Author Archives: Tom Arms

Observations of an ex pat: China, Hong Kong and Confucius

We are all the prisoners of history. Our present and much of our future is determined by the sum of our past experiences, both individually and collectively.

Europe, for instance, is now a secular continent. But its laws, politics, philosophies and society have Judaeo-Christian foundations. On the other side of the Eurasian landmass, the structures of Communist China owe more to the 2,500-year-old teachings of Confucius than to Marx and Lenin. And, if you are searching for pointers on Hong Kong it is best to do so within the context of China’s long-standing religion-cum-philosophy.

In fact, Confucianism was China’s official state religion until the monarchy was overthrown in 1911.  It was ditched by Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek as part of a drive to westernisation. Confucianism was deemed to be too old and too Chinese to comply with the demands of modern western-dominated society which the Kuomintang believed China had to become to compete and survive.

Mao Zedong was even more anti-Confucius. Attacks on the old Chinese philosopher were one of the pillars of the Cultural Revolution. Confucianism argues that authority is derived from a powerful imperial individual. This was anathema to Mao who saw his power as coming from the mass of revolutionary Red Guards.

Since the death of Mao, successive Chinese governments have gradually moved towards Confucianism. Xi jinping is probably its strongest proponent in a hundred years. That is not to say he worships Confucius. Xi is a communist and communists are atheists (at least officially).  But he regularly quotes the philosopher, has set up hundreds of overseas centres which teach Confucianism; uses Confucianism as an alternative to Western values  and argues that Chinese history and culture is compatible with his appointment as president for life and  the all-embracing power of the Chinese Communist Party.

Western society is based on the rights of the individual.  Confucius said that Chinese society should be based on the duties of the individual. To protect individual rights, Western societies gradually moved towards systems of representative government. To insure that duties were fulfilled, China has always had a totalitarian system.  The masses, wrote Confucius, lacked the intellect to make decisions for themselves.  Everyone is not created equal and therefore only a few have the right to participate in government.

In pre-1911 China, the followers of Confucius were discouraged from asking questions or expressing opinions and the role of the merit-based civil service appointerde by the imperial court  was emphasised. Under Xi, freedom of speech is denied; opinions are kept to yourself and carefully trained party apparatchiks administer  government at all levels.

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Observations of an ex pat: Kashmiri powder keg

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi should consider the age-old truism “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Actually, to say that Kashmir isn’t broke would be putting an optimistic gloss on the Asian sub continent’s number one flashpoint. Since independence and partition in 1947, the mountainous region has been the cause of three wars and numerous border clashes which have threatened to escalate into full-blown conflicts.

Kashmir is a simmering political cauldron whose lid has largely been kept in place by two clauses in the Indian constitution which give the Muslim-dominated, but Indian-controlled region autonomy in all matters except foreign affairs, defence and communications.  Kashmir has its own flag and has passed laws favouring the property rights of the Muslim majority. Modi has revoked the constitutional clauses—articles 370 and 35A—and dropped big hints that he wants to develop Indian-administered Kashmir with imported Hindu settlers.

The result has been riots, demonstrations and the recall of the Pakistani ambassador to India. But that could only be the start. Both states are armed with about 150 nuclear weapons each and blinkered by a dangerous religious zeal. The conflict also has the potential to drag in China and possibly the US. China’s interest is its claim to a desolate and sparely-populated section of Kashmir.  The Chinese have also $46 billion investment in Pakistan to protect.

America’s position is more ambivalent. It needs Pakistani support the fight in Afghanistan, but is angry at what President Trump has called Pakistan’s  “lies and deceit” in combating the Taliban. At the same time, Trump and Modi enjoy close personal relations through a shared right-wing populist approach to political issues.

The problems started with partition. Kashmir has three religious populations: Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist. The overwhelming majority of the inhabitants are Muslim. But at the time of partition it was ruled by a Hindu Rajah. As the sub-continent edged inexorably towards partition, Irregular troops from Pakistan moved into Kashmir to claim the entire country. The Hindu Rajah, Hari Singh, appealed for help to the Congress Party in India who dispatched troops to the region.

The result was a stand-off; A UN-mediated ceasefire and the division of Kashmir which left Pakistan in control of the under-developed provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir which are 100 percent Muslim and India in control of the more prosperous Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir  provinces which are 66 percent Muslim with the balance made of up Hindus and Buddhists.

The UN ceasefire agreement included a clause for a referendum over the decision of who governs the whole of Kashmir. The Indians failed tocomply with this part of the agreement as their part of Kashmir was 66 percenty Muslm.  Instead they came up with the compromise of autonomy in the form of constitutional clauses 370 and 35A. The Muslims in Indian-administered  Kashmir were generally satisfied  with this. They were not as zealous as their co-religionists in Pakistan and were happy to remain part of India as long as they were allowed control of domestic affairs.

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Observations of an ex pat: Sorry

To the Young People of Briton,

I am so sorry.  I really cannot apologise enough for landing you with a far-right, anti-EU government led by a delusional buffoon who appears to have abandoned reality in favour of policies which have more in common with blind religious faith than practical politics.

You may kindly respond: “It’s ok. You did what you could. It’s not your fault.” Thank you. That is very kind. But my generation (the baby boomers) collectively failed to do enough. If we had we would not be in the mess we are in today.  Furthermore, we would not be landing you – our children, grandchildren and future generations—with decades of debt coupled with a security and political mess.

Let’s just look at a few mathematical facts which our new prime minister whose single mindedness to ignore is matched only by his determination to exit the EU on 31 October regardless of the cost to the nation. Theresa May’s Brexit deal was bad enough. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimated that it would cost £100 billion a year, or £2,000 per British resident.

Still, her deal was nothing compared to Boris’s threatened No Deal. The respected UK Trade Policy Observatory has warned that the government is likely to have to cough up an extra £100 billion just to compensate businesses affected  by No Deal Brexit. This is before any account is taken of an anticipated fall in the value of the pound, increased holiday costs, damage to drug supplies and the NHS, drop in foreign trade investment, transport snarl-ups, increased tariffs, the end of EU regional grants and research money, inflation, security cooperation  cost of trade negotiations and the vital need for political and economic stability amongst our continental neighbours.

The Office of Budget Responsibility has already warned that the British economy is slowing down as foreign investors reluctantly accept that No Deal is now the most likely scenario. In fact, the OBR are predicting that if No Deal goes ahead the economy will shrink by two percent a year for the foreseeable future.

So what is our new prime minister’s response? Well, to start with he dismisses these expert reports as essentially fake news. Then he announces that instead of trying to adjust government spending to accommodate his political ambitions, he will increase it.

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Observations of an ex pat: The special relationship

One of my barometers for the health of the Special Relationship is a weekly broadcast I do for American talk stations. The host is Trumptonian Lockwood Phillips who also happens to be an old schoolmate. I am referred to as the Looney London Liberal by the vast majority of my 500,000 listeners who are staunch Trump supporters. They are just the sort of people I want to reach.

The purpose of the hour-long show is to provide a European assessment of American politics and to analyse events in Europe that should be of interest to American audiences. Normally the discussion between Lockwood and myself is reasonably civilised, although it occasionally slips into the gutter. Not so this week. It went straight to the gutter and stayed there. We were both shouting: “you’re wrong” or “you don’t know what you are talking about”several times, possibly more by me than Lockwood.

The cause of this plunge in civility was Ambassador Kim Darroch’s leaked confidential emails in which he described the Trump Administration as “inept” and “dysfunctional”. Actually the real cause of my anger was President Trump’s reaction in branding Ambassador Darroch as “pompous” and “widely disliked” and said that the White House would refuse to work with him during the six months before the ambassador’s retirement.

I know Kim Darroch. He is not pompous and he is widely liked and respected. So chalk that part of the tweet up as another presidential lie. But more importantly, why can’t the president keep his mouth shut? Why does he feel obligated to respond to every criticism? What drives him to escalate every political conflict into a personal attack?  Why can’t he perform the statesman’s role of taking it on the chin and uttering the words: “No comment?” Or at least avoid personal insults.

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Observations of an ex pat: Netanyahu – opportunity or setback?

Netanyahu has won a fifth term as prime minister of Israel.  On the face of it this is terrible news. Benjamin Netanyahu (“King Bibi” to his supporters) is a right-wing, ultra-nationalist, militarist populist who is the biggest single obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Or is he? And if he is, is that good or bad?

Modern history has shown that the most obstinate political leaders are sometimes the best ones to achieve the required breakthrough compromise.  Richard Nixon’s history as a hardline anti-communist meant that he was the only one who could open the door to Mao’s China. A similar move by a Democrat liberal would have been attacked as a “sell-out”

 It required compromise by hardliners Anwar Sadat and Menahem Begin to end decades of war between Egypt and Israel.  In Northern Ireland tough men Ian Paisley and IRA leader Martin McGuinness were the only two who could have struck a workable compromise.

While Netanyahu has been beavering away at the hustings, Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and his former lawyer Jason Greenblatt have spent two years hammering out a Middle East peace proposal. The plan is wrapped in the tightest of secrecy cloaks. The only ones who know the details are Kushner, Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israeli David Friedman and Kushner and Grenblatt’s aide Avi Berkowitz.  President Trump is regularly briefed on the broad brush, but his twittering fingers are kept away from the details.

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Observations of an ex pat: Three cheers for Slovakia

Three cheers for the voters of Slovakia. And a 21-gun salute for Zuzana Caputova, the new Slovak president and heroine of Western liberalism (or is it hero in this new gender-free pc world).

Liberals—and everyone else—should cheer because Caputova—in stark contrast to just about every political campaign fought by anyone anywhere in the world—completely eschewed the populist rhetoric, character assassinations, name-calling, intimidatory chants, lies, xenophobia, racism, intolerance  and personal attacks that are debasing democratic political systems everywhere.  Instead of appealing to phobias and exclusivity, Caputova ran a campaign urging tolerance and inclusiveness.

Slovakia has been good example of the depths to which democracy is capable of sinking.  The ruling Smer Party has strong links to the country’s wartime fascist past. Co-founder Jan Slota has stated that the country’s minority Roma problem could be solved with a “long whip in a short room.”

Robert Fico former Prime Minister— and still the power behind the throne— has said: “Slovakia will not accept one single Muslim”. Fico was forced to resign a year ago after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak who was on the verge of publishing a story about  links between Fico’s staff and the mafia.  Fico’s one redeeming quality is his dislike of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban whom he has branded as a dangerous ultra-nationalist; although this attack should be seen in the context of a general Slovakian prejudice against Hungarians.

45-year-old Caputova emerged from this political morass in 2013 when she led a campaign against a toxic landfill outside her hometown. In 2017 and 2018 she helped to organise anti-government protests following the murder of Kuciak.  Despite her activities, Caputova was a surprise entry in the presidential race and started the campaign at the bottom of the opinion polls.

Her election slogan was “stand up to evil” and her quiet, carefully reasoned arguments that stuck to the facts and avoided personalities, struck a chord with the Slovak electorate. It was also a welcome and refreshing change from the typical populist rhetoric of her Smer opponent Maros Sefcovic.

In her acceptance speech, Caputova said that her victory showed the” importance of humanism, solidarity and truth”. She added : “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly because I have proven that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.”

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Observations of an ex pat: The Northern Irish Tail Wagging the British Lion

The British government, the Brexit process and parliament are being held to ransom by ten MPs who represent a narrow sectarian community who since the 17th century have used every dirty trick imaginable to cling to their precarious political perch in Northern Ireland.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) could care less about the rest of Britain. In fact, they don’t even consider the majority of the Northern Ireland electorate, who voted to remain in the EU.

Every political decision that they make is judged through the prism of the Protestant Ascendancy and political separation from Catholic Southern Ireland.  That is best achieved through the tightest possible links with mainland Britain on the other side of the Irish Sea.  The EU—and specifically Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement—threatens those links.

The tale is an old one. The English have been in and out of Ireland since Norman times, but in the 17th century the battle for dominance in Ireland was injected with an incurable religious virus.  England broke with Rome and Ireland remained steadfastly loyal to the Vatican. Protestant England now had a God-given right to conquer Ireland and the Catholic Irish didn’t help by supporting anyone who opposed the Protestant cause in England and Scotland. After a series of successive military victories, the English concluded that the best way to maintain political power in their troublesome Catholic neighbour was to kick Catholics off their land and give it to Protestant settlers.

Fast forward to the twentieth century. The Catholic Irish have persuaded London to let them break from Great Britain and establish the Irish Free State—except for the Protestant-dominated Ulster Plantation. The Protestant majority in the six counties arm themselves and threaten a civil war if they are broken away from the United Kingdom .  Westminster responds by splitting the country—two thirds becomes the Irish Free State and the northern third remains in the United Kingdom.

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Observations of an ex pat: Frightened of fear

The Beatles sang: “All you need is love”, and young girls delicately placed flowers in the barrels of the guns of National Guardsmen. For a brief period in the 1960’s and 1970s we thought that love would emerge as the world’s overpowering human emotion.  That the words of Franklin Roosevelt—“all we have to fear is fear itself”– would pass into historical redundancy. And that Senator McCarthy’s commies under the bed witch hunt was an uncharacteristic historical blip.

Sorry, it was not to be. Fear is once again the overriding political emotion which is driving the thinking of the electorate and being ruthlessly exploited by the politicians.  In Britain, fear of immigrants, sovereignty and a loss of national identity drove people to vote for Brexit. Conversely, it is a fear of financial loss and political influence which is driving the Remain camp to continue opposing Brexit.  The country is hopelessly divided because both sides are terrified of the consequences of losing the argument.

In the United States Trump supporters are frightened of “invading” Mexicans who will take their jobs, destroy their identity, rape their women, force them to smoke, swallow and inject drugs and murder them in their beds.  The “invaders” from Mexico and Central America are frightened because they are being murdered in their beds, and on the streets, by gangs fighting each other for control of the lucrative drug trade into America.

Trump supporters are also scared of the Chinese, globalism, socialism, liberalism and the growing power of their own government. Opponents of Donald Trump are frightened of Trump. Almost everyone except Trump is frightened of climate change.

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Observations of an ex pat: A sad tale

Once upon a time there was a venerated institution in the not so distant land of Great Britain called parliament. In fact, it was called “The Mother of Parliaments” as countries around the world emulated its structures and system of representative democratic government.

Parliament became the legal and political platform on which the largest empire in the history of the world was built. Its members were respected and their opinions were sought in world councils.

But times change. The empire sank below the waves.  If Britain was going to continue to prosper and retain political power than it needed to increase its voice by joining it with others—the European Union.

This made sense to many Brits, but not all.  Some thought in terms of pragmatic economies of scale. Others felt with hearts which yearned for an imperial past and bridled at the thought of being told the size of their beer mugs by Brussels Eurocrats.

In a 1975 referendum “the metropolitan elite” (as they were later called) won the argument and Britain joined the Common Market.  Thus began one of the most prosperous and stable phases of British history. Then Europe began to change. Other members wanted political as well as economic union and the Common Market morphed into the European Union with the reluctant agreement of successive British governments.

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Observations of an ex pat: The heartland

The Heartland Theory and its corollary discipline of geopolitics was all the rage in the twentieth century.

It emerged from the morass of nationalism to dominate diplomatic thinking right through the Cold War. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union it sunk slowly over the political horizon as nationalism was gradually replaced by globalism governed by an internationally agreed set of laws enforced by a largely – but not completely– altruistic United States.

A Victorian geographer called Halford Mackinder was responsible for the Heartland Theory. He unveiled it in 1904 at a packed meeting of the Royal Geographical Society. He argued that advances in railways in other land transport meant that British-dominated sea power would be replaced by land power.  And that whomever controlled the territory from Eastern Europe to China would control the “heartland” of Eurasia. Furthermore that whomever controlled the heartland controlled what Mackinder called “the world island”which encompassed all of Europe, Asia and Africa; and whomever controlled the world island controlled the world.

In the 1920s’s Mackinder’s ideas were picked up by the German geopolitical academic Karl Haushofer who became an adviser to Adolf Hitler. Hitler and Haushofer fell out over Hitler’s racial policies, but the heartland theory became the blueprint for German expansion. During the Cold War the Americans adopted it to justify the policy of containing the Soviet Union which it thought was pursuing the Heartland dream in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and China.

The collapse of the Soviet Union rendered the Heartland Theory redundant—for a time. It has been revived again by developments in the two Eurasian giants China and Russia.   China’s Belt/Road initiative could have been taken straight out of Mackinder’s book. Its railway links from Shanghai to London and its heavy investment in Africa can easily be viewed as a pre-emptive bid to gain control of the “world island” of Europe, Asia and Africa.

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Observations of an ex pat: Tunnel lights

ou can just make it out. It is still dim and indistinct in the swirling political mists. But there appears to be a light at the end of the long Brexit tunnel.

Hopefully, it is not the oncoming No-deal train, but rather a Remain engine pulling a long line of carriages waiting to be boarded.

If it is the latter than a great deal more work still needs to be done before a People’s Vote is agreed. Then more work to secure a Remain result  and then, finally, an ongoing effort—to win  continued support in Britain—and other countries—for the European Union.

So first of all, how to reach the initial goal of the People’s Vote and what to put on the ballot paper. Rule number one: Don’t trust Corbyn. He is still fighting the class wars of the seventies and is hoping for a chaotic political vacuum which he can fill with his Marxist-Leninist platform.  Brexit train crash spells opportunity for the Labour leader.

The ballot paper should duplicate the binary choice of the 2016 referendum. Voters should be given a choice to revoke Article 50 and remain in the European Union or to accept whatever deal the government has negotiated at the time of the People’s Vote. A third option with an alternative vote system would take too long to negotiate and confuse the voters.

The campaign will be tough—for both camps. Over the past two and a half years positions have become increasingly entrenched. The pool of floating voters that canvassers normally target has shrunk as voters have fallen off the fence into one camp or the other.  A person’s stand on Brexit has become an identity badge and to swap it for another involves huge loss of face.

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Observations of an ex pat: Afghanistan on the brink?

Afghanistan is in serious danger of a major outbreak of peace. Or is it?

Certainly the signs are that the US is about to announce an historic deal with their foes the Taliban. The basic bones are that the US and NATO-led forces will withdraw. In return the Taliban will promise to never again allow Afghanistan to become a terrorist base.

Withdrawal from the 17-year-long  $1 trillion Afghan war has been one of the key goals of President Trump. It was also a political target of President Obama. The problem is how to exit without leaving behind a vacuum of the kind that led to the rise in the 1990s of the Taliban and their Al Qaeeda guests.

The question has been exercising the minds of a succession of American diplomats since on-off negotiations started with the Taliban in 2011. During the Obama Administration these contacts controversially resulted in the release of five Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sergeant Robert Bergdahl.

The talks were held in the Qatari capital Doha where the Taliban set up a semi-official embassy paid for by the Qatari government. After the prisoner exchange the talks slipped into limbo with only the occasional diplomatic chat as the Taliban refused to deal with the Afghan government whom they called “American puppets. ” Neither would they talk seriously with the US without a date for the withdrawal of troops.

Then in November it was announced that American and Taliban negotiators were once again having serious discussions in Doha. The man heading up the American team appears tailor-made for the job. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad was born and raised in Afghanistan and educated in America. His posts have included ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Observations of an ex pat: The Elite

In the Middle Ages the Catholic Church called them heretics. They were excommunicated or burned at the stake.

Hitler branded them Jews or Jew lovers and sent them to labour camps or to the gas chambers. During the Cold War era they were derided  as the intelligentsia. In the Soviet Union they were pulled out of their positions as teachers, journalists  and scientists and despatched to Siberian Gulags. In China they were given a little Red Book and sent to “re-education camps”. In Cambodia they were murdered.

Why? Because these people sought answers by asking questions.  They challenged the accepted wisdom peddled by ideologues and entrenched interests.  They fought against false facts and simplistic prejudice-based solutions which used the time-honoured scapegoat method as a solution to social problems.

Nowadays such people are dismissed as “the elite”. They tend to live in cities because urban areas are the perfect incubators for the exchange of ideas and information. So, they are called the “urban elite” or “metropolitan elite”. Their opinions are dismissed even though they have devoted years of their life to study and travel and learned the value of working with different nations, races and cultures. They base their decisions on facts backed up by science, logic and mathematical proofs.

The problem is that this intellectual –“elitist”—approach to life’s problems is increasingly banging up against the brick wall of the “gut instinct” coupled with a deep-seated faith, strong prejudice and a growing fear of identity loss.  The result is a tendency of a growing number of people to dismiss the opinions of the expert elite because they clash with their “feelings”. As leading Brexiteer and Britain’s current Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said during the Brexit campaign: “Experts? The public are sick of experts.”

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Observation of an ex pat: Wake UP!

One of my favourite films is Goodbye Lenin. For those of you haven’t seen the German language post-Cold War movie, it is about a loyal East German Communist party functionary who suffers a heart attack and falls into a coma just as the Berlin Wall is about to come crashing down. When she awakes her political life is completely changed. The world has moved on without her.

American, Britain and the rest of Europe are in danger of suffering the same fate.  They have become so obsessed with their internal difficulties and fighting for domestic political survival that they are failing to realise that the rest of the world is moving on without them and creating a new set of rules and realities contrary to their democratic systems.

There are only so many hours in the day and Donald Trump seems to spend most of them tweeting about the Wall and the Democrats.  One of which is the answer to all problems and the other is the cause.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is taken up entirely with the dangers of Brexit happening. That is when she is not obsessing about the corollary threat of a far-left Labour government coming to power.

The European Union has finally woken up to the very real possibility that the nightmare scenario of a no deal Brexit is likely, as well as tackling with immigration, far-right extremism, populist governments in Italy and Eastern Europe, stagnating economies and deteriorating relations with the US.  

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Observations of an ex pat: Dead, not buried

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal is dead. It is just not buried.

The Prime Minister hopes to raise it Lazarus-like and present herself as a political Messiah. But her deal has been shot, knifed, strangled, knocked over the head with the candlestick and thrown into a ditch.

To put the chances of a political miracle into perspective, let us look at the next worse defeat in modern British political history.  The current British government lost by 230 votes. The next nearest defeat was in 1924. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government  had dropped a prosecution against John Ross Campbell, editor of the communist newspaper “The Workers’ Weekly” after he published an article calling on the British armed forces to mutiny in support of a socialist revolution. In that case the majority against the government was a mere 160.

Theresa May likes to portray herself as strong and stable leader with a Churchillian touch of the British bulldog.  A better description would be bull headed.

Parliament has given the Prime Minister until Monday to perform her miracle and come up with a Plan B. She has responded by calling a meeting of all party leaders that will dispense with red lines and reach a compromise, breathe new life into the EU Withdrawal Bill and win over 230 dissenting members of parliament.  If this miracle were to happen the result would be a horribly stitched Frankenstein monster .

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Observations of an ex pat: Fact Checking

Donald Trump takes a reverse scientific approach to issues. He searches for the voters greatest fears; enunciates them in the most dramatic and divisive language possible; and then twists and invents facts and re-invents history to support his claims.

Some might say, so what? Isn’t that what every politician does?  Yes, but the President of the United States has taken the practice to an entirely new level, and in doing so has undermined a political class which was already standing on crumbling foundations.  The Washington Post, which keeps a tally of presidential lies, reported in his first 601 days of his presidency, Donald Trump lied or made misleading statements 5,000 times.

You would have thought that the Donald could have temporarily broken himself of this nasty habit when addressing the nation from behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office.  Wrong.  Instead, his televised speech justifying the government shutdown and a demand for a southern border wall was possibly the best example yet of Donald Trump’s inability to speak the truth.

First off, there was no justification to use the tool of a televised address to the nation. There is no crisis. America is not being invaded. Terrorists are not flooding across US-Mexico border. These fears were manufactured by Donald Trump to insure his election to the White House and they are now being exaggerated to keep him there.

Trump is using the oldest political trick in the world. When in trouble create a crisis. Create an enemy. Offer a solution, the more expensive and grander the better. Trump’s crisis is the “invasion” from the south. The enemies are the Democrats, Hispanics and anyone who has a wish to live and work in the United States. The solution is a visible wall which Trump can point to and say: “See, look, there it is, the wall, I did something that no other president would.”.

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Observations of an ex pat: Wanted: Brave British politician

Wanted: Brave British politician

Experience: Must be a dyed-in-the-wool Brexiteer, preferably a senior member of Theresa May’s cabinet.

Duties: The person chosen for this demanding and vital role must be willing and able to swallow their pride, admit their error and put the interests of their country before self and party. They must be able to withstand abuse from former colleagues and friends;  even death threats from the public.

They must tell the British public in clear, concise and indisputable language that they were wrong. They must make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that leaving the European Union was a misguided dream that is turning into a nightmare.  They must say that the Brexit negotiated by Theresa May will reduce the former greatest empire in world history to the status of European colony. Furthermore, that the only alternative being discussed by the British government—a No Deal Brexit—would seriously weaken Britain’s economic and political position in the world as well as threatening the livelihood and standard of living of every inhabitant of the British Isles.

The person eventually chosen for this position must be highly persuasive.  They must be able to convince voters who previously believed them that Britain would be better off outside the European Union that in fact—after more than two years of negotiations—it is painfully obvious that they would have been wiser to vote Remain in 2016.

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Observations of an ex pat: The Brexit spotlight

It’s time to move the Brexit spotlight. Its focus on Theresa May’s deal has thoroughly exposed the bankruptcy of the British Prime Minister’s proposal and left the government frantically planning to minimise the chaos of a no-deal Brexit.

But Opposition Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is so wedded to his revolutionary socialist ideology that he is making as big a contribution to the national crisis as the conservative government.

The British House of Commons is divided—and in the strangest of ways. The vast majority of its members voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum.  And, if the truth be known, would probably vote the same again. But in both parties there are powerful minorities in favour of Brexit, and they are determining their respective  party’s actions.

The Labour Party’s Brexiteer wing is much smaller than that of the conservatives. But it is led by party leader Corbyn.  He is a lifelong Eurosceptic. He voted against Britain joining the European Economic Community in 1973 and campaigned to leave it in the 1975 referendum. And since then Corbyn has voted against every European treaty, law and regulation that has come before the British parliament.

In the 2016 referendum he was faced with a dilemma. He was leader of a party whose clearly stated policy was to remain in the EU but he was personally opposed to membership of what he regarded as a neo-liberal capitalist club. So Corbyn did the dishonest thing.  He paid lip service to party policy but conducted a campaign that was so ineffectual that he might as well have been sharing a platform with staunch Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

Since the Labour Party’s autumn conference it has been overwhelming official party policy to push for a second referendum on EU membership. Corbyn has ignored every opportunity to fulfil this policy decision and focused instead on the impossible task of forcing a general election.

Jeremy Corbyn knows full well that a second referendum could very easily lead to a Brexit reversal. That is the last thing he wants. He could have secured a second referendum this week by tabling a vote of no confidence in the government.  But instead he tabled an ineffectual no confidence vote in the prime minister.

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Observations of an ex pat: Wanted – Helmsman

The good ship Europa is without a helmsman, rudderless, and drifting aimlessly through the stormy seas, dangerous shoals and shark-infested waters of Brexit, immigration, a stagnating economy, Russian aggression, Chinese perfidy, American tariffs and Donald Trump’s unilateralism.

Ship Europa is in desperate need of a captain who can repair the damage and set the ship back on a course which its bickering crew can agree upon.

Traditionally, the role has fallen to the one of the two continental giants—France or Germany—and sometimes, during calm and sunny periods—the  former rivals  together. Italy and Britain have played roles as first officers, providing political ballast to one or the other would be captains. There has even been the occasional triumvirate

Well you can forget about Britain. It is too busy jumping ship and setting off in the same storm-tossed sea in a leaky dinghy with a tenth  of the cargo. As for Italy, well its far left/far right coalition is busy drilling holes in the ship’s hull. Meanwhile, the newly recruited officers from Eastern Europe are plotting mutiny.

The crew and passengers had high hopes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and perhaps even higher hopes of the young determined-speaking French President Emmanuel Macron. The problem is that the ship is constructed as a collection of nation states held together by the collective will of its citizens. It is not a single unitary political structure.

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Observations of an ex pat: The Holmes Option

Sherlock Holmes offered the solution to the current Brexit conundrum admirably when he told Dr Watson in the Beryl Coronet: “when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

At the moment the two possibilities before parliament are the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May and crashing out with no deal whatsoever. The latter would be the result of the rejection of the first if no plan B, C or D appears on the political horizon.

The first possibility will be rejected by parliament because it turns what used to be imperial Britain into a colony of a Europe dominated by historic enemies France and Germany.  The United Kingdom would be indefinitely tied to the EU and yet left without any say in the rules that govern it. Its ability to strike trade deals with other countries would be severely hampered and Northern Ireland would be effectively hived off. In return, the UK would regain control of its immigration policies.

We will call this deal Option One and, using the Holmes formula, rule it out as it is impossible that parliament will approve it.  So we move to Option Two, a no deal Brexit. First the plus side: Immigration is controlled. Trade deals can be negotiated. Payments to the EU are stopped. The European courts cease to have jurisdiction in Britain. Now the negatives: The economy will shrink by up to nine percent overnight. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost as foreign companies move operations to EU countries. The pound will collapse. Inflation will rise. Troubles could restart in Northern Ireland and tariff barriers would go up between Britain and its main trading partners on the continent.  MPs would, in effect, be voting to make every single one of their constituents substantially poorer.

The only members of the House of Commons likely to consider Option Two are the members of the European Research Group. They total 62 out of 650 MPs. In fact, an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons—450—voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. So Option Two can be placed firmly into the impossible box.

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Observations of an ex pat: Kings of all trades

They know everything.  That is why they were elected to high office. President Trump is not only a high-flying real estate tycoon. He is also a top flight climatologist, superb firefighter, expert military strategist, brilliant constitutional lawyer, intelligence supremo, trade negotiator without equal and peerless economist.

Brexiteer Boris Johnson’s years as a scribe and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s banking experience have clearly made them detailed specialists on every aspect of British life likely to be touched by Brexit , which is—everything.

The knowledge of these men is truly staggering.  They could save British and American taxpayers hundreds of billions of pounds and dollars by dismissing great swathes of civil servants.  It is clear that that those highly paid “experts” at the Bank of England, British Treasury and the Office of National Statistics are at best ill-informed, stupid or just plain dumb. At worst they are “the enemy within” or “enemies of the people.”

As Prime Minister Theresa May continues her whistle-stop round Britain tour to sell her “best deal possible” Brexit plan,  civil servants have been lining up to point out the gaping pitfalls in her plan and the chasms if Britain goes for the no-deal alternative advocated by Jacob, Boris and co. Every single government department—and a number of independent think tanks—say that Britain will be worse off leaving the EU whichever route is taken. The no-deal plan would shrink the economy by 8-9 percent overnight, slash house prices by 30 percent, cost £100 billion, and collapse the pound by 25 percent.

All of these dire warnings from every quarter of every governmental department have been branded “Project Hysteria,” by the high priest of Brexit Jacob Rees-Mogg.  His acolytes at The Daily Express urged its readers to ignore their paid advisers as “they have been proven wrong time and again.”

Britain has one of the most competent civil services in the world. The world’s oldest civil service is Chinese. It started in the third century BC and became an object of admiration for the British from the 17th century onwards. In 1829 they decided to give it a go in India when the patronage system was replaced by a civil service examination. It was a resounding success and the system was adopted back in Britain in 1854. From there it made its way across the empire and beyond.

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Observations of an ex pat: Fear factor

JTheresa May is a frightened woman.

She is not frightened by the pile of Conservative MPs’ letters demanding her departure. They are still a long way from the 48 required. And even if it reaches the magic number, the bookies are betting on Mrs May retaining the leadership in any consequent vote.

Even if she loses, Theresa May can take solace from Enoch Powell’s truism that all political careers end in failure and that her successor will be faced with the same brick wall of insoluble Brexit problems as she was.

Neither is Mrs May worried about Spain’s latest sabre rattling over Gibraltar. She is confident that Brussels can pull Madrid into line with a sidebar letter or a slight tweaking of the Brexit agreement.

The unravelling of the prime minister’s de facto coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party is a concern. But it was never more than an inconvenient marriage of convenience based on a foundation of contradictions.  Northern Ireland voted to remain. The majority want the benefits of Europe which include good relations with Dublin and peace on their island. The DUP exists for one purpose only:  the perpetuation of the Protestant Ascendancy in Northern Ireland. This puts it in complete opposition to the majority Northern Irish vote in the Brexit referendum.

Mrs May can deal with the above. Or if she can’t the results of failure would not be so catastrophic that her legacy would be tarnished beyond repair.

Theresa May is frightened of two other outcomes: No deal or a second referendum. Unfortunately for her, it is looking increasingly likely that the final choice will be between those two options.

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Observations of an ex pat: The re-United Kingdom

Britain is a United Kingdom again. After more than two years of divisive vitriolic debate it has emerged upon the sunny upland plain of total agreement.

Soon the British public will be treated to the sight of former bitter enemies Boris Johnson, Vince Cable and Jacob Rees-Mogg joining hands to skip gaily into the Commons division lobby. Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof may soon embrace on the banks of the Thames.

Fathers and sons who have scowled at each other for two years will again smile across the breakfast table. Mothers and daughters will cheerfully gossip over a steaming cuppa and the pubs will enjoy a booming trade as stalled friendships are renewed over a pint—or two.

Prime Minister Theresa May has succeeded in uniting the British people against the common enemy—Herself.

Brexiteers and Remainers who only yesterday were at each other’s throats have turned as one to sink the political axe firmly into the back of their prime minister and her draft Brexit deal with the EU.

 It took less than 24 hours for Dominic Raab– the man Mrs May placed in charge of Brexit negotiations—to resign. He refused to allow his name to be associated with the agreement. He was preceded by the junior minister for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara. At least nine other cabinet ministers are known to oppose the deal and it is quite possible that there could be more resignations before I finish this piece.

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Observations of an ex pat: Stones v Avalanche

In the wake of the victory in the House of Representatives, Democrats are preparing to hurl stones at President Trump. The Donald—flushed with Senate victory– has responded by setting loose a pre-emptive avalanche.

The cheers had yet to subside when presumptive Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that Democratic victory in the lower house meant the restoration of legislative oversight and the constitutional system of checks, balances.

In practical terms this means the House withholding funds for Trump’s wall and immigration programmes and launching corruption investigations into cabinet members. Of course, there is also the number one target—Trump and his family. This involves inquiries into sexual misconduct, obstruction of justice, violation of campaign funding laws, possible tax evasion, ethics violations, Russian collusion and, support for the Mueller investigation.

Impeachment is lurking about in the political background. A Democratic majority in the House means they could quickly pass a resolution. But it would hit the brick wall of Trump acolytes in the Senate where a two-thirds majority is required to remover the president from the White House.

Nancy Pelosi also extended the traditional olive branch in her victory press conference. Donald Trump initially responded with a corresponding show of traditional bipartisanship. It lasted—at the most—five minutes. The suspension of White House credentials for CNN reporter Jim Acosta and the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions insured that the political chasm that divides America has only widened.

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Observations of an ex pat: Mobilising anger

Anger is a powerful mobiliser. It is also dangerous to control when turned loose on the body politic.

At the moment this raw rage is being drawn out of the American spleen by both the left and right, by Democrats and Republicans.

It is the mid-term elections.  It is the first opportunity US voters have had for passing their  verdict on the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. It is a chance to elect national legislators who will block the president and more.

If, as expected, the Democrats, gain control of the House of Representatives, Donald Trump’s hopes for new legislation to further his right-wing, anti-immigrant, unilateralist agenda will be dashed against a Congressional brick wall.

Furthermore, the president can expect a flurry of fresh investigations to be initiated by the lower house.  They will demand to see his tax returns; investigate the conflicts of interest between the White House and his business interests; probe the president’s  environmental and immigration policies; demand inquiries into the multiple sexual harassment claims that he has successfully stalled and breathe new life into the Mueller Inquiry.

It is little wonder that Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence have been criss-crossing the country to attend rallies in support of right-wing Republican candidates.  It is no surprise that the presidential rhetoric has become shriller and more extreme as the first Tuesday in November approaches.

Five thousand American troops are needed to protect US citizens from the Central American immigrant “invasion force” infected with “Middle East terrorists”.  The President promises to override the constitution and decree the end of citizenship for those born in the US of foreign parents. The pipe bombs sent to Democrats was a plot by Democrats.  And the divisive atmosphere of vitriolic hate that led to the death of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh had nothing to do with Trump. It was the fault of the Democrats and their allies in the fake news media.

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Observations of an ex pat: Enemies of the people

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is not an isolated incident. It is part of a worldwide concerted effort by criminals threatened by exposure; power-hungry politicians frightened of truth and criticism and ideologues seeking to manipulate public opinion.

Khashoggi hit the headlines because he was murdered by agents of one of the world’s most oppressive regimes which is also supported by countries who claim freedom of speech as a bedrock of their system of government.

A total of 46 journalists around the world were killed in 2017. Two thirds were murder victims. More than 2,500 have been killed since 1990. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 262 journalists languished in the world’s prisons at the end of 2017. Turkey—whose president is taking the lead in condemning Saudi Arabia—leads the pack with 73 journalists behind bars.

We tend to think of freedom of speech as a product of the Age of Enlightenment. Yes and no.  It was a key element in The Golden Age of Athens and was enshrined in Roman law. In common with most laws and freedoms, freedom of speech dwindled to the point of extinction in the Middle Ages. It was revived in the 17th century. Leading the way was English poet, philosopher and statesman John Milton who passionately argued for the right to seek information and ideas, receive information and ideas and impart information and ideas.

By 1689 Freedom of Speech was enshrined in the English Bill of Rights. It was the First Amendment in the US constitution along with freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and the freedom to petition the government. Freedom of Speech was declared an inalienable right in the French Revolution’s Rights of Man. The protection of free speech can be found in almost every written constitution as well as in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and EU Law.

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Observations of an ex pat: Saudi quicksand

The extremely likely interrogation, torture and murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi  inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is set to have far-reaching consequences.

The position of Iran, the civil war in Yemen, the Arab-Israeli conflict, reform in Saudi Arabia, the tenure of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the economic development of Saudi Arabia, US foreign policy and the credibility of President Trump will all be affected.

I should add the caveat that as of this broadcast/writing there is no body and the Saudis continue to deny, deny, deny. But so far they have failed to explain why Mr Khashoggi went into the consulate to keep a 1.15pm appointment on 2nd October and has never been seen since. Neither have they offered an explanation as to why he was preceded and followed by Saudi agents, some of whom carried what are believed to be bone cutting tools. Finally, the Saudi officials have failed to explain an audio recording which strongly indicates the interrogation and torture of Mr Khashoggi.

The onus is on the autocratic ruler of Saudi Arabia— Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) to either produce a live Jamal Khashoggi or a credible explanation for his disappearance. So far he has only shrugged his shoulders, arched his eyebrows and replied: “I dunno.  Nothing to do with me.”

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Observations of an ex pat: The Battle for the Pacific

The argy bargy over North Korea is part of a much bigger geopolitical battle.
That is not to say that the denuclearisation of an authoritarian and unstable rogue state such as North Korea is unimportant. It is vitally so.
But the prize at stake is huge– control of the Pacific East Rim. And what a prize it is. Excluding contender China, the combined GDP of the region is $12.9 trillion dollars and growing fast. The size of the market is one billion consumers.

For centuries the Pacific Rim was a Chinese lake and primary source of wealth for the Middle Kingdom. Then at the end of the 15th century , Europe simultaneously discovered America and the sea routes to Asia. The power axis shifted to the other end of the Eurasian land mass.

By the start of the 20th century China had slipped from producing an estimated 30 percent of the world’s wealth to a mere nine percent in 1913. After the World War I an exhausted Europe faltered and a rising Japan and America competed to fill the vacuum. The Second World War and two atomic bombs settled that row.
Since 1945 the US has been the undisputed political, economic and military master of both sides of the Pacific. There was a blip called the Vietnam War, but the United States’ solid links elsewhere in the region remained intact and the US and Vietnam now enjoy good relations. America’s annual trade with the Eastern rim is worth nearly $900 billion a year. America’s next biggest trading partner is the EU at $720 billion a year.

In military terms, America’s position is protected by its Pacific Fleet with 200 ships, 2,000 aircraft and a quarter of a million naval and marine personnel. On the ground it has 39,000 soldiers in Japan and 23,500 in South Korea. Then there is the nuclear umbrella with 1,800 deployed warheads.

The Chinese are catching up fast on all fronts. But just how fast and how and how successful they are depends on their economic success. They need cash to compete, which is why they are starting to worry about Donald Trump’s tariffs and the resultant trade war.

The Trump Administration likes to portray its imposition of tariffs as protecting American industry from unfair Chinese trading practices. The reality is that that a more fundamental geopolitical view of the world lies at the root of the Trump tariffs. It is that the real estate tycoon turned president believes in winner-takes-all zero sum competition rather than win/win cooperation.

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Observations of an ex pat: Cold War Memory Lane

Cold War Memory Lane is being resurfaced with a fresh alphabet soup of nuclear weapons, treaty breaches, renewed bellicosity, cyber attacks and even assassination.

Putin’s Russia has been branded a “pariah state” by British defence Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Washington’s Permanent Representative to NATO has threatened to “take out” the latest generation of Russian intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

Of course, we are not back in 1945.Then a prostrate Western Europe was in danger of being overrun by a Soviet war machine whose authoritarian government made no secret of its aim of overthrowing capitalism and the democratic structures that supported it.

The political and economic collapse of the Soviet Union pushed the frontline between the West and Russia right up against the Russian border. Europe is now an economic powerhouse, although it remains a stunted midget in military terms.  It continues to need American protection as much as America needs European markets and political support which is why NATO remains relevant.

The initial American reaction to Soviet aggression in the Cold War was to deploy troops and nuclear capable aircraft in Western Europe as a counter to superior Soviet conventional forces. The message was clear: Attack Western Europe and you will be delayed by conventional forces long enough for atomic bombs to wipe out your cities a la Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then the Soviets developed their own atomic/nuclear weapons and the starting pistol for the arms race was fired. In an atmosphere of mutual paranoia and distrust, both sides developed a frightening array of nuclear weapons that could be delivered by aircraft, fired from ships and submarines or mobile land launchers or fixed missile siloes.  Both sides refused to slow their pace until they came within sight of the finishing line and saw the terrifying prospect of a nuclear wasteland beyond.

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Observations of an ex pat: The road to power

There is a new, clearly defined road to political power—become an anti-politician.

Forget about compromise, consensus and appealing to the middle ground. Dismiss ideas of party loyalty. Discard thoughts of reasoned political debate.

No, today’s successful politician is a crude, crass, socially unacceptable bully pandering to the basest human instincts to gain power. Finally, today’s successful candidate must be outside the traditional political establishment.

You may think that the previous is the start of yet another diatribe against President Donald Trump. In a way you are right. Trump is the international benchmark. He has lit the torch down this dark and dangerous path. But others are following. The latest addition to this pantheon of horror is Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil is important. It is Latin America’s largest country, population of 207.7 million.It has the eighth largest economy in the world.And, it is resource rich with more potential than an infant Amadeus Mozart.

On October 5th Brazilians troop to the polls for first round presidential elections. The run-off between the top two from round one will be held on 25 October. At the moment there are nine candidates. 63-year-old Bolsonaro is 40 percent ahead of his nearest rival.

His commanding lead is partly due to the fact that Bolsonaro is laid up in a hospital bed recovering from a knife attack which provided him with the additional aura of political martyrdom. But even before he was stabbed on 6th September Jair Bolsonaro was streets ahead of his political opponents,
To secure pole position, Bolsonaro has out-trumped Trump. On the subject of misogyny, the Brazilian has said he would not rape a certain congresswoman because she was “too ugly.” His daughter, said Bolsonaro, was conceived in a “moment of weakness”; maternity pay should be scrapped and women should be paid less because of pregnancies.

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