World update: September 22 2017



Hold on to your hats, because President Deals might actually have made one:

U.S. President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday backed having companies from the United States develop Afghanistan’s reserves of rare earth minerals, despite formidable obstacles to industrial mining in the country.

The comments, at a meeting in New York, were the latest in a series in which both U.S. officials and the Afghan government have emphasized the potential strategic value of Afghanistan’s vast and largely untapped mineral reserves.

You don’t say. Ghani, who presumably feels like he has to appease Trump lest he find himself without patron staring at a resurgent Taliban heading for Kabul, seems to know what buttons to push, whether its praising Trump’s not-much-different-from-Obama’s Afghanistan strategy to the hilt or dangling the prospect of some huge mercantile business deals in front of him. Of course, extracting Afghanistan’s admittedly massive mineral wealth is made slightly more complicated by Chinese competition, by Afghanistan’s wholesale lack of infrastructure, and, oh yeah, by the war. But if those things can be handled, then a minerals extraction boom could do for Afghanistan what it’s done for, say, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and that’s got to be exciting for the Afghan people.


Four Thai soldiers were killed and six injured by a roadside bomb in the country’s separatist south on Friday.


Trump said on Thursday that China’s central bank ordered its subsidiaries to stop doing business with North Korea. It turns out, and I know this will come as a shock, that may not have been entirely accurate. Beijing has ordered its banks to strictly implement UN sanctions against North Korea, which means not opening new accounts for North Korean entities and winding down loans with current North Korean customers. But it is not planning to abide by Trump’s new US sanctions, which target any entities that do business with North Korea period.


Where to begin, really. The Guardian has a quiz where you can try to match the dipshit grade school insult to either Trump or Kim Jong-un, I got 10/10 but mostly I got a renewed despair for humanity. Kim gets points for sending people to the internet to look up the word “dotard,” but if you can get past the noise then here’s the real thing to be worried about now:

North Korea has been testing missiles at an unprecedented rate, and conducted its sixth nuclear test despite international condemnation.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, who had earlier compared Mr Trump’s speech to “the sound of a barking dog” has warned that Pyongyang could test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean in response to the US president’s threat.

“It could be the most powerful detonation of an H-bomb in the Pacific,” Mr Ri said, quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

However, he added: “We have no idea about what actions could be taken as it will be ordered by leader Kim Jong-un.”

Probably this is just an idle threat, but an open-air hydrogen bomb test would dwarf every other escalation in the insane game of chicken Trump and Kim have been playing. It would certainly goad Trump into further escalating things rather than cowing him into submission as Pyongyang seems to expect it might. And, by the way, it might kill people. A lot of people. If the missile fails or the targeting is off or the fallout blows in the wrong direction or even if there’s a stray ship or airplane in the vicinity, people will get killed. You can probably imagine where things might go after that.



Kenya’s attorney general, Githu Muigai, said Friday that there’s no constitutional issue with delaying the redo of the country’s presidential election beyond October. He was responding to comments from challenger Raila Odinga’s lawyer to the effect that if the election didn’t happen by the end of October that incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta’s term would end and the country would be without a government. They’re now disputing Muigai’s interpretation of the September 1 Supreme Court ruling that invalidated the original election. Given the complications involved in doing the vote over it’s very possible that it will have to be delayed beyond the current October 26 date (itself a delay from the original October 17 schedule).



The Monkey Cage offers a preview of Sunday’s German election:

Most indicators still suggest a continuation of the grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD. This was once seen as an aberration that would only happen under exceptional circumstances (as was the case during the first, and until recently sole, such alliance between 1966 and ’69). However, if the coalition reforms again, it would mean that by 2021, Germany might very likely have been governed by this coalition for 12 of the last 16 years.

Another possibility would be a so called “Jamaica” coalition, reflecting the colors of the Jamaican flag, between the Christian Democrats (whose party color is black), the Free Democrats (yellow), and the Greens. Moderate Greens might push for such an alliance to try to break the traditional left/right mold at the federal level in which the Greens only have a chance of power as part of a left-of-center alliance with the SPD and possibly the Left party.


Catalan President Carles Puigdemont used the F-word on Friday to describe Madrid’s handling of his region’s planned October 1 independence referendum:

Speaking to the Guardian at the end of a turbulent week that has seen 14 senior Catalan officials arrested, almost 10m ballot papers seized and thousands more police ordered to the region, Carles Puigdemont said he feared Spain was returning to the repressive practices of the Franco era.

“Most normal people would agree on what to call this kind of situation,” he said. “And it’s not a normal, democratic one. There’s a serious and worrying return to the fall of democracy in Spain and it’s not just us who are realising that.”

Thousands of Spanish police may be deployed to Catalonia to block the vote. Puigdemont is offering to call off the vote if Madrid will agree to allow a legal referendum at some certain date, but that seems like a long shot. If the vote happens it’s very unclear what the results will look like. Polling shows Catalonians divided on independence, but the last time a referendum was held on self-determination, in 2014, 80 percent voted in favor partly because only about 40 percent bothered to vote. And there’s no telling whether Madrid’s suppression campaign has backfired and increased support for independence.


Theresa May gave a major address in Italy to lay out a more coherent Brexit plan and, well, basically just repeated a call for a two-year transitional period during which Britain would remain in the European Union’s single market while abiding by EU rules. She also offered to pay a higher “divorce fee” to cover Britain’s share of the bloc’s costs than the ~20 million euros she’s been offering so far. May is still holding out for some kind of extra special trade arrangement for Britain, something closer than a mere free trade agreement but without the obligations that come with membership in the European Economic Area, a la Norway. Pro-Brexit types hate that idea.

Aside from the vague sense that she’d be willing to talk about a higher divorce bill, May offered nothing that could be construed as a concrete proposal to solve any of Brexit’s key problems, like the Northern Ireland border or the rights of EU nationals left in Britain. It’s been over a year since the UK voted to leave the EU and, really, London still seems to have no idea how to approach these negotiations.

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