Asia/Africa/Americas update: May 25 2017


Prime Minister Jared Kushner seems to be in a bit of a legal jam:

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News.

Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to their inquiry, officials said. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him.

The FBI’s scrutiny of Kushner places the bureau’s sprawling counterintelligence and criminal investigation not only on the doorstep of the White House, but the Trump family circle. The Washington Post first reported last week that a senior White House official close to Trump was a “person of interest,” but did not name the person. The term “person of interest” has no legal meaning.

Kushner isn’t in the kind of hot water that, for example, Michael Flynn finds himself, but you’d obviously rather the FBI didn’t want to talk with you about an ongoing investigation, all things considered. The FBI reportedly wants to talk with Kushner about meetings he had with Russian officials during the campaign last year, and for his part Kushner says he will cooperate.

In other Trump news, the administration is preparing to appeal its travel ban to the Supreme Court, after the fourth circuit court of appeals upheld an earlier ruling that the ban is unconstitutional.



There have been several clashes between the Taliban and Afghan security forces over the past couple of days:

  • An overnight Taliban attack on several security checkpoints in Kandahar killed 13 Afghan soldiers, but was driven off with at least 20 Taliban dead
  • A Taliban suicide bomber in Helmand province killed three Afghan intelligence officers on Thursday
  • On Wednesday, a Taliban attack on checkpoints in Baghdis province killed six Afghan soldiers compared to 16 Taliban fighters


ISIS’s Indonesia branch has taken responsibility for yesterday’s terrorist attack in Jakarta that killed three police officers.


Fighting continues in Marawi, where Philippine special forces and helicopters were called in today to try to finally drive insurgents out of the city, followed by air strikes. ISIS-affiliated militants from the Maute Group and Abu Sayyaf have occupied the city for two days, since an attempted Philippine raid to capture Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon on Tuesday went sideways, with 15 Philippine soldiers killed compared to 31 ISIS fighters. The terrorists have seized a cathedral, a school, and a jail, and have reportedly taken hostages, whose condition is unknown.


A population researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, named Yi Fuxiang believes that India may have surpassed China to become the most populous country on Earth. Officially, the UN has India’s population at 1.33 billion people, and China officially says it’s home to 1.38 billion. But Yi says he’s found “inconsistencies” in Chinese demographic data that could suggest that Beijing has created 90 million phantom people to pad its population statistics, which if true would put China’s population at a lowly 1.29 billion.

Now, most demographers and population researchers are scoffing at Yi’s numbers, and the actual answer to the question of whether India or China is the most populous nation on the planet is trivia, but the main issue that Yi talks about–namely the effect of China’s one-child policy on fertility rates–is real, and most estimates expect the Chinese population to begin actually shrinking by sometime in the 2030-2040 range. Whatever your view on the appropriate size of the human race, this is likely to be a huge economic upheaval for China–and, thus, for the whole world. Just something to look forward to.


Chinese dissidents are worried about a draft law that would appear to legalize intensive and intrusive surveillance measures targeting the suitably vague-sounding “state security threats”:

“The (intelligence law) draft, like the National Security Law (passed in 2014), seems set to give the veneer of legality to intrusive and repressive surveillance activities,” said Eva Pils, an expert on Chinese criminal law at King’s College London.

The draft gives “very broad definitions of the remit of the law, including everything from threats to national security to promoting the welfare of the people, meaning that essentially anything could be considered to require intelligence-gathering,” she said.

State security already does many of the things covered by this law, apparently, but it does them without much in the way of legal cover. This law will supply that. The intent, aside from expanding state surveillance authority broadly, is likely to help President Xi Jinping tighten his control over the Chinese Communist Party, whose leaders could also be subject to these surveillance measures if they don’t toe the line.


Speaking of economics–my favorite!–gasoline prices have absolutely skyrocketed in Pyongyang over the past month (below the socialist surface, Pyongyang has been quietly easing restrictions on free market economies for a while now). They’re reportedly north of $2.30/kg (gas is sold by weight in North Korea) right now, up from $1.30/kg in mid-April and $0.80/kg last April. Gas stations are keeping irregular hours, though there don’t seem to be any gas lines, as there were when the price started surging a month ago. It’s likely that people are hoarding gas, thus driving up the price, because of rumors that China is going to go along with stricter international sanctions after the next North Korean nuclear test. But it could also be that the government is stockpiling gas because it’s anticipating an urgent need, which…is not comforting.



In quite a turnaround from the bloody battle it had to fight to hang on to Brak al-Shati airbase last week, the Libyan National Army basically walked on to Sabha air base today, capturing it from the Misratan “Third Force” without a fight. Sabha is about 60 km southeast of Brak al-Shati. Its abandonment appears to have been part of a larger Third Force withdrawal from the Sabha area, and it puts the LNA deeper into southern Libya.


You know those mutineers that keep causing problems in Ivory Coast, seizing control of roads and sometimes entire cities as they protest for bonus payments from the government? According to Reuters, somebody powerful is arming them, and the Ivorian army isn’t particularly interested in following President Alassane Ouattara’s orders to suppress the mutinies. This does not bode well for stability leading up to the country’s 2020 presidential election.


The UN says that militia fighting in southern and central CAR over the past week has killed more than 300 people and displaced a whopping 100,000 more. This is as bad as things have been in CAR in terms of displacement since the height of the country’s civil war in 2013.



Embattled and (allegedly) almost comically corrupt Brazilian President Michel Temer has revoked his decree authorizing his army to police the capital, Brasilia, as suddenly as he implemented it. He did take some heat from the city government of Brasilia for not consulting them over the decision, but otherwise I’m not sure what motivated him to pull this rather substantial 180.

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