Spring Is In The Air, But It’s Still Bleak Winter In Politics

These pages have been somewhat barren of late – and, no, it’s not because Theresa May has come for me – nor Donald Trump, for that matter, – despite the titles of my preceding two posts. Much as I derive great satisfaction and pleasure from writing here, sometimes life has to take priority and the time for composition, limited. Spring has arrived, the garden is alive with the blooms of daffodils, primulas, and forget-me-nots. Sadly, the weeds always manage to have the upper hand and winter storms have done their share of damage in urgent need of repair.

Not that the crises threatening the world have gone unnoticed. The man masquerading as a U.S. president continues to behave like a rampant dictator, hurling abuse and false accusations at his predecessor willy-nilly, as though above any law. Indeed, given the lack of anything more than a luke-warm rebuke from Republican senators for his accusation that President Obama tapped his phone, it would seem likely that he is.

Five days ago the U.K. media splashed a story all over their front pages of an interview by the now political nobody, Nigel Farage.

In it Farage stated that he and Donald Trump were probably the two most vilified people in the West:

As the BBC reported:

British politician Nigel Farage, who helped steer the UK towards the exit door of the European Union, says that he and Donald Trump have one thing in common.
“We’re probably the two most vilified people in the West.”
He adds that their bond was formed over the “shed-loads of abuse” they have each received. [1]

One really must question why anyone would derive such obvious satisfaction from that unsavoury fact? Surely, to be vilified is not how most people would wish to be treated? Farage appears to consider it an honour to be linked in that way with the most despised and disrespected national leader in the Western world. It says little for the British media that Farage’s words are considered worthy of headline treatment. The BBC should know better. There was a time it would have.

Yesterday, the wanton and rather disgusting leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan , accused the Dutch of carrying out the massacre of 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995:

Turkey’s war of words with the Netherlands has worsened after the Turkish president accused the Dutch of carrying out a massacre of Muslim men at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.
Bosnian Serb forces were in fact behind the massacre but Dutch UN peacekeepers failed to protect the victims.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the failure, still a raw nerve in the Netherlands, revealed Dutch “morality” was “broken”.
The Dutch prime minister called the remarks a “vile falsification”. [2]

Mark Rutte, Holland’s prime minister, was right to call them a “vile falsification.”. It was this man….

…Ratko Mladic, who was responsible for that dreadful crime. The small Dutch peace-keeping contingent were hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered. They were only lightly armed against tanks and heavy weapons. Repeated calls for air support went unheeded. Responsibility for this situation rests squarely on NATO’s shoulders, with a portion back in Washington on the desk of then president, Bill Clinton.

Clinton dithered and dallied over the Balkans. NATO was flying aircraft over the war-zone ostensibly to maintain a no-fly-zone, but all the war action was on the ground. In his book, “America’s War For The Greater Middle East,” Andrew Bacevich writes:

Although authorized to use air strikes to protect peacekeepers…NATO rarely acted on this authority. Between June 1993 and August 1995 [NATO] aircraft actually released ordnance on a grand total of only ten occasions…The NATO air campaign had become an exercise in military masturbation – a display of ostensibly superior power that served chiefly to reveal Western impotence.” [3]

Both UN and NATO authorities had to agree before a single aircraft could attack a target. Little wonder then the Dutch peacekeepers called out in vain for air support. Following the Srebrenica massacre, Clinton and the NATO allies finally decided to take action.**

Erdogan is a mad, power-crazed, politician dreaming of dictatorship. Perhaps now the European Union will finally deny Turkey any further possibility of joining the E.U., at least as long as Erdogan holds the reins of power in that country.

On the subject of reigns of power, Theresa May has finally bullied, cajoled, and threatened politicians to pass the bill allowing her to trigger Article 50, totally disregarding two attempts by the Upper House to amend it. She could scarcely disguise her glee as she spoke today in Parliament. At least some parts of that speech contained downright lies. She stated there had been full consultations on ‘Brexit’ with all other U.K. parties, including (she emphasised) the Scottish National Party, the governing party in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, has categorically denied any ‘full consultation’ on the subject. Indeed, she has gone out of her way to state the opposite:

“The UK government has not moved even an inch in pursuit of compromise and agreement. Our efforts at compromise have instead been met with a brick wall of intransigence,” the first minister said, claiming that any pretence of a partnership of equal nations was all but dead. [4]

Yesterday, in a speech to the Scottish Cabinet Sturgeon called for a second referendum on Scottish independence, given the huge vote by Scots to remain in the European Union.

Theresa May & Nicola Sturgeon

Theresa May, in return, told the U.K. Parliament that now was not the time for Nicola Sturgeon to “play at politics or create uncertainty,” which is somewhat surprising, coming as it does from one who has done nothing but play politics and create uncertainty since the day she entered 10 Downing Street.

To quote George Monbiot in today’s Guardian:

In her speech to the Scottish Conservatives’ spring conference, Theresa May observed that “one of the driving forces behind the union’s creation was the remorseless logic that greater economic strength and security come from being united”. She was talking about the UK, but the same remorseless logic applies to the EU. In this case, however, she believes that our strength and security will be enhanced by leaving. “Politics is not a game, and government is not a platform from which to pursue constitutional obsessions,” she stormed – to which you can only assent.

A Conservative member of the Scottish parliament, Jamie Greene, complains that a new referendum “would force people to vote blind on the biggest political decision a country could face. That is utterly irresponsible.” This reminds me of something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. [5]

If Monbiot had only one virtue it would be his ability to expose the hypocrisy of politicians intent on pulling the wool over the eyes of its electorate.

It may be spring outside; the crocuses may be blooming, the birds nest building, the bees buzzing industriously. But in the world of politics there’s still a stark chill in the air, dark clouds loom on the horizon, and not one ray of sunshine pierces the darkness to raise the spirits and instill a grain of hope.

I think I’ll rejoin the daffodils.

[1] “Farage: ‘Trump and I most vilified in West'” BBC, March 9th 2017

[2] “Turkey-Netherlands row: Erdogan slams Dutch over Srebrenica” BBC, March 14th 2017

[3] “America’s War For The Greater Middle East,” Pt II, Ch. 9, Pge 167, Andrew J Bacevich.

[4] “May’s intransigence forced us to seek new referendum, says SNP minister” Guardian, March 14th 2017

[5] “Theresa May is dragging the UK under. This time Scotland must cut the rope” Guardian, March 15th 2017

[**] Further reading on the Dutch involvement at Srebrenica can be found here: “Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: The Dutch peacekeepers still haunted by memories of the massacre” Independent, July 9th 2015

Who Will Theresa May Come For Next?

On February 13th 2017 Sparrow Chat asked the question, “Who Will Trump Come For Next?”. The answer appeared the very next day when a young Latino man, Daniel Ramirez Medina, was arrested by officials of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Two days after this, the Guardian reported that Medina, despite being in the U.S. legally under the DACA ( Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program instigated by Barack Obama, had been stripped of his legal status and was being detained in a detention center :

The US government has terminated a detained undocumented immigrant’s “dreamer” status, alleging that he is a gang member in part because of a tattoo on his arm that says “peace” in Spanish.

Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year-old with no criminal record who was brought to the US from Mexico when he was seven years old, was arrested last Friday in Seattle despite the fact that he was twice granted a work permit under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program.

The incident is believed to be the first arrest of a “dreamer”, as Daca recipients are known, since Donald Trump’s inauguration. The government’s court filings on Thursday have raised fresh concerns about the methods Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) may be using to deport immigrants who were previously protected by Barack Obama’s policies. [1]

At the time of writing Medina is still being held in a detention centre. A Seattle Judge has refused to release him.

On the same day, in El Paso, Texas, an unnamed woman was arrested in a courthouse just moments following a judge granting her a protection order after she’d suffered serious domestic violence.

The Guardian again:

Officials in El Paso, Texas, said that the detention of the woman moments after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agents watched a judge grant her a protective order was an alarming development that had sent shockwaves through the community.

The woman has been a victim of violence by her partner on at least three occasions, has filed three police reports and endured punching, kicking, choking and having a knife thrown at her, Jo Anne Bernal, the El Paso county attorney, said on a conference call with reporters.

As the protective order was granted on 9 February, Bernal said, an Ice agent sat through the proceedings in the courtroom. Two federal agents were placed at exits, she said. After the end of the hearing, agents escorted the woman from the courtroom area on the 10th floor and out of the building. She is presently in the county jail.

“None of us can recall an incident where immigration authorities made their presence known inside a courtroom in this courthouse, and especially not in a courtroom that is reserved for victims of domestic violence,” Bernal said. “We need to be very firm in our voice: the courthouse is not a place for enforcement of immigration law, the courthouse is a place where victims of domestic violence come for protection.”

Jaime Esparza, the local district attorney, said: “They came into the courthouse and I think it sends a horrible message to victims of domestic violence on whether or not they’re actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse.” [2]

These are just examples that hit the headlines. How many more are being dragged from their homes and incarcerated before driven to the Mexican border and dropped off, often with no chance to say goodbye to loved ones, pack a suitcase, or make arrangements for children left behind?

Of course, this isn’t the first time officials from the “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave,” have carried out these sorts of inhumane acts. Remember Iraq 2003 – 2010? How many thousands of innocent Iraqis were dragged from their beds and carted off to prisons like Abu Ghraib, or internment camps like Bucca, because the wrong people had gained power in the United States?

Meanwhile, America’s latest apology for a ‘president’, Donald Trump, continues to castigate the media for telling the truth about him. “Fake News” has become one of his favourite catch-phrases.

There’s been much made of the link between the U.K’s ‘Brexit’ referendum vote and Trump’s elevation to the White House. The legitimacy of both are open to question. What’s obvious is the manner in which the British government is now callously emulating the Trump doctrine.

In an interview yesterday on ITV’s programme, ‘Peston On Sunday’, Britain’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd…

…was quoted by the U.K.’s Mirror newspaper (and others) in this report:

A Tory Cabinet Minister channelled Donald Trump today when she accused the media of “fake news” over the child refugees row.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd became the most senior member of Theresa May’s government to publicly use the term coined by the US President.

Ms Rudd has been under mounting pressure after axing the “Dubs” scheme used to bring unaccompanied children to Britain from migrant camps.

Just 350 youngsters benefited, despite suggestions at the time that thousands would be allowed in.

But, confronted by criticism on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, she claimed: “Unfortunately fake news is settling out there, shall we say.” [3]

Following the ‘Brexit’ result, mass deportations have become the norm in the U.K.:

The UK government’s decision to forcibly remove 50 people to Jamaica on Wednesday morning, deporting them on a private charter plane, was unjust and unfair.

Among those targeted were parents, grandparents and partners of people still resident in the UK, some who are primary carers and one with a mental health condition. All but one had children. Many had been living in the UK for over 10 years, with some arriving in the country as small children, even babies.

They included people who had not reached the end of the immigration process in the UK, in terms of naturalisation and appeals, and some who may be in this situation due to administrative errors made by parents while they were still children. I understand that one person was completing the process of naturalisation before their British-born partner died; they were then told that, as a result of their partner’s death, it could no longer be concluded. They should have been allowed to finish this process. Then, once they had completely exhausted all appeals, the government should have given them the option of returning to Jamaica themselves, independently, paying for their own flights. This would have allowed them to make applications to return to the UK if they wanted to.

By deporting them, their right to apply and return has been taken away…

…Among those rounded up to be removed are a former soldier who served in the British army, a father of three who arrived in the UK aged four, and one who had arrived to sign in [at an immigration centre] with his baby in a pushchair. While detaining him, the Home Office called social services to take his baby. [4]

There are reports of many more mass, or individual, deportations – of families ripped apart by a cold, bloody-minded, set of rules applied with Gestapo-style inhumanity. Most recent was the case of this woman…

…Irene Clennell. Originally from Singapore, she’d lived in Britain for nearly thirty years, was married to a British national and had two children. She’d needed to return to Singapore from time to time to nurse her aged parents, both of whom eventually died, but because she’d spent time abroad the British government decided she hadn’t lived continuously in Britain for sufficient time to meet the regulations. She was arrested, taken to a detention centre, then put on a plane to Singapore with no time to say goodbye to her husband or family, and with only twelve pounds in her pocket.

Clennell first arrived in London in 1988 and married John, a British man, two years later. They settled in County Durham and had two children together. She now has one grandchild.

Her sister-in-law Angela confirmed Clennell had been deported. She said she had been subject to “insensitive and unfair government rules” and that Irene’s husband, her brother, was seriously ill…

…“For 30 years, my sister-in-law Irene has lived in Britain after arriving here from Singapore. She has a British husband, two wonderful British children and a granddaughter she dotes upon. She has worked hard for those 30 years raising her family and being an important and beloved member of the local community.

“Without her to look after him, we’re all worried for him, and to rip apart a family after 30 years of happiness seems so unfair. Irene has never claimed benefits in the UK. John has worked his entire adult life. We need to fight to keep them together so he has someone to care for him, and so she can stay with her family, where her home is.
“Irene has nowhere to go in Singapore, both her parents have passed away – her whole life is here in Britain.”

Clennell was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK after marrying John in 1990 but spent periods back in Singapore caring for her parents before they died.

The government’s spousal visa system requires the British partner to prove earnings of at least £18,600 and the couple being able to show long stretches of uninterrupted time living in the UK.

Clennell lost her leave to remain as the time she spent out of the country when her parents were dying was too long. She has made repeated attempts – in Singapore and back in the UK – to reapply for permission to live with her husband.

When asked to comment on this heart-wrenching story, a British Home Office spokesperson, speaking on behalf of Home Secretary (‘fake news’) Amber Rudd, gave the conventional response:

“All applications for leave to remain in the UK are considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules. We expect those with no legal right to remain in the country to leave.” [5]

The term “Legal Right” can have little meaning when laws are written without humanity or compassion. They’re a product of ultra-nationalism. Every day we hear horror stories emanating from the U.S.A and Britain, two countries wallowing in a sunami of far-right-wing, nationalistic, fervour, egged on by leaders and governments composed of fascist-orientated individuals posing as democratically elected officials.

At the head of this post is an image of Donald Trump and Theresa May standing together. It was probably taken in the White House. Below is another image. It was taken in 1938 on a visit by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cronies to Italy. Hitler is standing with Benito Mussolini. It was probably taken in the Coliseum at Rome.

Could Donald Trump be the latest incarnation of Adolf Hitler, with Theresa May his Mussolini? It seems preposterous, but Trump has promised that America will have the mightiest military ever seen on earth, and is increasing an already over-swollen military budget by a further ten percent. His raucous speeches to, “Make America Great Again,” bear similarity to Hitler’s promises to the German people. Let’s not forget it was the Wall Street crash of 1929 that helped elevate the Nazi Party to power in Germany, and one of their first priorities was to begin deporting German Jews – the excuse being they were to blame for Germany’s economic problems. A similar crash in 2008-09 has led to austerity for many Americans, and Europeans. There can be no doubt that this austerity produced both ‘Brexit’ and the rise of Donald Trump.

We cannot foretell the future, but the human race has a bad habit of never learning from its history. Consequently, human history has a habit of repeating itself.

[1] “US immigrant stripped of ‘dreamer’ status in part over alleged gang tattoo” Guardian, February 16th 2017

[2] “Undocumented Texas woman arrested while seeking domestic violence help” Guardian, February 16th 2017

[3] “Amber Rudd says concern over Tories scrapping child refugee scheme is ‘fake news'” Mirror, February 26th 2017

[4] “How can 50 people be snatched from their families and deported to Jamaica?” Guardian, September 8th 2016

[5] “Woman deported from UK despite being married to Briton for 27 years” Guardian, February 26th 2017

Has Trump Finally Made A Sane Decision?

By the sheer laws of chance even a madman can occasionally produce an apparently sane decision. Donald Trump’s choice of Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster1 as his National Security Advisor is an eminently sane one, springing from a host of otherwise crazy decisions by the present incumbent of the U.S. White House.

Known for his intellect and an insatiable need to speak his mind regardless of the consequences, McMaster was one of few commanders in Iraq building bridges with the Iraqis while the majority were kicking down doors and dragging the occupants away to internment camps and prisons like Abu Ghraib.

Only time will tell whether McMaster is able to control the unstable temperament of his political boss, and the other madmen presently at large in the presidential abode that’s become an asylum for the alt-right insane, but if he can’t do it then no-one can, and the future will indeed look bleak for us all.

[1] “Trump names Lt Gen H R McMaster as national security adviser” BBC, February 21st 2017

Wikipedia And The Secret Life Of The Hedge Fund

Courtesy ~ CorpWatch

One should really spend more time perusing Wikipedia. Written as they are by almost anybody, Wikipedia’s entries have often suffered criticism for possible inaccuracies, but one of the most fascinating aspects of this online encyclopaedia is not what’s being written about a particular subject, but what isn’t.

Scroll through some subject matter and you’ll find great long pages of facts, yet on others there’s less than half a page. That may be because the subject matter just isn’t particularly interesting: “Joe Bloggs, born in London, England, 1966; unmarried; no children; died London, England, 2014.” But, often, the truly fascinating entries are those that should be pages long, but aren’t.

Today there was a report from the BBC regarding the collapse of a potential takeover between two giants of the food industry, Kraft Heinz and the Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever. Do you ever wonder just who owns these vast conglomerates?

The BBC states:

Kraft Heinz is jointly controlled by the billionaire investor Warren Buffett and the Brazilian private equity group 3G. The latter has a deserved reputation for taking a scythe to costs – irrespective of how that might impact jobs and factories.
Unilever, on the other hand, has a reputation for doing the right thing in terms of corporate social responsibility and the environment – even if that eats into the bottom line. [1]

Note this comment concerning the equity group, 3G: “The latter has a deserved reputation for taking a scythe to costs – irrespective of how that might impact jobs and factories.”

Most of us know something of Warren Buffet, apart from him being the second wealthiest man in the world. Wikipedia tells us a lot more. You’ll scroll a long way down the page before reaching the end of Buffet’s entry. Similarly, the entry for Unilever is just as long, if not more so.

But who’s ever heard of the cut-throat company, 3G? Here’s where it gets really interesting. Wikipedia tells us:

3G Capital is a Brazilian multibillion-dollar investment firm, founded in 2004 by principals Jorge Paulo Lemann, Carlos Alberto Sicupira, Marcel Herrmann Telles and Roberto Thompson Motta.

Okay, let’s read all about this multi-billion dollar company. Sadly, we can’t. Well, no more than thirteen lines, anyway. The entry goes on to say that 3G owns Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Kraft Foods. Kraft Foods alone was worth over $23 billion by 2013 figures. It doesn’t state that on February 14th 2014 they bought Heinz Foods for $23 billion (another St Valentine’s Day Massacre?), though we do learn that in 2015 they merged Kraft with Heinz. The only other information is three lines about their offices and management.

Why is so little information available about this huge financial company? Its website is minuscule and has virtually no information at all, though the “Investors log-in” might reveal more – if one were an investor!

With such huge amounts of money being bandied about the obvious question is: who regulates it all? We can get this answer from Wikipedia, but it’s hidden away as a link down the bottom of the ‘3G’ page. Whatever fancy name it calls itself, 3G is basically a hedge fund run by four of the wealthiest men in Brazil (with a little assistance from Warren Buffet). The hedge fund regulatory authority is: ‘The Hedge Fund Standards Board’, which according to Wikipedia:

is [a] non-profit international group of hedge funds which was established in 2007, based in London, England.

It is a standard setting organisation for the hedge fund industry and sets the voluntary standard of best practice principles and practices endorsed by its members. Known as the Hedge Fund Standards these are designed to create a “… framework of transparency, integrity and good governance” in the way the hedge fund industry operates. The board was established in 2007 by 14 leading hedge fund managers and chaired by Sir Andrew Large to develop the standards. By 2016 it had almost 200 hedge fund managers and institutional investors as members who between them manage or invest US$ 3tn.

So the regulatory standards covering the management of three trillion US dollars are set solely by the hedge fund industry themselves. Incidentally, if you think Sir Andrew Large might be just the man to keep them in line, think again. Wikipedia tells us:

His career began with British Petroleum Ltd (1964–71). Subsequently he was an investment banker for twenty years becoming a member of the management board of Swiss Bank Corporation from 1987–1989. He was Chairman of the Securities and Investments Board (precursor of the Financial Services Authority FSA) from 1992–1997, and deputy chairman of Barclays Bank from 1998–2002. Also, he is on the advisory board of OMFIF where he is regularly involved in meetings regarding the financial and monetary system.

In other words, he’s one of them. Oh, and by the way, Wikipedia’s entry on the Hedge Fund Standards Board runs to – a mere ten lines.

When we seek out a Wikipedia entry for any of the four ‘owners’ of 3G the results are desultory. Jorge Paulo Lemann has the most detailed entry, but then he was a professional tennis player for a while. It also catalogues his career in the finance industry and how he met Warren Buffet.

Details on the other three founders of 3G are somewhat more sparse. Carlos Alberto Sicupira is given a grand total of five lines (though it does state his net worth is around ten billion dollars); Marcel Herrmann Telles’ entry runs to twelve lines, giving his net worth as thirteen billion dollars, and Roberto Thompson Motta has no Wikipedia entry at all.

It seems the less of a Wikipedia page there is the more secretive the subject wishes to remain (unless, of course, your name is Joe Bloggs). With the possible exception of the world of espionage, nothing is more secretive, or less well regulated, than the world of the hedge fund.

Wikipedia is a fascinating website, but often one learns more, not by perusing the content, but reading between the lines. And if you’re wondering what the hell OMFIF is I can tell you its the ‘Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum’. But you’ll not find an entry for it in Wikipedia.

I wonder why?

[1] “Kraft Heinz drops Unilever takeover bid” BBC, February 20th 2017

Who Will Trump Come For Next?

Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos is 36 years old. She isn’t an American citizen, but she lived in the U.S. for more than twenty years, since the age of fourteen. Her children were born there and have lived there all their lives. Guadalupe was an illegal immigrant with no papers. In 2009 she needed a job, so she obtained forged social security documents. Presumably, they weren’t very good as she was arrested and pleaded guilty in court. She was given a deportation order in 2013.

According to the BBC:

She was allowed to remain under President Barack Obama’s policy of leniency towards undocumented migrants who had entered the US as children. Garcia de Rayos’s children were born in the US and they remain there with her husband.
Garcia de Rayos was detained a few days after President Trump signed an executive order broadening the regulations covering deportation.
It stipulates that any undocumented immigrants convicted of a criminal offence get priority for deportation.
An estimated 11 million immigrants were living in the US illegally as of 2014. [1]

A stipulation of her freedom to stay in the United States was that she report once a year to the immigration department for routine checks. Last Wednesday she went for her routine check. She never returned to her family, but was taken into custody and driven by van back over the border into Mexico.

The only wrong this woman did was to try and get a job to help support her teenage children. Now they have no mother.

This is the action of Donald Trump and his so-called ‘administration’. This is a part of their, ‘Make America Great Again’ policy. This incident, and the recent ‘travel ban’ that separated families from each other is clear evidence, if any were needed, that Trump and Co have no sense of decency or humanity. They’re cold, heartless, scheming individuals who are determined to make America great again, but only for themselves and their own purposes.

This is the man, and his collection of clowns, that Britain’s Theresa May is determined to ally her country with for the foreseeable future. She needs to be careful. Mussolini allied Italy with a strong, militaristic, nation in 1937. He lived to regret it.

[1] “Mexico warns citizens in US after woman deported” BBC, February 10th 2017