World update: November 27 2018


A new United Nations report finds that, despite all the talk and fancy international agreements, governments still aren’t doing enough to tackle climate change:

Countries are failing to take the action needed to stave off the worst effects of climate change, a UN report has found, and the commitments made in the 2015 Paris agreement will not be met unless governments introduce additional measures as a matter of urgency.

New taxes on fossil fuels, investment in clean technology and much stronger government policies to bring down emissions are likely to be necessary. Governments must also stop subsidising fossil fuels, directly and indirectly, the UN said.

Gunnar Luderer, one of the authors of the UN report and senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said: “There is still a tremendous gap between words and deeds, between the targets agreed by governments and the measures to achieve these goals.

“Only a rapid turnaround here can help. Emissions must be reduced by a quarter by 2030 [to keep warming to no more than 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial levels] and for 1.5C emissions would have to be halved.”



Three US soldiers were killed on Tuesday by an improvised explosive device outside the city of Ghazni. It’s believed their convoy ran over the device. Presumably the Taliban, which has been very active in Ghazni province of late, was responsible.


Legislators supporting would-be Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa are now boycotting the Sri Lankan parliament, saying that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is biased against Rajapaksa. Jayasuriya declared last week that the office of prime minister is vacant after Rajapaksa lost two confidence votes. Rajapaksa and his supporters argue that the votes, which were conducted by voice, were illegitimate and are insisting on a roll call vote.


North Korea’s United Nations delegation is circulating a letter that criticizes the US for trying to organize a UN Security Council meeting next month on North Korean human rights abuses. Pyongyang is looking to disrupt the procedural vote necessary to call the special session.

Meanwhile, South Korean media reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is open to allowing international inspectors to visit North Korea’s main nuclear research facility at Yongbyon, provided that Washington takes “corresponding steps.” This is a step beyond previous statements that Kim would be willing to shut the site down, but retains the insistence that the US reciprocate in some way. The Trump administration has insisted that it will not concede anything tangible to North Korea in return for anything short of full denuclearization, but the North Koreans are insisting on a more back-and-forth arrangement where each of their concessions is met by something from the US.



The United States sends millions of dollars to Cameroon each year and stations US trainers in the country to support the Cameroonian military, identified by the Pentagon as an important partner in the fight against Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa. The Cameroonian military mostly traffics in torture and human rights violations, particularly in the country’s restive anglophone region. If international law meant anything the US could be culpable in Cameroon’s abuses. But more to the point, supporting military forces that brutalize civilian populations doesn’t actually help win the War on Terror. Quite the opposite.


Foreign Policy reports that UN investigators Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalán, killed last year in what the UN says was a tribal ambush in the DRC’s Kasai region, may actually have been murdered by the Congolese government:

A U.N. panel that examined the murders—the first ever of U.N. experts in the course of their work—concluded last year that Sharp and Catalán most likely drove into an ambush ordered by a local tribal chief. John Sharp said the U.S. official who chaired the panel, Gregory Starr, told him that his son and Catalán flouted U.N. security protocols designed to ensure their safety. “He said they operated like cowboys,” John Sharp said in an interview. “Irresponsible is what he meant, they were being irresponsible.”

But a joint investigation by Foreign Policy, Radio France Internationale, Le Monde, Sveriges Television, and Süddeutsche Zeitung reveals that the U.N. buried evidence suggesting that Congolese authorities may have been involved in the murder. FP and the other news organizations reviewed thousands of pages of internal U.N. documents and interviewed dozens of key players for the investigation. It’s not clear from the documents why the Congolese authorities would have wanted Sharp and Catalán dead. But one possibility is that they sought to prevent the investigators from uncovering evidence of government atrocities in the Kasai province.



Saying “I don’t like that aggression,” Donald Trump told the Washington Post on Tuesday that he may cancel his planned meeting with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of this week’s G20 summit in response to the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov over the weekend. He may not cancel it, but even so I’m sure Putin is just distraught over the whole thing.


Speaking of Sunday’s Azov clash, a Crimean court ruled on Tuesday that 12 of the 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by Russian authorities will be held for 60 days. It should rule on the other 12 sailors on Wednesday. The Russians have begun releasing video “confessions” by the sailors, which were probably coerced.

In a partial rebuke to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the martial law bill the Ukrainian parliament passed on Monday evening was only for 30 days, not the 60 days Poroshenko sought, and will only apply to ten Ukrainian regions bordering Russia, Belarus, and the Russian-claimed Transnistrian region of Moldova. With a presidential election looming four months from now, the deeply unpopular Poroshenko’s decision to ask for such a lengthy nationwide martial law raised some uncomfortable questions about his political motives. There are still some questions about his motives now, given that Ukraine hadn’t imposed martial law during some far more serious provocations in years past. Poroshenko may still be playing some political games, and he may also be trying to encourage Europe and the US to take additional steps to punish Russia by making Sunday’s incident seem more serious than it probably was.


Well this is awkward:

Sometimes, even in the best of relationships, perceptions fail to align: One side senses that all is going swimmingly. The other is miserable.

So it is, apparently, with the United States and Germany.

Ask the average American, and the German-U. S. partnership is hale and hearty. The average German has the opposite view, seeing a friendship gone sour.

Those were the findings of a joint survey conducted by the U. S-based Pew Research Center and Germany’s Körber Foundation. The results were released overnight Monday, and presented Tuesday at a foreign policy forum in Berlin.

About 70 percent of Americans think the US-German relationship is great, while about 75 percent of Germans think it sucks. Only 10 percent seem to approve of the job Donald Trump is doing, and more than half of all Germans want to develop closer ties with Russia and China while around three quarters want Germany to be more independent of the US.


Emmanuel Macron wants French protesters to know that he feels their pain, but also that he’s not really going to do anything about it. Protesters are angry over an increase in gas taxes that hit people who live outside major urban areas and depend on their (often aged) cars to get them to work. Macron’s government has proposed an assistance program to allow those people to buy more modern, fuel efficient vehicles.

If the problem were just the gas tax in isolation then you could argue that Macron is acting nobly in standing his ground over a key part of his environmental policy–raising the price of gasoline. But of course it’s not just about the gas tax, it’s about an unremitting series of policy decisions that Macron has taken over the past year and a half that have battered working and lower class French citizens while greatly benefiting the wealthy. And while he can say he understands the public’s anger as much as he wants, it’s apparent at this point that he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care (probably both) how to recalibrate his policies to ease their burden.


It can be hard to keep track of all the jaw dropping things that Donald Trump does, and I have to say that it took me a day to really grasp how badly he screwed Theresa May on Monday in speculating that her Brexit agreement might prevent the UK from negotiating a free trade deal with the US. Obviously I’m not here to defend May, but she was probably the last European leader aside from the fascist-lite brigade in central/eastern/southern Europe who could stand to be in the same room with Trump, and he just inserted himself into the Brexit debate to toss a grenade in her lap, maybe to help his pal Boris Johnson or maybe just to be a dick. At a time when May wants to be proactively selling her Brexit arrangement ahead of the parliamentary vote, she’s instead forced to play defense and deny Trump’s comments.



The Trump administration on Tuesday levied sanctions against Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo, who also happens to be Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s wife, as well as one of his aides. Neither has any obvious financial interests in the US, so the sanctions are more of a symbolic punishment than a practical one.


A new study from Harvard’s Averell Schmidt and Kathryn Sikkink finds (in a total surprise that nobody could have predicted) that countries that participated in the Bush administration CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Program–a program the Trump administration has talked about reviving–experienced measurable declines in human rights:

Assessing whether or not the RDI program worked requires a broader evaluation of its policy consequences. A recent article argues that the strategic costs of the U.S. decision to use torture far outweigh any possible benefits obtained. Similar research by Robert Pape explores the consequences of U.S. torture in the Iraq War, including how U.S. torture fueled suicide bombing in Iraq and undermined support for the war among the U.S. public. We investigate the human rights impact of the RDI program, exploring how the security practices of the CIA’s partner governments changed following their cooperation in the RDI program. By assessing statistically the repressive behavior of 168 independent countries during the period from 1992 to 2011, we show that countries that collaborated actively with the CIA adopted worse human rights practices in comparison to countries that were not involved. This pattern is especially strong for non-democratic partners of the CIA, and appears consistently across a variety of different ways of measuring human rights. Ongoing litigation and political opposition to a policy of torture and black sites will make it difficult for Trump to revive the secret CIA prison system. Yet if Trump succeeds, the consequences for human rights may be worse than those of the Bush administration’s policy.


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