Tag Archives: france

Tom Arms’ World Review

Alexei Navalny is dead.

His body lies in a prison morgue inside the Arctic Circle. It is generally accepted that he was murdered, or at the very least Vladimir Putin is responsible for his death by sentencing him to a frozen penal colony.

After days of standing at the prison gates, Navalny’s mother was finally allowed to see his body. But she has been denied permission to take it away for burial.

Instead she was told that she had to agree to agree to a secret burial at a hush-hush site. Otherwise, Lydmilia Navalny reported, “the authorities said they would do things to Alexei’s body.”

Putin is clearly afraid of Navalny the martyr. He is afraid that a public burial at an accessible site will become a focal point for those opposed to his corrupt oligarchical rule.

Navalny was not even cold on his morgue slab before the Russian media machine was trying to spin him out of the Russian story. The state-controlled news machine was late in reporting his death and its accounts were, at best perfunctory. There was no contextual information to explain why he was in prison and one commentator refused to use his first name.

From Putin himself there has been a deafening silence. This is unsurprising. In the past, the Russian president has refused to use the opposition leader’s name when directly asked about him at press conferences. He clearly hopes that the dearth of reports by the media will result in Navalny becoming a non-person as well as dead.

This maybe the case in Russia, but it isn’t working in the West. Navalny’s wife Yulia and their 23-year-old daughter Dasha have already been quick to pick up the baton. Navalny’s 15-year-old son Zahar is probably not far behind.

But will the West listen? Yulia made a major impact when she spoke at the recent Munich Security Conference and Dasha joined her mother in an emotional White House meeting with President Joe Biden.

But Biden and the Europeans were a receptive audience before Alexei’s death. The nut that needs to be cracked is the MAGA Republicans. When Trump was asked by Fox News to comment on Navalny’s death he refused to blame Putin and focused on linking Alexei’s death to his own legal problems. We are both persecuted victims of the state, he claimed. Trump added that Navalny should never have returned to Russia after being treated in a German hospital for novichok poisoning.

Navalny knew he would be sent to prison as soon as he returned. He explained the move by saying that he could not expect his followers to overcome fear of Putin’s rule if he did not himself demonstrate bravery by returning to certain imprisonment.

 

The world is divided on a ceasefire in Gaza. Political leaders in Europe, America, Japan and Australia are generally behind the proposal for a “temporary ceasefire,” the return of the hostages and a massive increase of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

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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

Nagorno-Karabakh

Nagorno-Karabakh is no more. The centuries-old Christian enclave has finally been absorbed into Muslim and Turkish-dominated Azerbaijan. Tens of thousands of residents have fled to refuge in Armenia and many more face the possibility of persecution.

The fate of Nagorno-Karabakh has been in dispute since the Persian Empire hived off a considerable slice of the Armenian Kingdom in the seventh century. Since the end of the Cold War it has been the cause of two wars and innumerable skirmishes between Azerbaijan backed Turkey and Armenia backed by Russia.

The end of Nagorno-Karabakh has signalled a major shift in the geopolitical forces in the southern Caucasus. Russia and Vladimir Putin have suffered a major blow. They are the historic protectors of Armenian interests in the region and the main reason that landlocked Nagorno-Karabakh existed as an autonomous political entity for as long as it did.

But the Ukraine War has siphoned off Russian military resources, including some of the 1,000 Russian peacekeepers who were keeping the Turkic-speaking Azerbaijanis at bay. As a result, the Armenians lost faith in the protective abilities of Russian sponsors and allowed themselves to be seduced by American blandishments. They even went so far as to sign up to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court which has issued a warrant for the arrest of Vladimir Putin.

The problem is that geography, history and cultural links meant that Russia was always the Armenians best bet.

France

France is undergoing its own version of climate change-wrought water wars.

Soaring temperatures have dried up groundwater resources and reduced the water available from snow and glacial melt in the Alps and Pyrenees. To compensate the government is forced to rely increasingly on reservoirs. These are being partly filled with rainwater and partly by diminishing groundwater resources.

More than 100 plastic-lined mega reservoirs have been built or earmarked for construction. Their capacity is equivalent to 1,600 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

All this sounds like the government is responding to the shortage. But the problem is how the water is shared. French farmers are a big lobby and agriculture is being given priority for irrigation purposes as opposed to domestic and industrial users.

But even among the farming community there are disagreements. Because of the cost of pumping stations, the farms nearest to the reservoirs are the ones that benefit. That is only about 15 percent of the farms. The result is that farmers are fighting farmers, domestic users are fighting farmers and industrial users. Industrial users are fighting farmers and domestic users and everybody is fighting the government. A series of demonstrations has so far led to about 500 injuries.

Climate change

There have been two significant developments on climate change law this week.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Ukraine has approximately 30 days before the autumn/winter rains bring their counter-offensive to a muddy halt.

To date they appear to have broken through the first line of a three-line Russian defense in an area around Bakhmut and Zaporizhzhia. There is an outside possibility they can achieve a major breach, but that is highly unlikely.

There is more depressing news for Ukrainian troops. For a start the bromance between Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un will keep the Russian troops supplied with artillery shells to help keep the advancing Ukrainians at bay.

Then there are problems with Poland. Up until this week the Poles have been a driving force behind EU and NATO support for Ukraine. But Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – with one eye on the farming vote and next month’s general election – has stopped military supplies to Ukraine because Ukrainian grain is driving down Polish wheat prices.

Poland has the support of Slovakia and Hungary and wants EU-wide restrictions on the import of Ukrainian grain. The Ukrainians, of course, are exporting their grain to EU countries because the Russian blockade makes it impossible for them to ship it to their usual customers in the Middle East and Africa.

The next problem is signs that US support is waning. This week Volodomyr Zelensky turned up in Washington to assure American lawmakers that Ukraine is slowly but surely winning. President Biden responded with a $325 million military aid package. Zelensky also has the support of the leadership in both the Senate and House of Representatives. But a group of far-right Republican Trump supporters are threatening to block a financial package which includes an extra $24 billion in aid to Ukraine.

And then, finally, there is the fact that Trump has pledged to stop military aid to Ukraine if he is elected in 2024.

France

It has taken seven years, but it looks as if the investigation of France’s right-wing leader Marine Le Pen may end up in court.

She and 23 members of Her Rassemblement National – including her father Jean-Marine Le Pen – are accused of misuse of EU funds. They allegedly used a total of about $620,000 of money which was meant to be spent on EU administration to fund party activities.

The accusation comes from the Paris Prosecutor’s office and still has to be confirmed by the prosecuting judges. But it seems highly likely that that is a formality.

If she is found guilty, Marine Le Pen faces the possibility of a $1 million fine, 10 years in jail, and a 10-year ban on holding public office. Her conviction would have a major impact on the French and European political landscape.

According to the Paris Prosecutor, Ms Le Pen spent $45,000 of EU funds to pay her personal bodyguard. On another occasion she is alleged to have diverted EU funds to pay for a meeting to discuss party activities and hung an EU flag outside the meeting room. When the meeting started she told party members “take that s**t down.”

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Israel

The upsurge in violence in Israel is no surprise. It is a direct result of the government’s swing to the far-right. In fact Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is, relatively speaking, now one of the more liberal members of his cabinet.

The Prime Minister’s time, however, is increasingly occupied by court appearances in an effort to fight charges of corruption, bribery and fraud. He also has to deal with the ongoing demonstrations against government plans to curb the independence of the Israeli judiciary.

The daily business of fighting Palestinian terrorism is dominated by ultra-orthodox politicians. These include several West Bank settlers who totally reject the concept of the two-state solution; demand the removal of all Palestinian settlements and, in one instance, have connections with right-wing terrorist organisations.

The latest round of violence started in the West Bank Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin. Like most such sites it is plagued with poverty, high unemployment and poor services. In short, an incubator for Palestinian terrorist groups.

The current round of violence started just over two weeks ago when an Israeli military jeep was blown up. As usual, the military responded and a 15-year-old Palestinian girl died. The cycle of violence continued and after two weeks the death toll had reached 12 Palestinians. But perhaps more importantly, the Israelis resorted to deadly air strikes for the first time in 20 years.

As of this writing Jenin is quiet. But violence has broken out in the West Bank Palestinian camp at Nablus where two people have died.

The Israeli army is reported to have been eager to withdraw as quickly as possible from Jenin and Nablus. They do not believe that a military solution is possible. The politicians disagree.

Leading the anti-Palestinian charge within the cabinet is National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. He is an illegal West Bank settler who wants to completely dismantle the West Bank Palestinian authority. He is a former member of Kahane Chai, a right-wing Jewish terrorist organisation which is banned in Israel and the US. In 2007 Ben Gvir was found guilty of incitement against Palestinians and terrorism.

Aryeh Dei, another West Bank settler and the Health Minister was actually sent to prison for three years for bribery. The Supreme Court has tried to block his appointment to the cabinet which led to the current battles between the court and the government.

Aryeh Dari, Interior Minister; Yoav Galant, Defense Minister; and Bezalel Smotrich, Finance Minister, are all illegal West Bank settlers.

The two-state solution: a Palestinian state and an Israeli state living side by side, remains the preferred resolution of the Biden Administration, the UK and EU. According to International law, the 600,000 Israelis settled on the West Bank are there illegally. But there has been no real effort to pursue the two-state option since 2014 and the Trump Administration more or less rejected it.

This has encouraged the ultra-Orthodox parties who are now in coalition with Likud to press for the dismantlement of the refugee camps and the Palestinian Authority and open the area to Jewish settlement only. The result can only be more violence.

France

France has a history of riots. The French Revolution, the 1848 revolution which ended Bourbon rule, the 1871 Paris Commune which followed the reign of Napoleon III and the 1968 student riots which brought about the downfall of Charles deGaulle are some of the better-known examples.

In more recent times there were the yellow vest demonstrations against fuel taxes and the protests about raising the pension age.  But the most recent riots are on a different scale then these two.

They started when a 17-year-old ethnic Moroccan-Algerian boy named Nahel Merzouk was stopped and shot by police at a traffic light in the Parish suburb of Nanterre. The “Justice for Nahel” riots spread throughout France. At the last count 5,000 cars had been burned, 1,000 buildings and 250 police stations were attacked and damaged and 170 police were injured.

There are several reasons for the riots. One is a basic approach to policing in France. In Britain and the US the police are seen as servants of the public. In France and most other continental countries, they are viewed as controlling the public.

It is in this context that in 2017, a law was passed giving police the right to shoot any car driver who failed to stop when challenged. The law was quickly challenged by the UN Human Rights Council. In the past 18 months, 17 people have been shot under the terms of this law. They are overwhelmingly ethnic Black Africans or of Arab origin.

Most of them also live in what are called the Banlieues such as Nanterre. These are poverty stricken suburbs which encircle the wealthy city centres of France. The average unemployment rate in many of the Banlieues is 70 percent compared to seven percent for the rest of France.  Drug use and crime are rampant. Public services are poor. No-go areas are common. The residents feel forgotten and angry.

Roughly twenty percent of France’s population is from an ethnic minority—one of the highest proportions in Europe. This high percentage of Arabs and Black Africans has created resentment from both the ethnic people and large sections of the White indigenous French community.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

UK

The advisers to King Charles III have scored an own goal on the eve of his coronation.

The crowning of a new monarch is the obvious opportunity for the British public – and the Commonwealth – to re-examine their monarchical v republican sympathies. And the resultant opinion polls make grim reading for King Charles III and his “heirs and successors.”

A YouGov poll for the BBC this week showed that a majority of the British public – 58 percent – supported the monarchy. However, among 18-24 year olds the figure was only 32 percent.

King Charles is also head of the Commonwealth and head of state in 15 Commonwealth countries. A straw poll of the 15 indicates that almost all of them are likely to become republics during the coming reign. As for the head of the Commonwealth, that is an elected position and Charles had to campaign hard to succeed his mother in the role.

In the midst of this monarchical uncertainty, Buckingham Palace (or possibly the Archbishop of Canterbury) has dramatically changed a key part of the coronation ceremony and in doing so alienated millions. The king’s subjects watching the ceremony on television are being asked to stand and swear “that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty and to your heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God.”

I have no problem with this because I separate the person from the institution. To my mind the monarch is the physical repository of British history, tradition, culture and law. Swearing allegiance to him (or her) is a bit like Americans swearing allegiance to the Star Spangled Banner.

But most people fail to see this distinction, and the wording of the oath does not help.  They don’t go beyond the person, whose faults include committing adultery against the glamorous and much loved Diana. They may support the monarchy but not necessarily the monarch and resent being asked to do so.

France

France appears to have a self-image problem. It also has a problem with economic realities, political crises and their relationship with their president.

This week the annual May Day parade descended into riots which in turn led to accusations of heavy-handed police tactics. Another general strike (which probably means more riots) has been scheduled for 6 June.

The immediate cause of the general discontent is President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to a decree that raised the pension age from 62 to 64. The rise made was backed by sound economic reasoning and undermined by poor political logic and tactics.

The row over the pension age was the straw that broke the back of the French body politic. Voters have been disturbed for some time by Macron’s tendency to do what he thinks best with scant regard for the views of his fellow Frenchmen.

This week the French president has been on a countrywide tour to try to explain his pension policies. It is too little too late. Almost everywhere he has gone his speeches have been drowned out by the angry banging of pots and pans.

On top of that, a recent survey exposed an underlying French discontent with their lot in life.  The poll revealed that 67 percent believe that France ranks with the United States in social and economic inequality. The United States is 71st out of 169 countries with 169 being the least equal. France is 6th, just below the Scandinavians.

Discontent has political consequences. It feeds populist politicians who promise simple solutions to complex problems.  A poll last month by the Elabe Group for BFM TV revealed that if a presidential election was held then it would be won by Marine Le Pen, leader of the Far Right National Rally. She would, according to the survey, garner 55 percent of the vote compared to 45 percent for Macron.

Marine Le Pen has already announced that she will stand again for the presidency in 2027. Macron is constitutionally barred from standing for a third term. His greatest fear is that he will be known as the president who paved the way for Marine Le Pen entering the Elysee Palace.

Russia

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Tom Arms’ World Review

France

It is a case of mixed messages coming out of Paris. On the one hand, we have President Emmanuel Macron telling homeward bound journalists that Taiwan should not be a European concern and that France (and Europe by extension) should not let its China policy be determined by American “extremists”.

On the other hand, while Macron was speaking after his state visit to China, the French frigate Prairial was steaming through the Taiwan Straits while the Chinese Communist Party was flexing its muscles with an encirclement exercise of the island.

France,  is unique as the only European nation with substantial holdings in the Indo-Pacific region. It has seven territories with 7000 troops protecting a total population of 1.65 million. Ninety percent of France’s exclusive economic zone is in the region.

China is a clear threat to French interests. That is why the French navy regularly conducts exercises with its American equivalent and military equipment sold to Taiwan in the 1990s is still maintained by French technicians.

But Macron wants a bigger slice of the growing Chinese pie. This is why 53 business executives accompanied the president on his state visit. He also does see France as a counter balance to America—allied with but independent of the super power, a foreign policy that France has pursued in varying degrees since the days of Charles deGaulle.

In short, the French are doing what they do best: Juggling a dozen diplomatic balls at the same time.

USA

1.25 million Americans have top secret clearance. They include contractors as well as military personnel, civil servants and politicians. Therefore it is not surprising that one of them was a low-level 21-year-old right-wing, racist, gun enthusiast who decided to be Mr Big to his friends by posting secrets on an internet gaming site.

Jack Texeira, who worked in the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, will have the rest of his life to regret his vanity.

So will millions in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world. Texeira’s leak disclosed CIA assessments of the Ukraine military on the eve of their counter offensive against Russian forces in the Donbas. It revealed which brigades are the best equipped and trained. It exposed both weaknesses and strengths which the Russians can now exploit.

Texeira also released a CIA assessment of the political machinations within the Kremlin. There were probably few surprises for Moscow, but knowing that the CIA knew something enables the FSB (Russian intelligence) to track the information back to its source and thus endangers American agents in Russia.

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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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Tom Arms’ World Review

UK

The appearance of ex-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson before the House of Commons Privileges Committee has echoes of the fate of Charles the First and James the Second.

Each of the above cases helped to establish the supremacy of parliament over the monarchy, or the executive.

The modern-day British Prime Minister straddles both institutions. They must be a member of parliament and command the support of a majority of the House of Commons. But at the same time they are officially appointed by the monarch to represent them in parliament. They are accountable to both institutions, but as the 1689 Bill of Rights makes clear, more accountable to parliament which is “supreme.”

But if parliament is expected to do its job properly, it must be able to rely on the information that is provided by the executive branch (i.e. government ministers, including the prime minister). For that reason it is vital that ministers – especially the prime minister – do not intentionally or recklessly mislead or lie to the House of Commons or House of Lords.

To do so, completely undermines the principle of the supremacy of parliament and rocks the foundations of the British constitution. That is why Boris Johnson is in deep political hot water. It is not that he broke Covid rules. It is that he appears to have lied to parliament about it.

Charles I lost his head for challenging the supremacy of parliament and James II was forced to abdicate and fled to France. Boris Johnson is unlikely to suffer either fate. The worst that could happen to him is be suspended from parliament which is the 21st century equivalent of decapitation.

Such a move could easily split the Conservative Party. Boris has a strong personal following and Conservatives and despite the current ascendancy of the extreme right, they are divided between anti-European libertarian ideologues and one-nation tax-cutting businessmen.

France

State visits are a big deal. They require months, sometimes years, of careful protocol-driven planning. That is why the last minute cancellation of a state visit is an even bigger deal.

Next week King Charles III was scheduled to make his first ever state visit. It was to be to France to restore the Entente Cordiale to its pre-Brexit cordiality. On Friday it was announced that the visit had been postponed

For a change, the dramatic shift in protocol had nothing to do with Britain’s post-Brexit positions on Northern Ireland, fishing, immigration, Australian submarines or a thousand other potential Anglo-French flashpoints. It had everything to do with violent demonstrations sweeping across France in the wake of President Emmanuel Macron’s decreed legislation to increase the French retirement age from 62 to 64.

The result of the presidential decree has been a wave of violence and strikes across France. Rubbish is piling up in the streets of Paris. The entrance to Bordeaux Town Hall was set alight. 903 fires were started in the capital on Thursday, 400 people were arrested and police used tear gas against the demonstrators.

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United States

US presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis this week said Ukraine is a territorial dispute. He also said that Ukraine is not one of America’s vital national interests. This puts him seriously at odds with President Joe Biden, America’s NATO allies and about 50 other countries who firmly believe that the war in Ukraine is a battle between democracy and autocracy, good and evil.

DeSantis was not always of this opinion. In 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimea, the Florida governor was in the forefront of those calling for Ukraine to be armed. The reason for the shift appears to be his political ambitions.

First hurdle in the race to the White House is securing the Republican Party nomination and at the moment  the opinion polls show him trailing his main opponent – Donald Trump, who is well known for his pro-Russian, anti-NATO and anti-Ukraine politics.

DeSantis clearly reckons that the only way to beat Trump is to out-Trump the former president. The problem he will face – once in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave – is moving from an anti to pro-Ukraine policy. De Santis’s rhetoric is a strategic gift to Vladimir Putin. He and his Kremlin coterie are banking heavily on a Republican victory in 2024. This means they only have to hold on for another 18 months or so before American disenchantment becomes official foreign policy.

France

The French, it is said, work to live. Americans, Brits, Japanese, Germans … live to work. This basic difference in outlook goes a long way to explaining why millions of Frenchmen and women are protesting and striking against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the start of the state pension from 62 to 64 years. It will deprive them of two years “living time” or, as the neighbouring Italians would say: “La Dolce Vita.”

The problem with this idyllic view of life is that it clashes with hard-nosed demographics. France’s population is growing older and less productive. The French Treasury can’t afford to arm Ukraine, switch to a green economy and pay for the pandemic as well as continue to pay for one of the world’s most generous pension schemes. Especially as the French population is clinging to life much longer than the insurance actuaries estimated when today’s retirees entered the workforce.

In fact, when estimating premiums and pay-outs, insurance companies calculate that their customers will live for five years after they start taking their pension. The current average life expectancy of a Frenchman is 82. The maths no longer work.

The demographic problems faced by France, are common throughout the developed world. Which is why governments are pushing up state retirement ages. But this has not stopped the French from arguing that their national motto of “Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité” makes them a special case.

As a result, for the last few weeks they have been out in their hundreds of thousands to protest against Macron’s plans. They were heard. More importantly, the Deputies to the National Assembly listened. This week Macron failed to garner the necessary Assembly votes to push through his pension plans. So he used Article 49:3 of the constitution which permits the government to enact legislation without parliamentary approval, but allows the opposition to table a quick vote of no confidence.

The reaction was immediate and brutal. Opposition Deputies banged their desks, waved flags and placards and sang the Marsellaise. They also tabled the aforementioned vote of no confidence in the government. Outside the National Assembly riots broke out across the country. More than 150 people were arrested by Friday morning.

If the no confidence vote is passed then the government of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will fall and parliamentary elections will be held. Macron’s Renaissance party is already in a minority in the National Assembly. After an election with the pension age as the only issue, his representation will almost certainly fall further. This will make it more difficult for him to govern and be grist for the mill of his far-right opponent Jean-Marine LePen.

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France and Germany

The Franco-German alliance is wobbling. As if to emphasise the problem, this past weekend the entire German cabinet decamped to Versailles in an attempt to improve relations.

The relationship between Paris and Berlin is one of the cornerstones of the European Union. It has been held since 1960 when Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer ended a century of war and suspicion at Reims Cathedral.

Some of the current problems can be attributed to the egos of Macron and Scholz. President Macron makes no secret of his desire to lead Europe. Unfortunately the French economy does not match its president’s ambitions. At the same time the rather colourless Chancellor Olof Scholz is having difficulty filling the over-sized shoes of his predecessor Angela Merkel.

The personal relationship between the two leaders is complicated by important policy differences over China, Ukraine, Russia and energy. Scholz encourages trade with China. Macron is more diffident. The French president also wanted the German Chancellor’s recent visit to Beijing to be a joint Franco-German affair. Scholz refused.

On energy, the French are annoyed that the Germans failed to foresee the problems of dependence Russian oil and gas and remain reluctant to build nuclear power plants. About 70 percent of French energy is nuclear while in Germany it is only 12 percent.

Then there is Ukraine. The French – along with most of the rest of France and Germany’s allies – are annoyed that almost every scrap of German military and economic aid has to be dragged out of the Scholz government. When it comes the aid is often generous, but the “frank discussions” that precede it are causing friction.

India

Don’t mess with the BBC. That should have been the message that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi heeded before trying to ban a documentary attacking him.  The BBC has 22,000 staff, 192 million radio listeners, 294 million television  viewers, the world’s most visited news website. Distribution deals with television networks around the world, and the most trusted brand in world journalism.

None of the above, however, stopped Modi from banning a two-part documentary entitled “India: the Modi Question” from being shown or distributed in India.

The documentary was not Modi friendly. In fact, it was extremely unfriendly The programme strongly implied that Modi climbed to power on the back of divisive Hindu nationalism. Also that while Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002 he stood aside and allowed Hindu rioters to massacre 1,000 Muslims . That was part one. In Part two, the documentary accused Modi of trying to disenfranchise the Muslim minority; suppressing freedom of speech, assembly and the press, intimidating his political opponents and moving the world’s largest democracy towards an authoritarian Hindu state.

So, the programme was not re-broadcast on Indian television. But the ban was reported in the Indian press. The resultant publicity meant that  tens of millions viewed it on the internet and at special showings at Indian universities. And as they watched the viewers would have asked: If it isn’t true why has Modi banned it? Of what is he frightened? And finally they thought: the BBC is usually reliable.

The documentary ended with a diplomat saying that the Western world is turning a blind eye to Modi’s political excesses. He said that India was too important as an economy and a counterweight to Chinese influence in Asia.

Doomsday Clock

The Doomsday Clock this week moved to 90 seconds to midnight. This is the closest it has ever been to nuclear Armageddon. The minute hand has been moved to its news dangerous position mainly because of the war in Ukraine.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

United States

The Kevin McCarthy election fiasco will have far-reaching consequences for Speaker McCarthy, Donald Trump, the Republican Party, the conduct of US government and the rest of the world. Let’s start with Mr. Trump. He endorsed Mr McCarthy. The “Never Kevins” in the far-right Republican Freedom Caucus ignored him. The voters ignored his key endorsements in the mid-term elections. Trump’s star is still in the firmament, but on the wane.

Now for the Republican Party. The battle to secure McCarthy’s election exposed a split. A small group of 20 right-wing extremists were able to delay and nearly blocked the election of Kevin McCarthy against the wishes of 202 of their party colleagues. They have also wrung key concessions out of the Speaker. The Freedom Caucus have discovered power. They will use it.

What are these concessions and what impact will their implementation have? First of all, if any one member of Congress does not like something that Speaker McCarthy has done they can table a vote to remove him. At the very least, this has the potential to seriously disrupt and delay congressional business. .  This means that McCarthy will be much more politically circumspect then he might have been otherwise.

Next, the Speaker has agreed to give more time to debate and amend legislation on the floor of the house. The Freedom Caucus are also known as “Disrupters” and they are particularly keen on disrupting or blocking any spending bills, especially those related to Ukraine and foreign aid. And if it means stopping the machinery of government, then, according to Freedom Caucus members, so be it.

France

The British NHS is not the only European health service with problems. The French are also wringing their medical hands. The problem? Not enough staff and – as in Britain – the looming threat of strikes. As the New Year dawned some Paris hospitals reported 90 percent of staff reported sick in protest at working conditions. The country’s second largest health union has called for an “unlimited walkout” of nurses followed by a strike by GPs.

President Emmanuel Macron is throwing money at the problem but so far it is not working. Forty percent of French nurses are planning to leave the profession this year despite an extra $10 billion wage package.  Wannabe doctors are being offered a $50,000 golden handshake to enter the profession.

The French desperately needs them. Rural areas are especially short of medical staff, some communities have been without a doctor’s surgery for several years and the situation is only likely to worsen as about half of the French doctors are over 55 and fast approaching retirement age.

UK

There is a stand-out villain in Prince Harry’s book “Spare” – the press, especially Britain’s tabloid newspapers. I, in common with most of the public, have some sympathy and understanding with Harry’s views especially as one of the worst elements of the tabloids – the paparazzi played a major part in his mother’s death.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

China

China’s President Xi Jinping is in the traditional dead end political alley. Mass demonstrations and protests have prompted suggestions from government sources that Beijing is on the cusp of seriously relaxing its zero-covid strategy. But health officials reckon that if he does it could result in 680,000 deaths before the end of winter, according modellers at The Economist.

On the other hand, if Xi fails to relax his Orwellian approach to dealing with the pandemic then the economy and quality of life will seriously suffer and more protests, riots and demonstrations will follow. This will undermine Xi’s claims that only he and the Chinese Communist Party can deliver prosperity and stability.

Xi’s current problems also threaten Chinese claims that their political model is better-equipped to deal with problems than the corrupt West. Xi has only himself to blame for his difficulties. He has insisted on using Chinese-made vaccines instead of the more effective Western alternatives and failed to thoroughly vaccinate the elderly who are more likely to contract the disease and require the greatest care when they do so, thus leaving himself with the unpalatable choice of mass lockdown or mass infection.

Ukraine

President Joe Biden followed up the visit to French President of Emmanuel Macron with half an olive branch to Vladimir Putin: “I’ll meet and talk with you if you are prepared to discuss ending the war in Ukraine.”

Sure, replied Putin, as long as the end is on my terms. That, of course, would mean surrender and defeat for Ukraine and its Western supporters and just demonstrates that Putin has left himself with only two options – total defeat or total victory. The former seems the most likely at the moment.

Neither NATO nor the Ukrainian people show any signs of cracking and China appears to becoming increasingly disillusioned with their Kremlin ally. But more importantly, so are the Russian people.

According to Meduza, an independent Russian investigative news website, a recent Russian government survey showed that support for the “special military operation” has plummeted from 57 percent in July to 25 percent last month. The big drop is blamed almost entirely on Putin’s decision to send another 300,000 Russian men to the Ukrainian front. The returning body bags (6,000-plus according to the Russians and 25,000-plus according to the British Ministry of Defense) are having an impact. But there is no sign of a Russian let-up. This week Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that military spending would increase by 50 percent next year from four to six percent of GDP.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

China

We will probably never know the reason for the removal of Hu Jintao from the recent Chinese People’s Party Congress. Was it the result of the medical problems of a confused old man? Or was it a crude attempt by Xi Jinping to emphasise that he is now totally in charge?

79-year-old Hu was Xi’s immediate predecessor. His administration was known for corruption, market reforms and greater political freedom; all of which are being suppressed by Xi. There must have been some discomfort among the party grandees about Xi amending the constitution to allow himself to serve a third (and probably fourth, fifth…) term as party leader and president.

Publicly humiliating Hu could have been his way of warning off potential critics. There aren’t many left in the upper reaches of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi has used the party congress to eliminate rivals and confirm acolytes. Good for Xi but bad for the world. Having the world’s most powerful dictator surrounded by Yes Men is not good news.

Franco-German Alliance

The Franco-German Alliance has been at the heart of peace in Europe since 1962 when Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle buried a century of brutal animosity in a service at Reims Cathedral.  But what has been termed the “engine room of the EU” is now showing signs of stalling in the face of the energy crisis, the Ukraine War and relations with America.

French President Emmanuel Macron is pushing for an EU-wide agreement to cap gas prices and share resources. Such a move was approved in principle at a recent EU summit but Germany’s Olof Scholz is dragging German feet on agreeing the details. At the same time, the Germans have been using their buying power to secure gas supplies at the expense of less well-off EU members. So far the Germans have filled about 90 percent of their storage capacity while countries such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are struggling.

There are also differences over defense and how military and economic aid should be directed towards Ukraine. The Germans are keen to use Ukraine to tie Washington closer to the defense of Europe. France sees the war as an opportunity to increase European defense cooperation and are angry at the Germans’ cancellation of Franco-German projects involving a new generation of fighter aircraft and battle tanks. Scholz and Macron were keen to smile for the cameras and minimise their differences at their most recent meeting, but they also postponed a 26 October regular Franco-German ministerial conference until “sometime in January.”

US and Ukraine

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Good news/bad news on the Ukraine front.

Good news is that Ukrainian military are now making progress. It is also good news that Vladimir Putin has declared martial law in the parts of Ukraine he recently annexed and imposed lesser but still severe restrictions on other parts of Russia. The crackdown is a sure sign of lack of public support.

Bad news that the Russians have started bombing Ukrainian power generating and water pumping stations. So far about a third of the country has lost power. It will be a dark, cold winter for Ukrainians who may also lose water supplies.

Good news on the economic front. The Ukrainian economy is actually growing. This is mainly due to a stable banking system backed up by $23 billion in Western loans to secure currency reserves. But the loans would have been ineffective if the Ukrainians had not cleaned up their banking system which a few years ago was one of the most corrupt in Europe.

European Union

Good and Bad News also on the EU front. They are having another summit as I write this and at the top of the agenda will be how Europe can weather the energy crisis. The bad news is that the European Council has to discuss this issue because the richer countries are bowing to domestic demands to outbid the poorer EU countries for gas and oil supplies. The good news is that they are at least discussing the problem.

Other bad news is that it appears that Iran is involving itself in Ukraine on the Russian side. The drones attacking Ukrainian power stations were made in Iran and there are reports that Tehran is also supplying Russia with trainers and surface to air missiles. The Iranians publicly disapprove of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but, more importantly, they hate America.

France

President Emmanuel Macron had developed a reputation for being more interested in locating Putin’s golden exit ramp than prosecuting the war. As such he was not Volodomyr Zelensky’s most popular Western leader. That perception is changing. This week France announced that they were sending a quarter of their high-tech Caesar cannon to Ukraine. They also announced training facilities for 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers and the dispatch of French anti-aircraft systems and radar. The French still lag well behind the British and Germans, but they are now committing themselves to increased military backing for Ukraine.

Italy

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World Review: Strange bedfellows in France, Ukraine, Roe v. Wade and Belarus

French politics have been thrown into confusion with an unprecedented “Stop Macron” alliance of the left for next month’s parliamentary elections. The  concordat has been forged by France’s elder statesman of the Left, Jean-luc Melenchon who just missed being included in last month’s presidential run-offs. He has persuaded the Communists, Greens and Socialists to join his France Insoumise (LFI, France Unbowed), to stop Macron’s pro-business, pro-EU legislative agenda. But Melenchon’s pre-election coalition does not spell a foregone victorious conclusion for the French Left. The latest opinion polls show a three-way split between the left-wing alliance, Macron’s La Republique en Marche and the right of centre conservatives and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally.

The Socialists and Melenchon make strange bedfellows with opposing views on the EU and NATO membership. They do, however, agree on the bread and butter issues of lowering the retirement age, raising the minimum age and capping prices on essential products. On the other end of the political spectrum, it is uncertain whether the Republicans will support Macron or Le Pen in the new National Assembly. The political map is further complicated by France’s two-round electoral assembly which appears to give Macron’s party a slight advantage in the run-off vote on 19 June. The only thing that is clear at the moment is that the National Assembly elections are making life complicated for the newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron and the results may make his second term very difficult.

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Observations of an expat: France – Nationalism v Supra-nationalism

The French troop to the polls this Sunday to decide whether they want to turn the clock back to 19th century nationalism with a dash of racism, or opt for European supra-nationalism.

Of course, very few French voters see the choice in those terms. Like most everyone everywhere, they are less concerned with big picture politics and more concerned with their pocket books and the spectre of the unknown.

But like it or not, the outcome of the French elections will have a major impact on the big issues in France and – because of France’s international role – the rest of the world.

The choice is clear: a vote for Marine Le Pen is a vote for 19th century nationalism. Support for incumbent Emmanuel Macron is a vote for the continuing trend towards supra-nationalism and a united Europe.

Since the end of World War Two, the world has been moving towards regionalisation, globalism and free trade. The European Coal and Steel Community, followed by the Common Market, followed by the EU has been the world’s most successful political expression of that trend. The founders’ aims have been achieved: to bind together the political and economic structures of the European nations so that war becomes “unthinkable and materially impossible.”

The price of this peace and prosperity has been curbs on national sovereignty. A majority of the British people couldn’t stomach it. They also felt that their national identity was threatened. The result was Brexit. Marine Le Pen represents a slice of the French electorate who would favour a Frexit for the same reasons.

The leader of National Rally pushed for a British-style referendum in the 2017 presidential race. She lost that badly and so this time around she watered down her Euro-scepticism. Instead she has proposed everything short of Frexit – withdrawal from the Schengen Agreement, the primacy of French law over the EU, and French state subsidies in contravention of EU regulations. All of which would put France on an early collision course with Brussels and create the conditions for Frexit.

Marine le Pen also dislikes NATO which has been dubbed the most successful military alliance in history. She wants to pull her country out of the integrated military structure. France, she says, should “no longer be caught up in conflicts that are not ours.”

Which brings us to Ukraine, Russia and Ms Le Pen’s relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. In common with most far-right politicians, the leader of National Rally is an admirer of strong autocratic rulers and you don’t get much stronger or more autocratic than Putin. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she has backed away from her support of the Russian leader, but other Western leaders are worried that she would be a weak link in a so far united front against Moscow.

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Tom Arms’ World Review: “Butchers of Bucha”

Here’s a good one: In the wake of the Bucha massacres, a Russia Today commentator opined this week that the dead Ukrainians littering the street were killed by British intelligence because Bucha sounds like butcher in English. This made it easier, he continued, for British newspapers to write headlines such as the “Butchers of Bucha.”

How SIS and/or British troops managed to sneak undetected into Bucha, blow up homes, tanks and roads and kill the inhabitants is left unexplained. But that is of no consequence.  The problem is that too many Russians believe him. In fact, what passes for a reasonably independent opinion poll in Russia this week showed that 80 percent of the population accept the Kremlin version of events. A big part of this support is because the Russian people are denied access to news reports produced from outside Russia.

But this is only part of the story. Putin knows that domestic support is essential for success in Ukraine and he has been laying down the foundational lies since 2007—perhaps even before. These included: Ukraine is governed by Nazis. NATO is threatening to overrun Russia. Russian culture is under threat from the West. Russia is being denied its rightful place as a great power. With this firm propaganda bedrock in place – and total state control of the media – it becomes easier for the Russian public to swallow the inevitable mountain of lies that follow.

It is unsurprising that Russian soldiers are being accused of violent war crimes. Violence begets violence and Russia, according to their own statistics, is a violent society. Russian police have reported that one in four Russian households have suffered domestic violence at some point. The figures are considered a major embarrassment, so much so that the Duma recently voted to massage the statistics by decriminalising several categories of domestic violence in an attempt to improve the national image.

The roots of the problem are directly linked to chronic national alcoholism.  Twenty-five percent of Russian men die before the age of 55 alcohol-related diseases. On average, each Russian downs 1,500 shots of vodka a year. Various governments over the years have tried to curb Russians’ love affair with the bottle. The latest attempt was in 2010 when President Dmitri Medvedev introduced a minimum charge of $3 a bottle of vodka and banned drinking and driving. The legislation, however, appears to have little effect on drinking habits and recently the Kremlin gave into public pressure and amended the drink driving law to allow “one for the road.”

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World Review by Tom Arms

In this weekend’s World Review, LDV foreign correspondent Tom Arms looks at the forthcoming elections in Hungary and the ongoing elections in India. France is quitting Mali. Trump is not the only American politician being threatened by legal action. The Trump campaign has Hilary Clinton in her sights again.

Hungary’s beleaguered far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban looks to have a secret weapon up his sleeve for the Hungarian general election scheduled for 3 April—Donald Trump. Orban’s ruling Fidesz Party enjoys a two-thirds majority In the Hungarian Parliament and appeared set to win another sweeping victory in April. But then in October the country’s feuding opposition parties decided to unite under the leader of provincial mayor Peter Marki-Zay. To make matters worse, Mayor Marki-Zay is a conservative. That is, he is cut from the same right-wing cloth as Orban—just not as extreme.

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World Review: French elections, Barbados, Russian security pact, MI6 and abortion rights in America

The French Presidential elections are hotting up. Far-right candidate Eric Zemmour announced his candidacy this week. He is Euro-sceptic, virulently anti-immigrant and possibly the most anti-Semitic Jew in European politics. The 63-year-old journalist claims that he will save France from decadence and minorities that “oppress the majority.” Zemmour is neck and neck with seasoned extreme right campaigner Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally Party. Which means that the extreme-right vote is split. The left-wing parties are in disarray and have been effectively written off by the French media in the April presidential elections.

On Sunday, primary elections for the Gaullist-oriented Les Republicains ends. There are five candidates: Michel Barnier, Xavier Bertrand, Eric Ciotti, Philippe Juvin and Valerie Pecresse. In the past Les Republicains were described as centre right. But no longer. Emmanuel Macron has stolen those clothes, especially the economic threads. In response, all five Les Republicains candidates have moved to the right with anti-immigration and Eurosceptic policies. All of the above is good news for Macron, who is staunchly pro-European and staying aloof from the immigration debate. Not that he is popular. His approval ratings have slipped from a high of 48 percent in 2017 to under 20 percent. But he stands alone in the winning circle of the centre/centre right. At this moment the betting is on Macron to win as the last man standing.

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World Review: Oil, vigilantism in America, refugees, Swedish politics and Omicron

Prepare for an oil price war in 2022. The combatants are OPEC and a consortium of top energy consuming countries including the US, China, UK, Japan, India and South Korea. All of these countries have built up huge strategic oil reserves in case of emergency such as war or another 1973-style OPEC oil embargo. The US has the largest reserves with 638 million barrels tucked away in storage facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The last two times America’s oil reserves were used was after Hurricane Katrina and during the Gulf War. Biden is depleting them to combat the energy shortage which has pushed up prices to $81 a barrel and is threatening the US and world economic recovery from the pandemic.

The OPEC countries (and Russia), however, like the high prices and they are used to controlling the market to suit their needs by raising and lowering production. They fear that Biden’s move on economic rather than security grounds threatens their historic stranglehold on the market. An OPEC summit is planned for 2 December. The oil ministers were planning to announce a 100 million barrel increase in production from January; not enough to substantially reduce prices, but possibly enough to stabilise them. That is expected to be off next week’s agenda. President Biden also has internal problems in the form of the Republicans who advocate increasing domestic oil production and reinstating projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline to reduce reliance foreign sources. But that, of course, runs afoul of climate change promises.

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World Review: COP26, French fishing, Taiwan territory and Russian gas

COP26 finished its first week with a super abundance of world leaders making a plethora of pledges about climate change. Deforestation is to end (except maybe in Indonesia). More money is to be made available for green technology in developing countries. Eighteen countries (most of them small) have agreed to move away from coal generated energy. Now the leaders have flown home in their gas guzzling carbon emitting private jets and left it to officials to hammer out the devilish details and attempt to wring out concessions from the biggest polluters, mainly China and India who together are responsible for over a third of the planet’s carbon emissions. On the latter point they will have a tough job. India refuses to commit to climate change targets until 2070 which most climatologists reckon is much too little much too late. China, for its part, is continuing to build and export electricity stations powered by its massive coal reserves. Meanwhile, the Global Carbon Project reported that global carbon emissions are climbing back to pre-pandemic levels, with India rising by 12.6% and China by 4% between 2020 and 2021. The climate watchdogs predict that 2022 could see record levels of carbon emissions as air travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

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World Review: Brexit, China, Korean famine and the French at large

In most China shops I have visited there has been a prominently displayed sign that reads: “If you broke it you own it.” The same sign needs to hang over the door of 10 Downing Street. Boris Johnson led the Brexit campaign. He was elected on a “Get Brexit done” platform. He and his Brexiteering cabinet have broken the British economy with shortages of food, gas, petrol, turkeys and even children’s toys; and yet they refuse to own responsibility for their actions. They blame it on the pandemic and international circumstances. To be fair, the pandemic and world conditions are major contributing factors, but Britain is suffering more than any other Western country and the reasons—as trade association after professional body keeps telling us—is Brexit. The fact is that Johnson and Co had no plan A, B or C beyond the exit door.

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Observations of an Expat: European Complacency

Political Complacency is dangerous. It stifles innovation and sweeps problems under the carpet because they involve difficult decisions that might rock the boat but end up sinking it if they are ignored too long.

Angela Merkel was in many ways a good German Chancellor. She was a good European leader. She was a consensus builder inside coalition structures. But her constant search for consensus led her to compromises on important issues which needed to be resolved. This was the downside of an otherwise upbeat chancellorship.

Political agreement resulted in economic prosperity for the Germans—and complacency about the unresolved issues, both in Germany and EU-wide. Her likely successor, Social Democrat Party (SPD) leader Olaf Scholz, appears to be heading the same way with a slight leftward bent.

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World Review: US ballots, the Quad, Britain as a “vassal state” and vaccinated Africans

In this weekend’s review, Tom Arms reports auditors have discovered that Donald Trump received 261 fewer votes in Maricopa County, Arizona, and Joe Biden 99 more undermining those that called the election result the “Big Lie”. Could the crisis at Evergrande slow China’s economy and that of the world? The “Quad” is a new Indo-Pacific alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia designed to counter the rise of Chinese. India is the outlier in the group perhaps its including might mean it will look more towards the US. France has recalled its ambassadors to Australia and America over the nuclear submarine row but their man in London stayed put, the French claiming Britain has become a “vassal state” of the United States. In another row, vaccinated Americans can visit the UK but vaccinated Africans cannot.

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Observations of an Expat: Bataclan

The Bataclan Trial which opened this week in Paris has huge domestic and international significance.

Domestically, it will be an act of national catharsis. 1,500 “civilian plaintiffs”—surviving victims and family members of the dead—are scheduled to give five weeks of testimony about the horror of the attack on Friday the 13th 2015 and its life-changing consequences.

The bulk of the nine-month trial, however, will focus on the details of the attack on the Bataclan Theatre, the Stade de France and the street cafes of the 10th and 11th arondissements, and the origins and planning of the operation. The latter will be closely followed by intelligence agencies around the world for information to help identify and defeat future attacks.

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World Review: Voter suppression, wobbling Macron and the Great Barrier Reef

Our foreign affairs correspondent, Tom Arms, this week defends the use of the filibuster in Congress but criticises the Republicans for making it more difficult to vote. Joe Biden, desperate to avoid the addition of America to the sad list of states buried in Afghanistan’s imperial graveyard, is to throw money at the country problem’s rather than soldiers.

The first round of French local elections show President Macron to be in deep trouble and right-winger Marine Le Pen is not far behind him. The Australian government’s reaction to UNESCO’s warnings on the Great Barrier Reef show that the country is a big problem for the climate change community.

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Lib Dem virtual think tank (VTT) debates liberty, Europe and globalization

The VTT is a think tank established by the LibDem Party in France. Its aim is to deliberate on and make recommendations as it sees relevant to LibDem Party policy and options. Its goal is to contribute to bringing definition to the LibDem Party: what it is; what it stands for; what it is doing. Its modus operandi is to conduct and report on sessions each devoted to a single, predetermined theme. It is therefore concerned with issues as they pertain to LibDems regarding the UK and abroad including, for example, liberty and liberalism, international integration, climate change and inequality. Discussions on such topics are conducted on hour-long Zoom sessions. The first three sessions, commencing as of September 29 2020 were given over to attempting to define what were seen as the core elements confronting the LibDems at this moment in time: Liberty, Europe and Globalization.

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Vulnerable people are being oppressed on our doorstep – by the British and French Governments

I’ve come back from the greatest emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever dealt with.

I spent three weeks in Northern France volunteering with an educational charity working in the refugee camps surrounding the channel ports.

It’s incredibly hard to believe but in Western Europe, merely a stone’s throw from the British coast, thousands of people are barely managing to survive, deprived of their basic rights, harassed by a supposedly progressive government and all for the crime of fleeing the most harrowing situations on the planet and trying to build a better life. And worse of all we’re paying for it.

Yes, really. British taxpayers’ money is being ploughed into the French riot police, the CRS, all in the name of ‘border security. They are using that money to make life a living hell for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. Whilst I was in France, volunteers were witnessing so called evictions on a daily basis.

This meant destruction of the little possessions that the refugees posses, rounding families up and abandoning them miles away from settlements in the middle of nowhere and often involved the use of tear gas against defenceless peaceful people.

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Macron’s victory speech in English

There was joy in the hearts of liberals across Europe on Sunday night when the French results came through. It was certainly worrying that more than a third of voters chose a far-right extremist, but it shows that populism can be beaten.

Tim Farron was quick to congratulate Emmanuel Macron and said that his values could win the day here too:

I would like to congratulate Emmanuel Macron on his election as France’s new President. This is not just a victory for France, but a victory for Britain and the liberal values we hold dear.

A National Front win would have posed a grave threat to our national interest.

Emmanuel Macron has kept the wolves from our door, but we must never be complacent in the fight against racism, fascism and the far-right.

The liberal values of tolerance, openness and free trade that triumphed in France today can triumph in Britain too.

Together we can change Britain’s future, stand up to Theresa May’s hard Brexit agenda and keep our country open, tolerant and united.

Ambafrance has an English translation of Macron’s victory speech. Here’s an extract.

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