Europe/Americas update: November 27 2017

Obviously I’ve been away for a bit. I’m not going to even begin to cover everything that’s happened in the past week, but I will try to get caught up on a few major things.


Keep eating French fries–it turns out your fast food addiction could be saving the planet:

Fatty acids released into the air from cooking may contribute to the formation of clouds that cool the climate, say scientists.


Fatty acid molecules comprise about 10% of fine particulates over London, and such particles help seed clouds.

OK, I kid. Giant deep fat fryers are not the solution to climate change. But the research appears to show that, at least, they might not be contributing to the problem. And maybe they could, with more study, point the way toward some way to bio-engineer a way to mitigate warming, though that kind of thing always carries risks with it.



There’s apparently been a coup of sorts in the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic:

The resignation of the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic Igor Plotnitsky was announced Friday by Leonid Pasechnik, his long-time foe and minister of state security.


The separatist mouthpiece Luhansk Information Center reported on Saturday that the local legislature voted unanimously to accept Plotnitsky’s resignation and make Pasechnik interim chief.


Pasechnik announced on Friday that Plotnitsky had resigned on health grounds and that he would be the acting chief until an election is called.

Plotnitsky’s “health grounds” involved his attempt to can his interior minister, Igor Kornet, who proved to be more popular with Plotnitsky’s army than Plotnitsky himself was. Oops.


Genocidal lunatic Ratko Mladić was convicted last week by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 10 of 11 counts for his role in commanding Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. He was sentenced to life in prison. He will not be missed.


After striking out with her preferred Free Democrats-Greens coalition, and deeply uninterested in snap elections, Angela Merkel looked to door number three and now appears to be negotiating a new “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats. Which is pretty crazy, considering that SPD leader Martin Schulz was clear as recently as a week ago that he had no interest in doing a new coalition with Merkel and the Christian Democrats and preferred to go into the opposition.

Talks with the SPD aren’t really expected to get underway until the start of the new year, and then will become clear what shape this alliance might take. There are options short of a full coalition–or at least one option, which is a Christian Democrat minority government supported by the SPD. That option might make more sense. The Social Democrats are likely to get creamed politically if they enter the government again–German voters clearly did not feel good about the grand coalition when they went to the polls in September, and the SPD paid a big price. Schulz could even face an intra-party revolt if he goes this way. And supporting a CDU minority government would allow the SPD to nominally remain in the opposition, which would deny the position of main opposition party to the fascist Alternative for Germany party.

On the other hand, Merkel is also very keen to avoid a minority government (she’s actually said she’d prefer new elections, and she really doesn’t want new elections). So Schulz is in a position to extract significant concessions from Merkel in return for bailing her out and joining a coalition. That could be enough to at least keep the rest of his party members in line.


If recent polling is accurate, the movement for Catalan independence seems to be dying on the vine:

Barely a quarter of Catalans want to continue with a plan to claim independence from Spain in the wake of Dec. 21 regional elections, according to a poll published in El Pais newspaper on Monday.


An illegal Catalan independence referendum on Oct. 1 plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in decades. It eased after the sacking of the secessionist Catalan authorities by the Madrid government elicited little resistance. But uncertainty could return if the pro-independence camp wins in the Dec. 21 vote.


Just 24 percent of those polled by Metroscopia said they would like to continue with the independence process after the elections, whereas 71 percent said they would prefer politicians to find an agreement based on Catalonia staying part of Spain.

The poll’s findings show that pro-independence parties might lose their overall majority in the regional parliament in the upcoming election, but the margin is likely to be slim either way.


Prince Harry got engaged. Good for him.


Ireland could be heading for a snap election. A scandal involving police corruption is leading Tuesday to a potential vote of no confidence in Deputy Prime Minister Frances Fitzgerald, led by the Fianna Fail party. Fianna Fail’s support is key to the minority Fine Gael party government remaining in office, so if they target Fitzgerald, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (who refuses to just fire Fitzgerald despite the scandal) has said he’ll call for new elections next month.

The vote would come at a bad time for Ireland and the European Union, as Irish border interests are one of the key issues that will be discussed at next month’s EU summit on Brexit. Ireland has a veto over any decision to move to the next phase of talks with the UK, and they plan to exercise that veto if the Northern Ireland border situation doesn’t appear to be headed to a satisfactory result. Political turmoil in Ireland is only going to complicate the summit.



Something big could be brewing in Honduras:

As Honduras counted votes on Monday in its presidential election, Salvador Nasralla, a former sportscaster representing a left-wing alliance, took an early lead over President Juan Orlando Hernández, an unexpected development that could reshuffle the country’s political forces if the trend holds.


A victory by Mr. Nasralla would be a sharp rebuke to Mr. Hernández, an authoritarian who has maneuvered to take control over most of the country’s fragile institutions.

Nasralla led at last count by about five points with 57 percent of the vote counted. But that’s where things seemed to freeze for most of the day on Monday, which naturally led to suspicion that the government is monkeying around with the results. Hernández probably shouldn’t even be on the ballot–the Honduran constitution doesn’t allow presidents to serve more than one term, but that prohibition was stricken down in 2015 by the Honduran Supreme Court–specifically, by the five court judges who had been appointed by Hernández. Nasralla’s victory would represent a return to prominence for former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup in 2009 but whose Libre party is the biggest member of the lefty coalition backing Nasralla.


Along with Hondurans, Cubans also took to the polls on Sunday, voting in municipal assembly races that are the first stage of a transition away from the Castro regime. Assembly delegates will make up 50 percent of the new National Assembly, whose members will be elected by Communist Party-controlled organizations early next year. Then, in February, that assembly will elect a replacement for Raul Castro as Cuba’s president. Current Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is the favorite to succeed Castro.


Speculation is growing that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has decided to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian activities and the Trump 2016 campaign. Flynn’s lawyers have reportedly stopped participating in a joint defense arrangement with President Trump’s attorneys. Obviously this could be a pretty major development in Mueller’s investigation, if it’s true.

While the “Rex Tillerson is gutting the State Department” story has been done multiple times by now, this New York Times report is still pretty stunning:

The number of those with the department’s top two ranks of career ambassador and career minister — equivalent to four- and three-star generals — will have been cut in half by Dec. 1, from 39 to 19. And of the 431 minister-counselors, who have two-star-equivalent ranks, 369 remain and another 14 have indicated that they will leave soon — an 18 percent drop — according to an accounting provided by the American Foreign Service Association.


The political appointees who normally join the department after a change in administration have not made up for those departures. So far, just 10 of the top 44 political positions in the department have been filled, and for most of the vacancies, Mr. Tillerson has not nominated anyone.


“Leadership matters,” said Nancy McEldowney, a former ambassador who retired in June after a 30-year career as a Foreign Service officer. “There’s a vacuum throughout the State Department, and the junior people now working in these top jobs lack the confidence and credibility that comes from a presidential nomination and Senate confirmation.”

Reuters reported last week that about a dozen State Department diplomats have accused Tillerson of violating US law against supporting foreign governments that employ child soldiers. Earlier this year, Tillerson apparently decided to leave Afghanistan, Iraq, and Myanmar off of a list of countries that use child soldiers so as not to complicate American military assistance to those countries. The overwhelming consensus at the time was that all three countries should have been on the list. The Trump administration could have issued waivers for the three countries, something the Obama administration did routinely, but Tillerson opted just to exclude them from the list altogether.

On the plus side, we don’t really need diplomats anymore, because apparently America now has invisible planes:

According to the pool report of the president’s Thanksgiving Day visit to Coast Guard Station Lake Worth Inlet, in Florida, Trump told his audience he had discussed the “invisible” plane with “some air force guys”. He asked them, he said, if it would perform in a dogfight like similar planes he had seen in movies.


“They said: ‘Well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it, even if it’s right next to it, it can’t see it,’” Trump said.

Yeah, that’s not how the F-35 (the plane in question) works, even on the rare occasions when it actually does work. But my favorite part of this story is that Trump asked the “air force guys” if it would perform like planes he’d seen in the movies. That’s your president, folks.

If you’re curious, here’s an image of the F-35 being flown by one of America’s top pilots:


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