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Sunday, 31 March 2019

Why Trump’s Golan Heights move should worry India and Taiwan (Qz)

Quartz title: Why Trump’s Golan Heights move should worry India and Taiwan

"Donald Trump signed a proclamation today (March 25) recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, overturning 50 years of US precedent and defying international law on sovereign borders.

That means that the world’s most powerful military has decided to support Israel’s 1967 occupation and 1981 annexation of a region that the rest of the world and the United Nations recognize as belonging to Syria. “Aggressive acts by Iran and terrorist groups, including Hizballah, in southern Syria continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks on Israel,” Trump said, explaining the move.

By ignoring the United Nations charter pledge to refrain from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” Trump is putting the future of other long-disputed territory in jeopardy, foreign policy experts say. “It sets a terrible precedent,” said Edward Goldberg, a professor with New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. “If the US doesn’t recognize international law as the ‘cop,’ then who does?,” he said.

“What if China goes into Taiwan tomorrow, isn’t that the same thing?,” Goldberg said, “or Pakistan into Kashmir?”

Beijing considers Taiwan part of China, despite the fact that the island nation has an indigenous population, is self-governing, and has conducted independent democratic elections since the 1990s. Most other democracies around the world don’t recognize Taiwan as an independent country, in deference to China, and it is barred from the United Nations. While the United States has recently partneredwith Taiwan officials to fight intellectual property theft, this January Chinese president Xi Jinping warned that Beijing could retake the island by force.

The Kashmir region between India and Pakistan has been disputed for more than 70 years, a legacy of the Partition that accompanied Britain’s withdrawal from India in 1947. Tensions rose in the volatile region in recent weeks, after India conducted a “pre-emptive strike” in Pakistan-controlled territory, and Pakistan captured an Indian fighter pilot. The mostly Muslim residents of the India-administered Kashmir Valley view the national government as an occupying force, and Pakistan officials support their self-government.

Russia’s neighbors may also be affected. Russia has already called outUS “hypocrisy” over sanctions related to the Russian annexation of Crimea, notes Stacie Goddard, a professor of political science at Wellesley College. “In the short run, this is most likely to bolster Russia’s confidence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the breakaway territories that were once part of Georgia, but now supported by Russian military. The deal could also make Russia “less likely to reduce its presence in the Donbass region of Ukraine,” Goddard said.

So far there are no signs that the Trump administration is interested in inserting itself into the long-simmering Pakistan-India dispute. However, the US Navy has increased its presence in the Taiwan Strait, most recently on March 24, responding to Beijing’s circling of the island in recent drills. The US’s policy towards Ukraine remains in question under the Trump presidency.

Trump made the unprecedented Golan Heights decision in a bid to boost prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of national elections April 9. Netanyahu has been charged in several corruption cases, although he still maintains an edge in polls. He applauded as Trump signed the proclamation, while secretary of state Mike Pompeo and vice president Mike Pence looked on: [see CNN video in article]

Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United Nations immediately condemned Trump’s proclamation, and the UN declared Israel’s annexation of the area “null and void.” As president, Trump has pulled the US out of international agreements, including the Paris Climate Accord and the TransPacific Partnership, but the Golan Heights decision is being specifically criticized as breaking international law."


Source: https://qz.com/1580300/why-trumps-golan-heights-move-should-worry-india-and-taiwan/

Taiwan wants more US tanks and jets to defend against China (WE)

Washington Examiner title: Taiwan wants more US tanks and jets to defend against China


"Taiwan wants new tanks and fighter jets from the United States to deter China from attempting to seize the island, President Tsai Ing-wen told an American audience on Wednesday.

“Taiwan continues to face monumental challenges from across the Taiwan strait,” Tsai said during a live video conference hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. "China’s actions have underscored the need for Taiwan to increase our self-defense and deterrence capabilities.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping has increased pressure on Taipei, stressing the inevitability of an ultimate “unification” under Communist rule and denouncing Tsai as a “separatist.” Taiwan has cultivated a close relationship with the United States, which doesn’t recognize the island as an independent nation due to historic accords with Beijing, and that partnership has been key to a delicate balance of diplomatic power for 40 years.

“China has used every opportunity to alter the status quo,” Tsai said. "They have continued to undermine our democratic institutions, heightened military tensions, and degrade our international space.”

With that in mind, Taiwan has increased defense spending for the third year in a row. “We are pleased to have submitted a new request for M1 tanks and F16B fighter jets, which would greatly enhance our land and air capabilities, strengthen military morale, and show to the world the U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s defense,” Tsai added. “We’re also investing heavily in training as well, modernizing our defense strategies to prioritize the use of asymmetrical capabilities so that they more closely correspond with the realities of the threat we face.”

Both sides have sought to gain diplomatic advantages over the decades without provoking a crisis that might backfire. Tsai, for instance, aired that warning during a stopover in Hawaii on her way back from visiting a trio of Pacific Island countries that recognize Taiwan’s independence.

That kind of coordination often draws rebukes from Beijing, which insists on a “one country, two systems” relationship with Taiwan analogous to the agreements that govern Hong Kong. But Tsai regards the former British colony as a cautionary tale, given a series of Chinese maneuvers that have provoked U.S. officials to accuse Xi’s team of undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.

“'One country, two systems,’ will become just ‘one country,’ which is the example of Hong Kong and is exactly what Hong Kong is going through right now,” she said. “The ‘two systems’ do not seem to be respected that much. And so, I think the experience of Hong Kong teaches Taiwanese people a lot.”

Taiwan is also revamping their military strategies “to prioritize the use of asymmetrical capabilities” that could offset China’s military edge. “Altogether, I hope that these actions ensure that the people of Taiwan remain able to choose our own future, free of coercion,” Tsai said."


Source: https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/taiwan-wants-more-us-tanks-and-jets-to-defend-against-china

A tale of daring, violence and intrigue from a North Korea embassy (FT)

Financial Times title: A tale of daring, violence and intrigue from a North Korea embassy

FT subtitle: Report on events in Madrid sheds light on activists working to bring down Kim regime

“It was an unusual sight in the normally quiet streets of the wealthy Valdermarín neighbourhood on the edge of Madrid: an Asian woman, badly injured, stumbling down the pavement pleading for help.

An ambulance and the police arrived quickly but the story would only emerge after officers found someone to translate the frightened woman’s words.

Cho Sun Hi’s tale was incredible. She had been in the nearby North Korean embassy, where she lived with her husband, when a band of commandos broke in and began to beat residents. She had managed to lock herself into an upstairs room, tumble from the balcony, and run on to the street.

When three policemen rang at the embassy, however, the man who answered the door wearing a Kim Jong Un lapel pin insisted there was no problem inside. The officers paused. Entering an embassy required consent from the head of mission and none was forthcoming. They stepped back to observe from a distance.

But the man was not the high-ranking embassy authority he claimed to be. He was Adrian Hong Chang, a well-known North Korean human rights activist whose associates say has links to US intelligence agencies.

The February raid on the North Korean embassy in Madrid — and a Spanish court report on the raid released this week — shed light on a shadowy world of freelance activists working to bring down the North Korean regime, and on their possible ties with foreign intelligence agencies.

The Madrid raid may offer parallels to The Italian Job in its brazen theatricality, but its staging in the days before the failed nuclear summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Hanoi underlines the delicate geopolitical balance that such events can upend.

Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s former deputy ambassador to the UK, wrote in an online column that Pyongyang’s silence over the incident could be attributed to the likely theft of a computer used for deciphering information shared between Pyongyang and the embassy. The device, Mr Thae said, was seen as “more important than human lives”.

The Spanish court report, released by judge José de la Mata, tells the madcap tale of 10 assailants who entered the embassy on February 22 and held staff hostage for almost five hours while they stole electronic devices before fleeing to Portugal and then, in several cases, to the US.

The report names Mr Hong, a 35-year-old Mexican citizen living in the US, as the group’s leader and said he contacted the FBI days later to offer “audiovisual” information supposedly gathered on the mission. It also identified as assailants Sam Ryu, a naturalised American born in South Korea, and Woo Ram Lee, a South Korean national. International arrest warrants for Mr Hong and Mr Ryu, who are believed to be in the US, have been issued.

The story told by Mr de la Mata begins two weeks before the attack, when Mr Hong visited the embassy as Matthew Chao — the managing partner of a fictitious business named Baron Stone Capital — and briefly spoke with the chargé d’affaires, Yun Sok So, about investing in North Korea.

In the following days, the gang bought crowbars, fake pistols, combat knives, balaclavas, a 3.8-meter telescopic ladder and rolls of tape.

And then, at 5pm on February 22, Mr Hong rang the embassy door. It was Mr Chao to speak with Mr So again, he told an embassy worker, who asked him to wait on an interior patio bench.

Once Mr Hong’s team was inside, the attack was quick and brutal. As Ms Hi fled, the gang beat, bound and covered the heads of the embassy residents and dragged Mr So to the basement, where they told him that they were members of a North Korean human rights group and demanded that he defect. Mr So declined.

The demand aligns with the murky history of Mr Hong, who studied at Yale University. Mr Hong co-founded Liberty in North Korea, a US-based human rights organisation, and in 2006 was reportedly arrested in China for helping North Korean defectors.

Kang Cheol-hwan, a high-profile North Korean defector and author, said that Mr Hong, after years of working in mainstream non-governmental organisations, had recently shifted to more “secretive, underground activities”.

Spanish media, citing anonymous sources, have linked Mr Hong’s embassy raid to the CIA. According to a person familiar with the matter, Mr Hong had contact with US intelligence agents, and had urged North Korean defectors to work with the CIA against Pyongyang.

US intelligence agencies regularly meet with groups that help defectors, however, and a possible meeting between such a group and the CIA does not, in itself, prove CIA involvement in the Madrid episode, according to people familiar with the matter.

Bruce Bennett, a defence analyst specialising in Korea at the Rand Corporation, doubted the CIA had any involvement in the raid. “I think the CIA would feel that with American embassies around the world, they would not want to put American lives in jeopardy,” he said. “The precedent would be way too dangerous.”

The US state department denied that the American government had any involvement with the raid.

After turning away the police officers, Mr Hong’s group ransacked the embassy, gathering two pen drives, two computers, two hard drives, and a mobile phone. At 9:40pm, eight of the assailants drove several embassy vehicles out of the grounds at high speed, eluding police.

Minutes later, Mr Hong ordered an Uber under the name of Oswaldo Trump to meet him on a road that passed behind the building.

On Tuesday, Cheollima Civil Defense, which says it is a group working to overthrow the Kim regime, claimed responsibility for the events.

The group said it “responded to an urgent situation in the Madrid embassy” and “contrary to reports, no one was gagged or beaten”. It also said “there were no other governments involved with or aware of our activity until after the event”.

Less than 24 hours after the raid, Mr Hong landed in Newark on a flight from Lisbon, and days later called on the FBI. In its statement, Cheollima Civil Defense said that it had shared “certain information of enormous potential value with the FBI” but that their “mutually agreed terms of confidentiality” appeared “to have been broken”.

In a statement posted on its website on Thursday, the group said that although it had “bigger things ahead”, it had temporarily suspended operations because of “speculative” articles in the press."

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/a8a33f6a-515f-11e9-b401-8d9ef1626294

Saturday, 30 March 2019

China Has Also Been Targeting Foreigners In Its Brutal Crackdown On Muslims (BuzzFeed)

BuzzFeed title: China Has Also Been Targeting Foreigners In Its Brutal Crackdown On Muslims

BuzzFeed subtitle: Turkey is one of the few Muslim-majority countries to call out China’s crackdown on Uighur Muslims. A BuzzFeed News investigation finds that several Turkish nationals have also disappeared, something that has never been publicly acknowledged by Turkey.


"ISTANBUL — It was supposed to be a routine business trip, so the young Turkish man was surprised when immigration officials at the Chinese airport pulled him into a room and questioned him for hours. He asked to speak to diplomats from his home country, but the Chinese officials shrugged their shoulders, telling him to take it up with police.

When police brought him in handcuffs to a jail cell on the other side of the country, so damp and dark that he immediately became sick, the man asked again. They told him his Turkish passport, whose edges had worn out from use, was fake.

A week later, with his arms and legs shackled to a chair in an underground interrogation room in the city of Ghulja in western China, where he had lived before he became a naturalized citizen of Turkey, he asked for a third time to speak to Turkish diplomats. This time the answer came sharp and clear.

“You are not a Turk,” an officer told him. “You are from here. Don’t think you are special — we kill people like you so that others can live in peace.”

"Don’t think you are special — we kill people like you so that others can live in peace.”

The young businessman said he had endured 38 days of interrogations, hunger, sleep deprivation, and abuse in Chinese custody before finally being released and deported back to Istanbul, without ever being told of any charges against him.

He is an ethnic Uighur — a religious and cultural minority group that the Chinese government views as a threat to the country’s security. The government has subjected Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in the far-west region of Xinjiang to a sweeping campaign of mass surveillance and incarceration that has seen more than a million people detained in internment camps.

Despite his ordeal, the young businessman was fortunate to have been released. BuzzFeed News has found that six Turkish nationals — and possibly dozens more — have gone missing in China’s Xinjiang region, including a pair of young children. None of their cases have been publicly acknowledged by the Turkish or Chinese governments, and are being reported here for the first time.

Their families believe they have been sent to prisons or internment camps, or in the case of the children, to state-run orphanages. The families’ claims have been corroborated by email correspondence with government officials and copies of Turkish identification documents.

Every family interviewed by BuzzFeed News said Turkish authorities had given them little information on the status of their relatives, and that they had no evidence that their loved ones had ever been allowed to speak to Turkish diplomats — a privilege guaranteed to both prisoners and detainees by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which China is a signatory. None of the six people hold dual citizenship with China, according to their families.

Three other families contacted by BuzzFeed News said they also had relatives who were Turkish nationals who had gone missing in Xinjiang, but declined to speak further or be identified because of the sensitivity of the cases. And three different Uighur community leaders in Istanbul said dozens more Turkish nationals have gone missing in Xinjiang, but BuzzFeed News could not independently verify all of these cases or speak to the families of those involved.

The families' stories show that Chinese authorities have been unafraid to sweep up foreign nationals in their campaign against Turkic Muslims, even people from countries that are important diplomatic partners.

The businessman who had spent more than a month in Chinese custody over the summer of 2017 became a Turkish citizen in 2011, giving up his Chinese citizenship, and was traveling in China on a tourist visa using his Turkish passport.

“At first I wasn’t that scared,” he said, neatly dressed in a black blazer and sporting a close-cropped haircut at a popular Uighur restaurant in Istanbul last month. “I told my cellmates I’m a Turkish citizen, and sooner or later they’d release me.”

The businessman, who asked his name not be used because he is afraid Chinese authorities will retaliate against his family there, was only released after weeks of interrogations about his contacts in Turkey and pictures he had shared on Facebook. Though he was never allowed to speak to his family or any Turkish diplomats while he was in custody, he believes he was ultimately let go because of his citizenship.

Turkey’s hardline President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is one of the few leaders of Muslim-majority countries to have ever criticized China’s treatment of ethnic Uighurs, describing in 2009 a crackdown by Chinese authorities following deadly riots in Xinjiang as “genocide.” But the Turkish government, like many others in the world, went mostly quiet on the issue, as Turkey and China established closer economic and diplomatic ties.

That changed in February this year, when Turkey issued the strongest statement in yearsthrough its foreign ministry, condemning the use of “concentration camps” by China.

In its unusual rebuke, the foreign ministry called China’s treatment of Uighurs a “shame for humanity.” But it said nothing about its own citizens who have been sent to internment camps without charge or who have been missing, in some cases, for more than a year.

In the cases of disappearance confirmed by BuzzFeed News for this article, families said they have contacted the Turkish foreign ministry as well as the presidency, members of parliament, and the Turkish embassy and consulates in China; been assigned case numbers; and been told the ministry is working to find out more information about their missing relatives. But they have become distraught. After months of begging the Turkish government for information, there have been few responses and no real news on the fates of their children, parents, and siblings. Amid constant news reports of detainees facing torture, hunger, and abuse in Chinese internment camps, the lack of information has been terrifying.

The Turkish foreign ministry was asked whether dozens of Turkish nationals had gone missing in China, and if so why it had not said anything about the issue publicly, what Turkey was doing on behalf of the individuals and their families, and to respond to comments from the families that they had heard little from the Turkish authorities. The ministry did not comment by the time of this article’s publication.

The Chinese embassy in Turkey also did not respond to a request for comment.

Turkey is home to one of the world’s largest Uighur diasporas, with a population of between 20,000 and 50,000 people, according to Uighur community leaders there. Uighurs share close cultural, historical, and linguistic ties with Turkish people, and the public there is broadly sympathetic to Uighurs. Protests have broken out in Turkey as recently as 2015 over news of mistreatment of Uighurs in China and over forcible repatriation of Uighur migrants.

More recently, there was a public outcry in Turkey after reports in February of the death of Uighur folk musician Abdurehim Heyit, whose music is popular in Turkey. It was after this that the Turkish foreign ministry issued its strong statement calling for China to close the camps.

“This tragedy has further reinforced the reaction of the Turkish public opinion towards serious human rights violations committed in the Xinjiang region,” the statement said.

Heyit later appeared in a video released by Chinese state media saying he was in good health, sparking a Twitter hashtag campaign by overseas Uighurs calling for displays of proof of life for their own family members.

“From China’s perspective, Turkey is the most dangerous place for Uighurs.”

The Uighur community in Turkey has been the heart of the exiled movement for the independence of East Turkestan — the name of the independent state some Uighurs hope to establish as their homeland in Xinjiang — since the Communist party took power in China in 1949 and a group of Uighur leaders migrated to Turkey, said Erkin Emet, an associate professor of language at Ankara University who is himself an ethnic Uighur and has researched the history and culture of Uighurs.

“From China’s perspective, Turkey is the most dangerous place for Uighurs,” Emet said, “because of the common culture and history we share with Turks. It is also a place where, unlike in many other Muslim countries, we can easily form political parties and organizations.”

The center of this independence movement, Emet said, is still in Turkey.

Since the early days of its campaign, the Chinese government has specifically targeted Uighurs with links to Muslim countries for detention. That has included people who have worked or studied in Muslim countries, or even those who just have relatives living there. In particular, China has seized on links to Turkey.

According to the Associated Press, Uighur activists and officials from Syria and China estimate at least 5,000 Uighurs at one time traveled to Syria to fight, many doing so via Turkey. China has also said Uighur separatist militants were responsible for a wave of deadly knife and bomb attacks in 2013 and 2014 in Xinjiang and elsewhere in the country. But China has targeted millions of Turkic Muslims in its crackdown, the overwhelming majority of whom have no proven links to any extremist cause.

The total number of foreign nationals swept up in the campaign against Muslim minorities, which includes ethnic Kazakhs, is not publicly known. Many countries have preferred to advocate for their citizens through quiet diplomacy rather than public advocacy.

Three Australian citizens were released last year after being detained in internment camps. Australia is also now working to secure the release of a Uighur Australian baby boy whose father believes he’s at risk of being sent to a state-run orphanage, in a case first reported by BuzzFeed News.

Kazakhstan has remained publicly silent about the plight of ethnic Kazakhs in the region who have been swept up by China’s crackdown, although last August, a Kazakh court ruled against deporting Sayragul Sauytbay — who had worked in an internment camp as a teacher and later fled to Kazakhstan — to China.

BuzzFeed News has shown how Uighurs in countries as far flung as Sweden, Australia, Turkey, and the United States have reported facing harassment and intimidation from Chinese government agents who have contacted them through social media.

Several countries and multinational bodies, including the United States, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the EU, have publicly condemned the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in the region, but China’s incarceration campaign has not led to any international sanctions.

China does not consider the internment camps to be a form of criminal punishment. Government officials have said they are for vocational training and have likened them to “boarding schools,” though escapees from the camps have reported being forcibly taught Chinese language and party propaganda, and subjected to hunger, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and other abuses.

But this puts families of detainees in a difficult spot because it means there is no arrest paperwork, no sentence, and frequently no communication at all from Chinese police. It is as if their parents, siblings, or children have simply vanished. And it’s unclear whether Chinese authorities have provided Turkish officials with any more information.

Hankiz Kurban was, like her three younger siblings, born and raised in Turkey, but has lived in China on and off for years, trying to make the family’s import and export logistics business a success.

For years the 28-year-old had lived in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, with her mother, Amina, and her father, Yahya, to whom she had always been close. A quiet, methodical man, 52-year-old Yahya would draw up a to-do list each morning before breakfast. Because they planned to keep working in China, he was careful, Hankiz said. He forbade her from getting involved in political causes, even in Turkey. She went to a Uighur cultural event once when she was younger, and he scolded her.

Hankiz started taking Chinese lessons, hoping it would make it easier to work with business partners in China. In 2017, she started hearing rumors of people who were disappearing. Friends and neighbors told her about fathers and brothers who were taken away by police in the middle of the night.

Hankiz started to worry, but her father was unfazed. After all, they were Turkish citizens, staying legally in China. They paid taxes. They had taken care to do everything aboveboard.

“That was when our hell began.”

When Hankiz’s visa expired, she returned to Turkey to renew it. This was already unusual, she said — in the past she could have done this within China. While she was in Turkey, what she had feared the most happened. Both of her parents were detained. She found out through a final voice message from her mother. “They’re taking us away,” she said in the message. “Contact the embassy.”

“That was when our hell began,” Hankiz said.

Yahya and Amina Kurban were not the only family members to disappear. Hankiz’s uncle, Mehmet Emin Nasir, 39, disappeared in Kashgar, a city in southern Xinjiang, on September 9, 2017.

“We never thought this would last so long. We thought that as a Turkish citizen, sooner or later he’d be released,” Muyesser Temel, Nasir’s sister and Hankiz’s aunt, said as she sat in a yellow armchair at her family’s home in the immigrant-heavy neighborhood of Zeytinburnu, where much of Istanbul’s Uighur community lives in apartment blocks. “At the beginning I wasn’t scared, but as time passed I realized this was serious.”

Temel first heard that Nasir was taken away by police from her mother, who had gotten a phone call from relatives in Xinjiang. Nasir, who ran a shop that sold curtains, was living in Kashgar with his wife and four children at the time. He held a Turkish passport, but unlike many other Turkish Uighurs, he wanted to live in his homeland. His wife never sought Turkish citizenship because the family was settled in Xinjiang.

Temel said she reached out to the Turkish foreign ministry through repeated phone calls for months since she discovered her brother had been taken away. “They tell us they’re in touch with Chinese authorities, but we have no proof of it,” she said. “They just tell us on the phone they are dealing with this, but there’s no evidence.”

“We trust above everything our country, Turkey,” she said. “But nothing has come out of this. We have exhausted all of our options.”

Both women, and other individuals interviewed for this article, said they had received few signals from the Turkish foreign ministry about the status of their families, even when Turkish officials promised to help.

"Nothing has come out of this. We have exhausted all of our options."

Even Turkish children have not been spared from China’s crackdown.

Pashahan Kuçar, 75, has two young grandchildren. Both Turkish citizens who were traveling on their mother’s Chinese passport, they have disappeared in Xinjiang along with their mother, Kuçar's daughter-in-law. According to their identification records, which her family provided to BuzzFeed News, Kuçar's granddaughter is 7 and her grandson has recently turned 6. When their mother was taken away to an internment camp, the children were left alone. A neighbor took them in and explained the situation to Kuçar's family by text. But not long after, the neighbor stopped responding to messages. Kuçar hasn’t heard from her grandchildren in months.

Though Kuçar can barely walk and suffers from several health conditions, she has relentlessly campaigned for the release of her family. In Turkey’s capital, Ankara, she has protested outside the presidential palace on a mobility scooter, draped in the light blue flag of East Turkestan. She has met with Turkish foreign ministry officials, but they’ve given her no clues about where her grandchildren are or whether Turkish diplomats have been able to contact them.

In a way, Temel, the woman whose home is in Zeytinburnu, counts her missing brother among the lucky. The fact that he holds Turkish citizenship means at least she can expect Turkish authorities to help.

“You cannot find a family in this neighborhood that does not have family in the camps,” she said. “The internet is blocked over there; there’s no way to contact them — if my mother had not gotten that call we would simply not know.”

Hankiz Kurban, the 28-year-old who once dreamed of building a business in China with her father, has tried everything to find news on her missing parents. She reported the matter to Turkish authorities and received a case number in an automated email. She began calling the Turkish Embassy in Beijing every other day — so much that officials started to hang up when they heard her voice.

“You cannot find a family in this neighborhood that does not have family in the camps."

She lies awake at night obsessing about what might be happening to her father and mother. She tried taking medication for her anxiety and depression, but it just made her feel sleepy and fuzzy. What she can’t figure out is how her father, who all his life eschewed political causes so as not to get on the wrong side of the government, could have been targeted.

Two years ago in Ghulja, interrogators asked the young businessman detained at the airport in China the same questions about his politics and connections over and over again, searching for evidence of his connections to extremist groups. There were two interrogators, he said, one Han Chinese — China’s largest ethnic group — and the other Uighur, both fluent in the Uighur language.

One day they demanded his social media passwords — to Facebook, WhatsApp, and the Chinese messaging app QQ. They found a post he had shared on Facebook showing both the Turkish flag and the flag for East Turkestan. That day they became certain, he said, that he was a threat. It was like they had discovered a smoking gun.

Another day they asked him to list his contacts in Istanbul, to tell them which Uighur restaurants he frequented. He gave a list of made-up names, he said. But the pair of interrogators knew the Uighur community in Turkey well.

Unlike many Uighurs in Istanbul, the businessman didn’t live in Zeytinburnu. His interrogators knew the neighborhood’s shops and alleyways better than he did.

In the days before his departure, one of his interrogators mentioned he’d be traveling to Turkey in a few months. “If you see us in Istanbul,” he said, “will you welcome us?” "

Markets in a spin after Turkey ‘fails’ emerging market stress test (FT)

Financial Times title: Markets in a spin after Turkey ‘fails’ emerging market stress test

FT subtitle: Analysts warn unconventional tactics are compromising nation’s hard-won credibility

"The latest ructions in Turkish money markets are prompting fears that the country could be heading for another serious bout of currency weakness, echoing last summer’s lira crisis that has left deep scars on the economy. 

Foreign investors were effectively frozen out of selling the lira on Wednesday after the overnight offshore swap rate more than tripled to 1,200 per cent, with analysts saying banks had been ordered not to lend to foreign counterparties — a claim that the Turkish Banking Association has denied. The rate, which sets the cost to investors of exchanging foreign currencies for the lira, had been just 22.6 per cent at the end of last week. 

In the short term, the trick has worked: the lira, which fell abruptly at the end of last week, has stabilised. But stocks and bonds have taken a heavy hit, and some investors are trapped in positions they cannot unwind. Meantime, the paralysis in money markets is throwing off worrying signals. 

“It’s like a Turkish version of Groundhog Day,” said Tim Ash, an emerging markets analyst at BlueBay Asset Management. Turkey’s leadership, he said, was “repeating the same old mistakes of the past”. 

Pressure on the lira started building late last week, after some funds identified signs that the central bank’s official reserves were shrinking — seen as an indication that authorities were trying to support the currency.

Visit article for graph on "Cost to hedge against Turkey debt default rises" 

“The FX reserves data really spooked the market because it’s evident that reserves are not even enough to cover short-term debt obligations,” said Claire Dissaux, head of global economics and strategy at asset manager, Millennium Global. The lira fell about 6 per cent last Friday. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, no stranger to blaming shadowy foreign influences for tumbles in his national currency, lashed out, saying speculators would suffer a “very heavy price” for “trying to provoke us”. Market regulators also launched investigations into JPMorgan, accusing the US investment bank of “misleading” clients with its advice to sell the lira. The probes briefly curtailed the usual flow of financial-market research on Turkey, but they added to the sense that the country is an unfriendly destination for foreign funds. 

Analysts said the government could probably maintain its support for the currency until crucial local elections this weekend. But they warned that the unconventional tactics were compromising Turkey’s hard-won credibility at a time when the authorities had been trying to rebuild trust. 

 “The damage has already been done,” said Piotr Matys, an emerging markets currency strategist at Rabobank.

Visit article for graph on "Turkey overnight offshore swap rate more than triples"

Mr Erdogan has plenty of form on adopting unorthodox responses to crises. A life-long opponent of high interest rates, which he has termed “the mother and father of all evil”, the Turkish president is widely seen as an overbearing force on the country’s central bank. 

Last summer’s brutal decline in the lira has been the driving force behind a rapid increase in inflation, to an annual rate of 20 per cent. In response, Mr Erdogan and his son-in-law, the finance minister Berat Albayrak, deployed unusual attempts to protect voters from the pain, blaming stockpilers for rapid price rises and ordering raids on onion warehouses. Banks have faced pressure to lend at cheaper rates, and while on the election campaign trail, Mr Erdogan has blamed the country’s woes on a mysterious cadre of foreign powers. 

Turkish markets had enjoyed a period of relative calm in recent months after the central bank announced — and maintained — a huge rate rise after the decline in the currency last summer. 

Last Friday, however, the calm cracked. A broad shift out of risky assets globally left Turkey vulnerable, especially in light of the concern over official FX reserves levels and with Turkish citizens loading up on foreign currency. 

“Last Friday was a stress test for emerging markets assets and Turkey failed,” said Ed Al-Hussainy, a senior currency analyst at investment house Columbia Threadneedle.

With investors spooked by the moves in money markets, Turkish lira bond prices fell on Wednesday, pushing the yield on the benchmark 10-year bond as high as 18.7 per cent. The Borsa Istanbul 100 stock index, meanwhile, fell 5.6 per cent. 

One despairing banker compared Mr Albayrak’s attempt to tackle the country’s deep-rooted problems with a game of Whac-A-Mole. “He thinks he is being clever,” said the banker. “But each time one problem is solved, another is created.” 

Further hurdles lie ahead. On Thursday, new data on the central bank’s foreign currency reserves will be released, with analysts expecting a further decline. 

Some investors also fear that a bad result for Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) in Sunday’s elections could push the Turkish president to adopt more economic populism. “What happens on Monday, especially if we get an anti-AKP result?” said Paul McNamara, an emerging-markets debt fund manager at GAM. “If the lira can drop 6 per cent in a day once, it can do it again.” "

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/b8f9556e-50b2-11e9-b401-8d9ef1626294

Friday, 29 March 2019

Apple Card, a credit card revolution

On March 25, I watched Apple's almost 2 hour online presentation of its new services rather than new products. I was most impressed by Apple Card and least impressed by Apple TV+. Most media attention was however about Apple's competition with Netflix. Only some media focussed on Apple's entry in the financial services industry.

For a detailed discussion on the Apple Card, I refer to Brian Roemelle's recent article on Quora. A hat tip to Chris Skinner for mentioning it in his recent blog. I recommend reading Brian's article when you are interested in Apple, banking, Big Tech, business models, financial services, industry predictions, and/or technology.

I was very impressed by Apple Card, which is likely to revolutionize the American payment industry. Contrary to Europe, credit cards are very important in the US because they provide credit facilities. It's not uncommon having multiple credit cards and thus multiple credit facilities in USA. Credit card debt is, however, also a (very) big problem in the US:
CNBC-2018: "The average American has a credit card balance of $6,375, up nearly 3 percent from last year, according to Experian's annual study on the state of credit and debt in America. Total credit card debt has reached its highest point ever, surpassing $1 trillion in 2017, according to a separate report by the Federal Reserve."

The above shows the immense size of the financial services market that Apple is entering. Apple is offering many "goodies" like: low(er) interest rates, no annual fees, no cash‑advance fees, no international fees, no over‑the‑limit or returned‑payment fees, no hidden fees, no surprises, and most of all, no charge for penalty rates if you miss a payment deadline.

In European countries, the Apple Card is less important because payments are typically processed through debit cards - or cash (eg, Germany). In some European countries, cash payments have become so rare that Central banks have become worried (eg, Sweden, Netherlands, Politico-2018, ECB-2017). The same issue applies to Canada (eg, Cash Matters).

Apple Card will most likely be an American phenomenon but obtaining "the laser engraved, titanium Apple Card" might still be (very) important for every Apple fan.

“I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.” A quote by Steve Jobs (1955-2011).

The Big Apple (1972) by Hugh Masekela (1939-2018)
artist, no lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Metamorphosis

The NYT article below on metamorphosis certainly has the "Wow" factor, which is quite some time ago for me. I never realized that 80% of animal species experience metamorphosis. I'm only familiar with the metamorphosis of the (i) caterpillar - butterfly and (ii) tadpoles - frog. The "wow" came at the end of the article but revealing that would be a spoiler.

We tend to look at life in its adult phase. Our goldilocks planet and its habitable zone allow for life reaching that adult phase. After reading this article, it's not inconceivable that "life" on other planets should be redefined by including the concept of metamorphosis.

That redefinition would also be consistent with the Fermi paradox: given the immense size of the Universe, there should be life somewhere else but where is everybody? Latter was the question of physicist Enrico Fermi which "arose during a luncheon conversation with Emil Konopinski, Edward Teller, and Herbert York in the summer of 1950" (OSTI.gov)

Another argument for the above are viruses, which are not in Nature's Tree of Life (my blog) because viruses are neither dead nor alive. In simple terms: viruses are considered dead until they find a host and then viruses "become" alive.

This behaviour of viruses may even be another example of (alien) metamorphosis. Interestingly, the ageing of some viruses seems to suggest that viruses could even be extraterrestrial because some viruses seem older than planet Earth itself (my blog, source).

Please also take a(nother) look at this intriguing 2018 Aeon article: Proof of life: how would we recognise an alien if we saw one? (my blog).

On 8 November 2018, Harvard professor Abraham ("Avi") Loeb "and his postdoc Shmuel Bialy" published a scientific paper claiming that the highly unusual cigar shaped object, which has been nicknamed 'Oumuamua, might have been an alien spaceship (eg, arxivGuardian, WaPo).

Last but not least, in the Men in Black trilogy, intergalactic travellers use metamorphosis for disguising as humans in order to blend into human society.

Until today, I had never realised the importance of metamorphosis. Before, it had seemed a freaky anomaly in nature to me.

-------

NYT title: Why Would an Animal Trade One Body for Another?

NYT subtitle: Most species undergo metamorphosis, but scientists aren’t sure why the process evolved. One new theory: Metamorphosis gives animals greater access to food.


"As a child growing up in the Netherlands, Hanna ten Brink spent many days lingering by a pond in her family’s garden, fascinated by metamorphosis.

Tadpoles hatched from eggs in the pond and swam about, sucking tiny particles of food into their mouths. After a few weeks, the tadpoles lost their tails, sprouted legs and hopped onto land, where they could catch insects with their new tongues.

Eventually Dr. ten Brink became an evolutionary biologist. Now science has brought her back to that childhood fascination.

Eighty percent of all animal species experience metamorphosis — from frogs to flatfish to butterflies to jellyfish. Scientists are deeply puzzled as to how it became so common.

What evolutionary path could lead to a caterpillar — an admirably adapted leaf-eating machine — to tear down its body and rebuild it as a butterfly?

In the May issue of American Naturalist, Dr. ten Brink, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich, and her colleagues lay out a road map for the evolution of metamorphosis. It has appeared, they argue, as a way for a species to eat more food.

The path to that feast is hard to travel, and metamorphosis has only arisen a few times in history. But once it does, the scientists also find, it rarely disappears.

Dr. ten Brink, Andre M. de Roos of the University of Amsterdam, and Ulf Dieckmann of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria created complex mathematical equations that captured some of the fundamentals of animal life — how much food they eat, how fast they grow, how many offspring they had and so on.

The researchers began by considering animals that didn’t go through metamorphosis. Keeping the same body through their lives, they are well adapted to one kind of food.

But what if their environment contained a second food, one that they could consume as adults if they evolved a different anatomy? Natural selection would prevent the animals from adding the second food to their diet, the researchers found.

In this case, evolution favors specialists: If animals evolve to eat the second food, their offspring will become worse at consuming the original diet when they’re young. More of them will die before they can mature.

“The obvious solution to the problem is to evolve metamorphosis,” said Dr. ten Brink. Young animals stay well adapted to the original food, while adults switch to the new food with a rebuilt body.

But animals pay a steep price to go through metamorphosis. They burn a lot of calories to tear apart the old anatomy and develop a new one. There’s a chance that this complicated process will go awry, leaving them with defects.

Metamorphosis also takes time, leaving animals vulnerable to predators and parasites. In many cases, Dr. ten Brink and her colleagues found, the cost of metamorphosis is too high for it to be favored by natural selection.

“You have to get back something really good,” she said.

Natural selection will favor metamorphosis if adult animals are rewarded with an abundant supply of food — enough to make up for the cost and to allow them to have lots of offspring.

In early stages of this shift, the adults will start out poorly adapted to the new food. But there’s so much for them to eat that they still get a decent meal.

“I like the concept — I like that they tried to look for the ultimate cause,” said Joanna Wolfe, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard. But she wondered if food is the only reward that can help drive the evolution of metamorphosis.

Some species might benefit in other ways. Adults might take on bodies that allowed them to find mates more successfully, for instance. Larvae in the ocean might change their forms in order to be carried far away by the currents, expanding their range.

“I would like to see some things added to their model,” she said.

Dr. ten Brink agreed that the new study is a foundation for more detailed ones. “This paper is really the start of something,” she said.

If animals so rarely evolve metamorphosis, why is it so common? One reason may be that once metamorphosis arises, it’s very hard for a species to lose it.

It’s easy enough to imagine a situation where giving up metamorphosis would be a benefit. Imagine an outbreak wiping out the food that adults eat. For the species, it would be advantageous for individuals to remain larval and survive on what food remains.

But in most situations, Dr. ten Brink’s study suggests, evolution works against our expectations. If the adult food gets harder to find, natural selection will favor adults that do a better job of finding what little food is left.

“It’s an evolutionary trap,” said Dr. ten Brink. “If conditions get really bad, you go extinct.”

Vincent Laudet, a biologist at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, said his own research on vertebrates supported Dr. ten Brink’s findings.

The first fish species went through metamorphosis, he noted, and it has largely endured for over half a billion years.

“In some vertebrates, metamorphosis is camouflaged, but it is never lost,” Dr. Laudet said.

When Dr. Laudet speaks of “some vertebrates,” he includes us. When babies leave the womb, their tissues undergo important changes, governed by some of the same hormones that spark metamorphosis in frogs and other animals.

“Our birth, biologically speaking, is a metamorphosis,” Dr. Laudet said."


Notes NYT:
  • Carl Zimmer writes the “Matter” column. He is the author of thirteen books, including “She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.”
  • A version of this article appears in print on March 26, 2019, on Page D4 of the New York edition with the headline: The Advantages of Body Swapping.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/science/metamorphosis-evolution-animals.html

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

No collusion?!

Thirtyseven (37!) people were indicted following Robert Mueller's investigation into the ("alleged") Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election (eg, Vox, ABC, TIME). Following the release of the still confidential Mueller report on Friday 22 March, it's now being claimed that there was "no collusion". Something is wrong in this picture.

Most mainstream media have suddenly switched their stories from "collusion" to "no collusion" which seems rather ridiculous. Either their initial reporting was dubious by jumping the gun, or their current reporting is dubious. Again, something is wrong.

Two politically opposite sources come to a very different conclusion: Louise Mensch (right-wing nationalist) and Bill Palmer (left-wing globalist). In their view, the wording of the 4 page summary, as prepared by the AG/Minister/Secretary for Law and Justice, should only be read in a legal manner. Furthermore, Mueller's (including sealed) indictments have always been outsourced.

In the above circumstances, it might be best applying the duck test: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. However, this duck test may contradict the problem-solving principle of Occam's Razor: "simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones". Unfortunately, collusion can be (very) complex (to prove).

Following the 37 indictments, there is ample evidence for concluding that Russia did interfere in the 2016 US presidential election. However, establishing collusion requires intentional and wilful cooperation between parties.

Plausible deniability (my blogs) requires the absence of (audiovisual, electronic or written) evidence showing intentional and wilful cooperation. This may well explain the many tête-à-tête or back channel meetings between parties (eg, NY-Mag, GuardianGuardian).

The real culprit might be the US Electoral College which erodes the one man, one vote principle and benefits the political power of several sparsely populated rural states. Nevertheless, in all but 5 US presidential elections, the result of the popular vote was equal to the Electoral College.

Out of these five US presidential election outliers, three were centuries ago (1824, 1876, 1888) and two were (very) recent: 2000 (G.W. Bush) and 2016 (Trump). These recent ones are worrisome given the (widespread) use of electronic equipment and the opportunities for (large-scale) hacking.

We should never forget that the voter margin in the 2016 US presidential election was extreme, spectacular and unprecedented: 2,868,686 (or 2,1%) more popular votes.

Don't Speak (1996) by No Doubt
artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Don't speak, I know just what you're sayin'
So please stop explainin'
Don't tell me 'cause it hurts
Don't speak, I know what you're thinkin'
I don't need your reasons
Don't tell me 'cause it hurts


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

The paradox of tolerance

For some time, I'm puzzled by the intolerance of the Dutch Left. In America, this topic has already been covered since 2017 (eg, Heritage, OdysseyPolitico). The Dutch left-wing response to the recent election victory of a right-wing nationalist was full of (extreme) intolerance (eg, Dutch NewsNL-Times). Apparently, the "tolerant" Left fights alleged intolerance with intolerance.

Much to my surprise, this phenomenon is known since 1945 as the Paradox of tolerance. It was developed by the Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper (1902-1994), "generally regarded as one of the 20th century's greatest philosophers of science".

Wiki: "The paradox of tolerance states that if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant."

Although this concept seems simple and valid, the problem lies in defining the scope and depth of tolerance and intolerance. Is an individual's constitutional right of free expression, movement, religion and speech absolute or relative?? If relative, when do these rights become relative??

Also see my 2018 blogs:

Authoritarian regimes are intolerant of dissent opinions, which they often deem subversive and (thus) illegal. Hence, the word dissident. It also seems that intolerance of dissent opinions moves societies towards authoritarianism (eg, China, Russia, Turkey). 

The growing intolerance in Western countries of other people's opinions is worrisome in that light. One group is trying to silence another group by arguing that their opinions should not be tolerated. Often, the mere reason is that the other group has dissent opinions. Nevertheless, that first group deems itself as tolerant, albeit (only) towards their like-minded peers. 

My personal view is that you cannot learn from people who have similar opinions. You can only learn from people who have different opinions. This is called open-mindedness; its opposite is closed-mindedness. I call this phenomenon the arrogance of the Left (and/or globalists) versus the ignorance of the Right (and/or nationalists). See my related blogs.

Learning provides the universal path towards (i) an Awakening from the downside of human Beliefs, and to (ii) Wisdom. My grandfather used to say: "As long as they talk, they don't fight". His saying should have been a proverb but - weirdly enough - is not.

If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (1998) by Manic Street Preachers


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Monday, 25 March 2019

Evil versus extreme Beliefs

Recently, I read a Dutch interview with Julia Shaw, forensic psychologist, following the release of her 2018 book Making Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side (Guardian). This interview got quite a lot of criticism on Facebook and for a good reason.

Unfortunately, Ms Shaw combines evil from (i) psychopaths and/or sociopaths, and (ii) extreme beliefs (eg, jihadismwhite supremacy). Nevertheless, lust-based murders feel very different in nature than murders through mass shootings at concert halls (eg, Bataclan theatre in Paris) and/or mosques (eg, Christchurch mosque in New Zealand).

They feel different because they are different. In 2017, I read a Dutch interview with the German philosopher Bettina Stangneth on her 2016 book Thinking evil. Essentially, she claims that evil is not a departure from reasonable thinking but a consequence of (human) thinking. Hence, defining the type of evil is dependent on the stage of life we are in: Needs, Wants or Beliefs (my blogs). 

Pure evil is primarily lust-based and not restricted to human beings. Dutch primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal witnessed pure evil in chimpanzees like Passion, Pom and Puist. Another animal known for lust-based killings is the killer whale (eg, Atlantic-2013). Lust-based evil in animals would match a need to kill or a want to kill - not a belief in killing.

However, some humans tend to combine all 3 stages: pure lust-based evil as well as extreme philosophical beliefs towards the victims, like hatred for women a.k.a. misogyny. Such beliefs might even be a (moral) "justification" for evil deeds. In other words: evil is not a departure from reasonable thinking but a consequence of (human) thinking.

Following the above, mass shootings at concert halls (eg, Bataclan theatre in Paris) and/or mosques (eg, Christchurch mosque in New Zealand) are the result of extreme beliefs, like jihadism (my blogs) and/or white supremacy (my 2016 blog). There is no (lust-based) need to kill, nor a (lust-based) want to kill, only an extreme (philosophical) belief in killing - usually for the Greater Good (my blogs). Hence, mass shootings are more dangerous than psychopaths.

In her Dutch interview, Ms Shaw believes that evil people can change their beliefs. I know for a fact that changing your beliefs is one of the hardest challenges in life. People will lie and cheat to make you believe that they have changed their beliefs. Only when existing beliefs are broken then they can be replaced by new beliefs (eg, my 2017 blog, NYMag-2007).

“What distinguishes the majority of men from the few is their ability to act according to their beliefs.” A quote by Henry Miller (1891-1980), American writer.

I Don't Want To Change You (2014) by Damien Rice

I don't want to change you
I don't want to change you
I don't want to change your mind
I just came across a manger
Out among the danger
Somewhere in a stranger's eye


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

Sunday, 24 March 2019

One thing now unites Britons – a sense of national humiliation (Guardian)

Guardian title: One thing now unites Britons – a sense of national humiliation

Guardian subtitle: Europe hasn’t belittled us. Our pitiful state has been inflicted on us by our woeful leaders


"The hundreds of thousands marching were patriots. Not patriots of the flag-waving, chest-beating type, but patriots determined to stop their fellow citizens suffering and a humiliated Britain being torn apart.

“Traitors”, “saboteurs”, “citizens of nowhere”, “Remoaners”... The right has deployed the language of civil war for three years. The insults carried with them the threat that dissenters would be treated as enemies within, but also the promise and the hope that, left to its own devices, Brexit would restore Britain’s greatness.

Now the hope has gone and threats are all that is left. If Nigel Farage remembers his wish to make 23 June a public holiday so future generations could celebrate that glorious moment in 2016 when the British secured their independence from the EU tyranny, no one else does. Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg no longer boast of a global Britain enjoying a renaissance. On the far left, the Lexiters who once told us Brexit would give us socialismin one country have fallen silent too.

All that remains on the corpse of the movement that once promised national liberation is a sullen snarl. “The people” voted for Brexit and they must have it – good and hard.

Humiliation was woven into Brexit like a pattern in a fabric. The first aim of English and then British diplomacy since Elizabeth I was to stop the country facing a continent united against her. We face it now, not because Europe is dominated by a Napoleon or Hitler but because “we” have decided to treat our allies as if they were our enemies. No foreign power has reduced Britain to this wretched state. We are a nation that lost a war we declared on ourselves.

If you want to see a snapshot of Britain’s future, look at last week’s picture of EU leaders in a huddle discussing the future of Britain as if they were surgeons discussing a terminally ill patient. Theresa May wasn’t invited to the meeting and her successors won’t be either. Whatever Britain decides, assuming the shock of Brexit does not break up Britain, it will follow the EU nine times out of 10. Soft Brexit, hard Brexit, no-deal Brexit: nothing can free us from our geography and the needs of our economy.

Even as the lights dim around her, May cannot find the courage to challenge the hard right

Mortification is all that unites this shredded country. Nine out of 10 Britons believe the UK’s handling of Brexit is a “national humiliation”, one poll found, but it left a question hanging in the air – how we would react. Nations, like people, respond to humiliation in different ways. They can overcome the disaster that has befallen them and resolve to do better, as West Germany did after 1945, when it went on to create a model democratic republic. Alternatively, humiliation can grind nations down. Or turn them into vindictive states. Revanchism is the default mechanism of much of the world today and it is British exceptionalism at its most arrogant and ignorant to think that it can’t happen here.

The model is not the Germany of 1945 but of 1918 where Hindenburg, Ludendorff and the German general staff explained away their country’s defeat in the First World War with the Dolchstosslegende – the stab-in-the-back myth. The German armies had not been defeated in the field but betrayed by pacifists and socialists in Berlin. General Ludendorff’s biographer recounts how his “eyes lit up and he leapt upon the phrase like a dog on a bone. ‘Stabbed in the back?’ he repeated. ‘Yes, that’s it exactly. We were stabbed in the back.’”

Eyes have been lighting up ever since, nowhere more so than in the 21st century. Vladimir Putin exploits Russia’s humiliation at the loss of much of its empire in 1991. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and Donald Trump in America feed the fear among devout Muslims and white Americans that they too have been belittled. In what should be the final disgrace of her ignoble premiership, Theresa May, our Thames Valley Trump, our dormitory town Dolchstosslegende, reached for a stab-in-the-back myth of her own when she put all the blame for the Brexit crisis on “parliament [which] has done everything possible to avoid making a choice” and accepted none herself.

All of parliament, mark you. She did not call out the right of the Tory party and the Democratic Unionist party, which have wrecked her administration and give every indication that they will wreck the country, but all MPs and with them Westminster democracy itself. Even as the lights dim around her, May cannot find the courage to challenge the hard right, because, surely, she joined the hard right the moment she put herself on the side of “the people” and against the elected representatives she now characterises as enemies.

To my mind, the descent into authoritarian populism was inevitable. Whether Michael Gove, say, was consciously lying when he said in 2016 that “the day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want” is an irrelevance. The question has always been how the right would react when it turned out that its promises were false. From June 2016, you only had to pose that question to know the answer. The right would not admit to a mistake. It would imitate Ludendorff and blame the enemies within, even if its flight from responsibility risked destabilising British democracy.

Against today’s conspiracists stand the protesters. As so few others are saying it, I want to end by pointing out how remarkable the upsurge we are witnessing is. Jeremy Corbyn has destroyed Labour as a party of opposition. Yet, without traditional leadership, millions are organising themselves and doing the job of a patriotic opposition for it.

In England, if not Scotland and Wales, the liberal-left has found patriotism an embarrassing subject. How else, however, to describe a mass mobilisation against a deceitful policy that will harm the weakest and diminish us all? If rightists were right, and we truly hated our country, we would not care so much about the bloody mess they have made of it or be so determined to find a better way."

Note the Guardian: Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/23/one-thing-now-unites-britons-a-sense-of-national-humiliation-brexit