Europe/Americas update: August 10-11 2017


A new report to the UN Security Council says that terrorism is over, we won, you can all stop worrying now HA HA, no, it says you have to still be afraid because roving packs of Muslim terrorists could be RIGHT BEHIND YOU, YES YOU, RIGHT NOW OH MY GOD THERE THEY ARE WATCH OUT! OK, I’m being unfair. Most of the report apparently deals with the threat ISIS and al-Qaeda still pose in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, West Africa, Southeast Asia, etc., which is very true and important for Western audiences to hear. It concludes that ISIS is, despite its major setbacks territorially, still very capable of supporting attacks all over the world, including in Europe, and that al-Qaeda continues to thrive in Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, also true given the available evidence. It also offers an assessment of returning ISIS fighters that, well, actually borders on the sophomoric to be honest:

The experts quote several member states as saying IS fighters returning home generally fall into three categories: Those disenchanted with the extremist group “and terrorism as an ideology” who can potentially be deradicalized and reintegrated into society; a much smaller group of high-risk individuals who return with the aim of conducting “terror attacks”; and individuals who have cut ties with IS but “remain radicalized and are ready to join another terrorist group should the opportunity arise.”

I mean, that pretty much covers the gamut, doesn’t it? It’s kind of like commissioning an expert report on vegetables and having the experts come back with “carrots generally falls into two categories: the orange kind and the kinds that aren’t orange.” Thanks, folks, good analyzing!



It turns out that climate change, in addition to its many other lovely effects, also messes with river flood patterns, which is really not a good thing:

Examining flood data across a 50-year period, researchers found significant shifts in timing along the Atlantic coast of western Europe from 1960 to 2010.

According to a paper published in the journal Science, half of the measurement stations from England to Portugal showed floods were occurring on average at least 15 days earlier by 2010 compared to a half century earlier.

In northeastern Europe, earlier snow melts also brought river floods forward by at least eight days over the 50-year period, while areas around the North Sea are now seeing floods happen more than a week later than in 1960.

“If the trends in flood timing continue, considerable economic and environmental consequences may arise, because societies and ecosystems have adapted to the average within-year timing of floods,” the authors concluded.


The regular reader may note that a couple of weeks ago the Russian government ordered the US diplomatic mission in Russia to cut a whopping 755 people from its staff. Yes, this move was in response to new US sanctions against Russia and yes, most of the people affected were probably Russian nationals who had been hired to work at US diplomatic posts, but typically the way this goes is one country mucks around with the other country’s diplomatic staff and then the second country retaliates, if not in kind then at least with some kind of “sir, SIR, have you no decency SIR”-type public statement. Of course, most countries aren’t led by President Donald J. Prion Disease Trump, who’s decided to handle this diplomatic spat a little differently:

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for ordering the United States to slash its diplomatic staff in Russia, remarks likely to rekindle criticism of Trump’s kid-gloves handling of Putin.

Breaking nearly two weeks of silence on Putin’s July 30 order cutting U.S. embassy and consulate staff by nearly two thirds, Trump said: “I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.”

Trump said “there’s no real reason for them to go back” and “we’re going to save a lot of money,” in response to Putin’s Cold War-style move, differing from the reactions of other presidents in similar circumstances in the past.

It also clashes with a State Department official having called Moscow’s order “a regrettable and uncalled-for act.”

It’s a sign of just how broken my brain has gotten in the past seven months that I honestly don’t know if Trump means this sincerely, which would be absolutely batshit, or if he’s trying to troll Putin with a little reverse psychology. But I guess the more pertinent question is: does Trump know what he was trying to do here? I suspect not.

Look, Donald Trump may really want to fire everybody in the State Department and do all his diplomacy via Donnie Junior and Jared, or not do any diplomacy at all, whatever. But FFS at the very least those 755 people were all employees of his and he’s just told them to fuck off in the plainest possible terms. That’s just dickish, sorry. And yes, for a guy who’s supposed to Hashtag Make America White Great Again this really does make America look small and incompetent.


Former Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babiš is probably the front runner to be the country’s next prime minister after elections are held in October, as his ANO party leads big in opinion polling. But he also, increasingly, looks like a guy who might be in jail by then:

Czech police have asked parliament to allow for prosecution of ANO party leader Andrej Babis, the leading candidate to become prime minister in the central European nation after an election in October.

Police have been investigating whether a conference center near Prague, built by a company that Babis owned in the past, may have flouted rules to receive a 50 million crown ($2.25 million) European Union subsidy a decade ago.

Babis, a billionaire businessman whose party is a junior partner in the coalition government, said he had done nothing wrong. “This is the last desperate step by people who want to get rid of me as a politician,” he told Reuters by telephone.

I have no idea if these charges are legitimate (I have a very strong tendency to assume any billionaire in a former Eastern Bloc state is ipso facto corrupt on some level, but I don’t know anything about Babiš specifically). But it’s pretty clear that the Czech political system is heading for a serious crisis in a couple of months.



Brazilian President Michel Temer may be weathering his ongoing corruption scandal, but he’s politically so weakened that there’s a real chance he’s not going to be able to implement his austerity agenda to “save” the Brazilian economy. Reuters seems very upset by this, but seeing as how austerity is a death trap that inflicts unnecessary pain without accomplishing anything except for the very wealthy, and seeing as how Temer himself is a corrupt piece of crap who’s likely using the excuse of budget deficits to help his paymasters loot the Brazilian economy, I can’t say that this is a particularly bad thing.


Hey everybody, we’re going to war with Venezuela!

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday threatened military intervention in Venezuela, a surprise escalation of Washington’s response to Venezuela’s political crisis that Caracas disparaged as “craziness.”

Venezuela has appeared to slide toward a more volatile stage of unrest in recent days, with anti-government forces looting weapons from a military base after a new legislative body usurped the authority of the opposition-controlled congress.

“The people are suffering and they are dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump told reporters in an impromptu question and answer session.

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three countries that Donald Trump has threatened to frivolously attack in his first seven months in office (Venezuela, North Korea, and I’m counting Iran because I feel like it), along with the one country he did frivolously attack (Syria) and the several countries we were already attacking when he took office (which, OK, Syria is in this list too, but we were bombing a different enemy there). I guess he really was the peace candidate after all.

In a major address on Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro affirmed that the country’s new and dubiously elected constituent assembly is now the most powerful institution in the country, even more powerful than himself except inasmuch as the whole thing is packed with his acolytes. Meanwhile, international pressure on Maduro’s government over the constituent assembly is growing–on Friday, Peru expelled the Venezuelan ambassador in protest, an act that was later reciprocated by Caracas. On the other hand, a UN sanctions expert warned that levying more sanctions in response to Maduro’s actions is only going to harm the Venezuelan people, in remarks that seem to be pointed right at Washington.

All the political maneuvering in the world isn’t going to save Maduro if the army turns on him, of course. While he’s cultivated his relations with the military’s top brass, mid- and low-level officers are presumably less loyal to him personally, and they’re also more vulnerable to the country’s continued economic collapse. If Maduro winds up having to default on his foreign debt, as seems increasingly likely, then the resulting calamity might finally be the last straw. Maduro has apparently been selling state oil assets off to Russia for cash to try to stave off a debt crisis, but he’s not going to be able to sustain that policy indefinitely.


This story about US diplomats (and at least one Canadian diplomat) losing their hearing while stationed in Cuba is among the strangest things I’ve seen in a while:

In the fall of 2016, a series of U.S. diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Barack Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Some of the diplomats’ symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences. It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose.

Assuming this is all true, then the big unanswered question–apart from what, exactly, this device was–is who was responsible for using it. Cuba is the obvious answer but there’s no obvious reason why the Cuban government would attack foreign diplomats on its own soil, which is obviously a serious offense. I’ve heard Russia mentioned as a possible culprit but I have no idea if that’s based on any evidence or if it’s just part and parcel of today’s popular “everything bad must be Russia” sentiment. Of course figuring out the nature of the device would go a long way toward narrowing down the list of potential culprits. But what a bizarre story.


I don’t have anything tonight apart from this Right Wing Watch video of a presentation by former Trump National Security Council staffer Rich Higgins. Higgins was sacked from the NSC on July 21 after a deeply unhinged memo he’d written found its way to National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. It’s likely that McMaster had been looking for an excuse to can Higgins, who was a Michael Flynn guy through and through, and this memo is so far off the deep end that it became McMaster’s justification. President Trump himself reportedly loved the memo, which he obtained via Donnie Junior. Donnie J somehow got a copy of it despite not being an NSC staffer or really a White House employee of any kind, let alone one with the kind of security clearance a person needs to be copied on NSC documents. So everything in the White House is normal.

It really cannot be understated how off the charts nuts Higgins’ memo is, describing as it does an Islamist-globalist-banker-Deep State conspiracy to take down the Trump administration for some reason. But when you hear him talk in this video, you’ll get an idea for how loony Higgins himself is as well as an idea of the cast of addled ideologues who have been staffing this White House. It’s really not a pleasant thing to think about. Anyway, have a good weekend:

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