Europe/Americas update: June 22 2017



The EU has announced agreement on a handful of collective defense measures:

European Union leaders launched their the most ambitious defense plan for decades on Thursday, agreeing a multi-billion-euro weapons fund, shared financing for battlegroups and allowing a coalition of the willing to conduct more missions abroad.

It comes as tensions with Moscow and an inward turn in Washington have pushed Europe’s governments to confront years of division over military cooperation.

New French President Emmanuel Macron, who threw his weight behind a common European defense during his election campaign, called the steps “historic” and said leaders were meeting Europe’s security challenges.

The weapons fund, probably the biggest of these measures, could be as large as 5.5 billion euros per year and would pay for, among other things, helicopters and drones.


While the EU also announced an extension of its sanctions against Russia, the US State Department on Thursday expressed concern over violence in eastern Ukraine targeting European and American monitors. A group of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was reportedly fired upon just a couple of days ago.


With the Queen’s Speech now in the rearview mirror, Theresa May’s negotiations with the Democratic Unionist Party are on a one-week timer. If May can’t win a parliamentary confidence vote in her cabinet within that time, then she won’t be able to form a government and it’s probably back to elections again. In which case, ummmm…

You’d like to assume that May wouldn’t have scheduled the Queen’s Speech unless she were sure she had the votes to form a government. And yet, nothing that Theresa May has done since becoming prime minister has suggested that she has the first clue what the hell she’s doing, so why would anybody assume she knows what she’s doing now?

Speaking of the DUP, its negotiations with the Conservatives seem to be preempting any talks on reforming Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government. DUP’s attentions are naturally elsewhere, and the prime minister, who typically plays the role of neutral arbiter in Northern Ireland, is too busy supplicating its largest unionist party to play that role right now. Sinn Fein, whose departure from the government in January led to snap elections in Northern Ireland and set this whole situation off, may also need to wait until after it sees what kind of deal the DUP gets for helping May before it agrees–or doesn’t–to rejoin the government. Meanwhile, there’s a June 29 deadline for restoring the NI government that’s likely to be missed–it can be extended, but the province has been without a government now for about five months.

On the Brexit front, May was in Brussels today to make her pitch to the EU on the future status of European nationals living in the UK:

About three million EU citizens living in the UK would be allowed to stay after Brexit, Theresa May has proposed.

A new “UK settled status” would grant EU migrants who had lived in the UK for five years rights to stay and access health, education and other benefits.

Proposals were unveiled at a Brussels summit but are dependent on EU states guaranteeing Britons the same rights.

May’s initial negotiating position was that this issue had to be part of the negotiations process rather than any guarantees being made up front, so the fact that she made this proposal now is yet another British concession to the EU’s timetable for the Brexit talks. Brussels is likely to push for additional concessions, particularly around this whole “five year” business and what it means for people who are in Britain now (or move there before some agreed-upon cutoff date) but haven’t been there for the full five year period. There are also questions about what happens to EU citizens resident in the UK who might have families, including children, on the continent, and London is going to have a hard time accepting the EU’s insistence that the European Court of Justice be the guarantor of these citizens’ rights, rather than the UK judicial system.

Finally the UK also had a bit of a rough time today at the United Nations:

The UK has suffered a humiliating defeat at the United Nations general assembly in a vote over decolonisation and its residual hold over disputed territory in the Indian Ocean.

By a margin of 94 to 15 countries, delegates supported a Mauritian-backed resolution to seek an advisory opinion from the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague on the legal status of the Chagos Islands.

A further 65 countries abstained on Thursday, including many EU states who might have been expected to vote in support of another bloc member.

Among EU members who abstained were France, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Estonia, Latvia, Greece and Finland. Canada and Switzerland also abstained.

The Chagos archipelago only contains one thing today: America’s Diego Garcia naval air base (which the government of Mauritius has guaranteed will not be affected). It was home to the Chagossian people before they were forcibly evicted by Britain in the 1960s and 1970s in order to clear the way for the base to be constructed (there are separate international legal cases ongoing about that eviction and the right of return). Britain excised the archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 with a payment to its colony at Mauritius, but the independent (since 1968) Mauritius doesn’t recognize that deal.

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 9.56.23 PM
The location of Diego Garcia, and therefore the Chagos archipelago, via Google Maps

The UK says it doesn’t recognize Mauritius’s claim but nevertheless will return Chagos to it when the archipelago is no longer needed for defense purposes (so never, in other words), and more importantly it is rejecting the idea that any case can be referred to the ICJ when one of the parties does not consent to do so. In the end this probably won’t have any practical impact–the ICJ’s rulings, like most other international “law,” are unenforceable unless some country decides to try to enforce them, and nobody is going to do that in this case.



Norway is threatening to eliminate its annual $1.1 billion contribution to Brazil’s Amazon fund unless the government takes steps to reverse recent increases in deforestation. After reducing deforestation every year from 2008 through 2014, the rate has increased over the past two years. Brazilian President Michel Temer, who needless to say already has enough problems of his own making to deal with, is also at least partly responsible for this one, since he has close ties to the country’s agricultural lobby and the agricultural lobby loves it some deforestation.


Venezuelan soldiers fired on protesters at the La Carlota airbase in the eastern part of Caracas on Thursday, killing one person. They appeared to be using rubber bullets, but even rubber projectiles can be lethal at close range. The death toll from Venezuela’s weeks of protest now stands at 76.


A few random items from Donald Trump’s America.

First, Senate Republicans finally let everybody have a look at their new and improved healthcare bill. Healthcare is obviously outside the purview of these updates, except insofar as I think a United States that’s rotting from the inside, for example because it refuses to extend access to quality healthcare to all its citizens, is a United States that poses a singular threat to global stability. And that seems to be the direction in which this healthcare bill would lead:

The actual policies contained in the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate Republican plan introduced on Thursday to repeal and replace Obamacare, would help some Americans a lot. The biggest winners are households making $250,000 a year or more, which would see two different taxes targeting them repealed; households with millions in investment income would come out particularly far ahead.

But vastly more Americans would come out behind. We don’t know for sure how many people will lose health coverage, but there are a number of reasons to think the number will be bigger than the 23 million the Congressional Budget Office estimated would lose insurance under the bill that passed the House in May. The Senate bill cuts Medicaid more slowly but more deeply, and unlike that bill, it lacks any incentive for individuals to stay insured. It repeals the individual mandate and replaces it with nothing.

And because the bill substantially weakens regulations for both individual and employer plans, millions of people who still get insurance will see the extent of their coverage shrink, and see themselves forced to pay out of pocket for expensive procedures that would otherwise be covered.

A former US defense contractor named Kevin Mallory has been arrested and charged with selling $25,000 worth of military secrets to China. Hope it was worth the prison sentence.

President Trump at some point leaned on Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Admiral Mike Rogers to publicly say there was no collusion between his 2016 campaign and the Russian government. It’s unclear how either of them would have been able to determine that, since it’s still being investigated, but Trump presumably wanted them to say publicly what former FBI Director James Comey had told him personally–that he wasn’t directly under investigation. But at the risk of repeating myself, nobody is under investigation until they are, and the fact that Trump wasn’t under investigation at some point didn’t mean he couldn’t be later (and in fact he apparently is now). Obviously neither man did what Trump wanted, but the fact that he asked could itself contribute to an obstruction case against the president.

Before he became a trusted White House adviser, Sebastian Gorka was deemed too toxic for the FBI:

The Daily Beast has learned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended its contract with Gorka just months before he joined the White House as a senior adviser to President Trump.

Law-enforcement officials attending an August 2016 lecture from Gorka, whose academic credentials and affiliation with a pro-Nazi group have recently come under fire, were disturbed to hear a diatribe against Muslims passed off as instruction on the fundamentals of counterterrorism.

Gorka told attendees at the Joint Terrorism Operations Course, an introductory-level class for participants in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, that all Muslims adhere to Sharia law, which he said is in conflict with the U.S. Constitution and American democratic values. Officials familiar with his lecture said Gorka taught law-enforcement officials there is no such thing as mainstream Muslims—only those radicalized and those soon to be radicalized.

The following month, a senior FBI official assured outraged and embarrassed colleagues that the bureau would no longer use Gorka for any subsequent lectures or instructions, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Beast.

The FBI, as Ackerman’s reporting makes clear, is a deeply Islamophobic institution, so for Gorka to cross even their red lines shows what a fucking nut he is.


The New York Times‘ Max Fisher explains Canada’s strategy for dealing with Donald Trump, which is basically to pretend he doesn’t exist:

Canadian officials have fanned out across the United States, meeting with mayors, governors, members of Congress and business leaders on matters from trade to the environment.

Ministers’ schedules resemble those of rock bands on summer tours. They travel armed with data on the precise dollar amount and number of jobs supported by Canadian firms and trade in that area.

“They’re going to great lengths, going into parts of America that few cabinet ministers from Canada have gone to,” Mr. Burney said.

Hints of this network emerged when Mr. Trump announced that the United States would leave the Paris climate agreement. Canadian officials said they would instead seek climate deals with American states, many of which were already in progress.

“Something snapped in the last few weeks,” said Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau. With trade threats looming, Mr. Trump’s break on climate convinced Canadian leaders of the need for drastic steps.

Since then, Mr. Paris said, “the approach has been to maintain cordial relations with the White House while going to extraordinary lengths to activate American decision makers at all levels of the political system.”

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