Europe/Americas update: June 17-18 2017

We’re going to try a little experiment tonight and not talk about whatever absurd shit is happening at the White House. In fact, I think you’ll understand if the bulk of this update is devoted to what’s happening in London right now.


Shortly after midnight local time, someone drove a van into a crowd of people leaving the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. Specifics are very hard to come by right now, but there were “a number of casualties” and I’ve seen reports of at least one or two deaths.

Finsbury Park Mosque (Wikimedia | Salimfadhley)

British authorities aren’t saying much of anything at all, really, but based on eyewitness reports it seems reasonable to say that, at the very least, this was a deliberate attack and not an innocent accident or even something like a drunk driver. That hasn’t been confirmed, to be clear. But it seems clearly to be direction this is going.

Assuming it was a deliberate attack, what sort of attack is still very much an open question. The Finsbury Park mosque was once notorious for radicalizing worshipers, and was best known for two of its most prominent congregation members: would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid and convicted al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui. It was raided and shut down by British authorities in 2003. But it was reopened and taken over by local Muslims in 2005 and has been seen as a model of a once-radical mosque completely turning itself around. Which, to be fair, could make it a target for Islamic extremists. And obviously the “vehicle plowing into a crowd of people” motif has become a pretty well established modus operandi for ISIS of late.

However, there have been a lot of unconfirmed reports floating around social media and in some of the less reputable parts of the British press that argue against that interpretation and argue for this being some kind of hate crime. Here, for example:

Which if it is…we’re going to have to have the talk again about whether terrorism is always terrorism or if it’s only terrorism when Muslims do it. Which, to the British government’s credit, it seems to be getting:

The alleged driver of the van is reportedly in custody, so presumably some answers will be forthcoming. Among those unconfirmed reports is one saying that there were three people in the van and two of them fled the scene. Which if true (or if police believe there could be other accomplices involved in this incident) could help to explain why there’s been very little information released by the authorities.

The Muslim Council of Britain has already attributed this attack to “Islamophobia.” And now we know that at least one person has died:

If there are more developments in this story before I crap out and fall asleep I’ll post them here.



NATO forces have just finished wargaming a scenario in which Russia some hypothetical large hostile nation in Eastern Europe sharing a border with Lithuania and Poland, could be anybody really, attempts to conduct an invasion through the Suwalki Gap along the Poland-Lithuanian border, to try to separate the three Baltic states from the rest of the NATO alliance. So, um, I hope everybody did their best and had a good time and make some good friends along the way.


Romania’s governing Social Democratic Party has gone ahead with a no confidence vote on its own government. As you know, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu’s attempt to decriminalize corruption is about as popular as bubonic plague with Romanian voters, so his party would very much like to see him resign, but he won’t. Ergo, they’re going to force him out of office.


Emmanuel Macron has saved democracy, my friends. How? Well, he’s perfected it. In fact, Emmanuel Macron’s democracy is so perfect it apparently doesn’t need any voters:

The parliamentary candidates running under the banner of the newly elected president, Emmanuel Macron, appear poised to win a crushing electoral majority on Sunday that extends from France’s Alpine heights to the Brittany coast and from the Mediterranean to Paris.

Yet his party’s likely sweep of the legislative elections may disguise real challenges for Mr. Macron as well as for France, as the country tentatively journeys up a path of change it has long avoided.

Given the high abstention rate in the first round of voting last Sunday, just over 15 percent of all voters actually backed Mr. Macron’s parliamentary candidates. Yet his party could ultimately win as many as 80 percent of the seats in the 577-member National Assembly.

Macron is being hailed as the trail-blazer for Hashtag The Resistance as it tries to beat back the tide of right wing populism, mostly because he’s not Jeremy Corbyn. His unique brand of centrist technocratic neoliberalism sets him apart from the technocratic neoliberal centrism that has been the dominant political ideology across almost every mainstream Western political party for the past 40 years, and it has French voters so giddy that most of them couldn’t even leave their homes to vote in the country’s parliamentary election. I know I’m excited to see what Macron can do to run France more like a business, to ease the burden on French job creators, and to cut waste, fraud, and abuse from the French welfare system.

In all seriousness, Macron has pulled off a pretty neat electoral trick, turning lukewarm support into a landslide presidential win and massive parliamentary majority. What this means is that he’s got carte blanche to govern France as he wishes…but also that the French public is going to be quick to turn on him if he proves to be a dud.


It didn’t seem right to mention this above amid the breaking Finsbury Park story, but I do think it’s important to highlight the fundamental absurdity surrounding Brexit. This isn’t in any way meant to defend Theresa May, who has absolutely made the bed in which she’s now stuck sleeping, but she (or whoever winds up replacing her) is truly damned if she does:

Senior business figures have heaped further pressure on Theresa May to change course for a softer Brexit in the wake of the election, amid fresh warnings of the impact of immigration controls and leaving the single market.

Stuart Rose, the Tory peer and chairman of online grocer Ocado, who backed Remain, said the election had been a “proxy re-referendum” against hard Brexit. Karan Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra beer and Remain backer, said the prime minister had “zero credibility” and that Britain could now rethink leaving. And Brian McBride, chairman of ASOS and Wiggle, has raised concerns about access to labour and customs checks.

And damned if she doesn’t:

British Prime Minister Theresa May will face an immediate leadership challenge from eurosceptic lawmakers in her party if she seeks to water down her plans for Brexit, the Sunday Telegraph reported, citing senior Conservative sources.

May, who won the top job in the wake of last year’s vote to leave the European Union, had in January set out her plans for Brexit, saying Britain would leave the single market so it could control immigration.

But May’s failure to win a majority in last week’s election has weakened her position badly and reopened the debate around the Brexit strategy just days before the country opens its divorce talks with Brussels on Monday.

Prompted by her poor election showing, particularly among pro-EU young people who fear losses of jobs and opportunity from Brexit, some of her most senior ministers and two former Conservative prime ministers have called for a rethink.

“If we had a strong signal that she were backsliding I think she would be in major difficulty,” the newspaper quoted one unidentified former minister as saying.



Three people were killed and nine wounded on Saturday in a bombing at a shopping mall in Bogota. There’s been no claim of responsibility, but the Marxist ELN rebels, who I guess are the country’s largest rebel faction now that FARC is on the verge of disarming, did issue a statement condemning the attack.

This story reminded me of a BBC piece I’d flagged a couple of days ago but that had somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. It was about one downside of the FARC peace agreement, which is that it’s creating a vacuum that smaller rebel/terrorist factions, including ELN even though it’s now negotiating its own peace deal with the government, are rushing to try to fill, to the detriment of people who are living in areas that had previously been relatively stable under FARC control:

The Farc signed a peace deal with the government last year and their members are demobilising in “transition zones”, where they are handing over their weapons to United Nations monitors.

But with the Farc no longer in control, other armed groups are trying to take over their profitable cocaine smuggling and illegal gold mining rackets.

The groups clash with each other and the security forces.

“A war has started in the areas where the Farc used to be,” says local government official Luis Enrique Sinisterra.

Obviously this is not an argument for perpetuating the civil war with FARC, but it is an argument for the Colombian government to move in quickly to establish some security in these areas before things get out of hand. In the short term, one side effect of shaking up the country’s rebel/military status quo may be a spike in violence, but that spike doesn’t have to become a trend.

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