Europe/Americas update: March 13 2019


The United Nations is out with a new Global Environmental Outlook, and I have to say it looks like things are really going to work out great:

The United Nations released its sixth Global Environment Outlook report on Wednesday. Its main message, delivered across 740 pages, is straightforward: Human action is degrading the Earth and its ecosystems, and conditions will worsen if people do not take “unprecedented action” to try to reverse the situation.

Those actions, according to the report, include reducing land degradation, limiting pollution, improving water management, and mitigating climate change. The report also calls for environmental considerations to be “mainstreamed” into all social and economic decisions — so that the environment, in other words, is viewed not as its own issue, but central to all policymaking at all governmental levels. If drastic action is not taken, the report warns that, among other things, millions could die prematurely from air pollution and from deadly infectious diseases from water pollution by 2050.

The report stresses that “unsustainable human activities globally have degraded the Earth’s ecosystems, endangering the ecological foundations of society.”



The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty isn’t even technically obsolete quite yet, and already the Trump administration is talking about testing missiles that would violate it had the US not withdrawn:

The U.S. military plans to test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of about 600 miles in August and a midrange ballistic missile with a range of about 1,800 to 2,500 miles in November, according to senior U.S. defense officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military matters.

The testing, production and deployment of missiles with those ranges is prohibited by the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or the INF Treaty. But Trump withdrew from the treatyon Feb. 1 and triggered a formal six-month wait period before the final expiry of the agreement this summer. Washington and Moscow will then be free to test, produce and deploy the intermediate-range missiles that both countries have agreed to ban for more than three decades. Research and development of the banned missiles isn’t prohibited by the treaty.


Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has apparently opened talks with the far-right EKRE party about joining his coalition, in response to the results of this month’s indecisive parliamentary election. This is something of a surprise, since Ratas had previously pledged not to form an alliance with the fringe right. It had been expected that Ratas’ Centre party would do a deal with the Reform party, which finished first in the election, but the Centre party rejected that idea, presumably because it would have had to serve as the junior partner in that arrangement, and with it the simplest path to a new Estonian government.


Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s polling lead remains sizable ahead of Ukraine’s March 31 presidential election. A new survey from SOCIS has him up on incumbent Petro Poroshenko, 20.7 percent to 13.2 percent. That’s well below the 50 percent plus 1 that he’d need to avoid a runoff, and it’s possible that voters in a head to head matchup would shy away from voting for the novice. On the other hand, you’d think if more than 13 percent of the country actually liked Poroshenko they’d be planning to vote for him in the first round, so he may have trouble finding more support in a second round.


North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev headed to Tirana on Wednesday to meet with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, and the two men agreed that they think the European Union will begin membership talks with their respecting countries later this year. The EU told both countries last year that they needed to undertake reforms to prepare for EU membership, and both say they’ve done that.


A new poll from El Pais has Spain’s Socialist Party winning 113 seats in next month’s parliamentary election, well off the 176 it would need for an outright majority but well ahead of the second place People’s Party at 75 seats. The far left Podemos party, the Socialists’ most natural coalition partner, look set to take only 36 seats, meaning that Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez would have some work to do to bring in smaller parties and independents to get over the hump. The far-right Vox party, meanwhile, has seen its polling rise to 38 seats, though a coalition of it, the People’s Party, and Ciudadanos–Spain’s three main right or center-right parties–would still be short of a majority.


After watching her Brexit plan get creamed in the House of Commons again on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May says there’s still a chance for the UK to leave the European Union with a “good deal.” There’s also still a chance for me to be adopted as Bernard Arnault’s heir, but I don’t like the odds on that one either. On Wednesday, parliament voted to reject a “no deal” Brexit even though a “no deal” Brexit is just what’s going to happen of its own accord unless the Commons suddenly decides to accept a, you know, deal. This is a bit like voting to reject the tornado that’s about to hit your house–nice in a feel good sense, meaningless in a practical one. The vote is non-binding, because it couldn’t possibly be anything else.

On Thursday, the Commons will vote on extending the current March 29 Brexit deadline, probably to something like June 30. That will probably pass. Here too it seems British politicians still don’t seem to understand that they’re not in control of this situation. The EU has to agree to the extension, which it probably will, but there’s no reason whatsoever to think that May will be able to finally sell her Brexit agreement by then when she’s now failed to sell it twice and the deal isn’t going to be materially different a third time around. Which means the UK would still be looking at a “no deal” scenario unless it wanted to ask for a longer extension, but a longer extension would mean the UK would have to hold European parliamentary elections and suddenly it might start to look like Brexit is just going to be with us forever, a normal part of the supremely absurd world we’ve created.



Venezuela’s days long blackout appears to be nearing an end, though the government still reportedly has some work to do restoring power in the west. The Chinese government has offered to send technical support to help bolster the country’s power grid, which sure is awful generous of them and I’m sure not related to the fact that Nicolás Maduro’s government owes Beijing a lot of money.


A new book from journalist Vicky Ward reports that both ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and ex-director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn (sensing a pattern here?) at various times in 2017 lambasted Jared Kushner for mixing US foreign policy and his family’s real estate interests:

Ward reports that Tillerson blamed Kushner for Trump’s abrupt endorsement of a provocative blockade and diplomatic campaign against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and several allies in June 2017. The US has thousands of troops stationed in Qatar.

Tillerson “told Kushner that his interference had endangered the US”, an unidentified Tillerson aide tells Ward. Tillerson is also said to have read negative “chatter” about himself in intelligence reports after Kushner belittled him to Kushner’s friend Mohammed bin Salman, the controversial Saudi crown prince.

Meanwhile, Cohn is said to have rebuked Kushner in January 2017 after it was revealed Kushner had dined with executives from the Chinese financial corporation Anbang, which was considering investing in the Kushner family’s troubled tower at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

“You’ve got to be crazy,” Cohn is said to have told Kushner in front of others. Kushner met the executives around the time he hosted Chinese government officials at the Fifth Avenue tower. The building was eventually refinanced by a Qatari-backed investment fund.

Crazy? No, just cartoonishly corrupt and incredibly stupid.

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