Europe/Americas update: August 29 2018

EUROPE

RUSSIA

While refusing to entirely do away with his government’s proposed retirement age increase, Russian President Vladimir Putin did tone down the plan a bit on Wednesday by lowering the proposed new retirement age for women to 60, down from 63 in the initial proposal (though still up from 55 currently). Putin argued that an aging Russian population is putting too much pressure on the state pension system for things to simply remain as they are:

Even as he announced the changes, Mr. Putin reiterated that demographic changes in Russia — particularly older adults living well past retirement age, while fewer young people are entering the work force — required some adjustments.

“I underscore once again that we have to make a difficult, complicated, but necessary decision,” Mr. Putin said, in a rare televised address broadcast nationwide at midday. “I ask you to be understanding about this.”

Mr. Putin warned that mushrooming costs now at $300 million per day could bankrupt Russia, and supporters lauded the speech, saying that he had stepped into his role of “father of the nation” to explain the hard facts facing the country.

Speaking of people toning things down, the Washington Post’s John Hudson says that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is trying to come to some kind of accord with Russia before additional US sanctions over the Skripal poisoning in the UK go live in November. Pompeo is trying to arrange a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before November to discuss the Skripal incident and perhaps discuss sanctions relief in return for Russian concessions in Syria and/or Ukraine.

The administration’s current Russia policy reflects the tension between Donald Trump’s desire for closer relations with Moscow and Congress’s ongoing quest to sanction Russia seemingly until the heat death of the universe. Presumably Pompeo wants to find some way to ease that tension, but he needs to be able to show a measurable change in Russian behavior in order to sell Congress on the idea of lightening up.

SLOVENIA

A scant two months after a fairly inconclusive June election, Slovenia might be on the verge of having a government. A coalition of five center-left parties has formed what would be a minority government under presumptive Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, whose party–the cleverly named “List of Marjan Šarec”–came in second in June. The coalition will control 43 of the 90 seats in Slovenia’s National Assembly, and it apparently has a promise from one additional party to provide support so that it can get past an initial confidence vote. The coalition will sideline the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party, which came in first in the election but has had little success finding coalition partners.

GERMANY

Hearts are breaking all over Germany and Turkey as I write this, over the tragic defacement and removal of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan…’s statue in the city of Wiesbaden. The frankly nightmarish statue–no, seriously:

was installed as part of an arts festival. It’s since been defaced, which then led to violent scuffles between people who either feel very strongly about Erdoğan or who feel very strongly about grotesque statues, and authorities finally decided to remove it altogether to avoid any further incident.

THE NETHERLANDS

Dutch authorities have arrested a man charged with plotting to attack fascist-curious lawmaker Geert Wilders over Wilders’ plan to hold a “draw Muhammad” contest later this year in Amsterdam.

AMERICAS

CHILE

The Chilean mining industry, traditionally built around copper but more recently focused on lithium, has been overtaxing the country’s water resources while the Chilean government did little to monitor water usage. Now as water shortages in parts of the country reaches critical levels, the government is scrambling to try to collect data and possibly begin restricting water rights for mining companies.

ARGENTINA

Argentine President Mauricio Macri has asked the International Monetary Fund to authorize the early release of a $50 billion bailout in light of the Argentine peso’s continued loss of value and increases in inflation. Macri’s decision to seek IMF help has not endeared him to Argentine voters who know from bitter experience that austerity follows everywhere the IMF goes (though Macri has been on an austerity jag of his own already), and the IMF still seems unsure that Argentina will be able to repay the loan so it’s hedging a bit. It’s just one case, and of course anecdotes are not data, but Macri’s situation kind of validates Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s position with respect to inflation and interest rates–Argentina’s rates are the highest in the world, and yet inflation is nevertheless getting out of control.

BRAZIL

Brazilian President Michel Temer says that he may consider a daily cap on the entrance of would-be Venezuelan migrants into the country’s northern Roraima state. The migrants who have already crossed into Roraima have stressed state government resources and have been subject to violence from Brazilian citizens.

NICARAGUA

A new United Nations report accuses Daniel Ortega’s government of committing and/or ignoring multiple human rights violations against protesters since April:

The U.N. report said detainees were tortured with Taser guns, barbed wire, beatings with fists and tubes and attempted strangulation.

“Some women have been subject to sexual violence, including rape, and described threats of sexual abuse as common. Male detainees also mentioned cases of rape, including rape with rifles and other objects,” the report said.

Nicaragua said there were no arbitrary arrests and all detentions were carried out in accordance with the law, with no documented cases of torture or sexual assault.

CANADA

The Washington Post’s Heather Long reports on the state of not-NAFTA talks between the US and Canada:

Republican leaders in Congress have made it clear they aren’t keen to approve President Trump’s attempt to update the North American Free Trade Agreement unless he can get both Mexico and Canada on board.

Since Congress gets the final thumbs up or thumbs down on the trade deal, Trump really needs some help from our neighbor to the north. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is in town this week for meetings with top U.S. trade officials, but the two sides remain split on some major issues — and they go beyond Trump’s testy history with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Long identifies three main areas of disagreement between Washington and Ottawa: dairy subsidies, the new agreement’s dispute resolution mechanism, and the tariffs Trump has levied on Canadian metals and automotive products.

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Author: DWD

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