Europe/Americas update: September 10 2018


Tuesday is obviously the 17th anniversary of 9/11, and while some of you may be wondering if we’re ever going to stop noting that anniversary, I would submit to you that we can’t even stop fighting the war 9/11 started, so we’re not going to stop commemorating 9/11 anytime soon. Here, in what I think is a worthwhile attempt to assess 9/11’s impact, Canadian author Stephen Marche argues that al-Qaeda “won,” not so much in its own right as by causing the United States to lose:

But it would be foolish to blame America’s diathetical defeat on Bush’s casual incompetence or bin Laden’s narrative instinct. Diathetical warfare uses the collective storytelling system against its creators. That’s what makes it so hard even to perceive. The goals of diathetics remain the goals of guerrilla warfare. The first aim is to provoke a massive overreaction. The larger goal is to reorient the behavior of the enemy, to alter the mindset to a state of despair and counterproductive reaction.

The massive overreaction was inevitable given the brute size and scope of the media and the collective unfamiliarity with its effects. Perspective becomes impossible in an environment of media saturation, or, rather, perspective is irrelevant—9/11 could not be just another act of war any more than the O.J. Simpson trial could be just another case. Distortion is at the heart of the disaster. In 2001, heart disease killed 700,142 Americans, accidents killed 101,537, and influenza killed 62,034. Sugar is vastly more dangerous to public safety than terrorism. In hindsight, 9/11 was not the most important historical event that year. In a hundred years, 2001 will be remembered for the launch of the 3G network in Japan and the entrance of China in the World Trade Organization—the advent of an instant global communications network and nascent Chinese power were both events with much more long-term consequences than what we call 9/11. Even to mention these facts seems distasteful, as if I’m missing the point. That size of meaning is the core victory of the diathetic effect. “Everything changed on 9/11” is the one thing everyone can agree on. A victory for the United States would have been for nothing to have changed.



The Polish military is forming a new division that will be stationed in the eastern part of the country, clearly out of some sense of concern about Russia. I’m sure that will be just fine.


Macedonian voters are about to be deluged with arguments over the word “north,” as the official campaign is kicking off ahead of a referendum later this month on whether to change the country’s name from the “Republic of Macedonia” to the “Republic of North Macedonia.” The latter is the result of a negotiated settlement with the Greek government, which objects to the use of the word “Macedonia” by the former Yugoslav republic and has been blocking its membership in NATO and the European Union over the issue.

Macedonians don’t seem to be terribly pleased by the idea of the name change, but many seem to feel that it’s necessary and “yes” is expected to win although it’s unclear if turnout will meet the 50 percent threshold for a valid result. The results of the referendum aren’t binding but they could influence enough opposition VMRO-DPMNE party legislators to back the agreement in order to get it through parliament–the government needs 10 of them to break ranks and vote in favor. The Macedonian government is warning of possible Russian interference, Moscow being opposed to Skopje’s accession to NATO in particular.


There’s still a lot to unpack from Sunday’s Swedish parliamentary vote but the upshot is that Swedish politics are about to become very messy:

The leaders of Sweden’s main left and rightwing parliamentary blocs have staked claims to form the next government, heralding weeks or months of fraught negotiations after an election that left them almost tied and far short of a majority amid gains by both the far right and smaller parties.

The incumbent prime minister, Stefan Löfven, whose Social Democrats remained the largest party with 28.4% of the vote, its lowest score for a century, refused opposition calls to resign and said he would take two weeks before the next parliamentary vote to try to build a cross-bloc coalition that would avoid the growing influence of the populist, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats.

The election marked “the end of bloc politics in Sweden”, Löfven told supporters. “There is no side with a majority. So it is only natural to work across the political divide to make it possible to govern.” He said a party “with Nazi roots” had nothing to offer the country but division and hatred. “We have a moral responsibility.”

Löfven’s center-left coalition looks like it will control 144 of the parliament’s 349 seats, one more than the center-right Alliance. However, should Alliance leaders find it in their hearts to collaborate with the Sweden Democrats despite their Nazi roots, they’ll have 205 seats at their disposal at least to support a minority government. That’s assuming that, in agreeing to work with the Sweden Democrats, the Alliance doesn’t lose the Centre Party, its left-most component. The loss of its 31 seats would put the Alliance back in a minority even with the Sweden Democrats on board.

Löfven intends to appeal to both the Centre Party and the Liberal Party, which controls 19 seats, to quit the Alliance and join a governing coalition with him. But he’ll have to do that while still keeping the support of the far-left Left Party, which could be challenging. Meanwhile the Sweden Democrats have good reason to play spoiler, because their strength is growing and an embarrassingly dysfunctional failure by Sweden’s main parties to form a government could push more voters over to their cause. Like I said, messy.


European Union Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier says he’s optimistic that the UK and the EU can come to some sort of agreement on a post-Brexit relationship by early November as long as both sides are “realistic.” The EU may be preparing some kind of superficial concessions to the UK in an effort to throw Theresa May a bone and help her fend off the impending rebellion she’s facing within her own party over her “soft Brexit” idea. But that doesn’t mean the EU’s fundamental positions will change.

There are now rumors flying that May’s government is taking legal counsel on the possibility of holding a second Brexit referendum, an idea May herself has rejected but that seems to have gained some momentum in parliament of late. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been silent on the issue of a second vote but if he were to support it–or at least come out as unopposed to it–that could be an interesting development.



Polling since his stabbing last week shows that far-right presidential hopeful Jair Bolsonaro remains the frontrunner ahead of next month’s election, but he hasn’t seen much of a sympathy boost. Polling still shows Bolsonaro losing a runoff to every candidate except the Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad–they’re in a dead heat.

The Workers’ Party’s preferred candidate, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has not given up on the possibility of getting on the October ballot UPDATE: reportedly he now has. Polling consistently shows that Lula would be the real frontrunner in the race if it weren’t for the corruption conviction that’s keeping him off the ballot. At some point he’s expected to throw his support behind Haddad, but for now he’s still exhausting legal challenges to the court ruling that has sidelined him UPDATE: see above, he’s apparently decided that enough is enough. Over at Patreon, I interviewed Michael Brooks of The Michael Brooks Show today about Lula and the Brazilian race. Please check it out.


Big news today–a pot called a kettle black:

A U.S. official on Monday accused Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro of “rapacious corruption” and operating “a kleptocracy” on a rarely seen scale that includes not only embezzling from the state-owned oil company but stealing from a government program created to feed millions of hungry people.

Marshall Billingslea, the U.S. Treasury’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, alleged at an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council that corruption by Maduro, his wife Celia Flores and their inner circle “have laid low a once great nation, and impoverished millions.”

The result, he said, is “a humanitarian crisis threatening regional stability,” a near-collapse of Venezuela’s oil production, and an economy “now in a death spiral.”

I don’t know anything about Billingslea, but surely he knows he’s working for Donald Trump while he slings around kleptocracy accusations, right? And surely he knows that those millions have been impoverished due in no small part to punitive US sanctions that have nothing to do with preventing Venezuelan corruption and everything to do with punishing an upstart leftist Latin American goverment, doesn’t he?

Eh, maybe not.


Leaders of Colombia’s ELN rebel group say that President Iván Duque’s conditions for resuming peace talks are “unacceptable.” Duque is demanding that the rebels free 19 hostages they’re holding, which the ELN claims was not part of the agreement the group reached with previous President Juan Manuel Santos. The ELN says it is committed to freeing the hostages but accused Duque of “ending” the negotiating process so it doesn’t sound like things are in a good place right now.


The New York Times examines Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’s attempt to undermine anti-corruption efforts and potentially take the country back toward its authoritarian past:

Three years ago, Guatemala became a startling example to Latin America.

Still battered by decades of civil war, it launched a corruption investigation that reached the highest level of government, drawing hundreds of thousands of supporters to the streets and ultimately landing the president, Otto Pérez Molina, in jail.

It was a feat for a fragile democracy and an inspiration in a region where elites were virtually untouchable and prosecutors were just beginning to tackle graft.

But now the nation risks becoming another kind of example — of the danger to institutions when the entrenched interests of the powerful are challenged.


More scientists and medical professionals are casting doubt on the theory that “microwave weapons” caused the neurological injuries suffered by US diplomats in Cuba and China:

Despite the buzz over microwaves, advanced in news reports in recent days, experts warn that caution is in order. There’s an old scientific aphorism that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. “And they’re not giving the extraordinary evidence. They’re not giving any evidence,” said physicist Peter Zimmerman, an arms control expert and former scientific adviser to the State Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

No microwave weapon that affects the brain is known to exist. The FBI has investigated the Cuba cases and found no evidence of a plot. Searches of the U.S. Embassy and other locations in Havana have turned up no sign of a weapon.

Most significantly, doctors examining the sickened diplomats have established no clear link between their symptoms and any external source.


Finally, Slate’s Joshua Keating argues that John Bolton’s big anti-International Criminal Court speech earlier today was more bark than bite:

The actual policy measures Bolton announced in the speech sound more severe than they are. He vowed that if the court comes after U.S. or Israeli citizens, “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

However, these are more or less the measures already laid out with the 2002 ASPA law. As David Bosco, a professor at Indiana University and the author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics, told me, “It sounded dramatic, but it’s actually not much of a change. I thought it was interesting that he talked only about working within the bounds of existing legislation and didn’t seem to be calling on Congress to take up any additional legislation. I think what he did here was to try to take existing restrictions and frame them as dramatically as possible.”

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