Europe/Americas update: August 31 2017



In response to Russia ordering the US mission in that country to reduce its staff from 1200 to 455 people earlier this month, the State Department on Thursday ordered Russia to close three of its offices in the US: a consulate in San Francisco and two annexes in New York City and Washington DC. The closures will not involve a reduction in the number of Russian diplomatic staff in the US, and while there was some grumbling about the decision from Moscow this is such a low-level response that it might signal the end of this little tit-for-tat cycle.


The Macedonian government publicly called on Greece on Thursday to support its efforts to gain NATO and European Union membership. Greece is opposed to Macedonia joining either organization because Greece is hung up on the use of “Macedonia” in the country’s name, suggesting (fairly irrationally, it seems to me) that it suggests the tiny former Yugoslav republic has some grand design to steal Greek Macedonia away from Greece somehow.

For over a quarter century this dispute has hamstrung Macedonia in international affairs, in recent years partly because Macedonia’s nationalist government refused to even consider talking about a name change with Athens. But with a new government in place, it’s possible the two sides could come to some kind of compromise about altering the country’s name enough to appease the Greek government, but in a way that’s less ridiculous than calling it the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Which, no fooling, is how the country has to be formally addressed internationally right now.


Some 60,000 people are going to have to be evacuated from their homes in Frankfurt on Sunday so that bomb crews can disarm an unexploded World War II-era bomb that was discovered on Tuesday by construction workers. I think we can all agree here that war is an example of something that’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, can’t we?


The AP has helpfully summarized President Business’s big changes to France’s labor laws. No longer will poor, benighted French corporations have to deal with the specter of collective bargaining, or for perhaps being punished in any way for doing wrong by their workers. And they’ll be able to fire people more easily! Quelle merveille!


Theresa May might not be a quitter, but there are a lot of Tories who sure seem like they’d be fine if she wanted to make an exception just this once:

In a series of TV interviews during a visit to Japan, the prime minister claimed she was “not a quitter”. Asked by the BBC and Sky News whether she wanted to lead the Conservatives into another election, she said: “Yes. I’m in this for the long term.”

But the former education secretary Nicky Morgan said it would be difficult for May to fight another election, the Tory grandee Michael Heseltine said she had no long-term future and the former chancellor turned Evening Standard editorGeorge Osborne used an editorial to again compare the prime minister to a zombie.

In my opinion, if Theresa May says she’s not a quitter than bloody hell, who are these people to try to make her quit? She should lead the Conservative Party for as long as she wants–indefinitely as far as I’m concerned, and in fact it should be illegal for her to ever leave that job. As somebody who, you know, cares deeply about the success of the Tories, that’s my take.

If you’re looking for an update about progress on forming a new government in Northern Ireland, here’s one: there hasn’t been any. Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party are still at odds over issues like gay marriage (the DUP is against it) and protecting the rights of Irish-language speakers (ditto). The DUP says Sinn Féin is unreasonably presenting it with a series of take-it-or-leave-it demands on the issues that are keeping them apart.



FARC is rebranding. Now that the former rebel group has laid down its arms and is reinventing itself as a political party, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have decided to change their name to the Alternative Communal Revolutionary Forces, which in Spanish is Fuerzas Alternativas Revolucionarias del Común or…FARC? Well, I guess you have to go with what you know.


A federal judge in Miami has recommended the extradition of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli back to Panama to face charges that he used public money to spy on his political rivals. The decision clears the way for the State Department to extradite him, which they’ve said they will.


Despite Donald Trump’s occasional threats to pull the US out of NAFTA, Foreign Policy’s Emily Tamkin reports that the Mexican and Canadian governments are approaching their renegotiation talks with the Trump administration not in fear of a potential US withdrawal but as an opportunity to update the deal–which, after all, was negotiated in the 1990s:

But like the United States, both Mexico and Canada are at the negotiating table looking for a better deal. “By and large, they’re trying to look at this as an opportunity to update the treaty,” Miles said, noting that the two countries want to modernize the 1994 agreement with concepts like e-commerce and update language on labor mobility.

Canada in particular is hoping to make the new deal more progressive, adding in chapters on the impact of trade on women and indigenous peoples. “We welcome the opportunity to modernize it,” a Canadian government official told FP. “We’re going to actively push to move these things forward. We think they could be a huge opportunity.”


Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the outgoing commander of US forces in Iraq and Syria, says he believes ISIS founder and bossman–sorry, “caliph”–Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive, contrary to Russian claims, and is holed up somewhere in the Euphrates valley in the Iraq-Syria border area. He figures the US and its allies will look to kill Baghdadi rather than capture him. Why? Because America Fuck Yeah, that’s why.

Finally, I leave you tonight with a comforting look at our very normal White House and president, who all are familiar with words and their meanings and use them in a very normal way. On Wednesday, Donald Trump tweeted this:

Now, you may be thinking, wasn’t Trump in the White House when the hurricane hit, doing photo ops wherein his new-and-on-sale-right-now hat

yep, that one, also available in red #MAGA

was prominently and conspicuously featured? And wouldn’t being in the White House, in Washington DC, kind of preclude him from actually experiencing the hurricane’s horror and devastation first-hand? And technically you’d be right, but that’s where your use of words gets in the way. See, while you’re hung-up on words meaning the things that they mean, Donald Trump has figured out that you can pretty much just spew out whatever half-formed thoughts pop into your head and, you know, it’s fine. You’ll tweet through it. A little FAKE NEWS here, a little FAILING NEW YORK TIMES there, and you’re good. Also, your staff will helpfully and dutifully march out before the assembled press corps and do some variation on The Aristocrats joke to try to make whatever you said make some kind of rational sense:

On Wednesday, the White House clarified what Trump meant by his statements, saying the President met with all the officials who witnessed the damage themselves.

He met with a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a press gaggle Wednesday.

“He talked extensively with the governor, who certainly is right in the midst of every bit of this, as well as the mayors from several of the local towns that were hit hardest. And detailed briefing information throughout the day yesterday talking to a lot of the people on the ground — that certainly is a firsthand account,” she said.

No, it’s not. There is no definition of “first-hand” that contains “I talked to other people who experienced the thing first-hand.” There’s literally a different term for that. Can you guess what it is? Second-hand, that’s right! Nice job everybody!

On the bright side, we only have…holy shit, three years, four months, and just under 20 days left of this? Christ.

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