There was one major story which, although tragic may not change things much, and another, which despite receiving much less coverage might change a lot.
The mass shooting in Las Vegas killed dozens, wounded hundreds, and shocked, but perhaps didn’t surprise, the world. It was shocking because Stephen Paddock murdered so many people – but it wasn’t surprising… the USA has dozens of mass shootings every year (mass defined as one in which 4 or more people are shot). What was new was a term the media quickly latched onto – ‘bump stocks’. This is a device, which Paddock used, and which allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire bullets as fast as a machine gun. Apparently, these do not violate laws limiting ownership of actual machine guns. The debate over gun laws always intensifies after these events, and very little changes. This time we can expect things to be same, except for a very small step; – the National Rifle Association, which for years has opposed any new gun controls issued a statement:
“Devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
Even if the law is now ‘regulated’ – the annual toll of more than 10,000 gun related homicides in the USA is unlikely to change.
So, what might be changing? The relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia. This week King Salman paid the first official visit to Russia by a Saudi monarch. The two countries interests don’t usually line up – but right now there are issues which bring them together.
President Putin rolled out the red carpet for the King who brought with him an entourage of more than 1,000 officials. Both know, that as leaders of 2 of the worlds three top oil exporters they need to stabilize the oil market – their budgets depend on it. On the political front, President Putin wants reassurance that Saudi Arabia will not use its influence in Russia’s Muslim regions for hostile purposes, King Salman wants reassurances that Russia will restrain Iranian influence in the Middle East, and given that they are on opposite sides in the Syrian War there’s a lot to discuss there. The money side of things is more straightforward – the Saudi’s agreed to buy the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and other weapons, and both sides agreed a number of joint investment plans. Moscow needs Riyadh’s hard cash for economic projects, Riyadh wants Moscow’s buy in to help turn its Public Investment Fund into a genuine sovereign wealth fund. This is part of its Vision 2030 economic plan for diversification.
Elsewhere in the Middle East – the Palestinians were coming together – possibly. The Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah went on a rare visit to Gaza. He took with him a large delegation as part of the drive to end the rift between Fatah, which rules in the West Bank, and Hamas which forced Fatah out of the territory in 2007.
The two sides announced a National Unity Government which suggests co-operation – but it is unclear to what extent Hamas will relinquish control of its security forces. If the agreement sticks it will allow the Palestinians to push back against the Israeli argument that Israel does not a partner with which to negotiate peace – but Israel is likely to maintain its position that it will not deal with a Palestinian government, which includes Hamas, which it calls a terrorist organization.
Not much sign of unity in Europe – particularly in Catalonia which remains part of Spain despite last week’s referendum backing independence. The vote was marred by violence from the Spanish police sent to prevent it – but also because most of the Catalonians who are against independence boycotted it. Nevertheless, the Catalonian government is now threatening to declare full independence this coming week. That would raise the stakes – Madrid might declare direct rule on the autonomous region. The trouble seen so far would then escalate. The way out? Compromise – perhaps more autonomy? So far no-ones blinking.
But there has been an outbreak of coughing! Ahem. The UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a speech meant to steady the ship of a drifting administration. Instead someone who calls themselves a comedian handed her a P45 – the form you get after being sacked, and she then succumbed to a sustained coughing fit… at which point, you might have thought the writing was on the wall – but it wasn’t! Letters fell off the slogan behind her.
None of this was her fault – but the ship is still drifting and at weeks-end the rumours of a plot to oust her grew louder. If you were the sort of person who called themselves as a comedian – you might think the speech was the final nail in her cough-in.
Coming up in the week which will be – more bad jokes.