Europe/Americas update: June 23 2017



In what is a strong contender for least surprising news of 2017, Russia’s electoral commission has said that potential presidential candidate Alexei Navalny will not be allowed to run for office because of a past criminal conviction. Navalny wasn’t going to win the 2018 election anyway, but his presence in the race might have focused some attention on Russia’s rampant corruption problem and embarrassed Vladimir Putin, who is going to win in 2018 without even having to cheat, though he’ll likely do that anyway.


Hundreds of people protested in Athens and other European capitals on Friday against a Greek government decision to close down squats, often the only places where refugees and migrants can find some shelter:

Hundreds of Greek protesters and refugees have demonstrated in Athens to voice opposition to a court’s ruling to empty out squats, several of which provide residence to refugees and migrants.

Marching from the City Plaza refugee squat in central Athens, around 700 people made the trek to the Ministry of Migration building in the capital’s Klafthmonos Square on Friday.

They chanted in support of squats and their residents, carrying signs that read “City Plaza is our home” and “Hands off squats”.

Solidarity demonstrations were also staged in cities across Europe, including in Germany, Austria, and Belgium. Many of the rallies were held in front of Greek embassies.

We don’t have to be assholes to the least among us. That’s a choice. I’m just saying.


Speaking of being assholes to the least among us, the Austrian government is shocked to learn that paying refugees the equivalent of petty cash (1000 euros) to incentivize them to return to the war zone from which they fled isn’t really convincing that many refugees to vamoose. Go figure.


This is a little off our usual beaten path, but as somebody who’s watched a lot of gangster movies and believes that Anton Blok’s The Mafia of a Sicilian Village 1860-1960 is one of the best books around about the development of government-like institutions in the absence of government, anything on the Sicilian mafia is going to get my attention:

Once all-powerful on Sicily, the world’s most famous crime gang, known as Cosa Nostra, “Our Thing”, has been squeezed over the past two decades, with many bosses put behind bars, many of its businesses sequestered and many locals ready to defy it.

Despite these setbacks, no one believes it is dying. Indeed, after years of decline, with the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta overtaking it as Italy’s most powerful mobsters, prosecutors believe it is trying to rebuild, starting with its drug trade.

“The mafia organization is once again looking to develop and maintain a total monopoly on the extremely profitable narcotics market,” Matteo Frasca, the head of Palermo’s Appeals Court, said in a speech in January.

Italian prosecutors say the ‘Ndrangheta has a stranglehold on cocaine trade, but Cosa Nostra is a major player in the Italian hashish market, often importing the drug from northern Africa and selling it throughout Europe.

The big takeaway here, to me, is that the protection racket is drying up thanks to the weakness of the Sicilian economy. Which makes all my “nice thing you got there, be a shame if something was to happen to it” jokes obsolete.


Apart from Brexit, the most contentious issue facing the European Union may be the budding feud between French President Emmanuel Macron and four of the EU’s poorer members to the east: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Macron wants the EU to adopt more protections against companies moving their operations to those countries to take advantage of cheap labor, or bringing in cheaper workers to take jobs that could go to, for example, French workers. The leaders of those four states, collectively known as the Visegrad Group, argue that they should be allowed to use their advantages in labor cost to build up their comparatively fragile economies. They’re also angry with Macron over comments he’s made criticizing their refugee policies. Anyway, they all met Friday amid the EU summit in Brussels and, well, they didn’t settle anything but they all seem to be talking more respectfully about one another. So that’s nice.


Theresa May insists that her offer to (sort of, under certain conditions) protect the rights of EU citizens living in the UK is “fair,” which you’d expect her to say, after all it was her offer. Brussels, on the other hand, seems to be of a different mind on it:

European leaders have criticised the UK’s offer to EU nationals after Brexit – with one senior figure claiming it could “worsen the situation” for them.

European Council President Donald Tusk said the plan was “below expectations” while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there had been “no breakthrough”.

Theresa May conceded there were differences between the two sides.

But the prime minister said those who had “made their lives and homes” in the UK would have their rights guaranteed.

She also suggested that while rights would be enforced by British courts, they could also be enshrined in international law if the agreement was included in the final treaty of withdrawal.

The concerns over May’s offer involve her rejection of the European Court of Justice as the protector for EU citizens’ rights and the fact that this package is actually less generous than the deal Brussels offered a couple of weeks for UK citizens living in Europe, which was to just keep their status exactly the same moving forward rather than create some poorly defined new category for them.



The White House says President Donald Trump may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of next month’s G20 meeting in Germany. Whatever, I know, but if you’ve got an office pool or something on the first Trump-Putin meeting, then you might want to put a buck in for July 7-8.

Add child soldiers to the list of things the Trump administration is going to stop pretending to care about:

In a highly unusual intervention, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to remove Iraq and Myanmar from a U.S. list of the world’s worst offenders in the use of child soldiers, disregarding the recommendations of State Department experts and senior U.S. diplomats, U.S. officials said.

The decision, confirmed by three U.S. officials, would break with longstanding protocol at the State Department over how to identify offending countries and could prompt accusations the Trump administration is prioritizing security and diplomatic interests ahead of human rights.

Tillerson overruled his own staff’s assessments on the use of child soldiers in both countries and rejected the recommendation of senior diplomats in Asia and the Middle East who wanted to keep Iraq and Myanmar on the list, said the officials, who have knowledge of the internal deliberations.

Tillerson also rejected an internal State Department proposal to add Afghanistan to the list, the three U.S. officials said.

One official said the decisions appeared to have been made following pressure from the Pentagon to avoid complicating assistance to the Iraqi and Afghan militaries, close U.S. allies in the fight against Islamist militants. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Actually, I guess we already knew the administration didn’t give a shit about child soldiers when it yanked US support for the anti-Lord’s Resistance Army mission in Africa, but in case you’d forgotten this is a good reminder. And the line about not complicating assistance to the Iraqi and Afghan militaries is bullshit. The president can always issue waivers, and anyway that still doesn’t explain the absolutely egregious decision to pull Myanmar off the list.

Scientists say that keeping global temperature increases at the 1.5C degree limit envisioned by the Paris Climate Agreement should be enough to save the coral reefs, though it would still put them under significant pressure. This would be great news…if the Trump administration hadn’t already basically ensured that we won’t stay under that limit by pulling out of the agreement. We’re still going to be unpacking the damage this administration does decades from now.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the story of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” who is due to go free in two years and has still not renounced the idea of violent jihad against the West. Lindh is the first of several cases of homegrown jihadis who are scheduled to be released in the next few years and who could still reasonably be considered threats. There’s no plan for what to do with them, but the reason Lindh’s case is important–aside from the fact that he’s the first one to come up–is that part of the reason he’s not staying in prison longer is because his rights were violated during his initial detention:

In the first legal case of the “war on terror,” Lindh was charged with providing material support for terrorism. The government’s case eventually collapsed over questions about Lindh’s treatment and confession while he was held by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and on U.S. naval ships.

With the defense team ready to shine an embarrassing light on Lindh’s treatment, federal prosecutors — at the urging of the Defense Department — dropped nine of the ten counts, including charges he tried to kill a CIA officer or support terrorism. Lindh ultimately pleaded guilty to violating an executive order prohibiting aid to the Taliban, and for carrying weapons in Afghanistan, and he agreed to drop any claims that he was abused by the U.S. military.

If the fact that violating detainee’s rights is immoral doesn’t do anything for you, and if the fact that it doesn’t produce actionable intelligence still doesn’t convince you that America shouldn’t be doing it, then consider that mistreating terror suspects could leave them facing lighter sentences than they would otherwise. Just another reason why it pays to go by the book.

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