Tag Archives: observations of an ex pat

Observations of an ex pat: The Holmes Option

Sherlock Holmes offered the solution to the current Brexit conundrum admirably when he told Dr Watson in the Beryl Coronet: “when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

At the moment the two possibilities before parliament are the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May and crashing out with no deal whatsoever. The latter would be the result of the rejection of the first if no plan B, C or D appears on the political horizon.

The first possibility will be rejected by parliament because it turns what used to be imperial Britain into a colony of a Europe dominated by historic enemies France and Germany.  The United Kingdom would be indefinitely tied to the EU and yet left without any say in the rules that govern it. Its ability to strike trade deals with other countries would be severely hampered and Northern Ireland would be effectively hived off. In return, the UK would regain control of its immigration policies.

We will call this deal Option One and, using the Holmes formula, rule it out as it is impossible that parliament will approve it.  So we move to Option Two, a no deal Brexit. First the plus side: Immigration is controlled. Trade deals can be negotiated. Payments to the EU are stopped. The European courts cease to have jurisdiction in Britain. Now the negatives: The economy will shrink by up to nine percent overnight. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost as foreign companies move operations to EU countries. The pound will collapse. Inflation will rise. Troubles could restart in Northern Ireland and tariff barriers would go up between Britain and its main trading partners on the continent.  MPs would, in effect, be voting to make every single one of their constituents substantially poorer.

The only members of the House of Commons likely to consider Option Two are the members of the European Research Group. They total 62 out of 650 MPs. In fact, an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons—450—voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. So Option Two can be placed firmly into the impossible box.

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Observations of an ex pat: Kings of all trades

They know everything.  That is why they were elected to high office. President Trump is not only a high-flying real estate tycoon. He is also a top flight climatologist, superb firefighter, expert military strategist, brilliant constitutional lawyer, intelligence supremo, trade negotiator without equal and peerless economist.

Brexiteer Boris Johnson’s years as a scribe and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s banking experience have clearly made them detailed specialists on every aspect of British life likely to be touched by Brexit , which is—everything.

The knowledge of these men is truly staggering.  They could save British and American taxpayers hundreds of billions of pounds and dollars by dismissing great swathes of civil servants.  It is clear that that those highly paid “experts” at the Bank of England, British Treasury and the Office of National Statistics are at best ill-informed, stupid or just plain dumb. At worst they are “the enemy within” or “enemies of the people.”

As Prime Minister Theresa May continues her whistle-stop round Britain tour to sell her “best deal possible” Brexit plan,  civil servants have been lining up to point out the gaping pitfalls in her plan and the chasms if Britain goes for the no-deal alternative advocated by Jacob, Boris and co. Every single government department—and a number of independent think tanks—say that Britain will be worse off leaving the EU whichever route is taken. The no-deal plan would shrink the economy by 8-9 percent overnight, slash house prices by 30 percent, cost £100 billion, and collapse the pound by 25 percent.

All of these dire warnings from every quarter of every governmental department have been branded “Project Hysteria,” by the high priest of Brexit Jacob Rees-Mogg.  His acolytes at The Daily Express urged its readers to ignore their paid advisers as “they have been proven wrong time and again.”

Britain has one of the most competent civil services in the world. The world’s oldest civil service is Chinese. It started in the third century BC and became an object of admiration for the British from the 17th century onwards. In 1829 they decided to give it a go in India when the patronage system was replaced by a civil service examination. It was a resounding success and the system was adopted back in Britain in 1854. From there it made its way across the empire and beyond.

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Observations of an ex pat: Fear factor

JTheresa May is a frightened woman.

She is not frightened by the pile of Conservative MPs’ letters demanding her departure. They are still a long way from the 48 required. And even if it reaches the magic number, the bookies are betting on Mrs May retaining the leadership in any consequent vote.

Even if she loses, Theresa May can take solace from Enoch Powell’s truism that all political careers end in failure and that her successor will be faced with the same brick wall of insoluble Brexit problems as she was.

Neither is Mrs May worried about Spain’s latest sabre rattling over Gibraltar. She is confident that Brussels can pull Madrid into line with a sidebar letter or a slight tweaking of the Brexit agreement.

The unravelling of the prime minister’s de facto coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party is a concern. But it was never more than an inconvenient marriage of convenience based on a foundation of contradictions.  Northern Ireland voted to remain. The majority want the benefits of Europe which include good relations with Dublin and peace on their island. The DUP exists for one purpose only:  the perpetuation of the Protestant Ascendancy in Northern Ireland. This puts it in complete opposition to the majority Northern Irish vote in the Brexit referendum.

Mrs May can deal with the above. Or if she can’t the results of failure would not be so catastrophic that her legacy would be tarnished beyond repair.

Theresa May is frightened of two other outcomes: No deal or a second referendum. Unfortunately for her, it is looking increasingly likely that the final choice will be between those two options.

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Observations of an ex pat: The re-United Kingdom

Britain is a United Kingdom again. After more than two years of divisive vitriolic debate it has emerged upon the sunny upland plain of total agreement.

Soon the British public will be treated to the sight of former bitter enemies Boris Johnson, Vince Cable and Jacob Rees-Mogg joining hands to skip gaily into the Commons division lobby. Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof may soon embrace on the banks of the Thames.

Fathers and sons who have scowled at each other for two years will again smile across the breakfast table. Mothers and daughters will cheerfully gossip over a steaming cuppa and the pubs will enjoy a booming trade as stalled friendships are renewed over a pint—or two.

Prime Minister Theresa May has succeeded in uniting the British people against the common enemy—Herself.

Brexiteers and Remainers who only yesterday were at each other’s throats have turned as one to sink the political axe firmly into the back of their prime minister and her draft Brexit deal with the EU.

 It took less than 24 hours for Dominic Raab– the man Mrs May placed in charge of Brexit negotiations—to resign. He refused to allow his name to be associated with the agreement. He was preceded by the junior minister for Northern Ireland, Shailesh Vara. At least nine other cabinet ministers are known to oppose the deal and it is quite possible that there could be more resignations before I finish this piece.

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Observations of an ex pat: Stones v Avalanche

In the wake of the victory in the House of Representatives, Democrats are preparing to hurl stones at President Trump. The Donald—flushed with Senate victory– has responded by setting loose a pre-emptive avalanche.

The cheers had yet to subside when presumptive Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that Democratic victory in the lower house meant the restoration of legislative oversight and the constitutional system of checks, balances.

In practical terms this means the House withholding funds for Trump’s wall and immigration programmes and launching corruption investigations into cabinet members. Of course, there is also the number one target—Trump and his family. This involves inquiries into sexual misconduct, obstruction of justice, violation of campaign funding laws, possible tax evasion, ethics violations, Russian collusion and, support for the Mueller investigation.

Impeachment is lurking about in the political background. A Democratic majority in the House means they could quickly pass a resolution. But it would hit the brick wall of Trump acolytes in the Senate where a two-thirds majority is required to remover the president from the White House.

Nancy Pelosi also extended the traditional olive branch in her victory press conference. Donald Trump initially responded with a corresponding show of traditional bipartisanship. It lasted—at the most—five minutes. The suspension of White House credentials for CNN reporter Jim Acosta and the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions insured that the political chasm that divides America has only widened.

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Observations of an ex pat: Mobilising anger

Anger is a powerful mobiliser. It is also dangerous to control when turned loose on the body politic.

At the moment this raw rage is being drawn out of the American spleen by both the left and right, by Democrats and Republicans.

It is the mid-term elections.  It is the first opportunity US voters have had for passing their  verdict on the Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. It is a chance to elect national legislators who will block the president and more.

If, as expected, the Democrats, gain control of the House of Representatives, Donald Trump’s hopes for new legislation to further his right-wing, anti-immigrant, unilateralist agenda will be dashed against a Congressional brick wall.

Furthermore, the president can expect a flurry of fresh investigations to be initiated by the lower house.  They will demand to see his tax returns; investigate the conflicts of interest between the White House and his business interests; probe the president’s  environmental and immigration policies; demand inquiries into the multiple sexual harassment claims that he has successfully stalled and breathe new life into the Mueller Inquiry.

It is little wonder that Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence have been criss-crossing the country to attend rallies in support of right-wing Republican candidates.  It is no surprise that the presidential rhetoric has become shriller and more extreme as the first Tuesday in November approaches.

Five thousand American troops are needed to protect US citizens from the Central American immigrant “invasion force” infected with “Middle East terrorists”.  The President promises to override the constitution and decree the end of citizenship for those born in the US of foreign parents. The pipe bombs sent to Democrats was a plot by Democrats.  And the divisive atmosphere of vitriolic hate that led to the death of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh had nothing to do with Trump. It was the fault of the Democrats and their allies in the fake news media.

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Observations of an ex pat: Enemies of the people

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is not an isolated incident. It is part of a worldwide concerted effort by criminals threatened by exposure; power-hungry politicians frightened of truth and criticism and ideologues seeking to manipulate public opinion.

Khashoggi hit the headlines because he was murdered by agents of one of the world’s most oppressive regimes which is also supported by countries who claim freedom of speech as a bedrock of their system of government.

A total of 46 journalists around the world were killed in 2017. Two thirds were murder victims. More than 2,500 have been killed since 1990. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 262 journalists languished in the world’s prisons at the end of 2017. Turkey—whose president is taking the lead in condemning Saudi Arabia—leads the pack with 73 journalists behind bars.

We tend to think of freedom of speech as a product of the Age of Enlightenment. Yes and no.  It was a key element in The Golden Age of Athens and was enshrined in Roman law. In common with most laws and freedoms, freedom of speech dwindled to the point of extinction in the Middle Ages. It was revived in the 17th century. Leading the way was English poet, philosopher and statesman John Milton who passionately argued for the right to seek information and ideas, receive information and ideas and impart information and ideas.

By 1689 Freedom of Speech was enshrined in the English Bill of Rights. It was the First Amendment in the US constitution along with freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and the freedom to petition the government. Freedom of Speech was declared an inalienable right in the French Revolution’s Rights of Man. The protection of free speech can be found in almost every written constitution as well as in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and EU Law.

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Observations of an ex pat: Saudi quicksand

The extremely likely interrogation, torture and murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi  inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is set to have far-reaching consequences.

The position of Iran, the civil war in Yemen, the Arab-Israeli conflict, reform in Saudi Arabia, the tenure of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the economic development of Saudi Arabia, US foreign policy and the credibility of President Trump will all be affected.

I should add the caveat that as of this broadcast/writing there is no body and the Saudis continue to deny, deny, deny. But so far they have failed to explain why Mr Khashoggi went into the consulate to keep a 1.15pm appointment on 2nd October and has never been seen since. Neither have they offered an explanation as to why he was preceded and followed by Saudi agents, some of whom carried what are believed to be bone cutting tools. Finally, the Saudi officials have failed to explain an audio recording which strongly indicates the interrogation and torture of Mr Khashoggi.

The onus is on the autocratic ruler of Saudi Arabia— Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) to either produce a live Jamal Khashoggi or a credible explanation for his disappearance. So far he has only shrugged his shoulders, arched his eyebrows and replied: “I dunno.  Nothing to do with me.”

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Observations of an ex pat: The Battle for the Pacific

The argy bargy over North Korea is part of a much bigger geopolitical battle.
That is not to say that the denuclearisation of an authoritarian and unstable rogue state such as North Korea is unimportant. It is vitally so.
But the prize at stake is huge– control of the Pacific East Rim. And what a prize it is. Excluding contender China, the combined GDP of the region is $12.9 trillion dollars and growing fast. The size of the market is one billion consumers.

For centuries the Pacific Rim was a Chinese lake and primary source of wealth for the Middle Kingdom. Then at the end of the 15th century , Europe simultaneously discovered America and the sea routes to Asia. The power axis shifted to the other end of the Eurasian land mass.

By the start of the 20th century China had slipped from producing an estimated 30 percent of the world’s wealth to a mere nine percent in 1913. After the World War I an exhausted Europe faltered and a rising Japan and America competed to fill the vacuum. The Second World War and two atomic bombs settled that row.
Since 1945 the US has been the undisputed political, economic and military master of both sides of the Pacific. There was a blip called the Vietnam War, but the United States’ solid links elsewhere in the region remained intact and the US and Vietnam now enjoy good relations. America’s annual trade with the Eastern rim is worth nearly $900 billion a year. America’s next biggest trading partner is the EU at $720 billion a year.

In military terms, America’s position is protected by its Pacific Fleet with 200 ships, 2,000 aircraft and a quarter of a million naval and marine personnel. On the ground it has 39,000 soldiers in Japan and 23,500 in South Korea. Then there is the nuclear umbrella with 1,800 deployed warheads.

The Chinese are catching up fast on all fronts. But just how fast and how and how successful they are depends on their economic success. They need cash to compete, which is why they are starting to worry about Donald Trump’s tariffs and the resultant trade war.

The Trump Administration likes to portray its imposition of tariffs as protecting American industry from unfair Chinese trading practices. The reality is that that a more fundamental geopolitical view of the world lies at the root of the Trump tariffs. It is that the real estate tycoon turned president believes in winner-takes-all zero sum competition rather than win/win cooperation.

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Observations of an ex pat: Cold War Memory Lane

Cold War Memory Lane is being resurfaced with a fresh alphabet soup of nuclear weapons, treaty breaches, renewed bellicosity, cyber attacks and even assassination.

Putin’s Russia has been branded a “pariah state” by British defence Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Washington’s Permanent Representative to NATO has threatened to “take out” the latest generation of Russian intermediate-range nuclear weapons.

Of course, we are not back in 1945.Then a prostrate Western Europe was in danger of being overrun by a Soviet war machine whose authoritarian government made no secret of its aim of overthrowing capitalism and the democratic structures that supported it.

The political and economic collapse of the Soviet Union pushed the frontline between the West and Russia right up against the Russian border. Europe is now an economic powerhouse, although it remains a stunted midget in military terms.  It continues to need American protection as much as America needs European markets and political support which is why NATO remains relevant.

The initial American reaction to Soviet aggression in the Cold War was to deploy troops and nuclear capable aircraft in Western Europe as a counter to superior Soviet conventional forces. The message was clear: Attack Western Europe and you will be delayed by conventional forces long enough for atomic bombs to wipe out your cities a la Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Then the Soviets developed their own atomic/nuclear weapons and the starting pistol for the arms race was fired. In an atmosphere of mutual paranoia and distrust, both sides developed a frightening array of nuclear weapons that could be delivered by aircraft, fired from ships and submarines or mobile land launchers or fixed missile siloes.  Both sides refused to slow their pace until they came within sight of the finishing line and saw the terrifying prospect of a nuclear wasteland beyond.

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Observations of an ex pat: The road to power

There is a new, clearly defined road to political power—become an anti-politician.

Forget about compromise, consensus and appealing to the middle ground. Dismiss ideas of party loyalty. Discard thoughts of reasoned political debate.

No, today’s successful politician is a crude, crass, socially unacceptable bully pandering to the basest human instincts to gain power. Finally, today’s successful candidate must be outside the traditional political establishment.

You may think that the previous is the start of yet another diatribe against President Donald Trump. In a way you are right. Trump is the international benchmark. He has lit the torch down this dark and dangerous path. But others are following. The latest addition to this pantheon of horror is Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

Brazil is important. It is Latin America’s largest country, population of 207.7 million.It has the eighth largest economy in the world.And, it is resource rich with more potential than an infant Amadeus Mozart.

On October 5th Brazilians troop to the polls for first round presidential elections. The run-off between the top two from round one will be held on 25 October. At the moment there are nine candidates. 63-year-old Bolsonaro is 40 percent ahead of his nearest rival.

His commanding lead is partly due to the fact that Bolsonaro is laid up in a hospital bed recovering from a knife attack which provided him with the additional aura of political martyrdom. But even before he was stabbed on 6th September Jair Bolsonaro was streets ahead of his political opponents,
To secure pole position, Bolsonaro has out-trumped Trump. On the subject of misogyny, the Brazilian has said he would not rape a certain congresswoman because she was “too ugly.” His daughter, said Bolsonaro, was conceived in a “moment of weakness”; maternity pay should be scrapped and women should be paid less because of pregnancies.

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Observations of an ex pat: development bonds

Every now and then you have to blow your own horn. This is one of those occasions when I am going to do just that.

Last week I won a commendation from the award committee of Britain’s Ashdown Prize for Radical Thought. It would have been nice to win first prize and the cash that went with it, but the commendation provides me with a modicum of credibility and the hook to promote it.

The commendation was for my proposal for “Development Bonds.”  What, you may ask are Development Bonds? Well, I think they are a multi-level win/win solution for a transfer of capital from the developed to the developing world.

It works like this: Developing World governments  propose projects for consideration. Developed World governments approve or disapprove the projects using an agreed criteria. Financial institutions raise the capital through bond issues. Developed countries encourage investment in the bonds  by offering taxpayers relief on the repayments.

The template for the development bonds are America’s municipal bonds.  Contrary, to public opinion, municipal bonds did not originate in the US. They were common during the Renaissance when the Italian city states regularly used them to raise money for public building projects. But they came of age in the US in 1812 with a New York City bond issue to build the 327-mile Erie Canal which linked the nascent potential of the American West to the port of New York and through it the markets of the world.

Thousands of cities and local authorities around the globe raise money through bond issues. But America’s municipal bonds stand out by offering income tax relief on the repayments. This means that they attract not only institutional investors but also high-wealth private individuals. American municipal bonds are one of the chief financial instruments that have transformed the United States from a resource-rich, backward, often corrupt, virgin territory—not unlike Sub-Saharan Africa today—into the world’s only super power.

Development Bonds would achieve the following:

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Observations of an ex pat: One belt, one road, lots of problems

Some call it the Chinese Marshall Plan. Others call it a dastardly plot for world domination.

The Chinese – with their easy facility for metaphorical phraseology—call it the “Belt, Road Initiative.” The term is a reference to the old Silk Road which stretched from East to West and dominated trade between the Orient and Occident from before Rome up until the 16th century when the Portuguese and Spanish discovered sea routes to America and the Far East. Those were the days when China was the fabled  world economic power house with whom everyone wanted to trade.

It was the land where an ancient civilisation had invented and developed essentials such as paper, compasses, silk, porcelain, gunpowder, moveable type, mechanical clocks, tea, iron smelting, bronze, rockets, the seed drill, and even pasta and the toothbrush.  There were no economists around to keep GDP records, but bean counting historians believe that in the early 16thcentury China produced 40 percent of the world’s wealth. This is roughly equivalent to that of Britain at the height of its empire or the US in the 20 years after the Second World War.

The Chinese see no reason why that trade—and their position in the world—cannot be revived by emulating the example of the silk road with an omnidirectional series of trade links and infrastructure projects using land and sea routes. The term belt in fact, refers to the land routes, either by rail or road. The term road refers to sea routes.  The project involves building political links in 71 countries, infrastructure projects to move goods and massive injections of aid and loans to primarily African countries to insure access to essential raw materials. The estimated cost is $1 trillion.

Critics say that trade routes need to be secured by military means which leads to military dominance. As proof of the danger, they cite the example of Beijing’s military build-up in the South China Sea. They also worry about China using its massive domestic market of 1.4 billion consumers to produce cheap goods that can be dumped on Western markets. Another concern is that easy Chinese loans are creating a debt trap which is damaging the world economy and, finally, its no-questions-asked aid and investment in authoritarian Asian and African countries is undermining the rule of law and governance in developing countries.

Supporters ask: Why can’t the Chinese pursue their national interests through the pursuit of peaceful trade?  And, can we stop them short of a disastrous military conflict? The 16h century was the Spanish century. The 17th century belonged to the French. The 18th and 19th centuries were dominated by the British Empire and the 20th has become known as the American century. Most people believe that our own 21st 100 year period since the birth of Christ will be the Chinese century and nothing can be done to prevent it. Finally, the supporters of the Belt, Road Initiative point out that roads and sea routes run two ways and the internet goes all over the place.

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Observations of an ex pat: Defeating ISIS

How do you defeat an idea, especially an idea wrapped in the cloak of religious infallibility?

Now add the complications of long-held justifiable grievances against Western society; unbalanced personalities and a communications network which can transmit hate messages to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

This is the problem The West is facing in its battle against Islamic Jihadists.

Following this week’s incident outside the British parliament it was revealed that British intelligence agencies had 10,000 “persons of interest” that they were monitoring in the UK. In the past year they had stopped 13 terrorist attacks from Islamic terrorists and 4 from far right groups.

Almost simultaneously both the Pentagon and the UN issued reports saying that ISIS is far from defeated, despite the claims of Donald Trump and the Iraqi government.

The physical territory controlled by ISIS has shrunk to a pinpoint of its former self which—at its height—was the size of France. But ISIS is still there. The UN and Pentagon estimate that up to 30,000 committed Jihadists remain in Syria and Iraq. Another 5,000 are in Libya. A thousand are in the Sinai and up to 8,000 are active in Afghanistan.

Their tactics have switched from the creation of an expanding geographic base to the more traditional terrorist structure of loosely-tied individuals and small groups united by radical ideas—with differences.  The biggest difference is that the link between the central authority and the terrorist on the ground is increasingly forged through cyber space rather than physical contact.

Computer-based Jihadist recruiters surf the internet in search of vulnerable personalities looking for a cause through which to channel their grievances. These can be anything from prejudice to mental illness. One of the suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings is believed to have been spurred into action by a broken love affair.

Once hooked, the would-be terrorist is carefully flattered and cultivated by his digital mentor. He is made to feel a key component in a structure that needs him to don a bomb-packed suicide vest or drive a car into a crowd of innocent bystanders.

Other wannabe Jihadists find their way to the battlefields of Middle East and Central Asia. When defeated many of them return to their European homes and are thrown into prison, or possibly sent to Guantanamo Bay where they brutalized by Western captors seeking an understandable vengeance and further radicalised by Islamic inmates.

The dusty pages of history offer possible solution to this downward spiral.  During World War Two, hundreds of thousands of German Prisoners of War were sent to camps in Britain, the US and Canada.  Their treatment is credited with helping to lay the foundations for today’s successful liberal Germany.

In the United States there were 371,000 German POWs spread across 650 camps. Initially they were treated in the traditional manner. There was a camp commandant who was responsible for keeping them behind barbed wire. Day-to-day activities were controlled by German officers who were by and large, hardened Nazis. The result was that the brutal regime and fascist ideology of Adolf Hitler was mirrored in the camps.

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Observations of an ex pat: To collude or not to collude

Donald Trump and his mouthpiece Rudy Giuliani are right: Collusion is not a crime.

In fact, there is no crime of “collusion” in the US federal code.

There is, however, a law against “conspiracy.”

Conspiracy means that you planned an illegal act with others.  You didn’t have to commit the act. Just planning it is a crime. If the crime was committed and you knew about it then you are an accomplice.

If a person helps to plan the robbery of the Bank of England but is in another country during the actual theft of the gold bullion, they are just as guilty as the hooded gunmen who broke into the vaults.

As well as a law against conspiracy, there is a US law against a federal campaign accepting something of value from a foreign agent.  This can be money or information.

There is also a law against obstruction of justice. That law is breached when a person obstructs , threatens or coerces prosecutors.

And finally, there is the federal election Law which requires candidates for elected federal office to declare all campaign expenditures, including those made to prevent the publication or broadcast of information detrimental to their campaign.

Donald Trump is being investigated for violations of all of the above. And the net is tightening, which could explain why his tweeted protestations of innocence and attacks on chief investigator Robert Mueller are growing increasingly shrill.

This week the public’s mind has been focused on the conspiracy charge because the trial of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort has started in Alexandria, Virginia. Manafort is not on trial for anything involving the Trump campaign. Instead he is charged with a 18 counts related to tax evasion, money laundering and bank fraud. And that is just the current trial. Manafort faces a second trial in September in a Washington DC court at which he is due to be charged with making false claims under the Foreign Agent Registration Act and witness tampering.

Although neither of the above trials directly relates to the Trump campaign,  Manafort is still a central figure in the claims that Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Manafort—and possibly the president himself—conspired with agents of the Russian government to receive information to help Trump’s campaign against Hillary Clinton.

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Observations of an ex pat: Life as art

One of the world’s best museums of modern art is the Tate Modern in the monolithic old Bankside power station on the south bank of London’s River Thames.

Personally I prefer hanging my walls with figurative paintings of recognisable  people, places and flowers, but I  enjoy going to the Tate Modern for a fresh perspective, good laugh and the occasional thought-provoking head scratch.

One exhibit that achieved all three of those reactions was “The Oak Tree.” I am afraid I can’t remember the artist’s name but the structure of the exhibit remains crystal clear in my memory.

Halfway up the wall, just out of reach of all but the tallest member of the visiting public, was a half-filled glass of water on a small wooden shelf  bracketed to the wall. Underneath the shelf was a short interview between the artist and, presumably, an arts journalist. It went something like this:

Journalist: “This is a most interesting exhibit. What do you call it.”

Artist: “I call it The Oak Tree.”

Journalist: “But it looks like a half-filled glass of water on a wooden shelf to me.”

Artist: “Well, you are wrong. It is an oak tree.”

Journalist: “But everyone who sees it says it is not an oak tree, but a half-filled glass of water on a wooden shelf.”

Artist: “They are wrong and I am right.”

Journalist: “But what gives you the right to say that they are wrong and you are right when all the senses tell us that what we are looking at is a half-filled glass of water on a wooden shelf.”

Artist: “Because I am the artist.”

The water, the glass, the shelf and the printed interview was a perfect example of static performance art. I laughed out loud and spent the next 20 minutes dragging strangers over to point out the exhibit. “What do you think?” I asked them.

The vast majority of the strait-lacked Englishmen uttered a dismissive snort: “Ridiculous.”

But not everyone. Some laughed along with me. Some described it as  genius. Some said: “He did create it. If he created it he should be able to call if what he wants.”

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Observations of an ex pat: America without NATO

Can he do it? The latest NATO summit ended with the alliance still intact, but Donald Trump has opened the door to an American exit with the chilling words: “It is presently unnecessary” to withdraw the United States from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Which means that it is still on the table.

Trump is angry that his alliance partners are slow in reaching the defence spending target of two percent of GDP by 2025. In fact he wants them to double the target to four percent. After all, America is spending 4.8 percent according to Trump (3.5 percent according to government accountants).

If they don’t? Well, that’s when he might start heading for the door he has just left ajar.  Which brings us back to the question: Can he do it? As well as the questions of the impact on Europe, America and the wider world.

In theory it would seem that Trump would need the support of Congress to withdraw from the Western Alliance. But political practice points in the opposite direction.

Under the terms of the American constitution all treaties and alliances need the approval of two-thirds of the members of the Senate. Once ratified they become part of “the supreme law of the land”. Exactly what this means, however, is open to interpretation. Founding father Thomas Jefferson interpreted it as meaning that revoking a treaty would also require approval from two-thirds of the senate.

But more recent practice indicates otherwise. In 2002 George W. Bush decided to unilaterally withdraw from the US-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The Leader of the Senate said nothing. Several democratic senators decided to sue in the courts to force a vote. It was rejected by the Washington DC federal judge partly because the Senate had already failed to adequately assert its powers and because the judge ruled: “Issues concerning treaties are largely political questions best left to the political branches of government, not the courts, for resolution.”

This treaty business cuts both ways. There are several treaties effectively in force without Senate approval. In each case, the White House enforced the treaty through executive decree because it feared rejection by the Senate. These include Salt Two, the Law of the Sea Convention, Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination Against Women, The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and many others.

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Observations of an ex pat: Cunning plan needed

The British cabinet is preparing to retire to Chequers for a country weekend of Pimms, strawberries and footie and tennis on the telly. There may even be some croquet on the prime ministerial lawn and perhaps late night bridge in the drawing room.

Miss Marple and/or Hercule Poirot, however, should be on hand for a rapid intervention. The likelihood of blood on the vintage Axminster is high.

The stated purpose of the meeting is to finally reach an agreement on the British negotiating position for Brexit negotiations. Will they agree? Unlikely. The Brexiteers red lines are finally hitting the brick wall of reality. A growing coalition of business, trade unions and a hard-nosed Treasury are blocking Boris and Co at every turning.

However, they can’t back down. That would be political suicide. On the other hand, the Brexiteers can’t play their trump card and resign in protest. That would collapse the government and result in an election win for a left-wing Labour administration.

Prime Minister Theresa May is said to have devised a compromise solution which Downing Street sources say is “the best of both worlds.” Both Brexiteers and EU negotiators have dismissed it as the “worst of all worlds,”

So the likely result of the coming make or break weekend is a fudge falsely portrayed as a breakthrough. In short, more shambles with the likely final result of a no deal Brexit with all the nightmarish consequences that entails.

Of course, this exponentially increases the chances of a second referendum. The problem is that the Remainers are almost every bit as clueless about Britain’s national direction as the Brexiteers.  Other than saying they want a second referendum on Brexit with the implied aim of a reversal of the 2016 vote, they have offered no clear alternative set of policies.

Posted in Op-eds | 18 Comments

Observations of an expat: F-*-*-k Business

F-*-*-k Business”. That was the response of Conservative British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson when told that one of Britain’s biggest employers—Airbus—was planning to move out of the UK if his country left the EU Customs Union. The expletive was actually uttered privately, but the mercurial Boris has refused to deny it and in politics absence of denial is the same as claiming ownership.

The shocking thing is not the foreign secretary’s choice of words. His audience is used to the colourful language of this self-confessed admirer of Donald Trump. It is the sentiment behind it and the axis shifting policy change it represents.

The British conservative party has always been the party of business and financial probity. The Labour Party has been the big-spending, squeeze them til the pips squeak, conscience of the nation. It is the traditional home of the social ideologues who are more concerned with correcting perceived social injustices than they are worried about securing the source of the money which pays for their corrections.

But Boris Johnson’s expletive indicates that the Tories are as ideologically driven as Labour has ever been. It is being steered by a coterie of European-hating politicians who are prepared to sacrifice Britain’s finances at the high altar of Brexit.   The ideologues have staged a coup in the British conservative party.

Posted in Op-eds | 12 Comments

Observations of an ex pat…Trumps immigration battle plan

Thank you Melania. Thank you Ivanka. Thank you also Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary for Homeland Security. Thank you for engineering a reversal of the inhumane policy that tore 2,842 children away from their immigrant parents.

No thanks for President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly or shadowy prince of darkness Stephen Miller. They were responsible for the heartless decree that turned vulnerable children into pawns in the president’s immigration battle.

The separation decree was in the making for well over a year.  John Kelly first publicly proposed it in May 2017.  Stephen Miller took up the baton with a vengeance. He has taken over from Steve Bannon as the ultra-nationalist, alt-right, anti-immigrant chief White House strategist with the ear of the president.

Miller has been whispering away: Immigration, immigration, immigration. That is the key to victory in the mid-term elections.

For President Trump immigration means Congressional funding for his “big beautiful wall”, laws to allow the speedy deportation of illegal immigrants and sweeping changes to legal immigration.  He is increasingly frustrated that that Congress has refused to cave in to his demands, especially as illegal immigration figures are climbing after a drop in 2017

In May the president launched a vicious and lengthy tirade against Homeland Security Chief Ms Nielsen in front of the entire cabinet. She, he said, was to blame for the rising immigration figures. Ms Nielsen sat there and took it on the chin, but according to sources, was close to quitting on the spot. She is reported to hate her job.

The much-maligned Attorney General Sessions saw an opportunity to weasel his way back into the presidential good books. On May 7th he told wannabe immigrants: “If you cross the border unlawfully then we will prosecute you…. If you are smuggling a child you then that child may be separated from you as required by law.”

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Observations of an ex pat: British shambles

What a shambles! Theresa May is clinging onto the north face of the parliamentary Eiger by her finger nails while Remainers bay for her blood on one slope and Brexiteers on the other.

The only thing keeping the prime minister on her increasingly precarious perch are behind-doors conflicting promises that must be kept secret because if they leaked Mrs May, the government, the conservative party and Brexit negotiations would tumble.

The Labour opposition, meanwhile can’t decide whether to oppose or join the government, and is, if anything, more divided than the Conservatives. Anti-European Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn instructed his MPs to abstain in key amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill—the essential piece of legislation needed to take Britain out of the EU.

In an unprecedented party revolt, six members of Corbyn’s front bench resigned to vote their conscience and a total of 90 Labour MPs ignored their leader’s instructions. Rebel Hilary Benn said: “There comes a point when we have to stand up and be counted.”

Then there is the Scottish National Party. Parliament allowed only 15 minutes to debate the government’s plans to take control from Brussels of legislation related to Scottish fisheries and environment  instead of devolving them back to the Scottish Parliament. The SNP leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, was expelled for refusing to sit down and shut up. The other 55 SNP members of parliament walked out with him and a ton of grist was poured into the Scottish independence mill.

Why is there such a chaos in the Mother of Parliaments? Is it because of Mrs May’s paper-thin majority? Is it because of Corbyn’s spinelessness on the overarching issue of Brexit?

No. It is because the Brexit policy is built on a false premise. It is a sandcastle built in a thunderstorm by political figures wearing nostalgia-tinted spectacles.

Posted in Op-eds | 9 Comments

Observations of an ex pat: Too much of a good thing

Too much of a good thing is bad for you. That’s what my mother always told me. Her pronouncement was echoed by my father, teacher, doctor….

That appears to be the case for environmentally-friendly green technology. I mean, how can you go wrong with windmills, solar panels, tidal power and pedal power? They are the good, politically correct thing.

Well, according to a report recently published by Cambridge University, green technology could cost the world economy up to $4 trillion by 2035. This, is of course, grist for the mill of the climate change denial lobby—until you examine the fine print. The cost is the poorly planned transition from non-renewable to renewable energy.

The reasons for the potential problem are manifold: It is costing more and more to extract fossil fuels from the earth; the additional extraction cost requires time and heavy investment; green energy technology also requires investment and time before it can come fully on stream; and the transition between the switch over from fossil fuel to environmentally-friendly energy production will be very expensive.

The countries that will hurt hardest will be the ones who currently benefitting the most from recently increased fossil fuel production—the US, Russia and Canada.

Canada and the US, especially, are now heavily into shale oil production. The US invested $22 billion from private equity sources alone in the US shale oil business in the first three months of 2018. Oil production is this year set to reach a record high of 9.7 million barrels a day. American investment in green energy was about half of the money put into fossil fuels.

According to the International Energy Agency, the world invested around $700bn in oil, gas and coal in 2016. China is leading the way in investment in renewable energy. It is still building coal-fired power stations, but in 2017, according to Bloomberg, it poured $132.6 billion into green energy resources. This was more than twice the investment of the US and EU combined and half the world total invested in renewable energy.

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Observations of an ex pat: Divorce settlement

It was the marriage of the century. John Bull and Europa were tying the knot. After hundreds of years of on/off romances and on/off tiffs, the two rivals had decided they were both better off as one household rather than as two feuding neighbours.

Let’s be honest, JB was the more reluctant of the two. For centuries he had been top dog, with conquests right across the globe. He didn’t just have a girl in every port, he owned the ports and the hinterlands beyond.

Unfortunately two successive wars with Europa’s close relative Herr Hun had cost him dearly. JB could no longer afford to maintain his worldwide harem, many of whom were tiring of his attentions anyway.

So, he jumped into the marital bed with Europa who had come up with the novel idea of stopping feuds between her troublesome family members by making them economically interdependent. Admitting JB to the select circle with a marriage contract was the coup de grace of years of complex wooing and negotiation.

For awhile everything went swimmingly. There was a definite honeymoon period. But some of JB’s family were unhappy about the nuptials. Their heads told them that the family business could do better linked to Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt and Rome. But their hearts yearned to be sailing across the high seas, sledging through the Canadian Arctic or slashing their way through the jungles of Africa and South Asia.

They started a whispering campaign against the marriage in general and Europa in particular. She was greedy, corrupt, dictatorial, domineering, overpowering, undemocratic and, most of all, not British. The whispers grew to a debate. The debate grew to a row and finally John Bull decided to call the family together for a vote on whether or not to sue for divorce. There was a fierce campaign of misinformation, half-truths and outright lies and finally the family voted by a narrow majority for divorce.

Posted in Op-eds | 30 Comments

Observations of an ex pat…Told you so

It is so satisfying to say: “I told you so.”  It is also very annoying. It is, however, one of my life goals to be as annoying as possible to President Donald Trump and his misguided followers.

Being honest, however, I must admit that I am voicing the four-word  admonition  early in the Korean diplomatic ballet. This leaves me vulnerable to a devastating return volley of “I told you so’s” from the legion of Trump supporters.

I am willing to risk it.

It is no surprise that the Trump-Kim summit scheduled for Singapore in June is likely to be postponed indefinitely.  The White House is trying to rescue it. They may succeed. It is unlikely. The proposed summit was a poorly executed rush job. It raised unreasonable expectations for the American and world public . Its probable failure may have saved the Nobel Peace Prize committee from a difficult and embarrassing decision.

There are several reasons for the indefinite postponement: Lack of input from professional American diplomats; administration job changes;  US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Accord; lack of pre-summit diplomacy; diplomatic semantics; continuing US-South Korean military manoeuvres and the personalities involved.

Staffing levels at the US State Department have been cut by almost a third. Many of its senior posts remain unfilled.  It is only this week—16 months after his inauguration—that Donald Trump has nominated someone to fill the important post of ambassador to South Korea.

Posted in Op-eds | 3 Comments

Observations of an ex pat: Media attack

The press is under attack. It is accused of disseminating fake news, invasion of privacy, distortions, half-truths and conspiracy theories. Journalists are demonised, denigrated, locked up and even murdered.

The media has always faced such problems. Power brokers pay lip service to press freedom but are, at best, reluctant supporters.  In rare rational moments they  acknowledge its value. But they throw up barriers  the moment  the media spotlight shines on their unsavoury activities.

The press has always managed to see off such opposition because the courts were behind it, and because its operations were based on sound commercial foundations.  The former is still true, but changing in countries where populist governments are twisting the law. The latter is definitely no longer the case.  The media’s commercial base is rapidly eroding and public interest is suffering as a result.

For three centuries the press prospered, and it is no coincidence that those same three centuries saw the fastest growth and the greatest advances in science, technology and political thought in the history of mankind. Newspapers and magazines have been a channel through which flowed world-changing ideas and information.

By the turn of the twentieth century every city in the world had at least one newspaper. Commercial restrictions were dictated largely by geography and technology. General circulation of the  New York Times and Washington Post were limited to a radius of about 100 miles from their respective printing plants because that was how far the newspaper lorries could drive in the time available. The British London papers did not achieve a national reach until the development of the railways.

Market forces dictated that the editorial content reflected the varied interests of the readers in the respective geographic areas. New Yorkers read about events in New York with a focus on the business and financial world.  The Washington Post was the paper to read for American government happenings. The national distribution of the London newspapers were different. They pointed the way to a readership base based on ideology rather than geography.

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Observations of an ex pat: Iranian ripples

Donald Trump has dropped a massive boulder in the world’s diplomatic pond. Its ripples will be felt in every corner of the globe and in some cases the ripples could quickly grow  to tsunami proportions.

Let’s start with the epicentre– the Middle East. The region is already peppered with smouldering short fuses: The Arab-Israeli conflict; Syrian civil war; Yemeni civil war; Turks v. Kurd; Qataris v Saudis and Emirates; Saudis v. Iran; The Russian presence; threatened American withdrawal; Hezbollah… .

The Iran Nuclear Accord (aka Joint Consultative Plan of Action) was one of the region’s few diplomatic success stories—albeit a limited one.

Since President Trump announced American withdrawal from the Accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has announced that his country will resume work on building a nuclear weapon.

In return, Israel has bombed an Iranian base outside Damascus; announced the preparation of bomb shelters; called up reservists for air defence, intelligence and home front command units and deployed missile defence batteries in Northern Israel.

Iran’s Army Chief of Staff, Major General Mohamed Bagheri, warned: “If the enemy casts a covetous eye on our interests or conducts even a slight act of aggression, the Islamic Republic will give an appropriate response at an appropriate time.”

Back in Washington they are celebrating. Not the problems in the Middle East, but the release of three American citizens from North Korean prison.  President Trump hailed the release as a diplomatic triumph for his administration and the best of auguries for his forthcoming summit with Pyongyang’s Kim Jong-un.

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Observations of an ex pat: Death around the world

What makes us human? When do we cease to become human? Or, to put it another way, when do we die?

The questions are becoming an increasingly important as cases such as Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard grab the headlines and pull at the world’s collective heartstrings.

Fifty years ago a group of scientists gathered at Harvard Medical School to discuss the issue. Up until then it hadn’t been an issue. If your heart stopped beating and your lungs stopped breathing, you were dead. But then along came modern science with its ventilators and heart pumps.

So the Harvard scientists asked the question: What makes humans unique? What organ of the body differentiates us from other forms of life and without it, we would cease to exist. The answer they came up with was the brain.

On the basis of that meeting, the US Congress passed the 1981 Uniform Death Act which said doctors could declare a person dead when the brain was deemed to have suffered irreversible and permanent damage.  The individual states followed suit (with variations on the theme) as did most Western countries.

By 1968 the need for a definition of death had become increasingly necessary. Insurance companies demanded to know how long they would be liable for the medical bills. Doctors wanted to know when they could harvest organs for transplant purposes.  The victims’ families demanded reassurance that their loved ones would not be declared prematurely dead so that their organs could be harvested.  When was a person widowed? When should life insurance be paid?

So brain death became the marker for when doctors  signed the necessary paperwork. But there were exceptions.  Orthodox Jews and Muslims believe that a person does not die until the heart and lungs stop and argue that doctors attempts to declare their loved ones brain dead is a denial of their right of freedom of religion. This is recognised by the state of New Jersey, Israel, and the Islamic world but leads to court cases elsewhere. 

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Observations of an ex pat: Fettered press

It is enshrined in the First Amendment of the US constitution. It has been British Common law since 1688. It is a key element in the 1953 European Convention of Human Rights and the 2009 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It is Article Two of France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and Part of the UN Charter.

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech is—allegedly—chiselled in stone in almost every constitution in the world with the exceptions of self-recognised authoritarian states such as China, North Korea, Cuba and Saudi Arabia.

But according to the 2018 Press Freedom Index,released this week, this near universal commitment is observed more in the breach than the observance, and the breaches are occurring more often and—increasingly—in countries  regarded as members of the democratic club.

Let’s start with the leader of the“The Free World”—the United States.  America has fallen two places to 45th in the press freedom index. Reporters Without Borders, who produce the index, places the blame firmly at the door of the White House.  What do you expect when the president emulates Stalin by referring to reporters as “enemies of the people?”

The EU—bastion of liberal democracy– is meant to be a democratic club. Support for democracy and a commitment to principles such as a free press are pre-conditions for membership. If a government backslides it faces fines, suspension of voting rights and—in extremis—expulsion from club membership.

But these deterrents have failed to stop  an increasing number of EU governments. In Hungary (down two places to 73), Prime Minister Viktor Orban has accused Hungarian-born  billionaire philanthropist George Soros of supporting independent media outlets in order to “discredit” Hungary in the international public’s eyes. Orban has branded him public enemy Number One.

In Austria, the leader of the far-right populist FPO party accused the public radio and TV broadcaster ÖRF of spreading lies. In Spain (down two at 31), the October independence referendum in Catalonia has resulted in government-fuelled harassment of pro-independence journalists.

Posted in Op-eds | 9 Comments

Observations of an ex pat: The Commonwealth

Ten years ago a Commonwealth-wide poll revealed that support for the political descendant of the British Empire was highest among the developing countries.

Not surprising, they had the most to gain from aid and trade. Support from the developed Commonwealth countries was half of that of the developing world. Britain was at the bottom.

That is changing. Brexiteers have conveniently rediscovered their imperial roots and are now pushing for a revival of the Commonwealth as a replacement for lost European markets. It is, after all, the home for a third of the world’s population and a total GDP of $17 trillion. This may seem like a lot until you compared it to the $60 trillion GDP of the EU.

Nevertheless, the British government gas rolled outLondon’s red carpet for this week’s biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting—usually referred to by the inelegant acronym CHOGM.

But the Brexiteers will find that the former colonies may be reluctant to jump back onto the British wagon.   They have long memories. Many still lodge bitter resentment  at being left in the lurch when Britain was lured away by the siren call of Brussels.

All of the countries have adjusted to a life without Commonwealth trade preferences. Canada has increased its business with the United States. Australia and New Zealand are now focused on China, Japan and other Asian countries. Singapore has become a Far Eastern entrepot. The developing countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific have gained access to EU aid and trade.

As one Commonwealth head of government told me: “When the British want us we are expected to jump. When we want them they are too busy to bother.”

Trade will not be the only issue on the table. Climate change, Syria, plastic pollution, cyber security and the election of a new titular head are all on the agenda.

Posted in Op-eds | 11 Comments

Observations of an ex pat: Perfect Storm

The world appears to be heading for a perfect storm.  It just needs a catalyst to blow it onshore or—hopefully—a change in the political winds to divert it.

The storm is being driven by the forces of nationalism, historic conflicts, a sense of justice and injustice, and the absence of a coherent diplomatic strategy. It is fed by ill-judged rhetorical bluster which creates political hostages to fortune.

The United States – almost certainly in conjunction with the two biggest European military powers Britain and France—is on the brink of responding to the repeated use of chemical weapons by the Russian-backed Assad regime. (Editor’s note: This was written before the attacks overnight but due to technical issues is only just being uploaded now.)

Russia has vetoed all attempts to resolve this repeated atrocity through the United Nations.

Moscow has warned that if Western forces attempt to bomb Syrian air bases, ground forces, or chemical weapons depots than it will shoot down any missiles involved in the attack. Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, ominously added:” If there is a strike by the Americans, then…the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,”

If there is a Russia attack on an American destroyer or submarine or the British sovereign airbase inCyprus… well, then the storm will have hit.

This approaching disaster did not materialise overnight in a vacuum. It has been brewing for years. Obama’s foreign policy was weak, especially in Syria where hisinfamous Red Line exposed an unwillingness or inability to act decisively.

Posted in Op-eds | 30 Comments
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  • User AvatarAndrew Melmoth 16th Dec - 10:29pm
    Peter Martin There is nothing stopping us putting up a hard border in Ireland. Indeed it is more or less inevitable if the hard Brexiteers...
  • User AvatarDavid Warren 16th Dec - 9:02pm
    Corbyn won't back Brexit he is going to remain sitting on the fence he has been on for some time now.
  • User AvatarTonyH 16th Dec - 9:00pm
    Personally, I do believe this opinion poll. It's a huge sample, but more importantly it complies with the general trend in other polls. There's no...
  • User AvatarJayne Mansfield 16th Dec - 8:50pm
    @ Glenn, If one gets one's information from a political website, it is hardly surprising that it seems that the desire to remain or leave...
  • User Avatarnvelope2003 16th Dec - 8:43pm
    I never realised that Aneurin Bevan set up BHS. It makes Philip Green look even worse, almost sacrilegious. I think there was a chap called...
  • User AvatarTom Harney 16th Dec - 8:42pm
    The real question is what impact a campaign makes. Everyone assumed that would would stay in Europe until the boxes were opened. If we really...