World update: January 13-14 2018

By way of a site update, with tomorrow being a holiday in the US I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll be blogging. If not then I’ll be back on Tuesday with two days’ worth of bad news.



Afghan officials say that peace talks are underway in Turkey between Kabul and the Taliban. They’ve even produced video allegedly showing the talks taking place. The Taliban is officially denying that it’s participating in any talks, and there is at least some chance that the announcement and video are an attempt to provoke some dissent within the Taliban. I mean, if this is a legitimate peace effort then it doesn’t make much sense for the Afghan government to deliberately blow up the Taliban’s spot like this. But what do I know?


The Pakistani military has suspended intelligence sharing with the United States. Since Pakistan already pretty much doesn’t share intelligence with the United States when it comes to the Afghan Taliban–why would it, when the Afghan Taliban remains a Pakistani client–this is practically the dictionary definition of a purely symbolic gesture.


Bangladeshi and Myanmar negotiators will meet Monday to talk about implementation of an agreement to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. Myanmar has said it will allow refugees to apply for citizenship if they can prove that their families lived in Myanmar, but since the Myanmar government rendered the Rohingya stateless in 1982 it’s almost impossible for them to actually prove that. The Myanmar government says it’s setting up repatriation camps to handle the returnees, which itself could be an ominous signal.


The leader of Thailand’s military junta, Prayut Chan-o-cha, says that he’s no longer a soldier but rather a “politician who used to be a soldier.” In other words, if and when Thailand reverts back to civilian governance, you should expect that civilian government to look a lot like the current military one, democracy be damned.


The Iranian oil tanker that collided with a Chinese vessel in the East China Sea last weekend sank on Sunday, presumably ending any hope of finding survivors in its wreckage. It will take some time to assess the residual environmental damage.


Several countries will send representatives to Vancouver on Tuesday to discuss how to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but China will not be among them. In fact, the meeting is apparently mostly for countries that participated in the Korean War on the US side, because they’re sure to have real sway with Pyongyang. Beijing has already criticized the planned gathering, arguing (correctly, in fact) that it’s pointless without China and Russia–or at least China–there.



On the seventh anniversary of Tunisia’s Arab Spring, protesters continue to demonstrate against the Tunisian government over the country’s poor economy, high corruption, and painful austerity policies. In response, the Tunisian government has announced a small increase in government aid to the poor. It’s also promising to expand heath care access and to investigate claims of retirees that they’re not receiving their full pension benefits. The measures were derided as insufficient by protest leaders and opposition politicians.


Outgoing Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been booted out of her own Unity Party for undermining the party’s candidate in last year’s presidential campaign. Sirleaf backed George Weah over her own vice president, Joseph Bokai, which indeed seems like reasonable grounds for kicking her out of the party even if you agree with what she did.


ISIS’s West Africa branch, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, has finally claimed credit for the October attack that killed four US service members, according to Mauritania’s Nouakchott News Agency. This simply confirms what was already widely assumed.


Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), made a public appearance in Abuja on Sunday. What makes this so interesting is that Zakzaky hasn’t been seen in public since he was arrested in 2015, and there have been widespread rumors recently that he’d died in custody. Zakzaky is considered to be the leader of Nigeria’s minority Shiʿa community, whose position is tenuous at best even within Nigeria’s Muslim community.


One civilian was reportedly killed on Saturday when al-Shabab fighters attacked a convoy of buses in eastern Kenya.


The Congolese military began a new operation against the Uganda-based Allied Democratic Forces on Saturday. The ADF was responsible for an attack last month that killed 15 United Nations peacekeepers in the eastern DRC. This operation will involve support from the Ugandan government, whose forces are supposed to seal the border to prevent ADF fighters from fleeing across it.


Enough progress has been made against Zambia’s cholera outbreak that the government is reopening some stores and Lusaka’s international school, but residents of the capital in particular are still wary of large gatherings and handshakes, and are heeding advice to wash their hands several times each day. Street vendors are still being prohibited from setting up shop due to unsanitary conditions, which is a potential political tinderbox but perhaps it will only be a short-term situation.



The Russian military deployed new S-400 air defense batteries to Crimea on Saturday in an effort to beef up the peninsula’s defenses against…something. I don’t foresee anybody starting a war with Russia over Crimea, but I guess you never know.


New polling shows that 68 percent of Greeks reject the idea of allowing “Macedonia” to be part of the Republic of Macedonia’s name in any form. This is a big problem for the Republic of Macedonia, which needs to settle its dispute with the Greek government over its name if it is to have a shot at eventual membership in NATO and/or the European Union. Its own citizens are unlikely to accept a name change that completely discards the word “Macedonia,” so that might put things at a bit of an impasse.


As expected, Czech President Miloš Zeman “won” the first round of presidential voting (which ended on Saturday) but didn’t get a majority, which means he faces a runoff with academic Jiří Drahoš in two weeks. Zeman only took 38.6 percent of the vote to 26.6 percent for Drahoš, and the third, fourth, and fifth place finishers all quickly endorsed Drahoš in the runoff. Those candidates took over 28 percent combined, so if most of their supporters follow those endorsements Zeman could be in serious trouble. Zeman is an interesting character–a leftist by background, as president (relatively powerless in the Czech system but symbolically important) his views on Muslims (he’s not a fan) and Russia (he is a fan) have him more in line with the reactionary parties governing Poland, Hungary, and now Austria. If he loses to the more Western-friendly Drahoš it could signal a major shift in Czech politics, particularly since Zeman has been protecting new Prime Minister Andrej Babiš despite Babiš’s inability to form a government.


An estimated 20,000 people protested in Vienna on Saturday against the far-right turn the Austrian government has taken. Among other things, they called on other European governments to boycott Austrian cabinet ministers from the fringe right Freedom Party.


Leaders of Germany’s Social Democratic Party are demanding additional concessions from Angela Merkel’s conservative alliance in a potential governing coalition, after rank and file SPD members started making it pretty clear that they will not support the coalition framework announced late last week. SPD members will vote on January 21 on whether or not to go ahead with formal coalition negotiations based on that framework. Already the new SPD demands are being met with a chilly reception by the conservatives, so that may not bode well. Polling shows that 60 percent of Germans want the SPD to go ahead with formal negotiations, but SPD members are clearly skeptical of returning to an arrangement that cost the party dearly in September’s election.


Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon says she’ll decide by the end of the year whether to pursue another referendum on Scottish independence.



The World Bank’s chief economist, Paul Romer, told the Wall Street Journal on Friday that the Bank has been screwing Chile over:

The outcry came after the bank’s chief economist, Paul Romer, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Friday that while Chile’s ranking has fallen in the bank’s yearly “Doing Business” report, which investors watch closely, “business conditions did not get worse in Chile” during the Bachelet era.


He added that he did not have “confidence in the integrity” of the data and methodology that led to Chile’s negative assessments and offered a “personal apology” to the country.


The statement has started a political firestorm in Chile, where the candidate from Ms. Bachelet’s leftist coalition was defeated in last month’s presidential election, a race in which economic policy was a decisive issue. Ms. Bachelet, who leaves office in March, was barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

This should be a massive scandal, because what it amounts to is the World Bank maybe deliberately warping its rankings in order to involve itself in Chilean politics.

See, if you’re looking for a reason why the World Bank might pull this kind of crap, the phrase “leftist coalition” in the above paragraph should help put you on the right track. Now that Bachelet is going to be succeeded by conservative Sebastián Piñera, the Bank can afford to say “oops, I guess we done messed up” and suddenly readjust Chile’s indicators in a positive direction. Which will, by the way, help Piñera with voters who pay attention to the metrics but don’t know that the World Bank has been cooking the books. Economist Augusto Lopez-Claros, who did most of the book cooking, dismissed Romer’s comments, arguing that “objective data is not subject to political influence” as if there were anything “objective” about the World Bank.


Hawaii is still there, so that’s nice. Let’s focus on that for tonight, instead of, uh, the other thing.

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