Europe/Americas update: September 17 2018



Goldsmiths, University of London scholar Linda Kinstler discusses the Paul Manafort case in light of Ukraine’s endemic corruption problem:

In Ukraine, where corruption remains widespread, few expect the judicial system to actually render justice. So news of Paul Manafort’s guilty plea for two felony counts, both linked to his extensive work as a political lobbyist in Ukraine, is a rare cause for celebration in Kiev. At a federal court in Washington, D.C., Manafort pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Court documents detailing his criminal activities state that Manafort was paid more than $60 million for his lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his associates and that, from 2006 to 2016, he “laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.” The filings also detail how he conspired to plant negative stories about former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was imprisoned by the Yanukovych government for abuse of power, in the U.S. press. “My goal is to plant some stink on Tymo,” he wrote to one of his lobbyists. In another communication, he wrote, “I have someone pushing it on the NY Post. Bada bing bada boom.”

While the court documents reveal telling new details of Manafort’s manner of doing business, by now his story is well-known on both sides of the Atlantic: Before he chaired Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Manafort made his name as a political showrunner who fed off Ukraine’s endemic corruption. But the catharsis of his judicial comeuppance will ultimately only produce envy in Ukraine. Four years after the Maidan revolution erupted, the country is hardly any closer to solving its corruption problems; even its latest anti-corruption prosecutors have been caught on tape abusing their official powers for private ends.


Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered a speech to parliament on Monday in which he pledged to fight European Union efforts to force member states to treat migrants as actual human beings. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but only a little. Orbán is facing a fight within his own center-right European People’s Party bloc in the European Parliament, which mostly turned against Hungary last week when parliament voted to impose penalties over Orbán’s repeated violations of EU ruler on immigration and democratization. Some EPP members reportedly want to boot Orbán Fidesz party out of the club for being too far right, but Orbán seems to want to remain in the bloc and try to turn it in his direction.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be about to can the head of her domestic spying agency, Hans-Georg Maaßen over his alleged far-right sympathies. Maaßen has reportedly been sharing classified material with the right-wing Alternative for Germany party and he openly denied that there was any racial violence involved in those far-right riots in the city of Chemnitz a couple of weeks back. He might already be gone except for the fact that Merkel’s similarly fascist-curious interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has so far refused to sack him. If Merkel goes over his head it could open another rift in her very tenuous coalition government.


Quickly: who has two thumbs, dances really awkwardly, and after a year and a half still has no idea how to do Brexit without reimposing a hard Irish border?

oh hell yeah

In a twist of fate, it’s now the European Union that’s trying to convince Theresa May that magic technology woo can solve Brexit’s looming Northern Ireland problem. Only Brussels’ plan involves situating the customs border between the UK and EU in the Irish Sea, not at the Northern Ireland border. Interestingly, hardline Brexit conservatives seem to be alright with this plan, but Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party does not. And since the DUP is keeping May’s minority government afloat in Westminster, neither does she. So of all the remaining Brexit sticking points, this one remains the least likely to get solved at the last minute.



Another new poll shows Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad sliding into second place behind Jair Bolsonaro and thus into the runoff. Haddad came in with 17.6 percent support behind Bolsonaro’s 28.2 percent in a survey by pollster MDA. Interestingly, this MDA poll showed Bolsonaro winning the runoff against all his other potential challengers except leftist Ciro Gomes, with whom he’s tied. Most other polls have showed Bolsonaro tying Haddad in a hypothetical runoff but losing to everybody else.


The Lima Group, a bloc of 14 Latin American governments formed to manage the escalating crisis in Venezuela, issued a statement on Monday in which 11 of its members rejected the use of military force to end that crisis. This comes after Organization of American States head Luis Almagro said last Friday that maybe a military resolution to the situation wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.


The Colombian government says it sent a letter of protest to the Venezuelan government on Monday after the Venezuelan military entered Colombia last week and detained three Colombian citizens. The Venezuelan government says its forces were shutting down an alleged cocaine lab.


Although Guatemala’s constitutional court has ordered him to allow the return of International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) boss Iván Velásquez, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales on Monday asked the UN to name a new head of the commission anyway because he intends to ignore the court ruling. Just guessing here but this story probably isn’t heading in a positive direction.


The Trump administration capped the number of refugees it will allow into the US at 30,000 for next year, down from 45,000 this year and 110,000 at the end of the Obama administration. Why? Because they’re assholes. And racists, yes, but I think assholes covers it pretty well.

Meanwhile, the Air Force says it needs a massive increase in combat aircraft to prepare for the war with Russia and/or China it wants us all to believe is looming on the horizon:

The U.S. Air Force has determined it will need a nearly 25 percent boost in combat squadrons in order to support a major war with another great power such as China or Russia, signaling the largest potential increase in air power for the United States since the end of the Cold War.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the service wants to grow to 386 operational squadrons by around 2025-2030, compared with the 312 it has today. The rise would support Defense Secretary James Mattis’s shift in focus from the fight against terrorism in the Middle East to potential conflicts with near-peer competitors.

That sound you just heard was a bunch of Lockheed Martin senior executives flushing their now-unnecessary Cialis down the toilet.

Finally, those who are interested in the work of developing a left wing foreign policy framework might want to check out this piece by Daniel Bessner in the New York Times:

But if the left wing of the Democratic Party wants to be taken seriously, it must speak convincingly about security and diplomacy. Without core, identifiable beliefs about foreign affairs, left-wing politicians will either embarrass themselves or repeat some version of the tired conventional wisdom. Moreover, there is an opportunity here: Just as many Americans are fed up with the economic status quo, so too are they fed up with business as usual in foreign policy.

A foreign policy for the left won’t emerge overnight. A conversation is just starting to take place, and it will continue as more socialists win power and shape American politics. Though a concrete agenda remains a ways off, there are five broad principles that merge the left’s commitment to egalitarianism and democracy with a sober analysis of the limits of American power.

You may disagree with his five principles–I at least think two of them could be rolled into one and I think the omission of an anti-corruption principle is pretty glaring–but it’s still an interesting contribution to the discussion.

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