Author Archives: Tom Arms

Tom Arms’ World Review – 2 May 2021

America now has its mid-term election issue: President Biden’s report to Congress. Not since FDR has the US been presented with such a left-wing agenda. Overnight, Joe Biden has been transformed from the one of the most boring to one of the most radical of presidents. He is no longer “sleepy Joe.” But there are some practical political differences between JB and FDR’s administrations which complicate Biden’s plans. The main one is that President Biden has a slim majority in the House of Representatives, and only a one-seat majority in the Senate (when you count the casting vote of Vice …

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Observations of an Expat – India Imagined

India is now the epicentre of pandemic. It is a humanitarian disaster with political roots. By the end of this week 200,000 deaths have been officially recorded and there is strong evidence that there are many, many more unrecorded tragedies.

The country is desperately short of essential medical supplies. And although it is the world’s largest producer of vaccines, its immunisation programme has stalled with less than 10 percent of the population vaccinated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a populist in the mould of Brazil’s Bolsonaro and America’s Trump. Saving lives is secondary to the political goal of retaining power by pandering to their large but ill-informed electoral base. In the case of Modi he is exploiting the long-simmering Hindu-Muslim divide in an attempt to transform India from a secular to a Hindu nation, and is prepared to subvert democratic institutions to achieve that goal.

The confusion and polarisation means more political rallies, more Hindu festivals, less transparency, more lies, more corruption, more division and more fertile political ground for coronavirus.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 25 April

Liverpool’s famous football manager Bill Shankly once said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death… I can assure you, it is much, much more important than that.” The quote is for many a truism which sums up why world headlines have been dominated by the attempt to form a European football Super League. 100,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border; global pandemic deaths soared past the three million mark; America may have reached a turning point in race relations and the starting gun has effectively been fired in German federal elections. Football has become the world’s number one sporting institution. It has become an international cultural treasure, spreading in less than a 100 years from a league game played between a handful of British public schools to every corner of the globe. To escape civilisation I once paddled 12 miles up the Gambian River and trekked through three miles of jungle to stumble across a mud hut where a lone bookie armed with a mobile phone was taking bets on that day’s English Premier League matches. The row also underscores another issue: stewardship. To whom do the clubs belong? The fans? The players? The directors? Bill Shankly had something to say about that as well: “At a football club, there’s a holy trinity–the players, the manager and the supporters. Directors…are only there to sign the cheques.” They are at best stewards of national and international cultural phenomenon. They are only allowed the financial rewards and a degree of self-satisfaction awe and respect. Those rewards are for ensuring the success of a sporting institution for the widest possible audience.

Sixteen years of Merkel rule is drawing to a close in Germany. “Mutti” (mother in German as she is called by her legion of fans, will not be standing for re-election as Chancellor. Almost an entire generation of Germans have known no other leader. The East German pastor’s daughter has played a vital role in continuing the reunification of Germany and inching Europe towards a federal state with a good dose of common sense and quiet diplomacy. That is on the good side of the political ledger. On the bad side is her partial responsibility for the Brexit debacle; an immigration policy which fuelled racism in Germany and beyond and her government’s management of the pandemic. But perhaps Angela Merkel’s greatest deficiency has been her failure to groom a successor for leadership of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union. One finally emerged this week: 60-year-old Armin Lascher. He is a solid if somewhat pedestrian figure. Lascher is by profession a mining engineer whose strong links to North Rhine Westphalia’s coal mining industry undermine his green credentials. But he is resolutely pro-EU, has strong links with the Turkish community and backed Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to admit a million refugees. If the latest opinion polls are an accurate pointer, The CDU and their Bavarian partners the CSU (Christian Social Union) are expected to win the most seats in the September elections. Currently they stand at 28 percent. The Greens are five points ahead and are likely to be in a coalition government. The SPD (Social Democratic Party) has slipped to 15 percent. The FDP (centrist Liberal Democrats) are more or less tied with the anti-immigrant and anti-EU AfD (Alternative fur Deutschland). The latter have damaged their prospects with internal divisions and an anti-lockdown position. Whomever succeeds “Mutti” will need to move quickly and decisively to fill her shoes and stamp their authority on German, European and international politics.

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Observations of an Expat: American Turning Point?

The guilty verdict in the trial of Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin for the murder of African-American George Floyd has the potential to be a watershed in American race relations. But it has a host of hurdles to overcome.

The key to surmounting well-entrenched centuries old problems is the George Floyd Policing Act, also known more succinctly as the George Floyd Bill. It passed the House of Representatives in March and is now before the Senate where it needs 60 votes (nine more than there are Democrats) to circumvent the dreaded filibuster.

The Bill proposes slew of changes which has raised concern among the law and order lobby, police union, gun enthusiasts and states’ rights advocates. It would be more than just concern if it weren’t for the fact that Chauvin is obviously guilty beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 18th April

America lost. It has joined other imperial powers—mainly Britain and the Soviet Union—in filling thousands of graves in the mountains, hills and plains of Afghanistan. More than 4,400 NATO troops of which 2,488 were American have died in the past 20 years. In addition, an estimated 43,000 civilians and 70,000 Taliban fighters have lost their lives. America’s longest war is estimated to have cost the US Treasury $2 trillion, and its NATO allies $525 billion. Afghanistan has been a melting pot, trade route and gateway to the riches of India for centuries. The Mughals conquered northern India through Afghanistan and the British fought three Afghan Wars to keep the Russians out of India. After the third Anglo-Afghan War, King Amanullah Khan moved to modernise Afghanistan. Inspired by Ataturk he secularised the strongly Islamic laws to allow co-education and other rights for women and introduced limited political rights. This never right down with the Mullahs who continued to hold sway in the remote mountainous villages of the Hindu Kush which covers three quarters of Afghanistan. The final straw for the fundamentalists came in April 1978 when the Marxist People’s Democratic Party grabbed power and started a major crackdown on fundamentalists. Civil war broke out and in December 1979 Moscow invaded in support of their communist clients. Their defeat after ten years was a major factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the fundamentalist-inspired Taliban who were nurtured in Pakistan’s Madrassas. With the help of Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia they fought their way to power in 1998 and introduced a medieval form of Sharia Law. They also provided a base for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeeda whom they refused to relinquish after the 2001 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. The result was an Anglo-American invasion which toppled the Taliban from Kabul in just two months. But the Taliban did not disappear. It regrouped in bases in Pakistan and fought back. It now controls roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan and will no doubt soon topple US-supported President Ashraf Ghani. But will they again become a base for international Islamic terrorism? Will their brutal suppression of women’s rights be too much for the West to bear? Will the 14 ethnic groups with three main languages collapse into civil war in the absence of a common foreign enemy? It is clear, as both Trump and Biden, has said that there is no military solution to the problem of Afghanistan. But is there even an acceptable political solution, or is Afghanistan like a chronic cancer—manageable, treatable but incurable and gets you in the end.

Minneapolis used to be best known for Lake Itasca, source of the mighty Mississippi. Then there is juicy Lucy, a delicious cheeseburger with the cheese inside the meat. And, of course, the famous Mall of America is only a stone’s throw away. Now, it is infamous for the police killing of George Floyd, the subsequent Black Lives Matter riots and the trial of his alleged killer Derek Chauvin And this week for the “accidental “shooting of 20-year-old African-American Daunte Wright in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Centre. On the face of it, Minneapolis is not your typical racial hotspot. African-Americans comprise only 20 percent of the population (Detroit is 79 percent Black). Mayor Joseph Frey has well-established liberal credentials and Police Chief Medana Arradondo is African-American. But that is not the whole story. Blacks may be 20 percent of the population but 60 percent of all police shootings are of African-Americans, and in his days as a young police lieutenant, Chief Arradondo sued his own force for racism. The problem appears to lie with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis and, in particular, its Trump-supporting leader Bob Kroll who has fought hard to keep the 800-stong force predominantly White. Kroll himself has been involved in three police shootings and 20 internal affairs investigations. He called George Floyd a “violent criminal” and branded protesters “terrorists.” The good news is that he has finally been forced out of office.

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Observations of an expat: Is Ukraine another Cuba?

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The conventional wisdom is that nuclear Armageddon was avoided in October 1962 by a plucky iron-willed young American President. Not quite. A new book by award-wining Russian author Serhii Plokhy reveals that the Cuban Missile Crisis was created by poor communication at every level in both countries and that it was more a matter of luck rather than pluck that saved the world.

Miscommunication and misunderstanding remains a Russian-American problem and is now coming to the fore again over Ukraine.

But back to October 27, 1962. The US naval blockade of Cuba had been in force for five days. To persuade the Soviet submarines to return home President Kennedy ordered US ships to launch a continuous barrage of depth charges on any members of the Soviet underwater fleet that they found. The purpose was to harass rather than destroy.

But Valentin Savitsky, captain of nuclear-armed B-59 was not privy to American thinking. By the 27th of October his crew had endured two days of tension, diminishing air supplies and increasing heat. Savitsky gave the order to surface. He was immediately subjected to a barrage of tracer bullets fired by trigger happy US fighter pilots circling the area.

Convinced that war had started and he was under full-scale attack, the Soviet captain gave the order to dive and fire a nuclear torpedo.

Fortunately lady luck intervened. The captain of the US destroyer Cony realised the danger and flashed an apology from his signal light. It was spotted by the sub’s signals officer just as the B-59 slipped beneath the waves, and was only seen because his searchlight became stuck. The apology was immediately relayed to Savitsky who, at the last minute, countermanded his attack order.

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Tom Arms World Review – 11 April 2021

Northern Ireland was a key part of Britain’s Brexit referendum. Remainers claimed that withdrawal from the EU risked undermining the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and a return to The Troubles which raged through the province for 30 years. “Fear Factor” retorted the Brexiteers. “It won’t happen.” But after a week of sectarian violence it looks as if there was something to fear. The Troubles began in 1968 because the Protestant-controlled Stormont government insisted on anti-Catholic legislation. The Catholics saw their only hope in unification with the Republic of Ireland in the South. The Good Friday Agreement kept the dream alive for the Catholics and kicked it into the long grass for the Protestants. The north/south border was to stay open. Why not? Both countries were members of the EU. The aspiration of Irish unification was allowed to remain on the table, but no date or form was agreed. Perhaps the two EU members would gradually move towards some sort of federation under the auspices of an overarching European Union. After all, the EU was a guarantor of the peace along with the US, Britain and Ireland. Then came Boris Johnson’s easy-peasy-oven-ready-you-can-have-your-cake-and-eat-too deal. In a major concession to Brussels, Washington and Dublin, Johnson stabbed the Protestant Union Democratic Party in the back and agreed to keep open the north/south border and draw a new customs border down the Irish Sea, separating mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. This is the Northern Ireland Protocol. It immediately complicated trade between the Ulster provinces and Britain and it moved the aspiration of Irish unification from the long to the short grass. The result is that this time the Protestants are taking the lead in violence and they can be even more stubborn than and just as nasty as the IRA.

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Observations of an Expat – Consequences of Greenland

Greenland is not usually a world election hotspot. This is because most of the time the biggest issue for the 57,000 inhabitants is filling the pothole on Nuuk’s high street or the siting of a new streetlight to illuminate the long cold winter nights.

Not this time. The issue at stake—mining—will have consequences well beyond the shores of the misnamed Danish possession involving the environment, world shipping, defence, economic development and tectonic shifts in global power.

The election was won by the Inuit Ataqatigiit or Community of the People Party on the platform of stopping development of the uranium and rare earths mine at Kvanefjeld. The increasingly sought after rare earth minerals are essential for the running of computers and various medical treatments. Eighty percent of the world’s rare earths are found in China who are keen to keep their virtual monopoly. Greenland has the world’s second largest deposit, which is why a Chinese company is behind the Kvanefjeld mine.

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Tom Arms World Review – 4 April

Georgia’s Republicans may have shot themselves in the foot. The White-dominated local party dominates the state legislature and were shocked by Trump’s loss of George and the Senate victory of two Black Democrats. Something had to be done. So they passed legislation to vote by post; gives the legislation greater control over the conduct of elections; bans the provision of food and water to those standing in long queues to cast their ballots; reduces the number of drop-off ballot boxes and demands strict ID requirements for all voters. All of these are aimed at making it harder for African-American voters who vote overwhelming for liberal Democrats. But have they gone too far? The measures are clearly designed to reduce the Black vote. Could it instead galvanise it? The 2020 elections were a record turnout—67.7 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, the highest figure in more than 100 years. The reason was – still is—divided and politicised like never before. The liberal Democrats hated Trump and the conservative Republicans responded in equal measure in their feelings with Joe Biden and co. Attempts to restrict the Democratic vote could very well have the effect of encouraging Democratic activists to try harder at the mid-term elections in 2022 and the presidential vote in 2024. We proved in 2020 that we could break the Republican lock, the activists can argue. We have them on the run. Sort out your ideas and bring thermos flasks and sandwiches to the voting queues.

 

The US State Department regularly produces country reports for Congress. This is because Congress decides whether a state should be given Most Favoured Nation trading status, have sanctions slapped on them, or something in between. The country report  makes recommendation and Congress usually follows them. This week—in response to Beijing’s Hong Kong crackdown– the State Department advised Congress finish the job started by Donald Trump and end Hong Kong’s preferential trading status. Not good news for Hong Kong and China. For a start the Hong Kong dollar is tied to the US dollar. That is likely to end. Hong Kong also has its own visa arrangements with the US (and other countries) which makes it easier for Chinese to travel to and from America for study and business. That is expected to cease. Tariffs on Hong Kong goods will go up, especially those re-exported from Mainland China. Controls on technology exports to China will be extended to Hong Kong. University contacts will be reduced. However, there will be a beneficiary. Singapore has for decades offered itself as an alternative Far Eastern base. It is looking even more attractive.

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Observations of an expat: The Trial

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Derek Chauvin, three other police officers, the rest of American policemen, law enforcement generally, the legal system, racism and racial justice are on trial in a Minneapolis courtroom.

First, the sketchy facts of the case. African-American George Floyd was arrested after allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Officer George Chauvin held him to the ground by pressing his knee against his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. By the time the ambulance arrived, George Floyd was dead.

Chauvin is charged with manslaughter, second degree murder and third degree murder. He faces the possibility of 40 years in prison.

George Floyd’s last words—“I can’t breathe”—sparked the worst race riots in American society and spilled over into 69 countries around the world. “Black Lives Matter” became the chant of an estimated 26 million protesters across the US. Ninety-three percent were classified as peaceful. But the ones that weren’t caused an estimated $2 billion in damage.

The Black Lives Matter riots were were seen by African-Americans as the culmination of centuries of brutal, legalised racism by American law enforcement. It started with slavery and extended through the Jim Crow era of indiscriminate lynchings and continued past the civil rights era.

African-Americans have fought back. The 4 April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr by Earl Ray sparked off what was dubbed the “Holy Week Riots” In 110 American cities. In 1992 four Los Angeles policemen were acquitted over using “excessive force” in the beating of African-American Rodney King. The riots that followed left 2,383 arrested, 12,000 injured and 63 dead as well as causing $1billion worth of damage.

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Tom Arms World Review: 28 March 2021

In this week’s review, our regular correspondent Tom Arms looks at yet more mass shootings in America and the struggle for stronger gun control. He turns his attention to events in Israel and the failed Sino-American summit in Alaska. Europe has been at times teetering on the edge of vaccine wars and it is the 50th anniversary of the seventh fastest growing economy in the world, Bangladesh.

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Observations of an Expat: The High Seas

About the only time the world’s land-based public thinks about seaborne traffic and the globalised trade it underpins is when they look above the parapets of their sand castles and spy a ship on the distant horizon.

Or, when something happens, such as a war or a vital sea artery is blocked and prices creep up and super market shelves start to empty.

The latter is happening.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 21 March 2021

The primary responsibility of every government is the protection of its citizens.

The wannabe federalists of Europe have dismally failed at fulfilling this obligation with their handling of the coronavirus vaccine programme. And to compound their errors they have tried to cast Brexit Britain in the role of scapegoat at a time when they should be trying to develop a positive relationship with the UK.

Instead Brussels has unfairly claimed that the Johnson government is behind Astra Zeneca’s failure to manufacture and deliver sufficient vaccine doses in a timely fashion. To compound the mistake they attempted to tarnish the vaccine with attacks on its safety. This, of course, is backfiring because it provides grist to the growing anti-vax brigade–costing tens of thousands of more lives.

On top of that, the commission is talking about blocking exports of the PfizerBnTech vaccine (largely produced in Belgium) to third countries, which is Brussels shorthand for Britain.

In the meantime both the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have declared Astra Zeneca safe; forcing European countries to put the vaccine back on the metaphorical shelf. But the poorly-managed vaccine programme has meant that Europe is enduring a third and deadly coronavirus wave.

A year ago, Eastern Europe was patting itself on the back for avoiding the worst effects of the first wave. Now their health services are on their knees. According to the WHO the Czech Republic leads the world in new Covid 19 cases per 100,000—over 1,600 a day this past week. Poland has plunged into a national lockdown this week as has Italy, Paris and the French Riviera. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is considering a month-long extension to the German lockdown.

But the hotspot tourist countries of Spain, Greece, Italy, and Malta are still planning to open their borders to tourists in May.

Biden is in a serious muddle with his immigration policy.

Donald Trump was rightly attacked for his inhumanity. But that does not mean that the vast majority of Americans want to open the immigration floodgates. Biden’s actions are still a long way from a social tsunami, but they are close enough for Republicans to be calling it that and finding listeners.

Between the end of October and the beginning of March 400,000 illegal immigrants attempted to cross US-Mexican border—a 15-year high. This is partly result of a pent-up demand created by the Trump Era and partly by the Biden Administration’s decision to end the “Remain in Mexico” for processing policy. Biden now allows migrants across the border to be processed in US-based centres.

The other major issue is unaccompanied children. Under the provision of Trump’s Title 42 hundreds of children were forcibly separated from their parents. Many families are still to be reunited. Biden is now allowing unaccompanied minors across the border. Parents are sending their children northwards because they believe that by pleading the politically significant issue of reunification their chances of joining the young ones will be significantly improved.

An estimated 30,000 unaccompanied minors have entered the US from Mexico so far this year. They are however, being kept in the same detention centres used by the Trump Administration. No one knows the exact conditions in these centres because journalists have so far been banned entry. This has led to attacks on Biden’s immigration policy from the left-wing of the Democratic Party. What a muddle.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – China, the space race, India’s fading democracy and the Biden stimulus

In this weekend’s world review, Tam Arms opines that Joe Biden’s economic stimulus package will boost the world economy. A new space race is underway much of it led by Russia and China, and of course Elon Musk. Tom also talks about the Covid-19 vaccine controversies, overstretched health services across the world and the countries that are luring us with holidays. A thinktank has downgraded India – once trumpeted as the world’s biggest democracy – to an “electoral autocracy”. Back to China again with Tom’s review of the annual National People’s Congress.

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Observations of an Ex pat – Constitutional tiff

Who said what when and to whom in the British Royal Family is dominating world headlines? Bullying, racism, misogyny, mental health…. They are all urgent and material topics, and it is important that the Queen – and by extension – the Royal Family reflect the concerns of the society at whose apex they stand.

But there is a wider constitutional issue at stake. And it is complicated by the role of the monarchy; the obtuseness of the unwritten British constitution; the British class system; and the problems of investing a part of the constitution in a physical person.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 6 March 2021

In this weekend’s look at world politics our foreign correspondent Tom Arms looks at political events in the UK, Boris Johnson cutting aid to Yemen, politics in the EU shifting to the left, a bad week for ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and ASEAN foreign ministers pushing for the release of Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the return to democracy in Myanmar.

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Observations of an Ex Pat – Why is America Great?

Trump supporters continue to sport MAGA hats and shout “Make America Great Again” at rallies. It is a catchy slogan which has captured the conservative American imagination. It is here to stay whether Donald Trump is in or out of the White House.

But what does it mean? What makes America great and, perhaps more importantly, what makes it un-great?

The answer is complicated by the difficulty of wedding individual perspectives to universal truths. But I think it is important to search for it, so I have asked the opinion of a number of people with whom I have worked with over the years.

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 28 February 2021

President Joe Biden must have mixed feelings about the public’s continued fascination with the Donald Trump story. On the one hand it is a distraction from his own agenda. And on the other, it allows him to move forward quickly and efficiently while attention is largely engaged elsewhere. He is doing the latter. This weekend Biden will celebrate 50 million covid-19 vaccinations, putting his administration well ahead of the target 100 million jabs in 100 days. He is also expected to shortly push through Congress a third major pandemic spending package. This one is worth $1.9 trillion and will focus on the poor minorities and women. The only part of the deal which has won Republican approval is $110 billion for business support. Meanwhile, Trump’s problems continue to make headlines. The biggest is that the US Supreme Court has refused the ex-president’s appeal to block a subpoena to obtain Trump’s tax records for the past ten years. Cyrus Vance Jr., the South Manhattan District Attorney leading the charge, believes that the records will reveal massive fraud involving taxes, bank dealings and insurance. Trump has denounced the investigation as part of the continuing “deep state” “witch hunt” and is keeping the Republican spotlight shining on him with a keynote speech this Sunday at a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) In Orlando, Florida. His strongest Senate supporter, Lindsey Graham, said Trump “is going to dominate the Republican Party for years to come.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson must have mixed feelings about the coronavirus pandemic. More than 100,000 deaths, a locked-down economy and a crippling debt is bad news. But at least it is deflecting public attention away from his disastrous Brexit deal. The biggest problems this week have been predicted and predictable—fishing and Northern Ireland. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy which made British waters part of a larger European lake open to all EU fishermen was one of the main reasons for Brexit. The problem is that the deal Boris Johnson has struck with Brussels has possibly worsened the plight of the British fishermen. At the root of the issue is the fact that the fish that are caught in British waters appeal to European palates and those netted in European seas appeal to hungry Brits. And because of various quota and hygiene regulations now in place it is becoming difficult to impossible to land fish in each other’s ports. Then there is Northern Ireland with the new trading border in the Irish Sea. This is to keep open the border between the northern and southern halves of the island of Ireland and, hopefully, avoid a return to “The Troubles” of the last quarter of the 20th century. But this means import and export controls between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. The British government has responded by proposing that the uncontrolled period of trade between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain be extended to 2023. That is unacceptable to Dublin and Brussels. Any restrictions in trade links between Northern Ireland and the British mainland are unacceptable to the protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who want the current Northern Ireland Protocol jettisoned and a hard border drawn between Eire and Northern Ireland. This, of course, would torpedo the Good Friday Agreement and re-open the prospect of a return to intercommunal fighting.

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Observations of an Ex Pat: Biden and the Middle East

Big changes coming up in America’s Middle East policy and they won’t all be universally applauded. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Iraq and Israel are already feeling the difference.

This week’s American attack on Syrian-based and Iranian-backed militias may on the surface seem like a continuation of the Trump Era’s unilateralist shoot-from-the-hip America first and only policy. But an examination of the press statement that followed the retaliatory action indicates otherwise.

The Pentagon went out of its way to thank the Iraqi government for its intelligence input and stressed the strike was only conducted after “full consultations” with its “partners and allies.”

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Tom Arms on Republican Party divisions

The Republican Party is splitting. On one side you have the populists of ex-president Donald Trump and on the other you have the Grand Old Party (GOP) of Senator Mitch McConnell. Trump, of course, lost the election which he claims he won by a landslide. However, he has kept his base intact by continuing to feed them a diet of lies and conspiracy theories.

Mitch McConnell is the leader of the Senate Republicans who has proved himself a master of hunting with the hounds and running with the hare by voting to acquit Trump while at the same time branding him …

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Observations of an Ex Pat: Consequences of a Princess

The sad case of Dubai’s Princess Latifa threatens widespread repercussions which could impact on Dubai’s economy and relations with the West.

Dubai and the tri-emirate United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a key member, plays an outsized role in Middle East politics. It maintains close relations with the UK and US and took the lead recently in recognising Israel to block annexation of the West Bank. Its small but effective military has earned the UAE the sobriquet “Little Sparta.”

After a BBC Panorama highlighted the princess’s plight, the UN demanded proof that Latifa was still alive. So far, the only word from the Dubai government is that she “is being cared for at home”.

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Tom Arms’ World Review 14 February 2021

One of the current international ironies is that Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are on trial at the same time. The two men have one of the closest personal relationships on the world stage—dating back to the 1980s when Netanyahu was in New York as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Now he is on trial at the same time as his American buddy for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In true Trumpian style, Netanyahu claims that the trial is a “coup to oust a sitting Israeli Prime Minister.” The trial takes place in the middle of Israel’s fourth general election campaign in four years and is expected to be in full swing when voters troop to the polls on 23 March. It will have an impact. But possibly a more important factor will be the role of Israel’s Orthodox Jewish parties who have been a mainstay of successive Netanyahu coalitions. Orthodox Jews are making themselves unpopular by defying the government’s lockdown restrictions. Many are also refusing to participate in Israel’s world beating vaccination programme. This is creating a backlash against Orthodox Jewish parties. Coupled with his trial, this could bring an end to Netanyahu’s long stranglehold on Israel’s premiership at the same time as his American friend’s career is heading towards the toilet bowl.

Joe Biden also has a long and generally friendly connection with Netanyahu. The difference is that it is linked to his years as a senator and vice-president and is based more on national interests than personal ties. Those national interests are likely to mean that the US embassy remains in Jerusalem and that the US continues to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Biden will also build on the diplomatic recognition of Israel by key Arab states. However, there will be differences. Israel was a prime mover behind Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Accord. Biden is trying to revive it. Trump cut off US aid to the Palestinians. Biden restored it. Biden has said he supports the “two-state solution”. The Kushner Plan attempted to kill it. On top of that, President Biden has served notice on Saudi Arabia that it will take a closer look at its human rights policies and withdraw support for its genocidal wall against the Yemeni Houthis. Saudi Arabia is Israel’s closest secret ally in the Arab world. However, there may be military-oriented economic constraints on Biden’s human rights-focused policy towards the Saudis. The US is the world’s largest exporter of weapons with sales totalling $47.2 billion in 2020. Their biggest customer by far is Saudi Arabia. Despite overwhelming evidence, Trump refused to accept that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because, he said, it would jeopardise arms sales to Riyadh.

President Biden’s foreign policy focus shifted to China this week with this first presidential phone call with Xi Jinping. He spent three hours haranguing the Chinese leader about Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Uighurs in Xinjiang. His emphasis was on human rights violations. Xi was unhappy. The issue of human rights, he maintained, was an internal Chinese matter, and the US had no right to interfere in China’s domestic affairs. The plight of the Muslim Uighurs is receiving increasing international attention. Britain’s Liberal Democratic Party has called for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics because of what they call a genocide in Xinjiang. The Johnson government has so far rejected the proposal. But it might find more fertile ground in Washington. It would be ironic if it went ahead. The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics heralded the return of China to world affairs. A boycott in 2022 could mark the falling of a new bamboo curtain.

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Observations of an expat: America on trial

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Donald Trump is on trial in the US Senate. The Republican Party is on trial. America is on trial. The likely verdicts are: Not Guilty, Guilty and Guilty.

This will undermine democratic values and the rule of law which underpins it. This is bad for America and bad for the world. The United States is more than a nation. It is also an idealised aspiration.

Trump is accused of inciting an insurrection. He is alleged to have provoked a mob to attack Capitol Hill in order to reverse an election in direct contravention his oath to “preserve and protect  the constitution.”

Prosecutors (aka House Managers) from the House of Representatives have laid before America’s senators what Republicans admit is a “compelling” case against the ex-president. But the smart betting is that they will still vote to acquit the president.

Trump did more than give an incendiary speech on 6 January. His crime was committed over several months. Before the election he prepared the ground for insurrection by claiming – without any evidence – that the mail-in voting system would result in massive fraud.

Then, as the vote went against him, Trump attempted to stop the count in key states. When the result was clear he refused to concede defeat and challenged the vote in 86 different court cases. He lost all but one. Trump still refused to concede and repeatedly tweeted the fraudulent lie that he was the victim of fraud.

He tried to bully Georgia’s top election official into fabricating 11,780 votes in that key state. He failed. Increasingly desperate, Trump demanded that Vice President Mike Pence reject the Electoral College vote when Congress convened on 6 January to certify the results. Pence refused. His oath to defend the constitution was more important than winning an election.

Trump now summoned his supporters – which included violent right-wing militia groups – to a Washington rally on 6 January while Congress met in its certification session.  The president exhorted them to “fight like Hell” to “Stop the Steal” and to “march up Pennsylvania Avenue” to Capitol Hill. His personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said it was time for “trial by combat.”

The mob acted as instructed.  They broke into the icon of American democracy and demanded the death of Vice President Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Five people died and 140 Capitol Hill policemen were injured.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Move over Donald Trump. America’s conspiracy-driven ultra-right has a new darling. She is the photogenic 46-year-old freshman Congresswoman from Georgia Marjorie Taylor Greene. In less than a month in office, Ms Greene has infuriated Democrats, embarrassed the Republican leadership, made Trump look like a wet liberal, shot to media prominence, sparked a movement to force her expulsion from the House of Representatives, and won the hearts of White supremacists. Ms Greene hit the hallowed corridors of Congress running. The day after she was sworn in she filed articles for the impeachment of President Biden. But it is her record of conspiracy-laden Trumpism before officially taking office that has done Ms Greene the most damage (or help). Obama is a secret Muslim. Mass shootings were false-flag exercises designed to undermine gun rights. Bill Clinton murdered John F. Kennedy Jr. Hillary Clinton is a paedophile. Nancy Pelosi should be executed for treason…. Leading Democrats have called for her expulsion from Congress. They won’t succeed and that, but they have blocked her appointment to committees. However, the Democratic ire seems to only encourage the Republican grassroots to rally around Ms. Greene, especially after Trump declared: “I love her.” One thing is certain: The fate of Marjorie Taylor Greene is now tied to the future direction of America’s Republican Party.

Britain did not, on 1 January, fall off the economic cliff as some anti-Brexiteers predicted. But neither has the country’s formal departure from the European Union been an economic walk in the park. Red tape at borders has meant bureaucratic headaches, especially for anyone supplying perishable products such as fish, meat, vegetables and some medicines. Particularly hard hit has been Northern Ireland which now has an open border with Eire and a hard border with the rest of the United Kingdom. The border, however, can be closed by either the UK or EU if either party has reason to believe that the agreement causes “economic, societal or environmental difficulties.” The commission briefly closed the border to stop the export of coronavirus vaccines. It was a stupid move which was immediately rescinded. Now the pro-Unionist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is calling for the border to be closed and the UK/Northern Ireland border to be thrown open to alleviate the trade in fresh food from the UK to Northern Ireland. But closing the border between North and South Ireland would breach the Good Friday Agreement which is the foundation of the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. A predicted Brexit conundrum.

There is no doubt that Alexei Navalny is a brave man and a hero to thousands of Russians demonstrating for his release from prison. Navalny also receives a favourable press outside of Russia. But beware, he is not the cuddly politician one might think. He is an anti-immigration, xenophobic ethnic Russian nationalist. In 2013 he defended anti-immigration riots in Moscow. He supported Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and has campaigned for the political integration of Russia with Ukraine and Belarus. Navalny has also supported Russian secessionists in Georgia and Moldova and attacked the building of Moscow’s first mosque in 2015. The major difference between Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Putin is the former’s campaign against the oligarchical-controlled corruption that is dragging down the Russian state.

The good news is that this week the US and Russia signed a new five-year Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which cuts the nuclear arsenals of the two countries. The bad news is that Russia withdrew from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty which allowed the US, Europe and Russia to conduct aerial surveillance of each other’s military installations. The US withdrew in November. The treaty is dead. That is a concern. The Russians say they withdrew because of Donald Trump’s withdrawal. But it is not that simple. Trump withdrew because the Russians were blocking surveillance flights, especially over the heavily-armed Russian enclave of Kaliningrad which is sandwiched between the Baltic States and Poland. In making the announcement, President Vladimir Putin said the door was ajar for a renegotiated Open Skies Treaty. But this seems unlikely in the immediate future because President Trump scrapped the specially-equipped planes needed to enforce the treaty. The end of Open Skies is particularly worrying when considered in the context of the end of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which regulated the nuclear weapons regime based in Europe. START lessens the danger of an intercontinental nuclear exchange. But the demise of the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Agreement increases the possibility of hostilities in Europe.

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Observations of an expat: A sad Burmese tale

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This week’s coup in Myanmar (aka Burma) is a warning of the dangers of Faustian pacts between politicians and the military.

To be fair, the political manoeuvrability of human rights icon Aung San Suu Kyi was severely limited. Her country had been under a brutal military regime for nearly half a century when she started talks with the generals.  And she was negotiating while under house arrest.

But the government which eventually resulted in multi-party general elections in 2015 and again last November was neither political fish nor fowl and thus inherently unstable. The Tatmadaw (the military’s name for itself) called the result a “discipline-flourishing democracy.”

The new constitution allowed multi-party elections, but 25 percent of the seats were reserved for the military’s political vehicle the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP); which had a blocking vote because major legislation required a three-quarters majority.

In addition, the cabinet portfolios of defence, border security and home affairs were held by serving military officers.  The military also appointed two of the vice presidents. Ms Suu Kyi was specifically barred from the presidency by constitutional clause which said no one married to a non-Burmese citizen or who had non-Burmese children could hold the top job. Aung San Suu Kyi was married to a British subject and had British children.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

America’s Republican Party is at a political crossroads. Does it ditch or back Donald Trump? Kevin McCarthy, Leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, knows which direction he prefers. He recently flew to Florida to visit Mar a Lago to kow tow to ex-president Donald Trump. The fact is that most of the Republican members of the lower house represent rural constituencies whose voters continue to declare their loyalty to The Donald. These Congressmen and women are up for re-election in one year and nine months. On top of that, Trump has let slip the rumour that he is considering setting up a third political party to be called The Patriot Party. This would, of course, split the Republican vote. Some polls claim that as much of the third of Republicans would move to a Trump party. But Republicans also have their anti-Trumpists. Most of them are in the Senate. Mitch McConnell, now the Senate Minority Leader, was a Trump acolyte for four years. But after Trump’s refusal to accept the election results and the Capitol Hill riots, the worm turned and declared: “I never want to speak to the man ever again.” Senators, unlike the lower house representatives, are elected for six years and their state-wide constituencies include large left-leaning urban constituencies. Republican senators, therefore, are more likely to join the ditch Trump campaign. But even in the Senate the anti-Trump movement is not so strong among Republicans that they can find the 17 Republican members needed to convict the ex-president in his forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a stark warning this week about the future of the unity of the United Kingdom. In fact, he said that the UK was in acute danger of fracturing and becoming a “failed state.” The main current causes are the political stresses and strains caused by Brexit and the pandemic. Scotland is leading the threatened break-up. The Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. In its 2014 independence referendum one of the main reasons the independence route was rejected was fear that the Scots would lose membership of the European Union. In May there were will be elections for the Scottish Parliament and polls indicate a landslide victory for the Scottish National Party. Its leader Nicola Sturgeon has promised a demand for a fresh referendum if the pollsters are correct. Northern Ireland also voted against Brexit and the deal that Boris Johnson has negotiated with the EU has put Northern Ireland firmly into the economic orbit of the EU and Eire. There is thus a growing feeling among the Northern Irish that reunification of the island is now inevitable and moving ever closer. The Johnson government’s handling of the pandemic has worsened matters. There has been little effort by Westminster to consult or coordinate public health actions in the regions. In fact, in most instances the national governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have taken the initiative which Westminster has belatedly followed. Gordon Brown wants a commission to review how the UK is governed and a campaign that that emphasises the advantage of union such as the NHS and a common defence. Is it too little too late?

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Observations of an expat: Covid battles and diplomacy

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Squabbles, soft diplomacy, hard diplomacy, and even harder economics are all playing unseemly and seemly roles in the life-saving scramble for coronavirus vaccines.

The pandemic offered an opportunity for global cooperation to combat a global problem. It could have been a template for tackling other globalised problems such as post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change and future pandemics.

But vaccine nationalism has—in the words of World Health Organisation (WHO) Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – brought the world to the “brink of a moral failure.”

So far the developed world has done a reasonably good job of vaccinating its citizens. Excluding Palestinians, tiny Israel is streets ahead with about 31 percent of its population having received the first Pfizer BioNtech vaccine. The UK has delivered the first round of its immunisations to about 12 percent of its citizens. The US started slow but has picked up pace. About eight percent of Americans have received their first inoculation. EU countries lag behind at two percent.

The European Union’s relatively poor record is attributed to Brussels bureaucracy, political posturing among the 27 countries, poor contract negotiations by its lawyers and bottlenecks at the pharmaceutical companies’ production lines. National health ministers from the 27 countries have turned on Brussels who have responded with threats against the pharmaceutical companies Astra Zeneca and Pfizer BioNtech and warnings about restricting the export of EU-manufactured vaccines outside of the European Union.

The European Union has its problems, but they are nothing compared to those in the developing world. At the latest count 28 people in Sub-Saharan Africa have been vaccinated.

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Observations of an expat: High hopes, low expectations

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Trump is gone. He boarded Air Force One on Wednesday and flew off into the Florida sunset.

Biden is now the President of the United States and has called for an end to the “uncivil civil war” of the last four years.

In his departing speech before a diminished crowd, the outgoing president promised (or was it threatened) that he would be back “in some form or another.”

And he probably will. Perhaps not the “The Donald” personally. His legal and financial problems ranging from the impeachment trial, to tax evasion, to fraud, to money laundering, attempted subversion of election results and massive debts could occupy his attention – and the courts – at the expense of any planned political comeback.

But Trumpism will be back. In fact, it is a solid political factor on the American scene. Donald Trump did not create Trumpism. The conditions for his hate-fuelled politics of anger and fear existed before Donald entered the White House. Trump’s trick was to spot the political advantage in this political undercurrent and exploit it.

In his first day in office, President Biden used presidential decree powers to reverse 17 Trumpist policies. He rejoined the World Health Organisation and the Climate Change Accord. “The Dreamers” were given back their path to citizenship and the Muslim travel ban was lifted. The Keystone XL pipeline and a host of other environmentally damaging Trump pronouncements were scrapped.

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Observations of an expat: Money talks

Money talks. And nowhere does it shout louder than in the political arena of the United States of America.

The roll call of companies turning against the president and his acolytes is impressive. A truncated and growing list includes: American Express, Mastercard, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Stripe, Apple, Amazon, Google, the PGA, Deutsche Bank, Signature Bank, Hallmark, Verizon, Comcast, AT and T, AirBnB, New York City, the Koch Organisation….

Several on the above list deserve special mention. Deutsche Bank has been (now was) the Trump Organisation’s bank for years. It is owed $340 million by the company. But that is not all, President Trump has personally guaranteed every penny of the loan which is interest only. This means that when the loan falls due in 2023 and 2024 he will have to stump up the full amount.

New York City building projects have been a Trump cash cow dating back to the early days of the business his father created. They have simply cancelled all contracts with the Trump Organisation. That will hurt the bottom line.

The Koch Organisation has been America’s leading contributor to conservative causes since Fred Koch financed the start of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society in 1953. Between 2009 and 2016 his sons Charles and David gave a staggering $889 million to the Republican Party, individual Republican politicians and conservative think tanks.

The Koch Organisation started going off Trump a few years ago. But after the attack on Capitol Hill they also turned against his Congressional supporters. They have warned those Republican congressmen and senators who either objected to the Electoral College vote or voted against impeachment that the Koch Organisation’s contributions to their electoral war chests will likely be axed.

They need the money. To run for a seat in the House of Representatives costs an average of $1.6 million and you have to raise that money every two years because that is the length of your term of office. Senators hold their seats for six years, but the average cost of a campaign is $12 million. Elizabeth Warren’s last run for office cost $42,506,349.

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Observations of an expat: Banana America

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Donald J. Trump’s political career is very likely over. But Trumpism lives on.

The disrupter-in-chief, conspiracy theorist extraordinaire and the world’s most outstanding example of a self-deluded politician has finally gone too far.

He clearly incited thousands of supporters to march on the seat of American government in an attempt coerce elected representatives into overturning the election result. The assault on the US Capitol while senators and congressmen met to confirm the results of the November vote, was an attempted coup, insurrection, sedition and treason.

Trump’s baseless claims that the election was a fraud were the inspiration behind the riots. His speech – and that of Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr and others – clearly incited the crowd. His actions were a clear breach of his oath to protect and defend the US constitution.

The events of 6 January, and the two months that preceded it, set a frightening precedent which undermines democracy in America. And because the United States is seen as both the cradle and protector and chief advocate of global democratic values, it undermines laudable efforts to make other governments more representative.

The United States now looks more like a banana republic of the sort it regularly criticises than the “shining city on the hill” that it claims to be.

As awful as the Capitol Hill riots were, even more disturbing are the results of Hill HarrisX opinion poll conducted on 6-7 January.  According to this survey 59 percent of the voters polled disapproved of Trump’s handling of the riots. Great, you might say, that is a clear majority. But the flip side is that 41 percent of the electorate approved of Trump’s actions.

Despite the fact that the riot was a clear attempt to undermine the constitution, the rule of law and the democratic processes of government, a whopping 41 percent of the electorate thought Trump did the right thing.

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