Europe/Americas update: July 6 2018


Migration is the issue that’s been roiling European politics for weeks months years now. It’s the issue that inspired Italians to elect a government full of reactionary racists, that inspired Austrians to elect a government full of neo-Nazis, and that recently almost took down Angela Merkel’s already weak coalition in Germany. But according to the United Nations and, um, objective reality, it’s a non-issue:

“We consider it a political crisis, not a migrant crisis. The numbers are not that significant,” said Leonard Doyle, spokesman for the U.N. International Organization for Migration.

“We are concerned that the toxic narrative against migrants, to put it bluntly, be diminished, and people see migration for what it is. It’s a necessary part of the modern world, provided it’s managed. The issue is that people’s perception is that it’s out of control,” he said.

The numbers of people risking the journey across the sea peaked in 2015, but have fallen sharply in each subsequent year. In the first half of 2018, 46,449 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea, according to the IOM.

(that 2018 figure is, for context, five times lower than it was in the first half of 2016)

This is weird! It’s almost like reactionary white politicians have invented a “migration crisis” whole-cloth for, I don’t know, political reasons or something. To be fair, the migrant issue is exacerbated in countries like Italy and Greece because the European Union does a miserable job of sharing responsibility for caring for asylum seekers and other immigrants, even though that’s a core part of what the EU is supposed to do. But that still doesn’t justify simply letting hundreds of people die at sea, which is what Italy’s new government is doing with its “fuck you, don’t come here” migrant policy.


While China mulls its options and files complaints with the WTO, Russia has imposed retaliatory tariffs against US goods in response to the Trump administration’s aluminum and steel tariffs. Something else for Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to talk about in Helsinki, I guess.


The head of Poland’s Supreme Court, Małgorzata Gersdorf, is fighting her forced retirement/purge, which she believes in in violation of Poland’s constitution. The lowering of Poland’s mandatory judicial retirement age comes with a clause that allows judges to apply to Polish President Andrzej Duda to remain in their posts, but as you might imagine that doesn’t do much to counter claims that the purge undermines judicial independence. Gersdorf got a show of support from the EU on Friday:

Kees Sterk, chief of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), which advises the EU’s executive on upholding rule of law in the bloc, spoke after meeting Judge Malgorzata Gersdorf in her Warsaw office.

“We’re here to express our concerns about the situation, about the independence of judges, independence of the Supreme Court,” Sterk told reporters.

Gersdorf has refused to accept her retirement, saying her mandate should only expire in 2020 and cannot be cut short by the government.


Slovenian President Borut Pahor looks like he’s planning to tap Slovenian Democratic Party leader Janez Janša as the country’s next prime minister. The right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party emerged from last month’s election as the largest party in parliament. But Janša only controls 25 seats in the 90 seat legislature and only has support from parties controlling 11 additional seats. You can see where this might be a problem. The thing is that none of Slovenia’s parties seems able to cobble together a majority coalition and so Pahor is left to pick Janša, the ostensible winner in the election, and see what happens. The center-left List of Marjan Šarec, which came in second in the election, has been trying to cobble together a 50 seat coalition with five other parties, but that’s an unwieldy size and negotiations are apparently not moving quickly.


The new Italian government, led by the Five Star Movement, is rethinking the country’s decision to order 90 F-35s from the United States. At the very least it says it will not order any additional units. However, penalties built into its contract could actually make it more costly for Italy to back out of buying the 90 it’s already agreed to buy. Let that be a lesson to you: if you’re going to build a plane that doesn’t work, make sure you line up buyers in advance and lock them in to agreements with heavy penalties for backing out.


The Netherlands last month expelled two individuals attached to the Iranian embassy in Amsterdam. It hasn’t given a reason for the expulsion.


Theresa May might finally have gotten her own cabinet members to stop sniping one another over Brexit:

After nearly two years of bitter factionalism within her governing Conservative party over what terms Britain should seek in its divorce from the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May summoned her cabinet to her country home on Friday and told her ministers either to support her compromise plan or resign, turn in their government cars and find their own way home.

Her threats appeared to work, up to a point. At the end of the day she announced that she had won agreement from her team to back a negotiating position in talks with Brussels that would keep Britain effectively tied to many European Union rules. In doing so, she faced down supporters of making a cleaner break from the bloc, and gave her country its clearest view yet of how she wants to steer Britain into a post-Brexit future.

That this is being portrayed as a huge victory for May and not as a months-overdue act of desperation is indicative of how low the bar has been set for a person who has proven to be manifestly unfit for the job of governing a country in the best of times, let alone of governing a fading minor power with mass delusions of grandeur at a time of huge political upheaval. The challenge of negotiating a Brexit deal was massive enough without a completely divided cabinet, but it’s taken May almost two full years just to get to where she needed to be after about a month on the job. On the plus side, she might finally can Boris Johnson if he tries to undermine this newfound cabinet unity.



Protests broke out in the Haitian cities of Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien on Friday after the government announced huge fuel price increases of between 38 and 51 percent. Three people were killed–two protesters were shot and a security guard was reportedly beaten to death by a mob after firing his gun in the air. Protests are expected to continue on Saturday.


Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador says he will begin working on an amnesty bill in consultation with victims of crime and with the input of Mexican citizens via a series of forums. The amnesty will not apply to perpetrators of violent crime but rather to people who have been recruited into drug gangs in non-violent roles (farmers, lookouts, messengers, etc.) and to political prisoners. López Obrador also says he wants to improve police capabilities in order to get the Mexican military out of the crime-fighting business.


A botched 2005 raid in Afghanistan, the one detailed in the book and film Lone Survivor, caused the Pentagon to reconsider what its forces needed in terms of air support. It’s 2018 now, as you know, and the Pentagon is still thinking about it:

“After that [mission], the Navy started to say, ‘What do we have to do to make sure this never happens again?’” said Taco Gilbert, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, who worked in the Pentagon at the time of the mission. “As they talked to people involved, the No. 1 request they had was for a light attack aircraft that could be out with them in the forward areas.”

The outcome, according to Gilbert, who now works as a senior vice president for Sierra Nevada Corp., a company offering light attack aircraft, was what in military jargon is called a JUON (pronounced ju-on), short for “joint urgent operational need.” A JUON is a document that spells out something that is needed urgently on the battlefield, within days or weeks.

The Navy wanted a cheap counterinsurgency aircraft for close air support, something that only required taking an existing light propeller-driven aircraft, such as a trainer, and putting weapons on it. In theory, that could be done within months.

Yet, more than a decade later, the U.S. military still doesn’t have a plane that responds to this urgent requirement. Other countries, from the United Arab Emirates to Kenya, have either bought or are looking at buying a counterinsurgency aircraft. Even Afghanistan now has light combat aircraft, courtesy of American taxpayers, while the Pentagon is still trying to figure out what to buy or whether it should buy anything.

On the plus side, we’re still spending at least $1.5 trillion on an aircraft that might not work at all and is certainly ill-suited to what the military is actually doing. So that’s cool.

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