Author Archives: Tom Arms

Tom Arms’ World Review

UK

The freshly minted British Conservative government of Liz Truss is on the ropes. They have only themselves to blame. The “mini-budget” of Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has plunged the economy into a downward spiral. The pound is plummeting. Interest rates are rocketing. People are literally on the cusp of losing their homes, and the problems of the world’s fifth largest economy is having a knock-on effect around the world.

The Opposition Labour Party has soared to a 20-point lead in the opinion polls. The Truss-Kwarteng policy of borrowing billions to cut taxes in the middle of a recession has been totally rejected by the markets. One reason for the traders’ emphatic thumbs down is Kwarteng’s refusal to support his budget with an assessment by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR). Such support is usually a pre-requisite for any budget announcement. The market has interpreted its absence as a sign that the chancellor knew that the OBR would refuse its seal of approval.

Well, now the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, has demanded that Kwarteng organise a retrospective OBR report by the end of October at the latest – and, if the OBR report is as scathing as the statements emitting from the corridors of the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund – amend the budget accordingly. In the meantime, the Truss-Kwarteng duo are doing what every politician does these days when caught in a mess of their own making – doubling down and blaming someone else. In this case Ms Truss has hummed and hahed through a series dramatically misjudged local radio interviews. Putin, Ukraine, covid and world energy prices – everything except Brexit – were blamed for the reaction to the budget. But the fact is every other developed country has the same problems (except self-inflicted Brexit) and they have succeeded in propping up their troubled economies. The markets, therefore, have decided that Britain’s problems can be ascribed to political competence.

Baltic

Who blew up the Baltic Sea gas pipe lines on Tuesday? And who is the legal victim? It is almost universally agreed that the explosions were sabotage that involved a state military operation. But which state? Officially neither the Russians nor NATO are pointing a finger, but both are implying that the other is responsible. Sweden said it detected Russian submarines and surface vessels in the sabotage area shortly before the explosions. Russia retorted with a claim that there were even more NATO naval forces in the neighbourhood. Furthermore, the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the issue has been called by Moscow.

The identity of the attacker is important because the attack occurred in Danish territorial waters which means that it can be construed as an attack on a NATO member. On the other hand, it was an attack on Russian property and so Moscow might be able to claim that it was a NATO attack against them. It is quite possible that we will never know who was responsible because revealing the identity would further escalate the Ukraine War.

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Observations of an Expat – Russia: Chinese Vassal

Russia’s dependence on Chinese markets, sanctions busting finance and political support is turning it into a vassal of Beijing.

The bromance between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin was unbalanced to begin with. The Chinese economy and population are ten times that of Russia.

Russia is a primary commodity producing country which makes it more susceptible to the economic winds of change should its raw products – mainly grain, gold, oil and gas – drop. China, on the other hand has emerged as an advanced, complex economy which is far more dependent on good relations with its Western markets than on relations with Russia.

The only arena in which the Russians have been perceived to have the upper-hand in the Sino-Russian relationship is in the defense arena. But now that is on the wane. Putin’s litany of Ukrainian failures has severely damaged Russia’s reputation for military prowess.

Nuclear weaponry is the only arena in which Moscow retains an overwhelming advantage with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. But rest assured that the Chinese are just as worried as everyone else about Putin’s threats to use nukes, and is applying the maximum political pressure to deter him. They will gain nothing and lose everything by allying themselves with a country that uses nuclear weapons to illegally annex another country’s territory.

The one thing holding the Xi and Vladimir together is their mutual suspicion/hatred of the West coupled with a firm belief that the days of Western liberal democracy are numbered and the rise of firm autocratic governments is inevitable. For that reason, China is unlikely to ditch Russia, but it will extract a hefty price for its support.

The question is: What is the price? For a start, Russian oil and gas. Since the 1980s most of Moscow’s energy exports have headed west to Europe. Russia is already redirecting 76 percent of its oil which formerly went to Western Europe. China has upped its annual Russian oil imports by 135,000 barrels daily. But the Chinese – like the Indians – are being offered discount prices to keep them on board. China will demand that they pay even less, and if Russia continues to lock itself out of Western markets than the law of supply and demand will support their case.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Mahsa Amin’s death

They are burning their headscarves and police cars in Iran. Persian women are fighting back against the mullahs’ morality police. The catalyst for their anger is the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin. The Iranian authorities claim she died of a pre-existing heart condition. Rubbish, say her family, there was nothing wrong with her heart. She died, they claim, because she was beaten in the police van on the way to the station. Ms Amin was arrested because she was wearing her hijab or head scarf improperly. That is common offence which the morality police monitor along with the wearing of tight trousers and leggings, holding hands or kissing in public.

Iran is not the only Muslim country with morality police. Afghanistan has probably the most severe. Iran probably holds the number two slot. Others include Nigeria, Sudan and Malaysia. Then there is Saudi Arabia where the ruling family’s adoption of Islam’s strict Wahhabi sect led to the establishment of the notorious Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Better known among Saudis as simply “The Committee.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, has been circumscribing the morality police to the point of near extinction. The backlash in Iran may force the Mullahs to follow suit which can only undermine their wider claim to political legitimacy.

Another lurch to the right in Europe

Europe is taking another lurch to the right. This month two national parties with links to a fascist past have either come to power or are poised to do so.

Sweden has been known as Europe’s most tolerant country towards cultural diversity. But this month the rabid anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats emerged as the second largest party and is forming a government with the centre-right Moderates.

In a disturbing echo of Donald Trump, party leader Jimmie Akesson declared it was time to “Make Sweden Great Again.”

Georgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy has an equally upsetting motto which links her party to its fascist past—“God, family and fatherland.” Ms Meloni is expected to emerge as Italy’s prime minister after Sunday’s vote. Her party is Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-abortion and has expressed doubts about NATO membership.

Italy and Sweden join Hungary, Britain, Czech Republic, Slovakia Austria and others who have lurched rightwards. There are differences between them but the one common element is the disturbing trend to portray their country as a victim.

Iceland

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Observations of an ex pat: Blink

Vladimir Putin is daring the West to blink first.

It is the second time since 1945 that the nuclear super powers have been dragged to the brink of the abyss.

In October 1963 it was the Americans who felt threatened. Soviet missiles were moving into their backyard. This time it is the Russians. No US nuclear weapons are being sent to Ukraine, but Russia claims that Washington is using Ukraine as its proxy to—using Putin’s words—“destroy Russia.” But that is where the reverse parallels end. Ukraine is no Cuba. It is more dangerous.

For a start Putin is not Khrushchev. The Soviet system had many faults. It made no pretence of being democratic and its stated aim was the overthrow of Western capitalism. But one of its strengths was that, in 1963 at least, the Politburo was more of a collective leadership than it is today. There was a party leader, but there were others behind him who held significant influence and could replace him in a peaceful transition. In fact, that is exactly what happened.

Putin is an elected dictator. His stranglehold of the media, the judiciary and the electoral commission casts a huge shadow over the Russian ballot box.

Once elected, Putin’s power is far greater than that of his post-Stalinist Soviet successors. He maintains and dispenses that power with a system that combines old-style feudal fealty with kleptocracy masked by religiously-fuelled populist nationalism. And because Putin is elected he has greater domestic political legitimacy than his Soviet predecessors.

This legitimacy, however, has a price—success. If the Russian President fails to deliver he can be removed more easily than the old communist leaders. And because there is no obvious successor or mechanism for finding one, Putin is more likely to resort to drastic measures to stay in power.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Editor’s Note: This was submitted on 9th September but held back because of the death of the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II

One of my other hats is leader of the local cub scout group. As such, an important part of my job is explaining the cub scout promise to incoming cubs. The second line was, until this week, “to uphold scout values and honour the Queen.” Now it will be “honour the King.”

But regardless, of the gender of Britain’s monarch, my explanation of the importance of that line will be the same. It is that the monarch is the physical repository of a thousand years of British history, tradition and laws. Many of these laws and traditions have spread all around the world and, by and large, have influenced it for the better. I tell my cubs that they are not pledging an allegiance to a person so much as to the unwritten constitution which the monarch represents. I believe this to be true. I wouldn’t tell my cubs so if I thought otherwise.

BUT Queen Elizabeth II was different. She did more than act as a constitutional repository. She did so in a way that demonstrated a selflessness and devotion to duty which set an example for every person in the United Kingdom and for hundreds of millions in the Commonwealth and beyond. She was working up until two days before her death. Queen Elizabeth II was loved and respected around the globe because she loved. Her reign was a link between Euro-centric imperial world with only 50 members in the United Nations to one with 193. Her first Prime Minister was a hero of the Boer War. Her last was seven years old when the Falklands Task Force set sail.

Viewed from the rose-tinted perspective of 70 years of hindsight, the world seemed a secure and certain place when Elizabeth Windsor was crowned Queen. But it was only seven years after the end of World War Two. Rationing was still in force. Britain was staggering under the burden of a huge war debt and an empire it could ill afford. Today it is recovering from the cost of a pandemic and facing mounting bills brought on by the withdrawal from the EU and a war in Ukraine. Since the time of Victoria the role of the British monarch has been to stand aloof from politics. To play the role of the rock of constancy in a sea of constantly shifting tides. Queen Elizabeth II played her part magnificently and has the established the template for King Charles III.

Ukraine

Volodomyr Zelensky and his generals have fooled me. More importantly, they have fooled Vladimir Putin and his generals. Everyone knew that the Ukrainians were planning a counter-offensive, if only to prove to their Western backers that they were worth the military aid and economic sacrifices. The riverside city of Kherson in Southeast Ukraine was expected to the main target of the counter-offensive. Ukrainian forces controlled or destroyed the main bridges across the Dnieper River. Putin rushed troops to the city and built up his forces in Crimea to the immediate south. But Zelensky’s men decided instead to focus their counter-offensive in the northeastern sector of Ukraine and the city of Kharkiv. In a single day the Ukrainians managed to break through Russian lines and regain several towns and villages in the Kharkiv region and 400 square kilometres of territory.

The Russians have grudgingly admitted the Ukrainian success.  While the Ukrainians were advancing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting Kyiv to announce another $2 billion in US aid. So far Washington has contributed $15.2 billion to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defence has reported that 15,000 Russian soldiers have died in Putin’s “special military operation.” That is the same as the official Moscow death toll for the Soviet Union’s ten-year war in Afghanistan (although the recognised unofficial figure is nearer 50,000).

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Observations of an ex pat: Diagnose First

Editor’s Note: This was submitted on 9th September but held back because of the death of the Queen.

Britain’s new Conservative Prime Minister Liz Truss is doomed to failure because she has failed to correctly diagnose the cause of her country’s problems.

Any doctor will tell you that before you can successfully treat a patient you must first know what you are treating. In fact, the treatment is often the easiest part of the medical business.

The same rule applies to most aspects of life, especially politics. Before you can correct social and economic ills with new policies, laws or decrees you must correctly identify the cause of the problem. If you fail to do so the problem will fester and grow in much the same way as an untreated cancer.

Problems in political diagnosis often arise when the politician insists on examining the patient through a narrow ideological lens. Medieval Europe, for example, was a socially stagnant period because all social issues were addressed through the pages of the Bible. The Soviet Union collapsed because the ruling Politburo decreed that all of society had to be organised through the prism of Marxist-Leninism.

Liz Truss is attempting to solve Britain’s mounting problems through a narrow conservative, anti-European window.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA

Who are the MAGA Republicans that Biden claims are threatening American democracy?

For a start they support the cult of Donald Trump and cults are antithetical to democratic values. Next they propagate the lie that Trump won the 2020 presidential elections. And unless an estimated 40 million voters drank a hallucinogenic Kool-aid they know that Trump is lying. Or alternatively, America is facing a major mental health problem. Finally, they feel so threatened by the values and policies of the Democratic Party that they are prepared to jettison truth, the rule of law and a much-revered constitution in the pursuit of power.

The current battle ground for what Biden has dubbed the “soul of America” is the mid-term elections to the Senate in House in two months’ time. His threat to democracy speech this week at Independence Hall in Philadelphia was Biden’s opening salvo in the campaign. Only a few months ago the received political wisdom was that the Democrats faced a drubbing at the polls and the likely loss of both houses of Congress. But that was then.

In the intervening period Biden has proved himself a legislative mastermind by pushing through his economy and climate change package. Missing top secret papers have been found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago hideaway. Support for the Ukraine war has grown. Abortion has become an election campaign with polls indicating most voters favouring controlled termination. Inflation has stalled and gasoline prices tumbled.

Sleepy Joe has woken up, come out fighting and rapidly climbed five percentage points in the opinion polls. Trump backers are, however, standing firm. In fact, every attack on the ex-president and every legal investigation is greeted with cries of “witch hunt” and “conspiracy.” The MAGA squad have invested too much in the cult of Trump. They cannot afford to fail and are likely to resort to increasingly desperate claims and acts. This should be one of the most interesting US mid-term elections ever.

Pakistan

Two thousand-plus dead so far. More rain. More death. More destruction to come. Baked mud homes returned to mud and washed away. A bill which so far is expected to easily surpass $10 billion. Pakistan’s monsoon floods are a humanitarian disaster and another climate change warning.

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Observations of an expat: Gorby’s object lesson

Mikhail Gorbachev is an object lesson in the dangers inherent in moving a corrupt, highly-centralised autocratic government in which the individual is a servant of the party and state to a fairer and more open society in which the state is the servant of the people.

That is not to detract from Gorbachev’s greatness. His policies of perestroika and glasnost helped to bring an end to the Cold War. But it also opened the door to the rise of dangerous Russian nationalism and Vladimir Putin.

Gorbachev did not set out to topple the Soviet empire. He was a true believer who was convinced that communism was the path to political nirvana. His mentor was Mikhail Suslov whose primary role was to keep the Politburo on the ideological straight and narrow.

The problem was that the Soviet Union of the 1980s was not communist. It was a planned economy with the financial levers in the hands of the Party. But even more so, it was a corrupt, oppressive geriatric oligarchy with a rapidly failing economy that was unable to support its military establishment and political control of Eastern Europe.

The “Era of Stagnation” – As Gorbachev dubbed it – started in the mid-1970s under Leonid Brezhnev with a clampdown on human rights and emphasis on heavy industry and the military establishment. Soviet consumers were ignored. Between 1975-1985 the Soviet economy grew at a miserly average rate of 1.8 percent a year. The income of Soviet man dropped. Bribery, long queues and shortages were endemic. The state-controlled media and statistical bureau reported the exact opposite. Everyone knew they lied.

The exception to this economic plunge was the Party faithful. They were allowed to buy Western consumer goods in special hard currency shops and the Politburo were chauffeured from office luxurious dacha in Zil limousines.

When Brezhnev died in November 1982 there was a power struggle between the reformist wing led by Yuri Andropov and the old guard led by Konstantin Chernenko. Andropov won and then died 15 months later. Chernenko succeeded him only to die after just 13 months in the top job. The hierarchy swung back to the reformist wing and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev immediately announced that he wanted to improve living standards and political freedoms and was prepared to cut non-productive military expenditure to achieve those aims. His policies were summed up by the terms perestroika (economic restructuring) and glasnost (political and social openness). The economy was decentralised, incentive schemes were introduced for workers and managers and state subsidies reduced along with Soviet aid to satellite countries. Nuclear arsenals were reduced and Soviet troops were pulled out of Afghanistan.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

A boost for the Ukrainians – and a problem

The successful missile attack on the Russian arms depot on the Crimean Peninsula was a major boost for the Ukrainians. It may also have created a major problem.

So far the Ukrainians have refrained from attacking Russian territory. This is a bit like fighting with one hand tied behind the back, but they have been told by their NATO quartermasters to restrain themselves due to a fear of provoking an escalation that would result in NATO and Russian troops facing each other in a possible World War Three scenario.

Donetsk and Luhansk are not Russian territory. They are—according to the Russians—independent sovereign republics which have seceded from Ukraine with Russian help. Crimea, however, is a different kettle of fish. The Russians annexed it in 2014. It matters not that only 14 countries have recognised the annexation. Russia regards Crimea as Russian and therefore the attack was on Russian territory.

Interestingly enough, the Ukrainian government is refusing to take credit for the attack. It is not denying responsibility either.

Meanwhile concern is growing for the safety of the Zapororizhzia nuclear power plant. The Russians continue to use the plant as a base from which to launch artillery and missile barrages and there are reports that technicians at the plant are being forced to work at gunpoint. The International Atomic Energy Agency is still trying—unsuccessfully–to gain access to conduct safety inspections and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for a demilitarised zone around the plant.

How are sanctions affecting Russia?

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Observations of an ex-pat – Law vs Politics

The United States is facing a major question: Does political support trump the rule of law?

There is no doubt that Donald Trump has political support from a large proportion of the American population. He is virtually a shoe-in for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Whether or not he is guilty of one of any number of crimes is immaterial to his base of supporters. Trump represents small government libertarian-minded conservative America. The values that he has come to embody are seen as more important than any number of words in any number of law books.

He has the support “of his people” and that lifts Trump to the far edge of the reach of the long arm of the law. Any attempt to argue otherwise, or to enforce the law, is jackboot Nazism and an establishment conspiracy to thwart the will of the people.

Given that many of Trump’s people are gun-toting Second Amendmenters, using the law against the former president risks the serious danger of violence.

Attorney General Merrick Garland is all too aware of the need to balance political reality with the rule of law. Donald Trump is a special case. No person is above the law, but realpolitik means that some people are on its edges. If the Department of Justice—or anyone else—is going to take any kind of legal action against the former president then it must be totally convinced of his guilt well beyond a reasonable doubt– and then some.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The nuclear reactor we should be worried about

Forget about Chernobyl. That was small fry worry. Focus instead on the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. Zaporizhzhia  supplies half of Ukraine’s nuclear-generated electricity; is next door to the city of Enerhodar (pre-war population of 53,000) and sits alongside the Dnieper River which supplies the drinking water for millions in southeastern Ukraine and Crimea.

The nuclear facility was captured by Russia on 4 March during the Battle of Enerhodar. The power plant is being kept in operation with Ukrainian workers retained by the occupying Russians. But Putin’s forces have—according to US and Ukrainian sources—started using plant precincts as a base for artillery barrages.

The Ukrainians are firing back. On top of that, no one from the UN oversight organisation the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is making the regular visits that insure that all safety measures and checks are being followed. IAEA director Rafael Grossi this week told Associated Press “You have a catalogue of things happening that should never happen in a nuclear power plant.” Mr. Grossi is trying to negotiate access to Zaporizhzhia but to do that will require his inspectors passing through both Ukrainian and Russian lines. This is extremely dangerous for the inspectors and inordinately difficult to arrange.

 The fight to be UK Prime Minister

The British election campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the Premiership of the country this week slipped into high farce and sailed into choppy constitutional waters. Starting with the farce, favourite Liz Truss announced that she would cut public sector pay by about $10 billion by reducing the wages of out of London public sector workers.

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Observations of an ex-pat – Disappointing Biden

President Joe Biden is a foreign policy disappointment. He entered the White House with more foreign affairs experience than almost any of his predecessors—23 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during which time he met 150 heads of government.

 The world had hoped—no, expected—that the new president would inject an ordered wisdom into America’s conduct of world affairs after the chaos of the Trump years. Instead, it has been presented with an increasingly disjointed and incoherent foreign policy which has fallen dangerously short of expectations.

 The latest example is the visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House of Representatives – who is second in line to the presidency– said her trip was meant to show strength of purpose. Instead it has exposed a confused, disjointed and divided policy towards the crucial issue of Taiwan which has repercussions on a wide range of world issues.

 It was obvious that the visit would infuriate Beijing. And it did. They have responded with a series of dangerous military exercises in the Taiwan Straits, ballistic missile firings, cyber attacks, Chinese fighter jet sorties into Taiwanese airspace and a ban on Taiwanese food imports. There is a fear that the Chinese reaction may drag on in the form of a de facto blockade of the island which Beijing claims as China’s 23rd province.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

The sanctions gamble

Ukraine and Russia are engaged in a weapons war. The West in Russia are engaged in an economic war of attrition. The West’s main weapon is sanctions. Putin’s main weapons are European dependence on Russian oil and gas, food supplies to millions and the perceived decadence of Western populations. Europe had hoped to build up a reserve of stored gas supplies for the winter by importing as much Russian gas as possible until December. But Putin this week scuppered that plan by cutting piped exports by 80 percent. Germany has stopped lighting public buildings at night and has turned off the hot water in public sports centres. The price of energy is rocketing around the world, fuelling inflation and costing jobs.  There is a real prospect of energy rationing in Europe and possibly further afield. But what about Russia? Putin has admitted that Western sanctions are “a huge challenge.” The Mayor of Moscow has said the city has lost 200,000 jobs. Businesses have been forced to close and inflation in Russia is 16 percent. Analysts at Yale University this week reported that “imports have collapsed” and domestic production has come to a “complete standstill.” But here is the rub, Putin believes that Russians are tougher than their European and American counterparts. Western support for sanctions will collapse, Putin believes, when European and American consumers can no longer afford their long car journeys, overheated homes, exotic foods and multiple holidays. It’s a gamble. For both sides.

Pelosi visit threatens Xi’s position

US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had a two-hour face to face in cyberspace this week. They discussed Ukraine, climate change and lifting some of the Trump era tariffs. But top of the list was Taiwan and the proposed trip to the disputed island by Speaker of the House of Representatives, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi. The Chinese have vowed “resolute and forceful measures” if the visit goes ahead. The Ministry of Defense has threatened that the “Chinese military will never sit idly by.” In Taiwan, the authorities have been conducting air raid drills. At the heart of the problem is China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan and its stated willingness to use force to impose it. To date, however, Beijing’s emphasis has been on diplomatic pressure. It has successfully isolated the Taipei government by hounding other nations to break off relations and blocking Taiwan’s membership of international bodies. Anything that smacks of international recognition of Taiwan is strongly opposed by Beijing, and a visit by a high-profile American politician who is third in line to the presidency is extremely high profile—especially given Ms Pelosi’s strong anti-Beijing position. She has repeatedly attacked the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record, entertained the Dalai Lama, unfurled a pro-democracy banner in Tiananmen Square and supported Hong Kong demonstrators. In short, she is not well-liked in Beijing.  But there are other problems related to President Xi’s position within the Chinese Communist Party. It is not strong at the moment. He is viewed by many as having badly managed the covid pandemic and China’s response to the war in Ukraine. In October the Party will hold its national congress at which Xi is expected to be voted a third term. It is important that the vote is a general acclamation rather than a mere majority vote. Failure to stand firm on Taiwan—added to covid and Ukraine—could undermine that.

The Brexit Conundrum

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Observations of an Expat: Critical Kherson

Russia and Ukraine are locked in a battle for control of the strategic city of Kherson. It could be a turning point in the Ukraine War.

Kherson sits on the west bank of the Dnieper (also spelled Dnipro) River, 60 miles from the Black Sea. Russian forces have been in control of the city since 2 March, but now the troops are trapped by a Ukrainian counter offensive.

Using American High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), the Ukrainians have destroyed virtually all the bridges connecting the roughly 1,000 Russian troops in the city to their main force on the eastern bank of the river. The city is now surrounded on three sides and the troops retreat route is blocked by quarter mile wide river on their fourth. They have been told by Ukrainian generals to either surrender, leave or be annihilated.

Meanwhile, there are reports of Moscow rushing forces across the Crimean bridge linking Russia and the occupied Crimean Peninsula and increased road and rail traffic from Crimea to the eastern bank of the Dnieper. Forces are also being transported to Ukraine from as far away as Vladivostok on the Pacific coast.  Putin is clearly preparing for a major battle.

This is unsurprising. Kherson is important to both sides politically and strategically. For a start it sits near the mouth of the Dnieper River with both a sea and river port and a major shipbuilding industry. The Dnieper is the fourth longest river in Europe and flows through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea near Kherson. The river is dotted with hydroelectricity plants and ship canals that enable major cargo vessels to travel 1,200 miles upriver to Kyiv and beyond. It is a vital part of the region’s history, culture and economy.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Europe is burning sounds like the title of an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster. Unfortunately it is an accurate newspaper headline as the continent this week sweltered in record temperatures.

In normally temperate Britain the thermometer topped 104 fahrenheit. In Spain it reached 109. Spontaneous fires were widespread. The London fire brigade reported its busiest day since the Blitz. Grass and forest fires broke out in France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy. In Greece alone there were 390 forest fires in one week.

The high pressure system responsible for the heatwave is now over Poland and is expected to continue eastwards reaching China in August before eventually being cooled down by the Pacific waters. This follows record temperatures in the Middle East and South Asia and forest fires in California, the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Australia.

Climate change scientists say:  “Get used to it. This is a taste of things to come.”


Joe Biden – America’s 79-year-old president – has covid. It is not surprising. In fact it would be more surprising if he didn’t. Covid has dropped out of the US headlines but not off the health charts. As of Friday nearly a third of the American population – 91,767,460 – have had a confirmed case of coronavirus. 1,050,702 of them have died, including 592 of them this Wednesday alone.

America decided months ago to stop the mandatory wearing of face masks and social distancing and reduced pressure for vaccinations. They were going to learn to live with covid to save the economy. Since then the number of cases has risen dramatically.

The increase in coronavirus cases has not been confined to American shores. Other countries governments are also treating the pandemic as more or less done and dusted. But there have been significant increases in confirmed cases and deaths in Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, India, Greece, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore…. Someone obviously forgot to tell the virus that it was time to pack up.


There is no love lost between Japan and South Korea. In fact, there has been pretty much a hate-hate relationship ever since the Japanese warlord Toyatomi Hideyoshi raped and pillaged his way across the Korean peninsula in the 16th century.

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Observations of an expat: Tropical Trump

They call him “The Trump of the Tropics.” The parallels between Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump are legion, with one big difference – Bolsonaro is better placed to overturn his country’s democracy.

Presidential elections are scheduled for 2 October and far-right Bolsonaro is trailing well behind his socialist rival Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. So what does he do? He pulls a Trump. The elections will be a fraud, Bolsonaro claims months before the polls open. The electronic voting machines, he says, have been hacked.

Rubbish, counters the electoral authority, who maintain that there have been no incidences of widespread fraud in any elections since the system was introduced in 1996, including the election which put Bolsonaro in office in 2018.

But Bolsonaro persists. This week, the Brazilian leader summoned diplomats to the presidential place to listen to an hour-long televised harangue in which he claimed – without evidence – that a military investigation into a voting system which the country has successfully used for 25 years was fraudulent. The investigators, by the way, were appointed by Bolsonaro.

The US embassy in Brazil immediately issued a statement describing Brazil’s election machinery “as a model for the world.” Last month, Joe Biden dispatched CIA Director William Burns to tell Bolsonaro to change his story. The US president is clearly worried that a successful Bolsonaro coup in October will give encouragement to the supporters of Trump’s “Big Lie.” Bolsonaro has gone on record to say that Biden’s election was “suspicious.”

Trump said: “Brazil is lucky to have a man such as Jair Bolsonaro working for them. He is a great president and will never let the people of his great country down.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review

A diplomatic truism is that some conflicts are insoluble. They are, however, manageable. Although the consequences of doing nothing or mismanagement can spell disaster. The Arab-Israeli conflict falls neatly into the above category.

President Joe Biden obviously came to this conclusion before stepping on the plane for his tour of the Middle East this week. A succession of American administrations – except Trump’s – has paid homage to the two-state solution. Biden reiterated the pre-Trump position, but not as forcefully as his predecessors. Part of the reason is that there was little point as his Israeli counterpart, Yasir Lapid, is merely a caretaker prime minister while the Jewish state struggles through another political crisis. As for the Palestinians, they are hopelessly divided between Hamas in Gaza who are a designated terrorist organisation and the PLO’s Mahmoud Abbas who, at 86, makes Biden look like the proverbial spring chicken. The result is that the two-state solution has been moved from the backburner to refrigerator.

Instead the US administration is focusing on maintaining relations with Israel and trying to draw other allies – mainly Saudi Arabia but also the United Arab Emirates and Qatar – into closer relations with Israel. To help with the first point, Biden has toughened his stand on Iran and the threat of nuclear weapons. One thing that all Israeli parties agree on is that Iran represents an existential threat. Biden has agreed that he will do whatever is necessary to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The second issue is more, problematic, especially as regards Saudi Arabia. There is no love lost between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and Biden and the wider Democratic Party. Clearly a problem that needs managing.


Ukrainian military commanders are cock-a-hoop. The military equipment and training provided by the West are starting to work, especially the shoot and scoot American High Mobility Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The GPS-guided precision artillery have to date knocked out 19 forward-based Russian ammunition dumps.

The Ukrainians are now talking about a major counter-offensive involving hundreds of thousands of ground troops to retake territories lost in the Donbas Region. There are, however, problems. HIMARS rockets are accurate and effective, but they are also expensive and have to be used sparingly. So far the US has supplied eight launchers. Another four are on the way. The other problem is that their range is limited to 50 miles. As the Ukrainians advance, the Russians could simply stage a tactical retreat and still control a significant slice of Eastern Ukraine. Washington could supply Ukraine with precision weaponry with a range of 500 miles. These would be a war-winner but would mean that Ukraine could strike targets inside Russia which means escalation with disastrous consequences.


Meanwhile there appears to be the possibility of some movement on the movement of grain out of Ukraine. Between them, Russia and Ukraine account for 21-28 percent of the world’s grain supplies and 40 percent of this vital food for the inherently unstable North Africa and Middle East. A big chunk of that grain is – more than 20 million tonnes – trapped in Ukrainian siloes, unable to reach hungry world markets because of a Russian naval blockade. This week saw talks in Istanbul involving Ukrainian, UN, Russian and Turkish negotiators. They ended with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar promising a signed deal next week. Moscow and Kyiv have said nothing.

There are several sticking points. For a start the Ukrainians have mined the approaches to their ports to prevent a Russian amphibious landing and the Russians have imposed a naval blockade to stop the import of weapons. Going into this week’s talks Moscow demanded the right to inspect incoming ships for weapons. The Ukrainians said no. The Ukrainians, for their part insisted on grain carriers being escorted by convoys of friendly ships. That is a possibility and Turkey may play a role here.

A further complication, however, is that the exports would include Russian grain which Ukrainians assert has been stolen from land occupied by the Russians since their 24 February invasion.  Not surprisingly, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said: “There is still a way to go.”

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Observations of an expat: cold winter cometh

Enjoy the summer sun while you can. It is going to be a c-c-cold winter – literally and metaphorically.

Just about every corner of the globe will be affected. The US perhaps less than many. Europe more than most. But Inflation fuelled by energy shortages will affect almost every one. The rare exceptions will be those living in mud huts heated by gathered wood and financed by a barter economy.

The major cause is the Ukraine war, European reliance on Russian energy and Vladimir Putin’s willingness to use it as a weapon. But there are other factors: Grain and general food shortages caused by the war, slow recovery from a lingering pandemic, supply chain bottlenecks, inflation and rising interest rates to control it and political instability which is both the cause and effect of the above.

On 26 July the EU will hold a European energy summit to thrash out a coordinated response to the crisis. Failure to do so will damage the unity of the world’s biggest trading bloc with knock-on effects everywhere else.

On the agenda are increased development of green energy and boosted production of European oil and dirty coal to fill the gap. Also to be discussed will be coordinated purchases of Liquefied Natural Gas and the building of more gas storage facilities, the strength of the Euro, more help for Ukraine, holding the line against Russia, food inflation and, dare I say it, rationing. All of the above are inextricably linked.

The threat of a Russian gas blackmail has been hanging over Europe since before Putin’s tanks rolled into Ukraine on 24 February. The Reagan Administration issued warnings about it 40 years ago. Moscow supplies 25 percent of Europe’s gas. This week the main supplier – Gazprom – shut down Nordstream 1, the main gas pipeline from Russia to Europe. They claimed that the halt was for “maintenance purposes” but everyone knows that the shutdown is a thinly veiled threat.

Europeans have been actively hoarding gas supplies in storage facilities in preparation for the winter to come. German economists reckon that if they increase stocks to 80 percent of capacity by November then there will be enough for winter. Before the heatwave struck supplies were at 60 percent capacity. Now they are dropping as sweltering consumers switch on their air conditioning.

Germany has other energy problems. Consumer gas prices have been subsidised for years with an unrealistic price cap that at the moment reduces the household price by more than a third of the market price. This is unsustainable but politically difficult to change so the government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz is tiptoeing around the subject of gas rationing.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Shinzo Abe – Japan’s longest-serving prime minister who was assassinated on Friday – was best known for three things: His tough anti-Chinese stance; his efforts to beef up Japan’s military and Abenomics.

The first secured him the ire of Beijing which he wore as a badge of honour. Of course, as soon as the news of the shooting crossed the East China Sea, the official Chinese line was shock, horror and dismay. But on social media Chinese nationalists were busy expressing their glee. One of the reasons for the Chinese dislike of Abe was his skewed view of history and pro-defense policies. On the former, Abe – in common with many other Japanese politicians – denied, ignored or underplayed his country’s atrocities during World War II. The Chinese retain bitter memories of the Japanese occupation of most of their country in the 1930s and during World War Two. They welcomed the constitutional post-war curbs on the Japanese defense forces which banned the Japanese from using war “as a means of settling disputes.”

Abe, a staunch nationalist, wanted to re-write the constitution and increase defense spending from one to two percent of the GDP.  This policy has the support of Western governments who regard the restrictions on the world’s third largest economy as a post-war anomaly. Defense spending is a major issue in the current election.

Shinzo Abe was one of the many world leaders who lent their name to an economic theory. Abenomics combined monetary easing by the central bank with increased government spending and structural reform. Its purpose was to end decades of economic stagnation. Abenomics had some success but not as much as Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party hoped. Like all politicians, Shinzo Abe enjoyed successes and suffered failures. But his greatest achievement was to be the tough man of Japanese politics at a time when the Japanese required a stiff political backbone.

Vladimir Putin was blunt: We have just begun to fight, he told Russian parliamentary leaders this week. He then went on to blame the “collaborative West” for starting the war in Ukraine. It was the result, he claimed of a 2014 Western-supported military coup which ousted a pro-Russian government and launched a “genocide” in the Donbas Region.

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Observations of an expat: Boris

The rules, the law, other people… they were of little or no concern to Boris Johnson. At least not until this week when his contempt for parliamentary convention, constitutional law and common decency resulted in his being dragged kicking and screaming to the exit door of 10 Downing Street.

Boris Johnson’s lack of moral fibre has wreaked havoc on Britain’s unwritten constitution; the social contract between rulers and ruled; Britain’s position in the world and the country’s finances. The Conservative Party has been mortally wounded by the decision to elect him Party leader and to stand by him for three scandal-riven years.

He won them votes with his unruly mop of hair, boyish charm and extraordinary skill with the spoken and written word. But winning votes is only part of the job. A Prime Minister needs to be able to govern. Boris Johnson’s incompetence, laziness and skewed moral compass made him unfit for the tenancy of Downing Street.

The success of the British parliamentary system relies heavily on the “Good Chap” theory of Government. Politicians are expected to act with honesty and integrity. If they are caught in a lie – especially a lie to parliament – they have to be relied upon to do the honourable thing and resign.

This is not the law. It is a parliamentary convention which has been observed for centuries. But Boris is not a good chap. He is a bad chap. He cares not one jot for parliamentary convention. Parliament – as far as Boris was concerned – was an obstacle to be overcome rather than a political tool to be used.

For the past 50 years successive British prime ministers have tried to shift their role from that of  “First Among Equals” in a cabinet of high-achieving individuals to a more presidential type of government. This meant circumventing parliament as much and as often as possible. Boris embraced this trend with vigour and disastrous consequences.

It started with British membership of the EU. His lies narrowly swung the British behind Brexit. But then when parliament balked at the terms he negotiated with Brussels he illegally attempted to prorogue the legislature. That was followed by effectively booting 21 rebel conservative MPs out parliament, thus ensuring that his post 2019-election majority would be comprised mostly of fawning acolytes.

The cabinet he appointed has – with a few exceptions – been chosen not on the basis of competence but on personal loyalty to Boris Johnson. It is generally regarded as one of the most – if not the most – mediocre cabinet in British history.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

So we know that abortion is now, or is about to be, illegal in about half of the American states. But what about the rest of the world? And what affect is the Supreme Court decision having elsewhere?

In Brazil at the moment abortions are allowed in cases of rape and incest. Populist right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro has used the overturning of Roe v Wade to call for a total ban. At the same time, other countries have condemned the ruling. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a “major step backwards.” Almost simultaneous with the Supreme Court decision, Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law that bans doctors from offering information about abortion procedures. Spain took steps to remove parental consent for 16-17 year olds. French legislators proposed a bill to make abortion a constitutional right and the Dutch voted to abolish a mandatory five-day wait for women seeking an abortion. Within the EU only Malta has a total ban on abortion. Poland is the next strictest country on abortion laws. It allows pregnancy terminations in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is threatened. Generally, abortion has become accepted as a woman’s right in all but 37 out of 195 countries in the world.

The Ukraine War is sucking ammo dumps dry. The Russians are the worst hit. A tough Ukrainian defense has forced them to resort to blanket artillery barrages. They started with high precision missiles and by mid-May had fired off an estimated 2,200 of them. They are not cheap. Each cruise missile costs $1.9 million. They also take time to build and involve semi-conductors and transistors which are unavailable in Russia. Moscow’s now depleted precision munitions means that it is using more low precision artillery shells – about 20,000 a day – which increases the collateral damage. Tanks are another problem. The Ukrainians have been particularly adept at knocking out Russia’s tanks. So far the kill rate has topped a thousand. Each tank costs about $4 million and takes a minimum of three months to build.

But the other side – Ukraine and its Western backers – is also having problems. Kyiv didn’t have much to start with and most of it was out of date Soviet-era Russian-produced weaponry. It now has to rely on NATO defense equipment which they do not know how to use. So they have to be trained which takes time. Britain has taken a key role in training Ukrainian troops. But NATO is also running short of weapons to send Ukraine, especially the Europeans who have been particularly generous. Poland for instance, has given a quarter of its tanks to the Ukrainian army. Britain has donated about a third of its highly-effective Starstreak anti-tank missile systems and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is pleading the special case argument to increase defence spending to 2.5 percent of GDP.

Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia have seriously depleted their weapons stocks. One of the reasons that the NATO summit agreed to a near ten-fold increase in troop and weapons levels in the Baltic region is because the defense cupboards in that region are heading towards bare. US ammo dumps are also taking a hit. Ukrainians have made good use of American-made Javelin missiles. Seven thousand of them – roughly a third of the total US stock of Javelins – has been sent to Ukraine. The American armaments industry produces an estimated 1,500 Javelin missiles a year. But the US has other similar systems and the industrial capacity to expand production. In a war of attrition, the West is much better placed then Russia. The next question is: Does it have the political will?

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Observations of an expat: unholy alliance

The unholy alliance of the Christian Right and the Republican Party has conquered its Everest with the end of abortion in most of America.

It still has other political mountains to climb: Same-sex marriage, gay rights, equal rights, Christian nationalism, creationism, contraception, sex education, political correctness, gambling, pornography, Sunday trading…

But Roe v Wade was top target. It was the emotively totemic issue that united hardline conservative Republicans and Evangelicals and differentiated them from the rest of the country.

The alliance, however, may now be facing the downward slope. A poll taken just after the Supreme Court decision showed that 59 percent of Americans support abortion and 58 percent now want a federal law making abortion available nationwide.

The unholy alliance’s victory shows what religious fervour linked with political organisation can achieve. But the majority has learned the hard lesson of complacency associated with defending the status quo. They have been galvanised, are removing the gloves and have electoral numbers on their side.

America has a long history of mixing politics and religion. New England was founded by religious dissidents who sought to breakaway from establishment Church of England and for a long time set up their own theocracy in America. The US constitution was seen as a triumph of rationalism, the summit of the Age of Reason and a victory over the religious superstition of the medieval world.

For about 100 years enlightened reasoning – with exceptions – reigned largely supreme within the American corridors of power. Then along came Darwin and the church split between the fundamentalists who dismissed evolution as heresy and those who reluctantly accepted it as the logical fruit of science.

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Tom Arms’ World Review 19 June 2022

Cheeseburgers and cars without seatbelts

Big Macs are a thing of the past for Muscovites.  McDonald’s—along with 400 other Western businesses—shut down their Russian operations as part of sanctions against Putin’s War in Ukraine. But the Russians have come with an answer. They have simply taken over the McDonald’s outlets and handed them to oligarch Alexander Gorvov. The golden arches have been pulled down and Coca-Cola and Big Macs are off the menu. But there is some consolation for Russian carnivores– a double cheeseburger is 30 roubles cheaper. However, the rebranding of McDonalds does not mean that sanctions are failing. For example, this week the Russians launched what wags are calling the “anti-sanctions car”. Because of Western sanctions Russian car maker Lada cannot import key components. So the new Lada is without seat belts, air bags, an anti-lock braking system or electronic stability control. It is, however, cheaper. Set against these inconveniences is the fact that Russian oil and gas exports have provided the regime with a $26 billion trade surplus in the first five months of this year. However, at the same time, economists believe that sanctions will start to bite by the end of the year and Russian GDP will have shrunk by ten percent.  If this happens then Muscovites may not be able to afford cheap cheeseburgers or cheap cars

Resistance in Ukraine

Winston Churchill called it the Special Operations Executive and ordered it to “set Nazi-occupied Europe alight.” Eighty years later Volodomyr Zelensky has created the Special Operations Forces (SSO) and ordered it to set Russian occupied Ukraine alight. They are doing just that. They are responsible for dozens of attacks on Russian airbases and have blown up railway tracks, bridges and radar stations. Eight Russian soldiers died from poison pies baked and distributed by a little old lady. She was an SSO operative.  So far, the Ukrainian resistance has claimed the lives of more than 150 Russian soldiers, and as the war in the south and east heats up so does the SSO-organised resistance. They are even reputed to be responsible for mysterious fires at military facilities across the border in Russia.

Rivers are one of the world’s most effective natural barriers, especially in war torn Ukraine. The current 60-mile long frontline is dominated by the Siversky Donets River. The Russians have to cross it to control the Eastern Donbas Region. Ukrainian civilians trapped by Russian artillery have to cross it to reach safety and Ukrainian soldiers have to cross it in the opposite direction to fight the Russians. Key to control of the river is mastery of the city of Sieverodonetsk which is currently the scene of street fighting and heavy Russian bombardment. 500 civilians—including 40 children—are trapped in the city’s Azot Chemical factory. The Stalinist era plant is well stocked with food, medical supplies and a labyrinthine network of tunnels; much the same as the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. The roughly 700 defenders of Mariupol have disappeared into Russia, and a similar fate probably awaits the soldiers and civilians in Sieverodonetsk.  Diplomats, however, are trying to organise their rescue out of the city and across the Siversky Donets River and to Sieverodonetsk’s sister city of Lysychansk. With the river between the city and the Russian forces, Lysychansk will be easier to defend.

Boris Johnson in trouble

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Observations of an ex pat: I am an immigrant

I am an immigrant. I emigrated from the United States to the United Kingdom on the 12th December 1971.

I had studied for a year in Britain 18 months before and fell in love with the country and one of its citizens and moved back despite the dreary weather and traffic jams.

I did not flee a Middle Eastern, African, Central Asian or East European War. I did not turf up at Heathrow claiming political persecution or risk crossing the English Channel in an inflatable raft. Neither was I escaping a life of poverty in an African mud hut. In fact, if I had stayed in America I would probably be enjoying a comfortable country club existence.

Nevertheless, I feel an affinity with Africans, Asians, Hispanics, or any person from any race or country who left their homeland to seek a new life. It is not easy to leave the safety net of cultural familiarity, family and friends.

If you are born to a country your acceptance is automatic. As an immigrant you have to constantly prove your worth and justify your decision to uproot your entire life and start afresh.

I feel I have succeeded. I started an international news agency which launched the careers of well over a hundred journalists. My children are all a credit to me as are the 200 boys and girls—many of them now young men and women– who have passed through my scout group over the past 20 years.

I am not boasting. In fact, I don’t regard myself as particularly unusual. Immigrants in every country have outstanding records of contributing to their adopted homelands.

Think about it, by their very nature immigrants have proven through their actions that they are risk takers. They are adventurers. They are focused, determined and prepared to work hard to achieve their aims. Such people are assets to any community lucky enough to have them.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Nine weeks. This is how much time – according to the International Grain Council – that the world has before the Ukraine War sets the world on an unalterable course towards world famine. This is because in nine weeks Ukrainian farmers will start harvesting the winter grain crop and start moving it to portside harbours to be shipped out via the Black Sea. The problem is that those silos are already filled with 200 million tons of grain from the previous harvest because of the Russian naval blockade and destruction of Mariupol. If that grain is not moved – and moved quickly – the winter harvest will simply rot in the fields and the same fate awaits the Ukrainian autumn harvest and every subsequent harvest until the silos are emptied and the blockade lifted.

On top of that, Western sanctions are blocking the export of Russian grain. Between them, Ukraine and Russia, account for 20 percent of the world’s grain production. They also contribute mightily to the global stores of rapeseed oil, sunflower seeds and oil, barley and (with Belarus) potash for fertiliser. Africa and the Middle East obtain 40 percent of their grain from Ukraine and Russia – 95 percent of it shipped via the Black Sea.  The UN is desperately trying to negotiate a naval corridor to rescue the grain. Turkey is also trying to mediate and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was in Ankara this week to discuss the problem. But a diplomatic solution seems unlikely. Russia refuses to cooperate until Western sanctions are lifted. Ukraine accuses Moscow of stealing its grain and Moscow says the responsibility for clearing the mines it laid blocking the harbours is Ukraine’s responsibility. Until those issues are resolved the grain stays in the silos and the harvest in the fields.

During Cold War One the US and Soviet Union flexed their economic muscle to compete for economic influence in the developing world. America – with its deeper pockets – won. Now the battle is between Washington and Beijing and the economically powerful Chinese are pulling ahead. They are now the number one trading partner for most countries in Africa and Asia. But most worrying for the US is the growth of Chinese investment and trade in what it regards as its backyard – Latin America. Between 2002 and 2019, China’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean grew from $18 billion to $316 billion. China is now the number one trading partner with every major Latin American country except Mexico. With this trade comes political power and influence.

Chinese success was the driving force behind President Joe Biden’s decision to call this week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles but the gathering was not the success he had hoped for. Various initiatives were discussed: a new development bank, training for 500,000 health workers; a food security programme and a “climate partnership.” But the US only invited what it regarded as democratic governments to the summit which excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. This angered many of the other attendees (including neighbouring Mexico) who registered their displeasure by sending their foreign ministers instead of the head of government as requested. As the US Congress pores over the details of any Latin American programme there will doubtless be strings attached to any trade or aid deals. This is in stark contrast with the Chinese. They are interested in only in the money, markets and access to strategic raw materials. The governments with which they deal are free to champion or suppress human rights without comment or interference from Beijing – for now.

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Observations of an expat: US Elections and 6 January

American Democrats have set up giant screens across key locations. Free ice cream is on offer and major political revelations are promised.

Bennie Thompson, committee chairperson, has already accused ex-President Donald Trump of an “attempted coup.”

The Congressional committee investigating the 6 January Capitol Hill Riots is going public – in a big way. Trump and his army of supporters have dismissed the committee’s hearings as a “political hoax.”

The first carefully choreographed hearings started on Thursday night. More are planned next week and later in the month. CBS, NBC and ABC are broadcasting the hearings live. Fox News will not. Republican spin …

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Tom Arms’ World Review – 29th May 2022

The 27 EU heads of government are meeting in Brussels next week to supposedly confirm plans to stop imports of Russian oil and gas. It may not happen. Decisions have to be unanimous. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has signalled that he will block the move.

Hungary is dependent on Russian fossil fuels for 100 percent of its energy needs. These can only be delivered by pipelines because Hungary is landlocked. All the pipelines run from Russia. The other EU countries have offered to give Hungary a two-year grace period to find alternative sources. But Orban maintains that he has no alternatives and that stopping imports of Russian gas would destroy the Hungarian economy.

At the same time, the newly re-elected Hungarian leader has used the war in Ukraine to declare a state of emergency which allows him to effectively rule by decree.  Orban claims that the Ukraine war “represents a constant threat to Hungary.” He has already used his new powers to impose fresh taxes to finance an increase in defence spending. Many fear that Orban will abuse the state of emergency to bypass parliament and suppress critics. He is already under attack from Brussels for damaging Hungary’s democratic institutions and the EU is threatening to withhold development funds because of that and allegations of corruption. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt tweeted: “Hungary was already no longer free, now it is no longer a democracy”.

With all this talk about Taiwan and ambiguous or clear US policies on the issue of whether or not to defend the island, one thing has been slightly overlooked – chips. To be precise advanced semi-conductor computer chips. Taiwan produces 92 percent of the world’s advanced semi-conductor computer chips. The remaining eight percent come from South Korea. These tiny electrical conductors are to technology what oil and gas are to industry and transport. Without them our computer-dependent world would come to a sudden halt.

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Observations of an expat: gun control v. tyranny

Chiselled on the wall of the entrance lobby of the National Rifle Association are the words: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

This, claims the gun lobby is the Second Amendment of the US constitution. It is not. The oft-quoted right to bear arms clause is preceded by the words “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right….”

Should the amendment be read in its entirety with the second half contingent on the first? Or has the need for a citizens’ militia become redundant in the modern age and therefore only the second half remains relevant?

The NRA is in no doubt. It only every quotes the second half. All references to militias are conspicuous by their absence.

But why do Americans need guns? Conservatives say it is to protect themselves and their families from bad people with guns. Liberals reply: then take the guns away from the baddies as well as the goodies so no one can shoot. It is a policy that has worked in Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other developed countries.

American conservatives retort with what may be the real reason for hanging onto their firearms: Individual gun ownership is the ultimate defence against tyranny – the tyranny of anarchy and the tyranny of overbearing government.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz – one of the most prominent supporters of the NRA and a major beneficiary of the gun lobby’s largesse – was crystal clear on the tyranny issue when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. He wrote in his campaign literature:

“The Second Amendment isn’t just for protecting hunting rights, and it’s not only to safeguard your right to target practice. It’s a constitutional right to protect your children, your family, your home, our lives, and to serve as the ultimate check against governmental tyranny – for the protection of liberty.”

But from whence does this need for weapons as protection against tyranny come? The answer is Britain.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Sweden and Finland want to join NATO. Vladimir Putin has reversed himself and reluctantly said that membership of the Alliance by the two Nordic countries posed “no threat”.  A seamless Swedish-Finnish application seemed certain.

Wait, the diplomats forgot about the perennial thorn in NATO’s Southern flank- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. An application to join NATO requires the approval of all 30 members and President Erdogan has threatened a Turkish block. His reason? He is angry because Sweden and Norway give asylum to members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) which he is trying to wipe out. Sweden and Finland also imposed sanctions against Turkey when Erdogan ordered his troops into Northern Syria in 2016 (they are still there).

At the top of the list of criteria for NATO membership, is, according to the US State Department, a commitment “to uphold democracy, including tolerance for diversity.” On that basis, Erdogan’s Turkey would fail membership requirements. Since the attempted 2016 coup, Erdogan has jailed nearly 80,000 judges, military officers, civil servants, police, teachers and journalists. 130 media organisations have been closed. Homosexuality is banned and Erdogan has announced plans to reinstate the death penalty. There is, of course, no question of booting Turkey out of the Alliance. It is the strategic bridge between Europe and Asia and at the moment prevents Russian ships from sailing through the Dardanelles to join the war in Ukraine. Realpolitik trumps human rights.

But should Erdogan be allowed to prevent solidly democratic countries from joining NATO? The British government have indicated a possible workaround if Erdogan refuses to change his mind. It has signed a separate “mutual assistance” treaty with Norway and Sweden. If other NATO countries followed suit then the Turkish veto would be irrelevant.

The shooting in a Buffalo supermarket which left ten African-Americans dead is not an isolated incident. According to a report by the respected Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) 67 percent of the domestic terror incidents recorded in 2020 were organised by far-right and white supremacist groups. Many of those who stormed Capitol Hill were White supremacists. FBI Director Christopher Wray described White Supremacy as a “significant and pervasive threat” to the US. President Biden called it a “poison running through the body politic.”

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Observations of an expat: Xi in Trouble

“We do things better than the West,” is the oft-chanted mantra of the Chinese leadership.

And since Covid emerged from Wuhan the authorities have proudly pointed to their handling of the pandemic as proof of the superiority of the Chinese system as infections and deaths soared in Europe and America while China’s Zero Covid Policy seemed to be keeping a lid on the virus.

That is changing, and the change is threatening President Xi Jinping’s hold on power.

Xi’s problem is that his Zero Covid Policy is making Chinese people think that his cure is worse than the disease.

The policy involves complete lockdown to prevent the spread of infection. In Shanghai recently that meant that China’s commercial hub and the world’s busiest port was shut down.  All 27 million residents were barred from leaving their homes except for medical emergencies.

Babies were separated from their parents. People could not go to the shops to buy food and officials locked people inside their homes. Food and medical supplies were rationed. They were meant to be delivered but too often never appeared.

Shanghai is China’s wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city. Its citizens are used to the trappings of Chinese economic success and enjoy a relatively free lifestyle. They objected to the lockdown and the policy behind it.

The Communist Party censored the objections but tech-savvy residents managed to circumvent the Great Firewall of China to post videos on Western social media of people banging pots and pans in protest and displaying banners which read: “I want my freedom back.”

Shanghai is beginning to return to normal, but Beijing and its 22 million inhabitants is heading for the zero policy lockdown. So far this year 373 million Chinese have suffered severe lockdown measures.

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