Europe/Americas: August 14-15 2017



The FSB said Tuesday that it had detained a “Ukrainian intelligence agent” in Crimea, where he was allegedly planning acts of sabotage.


Norway is having a general election on September 11, and on Tuesday a new poll gave some good news to the country’s center-left:

The survey of voters by the Kantar TNS agency gave the ruling right-wing government and its backers 77 seats, while the center-left opposition could secure 92 seats.

A total of 85 seats are required to win a majority in Norway’s 169-seat parliament.

The far-left Red Party saw its support increase to nearly five percent in this poll, above the four percent necessary for a party to win what are called “leveling seats.” Those are seats reserved for parties whose performance in individual districts lags behind their overall national performance. The extra seats this would mean for the Reds helped boost the opposition’s performance in the poll. With nine (!) parties on the center-left, though, there are a lot of variables that could change the course of the race before September 11.


Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Tuesday that he wants to align the country with the “core” European Union, i.e., France and Germany. Fico has been thought of as something of a Euroskeptic, and Slovakia is part of the “Visegrád Four,” the group of, yes, four Central European nations (Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are the others) that formed an alliance during the early 1990s and have generally acted as a Euroskeptic bloc within the EU in recent years. So Fico’s statement could be seen as a sign of a policy shift, though he’s been moving in this direction for some time now.


Fraud is a very serious crime, and in Germany it’s apparently very serious even when you’re defrauding, uh, ISIS? Oh shit:

A German court has found a Syrian refugee guilty of attempting to defraud Islamic State, a court spokeswoman said on Monday, granting legal protection to a group viewed as terrorists by the European Union.

A judge in the district court in the southwestern city of Saarbruecken sentenced the 39-year old hairdresser from Damascus to two years in prison for trying to get Islamic State operatives to transfer him up to 180,000 euros ($212,400.00).

The judge ruled that the man used the false pretence that he would carry out attacks in Germany for Islamic State using explosives. The money was never transferred to the man.

On the one hand, prosecutors wanted to convict this guy of actually plotting to carry out attacks, so this verdict represents something of a compromise. On the other hand, I mean, is this really the position we’d all like to take here? I know the law is the law, but we’re going to protect ISIS from being grifted? Seriously?


London is apparently prepared to pay the EU for the privilege of remaining in a “temporary customs union” with Brussels for possible two years after Brexit. That’s according to Brexit minister David Davis, who also says that the election of Emmanuel Macron in France has tamped down Brussels’ urge to punish the UK for leaving the union. We’ll see, I guess. Anyway I’m sure the folks who campaigned for leaving the EU on the argument that Brussels would bend over backwards to give Britain everything it wanted in a post-Brexit trade deal just forgot to mention that actually Britain might have to pay the EU to be nice to it. Simple oversight.

Speaking of those guys, some of them are now trying to oust the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, because Hammond keeps pushing for a very extended, multi-stage Brexit process in order to minimize the economic disruption of leaving the EU. Naturally this smacks of trying to undermine Brexit altogether. The problem is that Britain is unlikely to hold another parliamentary election for at least a few years (they’re not due again until 2022), so there’s no actual way to remove Hammond from parliament.



Bolivian President Evo Morales is planning to destroy one of his country’s protected biodiversity sanctuaries to build a highway. Progress! In defending this pretty indefensible decision, Morales made some stirring, angry comments about “environmental colonialism” stifling the development of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples:

“This so-called colonial environmentalism isn’t interested in the indigenous movement having schools, hospitals; they’re not interested in the indigenous movement having electricity or that we have highways,” he said. The law was backed by the majority of local authorities and the governor of Beni, Bolivia’s main Amazon region.

Hot damn, that’s righteous. Here’s the thing: “environmental colonialism” isn’t real, and Morales’s claim that he’s building this highway for the benefit of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia would carry a hell of a lot more water if so many of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia weren’t dead set against it:

“This is the beginning of the destruction of protected areas in Bolivia and indigenous peoples’ territory,” Fernando Vargas, a Tipnis indigenous leader, told the Guardian. Tipnis, which stretches for more than 10,000km2, is home to the Moxeños, Yurakarés and Chimanes indigenous people.

“Evo Morales is not a defender of Mother Earth, or indigenous peoples. He’s in favour of extractivism and capitalism,” Vargas added, rejecting the leader’s assertion that the Tipnis movement was driven by foreign NGOs.

“We know that the road means the destruction of our territory, we don’t need anyone to tell us,” he said.

The indigenous peoples affected here know that this highway doesn’t mean new schools and electricity–it means mining, energy exploration, logging, and maybe some coca farming for good measure. All of those things mean deforestation, which is going to displace and destroy those indigenous communities.


I really just have nothing left to say about our president. Not tonight anyway. Instead, let’s talk about the State Department’s 2016 International Religious Freedom report, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released on Tuesday. In his remarks introducing the report, Tillerson talked about ISIS’s attacks on Christians, Yazidis, and Shiʿa Muslims. He talked about Iran’s persecution of the Bahaʾi. He also talked about Turkey’s treatment of religious minorities like the Alevis. No surprises in there, really. But to his credit, he also said this:

“We remain concerned about the state of religious freedom in Saudi Arabia,” Tillerson said. “The government does not recognize the right of non-Muslims to practice their religion in public, and applied criminal penalties, including prison sentences, lashings and fines, for apostasy, atheism, blasphemy and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam. Of particular concern are attacks targeting Shia Muslims, and the continued pattern of social prejudice and discrimination against them.”

“In Bahrain, the government continued to question, detain and arrest Shia clerics, community members and opposition politicians,” he added. “Bahrain must stop discriminating against the Shia communities.”

Lip service criticism of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain over their human rights failings isn’t new in American politics, but it is unusual for this administration. Sure, it doesn’t actually mean much because it won’t result in any substantive action to change Saudi policy, but it’s not nothing either.

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