News & Events

INFOSUM: April 22, 2019

The ISG Weekly Information Summary: An unbiased look at the happenings around the globe, and how they could impact life closer to home. April 22 2019.

December 30, 2019
Michael J.


  1. Notre Dame: a fire in the Cathedral and what comes next
  2. Jerusalem Mosque on fire as Notre Dame collapses
  3. Oil prices up on shrinking supplies, US refiners upgrading
  4. French Yellow Vest protesters enraged by Notre Dame donations
  5. Suicide bomb attack at Afghan government ministry in Kabul
  6. 160 or more dead, unknowing injuries from Easter morning church and hotel bombing in Sri Lanka
  7. Ukraine presidential runoff in progress, underdog comedian candidate likely to win
  8. US truck drivers lose work in another sign of pending economic slowdown
  9. Indian Navy destroy in China to help plan maritime parade
  10. Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin to meet in Vladivostok
  11. Huawei funded by Chinese state security, per US intelligence
  12. US militia members detain refugees on the US-Mexico border

  1. Notre Dame: a fire in the Cathedral and what comes next

Like many of you, the ISG team was shocked and appalled by the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. We watched it live, as the fire spread across the roof and the iconic spire collapsed. At the time of this writing the cause seems to have been an accident, likely resulting from ongoing restoration efforts. The damage is vast, but most of the cathedral's most famous features—the stained glass rose window, the Gothic walls and buttresses, the famous bell towers—seem to have been saved by the fast and skillful work of the first responders involved. Moreover, as of this writing no causalities or injuries have been reported; this is the most important thing of all.

A vast amount of money has been raised for the rebuilding effort, with Macron promising that the cathedral will be complete in time for the 2024 Olympics. Currently, the French government is accepting ideas for what a reconstructed Notre Dame might look like, with both traditional and modernist approaches under consideration. We should know in the coming weeks what the next step will be.

Notre Dame is an active church. It is also an irreplaceable work of medieval art and craftsmanship, a symbol of the city, and a link to France’s past. The loss of material things should not in general upset us, but Notre Dame, like so many sites around the world, was more than the sum of its parts.

  1. Jerusalem Mosque on fire as Notre Dame collapses

As Notre Dame burned, a similar tragedy was nearly avoided at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. A fire broke in the Marwani Prayer Room, near the entrance to the mosque proper. The cause is unknown at this time, but some authorities have suggested that children might be behind the blaze. The fire was extinguished quickly, thanks to quick action on the part of the mosque authority. Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam, traditionally considered to be the location of various acts of the Prophet.

As with Notre Dame, there’s no reason to believe this fire was anything other than an accident or a mistake. And as with Notre Dame, we will likely see a slew of conspiracy theories in the wake of it. The Al-Aqsa fire would be second page news under most circumstances—no serious damage and no one injured. However, the time—the fire happened at the same time as the blaze in Notre Dame—and the ongoing tensions in the region will inevitably lead some people to different conclusions. It thus bears watching.

  1. Oil prices up on shrinking supplies, US refiners upgrading

Oil prices are up again, and for a variety of reasons. Demand is set to spikes as the US and other Western nations move into the summer travel season. Production is down, as Saudi Arabia decreases crude oil exports in the wake of reports of diminishing reserves and US sanctions on nations like Venezuela and Iran shape the market. US production is also down, as US producers decrease the number of operational oil rigs. In addition, some experts blame an increasingly strong US dollar for curtailing oil exports.

Oil prices are always a flashpoint issue—our society needs fossil fuels to run, and will for the foreseeable future. This data leads us to a mixed bag of conclusions, some of which seem contradictory.  

Strong US retail and industrial data have allayed fears of a global slowdown somewhat, but there are other voices suggesting that a planet-wide bear market is coming. As always, we’ll have to wait and see.

  1. French Yellow Vest protesters enraged by Notre Dame donations

Like oil prices, the Notre Dame fire is going to be a flashpoint for some time to come, and like oil prices the response is clearly mixed.  While the fire met with an immediate outpouring of international support from all corners of the globe, a number of voices both in France and abroad were unhappy with the decision to rebuild. France’s own Yellow Vests have taken to the streets again, in part to protest the decision to spend billions rebuilding the cathedral in lieu of investing that money to address development, poverty, and inequality issues. This was the movement’s 23rd organized demonstration.

Money is always in shorter supply than we’d like, and whether or not France should let Notre Dame go in favor of investing those funds elsewhere is not for ISG to say. The protest themselves are in keeping with the theme developed by the mixed crew of ideologies and movements that have banded together under the Yellow Vest banner: Paris runs its own show to the determent of the rest of France and indeed the rest of the world. They are particularly suspicious of Macron, whose longstanding ties to international banking and finance raise the ire of both the far left and the far right in France. In this, they are joined internationally by a chorus of voices on social media, all asking the same questions about how this money should be spent and the motivations behind raising it so quickly. As we’ve noted, Notre Dame has long been a symbol of the city of Paris, perhaps moreso now as the focus of conflicting visions of France’s future.

  1. Suicide bomb attack at Afghan government ministry in Kabul

As the US and allies draw down in Central Asia, things may be heating up again in beleaguered Afghanistan following a suicide bombing on the streets of Kabul. The target was the Afghan government communications ministry, attacked by a force of suicide bombers and fighters in an assault that lasted several hours. Two people were killed, six others were wounded. The Taliban has denied having anything to do with the attack, and no other group has as of yet claimed responsibility.

This attack ends several months of relative peace in the Afghan capital, as US and Taliban officials begin the negotiations that may finally lead to formal peace talks. It is tempting to conclude that some other group is seeking to undermine the peace process. Who they are and what they want remains unknown. This is a disturbing sign in itself, as terror groups are generally quick to seek credit for any attack that they can. Thus this attack introduces an unknown into an already shaky situation, and it will be up to cool heads on both sides to keep the process moving forward.

  1. 207 or more dead, unknowing injuries from Easter morning church and hotel bombing in Sri Lanka

In what will likely become one of the biggest stories of the week, at least 290 were killed and an estimated 500 more injured in attacks in Sri Lanka early Sunday morning. Three churches were targeted during their Easter services, as were several hotels. At least eight explosions were reported—two of them potentially the work of suicide bombers--and the total number of injuries and fatalities will likely remain unknown for several days. According to Sri Lankan officials, the attacks were likely the coordinated efforts of one group. No one has taken credit at the time of this writing, and the officials have not named a suspect. The Sri Lankan government has imposed a nationwide curfew, as well as shutting down most major social media and messaging apps, ostensibly to prevent the spread of misinformation.

Terrorism has been on an ebb in Sri Lanka, following the 2009 defeat of the Tamil Tigers by government forces. This attack came from out of the blue, leaving many in the island nation in shock. Long lines of civilians formed to donate blood in an act of solidarity with the victims of this atrocity. We are writing this INFOSUM in the immediate wake of these events, and information is still coming in. However, in light of high profile incidents at other religious sites around the world from Paris to Jerusalem to Louisiana, it’s likely that this will inflame tension both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.  The government's choice to curtail digital communications isn’t likely to help quell the flood of rumors and conspiracy theories, and may in fact have the opposite effect. The Sri Lankan Government has decried local Islamist group Thowheed Jamaath as the perpetrator, and asked for international assistance in uprooting co-conspirators.

  1. Ukraine presidential gets interesting as underdog comedian candidate wins

Ukrainian politics have taken an interesting turn, as comedian Volodymy Zelensky emerged as the winner of a runoff election for that nation’s presidency. Zelesky, an established actor and comedian, is a relative newcomer to politics and has been in a heated race with incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.

This race is complicated by all sorts of things, which in turn give it international importance. Voters in Russian-occupied Crimea and the rebel-held eastern fringe of the nation may be unable to cast their ballots. Given Ukraine’s geography and troubled recent history, it is likely that Russia is watching and waiting to see the result. Will allegations of meddling emerge? Will Russia move to establish further regional hegemony? Will the US intervene? What role will Ukraine’s emerging far-right play? Those questions remain to be answered, but they should not be ignored in the meantime.

  1. US truck drivers lose work in another sign of pending economic slowdown

Truck drivers in the United States have taken an economic hit recently, with a decrease in miles driven leading to lowered incomes for many professional truckers. Trucking accounts for about 70% of the tonnage shipped in the United States annually, forming a vital part of the logistical chain that keeps American businesses and industry running. Apparently the slowdown began in late 2018 and continues to the present, with many voices blaming President Trump’s tariffs and ongoing freight war.

This news complicates many of the more optimistic forecasts for the US economy.

While there is no real correlation between a decline in freight shipping and recession, a downturn in that sector is consistent with some of the more pessimistic projections of the near future. The uneven regional nature of the decline in freight shipping—the Northeast and South have been hit harder than then West, for instance—further muddies the waters.

  1. Indian Navy destroyer in China to help plan maritime parade

The Indian Navy’s INS Kolkata is in Qingdao Port to take part in a maritime parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, China’s maritime military branch. As part of the festivities, China is expected to debut new warships, warplanes, and the nation’s premier aircraft carrier.  More than a dozen foreign navies are expected to take part.

This move is a minor but unexpected one. Tensions have been high for some time between India and China, given China’s moves within the region, the two nations’ converging geopolitical destinies, and China’s alliance with Pakistan. Pakistan will be notably absent from the event in yet another surprise move, also unexplained by either government. While there is a chance that this marks a dramatic pivot in China’s relations with South Asia, it is more likely that some other unseen factors are afoot.

  1. Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin to meet in Vladivostok

The DPRK’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin will meet for a summit in Russia’s far eastern city of Vladivostok later this month. Weeks of speculation culminated in the announcement that the two leaders would meet for the first time. Vladivostok is only 80 miles from the North Korean border, an important consideration for Kim who will likely travel to the event in his armored train.

The goals of this meeting are, in part, obvious. Kim wants to use developing ties with Russia as a counterweight to both Chinese influence and to that of the US and its allies. In light of Kim’s on-again, off-again relationship with US President Trump, it’s likely that this is intended to spark some jealousy and bring Kim back into Trump’s orbit. On the Russian side, Putin seeks as he always has to pursue paths and policies that will prove advantageous to Russia. North Korea, similarly, is adept at ensuring its own interests are seen to by manipulating negotiations to their favor.

In this case, that will involve complicating US maneuvering in the Asian Pacific, dividing US attention, and at the same time disrupting Chinese efforts to secure a spot as the regional hegemon. Responses from the US, Japan, South Korea, and China will be the critical deciding factors over the next several months and bear close watching.

  1. Huawei funded by Chinese state security, per US intelligence

The US Central Intelligence Agency has formally accused Huawei of receiving funding from China’s National Security Commission, the People’s Liberation Army, and other branches of China’s military and intelligence apparatus. This is an ongoing issue for Huawei, which has been identified as a security risk by Canada, the UK, and the EU. Similar issues have been leveled at another Chinese tech company, ZTE Corp.

Huawei occupies a complicated space. China’s looking to dominate 5G communications as they go into implementation across the globe. The corporation is facing censure from the US, which will likely continue to push its allies in that direction. As the trade war between China and the US drags on, issues like this will likely become more commonplace.

  1. US militia members detain refugees on the US-Mexico border

On April 19th, video emerged of an armed US militia detaining a group of roughly 300 refugee seeking migrants who had illegally crossed the US-Mexico border. The militia group, the United Constitutional Patriots, posted the video to a member’s Facebook page. It shows a group of armed men standing over a group of men, women, and children who are seated on the ground, illuminated by the militia’s spotlights. According to a spokesperson from the militia, their mission is to “hold them until Border Patrol comes”, stating that the action constitutes a citizen’s arrest. They claim that “Border Patrol has never asked us to stand down.” The group is vocal in its support for immigration reform and the construction of a border wall.

On Saturday, April 20th, one of the United Constitutional Patriot leaders was arrested by the FBI. Per a statement by New Mexico’s attorney general, the cause for arrest was possession of firearms by a felon. The arrestee, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, also goes under the alias Johnny Horton Jr.  In 206 he was convicted of impersonating an officer and of felony firearm possession.

As one might imagine, reactions to this group and its actions are varied both from officials and private citizens. The governor of New Mexico has roundly decried their actions stating that “If migrant families are made to feel threatened, that’s completely unacceptable” and that “regular citizens have no authority to arrest or detain anyone.” A spokesperson from the US border patrol likewise stated that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands. Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.” By contrast, the militia claims that their interactions with CBP are well documented, and that they would likely leave if officially asked to do so.

For a localized situation—one relatively small militia group detaining migrants on a relatively short section of border—this is surprisingly complex. The law enforcement response has been selective at best, with the FBI detaining one convicted felon on what appear to be legitimate firearms charges. Previous media coverage of similar groups would tend to support the notion that some level of cooperation between CBP and milita groups does exist, or at least has in the past. A quick piece of internet research would seem to indicate that citizen’s arrest is legal in New Mexico, but whether or not it applies in this case is another matter. The central question is if this is one of a series of sporadic incidents or the resurgence of an American paramilitary movement seeking to address its concerns about the border, globalization, and the changing demographics of the nation. Regardless, this is an important event in ways that are often undiscussed by mainstream media coverage.

It's been a hard week for Parishioners. We hope you've enjoyed this unbiased look at the week's global events.

Please considering sharing our weekly INFOSUM if you enjoyed it!

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