Europe/Americas update: August 8 2017



Slovakia’s coalition government is planning to keep on keeping on despite the apparent withdrawal of one of its three members. The hard right Slovak National Party on Monday informed its partners, the center-left Smer and the Hungarian ethnic party Most Híd, that it plans to pull out of the coalition unless the three parties can negotiate new rules to govern their alliance. The departure of any one of the three partners would collapse the government, so they plan to try to work together through the process of renegotiating their relationship.

Slovakian politics have been challenging ever since the country gained its independence from the former Soviet Yugoslavia, so this latest struggle is unfortunate but not surprising.


Al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahiri announced in an August 2 audio message that German-born jihadi Zuhair al-Maghribi (as his name indicates, he was of Moroccan descent) has died, though he didn’t say how or when it happened. Maghribi is the alias of Said Bahaji, who’s been a wanted man in Germany since the 9/11 attacks on suspicion that he aided some of the hijackers when they were in Hamburg. He will be…missed? I suppose the other major upshot of Zawahiri’s message is that Zawahiri himself is still alive, though nobody had any reason to think otherwise.


Well, it seems the unwashed masses have won over the forces of class and enlightenment yet again. On Tuesday, French President Marduk Emmanuel Macron gave up plans to create an official, formal government role for his wife, Sarpanit Brigitte, in the face of, well, pretty overwhelming popular opposition. Macron says he only wanted to clarify and be transparent about his wife’s role, since past spouses of French presidents have employed staff, used public funds, etc., but always in an informal and therefore opaque way. But it turns out that French voters prefer opaque in this particular case.


Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis is saying that his government will not “jeopardise” a UK-European Union Brexit deal over the status of Gibraltar, but that it would try to convince the people living in Gibraltar that joint Spanish-British sovereignty over the territory would be in their best interest. The last time anybody broached the question of joint sovereignty to them, 99 percent of the roughly 30,000 people living in Gibraltar rejected it, but some 96 percent of them also voted to remain in the EU in last year’s Brexit referendum. So Madrid does at least have a new argument to offer.



President Michel Temer’s lawyers are trying to get the country’s Supreme Court to fire chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot with the argument that Janot is on a personal mission to take Temer down and that his corruption investigation has spun out of control as a result. As canning Janot in the middle of a massive investigation into possible wrongdoing by Temer would likely break Brazilian politics, it’s not expected that the court will be receptive to this line of attack.


The United Nations’ human rights office issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing what it called the “widespread and systematic use of excessive force” by Nicolás Maduro’s security forces against anti-government protesters. The government, meanwhile, arrested opposition politician Ramón Muchacho, the mayor of Chacao (a district of Caracas), for failing to remove road blockades erected by protesters in his district.

Meanwhile, the country’s new constituent assembly decreed on Tuesday that it supersedes the opposition-controlled legislature. The assembly has already taken over the country’s legislative headquarters–congress reportedly plans to attempt to hold a session there on Wednesday, but chances are pretty good that it will be barred from entering the building.


Admittedly it may be hard to accept this argument in the hours after Donald Trump essentially dared North Korea to start something, but historian Andrew Bacevich isn’t wrong when he says that Trump is a symptom of our political rot, not the cause:

For too long, the cult of the presidency has provided an excuse for treating politics as a melodrama staged at four-year intervals and centering on hopes of another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan appearing as the agent of American deliverance. Donald Trump’s ascent to the office once inhabited by those worthies should demolish such fantasies once and for all.

How is it that someone like Trump could become president in the first place? Blame sexism, Fox News, James Comey, Russian meddling, and Hillary’s failure to visit Wisconsin all you want, but a more fundamental explanation is this: The election of 2016 constituted a de facto referendum on the course of recent American history. That referendum rendered a definitive judgment: The underlying consensus informing US policy since the end of the Cold War has collapsed. Precepts that members of the policy elite have long treated as self-evident no longer command the backing or assent of the American people. Put simply: It’s the ideas, stupid.

Bacevich is a conservative, so I disagree with some of his prescriptions for fixing what’s broken in American politics–his call for mandating balanced budgets, for example–but his diagnosis of our problems is smart and there are plenty of people in the political center and even on the nominal left who would do well to take it in.

There is a theory, one that holds especially as we circle around a nuclear exchange with Pyongyang, that holds that the “adults” in Trump’s orbit–basically this is shorthand for the generals and ex-generals with whom he’s surrounded himself–are the ones keeping him grounded. New White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly has a “pact” with James Mattis, the defense secretary and Kelly’s former CO in the First Marine Division, that at least one of them must be in Washington at all times to, I guess, hold Trump’s hand and keep him from steering the country into the abyss. They formed this pact when Kelly was still Trump’s homeland security secretary. Cool, right? Adults in charge. Military guys, we love them all. Calm, collected. But what if, I don’t know, John Kelly is batshit nuts? I mean, Michael Flynn was and he used to be a general, so we should realize by now that serving as a flag officer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not deeply unhinged. And Kelly, well, he doesn’t seem to be all that much more stable than Flynn:

“As we sit here right now,” Kelly intoned, “we should not lose sight of the fact that America is at risk in a way it has never been before. Our enemy fights for an ideology based on an irrational hatred of who we are. Make no mistake about that, no matter what certain elements of the ‘chattering class’ relentlessly churn out.” Kelly never detailed what he meant by the “chattering class,” or what it was they were churning out, but it was hard to miss. “Yes, we are at war, and we are winning,” he said, “but you wouldn’t know it because successes go unreported, and only when something…is sufficiently controversial [is it] highlighted by the media elite that then sets up the ‘know it all’ chattering class to offer their endless criticism. These self-proclaimed experts always seem to know better—but have never themselves been in the arena.” This is fairly standard, alt-right stuff, but for a previous generation it is chilling: a labeling of a group of Americans, a fifth column of the citizenry once described as “fellow travelers” or “dupes”—citizens whose loyalty was doubtful at best, evil at worst.

Indeed, Kelly’s hunt for dupes and fellow travelers has become a central theme of his worldview, along with his fevered focus on the threats the U.S. faces. This was on grim display most recently during an April 18 speech he gave as secretary of homeland security at George Washington University. Kelly’s remarks were celebrated because of his statement that if members of Congress “do not like the laws they’ve passed” then they should change the laws or “shut up.” But, as columnist Michael Cohen detailed in the pages of the Boston Globe, Kelly’s comments on the Congress were actually of secondary importance when set against his emphasis on the “relentless” threats to “our way of life” from an innumerable host of enemies. “We are under attack from people who hate us, hate our freedoms, hate our laws, hate our values, hate the way we simply live our lives,” Kelly said. Cohen called it “one of the more unhinged speeches that you will ever hear from a Cabinet secretary” who had “jumped out of the crazy tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

Yeah, so, how wonderful that this is the sober adult in the Trump White House. We should all definitely feel good about that.

Here’s another story that’s being drowned out by the North Korea scare, but my friends at the District Sentinel are reporting that the F-35, the bar-none most absurdly wasteful single non-war government expenditure in American history, is probably about to get even costlier:

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit released on Tuesday found, however, that the scheduled purchase of F-35s with Block 4 modernization is beset by uncertainty.

For one, the Pentagon is planning to request funding to purchase upgraded F-35s as part of its fiscal year 2019 budget. That’s more than two years before development and testing of the jets’ new systems.

“Congress will be faced with the challenge of making funding decisions with limited information,” GAO warned.

Individuals close to development of the F-35 also admitted to the watchdog that Block 4 modernizations are already facing setbacks.

The good news is that I’m pretty sure the Block 4 modernization is the one that fixes the F-35’s inability to fly in the rain. The next batch of upgrades, Block 5, should fix its inability to fly when it’s not raining. And hopefully in Block 6 we’ll get the update that stops the plane from asphyxiating its pilot. Just another couple trillion bucks and we’ll be ready for some new updates that actually might allow it to shoot missiles! And then we’ll be ready for a new aircraft altogether! Wheee!

I may be exaggerating a bit here. But only a bit.

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