11 August 2017

James Damore's Memo and How to Deal With Sexist Discourse

You might have heard that a software engineer at Google by the name of James Damore was fired after producing a 10-page memo that explained why women make lousy coders and why they are not motivated to climb up the corporate ladder.

Basically, he argues that there are fewer women in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering Mathematics) jobs because men and women are different and women's biologically determined traits make them less suitable for these jobs.

I actually read the whole thing. It is churlish text based on Rushton-style dubious science. You know, men are more interested in things and women are more interested in people type of rubbish.

He is probably a well meaning geek who read some sexist conservative text he found persuasive. And he was trying to convince others using the same points.

Once he was fired, he became the newest martyr of the American conservative movement, another victim of rampant political correctness.

Oh dear!

National Review came to his rescue, Julian Assange offered him a job at Wikileaks and he was interviewed by alt-Right's Youtube personality Stefan Molyneux.

Now, my intention is not to prosecute his thesis, as it is an exercise in futility.

I simply want to point out that sexism and discrimination against women is widely tolerated. If someone makes a blatantly sexist argument, people do not react to it the way they would react to blatant racism or anti-Semitism.

And if you object to it, more often than not, the person who made the sexist remark will go into a whiny tirade about rampant political correctness.

So I stopped objecting instead I give them a litmus test to show why their point is sexist.

I substitute the word women with the dominant identity of my interlocutor and construct a similar argument.

For instance, I mentioned this debate (dubbed culture wars in Silicon Valley) to a friend of mine who happens to be Jewish. He said that he disagreed with Google's decision to fire Damore as he was entitled to his opinion.

Besides, he said, the guy made some valid points.

I asked him if I were to substitute the word women with Jews and suggest that Jews were more suited for finance jobs, because "they are good with money" what would he say?

That's anti-Semitism, pure and simple, he cried.


But the contention that women are not being suitable for STEM jobs might contain some valid points, right?

On various occasions, I tried the same technique with other people.

Two examples: with Muslims, I repeat the all too common discourse "they are too different to be able to live in Western societies", with Asians "they are good with math so they get all the tech jobs but they are not suited for much else."

Any sexist discourse about women became a horrible slur when it was about their ethnicity, culture or religion.

It works with any group, even LGBT folks.

The only group that is immune is white men. That is because they cannot see themselves as a minority. In their minds, they are the universal human identity and the rest is a bunch of minorities.

And because this also the hegemonic view in our societies, the worst put down is that they can't jump. Unsurprisingly, it was not a good movie.

My point is that women are the last group in the world about whom discriminatory practices and sexist speech are widely tolerated.

In almost every country in the world, women are second class citizens with less access to opportunities and resources than any other group.

In most of the developing world, they have very few rights, they are pushed around, discriminated against, subjected to horrific violence and suffer all kinds of daily indignities.

And that does not move anybody.

No one would lift a finger about women in Saudi Arabia where they have even fewer rights than black South Africans during Apartheid. If you remember, people in the West rallied against that regime.

But women in Saudi Arabia? Who cares.

Instead, we still debate whether women are suitable for senior management roles or tech jobs or or how pregnancy could affect their political careers.

And if anyone objects to that discourse, like former Australian PM Julia Gillard did, she becomes a humorless harpy, a nutjob and, of course, a feminazi.

Even this term tells you how much hate speech is tolerated when it comes to women.

CNN just fired a conservative commentator for tweeting "Sieg Heil" but no one was ever sacked for calling feminists feminazi.

Need I say more?

30 July 2017

Is Scaramucci A Poor Man's Surkov?

If not, please read this Vanity Fair primer. It is worth the detour.

The Vanity Fair article argues that there might be a method to Trump's late-night-attacks-through-unhinged-tweets madness. Like Surkov's communication strategy for Putin, these strange outbursts might be designed to change the subject, subvert the agenda and hijack the media narrative.

Recently, within the context of Donnygate, I wondered if there was a deliberate Surkovian strategy in place at the White House, as it looked like running down Fredo Trump's inane adventures helped hide Kushner's Qatar financial links and a rather scary use of American foreign policy to secure building financing.

But I wasn't sure who was behind it, as Trump is too stupid or senile to be able to pull it off by himself. My money was on the Prince of Darkness Steve Bannon and Boy Blunder Kushner.

Now however, it looks like the dark forces behind the Surkov strategy were Javanka as they pushed for the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci or "The Mooch" as he is known. Steve Bannon was not involved.

He is the new White House Communication Director and unlike everyone else (save Steve Bannon) he reports directly to the President, not the Chief of Staff.

Apparently Kushner felt that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer  and Trump's Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were Republican plants who worked for the party and not the President.

Why do I think The Mooch is there to pull a Surkov for Trump?

First let's remember what pulling a Surkov is:
In practical terms, this means that Surkov removes facts and truth and beliefs from the political discourse and sets the daily agenda by feeding a dizzying array of fake, contradictory and seemingly true narratives through various associations, small parties and news media outlets he controls.

He is also very good at changing the subject: when corruption accusations against Putin got traction, Surkov got him to pass a "gay-propaganda law" and next thing you know, everybody was discussing that.
Well, this is what Scaramucci did in his first week.

1) He went on ABC News to cite anonymous sources who claimed that there was no Russian involvement in electoral hacking only to reveal the source was Trump.

2) He seemed unmoved by his own negative Trump quotes from the 2016 campaign. At the time, he had called Trump "another hack politician" and "an inherited money dude from Queens County." And he praised Clinton.

3) He then began deleting those old pro-Clinton tweets. And he acknowledged doing so on Twitter where he endorsed her.

Astonishingly, the Narcissist-in-Chief who demands absolute loyalty sided with him.

4) He told Politico that he was planning to fire assistant Press Secretary Michael Short before telling him. Short resigned when he found out from the media that he was about to be axed.

5) He went on CNN to accuse Reince Priebus as the source of White House leaks. The two men, whose relationship Scaramucci likened to brothers, Abel and Cain, like each other very much, as you can tell from this revealing photo.

You know how that Biblical story ended, right?

6) Finally, to top it all off, he had a very colorful phone conversation with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker:
“Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: “ ‘Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.’ ” 
As for Steve Bannon, this is what The Mooch had to say:
Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” 
(On that last point, Trevor Noah noted:"I feel like if that were true, Steve Bannon would be a lot more chilled out. Like, I didn’t even know it was possible to drain your own swamp.”)

During the interview Scaramucci predicted that Priebus would soon be fired and it happened two days later.

The next day, The Mooch owned his words and The Donald reportedly loved the whole incident.

While The Mooch was doing with his colorful, contradictory and confusing theatrix, The Donald was busy doing this:

1) He gave a hyper-political and cringe-worthy speech at the annual jamboree of Boy Scouts of America. It was so bad that the Boy Scouts chief had to apologize afterwards.

2) He also held a campaign style rally in Ohio making new promises to his followers.

3) He "landed 3 punches against gay rights"
Without being asked, the Justice Department intervened in a private employment lawsuit on Wednesday, arguing that the ban on sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. (...) 
The move ended a day that began with a tweet from President Trump announcing a ban on transgender people serving in the military, surprising Pentagon leaders and reversing a year-old Obama administration policy. 
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Trump announced that he would nominate Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas and a vocal opponent of gay rights, to be the nation’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom.
4) He cyberbullied his own Attorney General, the Klan sympathizing garden gnome Jeff Sessions.

Scaramucci's contradictory moves are straight out of Surkov play book. So is Trump's gay bashing, something, as I noted above, Putin used many times to change the narrative.

Why do I suspect that these silly and petulant incidents might be an attempt to hijack the agenda, well look at what was happening at the same time. The Senate tried very hard to repeal Obamacare and it failed dramatically.

John McCain came back from brain surgery and cancer treatment to vote in favor of a procedural measure to have the Senate debate the House draft to repeal and replace Obamacare. It passed only with Mike Pence's tie-breaker vote.

Then, in a very cynical act (to collect maximum "maverick" points) he voted against the House draft, effectively killing the whole repeal idea.

This was, as you know, one of Trump's signature campaign promises.

If it wasn't for the dramatic circumstances (brain cancer patient returns to Washington) and the corporate media's endless love affair with St John McCain, we might not have heard about it as The Mooch and The Donald collectively sucked all the oxygen out of the news media.

Still, Scaramucci's expletive-filled rant with Ryan Lizza and Trump's transgender ban tweet received a lot more coverage than the health care bill.

And maybe that was the point.

After all, Trump voters do not care about how he governs, they like him as a reality TV star who kicks the other side in the teeth.

They don't care if he takes away their health care, as long he deports brown people and removes any safety net for black people and makes sure that black lives don't matter.

To them, Trump is making America white again and he does it with great fanfare and fun. And in the process, he makes liberals mad.

What more can you ask for?

And that is why The Mooch is now the Communications Director and he reports directly Boy Blunder's father-in-law.

A poor man's Surkov.

But The Donald does not deserve a better Surkov anyway.

Nor does his constituency.


The Mooch is gone.

The media reports seem to suggest that it was the new Chief of Staff General Kelly who terminated him.

I have a feeling he was used by Boy Blunder to get rid of Priebus.

Something tells me that this is not the last time we see Anthony Scaramucci.

28 July 2017

How Brexit, Trump and Macron Made France Relevant Again

I have to admit that I am in awe of Emmanuel Macron.

Don't get me wrong, I am not a fan. He is essentially a conservative politician and I am an old pinko who never liked leftwing politics.

Nor do I look at him as someone who could save the world and stop the decline of the American Empire.

It's something else, it's his ability to grasp a context and move quickly to seize the day.

#carpe diem.

Now, he is a lucky man. There is no doubt there.

Think of his meteoric rise from a middling investment banker in London to Minister of Economy and then to President of the French Republic in the span of five years.

This is a guy who has never held an elected office in his life.

Or his unbelievable feat of winning the legislative elections by a landslide with a party that was formed a month earlier, fielding a rag tag group of unknown candidates.

Each of these achievements would be proof of extraordinary luck, and collectively they are the equivalent of winning the Powerball or El Gourdo or Euromillions three weeks in a row.

But the reason I am in awe of him is the way he capitalized on the specific context that was created by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump and the way he positioned himself -in the span of few short weeks- as a world leader and France as a country to be reckoned with.

And that was not an easy achievement given the dismal setting he inherited.

Let me explain my thinking.

Europe and France Before Brexit

A year ago the European Union was a doomed project.

Germany was slowly destroying its weaker economies, the so called PIIGS countries, and was emerging as the dominant leader of the EU.

It was clear that there was an affluent club led by Germany and comprising the Netherlands and most of the Nordic countries and a second club of declining members who would soon be unable to implement the same policies as the first group and keep up with them.

On the Eastern front, the recent EU members made a radical shift to the right and formed a mini union (the Visegrad group) to resist and ignore policy directives from Brussels. They became a major disruption for Europe.

Then there were talks about resurrecting the "intermarium" as "a bulwark not only against Putinist “neo-Bolshevism” encroaching from Moscow, but also against the neoliberal, multicultural, secular and feminist “neo-Bolshevism” emanating from Brussels."

Or as Jon Stewart would have put it, fascism with a slavic accent.

Merkel's demographically motivated but incorrectly explained decision to take in one million refugees did not sit well with the rest of Europe.

France with its own five million Muslims was the target of several bloody terror attacks making French even more opposed to the idea of welcoming more Arabs from the Middle East.

European public were openly hostile to the avowedly only remedy available for EU's problems, i.e. more integration. In fact, the general mood in most member countries was to take back some of the components of their sovereignty.

In short, Europe was already an economically fragmented and politically divided union and, at that juncture, the infamous "Europe a la carte" or "Two-tier union" seemed inevitable.

As for France, the historically important Franco-German alliance was no longer relevant as the wheezing French economy barely kept the country out of the PIIGS club. With its chronic unemployment and underperforming economy, France seemed lost.

The UK, as the second largest economy in the union, was the only counterbalance to the German behemoth, especially since it kept its own currency and the special ties to the sole remaining superpower.

And then Brexit happened.

Why Brexit Was Important?

Essentially, it made the unthinkable possible.

While no one was really enamored with the EU, it seemed impossible to dismantle it and go back to the status quo ante. The UK, in one fell swoop, showed that it was quite possible to do it.

Soon, right wing parties everywhere began to talk about Nexit, Frexit and Italeave.

Moreover, the British exit made the future of EU an imminent issue to be dealt with, sooner rather than later.

What to do with the Euro? Should there be more financial and economic integration? Or should there be a Europe a la carte? What about the Visegrad Group? How to deal with terrorism? What about the refugees?

And of course, as the one of the two European countries to possess nuclear bombs and a decent army, the British departure shone a bright line on the question of European defense.

Putin began a massive military modernization program around 2008 -largely on Nato's prodding- which turned the old and clunky Red Army into an effective fighting machine as shown in the Crimea, Ukraine and Syria deployments.

European Nato members were spending less and less on defense and for the most part ignoring the rising Russian military power. The general feeling was that a membership to Nato was more than enough to protect them.

Take Bundeswehr, the German army.
Underfunding has been at times highly embarrassing, such as the revelation that during a Nato exercise in 2014 Bundeswehr tank commanders covered up their lack of machine guns by using broomsticks painted black.
More importantly, in military terms, Bundeswehr is a joke.
The Bundeswehr, born in the mid 1950s, was a deliberately modest force, meant only to defend West German territory, not fight abroad. Its recruits were taught to think of themselves as "citizens in uniform". 
Indeed the uniform itself, says historian James Sheehan, "really does resemble [that of] bus drivers rather than the old guards' regiments".
And then Trump happened.

Trump and Nato

Image result for trump corleoneWhile running for president, Trump stated that he was not going to take Article 5 seriously unless the member under attack had been spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense.

I called it the Don Corleone doctrine of collective protection.

He also thought that Nato was no longer relevant: he actually said that it was obsolete.

And then he became POTUS and his Putin connection was revealed.

About the same time, Nato's second largest (and battle hardened) army was dismantled by its own government. In fact, Nato Supreme Allied Commander Europe of Nato Curtis Scaparotti raised the alarm about the alliance much weakened capabilities.

Suddenly, there were calls for expanding the burgeoning European Defense Agency into a European Nato.
"NATO can no longer be used as a convenient alibi to argue against greater European efforts," Juncker said. He said the United States is "no longer interested in guaranteeing Europe's security in our place."
Even the traditionally pacifist Germany was in on it.

The first-tier EU members seriously debated a European nuclear deterrent.

Within that context, let's take a look at the French military and France's own military industrial complex.

Here is what a defense analyst says about them.
The French are the only ones in Europe who are almost self-sufficient in producing high quality military vehicles, firearms, ships and aircraft and weapons. Their products have been exported worldwide and have been the star in several major wars.
And he goes on to explain why.
Only 2 countries in the world have developed a self-propelled, self-contained SAM system capable of firing radar guided missiles, France and Russia. [...]

France is the third country in the world after the US and Russia, to develop and deploy long range Land Attack Cruise Missiles on its warships. The Scalp missile is a 1000+ km range missile launched from the A70 VLS and has a 450 kg warhead.
Their Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) Mistral ships and their nuclear powered aircraft carriers (the only ones in the world outside the US Navy) are unique in Europe.

In that sense French army is almost self- sufficient, a distinction no other army in the world, besides the US and Russia, can claim.

They are also the third largest nuclear deterrent behind US and Russia.

In 2008 the French military issued a White Paper about the looming terrorist threat and the need to adapt armed forces accordingly. France has now 36,000 troops deployed in foreign territories.

All of these capabilities and attributes existed before Macron. What he did with them is the remarkable bit.

He approached Merkel as an equal and he coolly pushed the defense angle. No more French economy excuses that Hollande had to put forward to explain France's chronic deficit.

He said, we are the supreme military power in Europe and if Nato and Trump won't defend Europe, we are the only credible force you have. Especially with the Brits gone.

So within a month, he got Merkel to agree to develop a European fighter jet in collaboration with France, with French military industrial complex being the main beneficiary as they have the know-how.

Image result for macron and trump bastille day paradeThen he turned around and positioned himself as the natural European interlocutor for Donald Trump, in the absence of Britain.

He invited the Donald, the rich kid from Queens with a chip on his shoulder bigger than Texas, to Bastille Day celebrations, fully aware that the narcissistic President-child might perceive the military parade and procession as something specifically arranged just for him.

He did it at a time when Theresa May could not get Trump to agree to any state visit in 2017.

It is a simple move that turned him into the main European partner of the Orange Man.

And look at the handshake the day before with the Donald shy as a pre-teen girl in a Justin Bieber concert and Macron not letting his hand go in Trump's signature alpha-male move.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and U.S. President Donald Trumps shake hands as they attend a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France (REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes)

The clincher in al this is that with Brexit and the UK gone and Merkel and Trump in a pointless and pointed feud, Macron is now the point man for all EU-US and EU-Nato relations.

All I can say is "wow."

Or as they say in Canada, with characteristic understatement, "not too shabby."

21 July 2017

Minnesota: White Lives Matter?

An Australian yoga instructor, Justine Diamond was shot dead in Minneapolis, by the police officers who responded to her 911 call.

Don and Justine Damon

She was reporting a rape.

The shooting is a non-event in the US. It is routine.

Last year, 968 people were killed by police. This year, so far, 554.

There were several issues with this one though.

Otherwise it would not have made the headlines.

First, she was a white woman.

Second she was from Australia, an English speaking and relatively powerful country where the media can ask questions.

Finally, the officer who shot her was called Mohamed Noor.

Remember Philando Castile? Also in Minnesota.

And countless others.

But I predict that this time they will indict the officer.

And throw the book at him.

Because he shot a white woman from Australia while being Mohamed Noor.

12 July 2017

Kushner's Qatar Involvement and Donnygate: A Surkov Moment?

I sometimes wonder if Trump is pulling a Surkov.

I mentioned Vladislav Surkov two years ago in connection with "Oh Dear" theory of political discourse.

He is the avant garde performance artist who became Deputy Prime Minister and then Putin's senior advisor. His work is guided by Jean Francois Lyotard's "postmodern condition" which is "characterised by the recognition of multiple perspectives and micro-narratives. For Lyotard, in this diffuse situation, dominance of information is power."

In practical terms, this means that Surkov removes facts and truth and beliefs from the political discourse and sets the daily agenda by feeding a dizzying array of fake, contradictory and seemingly true narratives through various associations, small parties and news media outlets he controls.

These multiple and often incomprehensible narratives prevent the opposition from forming a cohesive and intelligible response. They also allow Kremlin to push its own version of reality as the actual truth.

Surkov, for instance, orchestrated a complicated media campaign prior to the annexation of Crimea which gave the impression that the whole peninsula was rooting for unification. This was how the whole situation was reported in the West without anyone realizing that it was a wholly fabricated Surkov theater.

He is also very good at changing the subject: when corruption accusations against Putin got traction, Surkov got him to pass a "gay-propaganda law" and next thing you know, everybody was discussing that.

These examples are from a recent Vanity Fair article about him that examines the possibility that Trump's unhinged tweets and fact-free statements might be part of a Surkovian strategy.

Now, I believe Trump is too dumb to be able to do it himself but Prince of Darkness Steve Bannon and Boy Blunder Jared Kushner might be the ones pulling a Surkov.

I will give you a perfect illustration.

Last week, the Financial Times published a follow up piece to their October 2016 investigation which had concluded that "one Trump venture has multiple ties to an alleged international money laundering network."

The new report discusses the Trump connections to the Bayrock/Sapir group which financed Trump Soho and Feliz Sater, a Russian born businessman who helped Viktor Khrapunov move last sums of money into US real estate companies, including the Trump Organization.

I summarized some of these shady deals in a recent post.

The FT piece suggested that Robert Mueller was focusing on these questionable arrangements.
Robert Mueller, the former FBI chief running the investigation, recently hired Andrew Weissmann, an experienced fraud prosecutor to work on the probe. Mr Weissmann, then an assistant US attorney in New York, signed Mr Sater’s 1998 plea deal. Other reported hires have expertise in tracking illicit money flows from the former Soviet Union. 
When I read this, I thought, well, this should be rather worrisome for Trump.

Then something else popped up.

The Intercept published an investigative expose about Kushner's infamous 666 Fifth Avenue building.

You might remember it, as I recently discussed the story of that building and how Anbang, a shadowy Chinese conglomerate almost saved Kushner's seriously underwater investment by agreeing to put in a sum of money several times more than the actual value of the building.

The deal eventually collapsed amid "conflict of interest" outcries.

It turns out that there was more to it than the Chinese connection.

Apparently, Kushner tried to raise the money for his troubled building from Qatar.

The former Emir's Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs (for the entire duration if his reign), Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani (known as HBJ) is one of the wealthiest men in the world and he has an investment company known as Al-Mirqab.

HBJ was willing to put up $500 million provided that Kushner raised the rest of the money needed. When Anbang pulled out, HBJ's condition was unmet and the deal collapsed.

According to the Intercept, the two events seemed connected as the Saudi blockade came out of the blue since a few days earlier the Emir of Qatar was in Jeddah before Trump's visit and things seemed fine.

When the Saudi ultimatum was announced Trump immediately sided with the Saudis and tried to take credit for stopping terrorist financing. Which, as I said, made as much sense as siding with Hitler against Petain in the fight against anti-Semitism.

Rex Tillerson, possibly not wanting to contradict his boss, tepidly called  for mediation and an end to blockade.
Within hours, Trump, at a White House ceremony, contradicted Tillerson, slamming Qatar again and claiming it had “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”
Interestingly, according to Mark Perry writing in the American Conservative, Trump's remarks were authored by UAE Ambassador Yousef Al-Otaiba and delivered to Trump by Kushner.
Tillerson’s aides, I was told, were convinced that the true author of Trump’s statement was U.A.E. ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a close friend of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. “Rex put two-and-two together,” his close associate says, “and concluded that this absolutely vacuous kid was running a second foreign policy out of the White House family quarters. Otaiba weighed in with Jared and Jared weighed in with Trump. What a mess.”
Now, think about it for a second.

Qatar was supposed to lend Kushner money to save his building.

They failed to deliver and next thing you know, Trump is slamming the country which is hosting the largest US military base in the region, which happens to be the first line of defense if hostilities broke out between Iran and Israel.
If the deal is not entirely dead, that means Jared Kushner is on the one hand pushing to use the power of American diplomacy to pummel a small nation, while on the other his firm is hoping to extract an extraordinary amount of capital from there for a failing investment. If, however, the deal is entirely dead, the pummeling may be seen as intimidating to other investors on the end of a Kushner Companies pitch.
And an American President is turning what a UAE Ambassador said into official US policy pushing aside his own Secretary of State.

Just to secure a real-estate deal.

This is very serious stuff indeed.

So, going back to "pulling a Surkov."

The week where serious allegations of Trump money laundering surfaced and possibly criminal misuse of American foreign policy by Boy Blunder to secure a deal was revealed, what did we talk about?

Fredo's inane email exchanges with a Russian attorney.

Maybe there is a method to Bannon's madness after all.

If Donnygate was Chelseagate

Imagine a scenario whereby a British impresario with Russian clients approached Chelsea Clinton during last year's presidential campaign.

And communicated to her that a Russian lawyer with dirt on Trump would like to meet with her.

In his email he said this: "obviously very high-level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for [Ms Clinton]"

And Chelsea Clinton responded “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” implying that they should leak it closer to election time.

Chelsea Clinton then agreed to meet with a "Russian government attorney" accompanied by her mother's campaign manager and a trusted family member.

Can you imagine the shitstorm if something like this came to pass?

The "liberal media" going into a "lock her up" frenzy?

The Republican Congress frothing at the mouth with accusation of treason, colluding with a foreign power against an American citizen and a presidential candidate?

Fox News wall-to-wall covering the story and adding salacious bits everyday with angry pundits calling for every kind of punishment permissible.

With Fredo?


He was so confident that nothing would happen to him, he published the whole exchange with that British impresario.

That's why the Republicans win elections and Democrats lose them.

They cannot even capitalize on an American citizen asking/accepting the help of a foreign government to win an election.

Also, too IOKIYAR.

01 July 2017

Qatar's Insurance Policies Against Saudi Invasion

As I concluded in my last post, all of the main players are volatile characters in the Qatar - Saudi rift and things could escalate into a regional war very easily.

The ultimatum given by the four Sunni countries (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt) will expire on 3 July.

Qatar is digging in and their Minister of Foreign Affairs just announced that it would not give in to these demands.

In response, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir simply reiterated that the 13 demands put forward were non-negotiable and Qatar had no choice but comply with every one of them.

Clearly, something has to give.

Some analysts believe that Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) is planning to invade Qatar and Tillerson's muted response and Trump's idiotic tweets might have been perceived as an April Glaspie moment.

They think that as Saudis are strapped for cash (largely because of MBS' disastrous war in Yemen) grabbing Qatar's natural gas fields would be a perfect way to make things nice again.

I wouldn't put it past Muhammad bin Smirk.

But Qatar has three solid insurance policies against such eventuality. He might still do it but the consequences of such a foolish move would be catastrophic.

The first policy is Iran.

Iran is highly unlikely to accept such a land grab. Sharing their South Pars field with the House of Saud hellbent on destroying them is not a palatable option for them.

Tellingly, the Islamic Republic dropped their initial cautious stance and made their position very clear.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the Qatari emir in a phone call on Sunday that “Tehran will stand by Qatar’s government” and that the “siege of Qatar is not acceptable for us,” said the website of Rouhani’s office. “Iran’s air space, ground and sea will be always be open to Qatar as a … friendly nation,” said Rouhani, adding that “pressure, threats and sanctions” are not the way to resolve the crisis.
They have also been sending 1100 tons of fruits and vegetables daily to Qatar.

Would MBS start a war with Iran?

He would very much like to. In fact, just last May, he threatened to bring the "battle" to Iran.

But the Saudi army is a colossal joke and Saudi Arabia is not capable of defeating Iran. And the Iranian Minister of Defence bluntly reminded them of this fact:
"If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except Mecca and Medina," Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying.

"They think they can do something because they have an air force," he added in an apparent reference to Yemen, where Saudi warplanes regularly attack Iran-aligned Houthi forces in control of the capital Sanaa.
The second insurance policy for Qatar is the newly enlarged Turkish military presence.

Besides fast-tracking the expansion of the Turkish military base in Qatar, Turkey's bombastic President Tayyip Erdogan took a much firmer stance towards Saudi Arabia than is customary:
“To ask Turkey to pull out its troops from Qatar is firstly disrespectful behaviour towards us,” he said in Istanbul on the first day of a three-day holiday to mark the end of Ramadan. “We don’t need permission from anyone to establish military bases among partners. We endorse and appreciate Qatar’s stance towards the 13 demands. It’s a very, very ugly approach to try to interfere with our agreement.”
Turkish pundits were taken aback by Erdogan's brusque tone given the Saudi financial largess in the past and his deferential posture towards Salman the Senile.

I am not so surprised. Erdogan knows that the Saudis are in a financial tight spot and with a disastrous war in Yemen and a long list of client states, headed by Egypt, they are not going to be able to give Turkey much money.

In fact, after the Trump military deal, they may not have much left for their client states.

Qataris, on the other hand, as Erdogan believes, will pay more, and more often, as they need Turkey's protection.

What about the unpredictable Orange Man, you might ask.

He hates Iran, he is egged on by Netanyahu to destroy them and MBS just gave him 350 billion reason to side with Saudi Arabia against Iran.

Fully cognizant of that last possibility, Qataris signed a third insurance policy with Russia. And it was a brilliant move.

Do you remember Trump advisor Carter Page? Last August, according to former MI6 guy Christopher Steel,  he was in Moscow discussing the sale of 19 percent of oil and gas behemoth Rosneft.

Then Trump got elected and Carter Page was back in Moscow in early December for the announcement of the sale of 19.5 percent of Rosneft for $11.5 billion.

The identity of the buyer was not clear. Reuters headline was "How Russia sold its oil jewel without saying who bought it"

Putin said it was a Singapore investment vehicle made up of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund and Swiss oil and gas trading firm Gleencore and the split was 50-50.

Two interesting bits here.

Glencore contributed only 300 million euros of equity to the deal, less than 3 percent of the purchase price, which it said in a statement on Dec. 10 had bought it an "indirect equity interest" limited to just 0.54 percent of Rosneft.
And second:
Qatar's sovereign wealth fund is Glencore's largest shareholder.
There is one more wrinkle to this story.
Russia's sale of one-fifth of its state-owned oil company to Qatar and commodities giant Glencore PLC last year had an unusual provision: Moscow and Doha agreed Russia would buy a stake back, people familiar with the matter said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the EUR10.2 billion ($11.5 billion) sale of the PAO Rosneft stake in December as a sign of investor confidence in his country. But the people with knowledge of the deal say it functioned as an emergency loan to help Moscow through a budget squeeze.
Do you know when we became aware of that "buy back clause?"

Two days after the Saudi ultimatum. Google it, you'll see: everyone reported it on 7 June. There is nothing before that. Obviously, someone wanted the world to know this bit of information.

Here is why I thought that the whole thing was a brilliant move.

Qatar and Russia are on the opposite sides of the Syrian conflict. In fact, the whole thing stemmed from their competition over European gas market.

Despite this, when Qatar realized that, due to low oil and gas prices, Russia was financially squeezed and in need of money, they approach them using a Trump advisor to negotiate a deal for Rosneft. Clearly they were aware of the collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Then they waited for 8 November. When Putin's Poodle became POTUS they signed the deal within one month.

While the deal includes the option to buy back shares, it is either a verbal commitment or something enacted in a secret memorandum (which allowed Glencore to deny such a clause existed and Russia to shrug it off).

Now, if Qatar were invaded to become a Saudi province, as Qatar's sovereign wealth fund would be taken over by them, Russia would have the House of Saud as a shareholder in one of their most important companies.

Moreover, Putin's handshake deal with the Emir to buy back those shares would simply vanish.

But most importantly from Qatar's perspective, if Putin had a big incentive to not see Qatar invaded, he would push Trump to stop MBS dreams of invasion.

And now he does.

That is what I call an insurance policy.

However, if despite all that, MBS invades Qatar, that regional war could rapidly escalate into something much bigger and terrifyingly destructive.

25 June 2017

Qatar Saudi Arabia Rift: Will MBS and Trump Escalate it to a Regional War?

As you probably know, on 5 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed all economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia closed its borders with its tiny neighbor, yanked flight permits for Qatar Airways and banned Qatari ships from navigating in Saudi waters. Food trucks were stopped at the border and Qatari nationals were given two weeks to leave Saudi Arabia and all the other Gulf countries.


Because Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar of being a major sponsor of extremist forms of Islam and funding Islamist terrorists.

Coming from Salman the Senile, a man who spent most of his adult life raising money for all the recent Jihads, this is supremely rich.

This is like Nazi Germany taking punitive action against the Vichy government because of its anti-Semitism.

The question then, if the official justification is too stupid to warrant any discussion, what could be the reasons behind these drastic measures?

The main problem is Qatar's need to have good relations with Iran is incompatible with the need of its Sunni neighbors which are convinced that Iran is the Great Satan.

It is a complicated balancing act and it might even be an impossible proposition.

Qatar: Appeasing Saudi Arabia and Hedging its Bets

Qatar is a tiny country (less than 300,000 citizens) that share a land border and a religious identity (Wahhabism) with its much more powerful neighbor.

Qatar always assumed that Saudi Arabia wanted to turn it into a vassal state. And for good reason.

Consequently, Qatar's ruling family has always looked beyond their borders and hedged their bets and strategized to have more power and more protection.

Hedging their bets involve funding or befriending both sides of any regional rivalry.

Qatar provided troops to Saudi Arabia in its foolish war with Yemen's Houthis but they also propped up Houthis behind the scenes.

They are Sunni Wahhabis but they maintain good relations with Shia Iran.

They give a lot of money to Hamas and hosted Khaled Meshal for years but they favor friendly relations with Israel.

When Wahhabi Saudi Arabia asked the US to close its military bases and withdraw its troops on religious grounds, Wahhabi Qatar built the largest US military base in the region (Al Udeid) to host them.
In 1999, the then Emir of QatarSheikh Hamad told U.S. officials that he would like to see as many as 10,000 U.S. servicemen permanently stationed at Al Udeid. [currently there are 11,000 troops]
The House of Wahhab is like the medieval Papacy in their relations with the House of Saud. Whereas Muslim Brotherhood rejects that separation of Church and State. Yet Qatar, the world's only other Wahhabi state, had been sponsoring the Brotherhood and harboring its most important preacher Yousef Qaradawi.

In fact, despite their Wahhabi roots, early on they turned to Muslim Brotherhood to take over education, which was an interesting choice given the bitter rivalry between Wahhabis and the Brotherhood.

The other insurance policy of Qatar's ruling family was to help dissidents to keep its neighbors on their toes.

From Hamas to Muslim Brotherhood to Al-Nusra Front to Taliban any group could find safe haven in Qatar and maintain their activities freely and often with Qatari funds.

This was why Al Jazeera was created and maintained even though it never made any money. The TV outlet gave a voice to all dissident groups in the region and made their respective governments nervous and insecure.

The only rule for these groups was to refrain from extending their activities to Qatar. So Hamas, Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood and others never undertook any actions in Qatar and Al Jazeera never criticized the Emir and the ruling family.

If this was the extent of the problem it would have been manageable. But these complex relations are overdetermined by the mother of all religious schisms.

Shia Sunni Rivalry

Saudis and other Gulf countries see Iran as an existential threat for two reasons.

One, they each have sizeable Shia minorities and they had been persecuting them gleefully for centuries. 75 percent of Bahrain's population are Shia. In Lebanon, they represent half of the Muslims.

In Iraq, they are roughly 60 percent.

In Saudi Arabia the government claims about 20 percent but some estimates go as high as 45 percent. And they are largely concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern Province.

So Gulf Sunnis are worried that a wealthy Iran could ignite civil wars in these Sunni dominated Emirates. To them the situation in Yemen is an incontrovertible evidence that their fears are well founded.

The second reason for their fears is the rise of the so-called Shia Crescent. Besides Iran, Shia Muslims came to power in Iraq after Saddam's fall. As I noted above, Iraq has always had a Shia majority but they were kept in check just like in other Arab countries. Now they are ruling the country and the Sunnis are pushed to the sidelines.

If Al-Assad (who is Alawite, which is an offshoot of Shia Islam) remains in power then the Shia Crescent will be in place ready to destroy the Sunnis. Or so they believe.

If you wonder why the Sunni Muslims are so convinced that Shia Muslims want to wipe them off the map, it goes back to the beginning of Islam.

The profound hatred  between the two main branches of Islam are not well know in the West.
Ever since Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law and the last of the Rashidun caliphs Ali was assassinated and the Caliphate was grabbed by Muawiyah, there has been a deep divide between these two denominations of Islam. 
In fact, contrary to what you might have heard, before modern times, Muslims had no real animosity towards Christians and Jews, as they are People of the Book. But almost since the beginning, Sunnis considered Shias kuffar and Shias, because of what they did to Ali and his two sons Hassan and Hussein, viewed Sunnis as usurpers of Allah's will and cheaters and murderers.
This historical animosity is not the cause of the current situation but it makes it impossible to solve it because both sides are convinced that the other side want them destroyed.

Given this background, Saudi Arabia and most of the Sunni governments in the region are livid that Qatar, instead of blocking Iran's path, is helping the Islamic Republic gain more power.

The problem is that Qatar has no choice in the matter as it had already tried to screw Iran once and it cannot afford to try it again.

Qatar and Iran: North Dome and South Pars  

If you are one of my regular readers, you already know that Iran and Qatar share the world's largest natural gas field.

Iran's side is known as South Pars and Qatar's is North Dome.

Because of crippling sanctions, Iran was unable to develop South Pars and Qatar was pumping off furiously and liquefying and selling them everywhere.

They became the biggest exporter of natural gas in no time. But they wanted to sell more.

So they proposed a gigantic pipeline project through Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey to carry their natural gas to Europe. Saudis were happy, as Iran would be the loser. And Turkey was happy, as it would, at long last, become an energy hub.

But, on Russia's urging, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said no.

Even worse, he signed off on the so-called Shia pipeline to move Iran's gas from the same shared field to Europe bypassing Turkey.

You can see the two competing pipeline projects on the right.

Since Iran was unable to do much because of the sanctions and the stakes were enormous, Qatar's Emir decided to go all in and to remove Syria from the pipeline's path.

Which marks the launch of the Syrian civil war and the birth of Al-Nusra Front and then of course ISIS.

To create ISIS, Qatar put up the money, Turkey offered the supply route, Saddam's intelligence officers created the organizational structure, the Naqshbandi Army provided the military muscle and Pipelineistan, also known as Islamic State, was born.

Without Qatar's need for a pipeline, ISIS would never have established a state: for a terrorist organization it is an open invitation to be bombed incessantly.

The problem with Qatar's solution was the unpredictability of ISIS. Instead of claiming statehood and running the place, they continued to commit and publicize atrocities, attracting unwanted attention to themselves.

They also didn't take into account that Putin would not take this lying down. He had no intention of allowing a competing pipeline into Europe. He intervened and Al-Assad recovered and ISIS got into trouble. Plus the Syrian Kurds occupied the northern Pipelineistan blocking the passage to Turkey.

The final development that shattered Qatar's pipe dreams was the US rapprochement with Iran. When Kerry and Zarif got together to lift the sanctions, Qatar knew that the jig was up and that it could no longer safely work against Iran.

In fact, I believe that this was the main reason why Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani abdicated at the tender age of 61 when all Gulf rulers stay on until they are ready to visit with 72 virgins on the other side.

And that is also why the new Emir did not keep his father's consigliere, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, known as HBJ, which, at the time, raised a few eyebrows.

The old Emir realized that the setup he and HBJ devised was in deep trouble and, with the thaw in US-Iran relations, he knew that a Fresh Prince of Qatar was needed to assuage Iran.

The new Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani promptly went back to Qatar's policy of hedging its bets and made two significant decisions.

One was to establish very close relations with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and to sign a military cooperation agreement. As part of that deal Turkey was given a military base in Qatar. The Emir also generously injected billions in short term capital whenever Erdogan got into economic trouble.

Secondly, he announced his country's support for the lifting of Iranian sanctions and in 2014 he signed an agreement with Iran to help them to develop their South Pars field.

Indeed, Qatar actually went to help its direct competitor, the world's second largest exporter of natural gas to produce and sell more. It was an effort to fix their Pipelineistan adventure and to establish good relations with Iran.

This is how Saudi Arabia responded.
Saudi Arabia was considering closing the Qatari-Saudi land border, Saudi airspace to Qatar, and scuppering the imminent Qatar Airways deal to operate flights in the kingdom. Scurrilous social media exchanges also indicated the possible excommunication of Qatar from the GCC.
Ostensibly, the Saudi reaction was for centered around Muslim Brotherhood and support for Houthis but the real reason was Qatar's deal with Iran.

In other words, ever since Pipelineistan flopped, Saudi Arabia has been desperate to stop Qatar from helping Iran.

Why Now?

Two reasons or actually two guys. MBS and The Donald.

Muhammad bin Salman who goes by MBS is King Salman's son and his Minister of Defense. He is the architect of the disastrous civil war in Yemen.

Until a few days ago he was the Deputy Crown Prince. But he was also the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as Salman suffers from dementia. Right after the embargo was announced, Salman demoted the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef and replaced him with MBS.

MBS is an arrogant and dangerous man who likes to play with fire.
At the end of last year the BND, the German intelligence agency, published a remarkable one-and-a-half-page memo saying that Saudi Arabia had adopted “an impulsive policy of intervention”. It portrayed Saudi defence minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the powerful 29-year-old favourite son of the ageing King Salman, who is suffering from dementia – as a political gambler who is destabilising the Arab world through proxy wars in Yemen and Syria.
Iran is his bĂȘte noire. And he has been itching to start a conflict that could engulf the Islamic Republic.

Before he launched the embargo against Qatar, he cleverly engineered a rapprochement with Israel to cooperate against Iran. Tellingly, Israel backed Saudi Arabia in its confrontation with Qatar.

Israel is as fearful of the Shia Crescent as the Sunni countries in the region. And it is no coincidence that one of the Saudi demands was for Qatar to stop funding Hamas.

Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia was the turning point for MBS. He then announced a $110 billion arms sale which will be worth over $350 billion in ten years fully knowing that this would please immensely the author of the Art of the Deal.

That deal also ensured that Trump would denounce Tehran as the biggest supporter of Islamist terrorism and take Saudi side when they pushed Qatar to reduce its ties with Iran.

Predictably, when the embargo was announced Trump tweeted that Qatar was the biggest sponsor of terrorism and took credit for the move against the tiny emirate.

As a side note, Naomi Klein believes that US oil companies might be egging him on in an effort to push oil prices up. I am not sure but the muted response of the former CEO of Exxonmobil Rex Tillerson makes her claim somewhat plausible.

What's Next?

Saudi demands are designed to be humiliating and there is no way for Qatar to comply with them without becoming a vassal state.

In fact, besides reducing ties with Iran, shuttering Al Jazeera and closing the Turkish military base, one of the demands is to "align itself politically, economically and otherwise with the Gulf Co-operation Council."

Qatar's response was to reject them and to go to the Sunni regional power for protection.

The Turkish military base in Qatar was designed to house 5,000 troops but before the spat, there were only 200 soldiers there. Erdogan convened an extraordinary session of Parliament to get authorization to deploy a greater number of troops in Qatar.

The first batch of Turkish troops arrived five days ago.

Now, a few thousand troops would not be able to stop a Saudi invasion. But their presence is a serious deterrent and this is why closing the Turkish base was one of the main Saudi demands.

As for Iran, while they offered to send food and supplies they maintained a low key approach for fear of provoking Sunni hotheads. They are fully aware that the whole crisis was designed to get them involved.

If MBS decides to escalate this conflict it has the potential of turning into something catastrophic.

That is because this whole situation is not just a Sunni-Shia rivalry, Russia, Israel, Turkey and the US are in it as well. Their leaders are as unpredictable and mercurial as MBS himself.
In the last month, for the first time since the civil war in Syria began in 2011, the United States has directly attacked Syrian government forces or proxies — not just once, but at least four times. The urgent question now is less about Syria than Russia, which in response to the latest of these incidents, in which a U.S. fighter plane shot down a Syrian jet, threatened to target any U.S.-led coalition aircraft flying over Syria.
Something tells me that this is not going to end well.

17 June 2017

Theresa May's Katrina Moment

58 people were burned alive in the Grenfell Tower inferno.

You know why?

When the building was refurbished just a year ago at a cost of £8.6m, the company acting on behalf of the richest borough in the UK did not install a fire-resistant cladding because it would cost £2 more per square metre.
Installing fire-resistant cladding at Grenfell Tower would have cost just £5,000 extra, it has been claimed, after the spotlight fell on the building's facade as a factor in Wednesday's devastating fire.
And in case you think it was just an unfortunate decision to install a product that is illegal even in the US (and that tells you something), this was not a one-off choice. It was part of a larger trend.
Precise blame comes later in the public inquiry: we are all overnight experts in cladding and sprinklers now. But political blame spreads right through the Conservative party, with no escape on offer. This goes far beyond the precise shockers – the Tory MPs who mockingly rejected housing regulation; the cuts to funding to councils responsible for retro-fitting fire suppressants; the disregard of coroner’s instructions after the 2009 Lakanal House tragedy; and even the plan to opt out of EU safety regulations. Conservative Kensington and Chelsea council allegedly blocking its ears to tenants’ well-founded anxiety is just the immediate 
As Polly Toynbee put it, "that tower is austerity in ruins."

For years, every sane economist decried their useless cruelty and massive human cost.

But conservatives pursued them relentlessly because they wanted to destroy the safety net for the poor and the vulnerable.

Like the GOP trying to take away healthcare from millions of people.

The burning of Grenfell and the death of 58 people and the lack of any help for the hundreds of destitute and now homeless people perfectly summed up the conservative mind set.

Kensington Council saved £5,000, who cares if poor people's lives were put in danger.

And this picture juxtaposition made it crystal clear.

Theresa May is surrounded by police officers or fire fighters looking at the building from a distance.

Jeremy Corbyn hugging a survivor.

I don't think she will be able to survive this.

And she may even take the Tories down with her.


London fire: 'Outrageous' lack of help for Grenfell tower victims
Twenty-four hours after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, I arrived to find no international response to speak of. 
But within another 24 hours that response was arriving and was significant there three days after the disaster - teams from around the world flying in, crisis centres and the United Nations in control of feeding points and housing solutions. 
Yes, there were problems. There always are. But the centralised and visible response was in place days later in a relatively remote area. 
That is what appears to be missing in the richest borough in one of the world's leading cities. 
Kensington vs Haiti?

She is history.



This gets worse every day.
Police are expected to announce an increase in that number on Monday.
The BBC understands about 70 may have died. Eighteen people remain in hospital, nine in critical care.
But there is adequate compensation for those who lost loved ones.
The government says all those who lost their homes are to receive £5,500.
Each household will receive at least £500 in cash and £5,000 paid into an account as part of a £5m emergency fund first announced on Friday.
That is the same amount Kensington and Chelsea saved on cladding.

12 June 2017

Theresa May: A Bloody Difficult Woman in a Bloody Mess

Theresa May is screwed.

The proper adverb would have been royally but in this instance strongly and stably might be more apt.

A month ago, the Tories looked like they were set to destroy the Labour Party for at least a generation.

Pundits were lamenting "Joseph Stalin Lenin Marx Corbyn" and his disastrously radical policies, you know, commie stuff, like free tuition and publicly owned railways and post office.

Things that existed in the UK a few years back.

Then the proudly "bloody difficult woman" came up with the "dementia tax" which would force older people to give up their homes to pay for their long term care and her lead simply evaporated within a few weeks.

All of this you already know.

Her conundrum is that she is now really cornered with no room of maneuver.

And she desperately wants to hang on to power.

But she may not be able to do so.

Problem Number 1: Hard Brexit vs Soft Brexit?

I have to say that this distinction has always baffled me.

I did a year of graduate studies on the European Union and taught on the topic for a few years so I am reasonably familiar with how things work.

The EU's legal system is largely based on the German and French jurisprudence and neither is remotely flexible. You cannot pick and choose what part of EU legal system you might adhere to.

She and her supporters believe that Hard Brexit means no immigrants (especially swarthy ones), no meddling from EU institution, no payment to them and full access to the common market and full rights to UK citizens in Europe.

The whole thing actually makes sense if you are from the British Isles.

That is because American exceptionalism was built upon British exceptionalism.

You know, the empire on which sun never sets.

From the EU perspective, Brexit has two components.

The first one is Brexit pure and simple, whereby Britain would pay what it owes under its current obligations and vacate the EU institutions. No free movement of goods, labor, services and capital.

They could stop there and World Trade Organization rules would govern the EU-UK trade relations.

The second component will come after the first one is over and it is properly called a trade agreement: it would set new terms for the movement of services, goods and capital.

Both sides could also negotiate new terms for EU citizens in the UK and Brits in EU countries.

In that sense, Theresa May's Hard vs Soft distinction is rubbish. EU will insist on kicking Britain out first and talking about access later.

And don't tell me that the UK does not have to accept those terms.

Without Britain, the EU is composed of 27 member states. We are talking about roughly 450 million people vs 65 million in the UK.

44 percent of UK exports go to the EU and 8 percent of EU exports go to the UK.

Think about it for a minute as a Brexit proponent.

What incentives do they have to treat you according to your idea of British exceptionalism?

Why should they give you access to their market if you offer them nothing?

And why should they allow your citizens to remain in continental Europe when you are free to kick theirs off your islands?

Both Paris and Frankfurt are salivating at the idea of getting those financial institutions out of London, why should France or Germany go easy on Britain?

As you know, service sector represents 80 percent of the British economy. If the banksters go, good luck with everything. Especially the real estate.

What is worse for Theresa May, since the second part of the deal is a trade agreement, any one of the members can simply scuttle the deal.

You see, each member state has a veto power over trade agreements. You know, a country like Bulgaria or Romania or Hungary could say, sorry we don't like it and that would be that.

If I were Tsipras, I would make my vote conditional upon some debt relief. The banksters will get it.

I am just saying.

Problem Number 2: How Do You Negotiate When They Know Your Cards?

Theresa May had a 17 seat majority before the elections, now she has a deficit of 8.

To form a minority government, she needs the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which won 10 seats.

In case you are not familiar with them, the DUP was founded by Ian Paisley and it is a hard core evangelical movement. They oppose abortion, same sex marriage, they are climate change deniers, they want creationism taught in school.

The works.

And they have uncomfortably close links to loyalist paramilitaries who murdered quite a few Catholics in their days.

If you are old enough to remember who Ian Paisley was, none of this should surprise you.

Now, the DUP is opposed to any deal that would establish an actual border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member. The BBC calls it the "Hardest Border" because it cuts through villages and fields and sometimes homes.

Which puts Theresa May in a bind.

How do you negotiate a so-called Hard Brexit, i.e. no swarthy immigration, for which your base supported you, when you have an open border with Europe?

There is more.

The Scottish Tories did exceptionally well this time around and ended up with 13 seats. Scotland overwhelming voted for Remain in the referendum and Ruth Davidson, their leader, made it clear that between access to EU market and Hard Brexit, she and her colleagues are firmly in favor of the former.

Reportedly, Davidson was planning to take her Scottish Tory party away from English control. She later denied that this was her intention.

Now if you were the negotiating team for the EU, how would you react to this picture?

Your opponent has a minority government which stays in power thanks to the support of a regional party. But that party is rabidly anti-immigration yet it does not want an actual border with Ireland.

The same government has another regional faction which is opposed to any form of Hard Brexit and between access to market and anything else, including immigration, they would pick access to market every time.

You go this way, this one pulls out and you go that way and that one pulls out.

How do you negotiate when the whole world knows that you do not have a unified team and any shift in either direction could bring your government down?

In fact, May's position is so precarious that even a simple disagreement on LGBT rights between the DUP and Ruth Davidson could spell trouble.

You see, Davidson is an openly gay woman and she wants to marry her partner in the near future. Same sex marriage is something the DUP is categorically against.

You can see how even such an unrelated issue could bring May's minority government down.

Incidentally, the issue was important enough that Davidson sought and received firm assurances in that regard.

If I were the head of the EU negotiating team I would be so happy to face such a weak opponent.

Problem Number 3: Donald Trump

There used to be a time where the UK would be the pilgrimage site for the newly elected US presidents to go to toast the special relationship between their two countries.

Curtsy opportunities for the first ladies before the Queen and imperial photo ops for successive presidents.

The subtext was always, hey, we are closer than you think.

The UK always played the Atlantic card against the EU, as in I don't need you, my big brother will take care of me.

And ever since the UK was admitted into the EU, member states always suspected of a hidden Atlantic agenda.

In fact, this is why Charles De Gaulle was opposed to the UK membership.

So with George Herbert Walker Bush or George Walker Bush or even with Barack Obama, this would have worked.

But the Orange Man is an America Firster.

Sure, when you surrender your hand to a short-fingered vulgarian he will grab it, as he does most things.

But does that mean that he will come to your rescue after the breakup with Europe?

Not really.

And if you were to claim that in your negotiations you might be screwed.

Strongly and stably.

Because the other side knows who the Orange Man is.



See what I mean?

The European Union has revealed a draft law to give it the power to move the lucrative euro clearing business out of London and keep it in the EU after Britain leaves the Union in 2019.

London currently processes three-quarters of the trade in this financial sector, providing thousands of jobs.

But European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis said Brexit needed "certain adjustments to our rules".

The law will decide if London will have the right to host the work post-Brexit.

London is currently the world leader for the clearing of all types of currency-denominated derivatives including the euro.