World update: December 5 2017


New research into the effect of air pollution on fetal development paints a pretty stark picture:

Air pollution significantly increases the risk of low birth weight in babies, leading to lifelong damage to health, according to a large new study.


The research was conducted in London, UK, but its implications for many millions of women in cities around the world with far worse air pollution are “something approaching a public health catastrophe”, the doctors involved said.


Globally, two billion children – 90% of all children – are exposed to air pollution above World Health Organization guidelines. A Unicef study also published on Wednesday found that 17 million babies suffer air six times more toxic than the guidelines.



Afghan officials say that recent operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan have killed an estimated 80 al-Qaeda members, including one of the group’s senior leaders. Omar Khetab is believed to have been the number two figure in al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. He will not be missed.


Six people were killed by a roadside bomb in the village of Khaddi, in North Waziristan, on Tuesday. There’s been no claim of responsibility.

James Mattis’s visit to Pakistan on Monday apparently didn’t make enough headway in the US-Pakistan relationship for Mattis to end his freeze on payments to Pakistan from the Coalition Support Fund. The Coalition Support Fund is meant to reimburse allies for counterterrorism operations, and over the past couple of years Pakistan has missed out on hundreds of millions of dollars over its continued support for the Afghan Taliban/Haqqani Network.


United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is in North Korea for the next four days to talk with, among other people, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. Obviously it would be swell if the UN could somehow defuse tensions around North Korea and its nuclear and missile work, but it’ll be a success if he’s just able to lay the groundwork for more talks.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov told a conference in Berlin on Tuesday that Moscow is “ready to exert our influence on North Korea,” whatever that means. The Kremlin’s position has long been that the stick-only American approach to North Korea is wrong, but the recent flurry of provocative tests by Pyongyang are believed to be grating on Russia’s nerves just as they seem to have done on China’s nerves.



William and Mary’s Philip Roessler argues that, in acquiescing to the coup in Zimbabwe, the African Union may have made a grave mistake:

In stark contrast to the Peace and Security Council’s immediate and forceful rejection of nearly every other coup since the AU was founded in 2002, the African Union tacitly supported the forcible removal of Mugabe from power – a position that the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which the AU was happy to defer to in managing the crisis, also held. To justify its inaction, the AU ultimately declared the ZDF intervention did not constitute a coup d’etat, after at first suggesting the opposite.


The African Union, in alignment with SADC, got it wrong and missed a valuable opportunity to strengthen and expand its anti-coup regime to include both de jure and de facto coups. In narrowly focusing on the removal of the sitting head of state as the defining feature of a coup rather than the unconstitutional use of force to coerce elected leaders to relinquish power, it sets a dangerous precedent that threatens to undermine the strong gains the region has made to move beyond politics by the gun.



The European Commission is expected on Wednesday to present a package of proposed reforms that would deepen the integration of the eurozone. The proposals wouldn’t go as far as French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed–there’s very little appetite for a large common eurozone budget and finance minister, for example–but they will suggest a eurozone line in the European Union budget and a “minister of economy and finance” for the entire EU rather than just for the eurozone nations. Non-eurozone members of the EU are wary of eurozone integration efforts because they fear being treated as second-tier members of the alliance.


The Russian Olympic team has been barred from competing in next year’s Winter Olympics and fined $15 million over what the International Olympic Committee says is an institutionalized doping program. It’s the first ban of its kind in IOC history. Russian athletes who were not themselves part of the program will be allowed to compete under a neutral designation.

Moscow began implementing its new foreign press procedures on Tuesday, designating Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America as foreign agents. The new Russian law was put in place to retaliate for Washington forcing RT to register as a foreign agent last month.


The Mikheil Saakashvili saga took yet another strange turn on Tuesday when he dramatically escaped from Ukrainian police in Kiev:

Slate’s Joshua Keating explains:

Mikheil Saakashvili had an interesting day. The former Georgian president and Putin foe who’s currently in the middle of an unlikely second act as a Ukrainian opposition leader and international fugitive had a dramatic standoff with the authorities after state security officers tried to arrest him at his apartment in Kiev. Saakashvili led them on a rooftop chase and at one point threatened to jump off his apartment building. After he was dragged away by the masked officers and put in a van, the vehicle was surrounded by his supporters who broke him out, despite attempts by the police to use teargas to disperse the crowd.

Saakashvili and his supporters then marched to the Ukrainian parliament building, and Saakashvili delivered a speech wherein, among other things, he called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko a “traitor to Ukraine” and “the head of an organised crime gang.” I’m thinking he’s not going to get his passport back that way.


Sky News is reporting that British police and MI5 have foiled a terrorist plot to assassinate Theresa May. The two suspects, who allegedly planned to attack May’s Downing Street residence with an improvised explosive device and then kill her in the resulting chaos, are to appear in court for arraignment on Wednesday.



Venezuela’s UN envoy, Rafael Ramírez, was abruptly removed from his post on Tuesday by President Nicolás Maduro in what could be a sign of a bit of discord within Venezuela’s Socialist Party. Ramírez is in trouble in Caracas over corruption allegations stemming from his time as the head of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the state oil company, so there’s some question whether he’ll return home.


Presidential challenger Salvador Nasralla and his supporters are demanding a full recount of the country’s November 26 election. The country’s elections board had already begun a partial recount but Nasralla wants them to go further than that. Nasralla was leading the count with about half the vote last week in when the tallying system inexplicably stopped–only to resume with incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández  quickly moving into the lead, go figure.

That Honduran police strike turned out to be pretty brief–they’re already apparently back to work. Despite some talk about protecting the rights of the Honduran people, what seems to have brought them back into the fold is a promise from Hernández to increase their pay and to build new apartments for police officers.


Yesterday was so packed with craziness that there was one story I decided to hold off until today, and even now I still don’t know what to say about it. Read for yourselves:

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.


The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.


“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”

A privatized intelligence network that reports directly to the president without congressional oversight. What could possibly be problematic about that?

I have to say I’m morbidly impressed by the speed with which the greatest and most freeest and bestest God-blessedest nation of liberty and justice for all to ever exist in the whole history of mankind has devolved into your standard-issue banana republic. It took one bad president with a complicit Congress just a bit over 10 months and we’re already putting together an American Stasi with barely any outcry. Granted, the rot has been growing under the surface for decades now, but that’s still pretty fast.

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