Tag Archives: donald trump

Tom Arms’ World Review

Russia

It was a week of military parades, trumpets, nuclear sabre-rattling and an inauguration in Russia this week.

It started with another threat from President Vladimir Putin when he announced on Monday the start of military exercises involving non-strategic nuclear weapons. This was in response to America releasing its $61 billion aid package to Ukraine, and the repetition of French President Emmanuel Macron’s threat to consider sending French troops to Ukraine.

Then there was Putin’s inauguration as he started his fifth term in office with a long walk past applauding crowds lining the red-carpeted corridors of the Kremlin. Putin’s first inauguration in 2000 was hailed as Russia’s transition to democracy. This one followed an election in which he “won” 87.5 percent of the vote while all his political opponents were either dead, in exile or in prison.

On Thursday it was the Victory Day Parade to mark the end of what the Russians call “The Great Patriotic War.” May Day was the big parade in Soviet days. May 9, was important, but it was not even a public holiday until 1965. Putin, has revived the celebration and elevated it to a collective remembrance resembling a religion.

One of the highlights of the parade is the march of the “Immortal Regiment” in which relatives troop past the reviewing stand holding aloft pictures of family members who died in the war. The scene is reminiscent of icons being carried in Russian Orthodox Church services. The 60th and 70th anniversaries of the war’s end (in 2005 and 2015) were the biggest public holidays in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the inauguration and Victory Day were marked by increased Russian bombardments and missile attacks as Russian troops tried to gain the military upper hand before the latest batch of Western military aid arrived.

Palestine

The two main Palestinian factions – Hamas and Fatah – hate each other almost as much as they do the Netanyahu government.

They have barely spoken since 2007 when Hamas won elections in Gaza and booted Fatah and the Palestinian Authority out of the seaside strip.

That is why it is significant that representatives from the two factions met recently in Moscow and Beijing. The Chinese meeting was especially interesting because Beijing is keen to project itself as Middle East peace broker as opposed to its characterization of the US as Middle East war monger.

The Chinese have already successfully brokered the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between regional rivalries Iran and Saudi Arabia. Shortly after that success, foreign minister Wang Yi wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offering to mediate in the decades-old Arab-Israel conflict. Netanyahu politely refused.

Brokering a rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas could be a diplomatic back door for Beijing to constructively inject itself into the Middle East conflict. It is generally agreed that the two-state solution is the logical solution to the conflict.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Trump and Orban

It was the Trump-Orban love fest in Mar-a-lago last weekend. The Hungarian Prime Minister praised the ex-president as “the president of peace.” Trump went several steps further:  “There is nobody that’s better, smarter or a better leader than Viktor Orban,” he enthused.

President Joe Biden failed to agree with Trump’s assessment. He referred to Orban as a wannabe dictator, and attacked Trump for meeting him, let alone praising him.

Biden’s man in Hungary, Ambassador David Pressman, was even more undiplomatic in his language, which could herald a looming clash between the Biden Administration and Europe’s darling of the right-wing populists.

In a speech on Thursday to mark the 25th anniversary of Hungary’s joining NATO, Ambassador Pressman  warned the  Hungarian prime minister  that the US has lost patience with his embrace of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, attacks on the Biden Administration, his undermining of support for Ukraine, and his open advocacy of Trump’s return to the White House.

He said: “We cannot ignore it when the Speaker of Hungary’s National Assembly asserts that Putin’s war in Ukraine is actually led by the United States. We cannot ignore a sitting minister referring to the United States as a corpse whose nails continue to grow. We can neither understand nor accept the Prime Minister identifying the United States as a ‘top adversary’ …or his assertion that the United States government is trying to overthrow the Hungarian government—literally, to ‘defeat’ him.”

The ambassador called out Orbán’s “systematic takeover of independent media,” the use of government power to “provide favourable treatment for companies owned by party leaders or their families, in-laws, or old friends,” and laws defending “a single party’s effort to monopolize public discourse.”

Pressman added: “Hungary’s allies are warning Hungary of the dangers of its close and expanding relationship with Russia. If this is Hungary’s policy choice—and it has become increasingly clear that it is with the Foreign Minister’s sixth trip to Russia since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and with his next trip to Russia scheduled in two weeks, following his engagement with Russia’s Foreign Minister earlier this month, and the Prime Minister’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in China—we will have to decide how best to protect our security interests, which, as Allies, should be our collective security interests.”

Russia

It is presidential election weekend in Russia. The bookies favourite – surprise, surprise – is Vladimir Putin.

It is also just over two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, so the two combined events provide an excellent opportunity to assess how events and political thought processes have changed over the past two years.

The Putin regime has rebuilt every element of itself to adapt to a permanent state of war: in propaganda and everyday life, in the political model of unifying the behaviour of the elites and ordinary people, in the education and justice systems, and—crucially—in the economy.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

NATO

French President Emmanuel Macron set the cat among the NATO pigeons this week when he hinted that France just might – no stronger than might at this stage – send troops to Ukraine.

The suggestion was definitely on the table when 21 Western heads of state or government and six foreign ministers met in Paris this week. Polish President Andresz Duda confirmed it.

It was apparently raised by Macron and we know that the frontline Baltic states of Estonia and Lithuania backed it. We also know that the British, American and Germans vetoed it – for the time being. Everyone else is keeping their cards close to their chests.

On two things the allies were agreed: Russia is stepping up its cyber and disinformation attacks and that some time in the next few years, according to Macron, “we have to be prepared for Russia to attack the (NATO) countries.”

Immediately following the Paris summit, President Vladimir Putin delivered his annual state of the nation address in which he warned that any further NATO involvement in Ukraine “raises the real threat of a nuclear conflict that will mean the destruction of our civilisation.”

On a slightly less apocalyptic note, Putin said that he would be strengthening Russian forces on its Western flank which means recently annexed Eastern Ukraine, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the Russian borders with the Baltic States and new NATO member Finland.

Ideally, NATO would avoid a head to head with Russia by providing Ukraine with the means to keep fighting. But Europe’s defense industries lack the capacity and America’s $60 billion military aid package is being blocked by MAGA Republicans.

One solution was voiced this week by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She suggested using the $300 billion in frozen Russian assets to purchase weapons for Ukraine. The money had been earmarked for reconstruction purposes. But if Ukraine is defeated than there will be nothing to reconstruct.

Russia

Meanwhile, as of this writing, martyred Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is being laid to rest in Moscow’s Borisovskoye Cemetery.

The funeral service was held in a Russian Orthodox Church near the Navalny home in southeast Moscow. A large crowd gathered outside the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God. As Navalny’s body was carried in and out of the church the crowd chanted “Navalny, Navalny” interspersed with “executioners, “executioners”

The church was surrounded by masked police guards who blocked several of Navalny’s closest allies still in Russia from entering the church. They also banned cameras and videos from the church, although Navalny’s supporters were able to broadcast much of the event on a You Tube channel which was watched by hundreds of thousands.

The state media did not report the funeral and the Kremlin, when asked to express condolences, refused to do so.

Navalny’s death is the most high profile and dramatic anti-dissident action by the Putin regime. But it is not the only one. This week 70-year-old Russian human rights activist Oleg Orlov was sentenced to two and a half years for criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Orlov is best known as the co-chair of Memorial, a Russian human rights organisation which was one of three winners of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. In October he was fined $1,600 for an article in which the state said he “discredited” the army. Not enough, decreed Putin. So the verdict and sentence were cancelled and Orlov was this week placed on trial for the same crime and this time sent to prison.

Orlov and Navalny are only two of thousands of Russians who have dared to criticise Putin. Most of them have either joined Navalny in the grave or Orlov in prison.

United Kingdom

Islam is the new scapegoat of Europe. Actually, that is not accurate, fear of Islamisation has been around since before the Battle of Tours in 732.

But it appears to have reached a fresh apogee in Britain. And the rest of Europe’s far-right parties are no slouches in the Islamaphobic stakes.

Viktor Orban in Hungary, Marine Le Pen in France, Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, the Swedish Democrats in Sweden…. They have all helped to move the anti-Islam dial and, in doing so, have infected the mainstream political parties.

In Britain it stayed on the distant fringes of the far-right for a long time. Parties such as the British National Party and English Defence League were associated with football hooliganism as much as Islamaphobia.

That started to change with the rise of UKIP and its successor party Reform. They have been gradually chipping away at the right-wing of the Conservative party with the result that the Tories have started to steal some of their anti-Islamic clothes in order to keep their voters.

This became all too apparent this week when Conservative Party Chairman Lee Anderson told the right-wing news channel GB News that the Muslim Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan was controlled by Islamists and that he had given the city away “to his mates.”

For working purposes, the term “Islamists” is generally interpreted as either Islamic extremists or Islamic fundamentalists. I personally know Sadiq Khan. Before I joined Liberal Democrats I had a brief flirtation with the Labour Party and deputised for Sadiq on two occasions when he was my constituency MP. He is almost as far from being an Islamic extremist as the Pope.

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Observations of an Expat: What does America get out of NATO?

Donald Trump is a transactional kinda guy. He is a businessman who measures success and failure in dollars and cents.

He works on the basis of if we do something for you then we expect tangible, easily measurable, rewards in return.

America does a lot for its European NATO allies. It protects it with 100,000-plus troops on 85 European bases. Its 5,000 nuclear warheads are an essential deterrent against the 6,000 Russian nuclear warheads.

In return, successive American administrations – not just Trump – have asked their European allies to spend two percent of their GDP on defence. Only a third do. America spends 3.6 percent of its GDP on its worldwide military establishment.

Trump – and a growing number of Republicans – think that NATO is a rotten deal for America. That the Europeans are financing their social welfare programmes off the back of the American defensive umbrella.

So what does America get out of NATO? Quite a lot actually.

Let’s start by looking at what upsets the MAGA crowd the most – the balance sheet. Roughly half of all Europe’s military equipment is American-made. That is worth $400 billion a year to US weapons manufacturers. Those manufacturers employ an estimated two million people.

The Biden Administration is pushing the Europeans to buy more American military hardware. The Europeans – led by the French – see the need to build up their own defense industries, spurred on by Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric and the Republican congressmen’s blocking of military aid for Ukraine.

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Welcome to my day: 12 February 2024

My apologies for today’s late start – a minor technical glitch locked me out of the site this morning but, now that that’s remedied…

A big election, far away…

The world changes, even if nobody seems to want to tell us, as Indonesia goes to the polls this week. Two hundred million eligible voters will determine who will be the President of one of the world’s fastest growing economies and an increasingly influential player in Asia-Pacific politics. And Indonesia isn’t just a country with a large population, it stretches across thousands of miles, the equivalent of from the west of Ireland to Turkmenistan.

I’m increasingly of the view that, as a country with declining influence in the world – Brexit and nine years of increasingly English nationalist government really haven’t helped there – we should be looking to build new relationships in order to establish a new relevance, yet our foreign policy is constructed on the basis that we’re still major players, welcome participants everywhere. That’s hard to reconcile with our diminished military capacity and an attitude towards emerging economies that is unhelpful at best.

Indonesia is a prime example of that, a key producer of important materials, in particular nickel, needed in manufacture in many of the new technologies our economy will rely upon going forward. Trade deals will require a quid pro quo, as the negotiations with India demonstrate, with calls for visa-free access or, at least, easier access to visas. Are we willing to make the case that, as part of building those new trading relationships, we’re going to need to make compromises about who comes here?

Michael Gove claimed that we’d had enough of experts…

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Tom Arms’ World Review

India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has kicked off his election campaign with a prayer. And it was a prayer in the most controversial ethno-religious setting that he could find, thus further strengthening his ethno-religious claim to be the standard bearer of Hindu Nationalism.

The setting was the consecration of a partially-constructed Hindu temple in the town of Ayodha. It was controversial because the temple is being built on the site of a 16th century Muslim mosque which was torn down by Hindu nationalist rioters in 1992.

The destruction of the mosque led to nationwide religious riots which left 2,000 dead, most of them Muslims.

The Hindus tore down the mosque because they believed that it was built on the birthplace of Lord Ram, the chief deity in the Hindu pantheon of gods.

Modi made it one of his key election pledges that a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram would be built on the site of the former mosque.

And to insure the maximum political return, Modi pulled out all the stops for the consecration of the temple and placed himself at centre stage. For a start, the Indian Prime Minister dressed in the saffron robes of a Hindu monk and publicly fasted for five days before the consecration.

Then he invited every possible Bollywood star, businessman and politician – except Muslims and the opposition Congress I Party – to the consecration.

A military helicopter was ordered to fly overheard during the consecration ceremony showering flower petals on the crowd. Modi, of course, led the prayers.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, was immensely proud of the fact that the Indian constitution declared India a secular nation. Modi is doing his best to reverse that.

NATO

NATO this week launched its biggest European military manoeuvres since the end of the Cold War.

Codenamed Exercise Steadfast Defender it involves 91,000 service personnel from 31 NATO countries and Sweden. It is the first time Finland will be participating as a full member of the Alliance.

Sweden’s NATO membership was finally approved by Turkey this week and is expected to get the final nod from the Hungarian parliament next month.

Steadfast Defender is meant to demonstrate NATO – and especially American – commitment to the defense of Europe. It involves all three branches of the military – army, navy and air force – and will focus on moving troops as fast as possible into the new frontline states of Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland and Slovakia.

The Russians have lodged the usual protests, but more importantly they have used their bases in Kaliningrad to jam military GPS devices in the Baltic Region.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Donald Trump and NATO

While NATO and its partners pull together to protect world shipping it has emerged that ex-president Donald Trump has been doing his best to pull the Western Alliance apart.

According to French EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, who is responsible for EU defense issues, Trump told commission president Ursula von der Leyen that NATO is dead and that America would refuse to defend Europe.

M. Breton, told the European Parliament this week, that the threat was issued in 2020 during a private bilateral at the World Economic Forum between Trump and Ms. Van der Leyen.

According to Breton, Trump told the commission president: “You need to understand that if Europe is under attack we will never come to help you and support you. NATO is dead, and we will leave. We will quit NATO.”

Trump then made reference to van Der Leyen’s previous job as German Defense Minister and added: “By the way, you owe me $400 billion because you didn’t pay. You Germans, you had to pay for defense.”

Trump is odds-on favourite to win Monday’s Iowa caucus for the Republican nomination.

Israel

Israel was the first to sign the 1948 Convention on Genocide. This is not surprising as the international law was a direct result of the horrors of The Holocaust.

This week, however, the Israeli government is appearing before the International Court of Justice at The Hague charged with the same crime that they levelled against Hitler.

The case is being brought by South Africa’s ANC government. It should be noted that there is little love between the ANC and Israel.

There is historic animosity between Jewish state and the ANC. Israel provided South African Whites with nuclear weapons technology and Mossad and the Bureau of State Security (BOSS) regularly exchanged information. Many South Africans also believe that the Likud government’s policies on the West Bank and Gaza are at least partially modelled on the Bantustans and pass laws of the apartheid era.

So, it is unsurprising that the South African government took the lead this week in pursuing a charge of “genocide” in the International Court of Justice in relation to Israel’s attack on Gaza. They claim that Israeli attacks and blockades that have so far cost 23,357 lives qualify as genocide under the 1948 convention that Israel was so keen to sign.

The lead lawyer, Adila Hassian, told the 17 judges of the ICJ that Israel’s actions show “chilling” and “incontrovertible” intent to commit genocide.

At the end of the first day of a two-day hearing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retorted: “We are fighting terrorists. We are fighting lies. Today we saw an upside down world. Israel Is accused of genocide while it is fighting against genocide.”

The 1948 convention states that “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” is genocide. It further states that acts of genocide include: “killing members of the group; causing them serious bodily or mental harm; imposing living conditions intended to destroy the group; preventing births and forcibly transferring children of the group.”

Usually the ICJ takes months to make a ruling. But South Africa has asked for an interim ruling which means that a decision may be published as early as next week.

ICJ rulings are final. There is no appeal. But they are not enforceable. Russia, for instance, was recently branded guilty of genocide in Ukraine. Putin ignored it. If the court rules against Israel Netanyahu will likely do the same. But Israel’s democratic mantle will be severely damaged.

Ecuador

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Israel

“The Day After Gaza” – as the discussion about what to do after the fighting is called in Israel, is the number one topic in the Israeli cabinet.

Not surprisingly, the coalition government is hopelessly divided.

On the far-right side are the representatives of the Ultra-Orthodox parties led by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. They want to “encourage” the Palestinians to leave the Gaza and replace them with Jewish settlers.

A shade more reasonable is Defense Minister Yoav Gallant who wants Israel to retain overall security control while working with a multi-national force in Gaza. Palestinians would be free to manage day-to-day affairs as long as they did not “commit any hostile actions against Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to officially unveil his ideas in cabinet, but he has written an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. In it he said he had three goals – destroy Hamas everywhere; demilitarise the Gaza Strip and “deradicalise” Palestinians.

The first goal, presumably involves assassinating Hamas leaders in foreign countries. This has the potential of being construed by the host country as an act of war. It certainly would not help Israel’s image.

As for demilitarisation, Gaza is already officially demilitarised. Everyone can see how well that has worked.

The third is new and startling Netanyahu claims that at the root of current problems is a Hamas-controlled education system which has radicalised the Palestinians against Israel. He wants to re-educate or “de-radicalise” Palestinians through a revised educational system. This smacks of the re-education camps of China, the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Cambodia….

Taiwan and China

2024 will be a big election year. Four billion people in more than 70 countries will be trooping to the polls.

Some of the elections will be a sham. Russia is a prime example. I can predict now that Vladimir Putin will win.

Others are real and important. They include the US, UK, EU, India, South Korea and Mexico. One of the most important and potentially consequential elections occurs next Saturday in Taiwan. The result will determine if the 24million Taiwanese move away from or towards Mainland China.

The voters’ decision will have a major impact on the actions of Xi Jinping’s China, and this turn has the potential of dramatic consequences for the rest of the world.

The Taiwanese elections are both presidential and legislative. At the moment both the legislature and the presidency are controlled by the Democratic People’s Party (DPP). The President, Tsai Ing-wen has served two terms and is barred from standing for a third.

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Observations of an Expat: The Revenge of Trump

Vengeance is mine sayeth ex-president Donald Trump. And he is preparing to wreak it on his political opponents.

Beavering away in the back rooms of Trump campaign headquarters are scores of political acolytes drawing up plans for a second Trump Administration.

The first term caught Trump and his supporters unprepared. The 2016 presidential transition is regarded by many as one of the worst in American history with key appointments taking months – sometimes years – to be filled. And when the jobs were assigned the people were either ill-suited, ill-prepared or – in Trump’s opinion – not loyal enough.

According to a range of sources inside and outside the Trump campaign, that will not happen if Donald Trump is returned to the White House in 2024. The right people have been identified; are being briefed and will hit the ground running with policies and legislation that will make Trump’s first term look like a Victorian tea party.

For a start, the ex-president is out for revenge. He is a man who bears a grudge and acts on it. His key targets are said to be President Biden, his family, former Attorney General William Barr, the FBI, the Department of Justice, the courts, the civil service and anyone who says he lost the 2020 presidential election.

Donning the victim’s mantle, he has already claimed that he is fighting for every little man and woman who – like him – “has been wronged and betrayed. I am,” he told this year’s Conservative Political Action Convention, “your retribution.”

But there is more, as Trump made clear in near-apocalyptic terms in a recent Veteran’s Day speech in which he pledged “to root out the radical left-wing thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country.”

As for policies, on the domestic front, the ex-president plans to cut taxes, reduce federal spending, dramatically increase the number of political appointments to federal jobs, re-impose his Muslim ban, deport children born in the US of illegal foreign parents, finish building his southern border wall, defund the FBI, impose the death penalty on drug dealers, ban teachers from teaching multi-culturalism and multi-racism, increase oil and gas production, impose a ten percent tariff on all imports and punish doctors who help transsexual patients.

And if anyone dares to take to the streets to protest, Trump says he will invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to suppress them.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Trump

Trump has been too tight-fisted for his own good. That is the judgement of number of those observing the trial of ex-president Donald Trump on racketeering charges related to his alleged efforts to subvert the Georgia electoral process.

So far, three lawyers and one bail-bondsman out of 19 of Trump’s co-defendants – have flipped, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the ex-president.

One of the main reasons for their change of heart is believed to be astronomical legal fees. America’s top legal eagles are expected to turn up in the Georgia courtroom for the Trump trial. Their fees can be as high as $5,000 per hour and each defendant is expected to have two or three attorneys each for the six-month trial.

The fees for just one lawyer could run to $3.6 million. The latest co-defendant to change sides is Jenna Ellis. Her crowdfunding page raised $216, 431 for legal fees – a drop in the proverbial ocean. This means that most of the co-defendants face the prospect of bankruptcy unless they turn against Trump.

The ex-president may have been able to retain their loyalty by paying their legal fees. He has refused to do so. All the money being raised by his crowdfunding efforts is going to his legal fees alone, except for what he can siphon off for his presidential campaign.

There are other reasons for bail bondsman Scott Hall, and lawyers Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro to switch sides. Agreeing to help the prosecution means that prison time has been more or less ruled out. And the lawyers are hoping that the most they will be found guilty of is a misdemeanour. If the jury opts for a felony charge then they will be disbarred and lose their legal license.

There are, however, risks in turning against Trump. He has repeatedly proven himself to be a vengeful man with thousands of followers prepared to harass those who turn up against him and even issue death threats. And death by shooting is a very real danger in America – as the people in Lewiston, Maine discovered this week.

Israel

Why are we waiting? Is the question being asked by thousands of Israeli soldiers camped on the Gaza border and in the street cafes of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised a ground invasion of Gaza to end the power of Hamas once and for all. But so far no Israeli boots have trod on Gaza ground.

There have been a lot of exploding artillery shells – an estimated 8,000 of them. And there has been a watertight blockade which has left 2.2 million Gazans without food, water, electricity and vital medicines. As a result an estimated 6,000 Gazans – many of them women and children – have died, and the world’s sympathy is shifting from Israel to Gaza.

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The United States is spiralling into either a Trump dictatorship or civil war

At the beginning of the year various BBC correspondents gave their predictions for the year ahead. Conspicuous by its absence was any prediction that Trump would get indicted this year and the monumental impact that would have on US and international politics. I for one wondered how they could miss something so obvious?

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Donald Trump

Donald Trump will never see the inside of a prison. Neither will he be fitted for an orange onesie.

Not because he is innocent. Based on the evidence I have read to date, he is guilty as Hell. And I am sure a lot more will come out during the numerous trials he faces.

No, he will remain a free man for several reasons. One is that his lawyers will use every trick in their legal library to delay, delay, delay. They will appeal against the Washington venue for the trial there. They will also claim that the Washington judge is biased. The same with New York.

Their objections will be dismissed. But justice requires that they be heard and that takes time.

Next, there is the jury selection. One recent trial took several months to select the jury because they went through over a thousand potential jurors. In the case of Trump, the difficult is in finding 12 people in politically polarised America who do not have an opinion of the man and his election lie.

Even if a jury is selected, a venue is agreed for all four trials and impartial judges are found, there is a reasonable chance that a dedicated MAGA supporter will find their way onto a jury and block a guilty verdict.  Unanimous jury decisions are required in American trials. That is a high bar for the Trump prosecutors.

Let us suppose he is found guilty on a felony charge in a court by a jury somewhere in America. The verdict is then likely to outrage and activate his MAGA base to such an extent that Trump wins the 2024 election. If that happens he will simply pardon himself and his many co-conspirators. The case in Georgia will be more difficult because he can only give pardons for federal crimes and Georgia is a state crime. But his highly paid lawyers should be able to find a loophole.

If they don’t, there is the appeal process. If Trump is found guilty he will appeal. The appeal process can extend for years, possibly up to and beyond Donald Trump’s allotted time on this Earth.

Russian spies

Spies, spies, everywhere – especially the Russians. Which is not surprising. They had a huge spy network in Tsarist days. It was massive under the Soviets and, of course, Vladimir Putin was a KGB agent in East Germany.

There is also the fact that Russia is at war, oops, I mean conducting a “special military operation” (SMO) in Ukraine. The SMO means that Russia needs intelligence on who in NATO is supporting what, when, where, how and why in Ukraine. Also, who they can support to espouse the Russian cause, scatter seeds of division and discontent and maybe even overturn a government or two.

And finally, if the war escalates, how best to attack NATO.

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Observations of an expat: The Big Lie is finally in court

Donald Trump will get his wish. He desperately tried to air his election fraud claim in court. He made over 50 attempts to do so, including two to bring it before the Supreme Court.

But Trump’s problem is that the wrong person – or entity – is charged with lying. It is not the swamp, deep state, establishment elite or the blob that is being hauled before the court accused of porky pies in pursuit of naked power. It is Donald Trump.

The cornerstone of the case of Special Counsel Jack Smith and the Department of Justice is that Donald Trump lied when he claimed electoral fraud. That he – and his co-conspirators – knew that he lied and that he used the lie in the criminal pursuit of subverting the US constitution, the electoral laws and the proceedings of Congress.

If he didn’t lie. If Donald Trump is indeed the victim of an elaborate conspiracy involving the Department of Justice, his own Vice President, over 50 courts and tens of thousands of individual vote tellers, then Jack Smith’s case collapses into an ignominious legal heap.

Trump’s lawyers hope they have a constitutional ace up their sleeves – the right to free speech as enshrined in the First Amendment. Freedom of speech protects the right to lie – up to a point.

Bill Barr, Trump’s Attorney General, was prominent among those insisting that the ex-president accept the election results and attacked him for not doing so. This week, the country’s former top lawyer, dismissed the First Amendment defense. He said: “They (the Department of Justice) are not attacking his First Amendment rights. He can say whatever he wants. He can even tell people that the election was stolen when he knew better. But that does not protect you from entering into a conspiracy to defraud the United States.”

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A huge moment in the US

It’s worth taking a moment to think about the enormity of the events in the US.

I remember that day, not far off 49 years ago, when the resignation of a US President was of such monumental importance that there was tv at breakfast time.

Almost half a century on, there’s a 24 hour news cycle and social media to chew over the fact that a former leader of the free world has been charged with trying to fraudulently overturn the result of the election in which he was defeated by Joe Biden.

You can read the whole indictment here on the Guardian’s website.

Its opening paragraphs are shocking:

Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power. So for more than 2 months following the election day on 3 November 2020, the Defendant spread lies that there had been outcome determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won. These claims were false and the Defendant knew they were false. But the President repeated and disseminated them anyway, to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger and erode public trust in the administration of the election.

It’s about as far from the presidential oath, in which he promised to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution as you can get.

The indictment relies heavily on the fact that Trump and his co-conspirators knew what they were doing. A significant part of the evidence is based on the contemporaneous notes of Vice President Mike Pence. Trump had asked him not to declare the results of the election in Congress on 6 January and at one point, when Pence refused, told him that he was “too honest.”

The team from Pod Save America, one of my favourite US politics podcasts analyse the indictment here. Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett and Tommy Vietor were all staffers during the Obama administration and set up Crooked Media in 2017.

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Observations of an expat: Bad week for populists

It has been a bad week for populists. Boris Johnson out of Parliament. Donald Trump arraigned on espionage charges and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi buried.

But it has also been a bad 21st century for the anti-populists. Trump elected and threatening to return. Brexit, Johnson and Truss in the UK. Viktor Orban in Hungary. Putin in Russia. Bolsonaro in Brazil. Modi in India….

Electorate after electorate has fallen victim to a string of self-serving narcissists prepared to exploit irrational fears, issue empty promises and bend, ignore or break the law in blatant pursuit of power and self-interest.

Silvio Bunga Bunga Berlusconi led the way. He started his working life as a cruise ship crooner before moving into property development and the media. His Mediaset television empire broke the Italian’s TV’s puritanical mode with topless models and secured 90 percent of the viewing audience.

In 1993 Berlusconi formed his own political party; persuaded 33 of his advertising executives to stand with him for parliament and then harnessed his media empire to his campaign. The result was first of Berlusconi’s four terms as Italy’s prime minister.

Scandal and corruption dogged Berlusconi throughout his political career. By his own account he made 2,500 court appearances in 106 trials. Not all of the mud stuck, but enough did for him to be convicted of tax fraud and banned from holding public office for ten years.

This should have been the end of Berlusconi. But he bounced back to join the Senate and become the acknowledged kingmaker of Italian politics. He was a junior member of the current government of Giorgia Meloni. He is a clear object lesson of the political establishment’s inability to hold down the bad boys of politics.

Victimhood is one of the major weapons of the populist. Trump says he is target number one of “The Deep State”. Boris Johnson blames “The Blob” for his problems.  This amorphous political entity which can means anyone and everyone opposed to the populist has become the ultimate scapegoat for the evils of the world.

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One resignation doesn’t make a Summer

I’m sitting here in my shorts at barely 9am, fully suncreamed up. This, I can assure you, is an extremely rare state of affairs for Scotland, even at the height of Summer. It is also serendipitous that our warmest day of the year so far coincides with no Lib Dem meetings or other such commitments. So a day in the garden with books it is for me. And I need to take advantage because it is due to rain tomorrow.

To brighten my mood further, yesterday, two unpleasant right wing narcissists went at least some way to getting the come-uppance they deserved. The full details of Trump’s indictment are shocking. I’m sorry but nobody needs to keep nuclear secrets in their loo.

If Boris Johnson had stuck to the rules he imposed on the rest of us and not told Parliament things which were obviously untrue, then he wouldn’t be in the mess he is in.

But both men play to their bases with self-indulgent claims of victimisation. I don’t believe for a second Boris actually believes that the Privileges Committee outcome delivered to him on Thursday is a conspiracy between that wing of the Conservative Party that hates him, Harriet Harman and remainers, but he’s going to make himself sound like the victim. Unfortunately, too many will believe him. The chances of him being able to revive something of a political career out of raising a sense of grievance may seem slim, but I wouldn’t write him off completely. Give him a platform and a lot of someone else’s money and who knows where he will end up.

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Observations of an expat: De Santis – Trump with Brains

Governor Ron DeSantis is a clever version of Donald Jesus Trump. And because of that, he could be even more dangerous than the most dangerous person to ever occupy the White House.

Trump was fond of boasting that he was “the smartest US president ever.” Well, that was obviously another one of his lies, and there was a reason his academic records were kept under wrap.

DeSantis can legitimately lay claim to a well-stocked cranium. He graduated top of his class at Harvard and near the top at Yale Law School.

Trump spent the Vietnam War years doing his best to not acquire a venereal disease while sleeping with as many women as possible. “My own personal Vietnam,” he said.

DeSantis went almost straight from law school into the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s office where he received a bronze star for his attachment to Navy SEAL teams in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only blot on an exemplary medal-strewn military career is a claim that he oversaw force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay.

DeSantis went straight from the navy into politics and in 2012 was elected to Congress where he became a founding member of the Freedom Caucus which can be described as the right-wing of the far right wing of the far right of the right wing of the Republican Party.

In 2016 Ron DeSantis was narrowly elected Governor of Florida and started putting his far-right views into practice. The teaching of critical race theory, gender identification and sexual orientation has been banned in state schools. Asylum seekers were flown to Martha’s Vineyard. Transgender girls were banned from competing in school sports. Corporation tax been lowered. Florida was one of the most open states during the pandemic. Abortions after six weeks were banned….

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Observations of an expat: Trump

Americans are divided as to whether this has been a good, bad or pretty much the same as always week for Donald Trump.

The ex-president is now legally stigmatised as a sex abuser. Journalist E. Jean Carroll also managed to legally out him as a serial liar. Of course, most people have for years regarded Trump as a lying sex pest, but it is another matter having it unanimously confirmed by a courtroom jury of your peers.

The Trump sex abuse trial was quickly followed by a CNN-organised town hall meeting in New Hampshire where the former president continued to defame Ms Carroll (which may end up costing him even more money). He also refused to back Ukraine and said he would end the war in 24 hours; plunge the world into economic chaos rather than raise the US debt ceiling; would pardon most of the January 6 Capitol Hill rioters and, of course, claimed that he won the 2020 presidential election race.

Anyone who disagrees with him continues to be a nasty, lying peddler of fake news.

So what impact will all the above have on Trump’s bid for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and a possible Trump-Biden re-run in 2024. I put that and several other questions to my podcast co-host Lockwood Phillips. You can listen to his replies on TransAtlantic Riff at Spotify.com.

Lockwood, I should add is a Trump-supporting conservative Republican. He reckoned that this week’s events will have no impact on Trump’s election chances. His base and position within the Republican Party is secure and Biden’s unpopularity will sweep the ex-president back into the White House.

Lockwood is representative of a Trump supp0rter. But not all conservative Americans. Others whom I canvassed were adamant that they voted for him in the past but would never cast their ballot for him again.

One senior Trump-appointed official told me: “Trump will be toast by the time the primaries actually take place… still more legal shoes will drop…. He is a dead man walking.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA

America’s looking glass politics dominated the news agenda again this week. Donald Trump is not a perp. He is a victim. And he is exploiting his victimhood to the maximum political advantage.

The ex-president has re-galvanised his base with classic hyperbolic claims about Democratic witch hunts. The sad thing is that in the case of this week’s indictment – the first of a past or present American president – he may actually be right.

The office of District Attorney for South Manhattan is an elected one, and Alvin Bragg won the vote on the back of a promise to bring Donald Trump to trial and convict him. Lady Justice is portrayed blindfolded with her sword and balancing scales. She is not elected.

The law is meant to be based on precedent.  No man (or woman) should be protected by their political position but neither should their political position be the determining factor in their innocence or guilt.

Of course, Donald Trump, is more than prepared to play both sides of the legal coin. His 2016 campaign rallies were marked by the endless chant/rant of “Lock her up” related to Hillary Clinton’s use of private emails for government use. The demand was dropped as soon as Trump entered the White House.

Possibly the saddest aspect of Trump’s indictment is that DA Bragg’s case is the weakest against the ex-president. Secret documents at Mar-a-Lago, the January 6 riots and attempts to fix the Georgia election returns all look more promising. Legal eagles believe he can beat the rap on the Stormy Daniels case – if only on one of several technicalities. If Trump is acquitted then he could use that acquittal to fight off other legal challenges and ride the victimhood express all the way to the Republican Party nomination and possibly beyond.

China

Diplomats say interesting things sometimes. Fu Cong, Beijing’s ambassador to the EU was certainly in expansive and interesting mode when he spoke to the New York Times on the eve of the Macron/von de Leyen state visit to China.

At the top of President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda in Beijing was Ukraine. In fact, his feet had barely touched Chinese soil when he was telling Xi Jinping: “I am counting on you to bring Russia to its senses.”

France, America and the rest of the West are terrified that the Xi/Putin “friendship without limits” will eventually lead to Chinese weaponry supporting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Ambassador Fu, however, dismissed the “limitless” phrase as “rhetoric.” He also pointed out that Beijing has refused to recognise the 2014 annexation of Crimea or the more recent Russian land grabs in the Donbas.

All of the above is true. It is also encouraging that a senior Chinese diplomat has gone on record to try and balance the debate. But friendship with Russia and Putin remains at or near the centre of Xi’s world strategy. To put it bluntly, Xi sees Russia as key to his plan of eroding the Western-oriented world order and replacing it with one that is more autocracy-friendly.

The Chinese president hinted at his big picture plan in his opening remarks to Macron’s visit when he said that China and France have the responsibility to transcend their differences “as the world undergoes proposed historical changes.”

To realise this plan, Xi wants to drive a wedge between European and American policymakers. To do this he is dangling the financial incentive of improved Sino-European trade links. That is why EU Commission President Ursula von de Leyen and an accompanying herd of French businessmen have been tacked onto Macron’s state visit.

The question remains whether the fine words that come out of the Macron/von de Leyen visit will be mere “rhetoric.”

Finland

Russia’s border with NATO is now 800-miles longer. Finland has ended decades of neutrality and joined the Western Alliance. Simultaneously it has changed its government.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

USA – Trump

I may have written too early and ill-advisedly when last week I predicted the political decline of Donald Trump.

His delayed indictment in the Stormy Daniels case has finally hit the newsstands and the ex-president is deftly using his victimhood to rally his political base. “This is,” he said “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.”

Clearly the man never studied the classics or medieval European history.

But this has not stopped the conspiracy theorists from flooding cyber space with outlandish claims and threats of civil war. Qanon was quick to tweet that Trump is waging a secret war “against a network of Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media.” It added ominously: “We are ready when you are…Mr President.”

Trump’s opponents in the race for the Republican nomination – Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis – are also lining up behind the ex-president to condemn the indictment as a witch hunt. They are all afraid of alienating Trump’s political base.

But how big is that base? For a start, a significant proportion of Trump’s base in the 2016 and 2020 elections were White evangelical Christians. They comprise roughly a quarter of the American population and 80 percent of them voted for Trump.

However, a large proportion of the Evangelicals are one issue voters – abortion. They have won that battle with Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. They are unlikely to shift their allegiance to “socialist” Joe Biden but Trump’s apparent lack of morals could pull them towards one of the other Republican hopefuls, an independent third candidate or abstention.

That still leaves a sizable chunk of Trump supporters who have now been galvanised by their leader’s imminent arrest. Their reaction is the major unknown in American politics, and, following the Capitol Hill riots, potentially worrying. There may even be enough Trump supporters within the Republican Party to secure him the nomination. In fact, as of this week, he is 30 points ahead of his nearest challenger Ron DeSantis. But that could be the end of Trump’s political road. The country is hopelessly split between Republicans and Democrats. The balance lies with the roughly thirty percent of the voting population who are registered independents. They, and disenchanted evangelicals and moderate Republicans are unlikely to cast their vote for a felon, or even an alleged felon.

USA – guns

There are lots of reasons Americans have more guns than people – 395 million shooters for 336 million people.

There is the pioneer Wild West culture, Hollywood’s glorification of gun culture, personal and family protection, law enforcement, recreational target shooting, hunting and, of course, the pursuit of criminal objectives.

To my mind, the most worrying reason is protection of the individual from the government. This is one of the arguments by the National Rifle Association and politicians such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. It is a justification which dates back to the 1689 English Bill of Rights when citizens were guaranteed the right to carry guns as a defense against the imposition of a Catholic monarch.

This fear of “big government” using its power to deny Americans basic human rights was one of the reasons for the Second Amendment. They had, after all, just fought a revolution against a government which had blocked their liberties.

The problem for gun advocates is that society and politics has moved on from the 18th century. We have now had 240 years of American governments elected by universal franchise (except for women who did not secure the right to vote until 1920) to pass laws to protect them. If the gun lobby has a problem with lack of representation in federal government then it should use the legal instruments in the US constitution to amend it.

Instead its solution is more guns. Guns in schools. Guns in churches. Guns in shops and theatres and guns in homes. Following the latest school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, there are new reasons. Shootings are not a gun problem. They are a mental health problem. There are also, it is being argued post-Nashville, now a transgender problem because the shooter was a transgender person.

Very few Americans dare to suggest that the guns themselves are the problem. This is because the Second Amendment has become a political sacred cow.

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Observations of an expat: Trump declines (hopefully)

Former President of the United States Donald Trump was on Tuesday expected to be arrested for one of his many alleged crimes.

He, of course, claimed that the arrest was another chapter in a long-running political witch hunt and called on his supporters to take to the streets and protest. And they did – all ten of them.

Ten is an exaggeration, but not by much. It was certainly true that there were more police officers and people demonstrating against Trump outside the Manhattan court house then there were those protesting his innocence.

The opinion polls show him leading challenger Ron DeSantis in the race for the Republican nomination. But if bodies on the street are an indication, Donald Trump’s pulling power is on the wane.

The Stormy Daniels case is only one of several legal challenges facing the former occupant of the White House. His business—the Trump Organisation—is accused of fraud. Any day now a Georgia Grand Jury is expected to indict him for solicitation of election fraud. The Justice Department is investigating his role in the January 6 Capitol Hill Riots and he is may still be charged under the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice for unlawful possession of top secret documents after he left the White House.

But the case that could do Donald Trump the most damage does not directly involve the ex-president as either defendant or plaintiff. But it cuts to the very heart of Trump’s political structure – his claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

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Donald Trump makes “beyond parody” major announcement

Donald Trump has said for days that he was going to make a “major announcement”.

After all the waiting – this is it! It has been described by US political commentator Taegan Goddard as “beyond parody”.

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Observations of an expat – Mid-term winner

Trump lost. Biden did not win. Democracy did. But Slow Joe may have damaged his 2024 options by securing democracy a place on the mid-term ballot.

At the same time, if President Biden takes the statesmanlike position and declares that he not a candidate for the 2024 election, then he is more likely to have a working relationship with a Republican-controlled Congress for his final two years.

He also ensures his place in history as the man who saw off the threat to American democracy as opposed to the 80-plus-year-old who clung to power past his sell by date.

But back to the loser. Donald Trump was not officially on the ballot. But he did everything possible to make the 2022 mid-term elections about him and his lies that the 2020 presidential elections were stolen from him in a massive fraud.

He refused to concede defeat and denied the validity of the American electoral process which is the foundation stone of the country’s democratic system.

He enthusiastically endorsed hundreds of candidates. Many were underqualified but they all shared the common platform of accepting his big election lie.

These candidates were overwhelmingly supported by Republicans in state primaries. Then they were either rejected, or barely scraped home, when their names were put to the public at large.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Putin’s hold on power

Vladimir Putin’s hold on power must be slipping away. But which Kremlin insider might replace him? Well, according to the constitution, the Prime minister – who is Mikhail Mishustin – is meant to succeed the president if he has to suddenly resign or is incapacitated. Mishustin has been responsible for the dealing with the economy which is reeling from sanctions. He has done a reasonable job and is in the front rank of successors, but not regarded as a number one possibility.

That could be Nikolai Patrushev, former head of Russian intelligence organisation the FSB. He is known to be a hard-line ultranationalist. Another hardliner is Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov who has been publicly urging the Russian president to use tactical nuclear weapons. Also in the running is Mikhail Mizintsev, another hardliner who is known as the “butcher of Mariupol” and has recently been brought back from the front to be Deputy Minister of Defense. Dmitry Medvedev kept the presidential chair warm for four years from 2008 while Putin sorted out the constitution. He is another possible and recently warned that Putin “is not bluffing” about nuclear weapons. There are several more potential usurpers in the Kremlin wings. At the moment they all have one thing in common—they are ultra-nationalist right-wingers committed to the war in Ukraine.

China

Public protests involving banners, smoke and loud hailers are rare in China. They are virtually unheard of on the eve of a Chinese Communist Party Congress. The reason is that they can be life-threatening for the protesters.

But that did not stop two brave souls from unfurling banners from an overpass. One read: “Let us strike from schools and from work and remove the dictator Xi Jinping.” The other focused on Xi’s unpopular Zero Covid strategy and said: “No restrictions. We want freedom. No Lies. We want dignity.” The protesters were quickly surrounded by police and carted off, but videos quickly made it onto social media. China’s censors meant they were just as quickly erased from the local internet, but not before they could be reposted for the rest of the world to see. The protests are a huge embarrassment for Xi who is expected to be confirmed as president for a third term by the 2,500 delegates gathering in Beijing on Sunday. The fact that the men were willing to risk – quite possibly sacrifice – their lives for their protest indicates the depth of opposition to Xi Jinping.

Donald Trump

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The curious case of a major capital city whose people are disenfranchised (but there could be a bright side)

One of the privileges of bucket-list-retirement has been to spend a little time in Washington DC.

There is much to admire in the US constitution and some elements of its democracy. The democratic status of its capital city is not admirable. It’s a “special federal district” – the District of Columbia – not a state. So, it does not have voting representation in Congress. That’s an estimated 536,768 people (Stacker.com) eligible to vote, without someone to vote on their behalf in Congress.

Compare that to the state of Wyoming’s voting-eligible population of 434,852, who elect a voting US House representative and two – count them – two US Senators (out of a total of only 100).

It is an egregious case of disenfranchisement. It is an downright ungrateful way to treat hard working staff (bearing in mind that much of the DC population is employed by, connected to employees of, the federal US government.)

It should also be noted that “DC” is heavily Democrat, as any casual walk along its residential streets will tell you – just going by the posters up in house windows.

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Exclusive: Contents of Donald Trump’s safe revealed by Macavity

Newsmoggie is excited to report news from feline colleagues in the United States of America relayed by Larry the Cat. Larry needs no introduction to British audiences, but for readers overseas Larry is the Top Cat in Downing Street and has survived longer than all but two or three prime ministers, and probably longer than the next, and the next, and…

The former President, known to himself as the current president, also known as Donald Trump, is alleged to be a fan of the musical Cats, perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest fan. Newsmoggie understands it was Macavity, a somewhat mysterious cat that stars in the Webber extravaganza, that gained entry to Donald Trump’s safe while the FBI were raiding Mar-a-Lago. It is written of Macavity’s more famous ancestor:

“Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.”

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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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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: 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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World Review: Troubles in Poland, Nigeria, Brazil & the US, and Colin Powell

In this weekend’s commentary on world affairs, LDV’s foreign correspondent Tom Arms reviews the conflict between Poland and the Commission over the primacy of EU law. Nigeria is in a bigger mess than usual as corruption is exacerbated by Jihadism, the pandemic, a rapid rise in gang violence and a resurgence of Biafran secessionism. Brazilian senators are investigating Bolsonaro’s responsibility for 600,000 Brazilian covid-19 deaths. In the States, Trump aide Steve Bannon will go to prison for a year for contempt of Congress. Colin Powell who died this week, was universally recognised as a decent and honest man.

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