Murder in Salisbury

Salisbury, England, is a sleepy market town.  Nothing much happens there…until last Sunday when two people were found unconscious on a park bench.  Then all hell broke loose and it became a major international incident affecting the major powers in the world.  That is because the two people were Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.  He was a former spy for the UK in Russia, and the means of their attempted assassination was a toxic nerve agent.

By now everyone knows that the attempted assassination was “most likely” by the Russians, as stated by British PM Theresa May in her speech to the House of Commons.  She said it could have been by a rogue group within Russia who got hold of the particular nerve agent that is a military product of the Russian State, or the Russian State itself, in other words by Pres. Vladimir Putin. In this case it was evidently an assassination ordered by Putin and probably carried out either by Russian agents or indirectly by some paid assassins.  The fact that the nerve agent is known to be a Russian military grade product makes it most likely that the Russian State was directly involved in this incident.

Remember that this is not the first such assassination carried out in Britain by the Soviets/Russians.  In 1978 Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was murdered by the injection of a tiny ball coated with the deadly nerve agent ricin that was in the tip of an umbrella with which he was stabbed as he got off a bus; in 2013 Boris Berezovsky, an oligarch who fell out with Putin, was found hanged in this bathroom in London; in 2006 Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated using highly radioactive polonium, and there are other mysterious deaths and “suicides.”  After the Litvinenko murder the UK took severe political actions against Russia, including sanctions and expelling several diplomats (actually KGB agents).  They also indicted the man responsible for the murder, although he is still at large in Russia.

PM May gave Putin a few days to come up with an explanation of the incident and when he didn’t she expelled 23 members of the Russian Embassy from the UK and imposed sanctions.  You just can’t allow agents from another country to come into your country and kill someone, and particularly not with such a dangerous substance that has endangered the lives of ordinary British citizens.  In fact one constable is in grave danger from contact with the agent and a restaurant and a pub where traces were found have been closed and the number of people visiting Salisbury have dropped significantly.

And now Pres. Trump is said to be reassessing his response to Pres. Putin.  The US imposed its own sanctions and the US, France and Germany issued a joint statement with the UK deploring Russian actions in this case.  So far Trump has shown a rare degree of sympathy for Putin, as a strong fellow-leader.  But, now he is beginning to understand how dangerous Putin is, as a former KGB Colonel, as a ruthless murderer of his opponents and an enemy of democracy.  As is well-known, they have a certain way of doing things in Russia (as it was under the Czars and under Stalin), if you can’t beat your enemy, you kill your enemy!


The Crown

I have been watching the BBC series “The Crown” on TV that is a docudrama of the ascension and life of Queen Elizabeth II of England.  It is an intriguing story that goes behind the scene to show us ordinary mortals how the royals behaved.  As such it is both very familiar and yet at the same time very foreign.

Having been born and brought up in England, I remember well the newsworthy antics of the royals and their upper class clipped accents.  But, I was an anti-monarchist from an early age, quite out of step with most Brits.  I was influenced by my Russian Jewish father who had only contempt for royalty, not surprising given the excesses and the fate of the Romanovs.  My attitude towards the royals was much the same as my attitude towards slavery.  Just as no man should be a slave to others, so no man or woman should be a King or Queen to rule over others.  I don’t believe in the divine right of Kings, who does nowadays, and I also don’t believe in the right of familial succession, such as they have in England and in North Korea.

The way the monarchy lords it over others and gives them something to look up to because of their flamboyant and excessive lives is so condescending and patronizing that it is nauseating.  Nothing I have learnt from seeing this series has changed my views, on the contrary, they only reinforce the pure banality of the whole idea of a royal family, a bunch of bloodless, blood-sucking parasites.   I found myself agreeing with the Duke of Windsor, who as Edward VIII was forced to abdicate from the throne.  But, he was a fascist and a supporter of Hitler and even worse than the rest of them because he wanted to be an active King who intervened in political affairs.  They had to get rid of him.

I was struck by the oath repeated by the monarch at her coronation, “I accept this anointment with oils as Zadok the Priest anointed King Solomon.”  What presumption, what cheek to try to relate their German and Anglo line of succession to that of the Jewish Kings in the Bible.   And how does the “holy” oil differ form ordinary oil?  I left the UK and was glad to become an American and then an Israeli, both democratic republics.  Eventually I feel sure there will be an English Republic, once Scotland, Ireland and Wales achieve their separation from the conquering English.

Alternative for Germany

The political party Alternative for Germany (AfG) has won seats in the German Bundestag for the first time.  This is the first time since WWII that a far right party has obtained enough votes (12.6%)  to garner representatives in Parliament (94 out of 709). What does it mean for Germany, for Europe and for the Jews?

The big loser in the election was Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right party the Christian Democrats.  Their share of the vote went down, although they are still the largest party and they will of course have to form a coalition government.  But, the AfG will not be in the coalition.  Their main attraction for voters, especially the disaffected unemployed in former East Germany is their anti-immigrant stance.

I watched a  program on BBC’s Panorama about the kind of supporters that the AfG is attracting. This concerned the small town of Freital in Saxony, East Germany.  There have been regular demonstrations there, some that have been violent, by right wing and neo-Nazi groups against the migrants that Chancellor Merkel allowed to enter Germany in large numbers (over 1 million).  Many people in Freital are out of work or on the dole and naturally resent the financial help given to the migrants, particularly by left-wing organizations.   The program focused on one small group of right-wing radicals that called themselves the Freital Group.  They carried out 5 increasingly violent attacks against migrants and their supporters.

The striking thing was that the local police did essentially nothing to either find them or stop them.   And all the time they were meeting at a gas station opposite the police station in Freital.  It was only when their last attack blew out the windows of a migrant shelter and injured several people that the Federal Police got involved.  They immediately labelled this a terrorist attack, which it was, and they arrested the ring-leaders.  They were charged with various crimes and sentenced with up to 10 years in jail.  The Federal Government was making the statement that demonstrations will be tolerated, but violent attacks will not.

However, with the winning of seats in the Bundestag by the AfG perhaps the situation will change and worsen.  This matters little to the Jews, of whom there are only a very small number in Germany and very few in East Germany.  But, it means a lot for the million migrants in Germany.  As I warned them, we Jews know what the Germans are capable of.  If things get stirred up, and the Germans have a tendency to blame others for their own problems, then it could go bad for the Muslims.  And if the AfG becomes powerful enough, you could even see a coup and the (re)institution of concentration camps in Germany, preparatory to getting rid of this problem.  As far as I am concerned “a pox on both their houses.”



Is Europe dying?

While Europe is distracted by the conflict over Brexit, Britain being the first country to exit from the EU, it is probably undergoing its death throes.  There are three main reasons why:

  1. The low birth rate:  Throughout Europe the birth rate is so low that it is far less than the replacement rate required to maintain a stable population (the overall figure is 1.6 children per woman and is declining).  This means that there are not enough people to fulfill the work requirements, both in technical jobs and in menial tasks.  The latter have to be filled by lowly paid immigrants.  But in fact the  liberal laws in the EU make it worthwhile for immigrants to enter Europe where they can find work and earn far more than they could in their home countries.
  2. The immigrant flood:  Italy issued a warning that it will close its ports to all migrants because last week more than 80,000 people entered, mostly from Libya and mostly Black Africans and North African Muslims.  The Italian authorities simply can’t cope with this flood of immigrants, most of whom want to move further north to Germany, Sweden and Britain.  The EU is simply unable to cope with this flood of humanity.  Note that Germany already took ca. 1.4 million immigrants, mostly Syrian refugees in the past few years at a cost of over one billion euros.  Note the difference, immigrants are simply people entering a country, while refugees are fleeing war and are in fear of their lives.  Refugees can ask for asylum, economic immigrants can’t.  Most of the current wave are the latter and could be simply returned to whence they came.  The problem is that Europe is so liberal now, that I saw a young woman earnestly arguing on the BBC that the very title of “economic immigrant” should be banned.  What self-deception.  Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the problem of terrorism that the Muslim hordes bring with them.
  3. The financial crisis: Greece still has a debt burden of m∈300, and this is after hundreds of billions of euros have already been loaned.  The fundamental problem of the eurozone is that it is based on a fiction, namely that all members will adhere to the rules and that all members can in fact be solvent.  There is a clear-cut division between the northern tier (Germany and Scandinavia) and the southern tier (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, etc.) and nothing they can do can change the fact that the north will always be carrying the south financially.

Add these three factors together and Europe is on a sharp decline.  As immigrants replace the native European populations, the basic economic strength of Europe, that depends on innovation and dynamism, is being sapped.   In the natural world the predators always go first for the weak and the sick – the survival of the fittest.  Europe is like a big blundering buffalo that is unable to keep up with the herd, but hasn’t yet noticed the lions trailing it.



No Western Wall Compromise

The Israeli Government dropped a bombshell Sunday when it announced that it will not support a compromise at the Western Wall, the Kotel.  Because the ultra-Orthodox refuse to allow men and women to pray together at the Wall and because they hold a monopoly over the current Western Wall Plaza, a compromise was negotiated thru the good offices of Natan Sharansky, former Head of the Jewish Agency, in which a third section (to the right of the Wall) was set aside for egalitarian prayer for the Reform and Conservative movements.  This was supposedly agreed and had Government support.  But, now after several years of negotiations, the Government has reneged on the deal.

This is a slap in the face of the Diaspora movements as well as Israeli affiliates and leaves the situation as it was, with the ultra-Orthodox in charge of everything.  Also, the Government backed out of a deal over control of conversions in Israel and they remain in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate.  These setbacks can only be seen as a casualty of the Coalition Government system in Israel, in which the Netanyahu Government feels it is forced to avoid policies that will upset the ultra-Orthodox, who might then leave the Coalition and bring down the Government.  So instead they have dropped a very necessary compromise solution to a difficult problem.

Israel is not the only country with a Coalition system, now the UK with a minority Conservative Government has formed a Coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.  Their agreement was announced today.  It seems tht in order to get their support PM Theresa May was forced to agree to pay an extra billion pounds to N. Ireland.  It’s blackmail, but that is the way the system works.  How they will handle the problem of the Northern Ireland-Irish Republic border remains to be seen.  It was supposed to be a “soft” border, like the rest of the EU.  But, now that the UK is leaving the EU, that becomes the border between an EU and a non-EU state, hence a “hard” border, which contravenes the Irish Good Friday Peace Treaty.



Trans-Atlantic Differences

Since I grew up in Britain and spent most of my adult life in the US, I tend to watch the news from both countries.  At present they could not be more different.

The news from Britain is all about Brexit, PM Theresa May’s challenges and its consequences, with a secondary item about the fire at Grenfall Tower in London where up to now 79 people are known to have died.   The current conclusion, that seems obvious, is that the cladding they put on the building in 2016 was not fire-resistant and this caused the fire to spread very quickly, trapping many people on the top floors.   There is brief mention of Pres. Trump, usually emphasizing his problems.

In the US, the news is dominated by Pres. Trump’s problems, how Congressional Committees are investigating his terrible deeds, how he gave secrets to the Russians and how he is decimating the healthcare system of the USA.  The bias in the news reports is incredible, one recent example was a commentator who compared Trump to the Communist dictator of North Korea.  There is only one channel, Fox, that has a semblance of balance in its news reports, MSNBC and CNN have no consideration for the fact that Trump is the elected President of the USA, they clearly regard him as the enemy. Brexit is occasionally mentioned in the US news.

It is not unexpected that there is a different agenda and a distinct set of news stories in each of these two countries.  But, the current emphasis is so different that there is really hardly any overlap.  In a way this is bad, since it means that the alliance between Britain and America is weakened by their lack of common interests.



The UK Election Disaster

Theresa May called a “snap” election because she wanted to improve her majority as a basis for taking a “hard” line in the Brexit negotiations with the EU.  At the time of her decision, polls showed that the Conservatives would win ca. 20 more seats.  However, in politics things change very quickly and often unexpectedly.  From that moment unaccountably Jeremy Corbyn, whose views are anathema to most Jews and Israel supporters, began to gain support for the Labor Party.  Not only did he firm up his control over the party, but he published a popular manifesto, and he campaigned against a hard Brexit.  

Since the British voted for Brexit last year, many people have been having second thoughts.  Now, the young came out to vote and supported Labor and the pro-Brexit forces were depleted.  So this caused a major turn around from the Conservatives and the UKIP to Labor.  The election results show a 12 seat loss to the Conservatives and a total loss to UKIP, with a 31 seat improvement for Labor. The Conservatives are still the largest party, but Labor had the largest increase since the election of Tony Blair back in 1997.  

In the Parliament of 650 seats, a party needs 326 in order to have a majority.  Theresa May, who is currently remaining as PM, will have a minority Government of 318 seats. But, with the support of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) that has 10 seats, she can manage to get a majority.  At present there is no formal coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP, but there will be an agreement or understanding.  

One other aspect of the election has been the surprising turn around in Scotland.  The Scottish National Party (SNP) lost 19 seats, but unexpectedly the Conservatives were the major recipients of these seats, while Labor, which had traditionally been strong in Scotland, did not gain much from this SNP loss.  So that means that Theresa May is now in a way dependent on support from both the Northern Ireland and Scottish constituencies.  May’s majority is not only very slender, she has to worry about opposition and defections from within her own Conservative Party, that has its pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit wings.  

So for May the election results are a disaster, instead of improving her electoral position she has significantly weakened it, and instead of Corbyn losing support he has gained significantly.  Although Labor does not appear to be able to form a Government with 261 seats, this leaves May terribly weakened at precisely the time she needs and wanted greater support.  Her time as PM cannot be very long, and the Brexit negotiations with the EU are definitely in peril.  As a result of these results the British pound tumbled again in the markets and it shows that the British public is adept at shooting itself in the foot.