Europe/Americas update: September 13 2018



Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Moscow on Thursday and said that the US may impose sanctions over the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline but stressed that no decision has been made on that point. The pipeline still has some legal hurdles to clear before it can be completed but the Trump administration has made it clear that it opposes the project because it will increase European dependence on Russian energy and limit the European market for US liquified natural gas sales. Congress seems eager to impose yet more sanctions on Russia, so whether it’s over Nord Stream 2 or something else they’ll presumably find a justification.


University of Graz professor Florian Bieber discusses the many steps and potential complications that remain before Macedonia can potentially change its name and pursue NATO and European Union membership:

When the Greek and Macedonian prime ministers signed an agreement on June 17 to resolve a long-standing dispute between the two countries about Macedonia’s official name, it was clear that a long and bumpy road was still ahead. The Greeks have long found the use of the name “Republic of Macedonia” unacceptable. They see it as a way for the Balkan nation to assert a claim to the region in northern Greece that is also called Macedonia and as a way to imply ownership over ancient Macedonia, which Greeks claim as part of their own heritage. For Macedonians, Greece’s refusal to accept the name has been seen as unfair—a denial of their country’s national identity. Now that two leaders have come to a detente on the naming issue, the biggest hurdle ahead is an upcoming referendum on the issue in Macedonia on Sept. 30.

The government has urged citizens to vote “yes” on the following question: “Do you support EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between Macedonia and Greece?” The fact that the poll doesn’t even include the country’s new proposed name—Republic of North Macedonia—is telling. The new name of the country, which is now known as either the Republic of Macedonia (domestically and in bilateral relations with most countries) or “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (to Greece and in international organizations), is no secret. The fact that it has been left off the ballot, though, shows how contentious the issue still is among Macedonians.


With Kosovar leaders insisting that any agreement they reach with Serbia must include Serbian diplomatic recognition, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has a demand of his own, Vučić wants assurances that any deal he makes with Kosovo will guarantee Serbian admission into the EU. Frankly I’m not sure I get the appeal, but I guess he has his reasons.


Slovenia’s parliament voted on Thursday to approve a minority government led by new Prime Minister and former comedian Marjan Šarec.

Good luck, I guess? (Wikimedia | PJakopin)

The List of Marjan Šarec came in second place in Slovenia’s June election but earned the right to form a government when the right-wing Slovenian Democratic Party failed to piece together a coalition. LMŠ formed its coalition with four other parties and controls 43 seats in Slovenia’s 90 seat parliament, with the Left party agreeing to support the government on key procedural votes. Minority governments are notoriously unstable and a minority government made up of five participating parties sounds like a threat to collapse by lunchtime tomorrow, but I guess we’ll see.


Although it lost a big vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Hungary seems like it will escape serious sanctions from Brussels. The governments of both the Czech Republic and Poland appeared to suggest on Thursday that they will veto any attempt by the EU to punish Viktor Orbán for his right-wing authoritarian bullshit.


In an effort to show that he is not, shut up JUST SHUT UP, “President of the Rich” as his opponents keep claiming, French President Caishen Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced his big, 8 billion euro plan to fight poverty. If you’re keeping score at home, that means he’s spending 12 billion euros less on fighting poverty than he did on his signature massive tax cut for rich people.


The two Russians who have been fingered by UK officials as GRU operatives who carried out the poisoning of ex-Russian/double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter earlier this year say that they have no idea what all of this poisoning business is all about. In an interview with RT, the two men insisted that they were in Britain in March as simple tourists and visited Salisbury, where they were caught on camera near the Skripal home, because they’d heard such nice things about it. Also they’re not GRU agents, they’re in the “sports nutrition business.” It’s all very simple and believable.



The International Whaling Commission closed its conference in Brazil this week with members states voting 40 to 27 to extend the worldwide ban on commercial whaling indefinitely. Countries that are still pro-whaling, even though (I double checked this) it’s 2018 and not 1818, are angry but, at least in Japan’s case, all this means is that they’ll have to continue pretending that their commercial whaling is actually being done in the name of scientific research.


You ever hear an idea that you know is bad, but the longer it stews in your mind the more you can almost force yourself to think that it would actually be OK or even good? Asking for a friend:

When Donald Trump first floated the idea of a “military option” in Venezuela last year, he was widely rebuffed by regional leaders and policy experts.

Even the US president’s closest aides were reportedly stunned by the suggestion of an invasion – which for many in Latin America evoked bitter memories of previous US forays in the region.

Direct US intervention remains a fringe idea, but a small section of the Venezuelan opposition appears to be receptive to the possibility of a military coup to remove the country’s increasingly authoritarian president Nicolás Maduro.

Look, I know this almost never works without massive bloodshed and assorted other horrors, but on the other hand we have to get one of these coups right someday, don’t we? Maybe this will be the one!


“Thousands” of protesters have been demonstrating for the past four days over a plan to convert Costa Rica’s sales tax to a value-added tax, meaning that it would affect more things and, the opponents have been arguing, hit lower and middle classes harder than the rich. Public workers went on strike on Thursday to show their displeasure.


Thousands of students protested in Mexico City on Thursday demanding an end to violence against their peers:

They carried placards with slogans like “Being a student in Mexico is more dangerous than being a criminal.”

That was a reference to an attack by thugs on students at the National Autonomous University earlier this month. It also referred to the September 2014 kidnapping and disappearance of 43 students. Nobody has been convicted for those crimes.

“The main problem is the lack of safety, especially for female students,” said Diego Gonzalez, a 24-year-old majoring in history.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government is reportedly considering an offer from the United States to earmark $20 million in “foreign assistance funds” to pay Mexico to deport migrants before they get to the US border. The administration’s brutalization of would-be asylum seekers has done nothing to stem the tide of people attempting to enter the US, so they seem to be frantically casting around for other ideas. Maybe the Mexicans can take the $20 million and put it towards paying for the wall or whatever.


A group of Cuban and US scientists met at the State Department on Thursday to discuss whatever has afflicted US diplomats in Cuba. It’s not clear what they discussed but it is clear that the Cuban delegation would like the US to stop wildly spouting unsupported accusations:

In addition to urging further medical cooperation, the Cuban delegation insisted that the State Department, which has yet to say conclusively what caused the reported illnesses, should stop referring to what occurred as an attack.

Asked what he thought of the idea that Russia was responsible for what happened to the diplomats, an idea that has recently been the subject of news coverage, Mitchell Joseph Valdés Sosa answered, “If you’re going to try to explain why donkeys fly, you first have to see a flying donkey. We don’t see flying donkeys.”


Finally, the Trump administration is taking heat for its latest bullshit attempt to conflate immigration and terrorism:

Eighteen former counterterrorism officials are urging the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to retract or correct a report that implies a link between terrorism and immigration, calling its findings “misleading” and counterproductive.

Released in January, the report says that 402 of the 549 people — almost three out of four — convicted of terrorism charges since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were foreign-born. That’s a data point that President Trump has highlighted as justification for his administration’s hard-line immigration policies — namely his desire to shift from a “random chain migration and lottery system, to one that is merit-based,” as he has tweeted. But critics dubious of the report’s conclusions have said it relies on irrelevant and, in some cases, flawed data.


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