Europe/Americas update: December 18 2018

Tonight’s updates will unfortunately have to be our last of 2018. I had hoped to continue for a couple more days before breaking for the holidays but between holiday plans, travel plans, and other commitments my attention and stress levels have reached the breaking point. Owing in part to a strange winter break schedule for my daughter’s school, regular blogging will resume on January 7. attwiw is not going dark over the break and I’ll be back with Christmas and New Year’s wishes when appropriate, but let me nevertheless take this opportunity to thank you for reading the blog this year and to wish you and yours Happy Holidays.

CORRUPTION

At Foreign Policy, David Klion makes the case for a global anti-corruption effort to tackle the problem of political leaders getting too cozy with the ultra-wealthy:

Last week, the daughter of India’s wealthiest man married the son of India’s 22nd-wealthiest man. The $100 million wedding of Isha Ambani and Anand Piramal became a national media obsession in India and drew guests from around the world, including Bollywood stars, Beyoncé, Priyanka Chopra, Nick Jonas, Arianna Huffington, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton. Clinton, fresh off the first leg of her North American buckraking tour with her husband, enjoyed a week of dancing and partying in Udaipur in the company of Mukesh Ambani (estimated net worth: at least $43 billion), the energy tycoon who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. 

This might seem unimportant. Rich people like to socialize with one another, and they love expensive weddings. Nothing about this is revelatory. There’s no crime here, no scandal, nothing to see besides some wealthy and famous private citizens having a nice time together.

But that’s exactly the problem. The public has become too inured to the mutual coziness of the ultrarich, and too blasé about the corrupting effects it has on the political life of just about every country on earth. Events like these should be a catalyst to reflect on a global economic system, in which the richest 1 percent of every country have become a country unto themselves. The world is shaped by, and for, these elites, yet their social lives are presented as light entertainment. The easy friendships of the post-national elite are a reminder that they’re all on the same team.

EUROPE

RUSSIA

Russian President Vladimir Putin argued on Tuesday that the US and Russia should hold talks with other countries about joining the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty. Part of the US objection to the INF treaty, apart from the fact that Russia has most likely violated it, is that it doesn’t cover rising nuclear powers (i.e., China). Of course, there’s no particular reason to think that China would be interested in jumping on board the INF, but maybe Putin knows something we don’t.

UKRAINE

The International Monetary Fund has agreed to float Kiev a new $3.9 billion loan to help Ukraine manage its large debt load and potentially get its military budget in order, what with tensions with Russia constantly on the rise and all. The IMF has been steering clear of Ukraine lately while demanding that Kiev do something to rein in rampant corruption. The country’s new anticorruption court is expected to begin its work next year.

Meanwhile, both Kiev and the US are trying to convince European leaders to heap additional sanctions on Russia for its recent aggressive moves in the Sea of Azov. So far the Europeans don’t seem to be interested.

POLAND

The Polish government is telling its far right nationalist base that its capitulation this week to the European Court of Justice over its controversial judicial retirement law was not actually a capitulation. Instead, it’s casting the move as a “tactical retreat” to get Brussels off Poland’s back for now and help keep the Law and Justice party in power beyond its current term. Rest assured, Polish President Andrzej Duda’s commitment to being a hard right asshole is as strong as ever.

HUNGARY

It would appear that Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party and its supporters were unprepared for the strength of the now week-long protests against the recently adopted so-called “slave labor law.” Those protests have begun to morph into a general protest against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s authoritarianism and corruption. The labor law, which is a response to a shrinking Hungarian workforce, allows employers to demand up to 400 hours of overtime from their employees each year and gives them three years to pay for it.

BELGIUM

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel submitted his resignation to King Philippe on Tuesday after the Socialist and Green parties submitted a motion of no confidence in his government to parliament. Michel had been leading a minority government since the New Flemish Alliance party quit the coalition earlier this month over the government’s support for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. He was hoping to ride things out until the next scheduled election in May, but now, assuming Philippe accepts his resignation, that election will have to be moved up to January.

FRANCE

In an effort to better understand the French people and win their favor, French President Emmanuel Macron has turned for advice to former President Nicolas Sarkozy. After all, who better to ask for help winning over the public than an unpopular former one term president? Apart from drinking in Sarkozy’s sage political wisdom, Macron’s outreach to the former president lets him show right-wing French voters that, despite all his bullshit about centrism and post-politics or whatever, Macron is really one of them. That could help him cut into the French Republican Party’s support.

UNITED KINGDOM

Several Conservative members of parliament are now saying that the key to Theresa May getting her Brexit deal through parliament is convincing the Democratic Unionist Party that the Northern Ireland backstop isn’t going to trip any of their red lines. If she can get the DUP on board then even hardline Tories are going to have a difficult time opposing her. In order to get the DUP she’s going to need additional concessions from the European Union, which still doesn’t seem inclined to offer any. And so her government is going to continue preparations for a no-deal Brexit.

AMERICAS

CENTRAL AMERICA

The Trump administration is pledging over $10.6 billion in development aid, much of it via private sources through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, to Central America and Mexico to try to reduce migration. Of those funds, $5.8 billion will go to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to support development projects there, while $4.8 billion will go to Mexico to support development projects and work visas for migrants to entice them to remain in Mexico rather than proceeding on to the US border.

UNITED STATES

First of all, some rare good news:

Sadly, that news has to be tempered by reports that the Trump Foundation is shutting its doors, forced by unhinged government prosecutors to close down simply because of rampant, systemic corruption. Millions of sick children who might have been blessed with some form of shoddy Trump-branded merchandise via the foundation’s important work will now have to suffer without.

Finally, let me leave you with the latest piece from the excellent Fellow Travelers Blog by Dustin Johnson on the role that Fair Trade policies can play in a leftist foreign policy framework:

Development policy, left and otherwise, is often segregated from the labor power considerations at the heart of fair trade systems. Yet a left approach to development must consider not just living conditions in the global South, but power relations both within the South and between North and South. One way for a left international development policy in the global North to expand worker power around the world is to expand support for fair trade producers and systems.

Philosophically, there are three key reasons why fair trade is an important project for the left. First, it is rooted in the idea that there is a viable alternative to the dominant exploitative international trade practices, so that everyone along a supply chain from producers to consumers is treated fairly and equitably. Second, fair trade is based on North-South solidarity in a truly global struggle against economic inequality and exploitation. Third, fair trade producers are, by and large, organized into democratic cooperatives, which give producers significantly more economic and political power and control. They determine how premiums should be spent to benefit the community and often form larger second-level cooperatives, which exert sizeable influence. Many of the companies that sell fair trade products in the North are also worker-owned cooperatives. One of the fair trade certifiers, the Small Producers’ Symbol, is entirely owned by cooperative-based producer organizations that control their own terms for certification and trade. More substantively, the Fairtrade Labelling Organization (FLO), which runs the world’s largest fair trade certification system, recently shifted to 50 percent ownership by producers; producers make up half of both its general assembly and standard setting committee.

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