Stopping the advance of the right-wing populists

In an editorial for Der Spiegel, Ullrich Fichtner writes: Populists like to claim that they alone have the courage to tell the truth. That only they are bold enough to say what the aloof elite and the politically correct mainstream deliberately hold back. The result are truths such as Mexicans are rapists and North Africans are gropers. And that no upstanding German wants a neighbor with dark skin. And more such nonsense.

Convicted racist Geert Wilders sought to win the Dutch election last week with the truth that Moroccans are “scum.” And now those who don’t share Wilders’ view are relieved that only 13 percent of voters agree with him.

But while Wilders’ election defeat may be pleasing, it is still too early to sound the all-clear. This election too delivered plenty of evidence that right-wing populists dominate the public debate.

As things currently stand, the multimedia circus frequently delivers absurdly distorted images of political reality, particularly here in Europe. In the weeks leading up to the Dutch election, a Geert Wilders festival was celebrated in print, radio, television and internet outlets, almost as though the other 27 parties participating in the Dutch vote didn’t even exist. The same can currently be said of France, where the press makes it seem as though only Marine Le Pen’s ideas are up for debate. And there is hardly an article about Italian politics that doesn’t include images of the slobbering populist Beppo Grillo. Here in Germany, entire media seminars could be held focusing on the hysterical attention being paid to the ups and downs of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The dual shock of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election may have magnified the tendency to exaggerate the ugly. In both cases, the inability to see what was coming increased the media’s self-doubt, shook the political classes and unsettled entire societies. But it would be a cardinal error to conclude from Brexit and Trump that the theories and tirades of right-wing troublemakers automatically represent the “voice of the people” and are thus the expression of justifiable concerns. [Continue reading…]

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The Russian ‘Global Laundromat’ laundering operation exposed

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project reports: Three years after the “Laundromat” was exposed as a criminal financial vehicle to move vast sums of money out of Russia, journalists now know how the complex scheme worked – including who ended up with the $20.8 billion and how, despite warnings, banks failed for years to shut it down.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) broke the story of the Laundromat in 2014, but recently the reporters from OCCRP and Novaya Gazeta in Moscow obtained a wealth of bank records which they then opened to investigative reporters in 32 countries.

Their combined research for the first time paints a fuller picture of how billions moved from Russia, into and through the 112 bank accounts that comprised the system in eastern Europe, then into banks around the world. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Britain’s high street banks processed nearly $740m from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian can reveal.

HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks based in the UK, or with branches here, that are facing questions over what they knew about the international scheme and why they did not turn away suspicious money transfers.

Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least $20bn appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be $80bn, detectives believe.

One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”.

Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as “the Global Laundromat”.

They estimate a group of about 500 people were involved. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB.

Igor Putin, the cousin of Russia’s president, Vladimir, sat on the board of a Moscow bank which held accounts involved in the fraud. [Continue reading…]

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Among British intelligence officials, growing concern about security threat posed by Trump

Financial Times reports: Shaken by the leaks of Edward Snowden, beset with strategic threats from Islamist militants and Russian aggression, the US-UK intelligence alliance is now facing a more unexpected although no less serious challenge — from the most powerful man within it.

Serving and former British intelligence officials worry that the US president has the power — if not necessarily the inclination — to weaken intelligence ties. After all, the White House has in the past tried to choke off sharing information with the UK and political disagreements have also sometimes led to selective disclosures on both sides.

They also fret that Mr Trump’s fast-and-loose style could lead to the disclosure of highly sensitive information provided by Britain. Most sensitive of all, some British intelligence officials wonder how carefully Mr Trump might treat their “product” — particularly over Russia — if it was deemed damaging to his own political interests. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s foolish effort to blame GCHQ and Fox News for a diplomatic mess of his own making

Former NSA analyst and counterintelligence officer, John Schindler, writes: Napolitano has zero background in intelligence and has no idea what he’s talking about. His accusation against Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, London’s NSA equivalent, was patently absurd, as well as malicious, demonstrating that neither Napolitano nor Fox News have the slightest notion how intelligence works in the real world.

Yet here the White House was publicly endorsing this crackpot theory—and blaming perhaps our closest ally for breaking American laws at the behest of Barack Obama. Our domestic crisis thereby became an international one, for no reason other than the administration has gone global in its efforts to deflect blame from its own stupidity and dishonesty.

This is no small matter. NSA and GCHQ enjoy the most special of special relationships, serving since the Second World War as the cornerstone of the Anglosphere Five Eyes signals intelligence alliance (the others are Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) which defeated Hitler and won the Cold War. This constitutes the most successful espionage alliance in history, and just how close NSA and GCHQ are would be difficult to overstate.

Affectionately calling each other “the cousins,” they interchange personnel and, in the event of disaster—for instance a crippling terrorist attack on agency headquarters—NSA would hand most of its functions over to GCHQ, so that Five Eyes would keep running. It’s long been a source of consternation at Langley that NSA appears to get along better with GCHQ than with CIA. I once witnessed this issue come up in a top-secret meeting with senior officials, in which a CIA boss took an NSA counterpart to task when it became apparent that a piece of highly sensitive intelligence had been shared with “the cousins” before Langley was informed. The NSA senior official’s terse reply silenced the room: “That’s because we trust them.”

Publicly attacking the NSA-GCHQ relationship was therefore a consummately bad idea, particularly by a White House that has already gone so far out of its way to anger and alienate our own spies, and the British reply was one for the record books. Late yesterday, GCHQ issued a remarkable statement:

Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.

American spy services are famously tight-lipped in their public utterances, falling back on “we can neither confirm nor deny” with a regularity that frustrates journalists. And our spooks are positively loquacious compared to British partners, who seldom say anything on the record to the media. Calling out Fox News and the White House in this manner has no precedent, and indicates just how angry British officials are with the Trump administration. For Prime Minister Teresa May, whose efforts to build bridges with the new president have been deeply unpopular at home, this had to be galling. [Continue reading…]

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Scottish independence: Theresa May has sealed fate of UK, says Nicola Sturgeon

The Guardian reports: Nicola Sturgeon has accused Theresa May of sealing the fate of the United Kingdom after the prime minister rejected her demand for a second Scottish independence referendum before the Brexit talks conclude.

The first minister said May’s stance was “completely outrageous and unacceptable”, hours after the prime minister had insisted that “now is not the time” for the referendum that the SNP had hoped to stage between autumn 2019 and spring 2019.

Sturgeon said on Thursday: “It’s an argument for independence, really, in a nutshell, that Westminster thinks it has got the right to block the democratically elected mandate of the Scottish government and the majority in the Scottish parliament. History may look back on today and see it as the day the fate of the union was sealed.”

She insisted she would press on with plans for a vote at the Scottish parliament next week seeking its approval to request the legal power from Westminster to stage the referendum on Holyrood’s terms – a vote she is expected to narrowly win with Scottish Green party support.

But May said earlier that the Tories would not allow any discussion of the referendum until the UK’s Brexit deal had been signed and Scottish voters had time to weigh it up, implying any referendum may not happen until 2021 at the earliest. “To look at the issue at this time would be unfair, because people wouldn’t have the necessary information to make such a crucial decision,” May added. [Continue reading…]

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Britain is an immigrant nation

Rachel Shabi writes: The central exhibit of the Museum of Immigration and Diversity is the building itself. Located in London’s East End, it straddles the Docklands to its east, where new arrivals to Britain once hit dry land, and to its west the city, whose shiny office towers stand as the symbols of wealth and opportunity that have attracted so many newcomers.

This unassuming Georgian building on 19 Princelet Street has migration written into its bricks and mortar. Built in 1719, the house was once home to Huguenots fleeing persecution from Catholic France, and then to families forced to leave Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840s. Later in the 19th century, Jewish refugees from pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe turned the garden into a small synagogue. In the 1930s, the Jewish East Enders used the basement to hold meetings for the movement that faced down the fascist Blackshirts in the famous Battle of Cable Street.

The period that followed bequeathed one of the nation’s most enduringly positive immigration stories. Just before World War II, Britain took in some 10,000 mostly Jewish children through the Kindertransport rescue program. Last year, one of those children, Alf Dubs, a Labour member of the House of Lords, won popular support for his campaign to bring 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees into the country.

In the postwar period, the Princelet Street house and surrounding streets were home to new migrant communities — from Bangladesh, the Caribbean and, most recently, Eastern Europe. Much like New York’s landmark Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Museum of Immigration and Diversity intertwines all these strands. Each room showcases a different aspect of the immigrant experience, narrating histories through objects, diaries and recordings.

In a larger way, of course, the very story of Britain has always been one of migrants. Poke around behind Britain’s currently rigid surface of chauvinism and a composite picture emerges — of Romans, Vikings, Celts, Normans, Jews, Indians, Chinese, Africans and more. The whole country is a living museum of immigration — if only its people would acknowledge it.

But Brexit Britain, you might suppose, is not a country much inclined to hear migration stories. Whatever else can be read into the referendum vote to leave the European Union, it was characterized by hostility about the flow of people to Britain and campaigning that played heavily on fears of immigration. [Continue reading…]

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It’s time to prepare for a second Scottish referendum

Alex Massie writes: On 24 June last year, in the Georgian splendour of her official residence in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square, Scotland’s First Minister offered her reaction to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Since Scottish voters endorsed Remain, it was now, Nicola Sturgeon said, ‘highly likely’ there would be another referendum on Scottish independence. Since then that promise — one viewed with dread by the two million Scots who voted to preserve the Union in 2014 — has been variously ‘on the table’, ‘more likely’ than ever and even ‘all but inevitable’. The clock is ticking.

Later this month, Sturgeon will address her party’s annual conference. She is expected to outline the terms and conditions she seeks for another referendum. That begins with a demand that the UK government pass a Section 30 order granting the Scottish parliament the right to hold a second plebiscite. Having granted such an order in 2014, it will be difficult to refuse Ms Sturgeon’s demand for another.

If there is another referendum, Sturgeon says, the fault lies with a Conservative government in London that is ‘dragging’ Scotland kicking and screaming out of the European Union against its will — that Scotland is being bullied by its neighbour and must now make a choice for itself: independence or a Tory-dominated Brexit Britain. [Continue reading…]

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UK byelection results amplify doubts about Corbyn’s capacity to lead Labour party

Rafael Behr writes: Jeremy Corbyn is running out of excuses. Losing a seat that has been held by Labour in every election since 1935 certainly signifies a break from the old politics, but not the one that was advertised to Labour members.

The explicit promise of Corbyn’s leadership campaigns was reconnection with the party’s founding spirit and values, leading to a recovery of votes in places that had drifted away from Labour under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband. But Miliband’s Labour party held Copeland.

Byelections are unreliable guides to future general election outcomes but effective for capturing moments of electoral volatility. Traditionally they give voters an opportunity to lash out at an incumbent government to the benefit of the opposition. It is rare for that dynamic to be reversed. Under the conventional rules of politics, Labour would be shovelling votes on to an increased majority in a seat like Copeland.

The threat of closure hanging over a local hospital maternity unit furnished just the kind of local issue to propel a lively mid-term swing against a government. When Labour can’t even mobilise its core supporters – or rather, those voters who once constituted its core – in defence of the NHS (and that was the focus of the party’s campaign on the ground) something has gone very wrong.

Or someone. Campaigners for all parties report that Corbyn’s name was coming up on the doorstep. His well-known aversion to nuclear energy did not go down well in a seat where Sellafield employs 10,000 people. The Tories were not shy of reminding people that the Labour leader was ideologically hostile to the engine of their local economy. But MPs who canvassed the constituency report a deeper frustration with Corbyn – a sense that he simply isn’t up to the job; that he has been miscast in a role to which he isn’t suited; that the party is insulting its longest-serving supporters by telling them that this man should be their prime minister when they can see that he wouldn’t be able to do the job and might not even really want it. [Continue reading…]

Charlie Cooper writes: At the Conservative conference in October last year, a new political order emerged. Theresa May cast herself as the champion of the 52 percent who voted to leave the European Union and — stealing Labour’s clothes — pledged to represent people who felt left behind by globalization and the march of the metropolitan elites.

Set aside for a moment the fact that, behind the rhetoric, her government remains wedded to economic austerity, and that she faces a profoundly difficult EU exit negotiation, victory in Copeland was a resounding vindication of that strategy. On current trends, it’s an approach that looks like it could propel May into a position of dominance not seen in British politics since the heyday of Tony Blair. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May’s myopic gamble with Trump

Judy Dempsey writes: How Theresa May must be regretting the day she proposed inviting U.S. President Donald Trump on a state visit to the UK sometime in 2017. The British prime minister extended the invitation on behalf of the queen during her official visit to Washington on January 26–27. This was May’s way of proving that Britain could manage quite well without the European Union, thank you very much. London and Washington would have an even closer and even more special relationship than before now that the EU is soon going to be out of the way.

Just think of the trade deals the United States and Britain could forge, May argued, forgetting that as long as Britain remains a member of the EU, trade deals are the prerogative of Brussels, not of national governments. No matter. It was as if membership of the EU were hindering Britain’s foreign policy and its economic ties with third countries. Britain would now be free to go its own way.

No sooner had May returned home from the United States than a petition was launched to stop the visit “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.” The queen is not easily embarrassed. She has had no qualms in sharing the royal horse-drawn carriage with dictators including Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu, Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, or Indonesia’s Haji Muhammad Suharto. Those visits were about political and ideological interests. [Continue reading…]

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Trump suffers from ‘ceaseless incontinence of free speech’ says British MP during debate on state visit

The Guardian reports: British MPs lined up on Monday to pour scorn on a “racist and sexist” Donald Trump, who they said should not be allowed to come to Britain for a state visit because of the risk it would embarrass the Queen.

The US president was compared to a “petulant child” and had his intelligence questioned by MPs during a three-hour debate triggered after more than 1.8m people signed a petition urging Theresa May to cancel her invitation.

So many politicians packed into Westminster Hall for the debate that they had to have their speeches limited to five minutes each.

Alex Salmond said he was unsure over whether to be appalled by the morality of the invitation or astonished by its stupidity.

“As an example of fawning subservience, the prime minister holding hands [with Trump] would be difficult to match,” the former Scottish first minister said. “To do it in the name of shared values was stomach churning. What exactly are the shared values that this house, this country would hope to have?”

Labour’s Paul Flynn said that only two US presidents had been accorded a state visit to Britain in more than half a century and it was “completely unprecedented” that Trump had been issued his within seven days of his presidency.

Flynn – who started the debate because he is on the petitions committee – said Trump would hardly be silenced by the invitation being rescinded, accusing him of a “ceaseless incontinence of free speech”. [Continue reading…]

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British Muslim teacher denied entry to U.S. on school trip

The Guardian reports: A British Muslim schoolteacher travelling to New York last week as a member of a school party from south Wales was denied entry to the United States.

Juhel Miah and a group of children and other teachers were about to take off from Iceland on 16 February on their way to the US when he was removed from the plane at Reykjavik. The previous week, on the 10 February, a US appeals court had upheld a decision to suspend Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned entry to the country from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The trip proceeded as planned but pupils and colleagues from Llangatwg comprehensive in Aberdulais were left shocked and distressed after the maths teacher, who had valid visa documentation, was escorted from the aircraft by security personnel.

The teacher’s employer, Neath Port Talbot council, has written to the US embassy in London demanding an explanation and the issue is being taken up by Welsh politicians.

A council spokesman said Miah was left feeling belittled at what it described as “an unjustified act of discrimination”. The council said the teacher is a British citizen and does not have dual nationality. [Continue reading…]

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Considering Tony Blair’s Brexit speech — the message not the messenger

In an editorial, The Guardian says: If the test of a speech is how effectively it generates headlines and dominates conversations, Tony Blair’s call for a Brexit rethink today was a resounding success. Less so, perhaps, if the test was to persuade people who do not agree with him already.

Mr Blair always commands attention as the only living British politician to have won three elections and served a decade as prime minister. That experience furnishes insight deserving of an audience. But such insight is routinely obscured by debate about the integrity of the man. Anyone who served so long will animate partisan feelings; Mr Blair’s unusual fate is to have aroused some of the most passionate hatred within his own party.

It is possible to believe that some of the opprobrium is earned, yet also to think that the argument advanced by Mr Blair on Brexit is sound. His case is that Britain voted to leave the European Union without an account of what that would involve in practice. As the terms of separation become clear – if it appears that the government is wedded to a ruinous version of Brexit – it is reasonable to argue for a different course. [Continue reading…]

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Trump wants to push back against Iran, but Iran is now more powerful than ever

The Washington Post reports: President Trump’s tough talk on Iran is winning him friends in the Arab world, but it also carries a significant risk of conflict with a U.S. rival that is now more powerful than at any point since the creation of the Islamic republic nearly 40 years ago.

With its warning last week that Iran is “on notice,” the Trump administration signaled a sharp departure from the policies of President Barack Obama, whose focus on pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran eclipsed historic U.S. concerns about Iranian expansionism and heralded a rare period of detente between Washington and Tehran.

Many in the region are now predicting a return to the tensions of the George W. Bush era, when U.S. and Iranian operatives fought a shadow war in Iraq, Sunni-Shiite tensions soared across the region and America’s ally Israel fought a brutal war with Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Except that now the United States will be facing down a far stronger Iran, one that has taken advantage of the past six years of turmoil in the Arab world to steadily expand its reach and military capabilities. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Theresa May has resisted pressure to re-examine the viability of the international nuclear deal with Iran from her Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, who urged her to follow Donald Trump’s example by imposing fresh sanctions.

May also said only a two-state solution could bring about peace in the Middle East, and her spokeswoman said the extension of illegal settlements made a solution more difficult.

Netanyahu had said “responsible” countries should follow Trump in imposing new sanctions against Iran after it test-fired a ballistic missile. But May expressed her concern about Iran’s actions without saying there was a need for sanctions. [Continue reading…]

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Trump should not be allowed to speak in UK parliament, says Speaker

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump is unfit to address MPs, according to the Speaker of the House of Commons who said that he would refuse to invite the US president to speak at Westminster because of parliament’s long held opposition “to racism and to sexism”.

John Bercow warned that the opportunity to speak in the prestigious Westminster Hall during a state visit “is not an automatic right, it is an earned honour” in an extraordinary intervention that divided MPs and annoyed No 10.

The unprecedented step caused many MPs to pour praise on Bercow, but also triggered an angry response in parts of government with ministers privately claiming that he had overstepped the mark.

Senior figures accused the Speaker of grandstanding – while his counterpart in the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, was understood to be irritated by the unexpected statement.

Bercow, whose role is non-political, told MPs that he did not have the power to block the state visit invitation extended to Trump by Theresa May, but made clear that he would use his authority to prevent what is considered one of the high points of the official trip.

The speaker made clear that he was always against the idea of Trump making a speech in the same hall that Barack Obama did in 2012, but said recent policies had even more determined to block the move. [Continue reading…]

 

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U.S. allies draw close to Trump at their peril

The New York Times reports: A close relationship with any American president is regarded as crucial by allies and foes alike, but especially by intimates like Britain, Canada, Japan and Mexico. Yet like moths to the flame, the leaders of those nations are finding that they draw close at their peril.

While [Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa] May is the latest prominent figure to suffer repercussions for her handling of Mr. Trump, the leaders of those other three close allies have also felt the sting of public anger soon after what seemed to be friendly telephone calls or encounters. They then find themselves facing a no-win situation, either openly criticizing the leader of their superpower ally or pulling their punches and risking severe criticism at home.

One Western leader to escape this fate so far is the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who has kept a cool distance from Mr. Trump. In a telephone call on Saturday, she reminded him of Washington’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions to accept refugees fleeing war, a view underlined by her official spokesman.

The danger of playing nice with Mr. Trump should come as little surprise to his country’s allies. Besides campaigning on an “America First” platform, he has regularly argued that allies have been taking the United States for a ride, in trade, security and financial terms.

While he has been cordial in public settings with the leaders of those allied nations, Mr. Trump has turned on them soon afterward.

“The problem for May is that Trump doesn’t value relationships. He values strength and winning,” said Jeremy Shapiro, the director of research at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former senior State Department official. “If you rush to the White House to offer a weak hand of friendship, you guarantee exploitation.” [Continue reading…]

Paul Mason writes: We have two choices: we can acquiesce and let this sociopathic sex pest grab our collective hand amid the scary world he has created. We can abase ourselves for special favours – such as exemption for British dual nationals. Or we can reject Trump in his entirety.

Just as Trump is meddling – via Ukip – in the racial politics of Britain, British liberalism and socialism has the duty now to intervene in the social politics of the US. We must bet on Trump’s defeat in 2020, help train and fund lawyers and journalists to hold him in check, and – once he is gone – attempt to rebuild the multilateral order. Yes, and ruin his state visit: through all forms of protest legally possible.

The shape of a Dump Trump foreign policy is clear: Britain must strengthen its alliance with countries whose governments and peoples share our values: France, the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and Greece. Although we are headed out of the EU, the case for the softest possible form of Brexit is only strengthened by the US’s descent into arbitrary government. [Continue reading…]

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This Trump petition shows UK citizens will not bend a knee to hate

Suzanne Moore writes: If you had told me a few months back I would be encouraging people to sign a petition to prevent embarrassment being caused to the Queen, I would have laughed. Petitions are so overused these days that they can seem meaningless – and surely there are bigger issues at stake than the feelings of the monarch. But that was before Donald Trump and his decency-shredding goons were in power, before this shameful Muslim ban. These are not normal times – despite our government and much of our press pretending that they are. It is good to see that Trump is being fought on every level from huge marches, to spontaneous demonstrations to legal challenges. This petition is another small front. It is not an attempt to ban Trump, it simply asks that he does not make a state visit, that the red carpet is not rolled out for him. It says a state visit could cause the Queen “embarrassment”.

This is a smart move because Trump does care about pomp, ceremony and hierarchy. Symbolism matters more to him than reality. Never accepted socially in the upper echelons of American society, it matters hugely that he is now seen with those his supporters recognise as important. He kept the menu from his dinner with Theresa May remember, as a reminder that he’d “had lunch with the British prime minister”.

Embracing him with the royal flummery would signal to his base that this country held him in high regard, that he was head of a respected government. Both these things are untrue. May’s embarrassing renewal of the vows of the special relationship didn’t even amount to a one-night stand. As soon as she had got on the plane he was signing this vile executive order. The ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries is a domestic policy to play to his racist base. It has nothing to do with terrorism, but some of those who would support it would also enjoy seeing him all puffed up hanging out with the Queen. [Continue reading…]

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