World update: November 1 2018

MIGRATION

Thanks to assholes like Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, and Matteo Salvini, the global discussion about migration generally revolves around how supposedly dangerous and destabilizing they are. But it’s worth considering just how desperate migrants have to be when the act of migrating is as dangerous as it is:

An Associated Press tally has documented at least 56,800 migrants dead or missing worldwide since 2014 — almost double the number found in the world’s only official attempt to try to count them, by the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration. The IOM toll as of Oct. 1 was more than 28,500. The AP came up with almost 28,300 additional dead or missing migrants by compiling information from other international groups, requesting forensic records, missing persons reports and death records, and sifting through data from thousands of interviews with migrants.

The toll is the result of migration that is up 49 percent since the turn of the century, with more than 258 million international migrants in 2017, according to the United Nations. A growing number have drowned, died in deserts or fallen prey to traffickers, leaving their families to wonder what on earth happened to them. At the same time, anonymous bodies are filling cemeteries around the world, like the one in Gauteng.

The AP’s tally is still low. More bodies of migrants lie undiscovered in desert sands or at the bottom of the sea. And families don’t always report loved ones as missing because they migrated illegally, or because they left home without saying exactly where they were headed.

It serves no purpose to demonize these people. They’re not trying to con anyone out of their benefits or undermine Judeo-Christian values or whatever the bullshit talking points say. They’re human beings fleeing hardships that are unimaginable to most of us, and they deserve to be treated as such.

ASIA

AFGHANISTAN

The new quarterly report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) says–and you may want to sit down for this because it’s shocking–that the war in Afghanistan isn’t going very well. Kabul only has control or influence in 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s administrative districts, the lowest level for that figure since SIGAR started doing these reports in 2015. It still controls about 65 percent of the Afghan population, reflecting the Taliban’s failure to take control over a major urban center (though not for lack of trying). The group’s gains have primarily come in sparsely populated rural areas. Interestingly the Taliban also lost ground a bit over the last quarter, but the number of districts being contested between the insurgents and the government increased significantly. Casualties among Afghan security forces in this quarter were apparently the highest yet.

PAKISTAN

The fallout from Asia Bibi’s acquittal really picked up on Thursday:

Thousands of Islamist protesters have brought Pakistan to a standstill, burning rickshaws, cars and lorries to protest against the acquittal of a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row on false charges of blasphemy.

Traffic jams held up ambulances and forced mothers to feed their babies by the side of the road, while authorities shut schools across most of the country.

Footage from the protests shows anti-blasphemy campaigners clubbing and throwing shoes at posters of Pakistan’s chief justice and the new prime minister, Imran Khan, who on Wednesday night threatened a fierce government response if protesters did not disperse.

This is Imran Khan’s base clubbing his poster, so that’s a pretty big deal. Protests are expected to expand in size on Friday, when a couple of other large Islamist organizations have said their followers will join Tehreek-e-Labbaik, which has been organizing most of the demonstrations so far.

SRI LANKA

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has agreed to reconvene parliament on Monday to allow legislators to decide whether the fired (?) Ranil Wickremesinghe or his replacement (?), Mahinda Rajapaksa, is the country’s legitimate prime minister. Wickremesinghe has held that he still controls a majority of parliament and therefore that his sacking was unconstitutional, but Rajapaksa is expected to do everything he can to rally support before Monday. Wickremesinghe supporters are already warning that Rajapaksa may attempt to bribe legislators with money provided by his friends in Beijing. It seems unlikely that Sirisena would have reconvened the legislature if he wasn’t pretty sure that his man, Rajapaksa, will win the vote.

OCEANIA

AUSTRALIA

The governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea have reportedly agreed to establish a joint naval base on Manus Island. Australia is moving to expand its military presence in the south Pacific in order to counter Chinese inroads in the region, which were partly enabled by cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget.

AFRICA

MOROCCO

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights issued a new report on Thursday decrying the “regression of human rights” in the kingdom since 2017. In its analysis the group cited the government’s repression of the Hirak protest movement in the Rif as well as the continued impoverishment among the mostly Berber population in that part of the country.

NIGERIA

Boko Haram fighters attacked a group of villages and one displaced persons camp on the outskirts of Maiduguri on Wednesday evening, killing at least 15 people in total and doing a considerable amount of damage in the process. This attack was likely carried out by the Boko Haram faction of Boko Haram, the one that has remained loyal to leader Abubakar Shekau. Maiduguri remains their primary stomping ground.

ZIMBABWE

The Zimbabwean government has contracted with an Australian firm to assess the commercial viability of oil and gas deposits recently discovered in the northern part of the country. I was really starting to worry that we might stop burning oil one of these days, so what a huge relief. From an extremely short-sighted perspective an oil boom could really sort out a lot of Zimbabwe’s crippling economic problems…assuming the revenue were equitably distributed. Which it probably won’t be.

EUROPE

UKRAINE

The Russian government on Thursday announced new sanctions against 68 Ukrainian companies and 322 (!) Ukrainian individuals, who will all be prohibited from doing business in Russia and have their assets frozen if they have any in Russia. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who may be elected president next year, made the list, along with the son of current President Petro Poroshenko. This is a mostly ineffectual way to retaliate for international sanctions against Russia. It’s unlikely that anybody who would’ve made this list would have still had any assets in Russia, assuming they’re not total idiots.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš may be looking to pull his country out of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, joining Hungary, the United States, and now Austria, which announced its withdrawal on Wednesday.

FRANCE

Even God is supposed to have rested on the seventh day of Creation, and so it’s appropriate that France’s god-president, Emmanuel Macron, has decided to take four days off around All Saints’ Day. Given the way Macron’s approval rating is going, his chances of winning a second term in office would probably be greatly improved if he took off every day between now and the 2022 election.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro announced on Wednesday that judge Sérgio Moro will serve as his justice minister. Who is Sérgio Moro, you ask? Why, he’s the “anti-corruption” judge who put former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in prison earlier this year…back when polling indicated that Lula would have defeated Bolsonaro pretty handily in the presidential election. Hah, what a wild coincidence! Anyway I’m sure this is all on the up and up and you people who keep suggesting that Lula’s conviction was a political hit job to keep him from returning to the presidency are way off base. Bolsonaro is very anti-corruption, after all. Just ask him.

TROIKA OF TERROR

If you liked the Axis of Evil, you’re going to love what the Trump administration is cooking up for you these days:

John Bolton has welcomed Brazil’s far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro as a “positive sign” for Latin America as he hailed a new ally against what Bolton called a “troika of tyranny”: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

In a speech in Miami on Thursday, the US national security adviser announced new sanctions against Venezuela and Cuba, including a ban on US citizens taking part in trade in Venezuelan gold. Bolton also added over two dozen entities owned or controlled by the Cuban military and intelligence services to a sanctions blacklist.

Seriously, “troika of terror”? Come on. Bolton doesn’t seem to have had much to say about Bolsonaro’s fascist leanings, but then I guess that’s what you’d expect coming from Bolton. Before you start making any “War on Venezuela” plans, I think it’s worth considering that Bolton’s speech, in Florida, less than a week before the midterms in a state in which the Democratic candidates for both governor and senate have slim leads and the three south Florida house races are all fairly close, may have been a political stunt meant to appeal to Republican-leaning Venezuelan-American, Nicaraguan-American, and especially Cuban-American voters.

CENTRAL AMERICA

Authorities in both Guatemala and Honduras say that drug cartels are beginning to move some of their coca production capacity from South America into Central America. The advantages of relocating are obvious–a shorter travel distance to customers in the US means less chance of getting caught–but this is obviously bad news for a region that is already wracked by crime as it is, with governments that are too impoverished to respond to a major new threat like this.

MEXICO

Donald Trump is still fear-mongering about the migrant caravan, and now we can look forward to this:

I’ve been suggesting for a few days now that the chance this whole situation ends with US soldiers opening fire on a caravan full of immiserated Central Asian women and children are at least not zero. The chance it ends with Trump ordering those soldiers to open fire is probably greater. There is the possibility that the military will refuse that order, and while I’m skeptical on that front I am at least more confident that active duty soldiers would refuse such an order than I am that border patrol officers would refuse it. Still, deploying what may wind up being 15,000 soldiers to the border to respond to a bunch of asylum seekers has heightened tensions so much that it’s getting hard to imagine a way that it ends without some sort of violence. Trump seems to feel like convincing his easily duped followers that these 3000 or so migrants represent an unstoppable invading horde will let him play at being a Wartime President like all the cool presidents, and I suspect that’s very appealing to him.

UNITED STATES

Finally, Donald Trump is reportedly considering Heather Nauert as his new UN ambassador. Nauert has been State Department spokesperson since last April and before that she was on Fox and Friends, so I think we can all agree that she’s highly qualified for what is the most prominent US ambassadorial job. With the way Trump’s foreign policy team operates now, she won’t have to do much apart from parroting whatever Mike Pompeo and/or John Bolton tell her anyway.

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