Europe/Americas update: September 19-20 2017


Folks, if you’re like me and you spend any time on Twitter, you may think that it’s home to some of the worst people in the world. And you’re not wrong. However, as a non-Instagram user I was surprised to learn that things may be even worse over there:

Researchers say Islamic State supporters have found an ephemeral platform to share propaganda: Using Instagram’s “stories” feature, which causes posts to disappear in 24 hours.

With successive military defeats in Iraq and Syria, many of its recruits dead or on the run and its Twitter and Facebook accounts being shut down, the group’s propaganda drive is increasingly homemade. But a recent analysis found the networks of people inspired by the group remain strong elsewhere.

Although this is naturally being framed as a TERROR ALERT CRITICAL TIME TO CRACK EACH OTHER’S SKULLS OPEN level panic attack, it seems the vast majority of this propaganda is from wanna-be hangers on rather than from any accounts that are directly linked to ISIS. Still, consider this a reminder that all social media, for one reason or another, sucks. It’s an immutable law.



So imagine you’re just hanging out, catching some fresh air, watching the Russian and Belarusian armies wargame a covert invasion of Latvia counter-insurgency operation inside Belarus. Normal stuff, right? You’re just chilling out, maybe with a beer, I don’t know, excited to watch some helicopters and shit, and then this happens:

That’s a Russian helicopter conducting the all-important “blow up a truck in the parking lot” drill on some unsuspecting civilians. It’s not clear when it happened, but even the Russian military is admitting that it did happen. They’re denying that there were any casualties, and from the video it doesn’t seem like there were many people in the vicinity but who knows?


In his address to the UN General Assembly, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko availed himself of the opportunity to publicly reject Russian President Vladimir Putin’s UN peacekeeping plan for eastern Ukraine. Putin had proposed stationing peacekeepers throughout eastern Ukraine…except near the Russia-Ukraine border, which seems like it would be a bit of a gap in the peacekeepers’ mandate. Poroshenko said that anything short of full deployment of UN peacekeepers, with no Russian forces involved by the way, is unacceptable.

Kiev is lobbying hard for the Trump administration to provide it with lethal arms like advanced anti-tank missiles and radar systems that the Ukrainians could use in the event of a Russian invasion–or against the Donbas rebels, whatever. Trump seemed to be opposed to sending weapons to Ukraine during the 2016 campaign, but as in most other war and peace matters he’s been highly amenable to whatever his generals want him to do since taking office. Still, providing Ukraine with weapons designed to destroy Russian tanks would probably not do much to advance that big rapprochement with Russia that Trump seems so keen on achieving.


Spanish police raided several Catalan government offices on Wednesday in an effort to prevent the region’s planned October 1 independence vote and, you know, I think it’s safe to say at this point that Madrid is shooting itself in the foot. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy delivered a televised speech Wednesday evening calling on Catalan leaders to “stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience,” and while he has a point on the disobedience front you don’t see Catalan police officers stomping through Spanish government offices and charging hundreds of mayors with crimes against the state, etc., do you?

I can understand the impulse to oppose this referendum in every way possible, and I can understand the impulse to send the police in when the country’s Supreme Court has ordered the referendum suspended and the Catalan government is ignoring it. But now you’re arresting people and suddenly looking very panicked about this whole business, and it seems you’re prepared to keep Catalonia in the country by force if necessary, and that’s a pretty ugly look. It lets the Catalan government come off as reasonable, calm, champions of freedom and self-determination, while Madrid looks like it’s ready to trample on Catalan autonomy. Is that enough to move wobbly voters over to the pro-independence side? Polling shows that a plurality don’t want independence but that a vast majority want the vote to happen. What if denying them the vote, by force apparently, is enough to make, say, five percent of those pro-union voters change their minds? What if Madrid’s heavy-handed response leads to protests, to violence? This seems like a major tactical error on the Spanish government’s part.


British police have now arrests six people in connection with the Parsons Green subway bombing last Friday. They picked up three men in Wales between Tuesday and Wednesday and arrested another in south London just after midnight on Thursday. They haven’t brought charges against anyone yet, and their window to interrogate their two initial detainees is closing soon.



Mexico City was hit by a major earthquake on Tuesday, the second large quake to hit Mexico in September. GlobalGiving has set up an earthquake relief fund if you’re inclined and able.


Likewise, Hurricane Maria is cutting a path of destruction through the Caribbean, hitting some of the same places that were already devastated by Hurricane Irma. Here’s the GlobalGiving page for that fund.


I don’t really want to dwell on Trump’s UN address any more. UN General Assembly speeches are a chance for world leaders to lecture and preen but they almost never actually matter, and by now we should have learned that nothing that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth can really ever be taken seriously anyway. I think Vox’s Zeeshan Aleem does a pretty decent job of summarizing the speech’s message:

The centerpiece of Trump’s speech was the idea that every nation is best served by embracing its own independence. “Strong sovereign nations let their people take ownership of the future and control their own destiny,” he said. He defended the US’s right to push back against the norms of international trade, lamented the costs of immigration on countries, and said that the US has no interest in dictating how other countries should conduct their own affairs.

Trump declared that the key question for the nations of the world today is: “Are we still patriots? Do we love our nations enough to protect their sovereignty and to take ownership of their futures?”

The UN General Assembly is a place where countries come together to try to come up with collective solutions to global problems. Trump’s message was that for the most part, every country is on its own when trying to manage them.

It’s obviously the wrong message, both in general and for that particular audience, but Trump doesn’t care about that audience. He’s talking to his xenophobic base, constantly. He, and they, understand international affairs and global cooperation only when it involves bombing the shit out of some distant country full of non-European types. Otherwise fuck off, it’s every man for himself. But we didn’t need to hear Trump’s speech on Tuesday to know that’s how he thinks.

I do think we should note that, for all his talk about national sovereignty and patriotism, Trump sure is eager to tell people in Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela how they need to run their countries:

Mr. Trump offered the General Assembly a strikingly selective definition of sovereignty, threatening to act aggressively against countries like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, whose policies he opposes, yet saying almost nothing about Russia, which seized territory from its neighbor Ukraine, and meddled in the American presidential election.

But more important than how he defined sovereignty was Mr. Trump’s adoption of the word itself — language more familiar to small countries, guarding themselves against the incursions of larger neighbors or defying the judgments of a global elite, than to a superpower that fashioned a web of global institutions to enshrine its national interests.

That last point is important too. Trump diminishes America, and not just in how much of a buffoon he is, or in how dangerous his ignorance and bigotry can be–and has been for people all over the Middle East. He diminishes America by treating it as a tiny, weak nation under constant threat from innumerable massive forces arrayed against it. This is ironic, because the only serious threat to America is climate change, which Trump denies and is precisely the kind of thing that demands the international collaboration that he rejects on principle.

But knowing all of this, knowing how ugly and ignorant and dangerous this person’s worldview can be, I want to leave you tonight with the realization that the United States Senate on Monday passed, 89-9, a defense authorization bill that authorizes Donald Trump $37 billion more in military funding for 2018 than he requested, which was already a substantial increase over the Pentagon’s 2017 budget.

Leave aside the vast array of far more important things you could do for America with an extra $37 billion, let alone if you actually cut the Pentagon’s bloated budget. That’s important, but I want to focus on something else. The NDAA’s passage doesn’t mean the Pentagon will actually get that money–that still has to be decided by the Appropriations Committee. But it does put all but five members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate–who almost to a person will tell you they think Donald Trump lacks the temperament, brains, and character to be President of the United States–on record as saying that this same Donald Trump, the reality TV guy, should have billions of extra dollars at his disposal for war-making purposes. What the fuck is wrong with these people?

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