Tom Arms’ World Review – 18th April

America lost. It has joined other imperial powers—mainly Britain and the Soviet Union—in filling thousands of graves in the mountains, hills and plains of Afghanistan. More than 4,400 NATO troops of which 2,488 were American have died in the past 20 years. In addition, an estimated 43,000 civilians and 70,000 Taliban fighters have lost their lives. America’s longest war is estimated to have cost the US Treasury $2 trillion, and its NATO allies $525 billion. Afghanistan has been a melting pot, trade route and gateway to the riches of India for centuries. The Mughals conquered northern India through Afghanistan and the British fought three Afghan Wars to keep the Russians out of India. After the third Anglo-Afghan War, King Amanullah Khan moved to modernise Afghanistan. Inspired by Ataturk he secularised the strongly Islamic laws to allow co-education and other rights for women and introduced limited political rights. This never right down with the Mullahs who continued to hold sway in the remote mountainous villages of the Hindu Kush which covers three quarters of Afghanistan. The final straw for the fundamentalists came in April 1978 when the Marxist People’s Democratic Party grabbed power and started a major crackdown on fundamentalists. Civil war broke out and in December 1979 Moscow invaded in support of their communist clients. Their defeat after ten years was a major factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of the fundamentalist-inspired Taliban who were nurtured in Pakistan’s Madrassas. With the help of Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia they fought their way to power in 1998 and introduced a medieval form of Sharia Law. They also provided a base for Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeeda whom they refused to relinquish after the 2001 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre. The result was an Anglo-American invasion which toppled the Taliban from Kabul in just two months. But the Taliban did not disappear. It regrouped in bases in Pakistan and fought back. It now controls roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan and will no doubt soon topple US-supported President Ashraf Ghani. But will they again become a base for international Islamic terrorism? Will their brutal suppression of women’s rights be too much for the West to bear? Will the 14 ethnic groups with three main languages collapse into civil war in the absence of a common foreign enemy? It is clear, as both Trump and Biden, has said that there is no military solution to the problem of Afghanistan. But is there even an acceptable political solution, or is Afghanistan like a chronic cancer—manageable, treatable but incurable and gets you in the end.

Minneapolis used to be best known for Lake Itasca, source of the mighty Mississippi. Then there is juicy Lucy, a delicious cheeseburger with the cheese inside the meat. And, of course, the famous Mall of America is only a stone’s throw away. Now, it is infamous for the police killing of George Floyd, the subsequent Black Lives Matter riots and the trial of his alleged killer Derek Chauvin And this week for the “accidental “shooting of 20-year-old African-American Daunte Wright in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Centre. On the face of it, Minneapolis is not your typical racial hotspot. African-Americans comprise only 20 percent of the population (Detroit is 79 percent Black). Mayor Joseph Frey has well-established liberal credentials and Police Chief Medana Arradondo is African-American. But that is not the whole story. Blacks may be 20 percent of the population but 60 percent of all police shootings are of African-Americans, and in his days as a young police lieutenant, Chief Arradondo sued his own force for racism. The problem appears to lie with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis and, in particular, its Trump-supporting leader Bob Kroll who has fought hard to keep the 800-stong force predominantly White. Kroll himself has been involved in three police shootings and 20 internal affairs investigations. He called George Floyd a “violent criminal” and branded protesters “terrorists.” The good news is that he has finally been forced out of office.

Two men have dominated British news this week. The late Prince Phillip has been praised as a man who gave up an exciting naval career for a life of service and duty to Queen and country. Former conservative Prime Minister David Cameron is being castigated for using his previous position at the top of the political tree for personal gain. I like to think that most of us aspire to the perceived lofty ideals of Prince Philip. Unfortunately, the realities of life too often block that route. We also like think that our politicians enter that profession to pursue those ambitions because of the immense and priceless satisfaction and respect that can be earned. The case of David Cameron, however, underscores that too many political leaders seek public office for personal gain. It is not a new problem. The Greek cynic philosopher Diogenes pounded the streets of ancient Athens with a lamp in search of an honest man. Sir Robert Walpole is known not only as Britain’s first prime minister but also as one of its most corrupt. In modern times the businessman Mo Ibrahim set up a $5 million prize for African leaders who voluntarily transferred power through democratic institutions. Since it was founded in 2006, the prize has only found three recipients. There are an abundance of examples of corruption in American politics, the last tenant of the White House is a prime example. The former president of France is in court, as is the prime minister of Israel. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and handed a $400 million tax bill after a corruption scandal involving $700 million. In Japan there is an historic “obligation” structure embedded in the national culture whereby each favour requires a corresponding return favour. In the developing world bribes are a fact of life at every level of society, created by low or no pay for government officials. Corruption is a perennial and international problem. It has always been with us but is probably made worse in the 21st century by 24/7 news and the worldwide web. But that should not stop us from aspiring to the example of Philips over Davids.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” is published on 15 October.

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22 Comments

  • nigel hunter 18th Apr '21 - 9:43am

    Yes Cameron has been a bad boy? However the public are not interested,do not know how the system works.That is not to say that it does not need to be changed. By putting Cameron ‘on trial’ Johnson avoids the facts that he is just as bad if not worse with being a ‘dodgy’ person. It remains to be seen if the public knowing more about the system that they will vote for change.

  • ” however the public are not interested ” how sadly true, it seems the electorate thinks as long as they are alright they will accept any self serving hypocrites in the highest positions in the country, will it ever change, I live in hope rather than expectation.

  • Afghanistan does indeed seem to be like a chronic cancer—manageable, treatable but incurable and gets you in the end.
    After the 2001 attack on New York’s twin towers there was pretty much world wide support for a military response. Charles Kennedy said, as Liberal Democrat leader at the time, “We offer our profound sympathies to the American public. The international democratic community must come together as never before to drive out this evil.” https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/sep/12/uk.september11
    Ten years into the war, Paddy Ashdown wrote a prescient essay analysing the situation https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/paddy-ashdown-what-we-must-do-to-win-this-war-in-afghanistan-1755787.html?r=54904
    “We do not have enough troops, aid or international will to make Afghanistan much different from what it has been for the last 1,000 years – a society built around the gun, drugs and tribalism. And even if we had all of these in sufficient quantities, we would not have them for sufficient time – around 25 years or so – to make the aim of fundamentally altering the nature of Afghanistan, achievable.”
    “So the realistic aim in Afghanistan, with current resources, is not victory, but containment. Our success will be measured, not in making things different, but making them better; not in final defeat of the jihadists, but in preventing them from using Afghanistan as a space for their activity. These two aims will be difficult enough to achieve; but they are at least achievable.”
    In British India soldiers called the North-West frontier the Grim. Not much seems to have changed since then.

  • John Marriott 18th Apr '21 - 12:57pm

    Lobbying for a good deal? My younger son calls it ‘mates’ rates’. We works in the motor trade, has friends, who are electricians, decorators and plumbers etc. So, does he ever have to pay full price? I suppose you might call it a form of ‘quid pro quo’. Let’s be honest, whether it’s an ex Prince living the dream in LA, an ex PM with at least three homes and two shepherd’s huts (yes, THAT ex PM – Tony has got far more) or even someone from Liberal history with his famous ‘Political Fund’ with money largely gained from flogging off peerages etc., those who can legitimately and illegitimately get away with it do get away with it. Then there are those, whose political CV allows them to climb the post political promotion ladder with ease, such as that senior executive of Facebook in California or that ginger haired Scot who is currently a senior executive of a Chinese bank!

    At least, when they got found out peddling cash for influence, Labour’s Byers, Hoon, Hewitt and Moran got suspended, while Tories Neil Hamilton and Jonathon Aitken fared worse, certainly in the latter’s case. How to stop it all will not be easy. If they ever do, I’m sure that there are a few members of the present government and also some on both sides of the House of Commons, who had better watch out. They say that the meek will inherit the Earth – but not just yet!

  • Barry Lofty 18th Apr '21 - 1:55pm

    John Marriott: ” They say the meek will inherit the Earth- but not just yet” they had better hurry up I want to be around to witness this event.?

  • I want to be around to inherit

  • Peter Martin 19th Apr '21 - 7:27am

    It’s good that someone has finally raised the issue of Tory sleaze. The attention, generally, has been on the question of Cameron using his personal connections to lobby the government.

    There has been very little attention of why he was lobbying. Greensill Capital is one of the modern parasitic “financial services” companies that don’t actually do anything for the economy but they obtain their income by inserting themselves into the system.

    So what were they up to this time? Their plan was supposedly to help out our struggling NHS. They would (not so) kindly pay the wages and salaries of the staff plus other essential expenses. This then meant they were owed money by the NHS for which they could charge a high rate of interest. In effect they were buying Government bonds which paid out much more than the ultra low yields on offer from conventional bonds.

    These unconventional ‘bonds’, which are still Govt backed and risk free, can then be used as collateral to borrow more money cheaply to lend to the NHS at an expensive rate.

    It’s a scam. Greenhill would have ended up skimming off millions if not billions that should have gone to actually giving NHS workers a decent pay rise. There is no reason why the government needs to pay a penny to parasites like Lex Greenhill and David Cameron. The government can borrow money for next to nothing, and can make it absolutely nothing if if chooses to, so why does it need Lex Greenhill and David Cameron?

  • John Marriott 19th Apr '21 - 8:16am

    @Peter Martin
    Whether it was unions making unrealistic pay claims back in the 1970s or politicians cashing (literally) in on their positions, both present and former, graft and sleaze appear sadly to be a part of human nature – or at least as far as those ‘humans’ in a position of power on BOTH sides of the negotiating table are concerned. The Leader of one of the TUC’s smaller unions, referring to some of his bigger brothers – and sisters – once compared it to “pigs at the trough”. Local government is not immune either. I well remember, not long after I was elected to our local County Council, its Tory Leader had to resign and was subsequently prosecuted and jailed for trying to ‘persuade’ planners to place the route of a proposed bypass through land that he owned.

    We’ve dealt with ‘pigs’. Let’s move on to ‘sheep’. As you say; “Greenhill (sic) would have ended up skimming off millions”. Mr Greensill started out as a sugarcane and melon farmer down under. They must have some mighty clever farmers in Oz and, having lived there, I believe, you could probably vouch for that. I don’t know what financial qualifications he had; but he obviously wasn’t lacking in the chutzpah department or in his ability to make shedloads of money. Being a former farmer, albeit not of sheep, one could conclude that he must still have been a past master at pulling the wool over certain people’s eyes, or at least the owner of those two shepherd’s huts, as well as attempting to fleece the public! I think, like you, that the word ‘parasite’ is entirely appropriate in this case. In fact, some may argue that it’s not strong enough. ‘Pigs at the trough’? How about ‘Lambs to the slaughter’?

  • Peter Martin 19th Apr '21 - 9:05am

    @ John,

    Firstly you are right to say it’s Greensill and not Greenhill. I got that right to start with but for some reason lapsed.

    I’m sure we’ve all helped out friends for free. In theory we should charge them the full amount for our work and declare it on our tax returns. This isn’t realistic. We’re social animals and, if we are fix cars, or teach maths or whatever, we aren’t going to charge full rates for doing that work to friends and family. There’s really nothing wrong with that. We can charge what we like.

    That aside, Lib Dems do seem to have a naive view of human nature. Such as that if you hand out free money to everyone by way of a UBI that this will free up their inner creativity and they’ll turn into model citizens. We aren’t talking about changing a flat battery. We’re talking about serious criminal activity.

    Supporters of the Greensill scam that was attempted to be perpetrated will say this could have been another successful “Public – Private Partnership”. They are all scams too, There is no need for the Government to borrow money from the Private Sector at more than 5% interest when it only needs to pay 1% or less.

    The role of the Private Sector is to provide goods and services to government in exchange for the money that is created by government itself. Finding the money is never a problem for a currency issuer. The problem might be in being provided the right amount of goods and services. Companies like Greensill in no way address that issue because they don’t create anything of any use.

  • John Marriott 19th Apr '21 - 10:53am

    @Peter Martin
    Like you I am a man without a party. However I do not spend my time poking fun at the party of which I was a member until four years ago. Mind you, like David Raw, I do occasionally despair about its current direction of travel, because, deep down, I don’t relish the thought of having spent most of my life after the age of 35 supporting it and its predecessor. I will, however, expose the hypocrisy of the party of which I believe you were a member at one time. On the Andrew Marr Show yesterday Rachel Reeves MP failed to answer Marr’s question about her former colleagues, Hewitt, Hoon and Byers. As the song I have quoted on several LDV threads goes; “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself”.

  • @ John Marriott It must be said, John, that doing PR work for EDF after you’ve negotiated a much criticised OTT contract with them when in government is indeed more than a bit naive…….. and then to hear yet again the usual litany about one’s off spring is something never heard from either Cameron or Brown.

  • To be fair, I rather rate Rachel Reeves as one of the brightest and the best. Before entering parliament for what used to be a Liberal seat at one time, she worked at the Bank of England and the British Embassy as a senior economist. Seems to me she was given the short straw yesterday, but Marr’s comments were entirely predictable.

    Conclusion ? Politicians who claim to be holier than thou (including the Lib Dems who’ve had plenty of their own issues – which I could recite at length going back to the 1970’s) are skating on thin ice.

  • Peter Martin 19th Apr '21 - 12:34pm

    @ David Raw,

    I’m sure Rachel Reeves is perfectly capable when she wants to be but the tack she took in the Andrew Marr interview yesterday was always going to lead her into trouble.

    Lobbying, per se, is not the problem. There is nothing wrong with an MP lobbying for Govt help for any entity, which may be in need of it, in their constituency. Whether the Govt should provide that help is a political decision to be made.

    Neither is there anything wrong with an ex-PM lobbying using their influence in a beneficial way, providing proceedings are open and transparent.

    But trying to scam money out of the NHS for personal gain at a time when so many medical staff have put their lives on the line to save their patients is beyond reprehensible. He really deserves to be facing criminal charges. I’d settle for both Lex Greensill and David Cameron having to do several hundred hours worth of community service in the Covid wards.

  • Greensill capital had three main businesses: supply chain financing (also called “reverse factoring”), accounts receivables financing (also known as “factoring”and a practice Greensill called “future accounts receivables finance”
    Factoring is a widespread means of financing of company’s working capital and there are multiple providers of such finance. The financing relationship is between the trading business and provider of finance. With reverse factoring, a bank or lender pays the outstanding invoice owed to a supplier faster than originally agreed, in exchange for money off the total owed. With traditional invoice financing or factoring, it’s the supplier who requests finance by leveraging the value of an outstanding invoice. Invoice financing is similar to reverse factoring, but it’s the buyer who requests the finance from the lender or bank.
    Where things get murky are with Greensills third line of business – “future accounts receivables finance”. This is effectively securitisation of future revenues. It consists in the lending of money to a company before a sale has been made, based on the expectation of future sales and future payments. Because future accounts receivables finance is based on prospective — and thus uncertain — payments, it is considered to be a risky activity.
    Greensill operated in what is termed the “shadow banking” environment, where there is limited regulatory oversight. There are literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of such firms across the globe. Greensill financed its activities with loan notes from hedge funds and investment banks. In June 2019, Greensills credit insurers stopped renewing coverage. When insurance policies lapsed In March this year, Credit Suisse froze $10 billion in funds that were invested in Greensill’s financial products and held by its supply-chain investment funds. Greensill had a large exposure to companies tied to steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta who is now seeking to refinance its operations.
    The real issue here is securing the business of the Gupta owned company Liberty Steel that has 11 British plants, employing 3,000 workers. The economist article gives the background detail https://www.economist.com/britain/2021/04/15/david-cameron-the-greensill-affair-and-a-british-government-scandal

  • Peter Martin 19th Apr '21 - 1:13pm

    @ Joe Bourke,

    There is a big difference between the NHS and a privately owned company like Liberty steel. There is a risk for anyone lending to Liberty Steel. Liberty Steel can go bust so it is reasonable to ask for a higher interest rate as a reward for accepting it.

    There is no risk lending to the NHS or the government. That’s why the effective interest rates are ultra low. So, the challenge for Lex Greensill was to figure out how he could lend to the NHS and still charge the same amount as he legitimately could charge Liberty Steel.

    So who did he need to help him out with his scam?

  • John Marriott 19th Apr '21 - 5:27pm

    Oh dear. Is another bout of Bourke v Martin about to wrench this thread in the direction of the ‘experts’ yet again? As I rush this off it’s been over four hours since Peter’s last post, so perhaps we aren’t going to get another salvo from Hounslow!

    David Raw, I’m sure you are right about Ms Reeves’ abilities; but when it comes to sticking to the script you have been given, she’s like all politicians, I’m afraid. On a personal note, from the way she enunciates, I often wonder whether she is deaf. Perhaps Joe or Peter might know. If so, we might move the thread towards health and disability, which might engender more interest.

  • Peter Martin 19th Apr '21 - 9:09pm

    @ John Marriott,

    Are you really saying that you can’t understand why the interest rate charged by the lender should be related to the creditworthiness of the borrow? That this is a matter only of interest to so-called “experts”?

    I hesitate to quote from Richard Murphy’s blog, but on this he’s spot-on.

    https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2021/04/12/david-cameron-tried-to-exploit-the-nhs-because-there-is-widespread-ignorance-about-the-way-the-government-can-create-money/

  • John Marriott 20th Apr '21 - 9:54am

    @Peter Martin
    You obviously don’t understand what I’m getting at. The fact is that I am really not interested in interest rates, creditworthiness or most things that appear to get you so excited. Perhaps it’s just me. In any case, I would have thought that what you wrote was bleeding obvious; but that was NOT why I intervened when I did. It would seem that your neoliberal ‘adversary’, as I believe you have labelled him, hasn’t seen fit to take your bait this time. But it’s still quite early in the morning!

  • Peter Hirst 20th Apr '21 - 3:36pm

    I suspect Afghanistan will change when Afghanistan is ready. History shows we can do little to influence that. Education is the key however that is achieved.

  • Peter Martin 20th Apr '21 - 8:19pm

    @ John Marriott,

    Maybe I should try to link progressive economic theory with gender, sexual orientation, and race based politics to try to interest more Lib Dems in the subject? It strikes me you take the view that anything you don’t understand isn’t of any importance. But, as we wouldn’t have had Brexit without the Economic austerity of the Coalition years, I’m not sure how anyone can think that. Going back a few decades we wouldn’t have had WW2 without the Economic austerity of the 30s! That’s of even more importance. At least to everyone but Lib Dems!

    So maybe you’d like to have a good look in the corner of your closet and try to find your old thinking cap!

  • John Marriott 21st Apr '21 - 9:13am

    @Peter Martin
    My point, with my ‘thinking cap’ clearly on, was that what gets you up in the morning (or, in your case, in the middle of the night) doesn’t appear to excite that many LDV contributors, other than a certain person, who has demonstrated admirable restraint on this occasion. I am reminded of the old advert for Ariston washing machines in the early 1990s. Or perhaps that Reagan quip to Carter; “There you go again”? Or how about Rhett Butler’s final words to Scarlett O’Hara in the movie ‘Gone with the Wind’?

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