Europe/Americas update: September 6 2018


Perhaps you’ve heard that yesterday the New York Times published an anonymous op-ed purporting to be from a White House insider asserting that Donald Trump may be non compos mentis and assuring everyone that the Good Republicans in the administration are protecting us from him even as they gleefully work to implement his mostly wretched political agenda. People have been losing their shit about this piece for well over a day now, and I should know because I have been putting a lot of effort into not reading any of their overheated takes about it. Anyway, if you’re wondering how the op-ed was received in Europe, apparently it was mostly with a shrug and a resigned sense that this is pretty much what everybody already knew was going on:

A resistance movement within the administration trying to derail some of President Trump’s most controversial policies? At a different time and in a different era, Wednesday’s bombshell New York Times op-ed by an anonymous senior Trump official would have been front page news across the globe.

But in the era of Trump and after months of similar revelations, foreign commentators didn’t even bother to repeat what they’ve been saying for more than a year and a half now: The president is unhinged and a menace to the world order.

I’m not sure that’s right, but I will say that if Nauru is tired of being mad at China and they decide they would like to invade the US, I’d be very down with that.


As the UK has made its case for Russian involvement in the poisonings of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter earlier this year, the one thing that’s remained hard to pin down was motive. Why would Russia want to go after an ex-spy living in the UK, presumably in retirement? Why risk sanctions and other penalties over this one guy. Well, this might be why:

Sergei V. Skripal, the former Russian spy poisoned in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, appears to have been working in recent years with intelligence officers in Spain, a country locked in a pitched battle with Russian organized crime groups, some with ties to the Russian government.

The account of Mr. Skripal’s activities in Spain, provided by a senior Spanish official and an author who tracks the Spanish security apparatus, adds new details to a case that has inflamed relations between Russia and the West.

Rather than merely living an isolated life in retirement, Mr. Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer, continued to provide briefingsto spies in the Czech Republic and Estonia, according to European officials. Now, it appears he was also active in Spain.

I’m not saying the Russians were definitely involved here, but this does potentially fill in a big missing piece to the puzzle.


The AP previews this weekend’s Swedish election:

Sweden is holding a general election Sunday, the first since the country took in a record number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in 2015 on top of the hundreds of thousands admitted before.

While the borders are now largely closed, a backlash against the earlier open-door policies is set to give historic gains to the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant party with neo-Nazi roots. The center-left government is expected to take a battering.

Nobody could have predicted this, but apparently there’s a lot of fake xenophobic news flooding into Sweden ahead of the election. Research from Oxford University’s Internet Institute finds that one in every three articles being shared on Twitter around the election is coming from a site they categories as “junk news,” or in other words sites that “deliberately publish misleading, deceptive or incorrect information purporting to be real news,” usually about immigration, Islam, or both.


A new YouGov survey has French President Hanuman Emmanuel Macron’s popularity at a whopping 23 percent, a loss of four points in the same poll since last month. Macron has vowed not to be deterred by poll numbers as he pursues his agenda of cutting taxes for a couple of dozen billionaires while slashing pensions for millions of retirees. You know, when you’re doing a righteous thing you can’t be deterred by a little name-calling.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on Thursday that she wants to reduce or eliminate the use of US-made components in French weapons systems so that US export laws can’t be invoked to limit or reject French arms sales. It seems the Trump administration has started taking a more activist role than previous US administrations in scuttling French arms deals, possibly to benefit US weapons manufacturers.


London is going to cut the salaries of Northern Ireland legislators in an effort to motivate them to reach a deal on a regional government. Northern Ireland hasn’t had a government since January 2017, when Sinn Féin withdrew from its power-sharing agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party. The legislators have until November to resolve their issues or they’ll lose more than $9000 in pay, with a second cut then planned for February.



First the news from earlier in the day: Brazilian presidential frontrunner Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is reportedly set to drop his candidacy after the country’s supreme court denied yet another request that he be allowed to run in October despite his corruption conviction. Lula will probably try to convince his supporters to back his erstwhile running mate, Fernando Haddad, who will now step in as the Workers’ Party candidate.

Now, the more serious news is that the frontrunner in Lula-free polling, far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, was stabbed by an attacker at a campaign rally in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state on Thursday. Though initial reports suggested he was not badly wounded, later reports were far more serious–Bolsonaro reportedly arrived at the hospital near death and had to have emergency surgery. He’s now in “grave but stable” condition. The attacker was apparently caught but there’s been no discussion as to motive yet as far as I know.


Al Jazeera reports on Nicaraguan police officers who have had to go underground or even flee the country because they made the mistake of speaking out against President Daniel Ortega’s brutal suppression of protesters:


A few items this evening.

First, not everyone in convinced that microwaves are behind the mysterious “sonic” ailments that have been suffered by US diplomats in China and Cuba:

“The microwave auditory effect is a real stretch. It is a biologically trivial effect due to thermally generated vibrations in the head,” University of Pennsylvania bioengineer Kenneth Foster, who documented the mechanism for the effect in 1974, told BuzzFeed News.

“It takes strong microwave pulses to generate barely detectable sounds in the head, and the sound levels in the head are many orders of magnitude below anything that is reasonably anticipated to be hazardous.”

Next, you’ll be pleased to know that the F-35’s flaws are being addressed in a systematic and efficient manner to improve the aircraft’s performance and safety–LOL I’m just kidding, the Pentagon is just recategorizing the flaws to make them seem less serious on paper:

Officials in the F-35 Joint Program Office are making paper reclassifications of potentially life-threatening design flaws to make them appear less serious, likely in an attempt to prevent the $1.5-trillion program from blowing through another schedule deadline and budget cap.

The Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight obtained a document showing how F-35 officials are recategorizing—rather than fixing—major design flaws to be able to claim they have completed the program’s development phase without having to pay overruns for badly needed fixes.

Several of these flaws, like the lack of any means for a pilot to confirm a weapon’s target data before firing, and damage to the plane caused by the tailhook on the Air Force’s variant, have potentially serious implications for safety and combat effectiveness.

The F-35 project has been a marvel, really. The planes still apparently contain a whopping 966 design flaws, many of them potentially fatal that the Pentagon is pretending are less serious than they really are. The aircraft cost well over twice what they were supposed to cost when the program began in 2001 (a bit over $62 million per plane then is now over $158 million per plane). And the whole project is 12 years behind schedule. Twelve years late at double the cost and there are still almost one thousand things wrong with each plane. Truly Lockheed Martin has pulled off the most remarkable theft in human history with this job.

Finally, Nick Turse writes about the Pentagon’s contemporary fondness for perpetual war, possibly because there’s more money to be made that way but also because the United States can’t lose as long as it just refuses to stop fighting:

In Vietnam, that military aimed to “out-guerrilla the guerrilla.” It never did, and the United States suffered a crushing defeat. Henry Kissinger — who presided over the last years of that conflict as national security advisor and then secretary of state — provided his own concise take on one of the core tenets of asymmetric warfare: “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.” Perhaps because that eternally well-regarded but hapless statesman articulated it, that formula was bound — like so much else he touched — to crash and burn.

In this century, the United States has found a way to turn Kissinger’s martial maxim on its head and so rewrite the axioms of armed conflict. This redefinition can be proved by a simple equation:

0 + 1,000,000,000,000 + 17 +17 + 23,744 + 3,000,000,000,000 + 5 + 5,200 + 74 = 4,000,000,029,057

Expressed differently, the United States has not won a major conflict since 1945; has a trillion-dollar national security budget; has had 17 military commanders in the last 17 years in Afghanistan, a country plagued by 23,744 “security incidents” (the most ever recorded) in 2017 alone; has spent around $3 trillion, primarily on that war and the rest of the war on terror, including the ongoing conflict in Iraq, which then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld swore, in 2002, would be over in only “five days or five weeks or five months,” but where approximately 5,000 U.S. troops remain today; and yet 74 percent of the American people still express high confidence in the U.S. military.

Let the math and the implications wash over you for a moment. Such a calculus definitively disproves the notion that “the conventional army loses if it does not win.” It also helps answer the question of victory in the war on terror. It turns out that the U.S. military, whose budget and influence in Washington have only grown in these years, now wins simply by not losing — a multi-trillion-dollar conventional army held to the standards of success once applied only to under-armed, under-funded guerilla groups.

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