“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Empire Strikes Back - Finally!

250 ISIS fighters reportedly killed in US-led coalition airstrikes on convoy near Fallujah (VIDEO)

ISIS convoy hit by US air strike near Fallujah, Iraq © Stahlgewitter Syrien

US defense officials claim at least 250 Islamic State fighters were killed and around 40 trucks destroyed in a series of US-led airstrikes near the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was a key Islamist stronghold before being recently liberated by Iraqi forces.

US-led coalition aircraft hit about 40 vehicles in an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) convoy south of Fallujah on Wednesday, according to reports. US military officials told Reuters that the convoy was largely destroyed and at least 250 militants were killed.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, however, and warned that the preliminary estimate may change.

Combat footage that surfaced online shows dozens of completely gutted civilian trucks, minivans, and SUVs that were allegedly part of an Islamic State convoy. Some were apparently transporting heavy weapons or ammunition.

Fallujah, which is located some 60 kilometers from Baghdad, Iraq’s capital, had been under the control of Islamists since 2014. Top Iraqi officials declared full victory over IS in the city in mid-June after a nearly five-week offensive, but due to the back-and-forth nature of the struggle, urban fighting still continued for more than one week more.

Iraq finally declared Fallujah fully liberated last week after government troops entered the al-Julan neighborhood in the northwestern part of the city, which had been IS’ last remaining stronghold.

The US-led coalition, which first launched air strikes on the Islamists in Iraq last August, claims to have destroyed 565 IS targets in 106 air raids over the last week.

The unexpectedly swift victory in Fallujah has raised questions about how many militants had actually been occupying the city. Colonel Chris Garver, the US-led anti-IS operation’s spokesman, said on Wednesday that Iraqi estimates suggest that the Islamic State group suffered more than 1,000 casualties.
During the battle for Fallujah, some IS units engaged Iraqi forces in street-to-street fighting, but some preferred to fall back. The terror group “was not monolithic” in Fallujah Garver said, as cited by the Military Times.
“Some people fought harder than other people did. Some people tried to melt away,” he noted. In “different neighborhoods, you get a different answer.”
Once Fallujah is fully free of Islamic State fighters and mines, the Iraqi government aims to concentrate on launching an offensive to take back terrorist-controlled Mosul, the country’s second largest city.
The Russian Air Force has been striking IS targets from its Khmeimim air base since autumn 2015 to help the Syrian Army gain ground in its four-year war on terror.
In May, Moscow suggested that Russian and US forces plan and conduct joint airstrikes against the Islamists, but has so far received no response to the offer. Instead, Washington asked Moscow not to target Al-Nusra Front – which is Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria – for fear that members of the “moderate opposition” could also be hit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in June.
Before the ceasefire, much of Islamic State's manpower was eliminated in hundreds of combat sorties, which also targeted the terror group's supplies, oil refineries and convoys.

The arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance of the elites was a major factor in pushing people to vote to leave the EU

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Under the pressure of outside military intervention, a vast region of the planet seems to be cracking open. Yet there is very little understanding of these processes in Washington.

Tomgram: Patrick Cockburn, An Endless Cycle of Indecisive Wars | TomDispatch

[Note to TomDispatch Readers: Patrick Cockburn has arguably been our premier journalist of the Middle East in these last years. For the Independent, he’s produced a body of journalism about our wars in the Greater Middle East and their consequences that is simply superb. His latest book (just out in paperback), Chaos & Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East, offers a panoramic look at his on-the-ground reportage from the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to Iraq in 2015. I recommend it highly. You can buy it directly from his publisher, OR Books, by clicking here

In addition, let me remind all of you that, in return for a donation to this website of $100 or more ($125 if you live outside the United States), you can get a signed, personalized copy of any one of 14 books, from an impressive range of authors, including Nick Turse and me, at the TomDispatch donation page and help keep this operation rolling. Tom]

Here’s an unavoidable fact: we are now in a Brexit world. We are seeing the first signs of a major fragmentation of this planet that, until recently, the cognoscenti were convinced was globalizing rapidly and headed for unifications of all sorts. If you want a single figure that catches the grim spirit of our moment, it’s 65 million. That’s the record-setting number of people that the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates were displaced in 2015 by “conflict and persecution,” one of every 113 inhabitants of the planet. That's more than were generated in the wake of World War II at a time when significant parts of the globe had been devastated. Of the 21 million refugees among them, 51% were children (often separated from their parents and lacking any access to education). Most of the displaced of 2015 were, in fact, internal refugees, still in their own often splintered states. Almost half of those who fled across borders have come from three countries: Syria (4.9 million), Afghanistan (2.7 million), and Somalia (1.1 million).

Despite the headlines about refugees heading for Europe -- approximately a million of them made it there last year (with more dying on the way) -- most of the uprooted who leave their homelands end up in poor or economically mid-level neighboring lands, with Turkey at 2.5 million refugees leading the way. In this fashion, the disruption of spreading conflicts and chaos, especially across the Greater Middle East and Africa, only brings more conflict and chaos with it wherever those refugees are forced to go.

And keep in mind that, as extreme as that 65 million figure may seem, it undoubtedly represents the beginning, not the end, of a process. For one thing, it doesn’t even include the estimated 19 million people displaced last year by extreme weather events and other natural disasters. Yet in coming decades, the heating of our planet, with attendant weather extremes (like the present heat wave in the American West) and rising sea levels, will undoubtedly produce its own waves of new refugees, only adding to both the conflicts and the fragmentation.

As Patrick Cockburn points out today, we have entered “an age of disintegration.” And he should know. There may be no Western reporter who has covered the grim dawn of that age in the Greater Middle East and North Africa -- from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria to Libya -- more fully or movingly than he has over this last decade and a half. His latest book, Chaos & Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East, gives a vivid taste of his reporting and of a world that is at present cracking under the pressure of the conflicts he has witnessed. And imagine that so much of this began, at the bargain-basement cost of a mere $400,000 to $500,000, with 19 (mainly Saudi) fanatics, and a few hijacked airliners. Osama bin Laden must be smiling in his watery grave. Tom
✂︎ ✂︎ ✂︎ ✂︎
The Age of Disintegration Neoliberalism, Interventionism, the Resource Curse, and a Fragmenting World 
We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover. Cities like Aleppo in Syria, Ramadi in Iraq, Taiz in Yemen, and Benghazi in Libya have been partly or entirely reduced to ruins. There are also at least three other serious insurgencies: in southeast Turkey, where Kurdish guerrillas are fighting the Turkish army, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where a little-reported but ferocious guerrilla conflict is underway, and in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries where Boko Haram continues to launch murderous attacks. 
All of these have a number of things in common: they are endless and seem never to produce definitive winners or losers. 
(Afghanistan has effectively been at war since 1979, Somalia since 1991.) They involve the destruction or dismemberment of unified nations, their de facto partition amid mass population movements and upheavals -- well publicized in the case of Syria and Iraq, less so in places like South Sudan where more than 2.4 million people have been displaced in recent years.

Add in one more similarity, no less crucial for being obvious: in most of these countries, where Islam is the dominant religion, extreme Salafi-Jihadi movements, including the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are essentially the only available vehicles for protest and rebellion. By now, they have completely replaced the socialist and nationalist movements that predominated in the twentieth century; these years have, that is, seen a remarkable reversion to religious, ethnic, and tribal identity, to movements that seek to establish their own exclusive territory by the persecution and expulsion of minorities. 
In the process and under the pressure of outside military intervention, a vast region of the planet seems to be cracking open. Yet there is very little understanding of these processes in Washington. This was recently well illustrated by the protest of 51 State Department diplomats against President Obama’s Syrian policy and their suggestion that air strikes be launched targeting Syrian regime forces in the belief that President Bashar al-Assad would then abide by a ceasefire. The diplomats’ approach remains typically simpleminded in this most complex of conflicts, assuming as it does that the Syrian government’s barrel-bombing of civilians and other grim acts are the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.” 
It is as if the minds of these diplomats were still in the Cold War era, as if they were still fighting the Soviet Union and its allies. Against all the evidence of the last five years, there is an assumption that a barely extant moderate Syrian opposition would benefit from the fall of Assad, and a lack of understanding that the armed opposition in Syria is entirely dominated by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda clones. 
Though the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is now widely admitted to have been a mistake (even by those who supported it at the time), no real lessons have been learned about why direct or indirect military interventions by the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East over the last quarter century have all only exacerbated violence and accelerated state failure. 
A Mass Extinction of Independent States 
The Islamic State, just celebrating its second anniversary, is the grotesque outcome of this era of chaos and conflict. That such a monstrous cult exists at all is a symptom of the deep dislocation societies throughout that region, ruled by corrupt and discredited elites, have suffered. Its rise -- and that of various Taliban and al-Qaeda-style clones -- is a measure of the weakness of its opponents. 
The Iraqi army and security forces, for example, had 350,000 soldiers and 660,000 police on the books in June 2014 when a few thousand Islamic State fighters captured Mosul, the country’s second largest city, which they still hold. Today the Iraqi army, security services, and about 20,000 Shia paramilitaries backed by the massive firepower of the United States and allied air forces have fought their way into the city of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, against the resistance of IS fighters who may have numbered as few as 900. In Afghanistan, the resurgence of the Taliban, supposedly decisively defeated in 2001, came about less because of the popularity of that movement than the contempt with which Afghans came to regard their corrupt government in Kabul. 
Everywhere nation states are enfeebled or collapsing, as authoritarian leaders battle for survival in the face of mounting external and internal pressures. This is hardly the way the region was expected to develop. Countries that had escaped from colonial rule in the second half of the twentieth century were supposed to become more, not less, unified as time passed. 
Between 1950 and 1975, nationalist leaders came to power in much of the previously colonized world. They promised to achieve national self-determination by creating powerful independent states through the concentration of whatever political, military, and economic resources were at hand. Instead, over the decades, many of these regimes transmuted into police states controlled by small numbers of staggeringly wealthy families and a coterie of businessmen dependent on their connections to such leaders as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Bashar al-Assad in Syria. 
In recent years, such countries were also opened up to the economic whirlwind of neoliberalism, which destroyed any crude social contract that existed between rulers and ruled. Take Syria. There, rural towns and villages that had once supported the Baathist regime of the al-Assad family because it provided jobs and kept the prices of necessities low were, after 2000, abandoned to market forces skewed in favor of those in power. These places would become the backbone of the post-2011 uprising. At the same time, institutions like the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that had done so much to enhance the wealth and power of regional oil producers in the 1970s have lost their capacity for united action.
The question for our moment: Why is a “mass extinction” of independent states taking place in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond? Western politicians and media often refer to such countries as “failed states.” The implication embedded in that term is that the process is a self-destructive one. But several of the states now labeled “failed” like Libya only became so after Western-backed opposition movements seized power with the support and military intervention of Washington and NATO, and proved too weak to impose their own central governments and so a monopoly of violence within the national territory.
In many ways, this process began with the intervention of a U.S.-led coalition in Iraq in 2003 leading to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the shutting down of his Baathist Party, and the disbanding of his military. Whatever their faults, Saddam and Libya’s autocratic ruler Muammar Gaddafi were clearly demonized and blamed for all ethnic, sectarian, and regional differences in the countries they ruled, forces that were, in fact, set loose in grim ways upon their deaths. 
A question remains, however: Why did the opposition to autocracy and to Western intervention take on an Islamic form and why were the Islamic movements that came to dominate the armed resistance in Iraq and Syria in particular so violent, regressive, and sectarian? Put another way, how could such groups find so many people willing to die for their causes, while their opponents found so few? When IS battle groups were sweeping through northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, soldiers who had thrown aside their uniforms and weapons and deserted that country’s northern cities would justify their flight by saying derisively: “Die for [then-Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki? Never!” 
A common explanation for the rise of Islamic resistance movements is that the socialist, secularist, and nationalist opposition had been crushed by the old regimes' security forces, while the Islamists were not. In countries like Libya and Syria, however, Islamists were savagely persecuted, too, and they still came to dominate the opposition. And yet, while these religious movements were strong enough to oppose governments, they generally have not proven strong enough to replace them. 
Too Weak to Win, But Too Strong to Lose 
Though there are clearly many reasons for the present disintegration of states and they differ somewhat from place to place, one thing is beyond question: the phenomenon itself is becoming the norm across vast reaches of the planet. 
If you’re looking for the causes of state failure in our time, the place to start is undoubtedly with the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago. Once it was over, neither the U.S. nor the new Russia that emerged from the Soviet Union’s implosion had a significant interest in continuing to prop up “failed states,” as each had for so long, fearing that the rival superpower and its local proxies would otherwise take over. Previously, national leaders in places like the Greater Middle East had been able to maintain a degree of independence for their countries by balancing between Moscow and Washington. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, this was no longer feasible. 
In addition, the triumph of neoliberal free-market economics in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse added a critical element to the mix. It would prove far more destabilizing than it looked at the time.
Again, consider Syria. The expansion of the free market in a country where there was neither democratic accountability nor the rule of law meant one thing above all: plutocrats linked to the nation’s ruling family took anything that seemed potentially profitable. In the process, they grew staggeringly wealthy, while the denizens of Syria’s impoverished villages, country towns, and city slums, who had once looked to the state for jobs and cheap food, suffered. It should have surprised no one that those places became the strongholds of the Syrian uprising after 2011. In the capital, Damascus, as the reign of neoliberalism spread, even the lesser members of the mukhabarat, or secret police, found themselves living on only $200 to $300 a month, while the state became a machine for thievery. 
This sort of thievery and the auctioning off of the nation’s patrimony spread across the region in these years. The new Egyptian ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, merciless toward any sign of domestic dissent, was typical. In a country that once had been a standard bearer for nationalist regimes the world over, he didn’t hesitate this April to try to hand over two islands in the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia on whose funding and aid his regime is dependent. (To the surprise of everyone, an Egyptian court recently overruled Sisi's decision.)
That gesture, deeply unpopular among increasingly impoverished Egyptians, was symbolic of a larger change in the balance of power in the Middle East: once the most powerful states in the region -- Egypt, Syria, and Iraq -- had been secular nationalists and a genuine counterbalance to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies. As those secular autocracies weakened, however, the power and influence of the Sunni fundamentalist monarchies only increased. If 2011 saw rebellion and revolution spread across the Greater Middle East as the Arab Spring briefly blossomed, it also saw counterrevolution spread, funded by those oil-rich absolute Gulf monarchies, which were never going to tolerate democratic secular regime change in Syria or Libya. 
Add in one more process at work making such states ever more fragile: the production and sale of natural resources -- oil, gas, and minerals -- and the kleptomania that goes with it. Such countries often suffer from what has become known as “the resources curse”: states increasingly dependent for revenues on the sale of their natural resources -- enough to theoretically provide the whole population with a reasonably decent standard of living -- turn instead into grotesquely corrupt dictatorships. In them, the yachts of local billionaires with crucial connections to the regime of the moment bob in harbors surrounded by slums running with raw sewage. In such nations, politics tends to focus on elites battling and maneuvering to steal state revenues and transfer them as rapidly as possible out of the country. 
This has been the pattern of economic and political life in much of sub-Saharan Africa from Angola to Nigeria. In the Middle East and North Africa, however, a somewhat different system exists, one usually misunderstood by the outside world. There is similarly great inequality in Iraq or Saudi Arabia with similarly kleptocratic elites. They have, however, ruled over patronage states in which a significant part of the population is offered jobs in the public sector in return for political passivity or support for the kleptocrats. 
In Iraq with a population of 33 million people, for instance, no less than seven million of them are on the government payroll, thanks to salaries or pensions that cost the government $4 billion a month. This crude way of distributing oil revenues to the people has often been denounced by Western commentators and economists as corruption. They, in turn, generally recommend cutting the number of these jobs, but this would mean that all, rather than just part, of the state’s resource revenues would be stolen by the elite. This, in fact, is increasingly the case in such lands as oil prices bottom out and even the Saudi royals begin to cut back on state support for the populace. 
Neoliberalism was once believed to be the path to secular democracy and free-market economies. In practice, it has been anything but. Instead, in conjunction with the resource curse, as well as repeated military interventions by Washington and its allies, free-market economics has profoundly destabilized the Greater Middle East. Encouraged by Washington and Brussels, twenty-first-century neoliberalism has made unequal societies ever more unequal and helped transform already corrupt regimes into looting machines. This is also, of course, a formula for the success of the Islamic State or any other radical alternative to the status quo. Such movements are bound to find support in impoverished or neglected regions like eastern Syria or eastern Libya. 
Note, however, that this process of destabilization is by no means confined to the Greater Middle East and North Africa. We are indeed in the age of destabilization, a phenomenon that is on the rise globally and at present spreading into the Balkans and Eastern Europe (with the European Union ever less able to influence events there). People no longer speak of European integration, but of how to prevent the complete break-up of the European Union in the wake of the British vote to leave. 
The reasons why a narrow majority of Britons voted for Brexit have parallels with the Middle East: the free-market economic policies pursued by governments since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister have widened the gap between rich and poor and between wealthy cities and much of the rest of the country. Britain might be doing well, but millions of Britons did not share in the prosperity. The referendum about continued membership in the European Union, the option almost universally advocated by the British establishment, became the catalyst for protest against the status quo. The anger of the "Leave" voters has much in common with that of Donald Trump supporters in the United States. 
The U.S. remains a superpower, but is no longer as powerful as it once was. It, too, is feeling the strains of this global moment, in which it and its local allies are powerful enough to imagine they can get rid of regimes they do not like, but either they do not quite succeed, as in Syria, or succeed but cannot replace what they have destroyed, as in Libya. An Iraqi politician once said that the problem in his country was that parties and movements were “too weak to win, but too strong to lose.” This is increasingly the pattern for the whole region and is spreading elsewhere. It carries with it the possibility of an endless cycle of indecisive wars and an era of instability that has already begun. 
Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East correspondent for the Independent of London and the author of five books on the Middle East, the latest of which is Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East (OR Books). 
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
Copyright 2016 Patrick Cockburn

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Who Controls The US Media and The US Congress?

  • Who wouldn't be obsessed with Israel ?

    After all, they control the US Congress and the banks.

    I'm focused on Trey Gowdy now, though.
  • Two for three...They don’t control the banks, but they totally control the media and absolutely control the US Congress. 
  • These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America

    This infographic created by Jason at Frugal Dad shows that almost all media comes from the same six sources.

    That’s consolidated from 50 companies back in 1983. 

    NOTE: This infographic is from last year and is missing some key transactions. GE does not own NBC (or Comcast or any media) anymore. So that 6th company is now Comcast. And Time Warner doesn’t own AOL, so Huffington Post isn't affiliated with them.

    But the fact that a few companies own everything demonstrates "the illusion of choice," Frugal Dad says. While some big sites, like Digg and Reddit aren't owned by any of the corporations, Time Warner owns news sites read by millions of Americans every year.
    Here's the graphic: 
    Source: Frugal dad

    DON'T MISS: This Chart Shows Bilderberg Group's Connection To Everything In The World >

    Trumpism and the Revolt Against Technocracy

    Nigel Farage - Showing Some Balls

    Robert Fisk has an opposing view:

    My father fought in WW1, and my mother learned Esperanto – this is what they would have thought of Brexit

    My father fought in WW1, and my mother learned Esperanto – this is what they would have thought of Brexit

    “Britain, right or wrong.” My Dad also used to say that, just to make me mad. Born in 1899 and married to a much younger woman – my mother Peggy was only 25 when she married Bill in 1945 – he was a brave soldier of the Great War, a hard working chartered accountant, a man who believed in paying his bills on time, who was scrupulously loyal to his wife and his friends but who, alas, could be a bigot, a bully, an outrageous racist, a pint-in-the-hand enemy of immigration. 
    Long after he’d retired as Borough Treasurer of Maidstone, he continued to work voluntarily for the National Savings movement, and he’d return from London in the late 1960s complaining that everyone he’d seen on the tube train had been “as black as the ace of spades”.

    Some of this was said to enrage his precocious, arrogant, super-liberal lefty late-teenage son. Bill liked to argue – to the point where I would later abandon him and my poor Mum in Maidstone, and storm off back to my reporting assignments in Belfast or Beirut in the hope that I wouldn’t have to see him for many years. 
    I was partly educated in Dublin – I gained a PhD in politics at Trinity College – and my father knew of my great affection for Ireland. So he knew what he was doing when he announced one day that the Irish had only themselves to blame for their 19th century famine – they were too lazy, he said, and too drunk to grow more than potatoes – and after that, I don’t think I spoke to him for more than an hour during the rest of his life. When he was dying in a Maidstone nursing home, I didn’t go to see him.

    I was a European rather than an Englishman. You’d think at the time that Bill was – as we would say today – a Brexit man, through and through. My gentle, thoughtful, infinitely patient Mum – who became a magistrate and sought leniency for poor offenders and came to distrust the word of Kent Police – literally wrung her hands in anguish as she repaired and re-repaired the damaged, hopeless relationship between her husband and her son. 

    Poor Peggy, she did not deserve this. Nor did my Dad. I have written before of how just after the First World War, 2nd Lt Bill Fisk of the King’s Liverpool Regiment refused to command a firing squad to execute a British soldier for murder – a magnificent and brave decision which destroyed his military career and was, I later realized, perhaps the finest act of his life.

    The condemned ‘Brit’ was in fact an Australian in a British regiment and he was shot by others at Le Havre, but Bill emerged an honourable man. Yet later, he became an advocate for corporal and capital punishment. As a member of a rent assessment tribunal, I remember him refusing to lower the cost of a couple’s rented accommodation in Maidstone because he suspected they were not married. Was it age that produced this profound cruelty? Or because the cruelest of all front lines had eventually penetrated his own mind? 

    Bill hated socialists, communists, Bertrand Russell, Hugh Gaitskell (because of the latter’s denunciation of Suez), Harold Wilson and – before he died – just about every politician who hadn’t fought in the First or Second World Wars with the exception of Margaret Thatcher. Of course, his favourite warrior was Winston Churchill whose gloomy portrait hung over the fireplace of our dining room in Maidstone until, after Bill’s death in 1992 at the grand old age of 93, my mother asked me if it would be disrespectful to take it down. I said it wouldn’t be. And down it came.

    These past few days, however, in the aftermath of the Brexit catastrophe, I’ve begun to ask myself how Bill and Peggy would have voted, and what they really thought of Europe, the continent which we have just aborted from our lives. And of the British politicians who led us – through selfishness and lies – into this impasse. Certainly Bill judged politicians of every class and party according to their appearance. He would have spotted at once the problem of Boris, Michael and Nigel. The first he would have identified as a clown, the second as a dodgy public schoolmaster and the third as a “Spiv”, a word my father used a lot and which oddly catches Farage rather well.

    Cameron he would have seen through at once because he never trusted public relations men, and other Tories would have met with his disfavour because – and this was a feeling he shared with my mother – he never trusted anyone whose hair fell over their collar. George Osborne might have escaped his immediate suspicion but Bill would, I think, have doubted whether the ‘Britain, right or wrong’ motif came from experience and knowledge of history or was merely a cliché brought out of the cupboard to serve young Osborne’s purpose in wriggling out of his lie about the emergency post-Brexit budget.

    But let’s go back to 1914, when Bill tried to join the British army under-age so he could join his school chums and fight in France. His mother – my grandmother, who I never met – dragged him back from the recruiting office at Preston but couldn’t prevent him joining the Cheshire Regiment in 1916. He wanted to fight for little Catholic Belgium, and for France whose history – Napoleon’s, of course – and whose army of First World War “poilus”, Bill admired enormously. Padraig Pearse changed Dad’s plans and he was sent to Cork to counter Sinn Fein after the 1916 Rising, which saved him from the first day of the Somme battle among whose 20,000 dead were some of his school friends. I still have their postcards to Bill, urging him to join them at the front. 

    In 1918, Bill was at last sent to France – I have another postcard of my very handsome 2nd lieutenant father leaning against a wall with “Arras, 1918” written in his own hand in fountain pen in the corner. He took pictures of the trenches and no-man’s land – cameras were officially forbidden, but perhaps he had his unborn son’s reporter’s instinct – and he always remembered liberating Cambrai with the Canadian army, its streets on fire. There is movie film of this inferno and Bill must have known some of the soldiers on the footage although they are impossible to identify today. I still have Bill’s English-French dictionary. He stayed on as a soldier in France after the war and there is some evidence of a young French woman he may have cared for, a lady’s straw hat in the corner of a photograph in which Bill is standing in trench puttees, another distant picture of Bill and a woman in the back of an ancient French car, two tickets to the races at Longchamp in 1919.

    In the late 1930s, not long before the Second World War, Peggy, daughter of a middle class female café-owner and her Sussex baker husband, travelled to Paris with her teenage friends from Maidstone Girls Grammar School. There are pictures of Peggy standing in the 6th Arrondissement. She had studiously learned the extraordinary language of Esperanto – a 19th century attempt to build a new form of communication from the roots of European languages. “People in France understood me in Esperanto!” my Mum would declare triumphantly when I was old enough to understand, although I always thought it might have been easier if she had simply learned French. She kept postcards of the France that was soon to fall to Nazi Germany, and guide books to the exhibitions of Paris.

    After the Second World War, when Master Robert was still in short trousers, Bill, as borough treasurer of Maidstone, volunteered to travel to the ruins of the Reich to help German accountants in Hamburg set up a new local authority. In the years that followed, he insisted that I travel with both him and Peggy to France and Germany, to learn about Europe and history. Of course, Bill took me to the Somme but also to the 1916 French battlefield of Verdun and my mother took colour footage of my father and myself walking between the French crosses at Fort Douaumont. There are snapshots aplenty of Bill and Peggy and Robert in the Black Forest of Germany, in Strasbourg, in Paris. Yes, my Mum and Dad wanted to me to know that I was a European, not just a “Brit”.

    Why else would they have spent so much money on those currency-restricted visits to France and Germany and Belgium? Why else did they encourage me as a schoolboy to travel back to France alone, to visit other great French cities, to travel to Amsterdam to look at the art of Rembrandt? True, my father hated the French immigration officials as they sullenly stamped our passports at Boulogne – yes, this really is what might await us again after Brexit! – but loathed even more the Dover customs officers who smelled my father’s guilt the moment he arrived at the Marine Station with his higher-than-allowance boxes of Capstan cigarettes buried among his trousers and waistcoat, his jacket and old regimental tie. 

    We used to cross to France on the old British Railways’ “Shepperton Ferry”, built in 1932 and used as a minelayer in the Second World War, and my mother would recall this most uncomfortable of vessels when I and my friends arrived to see her in Kent where, gripped by Parkinsons, she was to die in 1998. She wanted to be told, repeatedly, of the marvels of the Eurostar, of how fast this symbol of the EU passed from Folkstone to Calais. Could we see the English Channel from the train, she used to ask?

    I inherited my Dad’s books when he died and I have them still; hundreds of volumes on the two world wars, of course, Churchill’s biography of Marlborough (signed by the author) and works on British history and my own old child’s copy of “Our Island Story”, but also histories of the Tsars, of the French kings and the wars of the Spanish succession and the Hundred Years War and the new Italy of Garibaldi and the dark history of Germany and Stalinist Russia. Because Bill was also a child of Europe.

    In her last years, Peggy and her sister – my Auntie “Bibby” (her real name was Dorothy) – splurged their savings to take week-long tours of France and Spain and Italy. My mother went to Venice and saw Rome and revisited the Paris of her youth. They were, I realise today, Europeans as much as they were British. My father too, I now believe. As my French improved over the years and he heard me speaking in French on the phone and knew that I was giving lectures on the Middle East in French in Paris, Bill would express his pleasure that his son could speak another European language.

    Years before, when I was still at school, he had invited the son of our hotel manager in the French city of Beauvais – his name was Michel Moutier and I have long lost touch with him – to stay with us in Kent, insisting he speak French at the breakfast table so that he and my mother and I could listen to him in his own language. And as the years went by – and later, of course, I was guilty of forgetting my father’s foresight and his broadmindedness at such a great age – he would encourage me to bring my European non-Brit friends home to Maidstone to meet him and Peggy.

    I doubt if he ever recovered from his fear of the unknown – of the alien – which his racist remarks about black people obviously reflected. He sometimes used the word “n****r”, which made me want to disown him, although he took care never to use such vile expressions when others were around. But he was also a man of his time and I must admit that he was a titan compared to the midget politicians who have, for personal gain and ambition, led us into the Brexit perdition. My father would have said “Britain, right or wrong”, but Bill, who was also an accountant, knew what “wrong” was, and he and Peggy would have voted Remain.
    Though he might have disdained his music, Bill – as my own wife pointed out to me — would surely have agreed with Sting’s description of politicians as “game show hosts”. They are men who could not have known history as my father lived it. And when Cameron spoke of the “swarms” of refugees at Calais, my Dad would not have understood him. He would have thought of the swarms of German Messerschmitts circling over Calais in 1940 to join the Luftwaffe air fleet setting off to bomb Kent, where he lived and where he would marry my mother and where I would be born in 1946. He did not forget the lessons of war.

    When I went back to Maidstone to see my mother after his death, Bill had left on his desk a framed postcard, a photo of himself as a young soldier. It showed him and a comrade riding British army horses behind the front lines in First World War in France, one of the animals with white fur above its hooves. On the back of the card, my father had written: “Self on ‘White Socks’ near Hazebruk.” Harzebrouk is in French Flanders; it was my last sight of my European soldier Dad.

    Monday, June 27, 2016

    Brexit - Who will blink first?

    Merkel says no formal or informal talks before UK triggers Article 50 to withdraw from EU

    © John MACDOUGALL, AFP | French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi ahead of Brexit talks in Berlin, on June 27, 2016 
    Text by NEWS WIRES
    Latest update : 2016-06-27

    The leaders of Germany, France and Italy vowed Monday "a new impulse" for the EU as it reels from Brexit and told London that the bloc would make no deals before Britain formally decides to leave.

    The EU's three most populous continental nations signalled that the UK must first take the plunge of invoking Article 50 to exit before it can negotiate its future trade and other ties with the bloc.
    Chancellor Angela Merkel -- hosting French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Berlin -- said that "we agreed on this, that there will be no informal or formal talks on the exit of Britain until an application has been filed to leave the European Union".
    British finance minister George Osborne had said earlier that his country should only activate Article 50 when it has a "clear view" of its future relations with the bloc.
    Merkel also stressed that "there must be no period of uncertainty" that is prolonged, and that the EU must counter "centrifugal forces" in other EU countries pushing to leave the union.
    Hollande, somewhat more bluntly, urged Britain to "not waste time" in triggering the process to leave, arguing that it was to all parties' benefit to move forward quickly.
    "Being responsible means not wasting time -- not wasting time in dealing with the question of Britain's departure, not wasting time too in putting in place the new stimulus that we need to give to the European Union, that is to say, the 27 members."
    "Because nothing is worse than uncertainty," he added. "Uncertainty generates often irrational behaviour. Uncertainty also leads financial markets to act irrationally."
    'Delivering prosperity'
    In a joint statement the leaders said they "regret that the United Kingdom will no longer be our partner within the European Union" but said confidently that the EU "is strong enough to find the right answers".
    On the eve of a Brussels summit, they urged steps among the remaining 27 members to jointly boost cooperation on internal and external security as well as the economy and programmes to help youths.
    Merkel vowed that the remaining members would push on with the European project, saying that "we will suggest to our (EU) colleagues that we should put in place a new impulse ... in the coming months".
    She called for unity and urged a new collective push for cooperation in areas that included "defence, growth or jobs and competitiveness".
    The focus should be on internal and external security, counter-terrorism and protecting the EU's external borders, she said, adding that "a second focus is on the economy, growth and competitiveness".
    Renzi said that "it is clear that we have to respect the sovereign decision of the British people but at the same time, there has to be a strategy for the months to come".
    "We are a big family and we need to reassure the members of the family. But there is also a great need to remodel the European project in the coming years... Things need to move forward."
    In their joint statement the three leaders said they would push for greater cooperation on security issues, including "developing our European defence and taking necessary engagements on joint operations".
    They also said Europe must "keep its promise on delivering prosperity to its citizens".
    To do so, eurozone nations should "take new steps if necessary to reinforce growth, competitiveness, employment, and convergence including in the social and fiscal areas".
    A key target group would be to reduce massive youth unemployment in several EU nations, they said, stressing that "Europe would not succeed unless it gives hope to its youth".
    The proposed reforms would be the subject of a September summit, with a view to the implementing them within six months.