Conflict update: April 18 2017

AMERICA TO THE RESCUE

If you’re worried about the state of human rights around the world, I’ve got great news–this afternoon, America was on it:

The Trump administration is seeking to highlight its commitment to human rights around the world, and so its envoy to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, is presiding over what it calls the first “thematic debate” on human rights in the Security Council on Tuesday afternoon.

“Council members are encouraged to express their views on the nexus between human rights and international peace and security,” reads a memo circulated to the members this month. Rights abuses, the memo says, can often be the first signs of a full-on conflict erupting.

This was, of course, not the first time human rights have been discussed to no effect at the UN Security Council, but it probably is the council’s first “thematic debate,” whatever the fuck that means. Human rights groups were skeptical–for some reason, they seemed to think that a UN Security Council meeting on human rights, presided over by a country that bombs mosques, bombs apartment buildings, bombed civilians even on this very day, and allies with countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, wouldn’t amount to shit. Well, the joke’s on them, because as it turns out…they were, uh, pretty much right on the money.

UNITED KINGDOM

Britain is having a new election in June! What fun! Yes, I know, they just had an election two years ago, and Prime Minister Theresa May has said multiple times that she wouldn’t call snap elections before Britain had exited the European Union, but since when are we dinging politicians for lying? If early polling is to be believed, we’re not doing it this time either. May has a major political opening staring her in the face–serious Brexit negotiations won’t start until later this year, and she and her Conservative Party have huge polling leads over Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party–and she’s going to take advantage of it to increase her parliamentary cushion for the Brexit process. This is a smart, calculated move–so calculated that her opposition might even want to make an issue out of how bloody cynical the whole thing is.

Technically, May does not have the power to call for early elections–prime ministers used to have virtually unlimited authority in that regard, but parliament voted to restrict it in 2010 in order to keep precisely this kind of purely political vote from being called. If just a third of the House of Commons rejects her plans, she’ll have to resort to legislative trickery by having her own party vote against her government in a vote of no confidence. But it’s probably not going to come to that, as both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have said they’ll vote to approve the early election. It’s not clear why they’re going along with this, but I suppose if either party really knew what it was doing then the Conservatives wouldn’t be on the verge of pummeling them both in a couple of months.

The actual risk for May is that, if British voters are really feeling buyer’s remorse over the Brexit referendum, they could opt to hand May a parliament that’s much less amenable to her plans for a so-called “hard Brexit” (apologies if there are any impressionable children reading this smut).  Continue reading

Conflict update: April 3 2017

BREAKING: NOTHING MUCH HAPPENED

One of the reasons I don’t post these earlier in the day is because HUGE BREAKING NEWS MUST CREDIT GUY WHO HELPED SELL IRAQ WAR stories are often later shown to be no big deal. To wit:

Maybe I’m wrong, but it sure does seem like intrepid reporter Eli Lake has now been played twice by Republicans trying to substantiate their party leader’s claim that the Obama administration spied on him and his transition team. At some point you have to start assuming that Lake is willingly along for the ride, don’t you?

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RUSSIA

An explosion tore through the St. Petersburg metro today, killing at least 11 people and injuring more than 50 at the last count. Details are still light, but it appears the bomb went off between metro stations, so it’s not clear whether it was placed there or was put on a train. Russian authorities later said that police found and disarmed a second bomb placed at another location in the metro. ISIS has already reportedly claimed responsibility and said the bomb was in retaliation for Russia’s activities in Syria, but there are plenty of other possible candidates, from Chechen militants (who certainly overlap with ISIS) to Ukrainian sympathizers to anti-government extremists, and Moscow seems to be investigating all possibilities. It’s likely not a coincidence that Putin was in St. Petersburg today to meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, though he certainly wasn’t targeted.

WAR ON WOMEN

Donald Trump “cherishes” women, just ask him. Of course, if those women happen to rely on the UN Family Planning Agency for their reproductive health needs, then they’re shit out of luck because the Trump administration just yanked all the US funding for that agency (which was $75 million last year). The administration claims that the UNFPA participates in China’s forced abortion and sterilization programs, but the State Department’s own statement on the funding cut as much as admits that they’re lying about that claim in order to give themselves a justification for the cut. Still, you have to admire the strong display of concern for the rights of Chinese women from an administration that’s going to have Chinese President Xi Jinping over to President Trump’s extravagant Florida vacation resort later this week. That’ll show him.

Trump is only doing what every Republican administration since the 1980s has done with respect to the UNFPA, so I don’t mean to single him out except insofar as he is the current president. But feel free to mention this the next time your Hashtag Never Trump Republican buddy or your moderate Democratic presidential nominee tries to tell you that Donald Trump is somehow different from the rest of the Republican Party and not entirely a product of that party.

EGYPT

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Conflict update: March 29 2017

I started working on this way earlier than usual because I’ve heard that it’s actually good to sleep a couple of nights each week. Whether I finish any earlier than usual is an open question, but if Donald Trump tweets “More like Justin Tru-BLOW, sorry if this offends” later tonight and you don’t see it mentioned here, I’ve gone to bed.

DO AS WE SAY, NOT AS WE DO

nikki_haley_official_transition_portrait

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley (Wikimedia)

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley gave a big policy address to the Council on Foreign Relations today, and it was certainly…interesting:

The American envoy to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, described the United States on Wednesday as the “moral conscience” of the world, and she dismissed the United Nations Human Rights Council as “so corrupt” without offering evidence.

Ms. Haley said the United States would never close its doors to foreigners who flee persecution, even as she defended the Trump administration’s travel ban, which closed the door to refugees from six war-torn, mainly Muslim nations.

She insisted that American taxpayers should get value for the money they contribute to the United Nations. She said nothing about whether the United States would help head off a potential humanitarian disaster from famine that the United Nations has warned is looming over 20 million people abroad.

Kudos to the New York Times

She used her address to deliver a pointed attack on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the main international body meant to promote and defend human rights.

“I mean, the Human Rights Council is so corrupt,” she said, adding that it includes “bad actors” who use it to protect themselves.

Several countries with poor human rights records, including China and Saudi Arabia, have indeed won seats on the council. But the United States has itself used its seat to forcefully defend its allies, including Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of abuses in the war in Yemen.

Haley has the burden of trying to explain the foreign policy of an administration that really doesn’t have a coherent foreign policy, but you’d hope she’d be able to articulate her alternative facts with a little more sophistication than this.

RUSSOGHAZI (?) RUSSIAGATE (?)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr and ranking member Mark Warner announced the big grand opening of their committee’s look into charges of Russian influence in the 2016 campaign by trolling the hell out of rightfully embattled House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes. The Senate committee is already circling two potential witnesses: former National Security Advisor and “pepperoni” “pizza” enthusiast Jack T. Ripper Michael Flynn, and Living Avatar of the Peter Principle Jared Kushner.

IRAQ

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Why is it so hard to admit that it’s racism?

As the dust settles from Wednesday night’s horrific attack on the Emanuel Church in Charleston, some of America’s keenest thought leaders are furrowing their brows in wonderment over what could have possessed 21 year old Dylann Storm Roof to commit such violence upon 9 other human beings. So far, all we have to go on as far as motive is that this young white guy:

  • attacked a historically significant black church
  • attacked it near the anniversary of a failed 1822 slave uprising involving one of the founders of that church
  • shot 9 black people
  • shot them while saying that he had to do it because “you are raping our women and taking over the country”
  • likes to wear clothing that displays the flags of oppressive white supremacist regimes from Africa’s colonial history
  • likes to flash Confederate symbols on his car
  • has a history of using racist rhetoric
  • has a history of using really racist rhetoric
  • has a history of using violent racist rhetoric
  • told police, when they arrested him for murdering 9 black people inside a predominantly black church, that he wanted “to start a race war”

So it’s really anybody’s guess why he did what he did.

It’s sure unclear to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who wrote on her Facebook page that “we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.” It’s also not clear to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who finally stopped trying to understand and just chalked it up to Roof being “whacked out”:

But despite the fact that the Justice Department has labeled the attack a “hate crime,” Graham was not willing to go that far. “There are real people who are organized out there to kill people in religion and based on race, this guy’s just whacked out,” he said. “But it’s 2015. There are people out there looking for Christians to kill them.”

ABOVE: Lindsey Graham, desperately trying to think of a way to connect Dylann Roof to, like, Iran, or something

ABOVE: Lindsey Graham, desperately trying to think of a way to connect Dylann Roof to, like, Iran, or something

Expanding on Graham’s strange non-sequitur into talking about anti-Christian, rather than anti-black, violence, there was Elizabeth Hasselbeck on Fox’s morning show, Peering into the Abyss of Mankind’s Eventual Doom Fox & Friends:

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The most tortured “Thanks Obama” story you’ve ever heard

I’m one of those hard to please lefties who won’t really be satisfied with any health care reform short of something like single payer or a national health service, but the health care reform we got seems to be better than no reform at all. That said, people are always going to fall through the cracks, or in some cases just piledrive themselves right into the cracks. Take this guy:

[Luis] Lang is a self-employed handyman who works with banks and the federal government on maintaining foreclosed properties. He has done well enough that his wife, Mary, hasn’t had to work. They live in a 3,300-square-foot home in the Legacy Park subdivision valued at more than $300,000.

But he has never bought insurance. Instead, he says, he prided himself on paying his own medical bills.

That worked while he and his wife were relatively healthy. But after 10 days of an unrelenting headache, Lang went to the emergency room on Feb. 25. He says he was told he’d suffered several mini-strokes. He ran up $9,000 in bills and exhausted his savings. Meanwhile, his vision worsened and he can’t work, he says.

That’s when he turned to the Affordable Care Act exchange. Lang learned two things: First, 2015 enrollment had closed earlier that month. And second, because his income has dried up, he earns too little to get a federal subsidy to buy a private policy.

Lang, a Republican, says he knew the act required him to get coverage but he chose not to do so. But he thought help would be available in an emergency. He and his wife blame President Obama and Congressional Democrats for passing a complex and flawed bill.

“(My husband) should be at the front of the line because he doesn’t work and because he has medical issues,” Mary Lang said last week. “We call it the Not Fair Health Care Act.”

So here you have a guy who was irresponsible enough not to pay for health insurance despite having more than the means to afford it. He inevitably got so sick that he couldn’t pay out of pocket and had to stop working, and figured he could just free rider the money for his treatment out of an insurance company. This might have worked, except — oops — insurance companies aren’t too keen on paying out before you’ve paid in, so they do things like institute arbitrary open enrollment periods each year, to nudge people toward signing up for insurance even if they’re not feeling like they need it at that moment. Sadly, because he doesn’t work, Lang doesn’t qualify for a “subsidy”: luckily, though, he actually qualifies for full-on Medicaid. Unfortunately, darn it, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley values her future in Republican Party politics more than she does poor, sick residents of her own state, so she’s refused to accept full Medicaid funding from Washington, putting Lang and lots of other people like him out of luck.

And somehow, out of this mix of Haley’s toxic callousness, insurance company greed, and Lang’s own basic irresponsibility, he and his wife have concluded that Barack Obama is to blame for his lack of medical care. Good on Josh Marshall for not judging Lang, but I have to ask: does this make any sense to anybody?