World update: March 20 2018

Happy Nowruz to anyone who is celebrating today. My appreciation for spring is being tempered by the eight inches of snow the weather tells me we’re about to get tonight, but your mileage may vary.


A new study from NASA, which is probably going to get its funding cut over this, finds that drastically reducing greenhouse emissions would not only stave off climate change, but would save as many as 150 million lives from the reduction in air pollution:

According to the study, premature deaths would fall on nearly every continent if the world’s governments agree to cut emissions of carbon and other harmful gases enough to limit global temperature rise to less than 3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That is about a degree lower than the target set by the Paris climate agreement.


The benefit would be felt mostly in Asian countries with dirty air — 13 million lives would be saved in large cities in India alone, including the metropolitan areas of Kolkata, Delhi, Patna and Kanpur. Greater Dhaka in Bangladesh would have 3.6 million fewer deaths, and Jakarta in Indonesia would record 1.6 fewer lives lost. The African cities of Lagos and Cairo combined would register more than 2 million fewer deaths.



Tuesday evening Reuters reported that the Ahrar al-Sham unit in the Eastern Ghouta town of Harasta has reached an agreement with the Syrian government to evacuate the town and be relocated to another rebel-controlled area of the country. Fighters who want to stay will be pardoned in return for surrendering their weapons.

Earlier in the day, a rebel rocket strike on the Kashkoul neighborhood in Damascus on Tuesday killed at least 35 people. Not to be outdone, a Russian airstrike reportedly killed 15 children holed up in a makeshift school in Eastern Ghouta. On the plus side, Russia says that nearly 80,000 civilians have been able to evacuate Eastern Ghouta over the past several days. South of the capital, rebels pulled out of the Qadam suburb earlier this week and were quickly supplanted there by none other than ISIS. So good to see those kids haven’t given up the dream! Their fighters have reportedly killed 36 Syrian soldiers over the past day or so.


Speaking of ISIS, the bodies of 39 Indian construction workers they abducted in Iraq in 2014 were found this week in a mass grave near Mosul. The extremists actually abducted 40 workers, but one was able to escape before the executions began.


On Tuesday the US Senate voted on the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution to invoke the War Powers Act with respect to the war in Yemen. Well, they didn’t vote on the resolution, per se. Being at best the second-worst legislative body in the world, the Senate opted to table the resolution. Ten self-professed Democrats joined 45 Republicans to suppress the measure, which I blame on the Democratic Party’s dependence on Big Cholera for campaign contributions. At least some of them cited Iran as the reason for their vote, naturally, because dead Yemeni children mean nothing compared to Washington’s obsessive hatred for Iran. The fact that the Saudi intervention in Yemen has barely impacted Iran is irrelevant.


Bahrain could wind up taking a major hit from Donald Trump’s proposed aluminum tariff. The Gulf state is the world’s eighth largest producer of aluminum, and the metal accounts for over 60 percent of its exports to the United States. The kingdom is likely to pursue an exemption from the tariff.


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was at the White House on Tuesday to hang out with Donald Trump, and naturally Trump made the whole event as stupid as possible:

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman kicked off his U.S. visit with talks and lunch at the White House, where President Trump displayed posters showing recent Saudi weapons purchases from the United States, saying that “we make the best equipment in the world.”


The $12.5 billion the Saudis were paying for planes, tanks, ships and munitions shown in the posters was “peanuts” for the oil-rich kingdom, Trump joked before cameras in the Oval Office. “You should have increased it,” he told Mohammed.

No, I’m not talking about that part, I’m talking about this:



Outgoing Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan intimated on Monday that he’s going to become prime minister when Armenia transitions to a parliamentary system after his current term expires. Sargsyan had said in a 2014 interview that he would not aspire to the PM job if Armenia ever made that shift, which his opponents are naturally throwing in his face now that speculation is rampant that he is going to be the next PM. Sargsyan says that he still doesn’t aspire to the job, it’s just that his sense of patriotic duty is so great it compels him to serve. Whatever dude.


ISIS claimed credit for Monday’s bombing outside a rally in Jalalabad held by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in which three people were killed.


The Pakistani government is considering an Afghan offer to hold talks on improving relations between the two countries and working together to combat militants on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani extended the offer, including a potential visit by Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to Kabul, after meeting with Pakistani national security adviser Nasser Janjua over the weekend.


I highly recommend this Diplomat piece on the human cost being borne by civilians living on either side of Kashmir’s line of control. They are caught in the crossfire as Indian and Pakistani forces shoot at one another, and they’re paying a heavy price as a result.


The International Criminal Court says that the Philippine government’s decision to withdraw from the court will not affect its investigation into Rodrigo Duterte’s ultra-violent war on drugs. What will affect the investigation is the fact that the ICC doesn’t actually have much real authority and therefore its rulings carry very little weight.


Drawing a very deliberate contrast with the United States, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday that Beijing’s response to new US tariffs will be to open the Chinese economy up further rather than to retaliate and potentially kick off a trade war. In particular, Li has promised better protections for intellectual property rights, an issue that seems to be at the core of these new tariffs Donald Trump is considering.


Joint US-South Korea military exercises will resume next month after a pause for the Olympics. There has apparently been no thought given to postponing or even toning the exercises down in order to facilitate the possible summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un that might take place in May. North Korea loathes these exercises and routinely does something provocative during them, but with the summit looming, at least hypothetically, it’s possible Kim will just let it slide this time.


Activists from Guam and Okinawa are collaborating in their efforts to remove the US military footprint from their respective islands:

In January, three residents from the U.S. territory of Guam visited Japan to express their solidarity with Okinawans struggling to block construction of new U.S. military facilities on their island.


During their 10-day stay, the members of Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian — Monaeka Flores, Stasia Yoshida and Rebekah Garrison — participated in sit-in demonstrations and gave a series of lectures explaining the similarities between Guam and Okinawa.


The Japanese prefecture of Okinawa is host to 31 U.S. bases, which take up 15 percent of the main island. On the U.S. territory of Guam, the Department of Defense owns 29 percent of the island — more than the local government, which owns only 19 percent. And if the U.S. military gets its way, its share there will soon grow.



Al Jazeera reports on the collapsing economy in South Sudan, caused by the ongoing civil war and drought:


Foreign Policy in Focus’s Conn Hallinan blames the collapse of the center left rather than a surge on the right for the recent shift in European politics:

It would be easy to see this as a shift to the right. The neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany party won 92 seats in the Bundestag. The Dutch anti-Muslim Party for Freedom picked up five seats. The extreme rightist National Front made the runoffs in France. The racist, anti-immigrant Northern League took 17.5 percent of the Italian vote and is in the running to form a government there.


But the fall of the center left has more to do with its 1990s course change than with any rightward shift by the continent.

That course change was, in a word, capitalism. Where center-left parties have succeeded it’s been by embracing the left. Where they’ve failed, it’s been by embracing capital at the expense of labor, austerity at the expense of the safety net, and banks at the expense of, well, everybody else.


Donald Trump called Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to congratulate him on his big (and carefully arranged) victory in Sunday’s Russian presidential election. This has produced something of a mass conniption fit in American politics, since Trump is so far the only Western leader to openly congratulate Putin on the win. To which I can only say: get a grip. If you want something to freak out about, might I suggest America’s war in Yemen, or its war in Afghanistan, or its war in Syria, or its grotesque alliance with Saudi Arabia, or the fact that there’s at least one serial bomber currently terrorizing people in Texas, or literally anything but this.


Slovakian President Andrej Kiska rejected Prime Minister-designate Peter Pellegrini’s proposed new cabinet on Tuesday because it didn’t represent enough of a break with the previous cabinet. Former PM Robert Fico was forced to resign last week due to public outrage over corruption and the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak, but Slovakians seem to want new elections and a clean break rather than the appointment of Fico’s former deputy Pellegrini, who may still be taking marching orders from Fico. Kiska clearly prefers continuity, but he’s also trying to tamp down public hostility and wants the new cabinet to be at least plausibly distinct from the old one.


A mosque in the German city of Ulm used by the Turkish expat community was attacked with Molotov cocktails on Monday. Nobody was injured. The culprits appear to be affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been threatening attacks in Germany for some time now.


Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was arrested on Tuesday over allegations that he received 50 million euros in illicit financing from Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi during the 2007 French presidential campaign. Sarkozy denies the charges, naturally.



Henri Falcón may have hit on a winning strategy for his campaign against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro: legal bribery. Falcón is promising that, if elected, he will disburse 25 US dollars per month to Venezuelans as part of a plan to convert the country’s economy to the dollar and replace the virtually worthless (currently trading at 50,000 to a dollar) bolívar. That could go a long way toward overcoming one of Maduro’s incumbency advantages–namely, that he can ratchet up welfare benefits as the election approaches.


Finally, Tuesday is the 15th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. Rather than recount the details of the opening phases of that conflict, I think it would be more appropriate to direct you toward this New York Times piece on the effect of that war from Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon:

The petition didn’t make much of an impact. Fifteen years ago today, the invasion of Iraq began.


Three months later, I returned to Iraq for the first time since 1991 as part of a collective to film a documentary about Iraqis in a post-Saddam Iraq. We wanted to show my countrymen as three-dimensional beings, beyond the binary of Saddam versus the United States. In American media, Iraqis had been reduced to either victims of Saddam who longed for occupation or supporters and defenders of dictatorship who opposed the war. We wanted Iraqis to speak for themselves. For two weeks, we drove around Baghdad and spoke to many of its residents. Some were still hopeful, despite being drained by years of sanctions and dictatorship. But many were furious and worried about what was to come. The signs were already there: the typical arrogance and violence of a colonial occupying power.

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