World update: December 7 2017



Russia may have just been barred from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, but it’s now also unclear whether or not the United States will be there. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Wednesday that tensions between the US and North Korea could force the US to skip the games. Nobody at either the US Olympic Committee or the International Olympic Committee seems to have heard anything about the US possibly not attending, so for now this is just talk.



The Australian parliament legalized same-sex marriage on Thursday:

An overwhelming majority of MPs voted to change the Marriage Act, eight days after a similarly decisive result in the Senate.


The vote set off immediate celebrations in parliament, prompting cheers, applause and even a song.


The result brings an end to more than a decade of robust and often bitter debate on the issue.


“What a day for love, for equality, for respect,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.


“Australia has done it.”

I often find I don’t have much comment about good news (I’m not sure what that says about me), and this is extremely good news, so I’ll just leave it at that.



Sufi sites in Libya are being attacked again, which is a pretty good sign that ISIS or some group broadly sharing its worldview is on the rise. Sufis are a frequent target for Salafis, who see the Sufi approach to Islam as heretical.


The Liberian Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that plans for the second round of the country’s presidential election can get back underway. Those plans had been postponed after the October 10 first round while the court heard challenges to the results. The court found that there were some irregularities in the first round, but no evidence that there were enough irregularities to affect the outcome. Top two finishers George Weah and Joseph Bokai will now proceed to the runoff at a date to be determined.


United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock says that over 1.2 million people in South Sudan are at acute risk of famine. Some seven million are in need of humanitarian aid, as a result of the ongoing civil war. The dry season is looming, and that’s usually a time when fighting escalates so things are liable to get worse in the near term.


Opposition leader Raila Odinga is still planning a symbolic “swearing in” ceremony for December 12, even though the Kenyan government has made it pretty clear that it won’t react so well to it. In fact, without mentioning Odinga by name, Kenyan Attorney General Githu Muigai suggested on Thursday that such an event could be considered an act of treason, which is punishable by death under Kenyan law.


A sustained drought has lowered water levels so much that Malawi, which relies on hydroelectric power for 98 percent of its electricity, has been plunged into extended and widespread blackouts sometimes lasting more than a day at a time.



The European Commission is filing suit against the governments of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic over the three governments’ refusal to take in their share of asylum seekers under EU law (they’ve taken in a grand total of 12 asylum seekers, all in the Czech Republic). The case could result in fines being imposed by the European Court of Justice.


Speaking in Vienna on Thursday at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that relations between Russia and the United States are bad not because of the election scandal in the US but because of Ukraine, and that they would continue to be bad until Russia withdraws from Ukraine–including Crimea. It’s unclear if Tillerson was speaking for the Trump administration, and really it’s unclear if he’s ever speaking for the Trump administration at this point, given that it still seems like his ouster is imminent.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is deciding whether to run on United Russia’s ballot line in next year’s presidential election or to go it as an independent. Boy, if he runs as an independent I bet he’ll have a real hard time getting reelected.


Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło resigned on Thursday. She’ll be replaced by current Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Interestingly, Szydło had just won a no-confidence vote earlier in the day, but Law and Justice Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński apparently didn’t want her heading the ticket leading into the next general election, which has to happen by late 2019.


Members of Germany’s Social Democratic Party voted on Thursday to allow leader Martin Schulz to begin coalition talks with Angela Merkel. In a speech before the vote, Schulz promised to advocate more forcefully for SPD priorities in the government, particularly with respect to European integration. He said he wants the EU to be the “United States of Europe” by 2025–virulently racist and run by the dumbest man alive, I guess.


Officials in London, Dublin and Brussels are saying that a deal to settle the issue of Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit border could be completed within “hours.” A deal would clear the last obstacle to the EU and Britain advancing to the second phase of Brexit talks, but I wouldn’t blame you for taking an “I’ll believe it when I see it” position here. The Democratic Unionist Party still holds a veto here over both the deal and Theresa May’s government, and they have yet to weigh in.



An Argentine judge on Thursday called for former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s arrest on treason charges related to her handling of Iran’s role in the bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina building in Buenos Aires in 1994. The ruling is related to the investigation conducted by former prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose mysterious 2015 death has remained a mystery. Before she can be prosecuted, the Argentine parliament will have to vote to strip her of the immunity she got when she was elected to the senate back in October.


The Honduran election tribunal is planning to conduct a partial recount in its November 26 presidential election. The recount will consist of ballot boxes turned in after the inexplicable 36 hour delay in the vote count, prior to which challenger Salvador Nasralla had been leading, but after which incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández quickly surged ahead. It’s apparently intended to appease the Organization for American States, which has questioned the way the election was conducted and called for just such a recount.

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