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Blackwater USA – Daily Brief

Coming Up This Week

  • The G7 summit wraps up today, and—for the first time—participants will not sign a formal agreement at the end.
    • The mainstream media says that’s because the summit was “tense,” and thrown off by things Pres. Trump said or did, but it sounds like participating countries just came into the meeting with different agendas: they’d already planned to skip a formal agreement from the start—probably because they couldn’t agree on what it would say.
  • UN Secretary General Guterres will visit Ebola-affected parts of DRC this week, and will probably either announce or start asking for new funding for Ebola containment efforts.
  • Italian party leaders have until Tuesday to form a new coalition government; otherwise, they’ll be forced to call new elections as early as October.
  • The U.S. and Taliban resumed talks on Friday, and we can likely expect a deal this week.
  • A judge will rule in the first opioid case brought against a pharma company today. That verdict will likely be invoked as a precedent in other cases working their way through the U.S. court system.

Hong Kong

  • Yesterday’s demonstrations in Hong Kong became violent again. Demonstrators in the New Territories started throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails at police, who aimed back with water cannons. Six police officers drew their pistols, and one fired a warning shot.
  • A senior police official told reporters that protesters’ “actions have far left the bounds of acceptable or rational behavior,” raising concerns that China may step in, as it has threatened to do.
  • Separately, Hong Kong protesters are starting to wave American flags at their rallies—likely to elicit U.S. support for their cause—but some worry they’re just giving China a foreign scapegoat to blame the demonstrations on.

China

  • White House aides said the media had misinterpreted Pres. Trump’s comments about having “second thoughts” about raising tariffs on China last week, and clarified that he actually meant he regretted not imposing higher tariffs. That’s a different story.

Russia

  • Pres. Trump reportedly advocated to other G7 leaders to let Russia back in and make the G7 G8 again. Italian PM Conte—who resigned last week, and is a lame duck—was said to be the only person at the table amenable to the idea.

Syria

  • Syrian troops have made solid gains against rebels around Khan Sheikhoun, and invited journalists out to see that they’d surrounded a Turkish observation post. There’s no sign of Syria-Turkey drama there yet; Syria’s point was probably just to show off its gains.

Sudan

  • Police say tribal clashes in Port Sudan have killed 17 people in the last three days, leading the government to declare a state of emergency and deploy troops. I suspect these kinds of clashes were happening under Pres. Al-Bashir and the interim military government (they’re usually generational feuds, and don’t bubble up overnight), but they were probably just kept quieter then.

Afghanistan

  • Gallup published a dismal report based on its polls in Afghanistan: a record number of Afghans struggle to afford food—especially in the less secure regions of the country—and the share of Afghans finding it difficult or very difficult to get by on their income hit a record high of 90%. A fuller summary of the report is pasted below.

Middle East

  • Iran’s sanctioned Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, unexpectedly flew to Biarritz—where the G7 is meeting—to hold a meeting on the sidelines with French Pres. Macron, and to brief the UK and German delegations. Iran likely aims to maintain relations with EU countries so it can appeal to them to intervene with the U.S. for softer sanctions.
  • Two further unidentified drone attacks killed two members of the Iran-backed PMF in northeast Iraq. Similar strikes on the PMF last week were blamed on Israel, but this isn’t the sort of thing Israel would ever officially confirm.
  • Separately, two Israeli drones went down in southern Beirut (a Shia area with strong Hezbollah presence), and Hezbollah threatened to shoot down any others that intruded into Lebanese airspace. Lebanese PM Hariri—who has trod a delicate balance to avoid a return to war with Israel—even chastised Israel for the incursion, which makes him look bad: “The new aggression… constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation towards further tension.”

Amazon

  • European leaders are making a big deal of the Amazon fires: Chancellor Merkel of Germany insisted the G7 discuss them, and Pres. Macron of France threatened to scupper a trade deal with Brazil over them. Brazil’s Pres.
  • Bolsonaro—who had initially blamed NGOs for starting the Amazon fires to make him look bad, and insisted Brazil didn’t have the funding to firefight—sent the Brazilian military to fight the fires. I have no context for whether that’ll be enough to put them out, or whether it’ll take a broader (and costlier) multi-country effort.
  • On the Bolivian side of the Amazon, populist Pres. Morales gave in and asked for international help fighting the fires that have erupted there—after initially claiming the three helicopters he sent could quell them without international help, thank you very much.

DRC

  • Congo’s Ebola committee says it has given Merck’s effective vaccine to 204,044 people—basically everybody associated with confirmed or probable cases—since August 8th. Their efforts likely spared the major border city of Goma from the outbreak by ringfencing everyone who was in contact with the three cases confirmed there.

India

  • The NYT reported that India arrested around 2,000 potential problem makers—human rights activists, opposition representatives, teachers, and students—before and after revoking Kashmir’s special status so they wouldn’t cause trouble. They’re still being held without charges or access to lawyers.

U.S.

  • A Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy was fired after he faked being shot by a sniper last week. It’s odd that he picked such a verifiable thing to lie about: apparently he had no bullet wound, and none of the dozens of witnesses around heard a gunshot.
  • Former Rep. Joe Walsh announced that he would run against Pres. Trump in the Republican 2020 primary, and went on to criticize Trump: “He’s nuts, he’s erratic, he’s cruel, he stokes bigotry.” Walsh would know a thing or two about bigotry: he was kicked off the air during his own radio show for using racial slurs in 2014. He doesn’t have much of a chance of winning a primary bid against an incumbent president.

Strategic Minerals

  • July’s Chinese exports of rare earths magnets to the U.S. rebounded 8% from June, and were actually up 26% year-on-year. That suggests all the talk about China restricting rare earth exports to the U.S. is really just talk, so far. That said, worries about export restrictions have led U.S. importers of rare earths to start the slow process of looking for alternate supplies.

Inside Afghanistan: Record Numbers Struggle to Afford Basics (Gallup)

Afghans not only are facing challenges in regard to their safety and security as the country’s presidential election nears, but they also are struggling more than ever to afford the basics such as food and shelter.

Gallup surveys in Afghanistan over the past decade highlight the great need for action from incoming leadership.

Quick Summary: Severe drought conditions over the past several years have set back agriculture in Afghanistan, affecting the country’s economy as well as residents’ food security. Afghanistan’s GDP is still on the positive side of the ledger, but much larger growth is needed to help the more than half of Afghans who are living below the poverty line.

According to World Bank Afghanistan Country Director Henry Kerali, “Afghanistan faces challenges of insecurity, election-related political uncertainty, potential declines in international security support, in addition to the drought in 2018. Any one of these shocks would normally generate strong headwinds to growth. Afghanistan has faced all of these concurrently.”

Afghans Struggling to Afford Food Hits New High: While large swaths of Afghanistan’s population have struggled to afford food over the past decade, the percentage crossed the majority threshold for the first time in 2018. Nearly six in 10 Afghans say they have struggled to afford food at times in the past year.

Line graph. Afghans' reports of struggle to afford food in the past year, 2008 to 2018.

 With nearly two-thirds of the country’s provinces suffering from major droughts, food insecurity has soared. Inability to afford food is particularly acute in the Northern, North-Eastern and South-Western regions, where about two in three residents report having had difficulty affording food in the past year. These regions include the provinces of Balkh, Faryab, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Takhar, Helmand, Uruzgan and Nimroz, which are among the provinces that have been hit hardest by droughts.

Heat map. The percentages of Afghans who struggled to afford food by region.

 Meanwhile, half of Afghans (50%) say there have been times in the past year when they have struggled to afford adequate shelter.

Fewer Than One in 10 Afghans “Getting by” on Income: No Afghans say they are “living comfortably” and just 9% say they are “getting by” on their present household income. The vast majority of Afghans say they are “finding it difficult” (55%) or “finding it very difficult” (35%) to get by on their household income. The combined 90% of Afghans reporting such financial hardship is the highest on record for Afghanistan — and was the highest in the world last year.

Line Graph. Afghans' feelings about their present household income, 2008 to 2018.

Implications: If the scheduled presidential election actually takes place in September, the next leader of Afghanistan has an uphill battle ahead of him in making the economy work for the country’s residents, who struggle to make ends meet more than any other population in the world. Though Afghanistan’s economy is showing some growth, much more growth is needed to address the dire straits residents report being in.

The incoming president must also take the reins of regional negotiations over water conflicts with neighboring countries, as the droughts the country has endured have significantly affected food production and affordability. The big question that remains is whether the new president will be taken seriously by neighboring countries and water control stakeholders who have largely left Afghanistan out of diplomatic talks on the issue.