Europe/Americas update: June 26 2017



Cypriot leaders and UN representatives are meeting in Switzerland on Wednesday for “open-ended” talks to try to settle the island’s reunification issues once and for all. As nobody has yet proposed a way to break the main deadlock that currently separates the two sides–Greek Cypriots want Turkey to remove its troops from the island and renounce any right to intervene to protect Turkish Cypriots, which Turkish Cypriots and Turkey reject–it seems unlikely that a deal is there to be made.

If no deal is made, then things could get ugly on Cyprus very quickly. The island nation sits basically in the epicenter of several fairly recently discovered eastern Mediterranean natural gas fields, and Greek Cypriots seem keen to stake a claim to some of that gas on their own if they can’t reach an accord with the Turkish Cypriots. That would undoubtedly trigger a response from Turkey, which could in turn trigger a response from the European Union.


I can’t possibly do justice to this Masha Gessen piece about life for gay men in Chechnya by summarizing it, so I urge you to read the entire thing. Here’s how it begins:

In late February or early March, Ali was in his apartment in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, when he got a phone call from a local police officer. “Get dressed, we have to take you in,” the man said. Ali took the sim card out of his cell phone, inserted it into a spare, blank phone, and hid his regular handset. By the time he was done, two police officers were knocking on the door. They put him in a car and drove to a nearby street, where two cars were waiting. The men put him in the back seat of one of the vehicles and got in with him.

“They pushed my head down so I wouldn’t see where we were going,” Ali, who is around thirty years old, told me. Soon, the car pulled up to an unmarked building. Ali saw two men he knew standing in front: “Their faces were all swollen from beatings. One of them said, ‘I told them everything.’ ”

Ali was taken into a room. “Their boss is sitting there, sprawled out,” he continued. “He says, ‘You take it up the ass.’ I start denying everything.” The boss asked Ali about another man, whom Ali knew to be gay. That morning, the man had called Ali and suggested that they meet. “I knew that if they tortured him he’d break and give everyone up,” Ali told me. He said to the police that he knew the man only as a business client. “They started beating me. I kept saying that I don’t know anything, I’ve never even heard that there were gays here in Chechnya.”

The men took him down to a basement, where there was a large central room, with cells and small chambers around the perimeter. In one chamber, officers dunked prisoners’ heads in a vat of ice water; in another, they attached clothespin-like clips wired to a large battery to earlobes or extremities. The cells held men and women, who screamed as they were beaten with fists and batons.

Chechnya, as Gessen writes, is “a more extreme version of Russia.” Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule is more authoritarian than Vladimir Putin’s, his kleptocracy is more thorough than Putin’s, his use of religion as a club to beat undesirables is more holistic than Putin’s. Russia treats its LGBT population miserably, but Chechnya manages to be even worse.


German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Monday that it will be “difficult” to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine in the short-term, with the ceasefire being violated by both sides. French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, welcomed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to Paris on Monday and spoke favorably of the 2015 Minsk agreement as a roadmap for ending the war. This is notable inasmuch as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked down the Minsk agreement a couple of weeks ago, so Macron’s support likely bought that framework some new life.


Romania has a new prime minister, and its…former Economy Minister Mihai Tudose! Uhhhh, of course! Who else could it have been, really?

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 8.19.25 PM
It’s him! It’s really him (?)!

I don’t mean to make fun of new Prime Minister Tudose, it’s just that, well, he doesn’t seem to have been the first pick for the job. Or the second, or the third, or the…

PSD leader Liviu Dragnea said Tudose was one of six potential prime ministers the party considered. The other five had declined the position.

“Taking into consideration the current crisis, the urgency to end it … as it harms the economy (and) Romania’s external image abroad, I have decided to name Mihai Tudose as prime minister-designate,” President Klaus Iohannis told reporters.

What a ringing endorsement! “In order to literally keep the country from tearing itself apart, I have decided that making this guy over here our prime minister is better than having no prime minister at all, probably.”

Who, really, would want this job anyway? Dragnea runs the ruling Social Democratic Party and therefore the government. He’s prevented from formally serving as prime minister because he was once convicted on a corruption charge, which is why he had former PM Sorin Grindeanu stick his head on the chopping block and float a plan to decriminalize low-level corruption. That idea went over with the Romanian public about as well as a suggestion that the country be dusted with anthrax spores, and it cost Grindeanu his job. Now Tudose gets to serve as Dragnea’s Man in the government and, who knows, he may have to try to push the decriminalization thing all over again. Those other five candidates were all smart enough to decline the honor of being Dragnea’s next sacrificial lamb.


Albania’s Socialist party did win a sole majority in Sunday’s parliamentary election. The European Union apparently has some concerns over allegations of vote buying, but once the votes are counted and the results certified you can probably expect the process for Albania’s accession to the EU to pick up some speed. Chief on Brussels’ list of requirements is going to be a commitment to fight drug trafficking and reform of the country’s judicial system to root out corruption. Tackling those issues may be easier with one party in control as opposed to some kind of coalition.


Theresa May finally struck a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to keep her in government, at least for the near future, and everybody seems so happy about it:

The deal, which comes two weeks after the election resulted in a hung Parliament, will see the 10 DUP MPs back the Tories in key Commons votes.

There will be £1bn extra for Northern Ireland over the next two years.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the “wide-ranging” pact was “good for Northern Ireland and the UK” but one critic said it was a “straight bung”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the deal was “clearly not in the national interest”, and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams said it enabled a “Tory Brexit which threatens the Good Friday Agreement”.

“Bung,” I learned today, is British slang for “bribe,” and yes, this is a bribe, though it’s actually 1.5 billion pounds when you add in the new programs Northern Ireland is supposed to get out of the deal. Moreover, it’s a bribe that seems to have angered not only Northern Irish republicans, but also the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, who would like some extra money themselves, and some Conservative MPs, who are worried that their party is going to have to cater to the DUP’s ultra-religious conservative sensibilities. Well, you know what they say–you can’t please everybody…or, in this case, anybody.

At least Queen Elizabeth is also getting a raise. She’s definitely earned (?) it.

There’s also a bit of Brexit news that isn’t so great:

One third of non-British workers are considering leaving the UK, with highly skilled workers from the EU most likely to go, according to new research into the impact of Brexit on the jobs market.

The consultancy firm Deloitte found 47% of highly skilled workers from the EU were considering leaving the UK in the next five years. In a report on Tuesday, it warns of serious implications for employers, raising the pressure on ministers to come up with sensible immigration plans and to find ways to improve the skills of UK workers and make better use of robots in the workplace.

Overall, 36% of non-British workers in the UK said they were thinking of leaving within the same period, representing 1.2m jobs out of 3.4 million migrant workers in the UK. Just more than quarter (26%) said they were considering leaving within three years.

All this after May made her generous offer to sort of nebulously protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK, but not to the EU’s satisfaction. I’m not entirely sure what the EU is looking for here–Brussels wants the European Court of Justice to be the guarantor of EU citizens’ rights, which seems reasonable to a point, but I think the UK has a pretty compelling argument in terms of wanting its own legal system to handle legal cases in the UK. Depending on what the EU wants, allowing the ECJ to muck around inside the UK could be a serious violation of national sovereignty.

Of course, the UK could have stayed in the EU and avoided this discussion entirely, so I guess I can see where Brussels is coming from as well.



Scandal-mired Brazilian President Michel Temer was formally hit with corruption charges by the country’s top prosecutor on Monday. The glitch now is that a 2/3 vote of the lower house of the Brazilian parliament is required to send the case to the country’s supreme court, and Temer probably has enough votes in that body to prevent that from happening.


The United Nations says that FARC rebels have completed their disarmament. The rebel group still has hundreds of weapons caches strewn around the Colombian countryside, though, and finding those before any other rebel groups do will be the next order of business, as FARC begins the process of transitioning into a political party.


Charred remains found near the Mexican city of Nueva Italia on June 14 have been identified as those of reporter Salvador Adame, who was abducted in that city on May 18. Mexico is the most dangerous country in the Western Hemisphere for journalists–seven have been murdered there this year, and it’s known that at least four of them were killed deliberately over their reporting. All reported on the country’s organized crime situation and/or on government corruption, and the fact that not a single one of their murders has been solved suggests a certain indifference to the problem on the Mexican government’s part.


Time for your usual roundup from Trumptopia:

  • In the ongoing Russia-Trump collusion investigation, Prime Minister Jared Kushner has hired a high-profile trial lawyer whose past clients have included John Edwards and Jack Abramoff. Not that he’s worried he might have done something wrong, mind you.
  • A new poll of people from 37 countries by the Pew Research Center finds that a whopping 22 percent of them have confidence in Donald Trump to “do the right thing.” That’s compared with 64 percent who said the same of Barack Obama late in his second term. People seem to hate Trump’s policies, but on the other hand they also seem to hate him personally. On the plus side, Trump outperforms Obama in two countries–Israel and Russia. So you know he’s doing great.
  • Maybe one reason people don’t care for Trump is that they’re tired of American troops being deployed in their country. I mean, considering that US special forces conducted missions in 138 countries, or roughly 70 percent of all countries on the planet, in 2016, and have already deployed to 137 countries in 2017 and the year isn’t even halfway over, there’s a pretty good chance that, if you’re not in the US right now, nevertheless there’s a little piece of the US wherever you are. This might not be so bad if there were any evidence it was working in any way, but…well, you should just read that piece.

Finally, the Supreme Court on Monday partially lifted an injunction against the Trump administration’s travel ban:

The Supreme Court agreed to decide on the legality of President Trump’s Muslim Ban and temporarily reversed parts of lower court rulings blocking enforcement of the order.

Justices announced Monday that they would hear arguments about the ban during the next Supreme Court term, which starts in October. They said, in the meantime, that an injunction against the ban would be lifted, except for those with “any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

“A foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member…clearly has such a relationship,” Justices stated.

They said prospective university students from banned countries are also temporarily exempt. So, too, are “worker[s] who accepted an offer of employment from an American company” and “lecturer[s] invited to address an American audience.”

Those seeking refugee status were also granted temporary relief from the ban—though only if they similarly have “bona fide” ties to the US.

“But when it comes to refugees who lack any such connection to the United States, for the reasons we have set out, the balance tips in favor of the Government’s compelling need to provide for the Nation’s security,” the court ruled.

The ruling was unanimous, but three justices–Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and The Moderate Neil Gorsuch–argued for a full lifting of the injunction rather than this limited one. Believe it or not, this actually could suggest that Trump’s travel ban is going to be defeated when the court hears the full case in October–you can play around in half-measures on a temporary basis like this, but when considering the constitutionality of the ban in full, they’re going to have to address the whole thing, not just the parts of it that are most objectionable. If at least five justices agree that foreign nationals with a “bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” should not be barred from traveling here, then it’s hard to see how they could allow a total ban to stay in place. Moreover, the way they lifted the injunction will probably allow most travel from the six countries affected (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) to proceed as normal–people who don’t have some reason to come to the United States generally can’t get a visa anyway. Tourism might be affected, but how many tourists are coming into the US from those six places anyway?

But this is still a shitty result, in that it looks good for Trump. It’s shitty in that it leaves refugees without a “bona fide” connection to the US up a creek at least until October. It’s also shitty in that it shows that “Dick Cheney-ism”–the belief that the president can do whatever the fuck he or she wants in the name of “national security” and the other two branches of government have to defer because he/she said the magic words–is still with us. More than with us, it’s a belief apparently shared by all nine Supreme Court justices.

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