World update: May 22 2017


Normally I would lead this with whatever lunacy just broke in the Trump mess, but unfortunately something genuinely terrible appears to have happened in Manchester this evening:

A number of people have died and others have been injured following a reported explosion at Manchester Arena.

Witnesses said they heard two loud bangs, reported to in the foyer, after a pop concert by singer Ariana Grande.

Greater Manchester Police said there are a “number of confirmed fatalities and others injured”.

The cause of the reported explosion is unknown but the North West Counter Terrorism Unit is treating it as a possible terrorist incident.

Terrorism seems like the likeliest cause, but of course it’s better to wait for the facts to come in before getting too carried away. I haven’t seen any official casualty count either so I’ll leave this as is for now and update if more information comes in before I call it a night. The first casualty figures have just come in as I’m writing this–Manchester police are saying that at least 19 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in the explosion. Those numbers may very well change and I’ll keep updating this if they do.

In other, obviously less immediate UK news, Prime Minister Theresa May could be fumbling a potential electoral landslide away. After issuing a party manifesto that sure looked like it was going to eliminate lifetime caps on social care, potentially putting British seniors on the hook for massive amounts of money, May did a complete 180 today and tried to argue that the Tories were absolutely going to maintain a cap, had always intended to maintain a cap, and simply didn’t mention the cap in their manifesto because they’re not done studying how high the cap should be. The elimination of the cap, which was dubbed a “dementia tax” by Labour and the British media because of the substantial burden it would put on the families of people in need of long-term social care (as opposed to people suffering from a strictly medical condition, like cancer, that would be covered by the NHS), was so instantly unpopular that it undoubtedly contributed to the recent huge drop in the Tories’ polling lead. And with her attempt to reverse course while clumsily pretending that she’s doing nothing of the sort, May has really battered her image as a decisive leader type who can steer Britain through Brexit.



Five Afghan police officers were killed when their convoy was ambushed in Faryab province on Monday. There’s been no claim of responsibility for the attack, but both ISIS and the Taliban are active in Faryab.


A roadside bomb killed at least five people on Monday in northern Pakistan’s Tirah Valley. Again there was no claim of responsibility, but the usual suspects in that part of Pakistan–ISIS, a Pakistani Taliban faction–are certainly at the top of the list.


There’s a fight brewing within the Kashmiri separatist movement. The young leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, Zakir Musa, has, in a series of audio messages posted online over the past several weeks, declared his intention to establish an Islamic state in Kashmir and seems to have aligned his movement with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Kashmiri separatism has tended to be more nationalist than Islamist, in its orientation, seeking an independent state or union with Pakistan, and that’s been part of the reason why groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS have struggled to establish a serious foothold there. But younger Kashmiris seem receptive to Musa’s message. Musa took over Hizbul Mujahideen from Burhan Wani, whose death at the hands of Indian forces last July kicked off the latest upswing in Kashmiri violence. Wani wasn’t openly Islamist but he does seem to have been growing increasingly sympathetic toward Islamism before he was killed.


A bomb exploded in a Bangkok hospital on Monday, wounding 24 people. Today is the three-year anniversary of the military coup that brought down Thailand’s last elected government, so opponents of the junta may have been responsible. On the other hand, the country is fighting an active separatist movement in its predominantly Muslim south, so the bombing could also have been related to that.


The UN committee charged with investigating violations of sanctions against North Korea has been hacked. The hackers sent several members of the committee a file containing detailed information about the committee’s work as proof that they’d been compromised. The North Korean government denies involvement in the hack and, you know, I’m sure it’s all just a big coincidence.


China is blocking Thailand from attending the annual meeting of the World Health Organization’s governing body for the first time since the island was granted “observer” status at the WHO in 2009. Beijing says the current Taiwanese government has decided to reject the “One China” policy, which Taiwan denies, and this is one of those cases where both sides really do have a point–the position of President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party is that Taiwan is and has been an independent nation, but nevertheless Tsai’s government has done nothing to threaten the official “One China” policy. Blocking Taiwan from something as important yet ultimately symbolic as attending the World Health Assembly seems petty.



The UN wants Libya’s Government of National Accord to release asylum seekers (yes, there are people seeking asylum in Libya) from the brutal conditions in which they’re currently living in Libyan detention centers. The European Union would also like to see this happen, because the lousy conditions in those detention centers helps spur refugees to seek passage to Europe, usually via unscrupulous human traffickers who take their money and then leave them to drown at sea. Of course, the UN and EU haven’t exactly been forthcoming with aid to help the GNA, which as you may have noticed has kind of a full plate these days, build and maintain a more humane refugee system.


Tunisian security forces are continuing to clash with protesters in the country’s southern Tataouine province. The protesters, mostly young people angry at high unemployment and internationally-mandated government austerity, have been seriously threatening the country’s small oil industry.


Nigerian authorities arrested some 55 Biafran separatist protesters in southeast Nigeria and the Niger Delta on Monday. Biafran separatism led to a civil war in Nigeria in the 1960s so I think its resurgence, part of a larger wave of disenchantment in southern Nigeria, is worth watching.


The Gambian government is accusing former President Yahya Jammeh of embezzling $50 million in state funds between 2013 and his ouster in January. They’ve frozen Jammeh’s assets in The Gambia, but presumably he got most of his money out of the country before he fled.


South Sudanese President Salva Kiir announced a unilateral ceasefire and prisoner release on Monday but gave no indication that he’s prepared to negotiate with rebels, so the chances that this will actually lead to anything are nil. Kiir sometimes makes these announcements, but the ceasefires never last and the next time his government actually releases political prisoners will be the first.



A report about to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council alleges that the human rights situation in Belarus has declined precipitously since March, when President Alexander Lukashenko opted to severely crack down on people protesting a new tax on the long-term unemployed. Lukashenko had been easing up on his abuses while making diplomatic overtures toward the West, an outgrowth of the breakdown in his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin–Lukashenko famously criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea back in 2014, which set the Russia-Belarus relationship on a rocky path. But Lukashenko seems to have patched things up with Putin in early April, so now I suppose he’s free to go back to cracking skulls.


The Greek government has apparently failed to put the screws to its citizens to the satisfaction of its IMF and European lenders, because despite passing yet another round of unpopular and self-defeating austerity measures, those lenders are still refusing to release the next tranche of the country’s bailout. The beatings will continue until…well, they’re just going to continue, let’s leave it at that.


Montenegro is joining NATO this week, so…congratulations? Clearly this is something the Montenegrin government wants, but there seems to be a fair amount of popular opposition–enough to throw Montenegrin politics into disarray–to the move, which incidentally has poisoned the country’s centuries-long relationship with Russia, for better or worse.


Say, this seems…good, yes, good, everything about this is really fine and should in no way raise any major red flags:

Every few years, the idea of an EU army finds its way back into the news, causing a kerfuffle. The concept is both fantasy and bogeyman: For every federalist in Brussels who thinks a common defense force is what Europe needs to boost its standing in the world, there are those in London and elsewhere who recoil at the notion of a potential NATO rival.

But this year, far from the headlines, Germany and two of its European allies, the Czech Republic and Romania, quietly took a radical step down a path toward something that looks like an EU army while avoiding the messy politics associated with it: They announced the integration of their armed forces.

Ha ha, what a good idea! The last time Germany and the Czech region got together it really worked out well for everybody involved, so this should be great! What’s that you say? Two Dutch brigades have already been integrated into the German army? Well, I sure am happy to hear that! What could be the downside?

This is a way to test-drive an integrated European military while plugging major deficiencies in the German army without forcing the Germans to spend more on their military. So the uncomfortable historical analogies aside, this may not be a terrible thing.


National Front leader and recently defeated presidential wanna-be Marine Le Pen is running for parliament, but it’s not clear she’s going to have a party to run for, because hers appears to be breaking apart. In an effort to smear yet more lipstick on the National Front’s pig, Le Pen is apparently reconsidering her opposition to France remaining in the Eurozone. But that reconsideration may come at a cost: if the FN changes its position on remaining in the Euro, then Le Pen’s deputy leader, Florian Philippot, says he’ll quit the party. I imagine he’ll take some of its members with him, considering what a huge policy shift this would be.



President Michel Temer has dropped his efforts to block the country’s Supreme Court from investigating corruption charges against him. The case at this point centers around a recording of Temer okaying bribes to a former legislator, Eduardo Cunha, who is now in jail on his own corruption situation. The charges against Temer appear to be quite serious:

According to Mr Batista, Cunha was being paid 1 million reais ($300,000; £235,000) a month in exchange for his silence regarding the involvement of other politicians, including Mr Temer, in Brazil’s wide-ranging corruption scandal known as Operation Car Wash.

The probe, launched in March 2014, centres on companies that were offered deals with state oil giant Petrobras in exchange for bribes, which were funnelled into politicians’ pockets and political party slush funds.

Temer is refusing to resign and seems like a fair bet to be impeached.


Now we can get to the latest Trump lunacy. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, citing his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination, has refused to comply with a Senate Intelligence Committee subpoena regarding his contacts with Russia and with other members of the Trump campaign/transition regarding Russia. The bottom line is that Flynn wants immunity from prosecution before he’ll agree to testify or turn over records, but he hasn’t gotten it yet. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me this either means that investigators don’t think Flynn has anything to offer (i.e., in terms of rolling on somebody higher up in the Trump administration) or they’re not sure he won’t take the immunity deal and then not really give them anything anyway.

A Pentagon report, whose contents were partially released by Congressman Elijah Cummings after Flynn notified the Senate of his decision, strongly suggests that Flynn flat-out lied about his Russia contacts to government investigators when attempting to renew his security clearance in early 2016. If he did that then he’s in some serious shit and I can certainly understand why he’d be after an immunity deal, but, again, to get a deal he has to have something that investigators want badly enough to make a deal. In refusing the Senate subpoena, Flynn may also have opened himself up to being held in contempt of Congress–this is a different kind of contempt from the kind in which Congressional Republicans hold poor and working class people–which could lead to him being tossed in the slammer for a short time if it proceeds anywhere. Where this is headed, I have no idea. If Flynn can roll on Trump or someone close to Trump then the White House has to be considering a pardon–but if you think the shit has hit the fan already, a Flynn pardon will take things to a whole new level.

The Flynn story is one of two that broke today. The other is potentially worse:

President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

Like Trump’s alleged private chat with former FBI Director James Comey, this would seem to dance on the line of obstruction if not cross it, which is in theory an impeachable offense even if it’s hard to imagine this Congress impeaching this president.

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