Europe/Americas update: August 20 2018

As always when I take a few days off we’re going to skip over what happened while I was gone unless absolutely necessary.


Don’t look now but parts of the Arctic permafrost aren’t permanently frosted anymore:

Every winter across the Arctic, the top few inches or feet of soil and rich plant matter freezes up before thawing again in summer. Beneath this active layer of ground extending hundreds of feet deeper sits continuously frozen earth called permafrost, which, in places, has stayed frozen for millennia.

But in a region where temperatures can dip to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the Zimovs say unusually high snowfall this year worked like a blanket, trapping excess heat in the ground. They found sections 30 inches deep—soils that typically freeze before Christmas—that had stayed damp and mushy all winter. For the first time in memory, ground that insulates deep Arctic permafrost simply did not freeze in winter.

Thawing permafrost will eventually lead to the release of massive amounts of carbon as bacteria begin consuming once-frozen organic matter in the soil. This will create one of those climate feedback loops that kicks climate change into a gear wherein humans no longer have any chance of stopping or even lessening its impact. Scientists know that will happen at some point if temperatures continue to rise. But now they’re looking at the possibility that it will happen decades earlier than anybody predicted.



Five Chechen teenagers carried out four separate attacks in the province on Monday, all claimed by ISIS. Four of the teens were killed by Chechen police. Two police officers were hurt in one of the attacks but they were the only casualties.


Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met on Monday at Merkel’s residence outside of Berlin. Neither issued a statement after the meeting but it’s believed they focused on Ukraine, Syria reconstruction, and the Iran nuclear deal.


Greece’s third and final bailout came to an end on Monday, meaning the country can finally begin to pull itself out from under the wreckage caused by eight years of sadistically mandated austerity. Or in European terms, “the programme of financial assistance”:

And to be fair, it was a program of financial assistance if you happened to be one of Greece’s creditors. If you were, say, a Greek retiree, not so much. All that “assistance” shrunk the Greek economy by around 25 percent and the Greek population by around three percent (thanks to a heady mix of lower birth rates, higher suicide rates, and a lot of outmigration), and has left the country with a third of its people below the poverty line and over 40 percent of its youth still unemployed.

Oh, and the austerity isn’t really gone. Greece’s creditors–the so-called “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund–are requiring it to run budget surpluses essentially in perpetuity so as to pay down its debt. which means spending cuts and tax increases on working class Greeks can be expected to continue, and low growth or economic contraction along with them.


A man weilding a knife entered a police station in Cornellà early Monday trying to attack police. He was shot and killed and the incident is being treated as a terrorist attack. Meanwhile, in the town of Casetas in northern Spain, a car jumped the curb and left three people injured. Two people were arrested but there’s been no word as to motive. Friday was the one year anniversary of the La Rambla van attack in Barcelona, which could be relevant in either or both of these incidents.



Violent clashes between suspected drug traffickers and Brazilian soldiers in Rio on Monday point to the ongoing militarization of Brazilian policing:

At least 11 suspects and two soldiers died during shootouts with military personnel and police in greater Rio de Janeiro on Monday as violence erupted in several areas of the city that hosted the Summer Olympics two years ago.

The direct confrontations between soldiers and armed traffickers also marked a deepening of the military’s role in Rio’s security. Since the military was put in charge of the state’s security earlier this year, soldiers have mostly played supporting roles to police during operations, such as securing perimeters or setting up checkpoints. On Monday, soldiers were clearly in the lead.

The extent to which that militarization continues depends in part on who wins October’s presidential election. Although he’s in prison and probably won’t be allowed to run, new polling shows former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva increasing his lead by almost five points since May, to 37.3 percent. Assuming he is prevented from running by what many observers believe is a rigged corruption conviction, another new poll shows far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro leading with 20 percent of the vote, eight points ahead of his closest rival.


Nicolás Maduro’s plan to clamp down on inflation by simply hacking five zeroes off of the bolívar and anchoring its value to his new made-up cryptocurrency the “petro” went into effect on Monday with many Venezuelans apparently unclear on exactly how they’re supposed to exchange their old bills for new currency and in what way this is supposed to actually stop inflation. The answers, apparently, are “very carefully” and “it probably won’t.”

One immediate effect Maduro’s currency plan is having is on the Venezuelan refugee crisis, in that it’s causing more Venezuelans to attempt to flee the country. An estimated 1.6 million Venezuelans have left the country over the past two and a half years, and Venezuela’s neighbors are beginning to respond harshly. Ecuador, for example, closed its border to Venezuelans without a passport over the weekend, stranding potentially thousands of people at the border. Peru is also now requiring Venezuelans attempting to enter the country to have passports. Brazil’s northern Roraima state has asked the country’s Supreme Court to order its Venezuelan border shut altogether, after the Brazilian government had to deploy soldiers to the region over the weekend when residents attacked and set fire to refugee camps.


In Syria news, the Trump administration announced on Friday that it will not spend the $230 million it had previously planned to spend on rebuilding parts of northeastern Syria that were destroyed during the US-Kurdish campaign against ISIS. This is part of a $3 billion chunk of foreign aid money that the administration apparently doesn’t want to spend, because we no longer spend money in other countries unless it involves blowing up some part of them. The administration contends that the US money is no longer needed because other countries, chiefly Gulf Arab states, have committed to spend $300 million on northeast Syrian reconstruction. But considering that rebuilding Raqqa alone will run in the hundreds of billions of dollars, that $300 million likely won’t get the job done.

This new “we broke it, you bought it” policy is becoming doctrine on the US right, which, again, is happy to spend whatever amount necessary to blow shit up but gets the deficit willies about spending a fraction of that money to fix the damage we cause. The Russian government is arguing that it’s all part of a US plot to keep Syria unstable, and while that’s a reasonable conclusion I think it gives this administration too much credit for actually having a strategy. Rather I think President Trump and his staff, and really Republicans in general, are just far more comfortable killing Arabs than they are providing the survivors with clean water and shelter.

Along these same lines, Trump is apparently once more giving serious consideration to Blackwater founder and all-around scumbag Erik Prince’s plan to privatize the US war effort in Afghanistan and make himself America’s colonial viceroy in Kabul:

President Donald Trump is increasingly venting frustration to his national security team about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and showing renewed interest in a proposal by Blackwater founder Erik Prince to privatize the war, current and former senior administration officials said.

Prince’s idea, which first surfaced last year during the president’s Afghanistan strategy review, envisions replacing troops with private military contractors who would work for a special U.S. envoy for the war who would report directly to the president.

Prince is lobbying hard for his idea, which he insists would save the US government billions of dollars. Of course those billions would be recouped in other ways, either by bleeding Afghanistan of its mineral wealth or by billing the US government for “unforeseen” costs after the fact. Given Prince’s track record we can also assume that privatizing the war will lead to a substantial uptick in civilian casualties. And it probably won’t really do anything to bring the war closer to an end. Other than that it’s a great idea.

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