffersonian democracy,” Mr. Kerry told me. “Over whatever number of years we have put about $80 billion into Egypt. Most of the time, this is the kind of government they had — almost all of the time. And the reality is, no matter how much I wish it was different, it ain’t going to be different tomorrow.”

The United States needed the Saudis, Emiratis and Israelis for other priorities, Mr. Kerry said, and he did not want to “get into a fight with them over something as historically clear as how Egypt works.”

President Obama decided not to make any determination about whether Mr. Morsi’s ouster was or was not a coup, effectively accepting it.

It’s just how Egypt works, you see. Those Egyptians, those Arabs, they just can’t be trusted with democracy, because they elect the wrong kind of leaders. They need a strong hand at the rudder, and sometimes if that hand slips and massacres a couple of thousand protesters, well, that’s just the price of doing business. And also we’d like the other hand, the one that’s not at the rudder, to be open for us to dump military aid into it, and then we’d like that hand to turn around and give that money to US defense contractors. What’s the alternative? Not undermining Arab democracy? Leaving the people of the Middle East the fuck alone to sort out their own lives, for themselves? Are you nuts?

Is it really that big a surprise that Donald Trump loves dictators? All US presidents love dictators. Trump just happens to be a little less discreet about it.

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Author: DWD

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