Europe/Americas update: June 16 2017



Theresa May’s government is refusing to negotiate an orderly exit from the European Union unless it also negotiates the terms of the UK’s new relationship with the EU at the same time. This is of course the 180 degree opposite of the EU’s position, which is that the new relationship can only be negotiated after the UK has exited the union. May has staked her entire political reputation on the idea that she could talk the EU into letting Britain have all the good parts of EU membership (basically unfettered access to the single market) without any of the parts people don’t like (regulations, free movement, etc.), which seemed like a fantasy to begin with but surely now seems like a total joke when you consider May couldn’t even talk British voters into sustaining her party’s majority in parliament last week. But she can’t give up this pipe dream because it’s the only hope she has of clinging to power.

This is either the Grenfell Tower fire or the hyper-capitalist world order–take your pick (Wikimedia | Natalie Oxford)

I feel like we need to mention Wednesday’s horrific fire at the Grenfell Tower public housing unit in London, which killed 30 people for certain and may have killed upwards of 100. I’m not really in the habit of writing about fires or other local news, except perhaps in passing when something extremely horrible happens, because, well, I’m already here pretty much all night as it is just writing about stuff with international implications. But this fire, which probably could have been prevented or at least limited with a very slight increase in cost to install fire resistant cladding, stands as another stark reminder of the deregulatory, excessively capitalist madness that has infected Western countries over the past half-century. It shows quite literally how little human beings are valued in this society, how utterly disposable we’ve become, when an extra 5000 pounds cost to reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire or a few thousand more pounds to install a proper fire suppression system in a heavily populated housing unit is deemed too great, the regulations requiring such things deemed too burdensome on our benighted private corporations, mostly because the tenants are impoverished public housing dwellers. And if you think people aren’t starting to notice that what’s trickling down on them isn’t wealth but something else entirely, you might want to think again.

People are angry. They’re going to get angrier. And until our leaders find their way back to a politics that sees value in human beings for something other than their ability to consume goods and services, that fulfills some basic responsibilities to protect citizens and help them make their lives a bit better, instead of forcing them to constantly slog through shit just to try to stay alive a little longer, well, that anger is going to keep manifesting in very unpredictable ways. Otto von Bismarck , certainly no bleeding heart lefty, figured this shit out almost 150 years ago. It’s astonishing to me that we’ve chosen to forget it.



Pedro Carreño, a Venezuelan legislator allied with Nicolás Maduro, has petitioned Venezuela’s Supreme Court to declare chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega guilty of “grave offense,” which sounds like it means nothing but would allow Ortega to be removed from her post. Ortega is one of those “chavista” politicians who have turned on Maduro as he’s come more unglued amid the country’s economic and political crisis, so Maduro’s people are looking for a way to leverage her out of her very powerful position.


Donald Trump’s new Cuba policy is starting to take shape and, while it’s not great, it doesn’t seem at a glance to be as draconian as he’s been making it out to be:

President Donald Trump announced what he billed as a dramatic new Cuba policy during a speech in front of a boisterous crowd in Miami’s Little Havana. “Effective immediately,” Trump said, “I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.”

Well, not quite. The actual policy changes Trump unveiled are far less significant than he implied. Indeed, many of the elements of the Obama administration’s policy will remain in place.

Under the new policy, Americans will no longer be allowed to plan their own private, individual “educational” trips to Cuba, and those who go as part of authorized educational group tours will be subject to stricter rules, per the New York Times. American companies and citizens will also be barred from doing business with businesses controlled by the Cuban military or its intelligence or security services.

But the relaxed rules that made it easier for US companies to do business in Cuba will stay in place. Cruises and direct flights between the United States and Cuba will still be allowed. Cuban Americans will still be able to travel freely to the island and send money to relatives there. And the Cuban Embassy in Washington and the US Embassy in Havana will remain open.

The crucial bit of new information to me is that it doesn’t seem like the administration is interesting in rolling back any deals that American companies have already made inside Cuba. That’s pretty significant. But I would say it’s too early to know just how much of an impact this policy change is going to have on US business in Cuba. It’s true that Trump is only blacklisting Cuban businesses with ties to the country’s security state, but those kinds of ties can be hard to suss out and can extend throughout a country’s economy at one level or another.

What matters isn’t so much how many Cuban companies these new rules might actually apply to, but whether the arduous process of ensuring compliance with the new rules becomes such a pain in the ass for American firms that they decide it’s not worth the trouble to even bother looking at the Cuban market. That’s been the effect of sanctions in Iran, where companies are very cautious about getting into the market because they’re worried about tripping sanctions that are still in place, and the effort required to parse the Iranian business world, coupled with the severity of potential penalties for violating any sanctions, makes companies question whether doing business in Iran is worth the hassle and the risk.


Donald Trump has been so obsessed with letting people know that he’s not under investigation that he reportedly peppers it into everyday conversation, like a malignant narcissist any normal, average person would do. So I guess he won’t be able to do that anymore now:

After this tweet was posted, as is standard operating procedure for this unquenchable dumpster fire of an administration, some poor White House schlub had to then go to the media and insist that the president hadn’t tweeted what he’d just clearly tweeted:

A US official, speaking to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, denied that Trump was confirming the investigation in his tweet. The official claimed Trump was referencing the Washington Post’s claims, which he said were based on “anonymous”  and “illegal” leaks.

You see, when the president said “I’m being investigated,” he wasn’t suggesting that he’s being investigated, but rather that [mumbling, trailing off].

The possibility now exists that Trump will fire both Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, because he can and because Republicans in the House of Representatives wouldn’t impeach this guy if he personally gave Paul Ryan an atomic wedgie on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That will put the country into a genuine constitutional crisis, if we aren’t already there yet. I guess at some point we all have to learn to just embrace the suck, and I think that’s where we may find ourselves now.

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