Europe/Americas update: October 9 2018


A new report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finds that we’re all careening very rapidly toward disaster:

On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a daunting report, suggesting that we are currently on track for around 3 degrees Celsius of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. The IPCC authors promise that we will see coastal cities swallowed by the sea, global food shortages, and $54 trillion in climate-associated costs as soon as 2040.

That fast-approaching catastrophe is the motivation for the demands of Global South residents and their allies, for whom rising tides and superstorms are already a reality. They’ve long chanted “1.5 to survive” through the fluorescent-lit halls of U.N. climate talks, and this new report — which outlines pathways to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — is a testament to that work. The figure is in line with the “well below 2 degrees” target outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement and, according to the co-chair of one of the IPCC working groups that crafted the report, Jim Skea, hitting that target “is possible within the laws of physics and chemistry.”

You may be surprised to learn that, while a 1.5 degree temperature increase is technically within the bounds of physics and chemistry as we understand them, it’s going to require humanity to phase out nearly all of its fossil fuel usage by 2050. So we’re pretty much boned, seeing as how the Chinese government is back to churning out coal-fired power plants by the bushel and the United States is currently run at nearly every level by a political party that isn’t actually sure that there is such a thing as “climate.” And, hey, Brazil is about to elect a president who’s pretty much ready to clear-cut the Amazon (see below), so that’s not helping either. This might be a good time to start talking seriously about geo-engineering, a decidedly sub-optimal solution to climate change but preferable to, you know, the collapse of human civilization as we know it. But chances are we’re not going to do that either.



The open-source investigative website Bellingcat not only claims to have identified one of the two alleged GRU agents allegedly behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom in March as Alexander Mishkin, it says it’s found a photograph of Mishkin receiving a “hero of Russia” award from Vladimir Putin himself, possibly in 2014 for work he did in Ukraine. If accurate it would be a fairly conclusive refutation of Russian claims that the Skripal suspects were just a couple of sports nutritionist businessmen in the UK on holiday. The site says it’s identified the other alleged attacker as GRU operative Anatoliy Chepiga.


A Ukrainian ammunitions depot about 100 miles outside of Kiev exploded overnight in what Ukrainian authorities are treating as an act of sabotage. There were no reported casualties.


Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudziński is recommending that his government withdraw from the UN’s Global Compact for Migration due to concerns that it might force Poland to treat migrants with basic human decency, thereby encouraging “illegal immigration.”


As expected, nationalist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik won a seat in Bosnia’s three-person presidential council in Sunday’s election. Dodik has called for the secession of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska region in the past, and there are serious concerns that he aims to use his new office to break the country apart:

Elsewhere, Croat nationalist Dragan Čović lost his bid to be reelected to the presidential council, leaving his push for the creation of a separate autonomous Croat mini-state within Bosnia up in the air.



If you’re a fan of authoritarian right-wing governance, then Sunday’s Brazilian presidential election had a lot to offer you. For anybody who’s not a fan of those things, Sunday’s results were far worse than expected even though they were not as bad as they could have been:

A far-right candidate who has spoken fondly of Brazil’s onetime military dictatorship came close to an outright victory in the country’s presidential election on Sunday, as Brazilians expressed disgust with politics as usual and endorsed an iron-fisted approach to fighting crime and corruption.

Voters delivered a first-round victory to Jair Bolsonaro, who had stunned the political establishment by rising to the top of a crowded presidential field despite a long history of offensive remarks about women, blacks and gays.

With 99.9 percent of votes tallied, Mr. Bolsonaro had 46 percent of the vote; he needed 50 percent to avoid a runoff. His nearest rival finished far behind, with 29 percent.

With the presidency in sight, Mr. Bolsonaro said Sunday night he intended to unite a nation that is “on the brink of chaos” and said, “Together we will rebuild our Brazil.”

Bolsonaro had been picking up support in polling leading up to the election, but 46 percent was higher than the polling consensus would have indicated. It reflects the fact that Brazil’s center-right establishment, which worked to prevent popular former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from running in the election, has coalesced behind an open fascist in opposition to Silva’s replacement, the center-left Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad. They’ve also coalesced behind Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party, which looks like it will hold 52 seats in the next Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, up from a mere eight currently. That makes it the second-largest party in the chamber, behind Haddad’s Workers Party with its 56 seats (a loss of 13 seats).

Bolsonaro did not win the 50+ percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff, and all along the hope among those who are not fascists or fascist sympathizers has been that his stridently right-wing rhetoric and views would raise his unfavorables so high that he couldn’t possibly win a head-to-head runoff even if he did wind up pulling in around 40 percent in the first round. That’s still possible, but because runoffs typically see lower turnout than first rounds the chances are Bolsonaro, at 46 percent, has already done enough to win the second round without moderating his tone to broaden his appeal (which he’s already said he won’t do, at any rate).

Haddad would likely have to pull off a huge shift from his first round democratic socialist message, casting himself as the last line of defense between Brazilian democracy and a Bolsonaro-led authoritarian government, to have any chance at pulling off an upset later this month. It’s unlikely he’ll be able to stick the landing, and even if he does there may still be enough Brazilians who are open to fascism to hand Bolsonaro the victory. Chances are the country’s center-right parties and the remaining Brazilian plutocrats who haven’t already bent the knee to Bolsonaro will fall in line prior to the runoff.


Venezuelan politician Fernando Albán was arrested on Friday over his alleged involvement in the attempted assassination of President Nicolás Maduro in August. He died while in government custody on Monday, allegedly having jumped out of a tenth story window in the state intelligence agency headquarters. Venezuelan opposition leaders are now saying that he was murdered by Maduro’s personnel.


The Intercept’s Sam Biddle says that a new Government Accounting Office report shows that the US national security establishment needs to take a minute and collectively change its passwords, maybe unplug a couple of routers and plug them back in, something to remedy its complete failure at anything approximating cybersecurity:

The sweeping report drew on nearly 30 years of published research, including recent assessments of the cybersecurity of specific weapon systems, as well as interviews with personnel from the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and weapons-testing bodies. It covered a broad span of American weapons, examining systems at all of the service branches and in space.

The report found that “mission-critical cyber vulnerabilities” cropped up routinely during weapons development and that test teams “easily” took over real systems without detection “using relatively simple tools and techniques,” exploiting “basic issues such as poor password management and unencrypted communications.” Testers could also download and delete data, in one cases exfiltrating 100 gigabytes of material, and could tap into operators’ terminals, in one instance popping up computer dialogs asking the operators “to insert two quarters to continue.” But a malicious attacker could pull off much worse than jokes about quarters, warns the GAO: “In one case, the test team took control of the operators’ terminals. They could see, in real-time, what the operators were seeing on their screens and could manipulate the system.”

Posing as surrogates for, say, Russian or Chinese military hackers, testers sometimes found easy victories. “In some cases,” the GAO found, “simply scanning a system caused parts of the system to shut down,” while one “test team was able to guess an administrator password in nine seconds.” The testers found embarrassing, elementary screw-ups of the sort that would get a middle school computer lab administrator in trouble, to say nothing of someone safeguarding lethal weapon systems. For example, “multiple weapon systems used commercial or open source software, but did not change the default password when the software was installed, which allowed test teams to look up the password on the Internet.”

Finally, Donald Trump’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, abruptly resigned on Tuesday though Trump (a serial liar, let’s not forget) insists she’d been talking to him about it for several months. Her decision came as a surprise, at least inasmuch as it’s been exceedingly rare for anybody to leave this administration without being abused by the president on their way out the door, though there have been signs recently that Haley’s star has been eclipsed by Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, and she’s had a couple of recent minor hiccups within the administration. And for somebody with long-term political aspirations it’s probably best to hop off the Trump Train before it derails completely. I’ve got a piece coming out at LobeLog probably tomorrow that will cover the highlights of Haley’s tenure as UN ambassador, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it tonight.


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