Europe/Americas update: April 3 2018

Hey, how’s it going? Long time no see. As usual when I take an extended break, there’s a lot to get through here and I’m not even going to try to cover every single thing that happened while I was gone. This update is mostly going to consist of stuff that’s happened in the past day or two, a couple of big stories that happened last week, and links to a few pieces I’ve flagged (though, to be honest, I tried to avoid the news as much as possible last week because I needed a break). OK, now on with the show.


Whatever bad things may be going on in the world, I suppose we can all take solace in the likelihood that many of us aren’t going to be around long enough to actually experience their full effect:

Antarctica’s ocean-front glaciers are retreating, according a new satellite survey that raises additional concerns about the massive continent’s potential contribution to rising sea levels.


Antarctica, which contains enough ice to raise the oceans by about 200 feet, is a continent of ice that flows outward to the ocean at numerous large glaciers. These mostly submerged glaciers rest deep on the seafloor at a point called the “grounding line,” where ocean, ice and bedrock meet.


But at 10.7 percent of these glaciers, the ice masses are moving at a significant speed back toward the center of the continent as they melt from below, often because of the incursion of warm ocean water, which causes the grounding line to retreat. Only about 1.9 percent of glaciers were growing at a significant speed, suggesting a net retreat.

It’s impossible to estimate sea level rise based on this kind of data, so let’s just say it’s extremely not good and leave it there for now.



The city council of Yekaterinburg, the fourth largest city in Russia, voted on Tuesday to end direct public mayoral elections in favor of a system where the mayor is elected by the council. Coincidentally, the current mayor of Yekaterinburg, Yevgeny Roizman, opposes Vladimir Putin. Go figure.

At The Nation, David Klion argues for a US leftist approach to US-Russia relations that, among other things, places Russia in the context of a global effort, including domestically, to combat corruption and oligarchy:

The United States has little standing to condemn Russia’s oligarchs while the Trump administration openly loots the public with a tax-reform bill designed to benefit the wealthiest Americans and with taxpayer dollars constantly funneled through Trump Organization properties. The next administration should make the case that the transnational oligarchy spanning from New York to London to Moscow isn’t merely greedy but also poses a threat to national security by undermining the integrity of the political process. It should expand FARA and end foreign lobbying, both legal and illegal, on K Street. It should crack down on money laundering through banks and real estate, as well as offshore tax havens.


Contrary to what some writers on the left have argued, the American public is legitimately interested in the Trump-Russia scandal and isn’t going to stop paying attention. But rather than singling out Russia, the next president should pledge to take on kleptocrats everywhere, using Trump’s outrageous corruption (including but certainly not limited to his Russia ties) to make the case for a more just economic order.

There’s much more to Klion’s essay, some of it more controversial than this (which I think should be a given for the next US administration), but I think it’s a worthwhile effort as an attempt to chart a leftist approach to Russia that acknowledges, correctly, that Vladimir Putin is not our friend.


The BBC reports on right wing militias in Ukraine:


Skopje’s former Alexander the Great International Airport is now just the Skopje International Airport. Catchy. The facility lost its famous sponsor as part of Skopje’s effort to butter up the Greek government as the two countries try to end their impasse over Macedonia’s name. A settlement on that issue is crucial to Macedonia’s bids for membership in NATO and the European Union.


With formal negotiations between the Five Star Movement and the center-right coalition on forming a government set to begin Wednesday, on Tuesday Five Star ruled out any partnership with the coalition’s Forza Italia party, led by animatronic stereotype Silvio Berlusconi. While there are plenty of reasons to reject partnering, or frankly even being in the same room, with Berlusconi, Five Star’s aim here may be to splinter the center-right coalition, which combined won more votes in last month’s election than did Five Star. If the coalition breaks apart, then Five Star, the largest single party coming out of that election, would have an undisputed claim to lead the next government. They may also be making another attempt to woo the center-left Democratic Party, which has already rejected the idea of partnering with Five Star.


Rail workers across France went on strike on Tuesday to oppose President Midas’ Emmanuel Macron’s plans to “reform” the state rail company, SNCF. Macron has been arguing that the rail workers’ union contract is too generous, which is totally not class warfare by the way, and wants the already overworked and underpaid workers to accept a little more work and a lot less pay and job security. Macron has been dunking on French unions pretty much nonstop since he was elected, doing for France what Margaret Thatcher did for the UK and Ronald Reagan did for the US. And look how well it’s worked out in those countries!


While the UK government, the EU, the US, and almost everybody else continues to come up with new ad hoc punishments to inflict on Moscow over the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, there’s one teeny problem: scientists at Britain’s Porton Down laboratory haven’t actually been able to demonstrate that the nerve agent used on the Skripals came from Russia. Seems like we might want to firm that bit up before continuing, no? And hey, pausing to let the investigation proceed might give everybody a chance to figure out what the hell their aim is in all of this.



Costa Rican President-elect Carlos Alvarado Quesada (Wikimedia | Luis Madrigal Mena)

Center-left candidate Carlos Alvarado Quesada won Costa Rica’s presidential runoff on Sunday, taking over 60 percent of the vote against religious conservative Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz. The result is a bit of a surprise given that polling suggested a much closer race, but it’s heartening in that the election turned to some extent on Alvarado Muñoz’s opposition to same-sex marriage and his assorted other retrograde views on LGBTQ and women’s rights.


OK, so the next two stories here are related, and both have to do with the caravan of Central American refugees that’s entered Mexico and has been heading toward the US and driving Donald Trump a little bit crazier with every step:

While the caravan has been heading toward the US, it should be said, as Trump continues to work himself into a frenzy, that this is an annual event that never continues on to northern Mexico and the US border. It’s meant to highlight the plight of the people who flee violence and economic deprivation in Central America. Some people who join the caravan usually do continue north and may try to enter the US, but this is by no means some organized effort to flood the southern US border with migrants.

Trump, who doesn’t know that and probably wouldn’t care if you told him, has threatened to cut foreign aid to Honduras over the caravan, a threat that was met with a decisive “piss off” on Tuesday from the Honduran government:

“We don’t know what President Trump is talking about when he says that Honduras doesn’t do anything” to stop illegal immigration, presidential spokesman Ebal Diaz said on a local TV program.


“I think he is not well informed, I think he is unfairly using Honduras in a political debate he has with the U.S. Congress,” Diaz said, adding that Honduras deserved respect.

Diaz justifiably blamed US drug policies for creating the violence and endemic poverty that drives these people north, and for fueling the gangs that harass individual migrants and make these kinds of large caravans much safer. Trump has no plan for attacking America’s raging opium epidemic apart from executing drug dealers, which is basically the same failed crime-and-punishment policy the US has been pursuing for decades, only harsher and more violent.


Meanwhile, Trump’s big new idea is to deploy the US military along the border with Mexico to interdict the migrants. Of course nobody seems to have any idea what he’s talking about except maybe Trump himself. He either means deploying the National Guard along the border, which has been tried before and hasn’t done very much to stymie immigration, or deploying active duty soldiers along the border, which is so blatantly illegal it wouldn’t be worth even considering…except that we’re talking about Donald Trump here and there’s absolutely no way in hell he actually knows it’s illegal. Is anybody going to tell him? Because either you head him off here or he’s going to start demanding the military do all sorts of other domestic things for him and we’ll all really be in the shit.

Meanwhile, this is starting to sound like a broken record, but another new poll finds leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador extending his lead ahead of July’s election. This one shows López Obrador’s lead up to 18 points.


Finally, Foreign Policy suggests that Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo may be in for a fairly brutal confirmation fight, even if it’s still one he’s likely to win:

In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republicans hold a slim one-seat majority. But in March, libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) vowed to do everything he could to block Pompeo’s nomination over his defense of enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture, and his support for the Iraq War.


If all committee Democrats and Paul vote against Pompeo, it will be the first time in modern history a secretary of state nominee moves to a Senate-wide vote without the approval of the foreign relations committee.

It’s likely that at least one spineless centrist Democrat will cave and vote Pompeo out of committee, but even if they miraculously hold firm it doesn’t matter. Pompeo’s nomination can still be reported to the full Senate even if the committee votes it down. In the full Senate Republicans can afford to lose Paul, and they’ll probably pick up a couple of votes from the “why the fuck are you even a Democrat” caucus (Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Doug Jones, etc.)

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