Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified today in the Trump-Russia investigation and said essentially nothing. No, really, senators were mad at how much nothing he said. He didn’t even really assert a justification for saying nothing, either. Just kind of said, “eh, I’m not going to say anything,” and that was pretty much that.
I noted this last night but let me say it again: Democrats in the US Senate are allowing Republicans to push through an Obamacare replacement bill almost entirely in secret. It’s not hard to understand why Republicans are trying to do this: their Obamacare replacement is certain to be needlessly cruel, to deprive millions of people of access to health coverage in the name of the massive upper class tax cut that is their only genuine policy interest. They know this will be terribly unpopular, so they’re trying to get a bill passed without the public knowing. Less understandable is why Senate Democrats aren’t jumping up and down and screaming about this to draw public attention toward it. That public attention might not matter that much, but in a Senate where Republicans hold only a slim majority, it could be enough to make a difference.
Well, Vox’s Jeff Stein reported today that Democrats are stifling themselves on the destruction of American health care in part because they don’t want to screw up a chance to pass a bipartisan sanctions bill against Iran and Russia. No, seriously:
The bipartisan Russia deal, which will make it harder for Trump to override sanctions against Russia, is being tacked on to an Iran sanctions bill as an amendment, in order to lessen the chances that Trump will veto it–he may not want to sanction Russia, but he wants to sanction the shit out of Iran. And yet, he may veto it anyway. Meanwhile, the Democrats are passing up a chance to shine a light on a horrible thing the Republicans are doing that will hurt millions of people, because they’re more interested in imposing sanctions on Iran and Russia that will likely accomplish nothing. Excellent priorities, everybody.
A new report suggests that the United States has only acknowledged a fraction of the strikes it’s undertaken since its drone program began under the Bush administration:
Although in the waning days of his presidency, Obama took some steps to improve transparency about drone strikes, including providing the total estimated death toll, a new report by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies says that the U.S. is still lagging in providing a full accounting of its drone program. Among other failures, the report, titled “Out of the Shadows: Recommendations to Advance Transparency in the Use of Lethal Force,” says that the U.S. has only acknowledged approximately 20 precent of its reported drone strikes — failing to claim responsibility or provide details in the vast majority of cases.
Meanwhile, the drone program is intensifying. Since President Donald Trump took office earlier this year, the rate of drone strikes per month has increased by almost four times Obama’s average. Yemen in particular has been a target of many of these operations, with between nine and 11 strikes hitting the country this year, along with 81 other covert attacks by U.S. forces, according to statistics compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Finally, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday and was treated fairly roughly over his boss’s plan to gut the State Department budget:
Senators repeatedly asked whether issues such as the promotion of human rights, the protection of democracy, the campaign against human trafficking or efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons were priorities for the administration.
Mr. Tillerson assured the lawmakers that they were. But Republican and Democratic senators pressed a fundamental question: How can the Trump administration say it champions those efforts if it is cutting budgets for a range of important diplomatic initiatives — and eliminating others outright?
Each time, Mr. Tillerson patiently answered that priorities should not be judged only by dollars spent.
He’s got a point. In addition to the money the Trump administration plans on not spending on those issues, you also have to consider factors like the personnel it plans on not dedicating to them and the time it plans on not putting in on them.
Reuters is reporting that the five Russian diplomats who were expelled from Moldova late last month were believed to have been recruiting fighters to go to eastern Ukraine in support of the rebels there. They were allegedly recruiting from among the pro-Russian, ethnically Turkish population of the Gagauzia region of southern Moldova. The Ukrainian intelligence community apparently learned of the presence of those fighters among the rebels and notified the Moldovans.
The victory of the “war wing” coalition in Kosovo’s parliamentary election on Sunday has put Ramush Haradinaj in line to once again become the country’s prime minister. Haradinaj previously served as Kosovo’s PM for a few months in 2004 and 2005, but he’s probably more famous for having been arrested and almost extradited to Serbia by France earlier this year. As a former Kosovar rebel leader, Haradinaj is wanted for crimes against Serbians during the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, and his appointment as PM is inevitably going to coarsen the already pretty coarsened Kosovo-Serbia relationship.
REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA (?)
New Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev says he’s sending his foreign minister to Greece on Wednesday for talks about possibly resolving a now-27 year long dispute over his country’s official name. Zaev seems very interested in putting Macedonia* on a path toward eventual membership in NATO and the European Union, if for no other reason than to protect against Russian interference in Macedonian politics. But the name dispute, wherein Greece, by virtue of Alexander the Great et al, claims the name “Macedonia” and has forced Zaev’s country to use the unwieldy name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in all its official dealings, for its memberships in international organizations, on its business cards, etc., has contributed to FYROM’s (!) inability to get anywhere in terms of joining either European institution, inasmuch as Greece has objected.
Zaev seems willing to use FYROM as the country’s official name for purposes of NATO and the EU, if Greece is OK with it. His predecessor, the right-wing pro-Russian Nikola Grueski, took a number of provocative steps to claim Macedonian historical heritage. These antagonized Greece, but that worked to Grueski’s advantage, since he had no interest in joining NATO and the EU anyway.
Al Jazeera does a deep dive into the world of Slovakian anti-fascists, who are trying to fight back against the rising popularity of the neo-Nazi People’s Party Our Slovakia (LSNS). Marches and confrontation are becoming less viable as tactics as LSNS has more electoral success and shifts from s street-level movement to a political one, so they’re trying other tactics:
“The old-school idea of Antifa – justice in the streets – is less effective in these circumstances,” says Krempaska, who was beaten up by far-right activists while leaving her office one night last September. “We must use different kinds of weapons and build new alliances.”
Sitting in a noisy cafe across town, Rado Sloboda, a 26-year-old activist from Banska Bystrica, says he and fellow organisers from the ‘Not in Our Town’ campaign hope to educate young people about human rights and far-right “extremism”.
Sloboda, who is also the director of the Centre for Community Organising, says they recently launched a pilot educational programme bringing Jews, Muslims, Roma and refugees to speak to students in primary and secondary schools.
The Hungarian parliament has passed Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s new measure to
make George Soros eat shit force Hungarian NGOs that take even a pittance in foreign money to register as foreign-funded NGOs, the better to demonize and eventually shut them down later on. Orbán insists that this new law will increase “transparency,” but realistically it’s about going after Soros, who is a problematic, currency manipulating plutocrat but is seen as the embodiment of pure evil by Hungarian fascists. American fascists too, really.
British Prime Minister Theresa May flew to Paris today
hoping to find somebody there who isn’t mad at her to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, and amid the other issues they talked about, Macron found time to troll May ever so gently:
Speaking in the gardens of the Élysée Palace in Paris in a joint press conference with Theresa May, Macron made it clear that he respected the sovereign decision of the British people. However, he added: “Until negotiations come to an end there is always a chance to reopen the door.”
And Macron suggested that time was of the essence, saying: “As the negotiations go on it will be more and more difficult to go backwards.”
May’s Brexit position is in almost total disarray following her surprising losses in last week’s UK elections. She likely doesn’t have a solid majority for a “hard” Brexit, or total British withdrawal from the EU and its institutions, which means she’s got to pinpoint a sweet spot where Britain maintains just enough European membership to satisfy Brexit opponents in her own party but not so much that she alienates Brexit supporters.
Oh hell, who am I kidding? It’s very unlikely that she’ll be prime minister long enough to actually have to worry about any of this shit.
I don’t really want to talk any more about Brexit tonight, but we should note, as May begs Northern Ireland’s absurdly far-right Democratic Unionist Party to save her governing majority, how much damage she could be doing to the tenuous peace process in Northern Ireland, at least according to former UK Prime Minister John Major:
“A fundamental part of that peace process is that the U.K. government needs to be impartial between all the competing interests in Northern Ireland,” Major said. “And the danger is that however much any government tries, they will not be seen to be impartial if they are locked into a parliamentary deal at Westminster with one of the Northern Ireland parties.”
“The last thing anybody wishes to see,” Major added, “is one or other of the communities so aggrieved that the hard men, who are still there lurking in the corners of the community, decide that they wish to return to some form of violence.”
That concern is made more pressing by two factors: the looming threat of Brexit, which could make it necessary to once again erect barriers along the currently invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, once the U.K. leaves the European Union; and the fact that Northern Ireland’s local assembly is in crisis.
Finally, the Monkey Cage has some background on the al-Muhajiroun network, the online European jihadist network to which two of the three London Bridge attackers were connected:
The case of al-Muhajiroun exemplifies this trend of networked cooperation. Active in the United Kingdom for about a decade before being officially banned after the London bombings of July 2005, al-Muhajiroun continued to operate in pursuit of its goal to establish an Islamic caliphate. The group reconstituted itself under various names and gained notoriety for, among other things, its staged protests against returning British soldiers.
By 2010, its leader, Anjem Choudary, began operating as a transnational jihadist entrepreneur as he systematically expanded his network outside of Britain. His efforts resulted in the formation of an international jihadist nexus known informally as the Sharia4 movement, named for the Sharia4 prefix used in the names of several of the movement’s participant networks.
The FARC rebel peace deal is continuing on track–after turning in 30 percent of their weapons last week, the group’s fighters have turned in another 30 percent this week. They have until June 20 to fully disarm.
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is warning that, if it’s not handled internally, Venezuela’s economic and political crisis is going to create a huge refugee problem across northern South America. He’s pushing for the creation of an ad hoc multilateral commission to try to address the situation. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, is calling on the country’s Supreme Court to strip immunity from eight of its justices whom she says have stripped away the country’s democratic processes in order to protect President Nicolás Maduro. Maduro, for his part has written a letter to Pope Francis asking him to encourage opponents of his government to stop protesting and agree to negotiations.
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