World update: June 23-24 2018

I’m going to be away for most of the next two weeks so these will be our last major updates until July 5.



Though the Taliban declined to extend their recent mutual ceasefire with Kabul, there is hope among some analysts that the brief truce may have improved the conditions for negotiating a peace accord. The welcome Taliban fighters received from Afghans, the newly stated willingness by the US to speak directly with the Taliban, and the support that outside actors like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan showed for the truce all seem like positive signs.


Six Pakistani Taliban fighters and two Pakistani soldiers were killed in clashes in South Waziristan on Saturday. The Pakistanis say they conducted an operation to search for militants in the area.

Speaking of the Pakistani Taliban, they’ve reportedly named a new boss to replace the departed Mulla Fazlullah. It is, as somewhat expected, Mufti Noor Wali Mahsud. His appointment returns the Pakistani Taliban to its Mahsud Pashtun roots.


The 1MDB corruption scandal may be claiming Malaysia’s relations with Saudi Arabia as one of its victims:

Embattled former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was the main loser in last month’s election upset that returned Mahathir Mohamad to power as his country’s anti-corruption crusader. Yet, Mr. Razak is not the only one who may be paying the price for allegedly non-transparent and unaccountable governance.

So is Saudi Arabia with a Saudi company having played a key role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal in which Mr. Razak is suspected to have overseen the siphoning off of at least US$4.5 billion and the Saudi government seemingly having gone out of its way to provide him political cover.

While attention has focussed largely on the re-opening of the investigation of Mr. Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, both of whom have been banned from travel abroad and have seen their homes raided by law enforcement, Saudi Arabia has not escaped policymakers’ consideration. Mr. Razak has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.


At LobeLog, SUNY Professor Walden Bello argues that the real economic danger China poses isn’t in its competition with the United States, but in its potential to incubate the next global financial crisis:

Perhaps the greatest immediate threat to China’s rise to economic supremacy, however, is the same phenomenon that felled the US economy in 2008—financialization, the channeling of resources to the financial economy over the real economy. Indeed, there are three troubling signs that China is a prime candidate to be the site of the next financial crisis: overheating in its real-estate sector, a roller-coaster stock market, and a rapidly growing shadow-banking sector.



A group of Dozo, members of a traditional West African hunting society, reportedly attacked the village of Koumaga in central Mali on Sunday, killing at least 32 Fulani villagers with another 10 still missing. Or at least they were dressed as Dozo, according to witnesses–Malian authorities are not sure they were actually Dozo. The attackers reportedly belonged to the Dogon ethnic group of central Mali. Violence in Mali and elsewhere in West Africa is increasing between the pastoralist Fulani and settled farming peoples like the Dogon. That violence has been exacerbated by the involvement of ISIS and al-Qaeda, both of which recruit among the Fulani and whose presence has caused those settled farming peoples to believe that all Fulani are complicit in Islamist violence.


That pastoralist-farmer violence is also becoming a defining feature of life in Nigeria. The Nigerian government on Sunday imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Plateau state because a series of clashes there over the weekend left at least 70 86 people dead.

Meanwhile, a Boko Haram attack on Tungushe village outside of Maiduguri on Saturday killed at least four people.


Someone lobbed a grenade into the crowd at a rally for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa on Saturday, killing at least two people and wounding 156. Abiy was unharmed. So far 30 people have been arrested in connection with the attack as well as nine police officials accused of negligence. There’s been no determination as to responsibility or motive, but it seems reasonable to believe that it’s related to Abiy’s efforts to make peace with Eritrea, which will involve ceding the town of Badme to Asmara.


Something very similar also happened in Zimbabwe on Saturday. A campaign rally held by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa was the target of a bombing attack in which at least 49 people were wounded. It appears that this was an assassination attempt against Mnangagwa, who says that he was “a few inches” away from the explosion but miraculously (put that in quotes if you like) survived.

Here too there’s no determination about who did it or why, but there are a couple of reasonable theories. One is that the Robert Mugabe loyalists in the ruling ZANU-PF party tried to kill Mnangagwa for ousting their man in last year’s coup. Another is that there’s someone in Zimbabwe trying to disrupt next month’s election, though if that’s it then they failed–Mnangagwa said on Sunday that the election will go on as scheduled. A third is Mnangagwa himself. I don’t want to get too deep into tinfoil hat territory, because this is easily the least likely of the three possibilities I’ve mentioned. But if Mnangagwa were inclined to crack down on the Zimbabwean opposition or otherwise restrict political freedoms in advance of the election, while still looking like he’s committed to democracy, something like this would be a great excuse.



Masked attackers struck a Roma encampment outside of Lviv on Saturday night, killing one person.


A crowd of protesters estimated at larger than 10,000 people gathered in Bucharest and many more gathered in other cities across Romania on Sunday for a fifth straight day of anti-corruption demonstrations. The protesters are angry at the Social Democratic Party and its leader, Liviu Dragnea, who was just sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison on an abuse of office conviction and who says he’s committed to decriminalizing low-level corruption.


New polling shows that Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance is bleeding support to the hard right Alternative for Germany, which will undoubtedly be taken as evidence that Merkel isn’t being hard enough on brown people. Merkel has dedicated herself to working for a Europe-wide migration policy (there’s a summit on the subject happening next week) while the CSU in particular wants to roll out a “fuck migrants” policy and may be prepared to sink Merkel’s government to do it.


Around 5000 people protested in Thessaloniki on Sunday over the deal that Athens and Skopje recently reached over the use of the name “Macedonia.” The protesters object to the former Yugoslav republic taking the name “Republic of North Macedonia” because they believe any use of “Macedonia” implies designs on the Greek region of the same name.


So cutting benefits and worker protections while using state funds to buy yourself a new swimming pool turns out to be lousy politics:

French President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity has hit a new low, a poll showed on Sunday, following recent controversies over spending at his residences and cutting remarks he made on welfare benefits.

Despite upbeat business sentiment and rising foreign investments, the number of people with a favorable opinion of the 40-year-old leader dropped one percentage point in June to 40 percent, the Ifop poll for French weekly JDD showed.

Several prominent businessmen and economists have recently voiced concerns over Macron’s economic policies that are viewed as favoring the rich.

You’ll be happy to know that, according to Macron’s spokesperson, the actual problem here is that French voters are too stupid to see the value in what Macron is doing.



Seven more people, including a one year old child, were killed between Friday evening and Saturday in fresh anti-government violence. The child was shot either by a militant protester, according to police, or by the police themselves, according to his mother. Two students were killed when the campus of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua was attacked by security forces.


In a stunning turn of events that nobody could have foreseen, the Environmental Protection Agency has apparently been drastically undercounting the amount of methane released into the atmosphere by US oil and gas companies:

The US oil and gas industry leaks 60 percent more methane than official government estimates, a report said Thursday, warning of this potent greenhouse gas’s effect on the environment.

US industry emits some 13 million metric tons each year, far more than the amount estimated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said the findings published in the journal Science.

Researchers said the actual leak rate of 2.3 percent — compared to EPA inventory estimates of 1.4 percent — represents enough natural gas to fuel 10 million homes.

Methane is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and its inevitable release during extraction is the reason why the supposedly clean fossil fuel, natural gas, is little better than coal or oil.

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