Tom Arms’ World Review

Move over Donald Trump. America’s conspiracy-driven ultra-right has a new darling. She is the photogenic 46-year-old freshman Congresswoman from Georgia Marjorie Taylor Greene. In less than a month in office, Ms Greene has infuriated Democrats, embarrassed the Republican leadership, made Trump look like a wet liberal, shot to media prominence, sparked a movement to force her expulsion from the House of Representatives, and won the hearts of White supremacists. Ms Greene hit the hallowed corridors of Congress running. The day after she was sworn in she filed articles for the impeachment of President Biden. But it is her record of conspiracy-laden Trumpism before officially taking office that has done Ms Greene the most damage (or help). Obama is a secret Muslim. Mass shootings were false-flag exercises designed to undermine gun rights. Bill Clinton murdered John F. Kennedy Jr. Hillary Clinton is a paedophile. Nancy Pelosi should be executed for treason…. Leading Democrats have called for her expulsion from Congress. They won’t succeed and that, but they have blocked her appointment to committees. However, the Democratic ire seems to only encourage the Republican grassroots to rally around Ms. Greene, especially after Trump declared: “I love her.” One thing is certain: The fate of Marjorie Taylor Greene is now tied to the future direction of America’s Republican Party.

Britain did not, on 1 January, fall off the economic cliff as some anti-Brexiteers predicted. But neither has the country’s formal departure from the European Union been an economic walk in the park. Red tape at borders has meant bureaucratic headaches, especially for anyone supplying perishable products such as fish, meat, vegetables and some medicines. Particularly hard hit has been Northern Ireland which now has an open border with Eire and a hard border with the rest of the United Kingdom. The border, however, can be closed by either the UK or EU if either party has reason to believe that the agreement causes “economic, societal or environmental difficulties.” The commission briefly closed the border to stop the export of coronavirus vaccines. It was a stupid move which was immediately rescinded. Now the pro-Unionist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is calling for the border to be closed and the UK/Northern Ireland border to be thrown open to alleviate the trade in fresh food from the UK to Northern Ireland. But closing the border between North and South Ireland would breach the Good Friday Agreement which is the foundation of the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. A predicted Brexit conundrum.

There is no doubt that Alexei Navalny is a brave man and a hero to thousands of Russians demonstrating for his release from prison. Navalny also receives a favourable press outside of Russia. But beware, he is not the cuddly politician one might think. He is an anti-immigration, xenophobic ethnic Russian nationalist. In 2013 he defended anti-immigration riots in Moscow. He supported Putin’s annexation of the Crimea and has campaigned for the political integration of Russia with Ukraine and Belarus. Navalny has also supported Russian secessionists in Georgia and Moldova and attacked the building of Moscow’s first mosque in 2015. The major difference between Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Putin is the former’s campaign against the oligarchical-controlled corruption that is dragging down the Russian state.

The good news is that this week the US and Russia signed a new five-year Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which cuts the nuclear arsenals of the two countries. The bad news is that Russia withdrew from the 1992 Open Skies Treaty which allowed the US, Europe and Russia to conduct aerial surveillance of each other’s military installations. The US withdrew in November. The treaty is dead. That is a concern. The Russians say they withdrew because of Donald Trump’s withdrawal. But it is not that simple. Trump withdrew because the Russians were blocking surveillance flights, especially over the heavily-armed Russian enclave of Kaliningrad which is sandwiched between the Baltic States and Poland. In making the announcement, President Vladimir Putin said the door was ajar for a renegotiated Open Skies Treaty. But this seems unlikely in the immediate future because President Trump scrapped the specially-equipped planes needed to enforce the treaty. The end of Open Skies is particularly worrying when considered in the context of the end of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty which regulated the nuclear weapons regime based in Europe. START lessens the danger of an intercontinental nuclear exchange. But the demise of the INF Treaty and the Open Skies Agreement increases the possibility of hostilities in Europe.

Britain plans to join the Trans Pacific Partnership (full name Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, AKA CPTPP). This is a bit surprising because the agreement is a trading bloc of countries bordering the Pacific Ocean. Britain now has only one possession in the Pacific—Pitcairn, population 50. It does, however, have historic and cultural links throughout the region. The main reason for the British application for membership of the TPP is to curry favour with Washington. One of the main reasons Obama devised the TPP was to block against Chinese economic expansion. For the first 18 years of the 21st century successive British governments have curried favour with the Chinese, in the hope that economic liberalisation would lead to Chinese democratisation. Whitehall have reluctantly admitted this is a lost cause and are now falling in behind the Trump/Biden tougher stance on Beijing. The TPP also offers a back door trade agreement with the US–a key target of UK foreign policy since the Brexit referendum. It would not be as good as a bilateral deal, but it could be something on which a bilateral arrangement could be constructed.

Apologies to Russia’s scientists and President Vladimir Putin. I was sceptical of their coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V. This was understandable given that the vaccine was tested on only 76 volunteers before being approved and rushed into production. However, the Russian gamble appears to have paid off. A peer-reviewed article in The Lancet shows that Sputnik V is 91 percent effective in combatting the virus. On top of that, the Russians are about to launch two more vaccines—Epivac and Covivac. This is great news because the world desperately needs as many countries as possible manufacturing as many vaccines as possible to jab as many arms as possible as quickly as possible. So far 15 countries have ordered a billion doses of Sputnik V. The Russian vaccine is even being considered by the European Union to make up for the shortfall in BioNtech and Astra Zeneca doses. Unfortunately, the Russians are a bit slow on distribution. They are hoping to counter this with partnership agreements to produce their vaccines in different countries.

There is more good news on the vaccine front. British health officials reported that the vaccines are having an effect on reducing transmission rates as well as providing immunity. Officials have also said that spacing the two necessary jabs 12 weeks apart actually improves the efficacy of the vaccines. Taking this route was a British government gamble as researchers originally wanted the jabs to be two weeks apart and refused to vouch for the effectiveness of the vaccine if it was administered at 12-week intervals. Also, scientists report that tweaking the vaccine to deal with mutant strains will be a fairly simple operation. And finally, the Astra Zeneca vaccine can be mixed and matched with the Russian offering to increase doses. Russian and British research scientists are in talks about details.

Underneath Warsaw’s Vistula River is a bank of computers hooked up to…clams. The molluscs are the latest in anti-pollution devices. And these particular clams are monitoring the safety of Warsaw’s drinking water. A coil runs between a computer and a magnet inside the clams. Water is then run past the clams who have a strong aversion to pesticides, heavy metals and other pollutants. When exposed to these nasties they literally “clam up”. The movement is picked up by the magnet which in turn is connected to a computer which tells the engineers to start cleaning.

* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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  • Joseph Bourke 7th Feb '21 - 6:57pm

    Another good round up, Tom. Your description of Georgia Marjorie Taylor Greene brings to mind that phrase associated with Murphy’s law “just when you think things cannot get any worse, they will”.
    A bowl of steamed clams with a glass of cold beer on a warm day by the water is one of the joys of life. It is good to know that these little ‘critters’ have a strong aversion to pesticides, heavy metals and other pollutants.

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Feb '21 - 8:23pm

    “Britain did not, on 1 January, fall off the economic cliff as some anti-Brexiteers predicted.”
    Mightn’t it be an idea to hold fire on that – the best/worst might be yet to come… bearing in mind the current grace periods on some procedures…?

    “Exporters badly hit already but KPMG says ‘biggest headaches’ have yet to come’ for importers”

  • Mister Arms.

    I have said, “Thank you,” before for your your incisive and clear summaries.
    For this one in particular, making some sort of sense of a hugely complicated matter that is preached in black and white by the UK and Western media, “Thank you”.

  • Tony Harris 8th Feb '21 - 8:54am

    Clearly the ‘off the cliff’ comment was made before sight of this: Exports from UK to EU down two thirds since Brexit, say hauliers

    Perhaps it’s a very small cliff ….

  • David Franks 8th Feb '21 - 10:25am

    At last our leader has said something worth printing and it’s controversial and standing firmly on a point of principle. British athletes should withdraw from the Beijing Olympics. so why no comments on any of the Liberal Democrat forums I see? Keep it up Sir Ed. Let’s have more of this.

  • First of all, thanks for the kind comments, and thank you very much Editor Caron Lindsay for appointing me as LDV’s foreign affairs editor. Now, about the Brexit cliff edge. I think you may be right in that my optimism was premature. I should stress that I was and am a Remainer of the first rank. But at the same time I want Britain to succeed. And I want that more than the empty satisfaction of telling Brexiteer friends “I told you so.” As for the Lib Dem position on the Uighurs and the Olympics. I am in full support, unfortunately, news of the party position broke too late for this week’s World Review. I can, however, recommend a very good history of Xinjiang and the relationship between the Uighurs and the dominant Han Chinese: “Wild West China,” by Christian Tyler, a former China correspondent for the FT. It was published in 2003, but much of the book remains relevant and shows that the tension between Beijing and the Uighurs , and China’s mistreatment of their Muslim minority, goes back centuries.

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