Europe/Americas update: February 5 2019

CLIMATE CHANGE

Hey call me crazy but this seems pretty freaking bad:

Scientists have discovered an enormous void under an Antarctic glacier, sparking concern that the ice sheet is melting faster than anyone had realized — and spotlighting the dire threat posed by rising seas to coastal cities around the world, including New York City and Miami.

The cavity under Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica is about six miles long and 1,000 feet deep — representing the loss of 14 billion tons of ice.

It was discovered after an analysis of data collected by Italian and German satellites, as well as NASA’s Operation IceBridge, a program in which aircraft equipped with ice-penetrating radar fly over polar regions to study the terrain.

If the glacier collapses completely, which seems increasingly likely, it will apparently raise sea levels by two feet. Hope everybody on the coast has some extra towels!

EUROPE

RUSSIA

Now that the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty looks officially kaput, the Russian military plans on developing new ground-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles over the next two years. Of course, the US alleges that they’ve already done that, which was its justification for quitting the accord. Now Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu is accusing the US of also working on an intermediate range missile, though the Trump administration has denied this.

REPUBLIC OF NORTH MACEDONIA

Now that the whole naming unpleasantness is behind everyone, the Greek government will reportedly ratify North Macedonia’s NATO accession this week. Athens will likely stipulate that North Macedonia cannot join the organization until it officially adopts its new name.

GERMANY

The German government is denying Monday’s report that it’s going to struggle to get its defense spending up to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024 as planned. It told NATO officials on Tuesday that it intends to make that target despite expectations that its tax revenue will decline over the next few years.

GREECE

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will have plenty of things to talk about while Tsipras is in Turkey (he arrived on Tuesday), but the Greek leader apparently also has a domestic political agenda in mind for his visit:

Commentators on both sides expect no breakthrough agreements from the visit, but Mr. Tsipras’s planned visit to a famed Greek Orthodox theological seminary, which the Turkish government forced to close in 1971, is making headlines at home.

Mr. Tsipras was to meet on Tuesday with Mr. Erdogan in the Turkish capital, Ankara, and then travel to Istanbul on Wednesday. He plans to attend an Orthodox Mass and meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of Orthodox Christianity, on the island of Heybeliada in the Sea of Marmara, near Istanbul.

His visit to the Halki seminary on the island would be the first by a serving Greek prime minister in 90 years. Once the fount of Greek learning in the region, it produced both lay and religious leaders, including Patriarch Bartholomew, before Turkey shut it down.

Mr. Tsipras’s visit has raised hopes among Greeks and the small Greek minority in Turkey that he can bolster their long-running campaign to reopen the seminary.

FRANCE

French President Emmanuel Macron has declared April 24 a day to commemorate the Armenian Genocide, which France recognized back in 2001. This is not likely to go over well with Erdoğan, but it was one of the pledges Macron made during his 2017 presidential campaign.

UNITED KINGDOM

Theresa May visited Northern Ireland on Tuesday ahead of a trip to Brussels to try to get the European Union to give her some concessions on Brexit. While there, she sent a message to Brexit hardliners in her own Conservative Party, saying that the UK would not leave the EU without some plan in place to avoid the return of a hard Irish border. That’s a big deal, because so far nobody’s really come up with a way to avoid reimposing a hard border apart from leaving Northern Ireland in the EU customs union, which the Democratic Unionist Party that controls NI and supports May’s government has rejected. Of course May is also insisting that Brexit will go forward on March 29 as planned, and the likelihood of solving this problem by then is almost nil, so who really knows what she’s thinking.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Hey if you’re still not sure why there’s such a fuss about Venezuela, maybe this will help:

Venezuela’s government-in-waiting intends to scrap requirements that state-owned oil giant PDVSA keep a controlling stake in joint ventures as it seeks to revive the oil sector and encourage private investment, National Assembly leader Juan Guaido’s representative to the U.S. said.

The move is part of a broader plan by Guaido, who was declared interim president by the assembly last month, to revive Venezuela’s shattered economy by focusing on boosting oil output as soon as possible, said Carlos Vecchio, Guaido’s envoy in the U.S. Currently, PDVSA must have a 51 percent stake in all joint projects.

Just remember, this is all about the Venezuelan people, not the oil. I mean, we need the people to help us get the oil out of the ground, right?

A Portuguese bank has blocked Nicolás Maduro’s attempt to transfer $1.2 billion in state development funds to Uruguay. Maduro may have been trying to evade US sanctions or squirrel away some cash in case his situation deteriorates, it’s unclear. Meanwhile, the US and Colombian governments as well as Venezuelans living abroad have donated “tens of millions of dollars” in humanitarian aid that Guaidó plans to try to bring into Venezuela from Colombia despite Maduro’s prohibition on outside humanitarian assistance. Getting this stuff into the country and distributing it to people will be a test of Guaidó’s self-proclaimed authority and could enable him to buy some loyalty from populations that are dependent on Maduro’s government for food and medicine. Maduro has condemned the plan and is starting to talk about arresting Guaidó, which would definitely escalate this situation.

MEXICO

A group of around 1600 Central American migrants has arrived at the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras, near Eagle Pass, Texas. Most migrants have been attempting to cross into the US via Tijuana, but they’ve wound up stuck there as their asylum cases are being heard. So it would appear these migrants have opted to try a different part of the border.

UNITED STATES

On the plus side, the US military might finally be taking steps to reduce, or at least to accurately assess, civilian casualties caused by its myriad overseas wars:

The Pentagon has launched a major examination of civilian deaths in military operations, responding to criticism that it has failed to protect innocent bystanders in counterterrorism wars worldwide.

The far-reaching initiative to create the military’s first-ever policy on civilian casualties, which senior Pentagon officials began last year, seeks to answer a central question: Why is the military’s estimate of civilian deaths so much smaller than outside tallies?

Last week, the Pentagon reported that 1,190 civilians had been killed by American strikes in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the campaign against the Islamic State in 2014. Airwars, a respected monitoring group, put the figure at more than 7,200 dead, more than six times as high.

On the minus side, the Trump administration is now officially engaged in systematic child abduction:

The Trump administration says it would require extraordinary effort to reunite what may be thousands of migrant children who have been separated from their parents and, even if it could, the children would likely be emotionally harmed.

Jonathan White, who leads the Health and Human Services Department’s efforts to reunite migrant children with their parents, said removing children from “sponsor” homes to rejoin their parents “would present grave child welfare concerns.” He said the government should focus on reuniting children currently in its custody, not those who have already been released to sponsors.

“It would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment, and could be traumatic to the children,” White said in a court filing late Friday, citing his years of experience working with unaccompanied migrant children and background as a social worker.

If we all survive long enough, someday the Trump administration’s policy of stealing these children from their families will be listed alongside the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II and other atrocities this country has committed over its sordid history.

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