Author Archives: Tom Arms

Observations of an ex pat: 2018

It won’t improve. The world is in a mess. The economy is a bright spot, but politically there is turmoil in every which direction.

Only a fool would offer predictions, but it is worth nothing some of the big events and issues for 2018 that could prove to be important catalysts and platforms.

Catalonia: The unilateral independence referendum declared in favour of independence from Spain. The Madrid-approved election also declared in favour of independence. Now it is up to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to make concessions that will prevent his country’s break-up.

It won’t be easy. Rajoy is a dyed-in-the-wool federalist. It was …

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Observations of an ex pat: Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

To start with I would like a new pair of cufflinks (nothing too flashy), a kindle, a good thriller read and the time to read it.

Then there a few other items which I don’t usually place on my Christmas list.

For a start do you think you could work on some magic dust. I know you know how to make it. It’s magic dust that makes your reindeer fly.

So could you just make some dust to scatter while flying around  through the night sky which would restore a veneer of civilisation to the world. Something that would remove the perpetual scowls and angry body language of presidents—and lots of lots of other people. Something that makes them at least look as if they are searching for a solution rather than a fight.

By the way, do you ever take back presents? You know, if the boy or girl has misused them or doesn’t play properly? If so, would you please collect all the megaphones that you handed out to politicians a couple of Christmases ago. Oh, and while you are it, could you remove the cotton from their ears.

At the moment opposing politicians spend  too much time shouting at each other through giant bullhorns while the cotton wool—plus their uncivilised behaviour—prevents  them from listening and discussing.  

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Observations of an ex pat: Adventures in Israel

A long time ago—back in 1977—I was invited to Israel as a guest of the Israeli government.

At the time I was the diplomatic correspondent of a large chain of British newspapers, and, despite the Balfour Declaration, the British press was not known for a pro-Israeli stance.

Their reporters seemed more attracted more to the wild open spaces and the vast starlit skies of Arabia than the Biblical lands.

I, however, am an American, and had absorbed a pro-Israeli stance through osmosis. The Arabs were in bed with the Reds and the plucky democratic Israelis had seen off repeated attempts to push them into the Med.

When I visited everyone was still arguing about the outcome of the 1967 War in which the Israelis managed to secure the rest of Jerusalem and, the West Bank of the Jordan and the Golan Heights in just six days. It was a triumph and the poster of the year in America was of a weedy-looking Hasidic Jew bursting out of a public phone box while tearing off his Black coat to reveal a superman costume.

But ten years later the world was demanding that Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. No, said Israel. We need “defensible borders.” That was the diplomatic mantra: “defensible borders , defensible borders.”

I arrived in the heat of the summer but waiting for me was an air conditioned limousine, a driver and a young Israeli from the foreign ministry. I was his first diplomatic assignment.

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Observations of an ex pat: Wounded Special Relationship

Donald Trump has just shot the special relationship in the foot.

It will recover. The special relationship between the US and Britain does not rely on one president, one prime minister or even one monarch. They are all relatively ephemeral influences in a relationship based on centuries old links involving a common legal foundation, a common language (almost), cultural and family ties, and common philosophical roots.

But the hole in the foot hurts. It means that the relationship will now limp along at a time when frighteningly unstable events on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere in the world demands the normal good steady stride.

So what did Trump do and—more importantly– why? Well, for those who have just emerged from a spelunking trip, the president has been tweeting again, or, to be more precise, retweeting.

This time President Trump retweeted a video from Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right Britain First Party/movement.  The video purported to show the violent activities of Muslim immigrants in Europe. Its clear purpose was to support the movement’s racist, hate-filled, anti-Islamic, anti-immigration message.

Setting aside the morality of such a goal, the videos had virtually no basis in fact. They were the fakest of the fake news that Trump loves to attack. But this did not bother the president  or  his spokesperson Sarah Huckabee who dismissed the credibility issue. It’s the threat that counts, she said, and the threat is real.

Threats, like medical diagnoses, must be based on hard facts. If a doctor makes the wrong diagnosis then the prescribed treatment will be wrong and the patient will die. If a politician—especially the president of the United States—makes his decision on false information then the resultant actions will cost lives.

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Observations of an ex pat: The Middle East explained

The Cold War-like conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is simmering quite nicely—and, like most Middle East problems, threatening to boil over. The roots, the causes, the issues and the problems are all part of that complex Middle East tapestry which closely resembles Churchill’s riddle wrapped in an enigma and perpetually shrouded in the shifting sands of Arabia.

But I will attempt to provide a guide on today’s state of play.

The Sunnis hate the Shias.

The Shias hate the Sunnis

The problem is a 1,382-year-old dispute over the religious line of succession

Iran is the dominant Shia power

Saudi Arabia is the dominant Sunni power.

Almost all the other countries line up behind either Iran or Saudi Arabia, although some try to take a middle route. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult as tensions rise.

The latest problems started with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and his replacement by a Shi-ite theocracy.

Another exacerbating factor was the demise of Iraq’s secular—but still Sunni– leader Saddam Hussein who has been replaced by a pro-Iranian Shia leadership in Iraq.

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Observations of an ex pat: Pressure cooker politics

Recent events in Zimbabwe have underscored the fragility, failings and dangers of unrepresentative government and the absence of the rule of law exercised by an independent judiciary.

Note the use of term “representative government” and “rule of law”.

Democracy is a much overworked term which is mainly used to describe the American and British political models. The existence of hundreds of different nationalities dictates that each nationality must find a form of representative government that suits its particular needs, history and culture.

But it must be representative, because as Zimbabwe has so accurately demonstrated, the problem with dictatorships is that they attract corruption, repression and failure.

Such governments succeed for a limited time as the governed compare the rulers to the incompetence of their predecessors. But gradually the misdeeds of the new dictator mount and are added to an increasingly explosive recipe. The dictator attempts to stay in power by repressing dissent and screwing down the lid on the simmering discontent.

But the issues feeding the discontent refuse to go away. Because of the repression they simmer all the more violently in a pressure cooker political environment  without the escape valve of a representative system through which legitimate discontent can be expressed.

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Observations of an ex pat: A media world

The world’s media is rapidly changing. And as it changes it plays a sad role in helping to divide society.

The irony is that the press in all its forms has never been freer, more competitive and offered a greater array of opinion and facts.

The number of traditional print platforms has markedly declined, and the ones that remain are only just staying in business with slashed circulation figures.

The print business, however is being rapidly replaced with news websites. As of the start of this year there were an estimated 100 million news websites worldwide. This compares to about 18,000 daily newspapers.

To understand the impact of these figures it is important to realise a basic truism about the vast majority of the media. It exists to make a profit. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule such as state-owned broadcasters or magazines and newspapers published by pressure groups.

The benefit of a profit-oriented media is that profits keep the press free. Without profits journalists quickly became mouthpieces for whomever is stumping up the cash to pay their bills. Alternatively, they become more outrageous in their news coverage in a desperate bid to maintain circulation figures. This is often as true of what is referred to the mainstream media, quality or broadsheet newspapers as it is of the tabloid scandal sheets. Desperate times induce desperate measures.

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Observations of an ex pat: Managed democracy

They call it “managed Democracy”.  Another term is an “illiberal state.”

It is a political/philosophical term that has emerged from central and Eastern Europe to describe political systems whose leaders claim democratic credentials while suppressing  dissent.

Degrees of managed democracy have become the order of the day in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Slovakia. It is also finding adherents elsewhere in the democratic world where politicians and their supporters are frustrated by the slow-turning wheels of traditional representative government.

At the heart of this new system are free and fair elections—and they are scrupulously so. Election observers are invited to scrutinise every poll. Ballot papers are carefully printed, distributed and counted.  The result is announced and –the winner takes all.

From the moment that a new government is elected the “managed “ element takes over with a vengeance. Government appointed  judges pack the courts along with the top positions in the military and police. Senior positions in the universities change hands. Opposition media is either barred from press conferences, terrorized, de-licensed, denied advertising revenue or its senior figures are thrown into prison on trumped up charges.

The political opposition is marginalised and when elections come around again the government is a guaranteed pole position because of its stranglehold on the levers of power.  Over a few elections the word democracy is dropped from the political vocabulary and voters are left with a state which is “managed” for a shrinking group of corrupt special interests.

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Observations of an ex pat: Patriotism vs Nationalism

Patriotism: Good. Nationalism: Bad. At least that is how it reads in my political lexicon.

Patriots  love  their country. They love the land and the sky, the people, the culture, the history and the values.  If necessary, they are prepared to die for their country.

Nationalists feel all the above, but then take it a step too far. Sometimes several steps. And therein lies the problem.  Nationalists (in my political lexicon) believe that their country is better than other countries.  That it and their fellow citizens are superior to other countries and their citizens.

Sometimes that sense of superiority is applied not to national identities but to race or religion, such as White nationalists, Black nationalists or Islamic nationalists.  But whichever vehicle they use, nationalists  carry a strong sense of entitlement based on their nationality, colour or beliefs. And, if they are superior to others,  than it must follow that whomever the others are, they must be inferior.

That is why nationalism is bad.

European colonialism was bad because it was at least partly based on the belief that Europe was bringing a superior civilisation to a barbarian world. Colonialism was a form of European-wide nationalism.  In fact, much of the world that Europe viewed as barbaric had enjoyed the fruits of civilisation centuries before anything approaching civilised structures were even thought of in France, Britain or Spain.

Nazi Germany was the ultimate expression of nationalism. It encompassed race, language and culture, It claimed ultimate superiority for the German state and German race and used that assumed superiority to wage genocide and set out to subjugate the rest of the world.

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Observations of an ex pat: A Friendly Wall

Walls are generally built to keep people out. Trump’s big beautiful wall, Hungary’s anti-refugee wall, the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall and every castle wall built before, during and after the medieval period.

There are exceptions to this rule.  The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, as is every prison wall ever constructed.

But in Africa a wall with a difference is literally sprouting. It has been dubbed “The Great Green Wall of Africa.” It is neither holding people in or keeping them out. It is holding at bay the sands of the Sahara desert and helping people to stay in Africa.

They started planting the Great Green Wall of Africa ten years ago. The wall is in fact a six mile wide strip of millions of Acacia trees which will eventually stretch 4,800 miles across the southern edge of the Sahara and through 11 countries from Senegal on the West coast to Djibouti on the Red Sea.  That is about half the length of Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexican border and about 600 miles short of the length of the Great Wall of China.

Its purpose is to battle the effects of climate Change in Africa. Over the last half century 60 acres a minute have been lost to desertification as the Sahara marches south.

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Observations of an ex pat: Think, Mr Trump

Please, please, Mr. Trump, think twice before opening your mouth next week. Think again before opening your twitter account and a fourth time before turning away  from the teleprompter to extemporaneously voice your thoughts.

Carefully consider all the options that Rex Tillerson says he has prepared for you. And think about what General Mattis told Congress about the wisdom of scrapping the Iran nuclear deal.

At stake is so much more than the appeasement of your political base and the fulfilment of a shoot-from-the-hip-vote-catching campaign promise.

Your decision will have repercussions on relations in the wider Middle East, with North Korea, Europe and America’s standing in just about every corner of the world.

Let’s start with the pressing problem of North Korea.  You want—everyone wants — a deal which de-nuclearizes  North Korea. But agreements involve at least two sides and requires both to stick to the deal and be known as the sort of government which keeps its promises.

Agreed, North Korea has a bad record in that department. But China doesn’t; and as you have repeatedly said: With China on your side, North Korea could be forced into keeping its part of the bargain.

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Observations of an ex pat: Identity crises

Economists love globalisation. It allows them to achieve what their fellow bean counters the accountants call economies of scale.

This has substantial knock-on benefits. It increases profits so it is good for shareholders and share prices . It reduces the prices at the till and so it is good for customers. It keeps down inflation which is fantastic news for old decrepit types on fixed incomes.

It creates job opportunities in the developing world which means the developed world does not need to dig so deeply into its aid pockets.

International understanding is improved by the exponential growth in global business, political, social and cultural links required to grease the wheels of globalisation.

Politicians are happy because the increased savings and profits mean more tax revenues for them to spend on their pet projects and ships, planes and soldiers.

But there are some dark clouds in this blue skies picture. First there is what I regard as a bit of a canard—job exports. I am unimpressed by this Trumpian argument because it can be rectified with economic growth and retraining.

Blowing away the next cloud – identity loss–is more problematic. As the world melds into one interdependent homogenous blob who are we as individuals? I ask the question because who we are is determined to a large degree by the language we speak, the religion we practice, our national history, culture and laws.

Globalisation is creating an identity crisis and that in turn has created a political backlash from people who fear that the essence of who they are is under threat.  Furthermore, the nationalist backlash created by this perception threatens to undermine all the benefits of globalisation and regionalisation that have accrued since the end of World War Two and many years before.

There are many examples of this but two recent ones are independence referenda in Kurdistan and Catalonia.

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Observations of an ex pat: Scary

Be scared. Be very scared. In fact if you saw, listened to or read about President Donald Trump’s UN address than you are probably terrified.  If not, then think again.

Trump used the occasion of his first speech to the General Assembly to draw red lines across the  map and dare his opponents to cross them. North Korea, Iran and Venezuela are the new axis of evil.

In one breath he called for an international order based on a respect for national sovereignty and with the next bullied those those who oppose him.

The United Nations and international cooperation enjoyed early support, but …

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Observations of an ex pat: Colombia on the brink

Tejo is the Colombian version of horse shoes. It is also a reflection of the national psyche.  The target is packed with gunpowder. When it is hit, it explodes with a loud and violent bang.

The game was adapted by the Spanish from a gentler pre-Columbian version. Their conquest was cruel, violent and involved large quantities of gunpowder.  Colombia has followed that route ever since. It is now trying to change.  It will be difficult. It is not impossible.

Its history has been one civil war after another.   In 1948 the murder of reforming presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan sparked off the ten-year La Violencia.

The civil war that cost 200,000 lives also spawned the guerrilla organisation FARC.  Its end in 1958 failed to address the country’s underlying social problems, leaving it ripe for a Castro-inspired guerrilla movement.

FARC needed money. So it developed the cocaine business and dabbled in extortion and kidnapping.  An estimated 250,000 people died between 1958 and 2016. Five million were made homeless.

In 2002 Alvaro Uribe was elected president on a tough anti-FARC ticket.  Uribe made good on his campaign pledges.  President Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize, but inside Colombia, Uribe is credited with driving the guerrillas to the negotiating table.  He is the most respected and popular politician in Colombia.

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Observations of an ex pat: Trouble at NWS 101

There are serious problems in the playground at Nuclear Weapons School 101. There is a new boy—Kim. Nobody likes him. He is loud, obnoxious and into domestic abuse in a big way.

Kim is especially disliked by Donald who is president of the student council, captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams, number one in his class and popular with all the girls. And he has been at the school less than a year.  Donald also controls a big chunk of what Kim regards as his home turf.  In fact, Donald and his family have been calling the shots at NWS 101 since they threw the first and—so far—the  only knock-out punch against Tojo and Hirohito.

Donald is strong. Very strong, and he backs it up with a frightening array of brass knuckles, baseball bats, knives, axes, swords, clubs, machetes and the biggest,  bestest and most frightening array of guns ever developed by mankind.

Some of the other kids in the playground are a bit envious of Donald. They think he has been throwing his weight around too much. This is especially true of Vladimir and Xi. That is why when Kim started building up his rival arsenal they turned a blind eye. They even smuggled some sweets to him. Perhaps, they thought,  it was time that Donald was taken down a peg or two. Perhaps introducing Kim to the playground could persuade Donald to share the captaincy of one of the sports teams or a girlfriend or two.

They don’t want Donald hurt. They need him and—even though he has occasional problems recognizing it—he needs them too.

Kim doesn’t have such qualms. He is anxious to prove his tough guy credentials and is not in the least concerned about who is hurt in the process. He has built up his own arsenal and even though it is nowhere near the size of Donald’s weapons stock, Kim is threatening to attack Donald on his home turf.

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Observations of an ex pat: Crooked or incompetent?

Is the Trump team totally incompetent or crooked? Is it perhaps a combination of the two or an unappealing variation on the political spectrum?

For despite the never-ending stream of White House protestations and presidential tweets, not all of President Trump’s problems are the result of a witch hunt of historic proportions orchestrated by  the Democrats, the liberals, “ the dishonest media,” immigrants, refugees, Muslims, “so-called judges”,  turncoat Republicans, Chinese currency manipulators, Angela Merkel, Mexicans and Canadians.

Next week we may start to learn the answer to the questions posed. It is a major week for the Trump Administration.  Three big names from the Trump campaign—Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort – are all appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the Russian hacking scandal.

A bit of background for anyone who has been living at the bottom of a mile-deep Tibetan cave for the past month.  Donald Junior—after initially denying he had met with any Russians—published a string of emails which revealed that in the depths of the presidential campaign he was keen to meet with a Russian lawyer who could dish the dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The White House made much of the fact that Trump Junior released the  correspondence rather than having  it  revealed by someone else. Little was made of the fact that he made public  the emails after the New York Times said they were going to publish them.

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Observations of an ex pat…The law

The British like to think they invented the law. It is true that thanks to empire and successful European wars, British law is the foundation of many of the world’s legal systems.

It is certainly the cornerstone of the American judicial system and  the old imperial countries. British lawyers rewrote the law books in Germany following World War Two and contributed heavily to the European Court of Justice with which they are currently having so many problems.

Actually, the principle that the rule of law MUST underwrite civilized societies dates back to at least ancient Egypt. It is there  where we find the first allegorical representation of the Goddess Justice holding the scales in which the rights and wrongs of a case were impartially weighed.  The Egyptians called her Anubis.

The Greeks called her Dike, and added the sword to represent the finality of legal decisions.  The Romans provided the moniker Justitia, or Justice, and the Swiss added the blindfold in the 16h century.

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Observations of an ex pat: Minced meat in Hamburg

Stability. Order. Security. That is what these big multinational summits are meant to project.  They are designed to reassure the lower orders (that’s you, me and a few billion others), that Planet Earth is in safe hands as it hurtles around the sun at 66,000 miles per hour.

I am not reassured. In fact, a look at the G20 Hamburg line-up has left me seriously worried.

North Korea now has an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, nuclear weapons and a juvenile dictator with a bad haircut. But Russia, China and America cannot agree on how to deal with him.

Russia, the United States and its allies are on the cusp of coming to blows over Syria and Ukraine. India and China are the same over their border at the rooftop of the world.

Then there is China against everyone over the South and East China seas. Saudi Arabia is trying to squeeze Qatar into submission and under attack for human rights abuses in Yemen and support for Islamic extremism. Russia has a corruption problem, gay problem and human rights problem.

Italy has a potential bankruptcy problem. The UK has a Brexit problem compounded by a leadership vacuum.

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Observations of an ex pat: Torture

Torture is bad. Well, there is nothing like stating the obvious. Nothing like shouting a truism from the digital rooftop.

Except that for 58 percent of Americans it is not a truism. It is not a position which they support. In fact, they support torture. Perhaps because their president claims “it absolutely works.”

This is despite the opposition of CIA experts and Defence Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis who made it perfectly clear to Donald Trump that he could either have torture or Mad Dog at the Pentagon. But he couldn’t have both.

So the president backed down. Or has he?

This week the Associated Press reported details of what are known as “Black Sites” run by the United Arab Emirates and based in lawless South Yemen. Black sites are secret bases where people are sent to be tortured.

AP reported that there are at least 18 Yemeni black sites and at least 2,000 suspected Jihadists have disappeared into them. The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub.

The means of torture are excruciatingly cruel. There is of course the tried and tested waterboarding and various techniques involving electricity, rape, clubs and fists. In one case the victims were locked for days in a container with the walls smeared with human faeces. One of the favourite techniques is to tie the victim to a spit and roast them over an open fire.

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Observations of an ex pat: The fight for the spoils

Politics hates a vacuum. It especially hates a vacuum in the tinderbox cockpit of the Middle East where the conflicting issues of money, vital resources, religious extremism , religious conflicts, historic rivalries and the geopolitical link between East and West dangerously clash.

The virtual collapse in 2011-2012 of Bashar Al-Assad’s despotic regime in Syria created such a vacuum. It was filled by the even more despotic Islamic State Caliphate.

Now the Caliphate is on its knees.  The Western half of Mosul is recaptured.  Only a handful of IS fighters remain in the dangerously narrow winding streets of the Eastern half.

The fundamentalists once boasted that their Syrian-Iraqi base would become a springboard from which to launch an Islamic conquest of the Middle East and Europe. They  have retreated to their spiritual capital of Raqqa in Syria for the final battle to the death.

They will lose . But who will win? And what will they win? Assad, Russia, the US and its Western allies, Iraq, the Kurds, Turkey, Iran, a score  or more of rebel forces—all are directly involved in the fighting. Then there are there are the backers—or interested parties: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, Kuwait, the EU, the United Arab Emirates, Somalia, Afghanistan and the wider Islamic world.

It looks as if Assad will regain and remain in power for the foreseeable future—but he will be a political shadow of his former self.   Neither the Trump Administration nor any of its European or Arab allies have any stomach for removing a secular despot who can be replaced by another fanatic Islamic despot. And besides, he will have the military support of Iran and Russia.

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Observations of an expat: Macronian clouds on the horizon

The new French President is the latest international political darling, man of the hour and flavour of—well at least a month.

He is young, multilingual, charismatic, exceptionally well-educated and bright. When he speaks common sense pours forth as from an intellectually gifted Parisian fountain.

His election has saved—at least for now—the European experiment which was reeling from the body blow of Brexit. And when it comes to the politically important field of economics, Emmanuel Macron is one of the world’s top whizz kids.

BUT, just as every cloud has a silver lining, every blue sky has a thunder cloud over the horizon. In the case of France there are potential thunderstorms—foreign and domestic— which could wash away the new French optimism.

There is no doubt of President Macron’s Europhile credentials. At his first speech as president-elect, he ran onto the stage to the strains not of the French, but the EU’s national anthem Ode to Joy. He is, in fact, more of a Europhiliac than his more experienced German counterpart Angela Merkel. And that is the reason for the first cloud.

As a group, the Germans are pro-Europe. But they have started to baulk at the cost of propping up the poorly run Southern European Eurozone economies. This is despite the fact that the same cost has contributed mightily to Germany’s enviable trade surplus with the rest of the world.

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Observations of an ex pat: China at the crossroads

China is at a political crossroads with a nuclear-tipped Mack truck driven by a suicidal North Korean juvenile threatening to plough into its side with disastrous consequences for Beijing and the rest of the world,

President Xi Jinping can avoid the crash. It is not inevitable. But to do so requires a major change of direction in Chinese foreign policy—with some help from America

Korea’s 38th Parallel is the Asian relic of the Cold War. It is also a highly visible and symbolic border which determines whether China or the United States is the major 21st century power in the Asia-Pacific region.

It was China that saved North Korea from defeat at the hands of the American-led UN forces in the early 1950s. It was China that signed a mutual defence treaty with North Korea in 1961 and it is China that provides the food and energy that enables the hereditary communist country to continue oppressing its 25 million citizens and threatening the world with nuclear holocaust.

Why? Not because of any love for Kim Jong-un or his ancestors or because North Korea is communist.

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Observations of an ex pat: The lady turned…big time

On five separate occasions since the Brexit referendum British PM Theresa May unequivocally refused to call a general election. The voters would have to wait until 2020 for another judgement vote on Brexit.

Then she wanders off on a walking holiday through the hills and valleys of Wales and returns marching in the exact opposite direction. There will be, she announced, a British general election on June 8th , and the issue will be Brexit, Brexit and Brexit.

Why the U-turn? And what impact will it have on the British political scene, British negotiations with the EU, the EU and British and European stability?

Mrs May is a politician. She has good reason to believe that she will win a snap election, substantially increase her majority in parliament and extend the life of the Conservative government by at least another two years.

The opinion polls put the Conservatives 20 points ahead of the opposition Labour Party. One of the reasons for their success is the no-nonsense firm leadership of Mrs May compared to the lacklustre efforts of Jeremy Corbyn (and that is being kind to Mr Corbyn). Mrs May has a net approval rating of plus 17 points. Corbyn’s standing has fallen to minus 38.

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Observations of an ex pat: Hungary vs Soros

As far as the proverbial man in the street is concerned, there is very little that separates the extreme right from the extreme left.

The results are the same: Power concentrated in the hands of a small circle of political leaders, suppression of human rights and academic freedom, political prisoners, torture, absence of a free press, no free speech, no freedom of assembly, rule by decree, corruption and politically-appointed judges presiding over show trials.

That is not say that there are no differences. There clearly are. The left tends to find its suppressive roots in an all-embracing ideology or – in some cases—a religion which claims to offer solutions to all of mankind’s problems. You need only embrace it.

The far right, on the other hand, is generally based on a belief that one nation or group of people are superior to all the others, and the inferior people should be treated accordingly. These are the ultra-nationalists.

Both groups are adept at conjuring up external threats to justify repression which is really aimed at controlling internal dissent. In modern history we can point to Hitler and the Jews, Stalin and capitalist West, McCarthy and the “Reds under the beds.”

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Observations of an ex pat: Brexit goes nuclear, chapter 2

She’s done it. Mrs May has gone and linked Britain’s nuclear deterrent to Brexit trade negotiations.

I can honestly stick out my chest, jut out my chin and proclaim: “I told you so. And I told you exclusively.”

Alright, Mrs. May didn’t actually use the n-word in her letter to the European Commission which triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and the start of Brexit negotiations. But in just one document she explicitly linked economic concessions with security issues nine times.

It requires only the smallest leap of imagination to realise that the British Prime Minister was talking about more than exchanges of DNA databases with continental police.

But be warned, the consequences of this link will be dire. Messing with the balance of strategic weapons capable of incinerating the world several times over is a dangerous policy.

Mrs May knows that, but the problem is that nuclear missiles are just about the only weapon the British have in their negotiating armoury. Their backs are against the wall.

There is, of course, a question mark, over whether or not the UK will be allowed to play the security card. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it crystal clear that she opposes negotiations on any future relationship until the terms of the divorce are settled. That means Britain has to cough up $60 billion, allow EU citizens to remain in Britain and accept that it will no longer be part of the European Single Market. All this before any talks on a future relationship which may or may not involve security. This is a direct contradiction of Mrs May’s tandem approach.

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Observations of an Ex Pat: Brexit goes nuclear

The EU is worried about losing their American nuclear umbrella.

The UK is worried about losing their European market and their seat at the European top table.

Britain has nuclear weapons. The EU has markets. Is there a fit?

If so, the result could be a tectonic strategic shift with far-reaching political repercussions.

My sources say there is enough of a fit for Prime Minister Theresa May to be thinking of offering to extend the British deterrent to EU countries in return for Brexit concessions.  This is most likely to be in cooperation with the French.

The reaction of the strategic eggheads ranges from “not incredible” to “logical,” to “totally unrealistic” and then “utterly crass” with a lot of “no comments” thrown in for good measure.

No comment was what the British Ministry of Defence said. No reply was all I could elicit from The Foreign Office and Downing Street. But The Department  for  Exiting the European Union, was more forthcoming. It referred me to Mrs May’s 18 January  Brexit strategy speech in which she said: 

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Observations of an ex pat: Trump lost on Wednesday

I am not talking about the court ruling on version two of his travel ban. Neither am I talking about the mounting incredulity over his wiretapping claims and tax returns.

I am talking about an event that took place 3,843 miles away from the White House on the other side of the Atlantic– the Dutch general election.

Trump’s man was  Geert Wilders. The anti-EU, anti-immigration, racist leader of the Netherlands’ Freedom Party  who has bounced in and out of the Dutch courts on hate crime charges.

There was never any question of Wilders winning a majority in parliament and forming the next Dutch government. Their proportional representation  system makes that a virtual impossibility for any political party.

However, Wilders’ Freedom Party was tipped to win more seats than any other Dutch party. He failed, miserably. And he failed with 80 percent voter turnout—up 5.5 percent from the 2012 elections.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 10 Comments

Don’t get mad, get even: Join the Lib Dems

Just received an email from Tim Farron.

“Incredible news , “he reported, “moments ago, our membership reached 85,002.”

I wrote back: “Not enough.”

We are still in fourth place. Labour stands at 515,000. The conservatives are 150,000 and the SNP is 120,000.

The United Kingdom is a tribal nation and its politics reflect the tribes that divide it.

The Liberal Democrats are a unifying force. That is one of the main reasons I joined it. But to succeed it must break the tribal lock that has bedevilled British politics for nearly 200 years.

The only way to be certain of success is to have MORE members than any other political party. It sounds like a tall order. It is. But it is a necessary one.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 19 Comments

Observations of an Expat: The Brexit elephant

 

There was a massive elephant in the British House of Commons on Wednesday. It was rampaging back and forth across the chamber, overturning tables, loudly trumpeting and waving his trunk from side to side.

Its name was Brexit.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond did his level best to ignore the distinctly unfriendly pachyderm. In fact, he did not utter the B-word once during his 45-minute budget speech.  But the Brexit elephant was as plain to see as the chancellor’s traditional red box.

Growth forecasts for 2017, said the Chancellor, have been upgraded from 1.4 to 2 percent.  Employment forecasts are rosy, and predictions for government borrowing are down, down, down. The pound remains at rock bottom levels against the dollar, but the economy has not fallen off the cliff as some pro-European campaigners said it would do on the 24th of June.

But then Britain is still in the phoney war period. Article 50 has not been invoked. Details of the government’s negotiating position remain shrouded in mystery. Details of the European Commission negotiating position are a total enigma.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 3 Comments

Observations of an ex pat: Guns, butter and bridges

Donald Trump’s economic policy can best be described as guns, butter and bridges.

At the moment the United States ratio between its public debt and what it earns as a country every year is 104.7 percent.  That means the government owes 4.7 percent more than the country earns.

If America was a business– or a private household—the bank manager would be strongly advising Uncle Sam to earn more money and/or cut expenses or file for bankruptcy.

Now, Donald Trump wants to increase defence spending by ten percent, maintain welfare spending, spend trillions on improving American infrastructure and cut taxes.

Cash to pay for this will come from increased revenues from a stimulated economy, revised trade and defence deals with other countries, cuts in environmental programmes, the diplomatic corps and foreign aid.

Can he do it? Well let’s take a quick look.

Improve Infrastructure– America has plenty of roads, bridges, railways, ports and airports. It just needs to maintain what it has—but that will cost plenty. The American Society of Civil Engineers reckons that $3.6 trillion needs to be spent by 2020 just to maintain existing infrastructure.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 2 Comments
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