Europe/Americas update: August 30 2017



I’ve stopped even pretending to keep up with every new turn in Russiagate, but the latest one seems like a pretty big problem for Donald Trump: while he was running for president and taking every opportunity to sing Vladimir Putin’s praises, Trump was also angling for a real estate deal in Moscow:

The Trump Organization’s efforts to build in Moscow finally fell apart, in late January, 2016, because, according to the Post, “they lacked the land and permits to proceed.” But, despite this failure, Trump’s pursuit of the deal while he was campaigning on a platform of friendlier relations with the Russian President—a foreign adversary who controlled the deal’s fate—is scandalous, even without any other context. And additional details, unearthed this week by the Times and the Post, about the Trump Organization’s attempts to secure the deal make the scandal far worse.

Now enter Felix Sater, the Christopher Moltisanti of the Trump Organization, who explicitly tied the Moscow deal and the presidential campaign together over email and FFS DON’T SAY THIS KIND OF SHIT OVER EMAIL:

As the Times reported, in September, 2015, Felix Sater, the longtime Trump Organization associate who brought the company real-estate deals—including Trump’s SoHo hotel, which was built by Russian developers—e-mailed Michael Cohen, who was then the company’s executive vice-president, pitching a Trump development in Moscow in terms that tied together Trump’s business interests and his political ambitions. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Sater wrote. “We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will.”

Now, this has to be tempered a bit. As autocratic as he is, Vladimir Putin isn’t personally handling real estate deals in downtown Moscow. And Felix Sater is, by all outward appearances, a moron, so anything he seems to be alleging has to be considered in light of how dumb he is. But leaving aside the questions about the election itself, it is cartoonishly corrupt for Trump to have been trying to secure a big deal in Russia while campaigning for president on a message of warmer ties with the Russian government.


Of course, we now know those warmer relations didn’t really come to pass. To wit, the US this week sent extra aircraft to the Baltic states to patrol their airspace during Russia’s massive September 14-20 Zapad military exercises. There are fears, which I think are almost certainly unfounded but maybe I’m wrong, that Russia could use the exercises as cover for an invasion of the Baltics and/or Ukraine. There are other fears, which I think are more reasonable, that Russia may use its joint exercises with Belarus to pre-position military hardware in Belarus just in case things get hairy down the road.


A Czech parliamentary committee has recommended that the government lift former finance minister Andrej Babiš’s legislative immunity and charge him with fraud. There’s some reason to believe that the effort to prosecute Babiš, whose ANO party has a big polling lead and who is therefore in the driver’s seat in terms of becoming the country’s next prime minister after October’s election, is politically motivated. But, and admittedly Czech politics isn’t really my area, I haven’t seen anybody but Babiš advancing that claim, which seems a little interesting.


Emmanuel Macron’s package of changes to French labor laws is set to be unveiled on Thursday, and I know this is the part where I usually give him the name of some ancient god on account of how he thinks he’s Jupiter, I really don’t feel like joking about King Emmanuel the CEO this evening:

Among the reforms, businesses are expected to be offered more flexibility by shifting their negotiations with unions from a national to a company level. Companies with fewer than 50 employees would be able to circumvent negotiating deals with the unions, according to French reports.

Another key measure is a cap on damages that can be awarded to workers who are laid off. However, the cap has been increased from an initial proposal during the three months of consultations with the unions.

Ah yes, slashing worker protections and gutting organized labor. Those sorts of changes have done wonders for workers here in America and now they’ll get to work their magic in France. Viva la France! Viva centrisme! Baise les travailleurs! Viva Macron!


Prime Minister Theresa May says she’s “not a quitter” and has no intention of stepping down as PM before the next election, which can’t come any later than 2022 but is unlikely to come much sooner than that on account of the ditch into which May has driven the Conservative Party. Reached for comment, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn responded “yes, that’s right, she’s not quitting, she can’t quit, please don’t let her quit.”

Well, whatever May’s future holds, at least the Brexit talks seem to be on tra-

Brexit talks are unlikely to move ahead as planned in October because the British government is seen as weak, divided and unwilling to accept the full consequences of the decision to leave the EU, according to European ambassadors.

“It was the plan to advance to a new phase of negotiations in October,” Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, Germany’s ambassador to France and previously chief European affairs adviser to the chancellor, Angela Merkel, told an audience in Paris on Tuesday.

“Honestly, from what we see of the UK’s positions today we will not be moving to the next phase in October. To be clear: the crisis in these talks is not behind us but ahead of us. I don’t know when it will come, or what its outcome will be.”

British negotiators have been reduced to whining that the European Union is being too inflexible, which is the kind of thing you say when you start to realize that you’ve really massively overplayed your hand. But remember, the EU is eventually going to give Britain everything it wants, so desperate is Brussels to, I don’t know, keep being London’s friend on Facebook or whatever.



Amid all the speculation about what kind of sonic weapon has been used against American diplomats in Cuba, I kind of just assumed that a “sonic weapon” must exist that fit all the characteristics those diplomats have described. Turns out, according to Buzzfeed’s reporting, that’s probably not true:

But scientists find the notion of a silent sonic weapon hard to explain. Hearing depends on sensitive hairs in the inner ear that translate sound waves into signals our brains hear as noise, and hearing loss is triggered by damage to those hairs. Loud noises can kill and damage these hairs, but news reports claimed the “sonic weapon” was silent.

Ultrasound, which is too high-pitched for us to hear, “can’t stimulate the inner ear in a way that would cause damage,” Oxenham said. “The only way that could happen is via distortion, which would then make the sound clearly audible,” as well as “very loud.”

For infrasound, which is too low to hear, the same is also true. Damaging intensities would clearly vibrate your body. Even then, it would be unlikely to produce hearing loss, Oxenham said. “Also, the size of loudspeakers needed to generate infrasound like that would be hard to hide.”

One new theory in this piece is that a small outbreak of some kind of illness with a neurological component–Zika, for example–may have triggered a larger outbreak of mass hysteria among a group of US diplomats. Anyway, the whole story remains a very strange mystery.


It’s not every day you see the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights chastise the United States, but then these are not normal times. And so on Wednesday this happened:

U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of journalists amounts to an attack on the freedom of the press and could provoke violence against reporters, the United Nations’ human rights chief said on Wednesday.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Trump had also made worrying remarks about women, Mexicans and Muslims and went on to question the president’s approach to immigration and decision to pardon former Arizona lawman Joe Arpaio.

There was no immediate response from the White House on the wide-ranging rebuke of Trump’s repeated references to the “fake media” and some of his other statements and decisions.

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years is now itself under attack from the President,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said.

What a time to be alive.

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