Europe/Americas update: October 3 2017



The Russian government says that American authorities “broke in” to locked residential areas in its now-abandoned San Francisco consulate. The State Department says its people were just walking through the facility to make sure it had been vacated by the October 1 deadline it had given the Russians to clear out. This probably means that some US diplomatic staffers in Russia can expect to have their apartments raided by Russian authorities in the near future.


French President Dīs Pater Emmanuel Macron is trying to shed the label “president of the rich,” which he was unfairly given simply because he eliminate France’s wealth tax and replaced it with a new real estate tax, in what should be a windfall for, well, the rich. You have to do right by the job creators, don’t you know. To be fair, rich French people have been fleeing France to avoid paying this tax for years now, so they don’t pay it anyway, but I have to say that it takes some balls to do away with completely eliminate a tax on people with more than $1.5 million in assets just a couple of months after you drastically cut a housing allowance that primarily benefited poor people. Macron may not be “president of the rich,” but he certainly has been president for them.

Macron has also just been given sweeping new national security authority by the French parliament that permanently enshrines as law much of France’s never-ending state of emergency:

Under the new legislation, French police will be able to conduct home searches and place suspects under house arrest, with limited involvement by the courts. The law will enshrine a version of stop-and-frisk policing, and local authorities will be empowered to close “places of worship in which are disseminated the writings, ideas or theories that provoke violence, hatred and discrimination.”

That last bit basically means French authorities now have significant power to interfere in the operation of French mosques, which is the kind of deliberate targeting of an at-risk population that encourages radicalization in addition to being ethically indefensible. French activists see echoes in this law of the country’s measures to single out and suppress its Algerian community during the 1954-1962 Algerian War, which is a pretty horrifying historical parallel given some of the things that took place in France during that period.


The Catalan government plans to declare the region’s independence from Spain with days, a move that could well cause more violence akin to what happened during Sunday’s referendum vote. Thousands of Catalonians went on strike and took to the streets on Tuesday to demonstrate in opposition to the violence and in favor of independence, but that show of unity was followed later in the day by a speech from King Felipe VI that probably didn’t go down all that well in the breakaway region. Felipe referred to the referendum and the actions of the Catalan government as “irresponsible” and, instead of reaching out by acknowledging the police overreacted on Sunday, he decided to place all the blame for this crisis on Catalonia. This message, like Sunday’s crackdown and Madrid’s heavy-handed actions leading up to that, is likely to make Catalonians more defiant and exacerbate the situation.


Friends, it’s my sad duty to tell you that I’m not sure we’re going to have Boris Johnson to kick around for very much longer. And no, it’s not because Johnson is a gigantic asshole/daily national embarrassment:

Boris Johnson was inside the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist site in the capital Yangon, when he started uttering the opening verse to The Road to Mandalay, including the line: “The temple bells they say/ Come you back you English soldier.”


Kipling’s poem captures the nostalgia of a retired serviceman looking back on his colonial service and a Burmese girl he kissed. Britain colonised Myanmar from 1824 to 1948 and fought three wars in the 19th century, suppressing widespread resistance.


Johnson’s impromptu recital was so embarrassing that the UK ambassador to Myanmar, Andrew Patrick, was forced to stop him. The incident was captured by a film crew for Channel 4 and will form part of a documentary to be broadcast on Sunday about the fitness of the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip to become prime minister.

though he is that, for sure:

Speaking about the potential of Sirte, the Libyan city where Muammar Gaddafi was killed, Johnson drew gasps and embarrassed laughter from the audience as he said: “There’s a group of UK business people, wonderful guys who want to invest in Sirte, on the coast, near where Gaddafi was actually captured and executed as some of you may have seen.


“And they literally have a brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, to turn it into the next Dubai.


“The only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away and then they’ll be there.”

No, Johnson’s sin is that he can’t stop flapping his yap about Brexit, in an effort to put his boss, Prime Minister Theresa May, into a box from which the only exit is a total break with the European Union. Johnson is out there setting red lines, in public, that contradict May’s public negotiating position. He continues to be the only man in Europe who actually believes the EU is going to cave and give Britain everything it wants in a future trade agreement. And he’s still pushing the thoroughly debunked lie that Brexit will mean an extra 350 million pounds per week going toward the National Health Service. He’s like Dick Cheney and Mohamed Atta in Prague with this crap.

Johnson craves the premiership and most of what he’s doing here is an effort to position himself to succeed the very weakened May. May has always known that Johnson coveted her job, and you’ll never convince me that she didn’t appoint him, a known dolt, as her foreign secretary precisely to watch him make an idiot of himself in that job and seal his political fate. He’s made an idiot of himself to be sure, but his political fate still seems far from sealed. It’s possible that May is actually too politically weak to get away with canning him at this point, though allowing him to flit about undercutting her at every turn is only making her weaker. Mostly, I think it’s hilarious that May has mismanaged this on top of everything else she’s screwed up since taking the top job.

Meanwhile, things are looking up in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Féin leader Michelle O‘Neill is proposing a compromise around her party’s demand for greater legal protections for Irish speakers. O‘Neill said Tuesday that she would be amenable to introducing legislation on that issue alongside legislation that would promote the Ulster Scots language, something the Democratic Unionist Party wants. The two parties need to get moving on negotiating a new power-sharing arrangement, because May is going to have to reimpose direct rule from London if they can’t reach an accord.



The United Nations estimates that recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in the eastern Caribbean could cost up to $1 billion. At issue is how much money will be invested not just in rebuilding what was destroyed, but in building it stronger as we enter a period when climate change turns category 4 and 5 hurricanes into the new normal. If the islands aren’t made more resilient to storm damage, then whatever money is spent on recovery will be mostly wasted by as soon as next year.


The US government on Tuesday ordered 15 Cuban diplomats to leave that country’s embassy in Washington, punishment for what they’re calling Cuba’s failure to protect US personnel from that sonic…whatever that’s caused so many of them to bizarrely suffer acute physical injuries. The State Department was careful to stress that its order doesn’t mean it’s accusing Cuba of perpetrating the attacks (?), which makes it overkill if you ask me, but I suspect this is a case of the Trump administration using the attack on its diplomats as an excuse to do something it wanted to do anyway.


The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution last Friday condemning the use of capital punishment over “crimes” like adultery, apostasy, blasphemy, and same-sex relationships. Thirteen countries voted against the measure, including Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates…and the United States. While it’s tempting to make this into an anti-Trump thing, Buzzfeed’s Hayes Brown points out that the US has never voted in favor of any UNHCR resolution that attempted to restrict or criticize the death penalty in any way. And while this resolution was different from previous versions, like the 2014 resolution that got a hearty abstention from the Obama administration, because it includes LGBTQ protections, I don’t think you can fairly say that the Trump administration uniquely chose to oppose this resolution because of that.

You can, on the other hand, fairly say that the Trump administration loves being able to execute prisoners more than it loves the idea of LGBTQ people (or consenting adults of all kinds, or people who are simply expressing their inherent freedom to worship as they choose) being protected from execution in other countries. Which is pretty shitty in itself.

The Trump administration is about to roll out changes in the drone program, and unsurprisingly they’re probably going to make it even worse:

At long last, the Trump administration is close to announcing a decision on modifying key elements of Obama-era drone strikes. According to the New York Times, the proposed changes would relax constraints on drone strikes and commando raids outside of previously limited battlespace. This would expand strikes to occur in countries where militants are operating, but where U.S. attacks previously had not occurred.


Rules would also change to allow a more liberal approach to target selection. Presently, targets of the C.I.A. and military are for the most part limited to high-level militants thought to pose “a continuing and imminent threat” to Americans. Under the new policy, foot-soldier enemy fighters would be subject to attacks as well. In addition, proposed drone attacks and raids would no longer have to undergo high-level vetting. As an off-the-record official commented to the New York Times, the replacement rules should be taken as “clearer and less bureaucratic” than President Obama’s. This surely means that drone operators and ground commanders will have fewer impediments to face before launching strikes.

“Fewer impediments” means more strikes and more dead wedding parties, so we can all look forward to that. The Trump administration is apparently keeping Obama’s policy that strikes should only be undertaken if there’s a “near certainty” of no civilian casualties. That’s a standard that had little practical meaning under Obama, especially since it was policy to consider all military-aged men in the blast vicinity as legitimate targets unless proven otherwise, and that will almost certainly have no meaning under Donald “fuck your feelings, kill their families” Trump.

On the plus side, these changes also apply to drone sales, so pretty soon we should be raking in big bucks from selling flying death bringers to repressive dictators all over the world. And who doesn’t love that idea?

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