World update: August 12-13 2017



Lately I almost find myself reassured by stories on our collapsing environment, in the sense that however bad we might fuck up the human race, at least we might not be around to see the results. Wait, that’s not reassuring at all. But it is possible. To wit:

The use of antibiotics in factory farms in Asia is set to more than double in just over a decade, with potentially damaging effects on antibiotic resistance around the world.

Factory farming of poultry in Asia is also increasing the threat of bird fluspreading beyond the region, with more deadly strains taking hold, according to a new report from a network of financial investors.

Use of antibiotics in poultry and pig farms will increase by more than 120% in Asiaby 2030, based on current trends. Half of all antibiotics globally are now consumed in China alone. The Chinese meat and animal feed producers New Hope Group and Wen’s Group are now among the 10 biggest animal feed manufacturers in the world.

All this extra meat production is of course horrible for the environment in its own terms, since farming animals is a huge generator of greenhouse gases.


US officials said Sunday that an airstrike in Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province on Thursday killed four senior ISIS commanders, including the group’s emir for Kunar. Meanwhile, on Friday evening at least 13 civilians were killed in northern Afghanistan’s Faryab province when their house was struck by a mortar during a battle between Afghan and Taliban forces.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is feeling pressure from all over the political map lately, though it has less to do with the fact that his security forces are losing the war against the Taliban than it does with a pervasive sense that Ghani is hoarding all of Afghanistan’s loot rather than letting all the other traditional power brokers wet their beaks a little:

If there is a common theme, it might best be summed up as “We feel left out.” Once-rival ethnic Uzbek and Tajik leaders from the north have joined forces with senior Hazara leaders from the capital, demanding that Ghani fire his top security aides and provide more patronage to their parties. Tribal elders from Ghani’s ethnic Pashtun group have held protest gatherings in eastern Nangahar and southern Kandahar provinces, complaining that he has neglected their regions while listening only to a small group of advisers from his own clan.

Ghani has also lost young Afghans, the demographic that really for the most part seems to loathe that kind of corruption, and there his problem does seem to be his failure to secure the country. Of course, the corruption and the failure to defeat the Taliban go hand in hand, and even if Ghani is the squeaky clean reformer his supporters claim he is, he’s really failed to achieve any reform in his three years in office.


A suicide bomber killed 15 people on Saturday in Quetta, amid preparations in that city for Monday’s Pakistani Independence Day celebration. There’s been no claim of responsibility, but Baloch separatists seem like a strong possibility given the timing and location.

Ousted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ended his trek from Islamabad back to his home city, Lahore, on Saturday with a rally and a call for “change and revolution.” The procession and rally make it clear that Sharif plans to remain a fixture in Pakistani politics despite his disqualification from office by the country’s Supreme Court.


Two Indian soldiers and three separatists were killed Saturday night in a gun battle in the village of Awneera, south of Srinagar. One civilian and one soldier were also killed Saturday in an exchange of fire across the border between Indian and Pakistani forces.


Buddhists throughout Myanmar’s Rakhine state took to the streets on Sunday to protest against the presence of aid agencies in the province. If that seems like an odd thing to protest, then consider that the aid agencies are in Rakhine to help the country’s badly mistreated Muslim Rohingya minority, and that these Buddhists are the ones badly mistreating them. Now it makes sense, right? If you were trying to exterminate an ethnic group you wouldn’t want some international busybodies coming in feeding and sheltering them either.


Just like that, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has apparently cleared up a months-long border dispute with Laos. You may recall that Hun Sen said Friday he was flying to Vientiane for emergency talks with Laotian PM Thongloun Sisoulith for talks over an incursion into disputed border territory by Laotian soldiers back in April. Well, he arrived in the Laotian capital on Saturday and the two men promptly cut a deal to pull both country’s soldiers away from the disputed area. Would that all international crises ended so smoothly.


On Saturday the Trump administration said it’s planning to open an investigation into intellectual property violations by China. China is frequently accused of either outright stealing IP from American companies or forcing those companies to share their IP to do business in China, both of which are supposed to be against the rules. Still, this investigation has the potential to inject some new hostility into the US-China relationship at a time when North Korea would seem to demand less of that sort of thing. Donald Trump has often said he’d be willing to look the other way on trade issues with China if Beijing were helpful in reining in North Korea, so it’s possible this is an attempt to leverage some extra Chinese cooperation on that front.


Speaking of North Korea, on Saturday Trump told Guam’s governor-general, Eddie Calvo, that the threat of the island territory being obliterated by a North Korean nuclear weapon should do wonders for its tourist trade. So I guess Trump’s nuclear brinksmanship with Kim Jong-un really does have an upside. In fairness to Trump, it does seem the recent US-DPRK tensions have, at the very least, not dampened the Guamanian tourism industry at all.



The Libyan coast guard has apparently started firing on humanitarian rescue vessels operating in Libyan waters. The ships are in Libyan waters to rescue migrants at high risk of drowning as a result of human traffickers sticking them on unseaworthy craft and/or abandoning them at sea. Naturally the humane thing to do would be to, you know, stop the human trafficking on land, but since Libya doesn’t have a government and much of its “coast guard,” such as it is, makes money off of the trafficking industry, you can see why they’d be upset about these NGOs getting in the way of their business.


This is a late-developing story, but a terrorist attack on a hotel/restaurant in Ouagadougou has reportedly killed at least 17 people. It’s not clear if the attack is over and there’s no word on responsibility, but a similar January 2016 attack was perpetrated by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Mourabitoun.


Friday’s Nigerian army raid on a United Nations facility in Maiduguri does not seem to have permanently impacted relations between the Nigerian government and the UN. The army says it conducted the raid while searching for Boko Haram fighters and that the facility was not registered to the UN (the UN disputes this).

Ailing Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says he’s ready to return home from his extended medical leave in London, buuuut his doctors just aren’t ready to let him go back yet.


Former al-Shabab deputy leader Mukhtar Robow Abu Mansur has officially defected over to the Somali government. Robow fell out with the rest of al-Shabab back in 2013 and it’s rumored that he really defected back then, but the writing was really on the wall a couple of months ago when the US canceled a bounty it had placed on him. What happens now is unclear. Allowing Robow to go free with impunity doesn’t set a great precedent for the Somali government, but if he can deliver his men and his territory to Mogadishu it could be a big boost to the fight to eradicate al-Shabab.


Failed and/or cheated presidential contender Raila Odinga is keeping up his protest against last week’s election results that saw him lose to incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta by almost ten points. But, and to his credit, Odinga is asking his followers to strike on Monday, a peaceful civil action as opposed to the sporadic violence that has been going on since the results were announced on Friday. That violence has already claimed at least 24 lives, mainly or entirely due to the excessive force (live ammunition) used by government security personnel. That’s a far cry from the 1000+ who were killed in post-election violence in 2007, an election Odinga also lost and/or had stolen from him, but it’s enough to be concerned about escalation.


The Zambian government has decided to drop its treason case against opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema in a deal brokered by Commonwealth of Nations Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. Hichilema was due to stand trial, for treason, after being arrested in April on charges that his motorcade failed to pull over and make way for President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade. No, really. For some reason people have gotten the idea that Hichilema is actually a political prisoner, but when you hear about the heinous nature of the (traffic) charge against him, surely you can understand the seriousness of the situation.



British Brexit negotiators are tired of talking about the UK’s separation from the European Union and are ready to move on to talks about the swanky new free trade deal they’re going to strike, the one where the UK gets all the cool benefits of EU membership without any of the bullshit obligations. EU negotiators are still taking a hard line on negotiating the terms of the separation first and then talking about a potential trade deal. The UK delegation is planning to produce a number of papers over the next several weeks on key issues around the future EU-UK relationship. At this point there’s no particular reason to think that anybody in Brussels will bother reading them.



Mark Weisbrot examines the legal troubles surrounding former Brazilian President Lula da Silva and wonders if they might be politically motivated:

“Former Brazil President Lula faces sixth trial for corruption,” ran the headline from Reuters last week. For almost all consumers of the international media, that was all they needed to know. Combined with the reporting on his sentencing to more than nine years in prison on July 12, few would have any doubts as to his guilt.

Lula da Silva, one of the most popular presidents in Brazilian history, left office with an 80 percent approval rating. He had also been the strong front-runner for next year’s presidential election. Clearly his opponents—which include most of the major media in Brazil—would like to take him out of the game.

Is that what these prosecutions are all about? It’s worth looking at the evidence in the case for which Lula has been sentenced, especially since it is possible the prosecuting judge has led with the strongest of the six cases that have been arrayed against him.


The BBC has a piece on Colombia’s efforts, in the wake of its peace deal with the FARC rebel group, to help farmers in formerly FARC-controlled areas divest themselves of coca:

In the remote region of Putumayo in southern Colombia, the economy depends almost entirely on one thing: coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine.

From the stores that sell fertiliser and pesticides, to the ubiquitous pool halls where “raspachines” (field hands who harvest the coca leaves) come to spend their modest earnings on cold beer and fried empanadas, it all comes back to one plant.

Colombia’s government wants to change this, as part of the peace deal it reached with the country’s left-wing rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) last year. It will not be an easy task.

“Everyone from here who has gone to university has done so because of money from growing coca,” explains Jon, who has been harvesting the leaf since childhood and is now studying forensic science at a technical institute in Mocoa, Putumayo’s capital.


Hey, probably nobody could have predicted this, but President Trump’s no-doubt off-the-cuff and/or out-of-his-ass suggestion on Friday that he might invade Venezuela doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect. For one thing, a bunch of Latin American countries that were more or less on Washington’s side in opposing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro are suddenly maybe not, anymore. For another thing, given that Trump may be the only person less popular in Venezuela than Maduro, his threat could naturally help the Venezuelan president shore up his public support a little bit if he uses it the right way. Which, of course, he is:

President Trump’s claim that he is not ruling out “military” action in Venezuela prompted a fresh wave of anti-American sentiment by government officials here, many of whom appeared to be leveraging the threat to stoke dark memories of U.S. interventionism in the region.

President Nicolás Maduro’s backers were using Trump’s statement from Friday as a tool to unite Venezuelans — and the rest of Latin America — against what they perceive as a common enemy.

Félix Seijas Rodríguez, director of the Delphos polling firm, estimated that less than 10 percent of Venezuelans would support military intervention in the country.

So way to go Mr. President, another big win for America. I speak for much of the country when I say that yes, we are indeed tired of all the winning.


I have a lot of thoughts about the grotesque terrorist attack that claimed the life of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville over the weekend. I have a lot of thoughts about the president whose election emboldened the extremist white nationalists who perpetrated the violence that ultimately claimed Heyer’s life, and whose vacuous, empty-headed response to the tragedy read like he scribbled it on the back of his scorecard while he was waiting to tee off on the 18th hole at Trump National in Bedminster. But I know my limits as a writer, so I will simply note here that I share your outrage and grief and, maybe, your hope that things don’t have to stay like this. Be good to each other.

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