Tag Archives: observations of an ex pat

Observations of an ex pat: Trouble at NWS 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: Crooked or incompetent?

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat…The law

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: Minced meat in Hamburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: Torture

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

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

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

So the president backed down. Or has he?

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: The fight for the spoils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an expat: Macronian clouds on the horizon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: China at the crossroads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: Hungary vs Soros

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Op-eds | 13 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an Ex Pat: Brexit goes nuclear

The EU is worried about losing their American nuclear umbrella.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: Trump lost on Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: Guns, butter and bridges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Observations of an ex pat: Alliance 101

The Western Alliance is in disarray.

Americans are sick of picking up the tab for protecting a rich Europe from a communist threat which no longer exists. Europe is terrified at being abruptly left in the lurch facing a corrupt, authoritarian Russian threat which has replaced the communist one.

In the meantime, Britain, the traditional number two in the Western Alliance, voted Brexit and pulled the rug out from under the EU–the political and economic arm of the alliance’s European end.

It is time for a refresher course in the Western, or Transatlantic, Alliance. It is time for a re-examination of the purpose of the alliance. So here goes, Alliance 101.

Franklin Roosevelt had a vision of a post-war world run through a United Nations headed by World War Two allies—America, Britain, China and Russia. France was a reluctant afterthought.

Each of the “great powers” was given a permanent seat in the newly-formed UN Security Council. With the seat came implied responsibility for a slice of the world—America was the Western Hemisphere; Britain (with French help) Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East; Russia Eastern Europe and Central Asia and China the Far East.
Unfortunately the dream was nothing more than that. A Britain prostate from two world wars still had to organise a peaceful retreat from empire. The French were in a mess. The Chinese were in a bigger mess and faced a civil war. Only the Russians and Americans emerged better off.

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Observations of an Ex-Pat: Mind the gap

Mind the Gap. Three very familiar monosyllabic words for anyone who has travelled on the London Underground.

The taped announcement is a warning to beware of the potentially dangerous space between the railway carriages and the platform.

But it has a political meaning too. Any political novice will also tell you to mind the gap. Look for the space that isn’t being filled by the other parties and plug it—fast.

Well, at the moment there is a yawning chasm as the traditional parties race to head off  threats from the right and left, leaving a vacuum in the centre—the traditional winning ground.

But have the divisions that currently afflict Western societies become so acute that the centre ground is now politically unviable? We will find out—or at least be presented with a good indication— at the end of April and then again in May.

That is when the French elect their president. And it is looking increasingly as if the battle will be between the far right Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party and Emmanuel Macron’s  newly-formed En Marche  (English translation:Forward).

A few weeks ago the political landscape looked completely different. The two top contenders were Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon. Macron and the Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon were also-rans.

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Observations of an Ex-Pat: Trump’s Aim

What is Trump’s  Aim?

Alright he has answered the question. So has his press secretary Sean Spicer. It is the slogan on the baseball cap: To “make America great again.”

But for the life of me I can’t understand how he is going to achieve that aim, especially as America already is the world’s only superpower, produces the lion’s share of the world’s wealth and has one the world’s highest standards of living. How great can a country be?

Setting all that aside, how does  the slogan translate into policy? What is required in the Trump playbook to re-achieve American greatness?

After a roller-coaster three weeks we are getting an idea. Trump’s great America is a non-renewable energy-powered industrial monolith churning out yesteryear’s manufactured products behind a metaphorical and physical wall of bricks, steel and tariffs.

Trump’s great America is paranoid and xenophobic. It bans highly skilled, entrepreneurial and hard-working Muslim immigrants for fear that the Judaeo-Christian culture cannot compete against Islamic fifth columnists who worm their way into the “dishonest” media and government. Or worse still sneak into the country and attempt to violently overthrow the system.

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Observations of an expat: I am a liberal

The Brexiteering Trump supporter narrowed his eyes, curled his upper lip, glared at me and sneeringly stuttered: “You..you..LIBERAL.

I removed the handkerchief from my pocket, wiped away what I believe was unintentional spit from just below my left eye, and gave him an infuriatingly rueful smile.

To many conservative-minded folk a liberal is a threat to their way of life. Liberal tolerance of other religions, genders and cultures forces conservatives into politically correct language which sticks in their throats. The liberal emphasis on equality threatens their supremacy and culture. And liberal generosity is seen as undermining livelihoods and threatening security.

The word liberal is derived from the Latin root liberalis which means noble, gracious and munificient; character traits which I would love to have. Liberalis is also the root for the word liberty which runs golden thread-like through modern western civilisation. “Give me liberty or give me death,” shouted Patrick Henry. The single word “liberty” was emblazoned on an early American revolutionary flag and it plays a key role in the Preamble to the US constitution.

Liberte is the first word in the catchy slogan of the French revolution, and in 19th century European liberalism was equated with parliamentary government and political reform based on equality.

Adam Smith regarded natural liberty as the highest form of human existence and liberal—or free—trade between nations was his ultimate aim. For the ancient Greeks a liberal arts education was the summit of learning and culture.

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  • User AvatarJennie 21st May - 8:05am
    Crikey, that Rob Parsons post is depressing
  • User AvatarRuth Bright 21st May - 8:03am
    Still waiting for action on rights to leave for our own candidates!
  • User Avatargavin grant 20th May - 11:19pm
    I'll be there tomorrow. Back to the place I grew up and joined the Young Liberals 49 years ago!
  • User AvatarGordon Lishman 20th May - 9:09pm
    I thought it interesting that he was apparently recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the role of wedding preacher.
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    I never noticed the charm - perhaps I wasn’t worth the effort. He did once tell me the mnemonic he used to remember my name....
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 20th May - 9:00pm
    Ah, I see, Michael 1, you are putting the student fees in the context of the proposed lifetime learning account of perhaps £30,000 for every...