Europe/Americas update: October 11 2017



Moscow says it may order further staff cuts to the US mission in Russia, down to 300 persons. When the Russians ordered the US to cut its staff back to 455, the same as the number of Russian diplomatic personnel in the US, they decided to include people working for the Russian mission to the UN in that count. Of course, the Russian mission to the UN is not the Russian mission to the US, which only technically employs 300 people.

Russia’s theft of classified material from an NSA contractor was reportedly made possible through the use of a backdoor in the contractor’s Kaspersky antivirus software, which the US intelligence community has long maintained has exploits, intentionally put there or not, that are known to Russian hackers. The New York Times reported Wednesday that the US was notified about this breach by Israeli agents who had themselves hacked into the Kaspersky network and watched the Russians in action:

It was a case of spies watching spies watching spies: Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs.


What gave the Russian hacking, detected more than two years ago, such global reach was its improvised search tool — antivirus software made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, that is used by 400 million people worldwide, including by officials at some two dozen American government agencies.


The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision just last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers.


Russian authorities have arrested six Crimean Tatars accused of organizing a local cell of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an international pan-Islamic/Islamist organization that’s been banned in Russia since 2015. Yes, I know, Crimea isn’t actually in Russia according to, well, everybody except the Russians, but clearly that is no consolation for these six people. This is really about the ongoing Russian crackdown against the Crimean Tatar community, which has remained adamantly opposed to Russia’s occupation of the peninsula.


Foreign Policy profiles Sebastian Kurz, the far-right 31 year old who is the prohibitive favorite to be leading the largest party in the Austrian parliament (his Austrian People’s Party) after Sunday’s election. His appeal, they say, has to do with his youth, which lets him pretend to be a political outsider, and his ability to co-opt the Austrian far right’s policy ideas while giving them a veneer of center-right respectability:

“Kurz is successful in selling himself as the man of change — despite being a product of the status quo,” said Anton Pelinka, a professor of political science at the Central European University in Budapest. “His youth has helped him to overcome the contradiction that he as an insider is playing the innovator.”


Kurz’s renovation of the OVP has also included its platform. He has never espoused vehemently anti-immigrant or anti-euro policies. But, to help revive the OVP’s deficit of social and political credibility, he has channeled the vitality of Austria’s resurgent far right, targeting the majority of Austrian men his age who have drifted to the Freedom Party.

OSCE Konferenz Mauerbach. 11.07.2017, Foto: Dragan Tatic
Sebastian Kurz (Wikimedia)


Fundamentally anti-worker French President Emmanuel Macron is doing more anti-worker stuff:

Macron, a former banker whose other labor market reform plans have been condemned by some trade union leaders as a deathknell for high French standards of labor protection, wants to make a professional training program less bureaucratic.


He also wants the state to have more say over how much the unemployed get in benefits and for how long, which is currently largely set by unions and employers.

Once again attwiw would like to offer its preliminary congratulations to whichever right-wing French populist slug crawls out of the sewer to defeat this clueless centrist dolt in 2022.


Just a day after Catalan President Carles Puigdemont kind of did but also kind of did not declare Catalonia’s independence from Spain, Madrid has given him until Monday to clarify what he meant. If Puigdemont says that he did declare Catalan independence, Madrid says it will give him another three days to withdraw that bid before the Spanish government exercises its authority, under article 155 of the country’s constitution, to assume direct control over the region (it would likely then call for early elections for the regional government). Puigdemont’s clever “declare independence but then freeze it” gambit hasn’t done anything but further confuse an already chaotic situation, and certainly hasn’t led to any dialogue with the Spanish government.



Chile’s left and center-left political parties are promising to unite behind a single candidate before a hypothetical runoff in the country’s presidential election next month. Currently right-wing candidate Sebastián Piñera is expected to “win” the November 19 first round with, if polling is accurate, around 40 percent of the vote. He’s managed to align most of the Chilean right behind him, but he’s currently opposed by no fewer than six candidates on the left. So whichever one of them comes in second on November 19 could be in pretty good position for the runoff assuming that the left really does coalesce in time.


John Feffer on the rightward shift in US foreign policy that Donald Trump has represented:

Every few years — sometimes four, sometimes eight — America’s political mood swings from one pole to another.


It’s a not-uncommon disorder for democracies. Voters get disgusted with one flavor of politics and opt for another. For better or worse, the United States doesn’t have a Baskin-Robbins democracy. So, the vacillations in Americans’ political taste can only pendulum between chocolate and vanilla.


It’s one thing for America to lurch from one end of the spectrum to the other on fiscal matters, the advisability of universal health care, or the economic impact of immigration.


On foreign policy, however, the shifts are not just mystifying to those outside U.S. borders, they’re downright frightening.

NBC News reported Wednesday that Trump “surprised” his advisers at a meeting in July when said he wanted a “ten-fold” increase in the size of America’s nuclear stockpile:

Trump’s comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.

According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the buildup. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.

It was after this meeting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson infamously referred to Trump as a “fucking moron,” which, hey, he ain’t lying. Anyway Trump denies that any of this ever took place, and to give him the benefit of the doubt I think he’s telling the truth according to the George Costanza principle:

Arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis thinks this can be chalked up to stupidity (basically he doesn’t want to be the president with the fewest number of nukes because that’s not powerful and cool) as opposed to malice:

But of course stupidity is dangerous enough.

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