Europe/Americas update: September 12 2017



Russian media is reporting that Moscow has no intention of ordering further cuts to America’s diplomatic presence in Russia. This would seem to suggest they’re hopping off the tit-for-tat see-saw they’ve been on with Washington for the past several weeks, but there could always be some other kind of diplomatic retaliation in store.


Mikheil Saakashvili has reportedly been cited by Ukrainian authorities for illegally crossing the border from Poland on Sunday, and is supposed to appear in court on Monday to respond to the charges. Saakashvili plans to spend at least the next week holding rallies around Ukraine, perhaps to raise the stakes for Kiev if it were to decide, say, to extradite him to Georgia.


Austerity–It Destroys Everything:

Not that long ago I received a questionnaire through my door. How had the 1930s Bauhaus building in which I live survived the rigours of time? Who had designed it? Who was its first owner? And, the form went on, what were my memories of it?

Circulated far and wide across Athens, the questionnaire and its findings are part of a vast inventory of 19th- and early 20th-century buildings that now stand at the heart of a burgeoning cultural heritage crisis in Greece. At least 10,600 buildings are on the database and it is growing by the day.

Against a backdrop of economic recession – the price of three gargantuan bailouts to keep the debt-stricken country afloat – home maintenance has become a luxury few can afford. With bank loans frozen and cuts and tax increases straining budgets, many of the buildings have been allowed to fall into disrepair, or have been pulled down altogether.

“In the present climate, people just don’t have the money to restore them,” says Irini Gratsia, co-founder of Monumenta, the association of archaeologists and architects that is collating the database. “There is a great danger that many will be demolished not because their owners want new builds, but because they want to avoid property taxes announced since the crisis began.”


Norway’s governing right-wing coalition has apparently won reelection. Though the center-left Labour Party is once again the largest single party in parliament, the minority coalition of the Conservatives and the Progress Party will retain their joint plurality and, along with their support partners in the Liberal and Christian Democratic parties, will have enough votes to form the government. They’re likely to leave things as is, though it is possible that the Liberals and CDS could be formally brought into the coalition to make it a majority government.


Spain’s constitutional court, having already banned a planned October 1 referendum on Catalan independence, has now gone ahead and struck down the law that would have served as an independent Catalonia’s transitional constitution. Catalan officials say the October 1 vote is going to happen regardless of the court’s ruling.


Theresa May’s EU withdrawal bill, a massive piece of legislation that is needed to ensure the UK has a complete system of laws when it leaves the European Union in 2019, passed a procedural vote in parliament today and now heads toward final passage with several MPs demanding changes in return for their final votes. For the most part, the bill simply adopts existing EU laws and regulations as UK laws and regulations, in order to make the transition out of the EU with as little disruption as possible. But it also gives ministers some latitude to rewrite laws, which has been characterized as a power grab by the opposition. May was able to get through this vote with the help of a handful of Labour MPs, who voted for the bill despite the party’s stance against it because they felt pressure from their constituencies who voted in favor of Brexit in last year’s referendum.

The next round of talks between the UK and EU is being postponed until September 25, due to a planned September 21 speech by May in which she’s expected to try to clarify Britain’s Brexit negotiating position.



Maybe the second time will be the charm:

A Brazilian Supreme Court judge on Tuesday authorized an investigation of President Michel Temer for suspected corruption involving a decree regulating ports, adding to graft allegations the president has so far parried with backing from Congress.

The new investigation is based on a wiretapped conversation of a former Temer aide, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, who, according to court documents, discussed shaping the decree in return for bribes channeled from a port operator to the president.

In his ruling, Justice Luis Roberto Barroso said the new probe was warranted because Brazil’s top prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot, had found “strong indications” of crimes, given that the decree signed by Temer answered part of the demands made by logistics firm Rodrimar SA.

Temer’s lawyer said in a statement sent to the Supreme Court that the allegations against the president are “contaminated by untruths and malicious distortions.”

Temer’s lawyer denies that Rodrimar got any special benefit out of the decree. There’s no reason to believe that Temer won’t survive this investigation just as he survived the last one, though with each new charge (and there appears to be another one on the way) you have to imagine that it becomes harder for his congressional backers to keep covering for him.

As long as he’s still in office, Temer seems bound and determined to sell off chunks of the rain forest to mining and other business interests, and when he’s not doing that he’s apparently going to create, via budget cuts, the conditions for illicit exploitation to occur. That’s all terrible enough, but it rises to a new level of horror when this kind of thing occurs:

Brazilian authorities are investigating reports of a massacre of up to 10 people from an isolated tribe in the Amazon by illegal gold miners.

The killings, alleged to have taken place in Javari Valley, are claimed to have been carried out by men working for gold prospectors who dredge illegally in the region’s rivers.

If proven, the murders would confirm that severe budget cuts to Brazil’s indigenous agency are having deadly effects. The agency was forced to close two bases in the same region earlier this year. Investigators face a 12-day boat trip just to reach the area.

Temer wants to reduce protected rain forest lands, which is bad for the environment, bad for Brazil, and certainly bad for the indigenous peoples of the region. But it’s good for the companies that have greased Temer’s palms, so fuck everybody else.


An army patrol in eastern Venezuela was ambushed on Tuesday, with 11 attackers being killed in the incident and one soldier. It’s likely the soldiers were attacked by men working for an illegal mining operation.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government and members of the opposition say they’re both planning to send representatives to the Dominican Republic in response to a DR offer to mediate the country’s political crisis. The opposition has been reluctant to engage in new talks with Nicolás Maduro’s government without concessions from Maduro, so this is an interesting new development.


Finally, I leave you with a Foreign Policy interview with Stimson Center China analyst Yun Sun and NYU professor Martin Schain, on why international law around refugees has failed, and failed specifically with respect to forcing wealthy nations like the US and China to live up to their obligations:

YUN SUN: The issue of refugees is very controversial in China. The overwhelming majority of the Chinese public seems to believe that China should not accept foreign refugees. Many Chinese nationals would say, “We had a one-child policy for the development of our country, so we’re certainly not making the space for refugees.” And reports about criminal activities and the turbulence that refugees are said to have created in Europe also alarm the Chinese. Apparently, they believe refugees from the Middle East are nothing but trouble. China is also a developing country and so, almost subconsciously, does not believe it has the inherent responsibility.

The Chinese official justification for inaction is that the refugee crisis was created by internal political turmoil in countries such as Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan. China did not create those troubles. Western countries sponsored the campaigns to overthrow dictators that eventually led to civil wars and refugee crises. So politically, China argues, to solve the refugee crisis, we need to restore order in these countries. China’s position is that it is making financial contributions through UNHCR [the U.N. refugee agency] and through bilateral arrangements, such as one with the Syrian government for humanitarian aid, or to make more resources available for refugee settlement in other countries.

MARTIN SCHAIN: In the past, the United States did seem to acknowledge that it had a special responsibility to take in more refugees than other Western countries. What’s different about the debate now is that it has been so public and controversial. Basically, President Donald Trump has looked at refugees as just another group of immigrants who are far more dangerous to American security than other immigrants may be. And this really changes the conversation. Because these are no longer people in need but are framed as people who have chosen to put themselves forward as refugees in order to get into our country.

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