Europe/Americas update: August 23 2018

HUMAN RIGHTS

Say, remember back when the United States government used to pretend to care about human rights? When sometimes it would complain that this or that country was doing awful human rights things, and then we would all look over at Saudi Arabia or Israel–or, say, at a mirror–and laugh? Yeah, me too:

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, says the United States will cut funding for the office of the U.N. human rights chief, the administration’s latest blow against the United Nations.

Bolton announced the move against the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which would lose one of its largest donors. The United States is the U.N.’s largest single donor, providing about 22 percent of its budget.

Say what you will about US hypocrisy, but Washington’s money still spent. I’d take the hypocrisy over this.

EUROPE

UKRAINE

An attack by eastern Ukrainian separatists just outside of Luhansk on Thursday killed at least five Ukrainian soldiers and left another seven wounded. Two Ukrainian soldiers and two rebels were killed in another battle over the weekend. A renewed ceasefire is supposed to go into effect at the end of this month to mark the start of the school year.

HUNGARY

The European Court of Human Rights wants Hungary to feed the would-be asylum seekers it’s holding in camps along its Serbian border. This, of course, runs directly counter to Viktor Orbán’s aim to starve them to death, or at least make them drop their asylum appeals and go back to Serbia.

ITALY

Speaking of governments that really hate non-whites, Italy is threatening to suspend its European Union payments next year unless the bloc works out a more equitable way to distribute refugees. And to be fair, Italy has a point here. The EU is supposed to disburse refugees evenly across its member states, but countries like France prefer to leave point of entry states like Italy to bear a disproportionate share of the burden while simultaneously lecturing their governments about compassion. Which does not absolve the Italian government of its cartoonish racism or its demonstrated inhumanity, but does place those things in a bit of context.

FRANCE

A man stabbed his mother and sister to death on Thursday in a Paris suburb, in an incident that’s been claimed by ISIS but is being treated by French authorities as the deed of someone with “serious psychiatric problems.” The attacker was later shot and killed by police. ISIS offered no evidence to support its claim, but the man was apparently known to French authorities as a terrorism risk.

UNITED KINGDOM

Theresa May’s government has suddenly shifted from promising that the European Union was practically begging to give the UK a sweetheart post-Brexit trade deal to telling people to start stocking up in preparation for life with no post-Brexit trade deal at all:

In its first papers on a no-deal Brexit, May’s government warned the cost of credit card payments between the Britain and Europe will probably increase and so will the cost of Internet purchases — totaling in the billions — from Europe.

Brits working and living in Europe could also lose access to British banking — and pension services. Some 250,000 British retirees live in Europe.

There will likely be customs checks and delays for British companies exporting to Europe, the government advised, as “the free circulation of goods between the U.K. and E.U. would cease.”

Sounds great. Definitely the kind of cool and helpful shit that Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were promising people when they were campaigning for Brexit a couple of years ago.

AMERICAS

Once again the Venezuelan refugee situation is the dominant story in South America.

PERU

The United Nations is calling on Peru and Ecuador to ease requirements for Venezuelan nationals attempting to enter those countries. Both countries have recently instituted new passport requirements for Venezuelans at the border.

ECUADOR

Ecuador’s government, meanwhile, announced on Thursday that it’s pulling out of ALBA, or the “Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America,” a regional bloc created by Hugo Chávez in 2004. While not specifically related to the refugee issue per se, this is a move by Quito to put some daylight between itself and Caracas.

COLOMBIA

The Colombian government, meanwhile, has announced plans to host a regional summit with leaders from Ecuador and Peru next week to discuss the situation in Venezuela and its regional impact–i.e., the migrant issue.

UNITED STATES

Finally, The New Yorker’s Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow are reporting on a memo, allegedly “circulated” in the White House last year, that may be connected with attempts (again, alleged) by the Trump administration–via the private Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube–to dig up dirt on Obama administration national security personnel around the debate over the Iran nuclear deal:

The memo is unsigned and undated, and Trump Administration officials familiar with it offered conflicting accounts of who authored it and whether it originated inside or outside the White House. The officials said that it was circulated within the National Security Council and other parts of the Trump White House in early 2017. They said the memo may have had additional pages. A National Security Council spokesperson declined to comment.

Some of the same conspiracy theories expressed in the memo appear in internal documents from an Israeli private-intelligence firm that mounted a covert effort to collect damaging information about aides to President Obama who had advocated for the Iran deal. In May, 2017, that firm, Black Cube, provided its operatives with instructions and other briefing materials that included the same ideas and names discussed in the memo. The Black Cube documents obtained by The New Yorker referred to Rhodes and Kahl, arguing that they were using allies in the media to undermine the Trump Administration. The Black Cube documents use the term “echo chamber” five times, including in a document describing the operatives’ directive as “Investigating the Rhodes’ / Kahl ‘Eco-chamber.’ ” The same document states that “Rhodes and Kahl are suspected to make use of privileged access and information leveraging it against the incumbent administration.”

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