Saturday, October 14, 2017

Damage to Catalonia!

"This is my truth. Tell me yours." Aneurin Bevan, founder of Tribune.

Saturday 14th October 2017
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Letter From America

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: October 13, 2017 Last modified: October 13, 2017
Between Darth Vader imitators brutalizing Catalans and Donald Trump at the UN, sovereignty is in the air, and not just in Catalonia. Donald Trump made “sovereignty” a theme of his speech to the UN for the opening of the General Assembly.
There was a lot of adverse comment since it was discordant with the spirit of the world body, and indeed it is – now. But it does hew to the original letter of the UN Charter, which makes it plain that the main purpose of the organization was to preserve and defend the sovereignty of the nation states who were its members.
The preamble of the Charter does start with “We the Peoples of the world,” but within a few paragraphs and months it was clear that the founders were only kidding. The sovereignty of the nation state is the bedrock principle of the organization, as one would expect for a body that had Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union, not to mention the segregationist USA, as original signatories and which was set up in response to predatory annexations by the Axis.
National sovereignty took shape in the Treaty of Westphalia, which, apart from a lot of sordid horse-trading to end the Thirty Years War, encapsulated the concept that what a ruler did inside a sovereign state was nobody else’s business. But of course, once again they were only kidding: it only applied to West Europeans and it was fine to go to the rescue of Christians in Muslim countries and to liberate little brown brothers across the world from uncivilized rule.
Back in 2003, China kept trying to add “and separatist activities” to resolutions on terrorism, until put down by Jeremy Greenstock, one of the better British Ambassadors to the UN, who pointed out that nothing in international law, nor even British law, prohibited people supporting or wanting self determination.
Hence the chill with Trump’s enthusiasm for invoking sovereignty… Russia, China, Burma Venezuela, Burundi, Serbia… you could almost draw up a Human Rights Watch list from the speakers who echoed his invocation of sovereignty from the podium of the General Assembly.
They are not talking about the sovereignty of the peoples, but about the untrammeled powers they claim as rulers of nations. In a similar way, the fans of Lenin’s ghost across the left are now much quicker to invoke national sovereignty than workers’ unity. And it seems that Madrid shares Beijing’s views on advocating self-determination. Indeed, May’s government supports it by proxy: if you make it illegal to vote on self determination then it is fine to violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to stop them in order to “uphold the law”.
I suspect Madrid’s lawyers would be hard put to cite a Spanish custom, let alone small print, that allows black clad storm troopers to concuss peaceful Catalan grannies trying to vote.
To put it mildly, this is counterproductive. Those who are firmly attached to the metaphysical idea of a nation state usually have difficulty learning from reality, and one surefire lesson from history is that telling people they do not have the right even to consider reaping that metaphysical image is thoroughly counterproductive.
But self-determination plus sovereignty are explosive concepts when mixed. “Why should I be a minority in your country, when you can be a minority in mine?” as the old Balkan adage had it. Self-determination can be negotiated to allow all concerned their rights. “Sovereignty” almost always implies a claimed right to abuse people’s rights in the name of a notional nation.
The refusal of Madrid and Buenos Aires to even consider that the Falklanders or Gibraltarians have rights or a voice in their future has guaranteed predictable near unanimity in referenda. It would have taken a tremendous amount of making nice by Belgrade to win over the Kosovars, but the Serbian refusal even to apologize to the victims of years of apartheid that culminated in attempted ethnic cleansing, shifted the referendum odds on independence from high probability to complete certainty.
With Gibraltar as the best example of Rajoy’s tact, sadly his actions in Catalonia have now switched a not very probable victory for independence closer to near certainty. There are degrees of separation and co-habitation. Wooing works better than whipping, but sending in thousands of Darth Vader imitations from outside Catalonia to beat up locals wanting a say in their future is epochal idiocy calculated to change the minds of any Catalans who might have wanted to stay part of a larger Iberian polity.
If Rajoy keeps it up, he may lose the Basques next.

About Ian Williams
Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

Saturday, June 17, 2017

UK, Lost Empire, Knackered Trojan Horse


Letter From America

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: June 17, 2017 Last modified: June 17, 2017

Maybe the so-called Special Relationship gets extra spirit from the Tory “understanding” with the DUP. In both Washington and London, the purported leaders of their countries do not have a mandate from a majority of the electorate, but both depend on the votes of bigoted anti-Diluvian evangelists, who do actually believe in the Flood described in The Bible, but do not believe in the flood lapping around their feet from sea ice melts.
The former Ian Paisley’s degree from the Bob Jones University did not endow him or the DUP with the ecumenism of modern American Evangelists who have now expediently forsworn their traditional anti-Papism to ally with reactionary Catholic Bishops against their common enemy – modern tolerance.
And both the DUP and Republican evangelical right in the US share an apocalyptic Christian Zionist view that makes them support Netanyahu and the far right in Israel. It is worth remembering that theological roots of this are not based on some sentimental philosemitism but on a reading of the book of Revelations that sees the gathering of the Jews in the Holy Land as a necessary precursor to the rapture, Armageddon and the Second Coming. It is only good for the Jews if you regard being converted to Christianity or being thoroughly smitten by a vengeful deity as a blessing.
Sadly, Trump’s unbounded admiration for Nigel Farage seems to have inhibited him from tweeting support for May. We can assume that a blessing from the US president might have lost her even more seats. Domestic resistance, even in his own party, tempers some of Trump’s policy eccentricities at home but the presidency’s powers over foreign policy give him more leeway abroad, although, even there, the foreign policy establishment has inhibited some of his wayward options. For example, although like so many previous presidents he promised to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as Congress has mandated, the State Department’s residual attachment to international law has forced him to postpone it yet again.
However, Farage notwithstanding, the Trump administration has even less time than Obama for the so-called special relationship with Britain, a phrase very rarely heard in the US media except when Washington is looking for London to send sepoys to lend international flavour to yet another military folly.
However, we sometimes forget that the “special relationship” was very much a Labour invention. After fighting World War Two alone for over two years Ernest Bevin wanted NATO to cement an American commitment. Churchill condemned Attlee’s permission for US bases in Britain as a derogation of sovereignty while Attlee committed troops and treasure to support the US in Korea, even if that was mandated by the UN.
Suez showed who was in charge of that special relationship. Indeed, forgotten now, but newsworthy at the time was that Senator Joe McCarthy (and his sidekick Robert Kennedy) had Winston Churchill and the UK in their sites for trading with China during the Korean War. They pointed out that the tan­gential British contribution to the Chinese war effort probably equalled the value of the British input into the Korean war itself.
While on the one hand, Brexit adds cogent geopolitical reasoning for keeping friendly with the Americans, since the UK is now again just an isolated off-shore island, on the other hand Trump’s silence on the matter has devalued the US commitment to NATO’s common defence. Recent Tory miscalculations, on the referendum and the election do indeed suggest that belief in fairies is a strong component in conservative politics, but can even they believe that an isolationist Trump administration feels any special regard for Britain?
Geoffrey Howe at a UN briefing once explained that British foreign policy was the same now as in the days of Pitt – to ensure that no combination of powers could arise in Europe that could threaten our island, and I suspect that most conservative governments did indeed thwart and sabotage European unity with that in mind. EU foreign policy has almost always been a joke, depending as it did on consensus and thus effective abstention on controversial issues. Britain lost its empire and found a role as Washington’s Trojan horse in Brussels.
The current chaos suggests other possibilities. Perhaps it is time to audition for a new role, or rather resume the position of supporter of the UN Charter and international law. It is something that Labour should be thinking about, taking up where Robin Cook left off.


About Ian Williams

Tuesday, June 13, 2017




Tribune: Letter From America

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: May 20, 2017 
George W Bush once complained that he was “misunderestimated.” You can almost sympathize. Donald Trump has made Bush Jnr seem a towering giant among commanders-in-chief. Yes, like Trump, Bush was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he absorbed a microscopic residual sense of noblesse oblige from it, while there is no scintilla of nobility or obligation in Trump.
Real estate and gambling, Trump’s prime avocations, are all about skimming money as it’s churned, not actually creating and making things that people might need. He has been one jump ahead of his creditors for years. And while he might have once installed gold-plated bathroom fixtures, you can be sure that the people who sold and installed them were cheated of some or all of their pay. While posing as an entrepreneurial genius, he drove casinos into bankruptcy, bought, renamed and lost the Trump Shuttle airline, the Trump Plaza hotel and finally got into his stride by adding his brand name to buildings financed by people with insufficient taste and intellect to appreciate that in early modern English “trump” meant “fart.” Be serious, how do you lose money with a casino?
So, Trump is indubitably guilty – but of what? The Russia thing evokes deep reservoirs of historical prejudice in the Democrats, but has amazingly little traction with the Republicans and Trump supporters. Did he have business dealings with the Russians? Almost certainly, and very likely they financed his dubious projects. After all, Russian kleptocrats are the Saudi oil-sheiks of our day, with lots of spare money and no accountability. And Trump and his team are incredibly incompetent. The Clinton’s were discreet in collecting the dinars from the Sheiks; Trump appointees have been caught lying about their chats with Russians.
But there is something worrying about all the fuss. Firstly, how can any detached observer keep a straight face when American pundits wax indignant about foreign interference in US elections?  The world is spattered with countries from Iran to Chile whose elections have been overturned by US subterfuge and conspiracy – not to mention those where the Marines just went in to adjust the outcome.
US “interference” played a large part in empowering Boris Yeltsin and the consequent collapse and looting of the Russian economy. And you don’t have to be a Chomskyite conspiracy theorist to see the US funding and advice behind many of the so-called “colour” revolutions around the globe. Even if you accept, as I would, that most of these risings were justified and mainly fuelled by local anger, there is ample evidence of American funding.
So, were the Russians hacking during the election? Almost certainly, but no one claims that they interfered with the famously vulnerable American electronic voting machines. Nor did they produce “fake news” or falsified emails, leaving that to Fox and Breitbart, although their ‘bots might have turned out the Trump vote the same way that foreign donors are attacking Corbyn in this election.  However, the main charge is that Russian inspired hackers exposed correspondence between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Now amid all the Clinton camp’s squawks of indignation blaming the Russians for losing her the election, there is not the tiniest hint of contrition for what was actually revealed, which was that DNC apparatchiks and Clinton conspired to ensure the defeat of Bernie Sanders. It is indeed an unusual role for Putin’s revived KGB, but they were revealing rather than concealing or distorting facts. If the facts showed Hillary in bad light that was because what she was doing was bad!
The election was indeed stolen, but it has been a prolonged hegemonic heist. The Bolshevized conservative wing of the Republicans has been pursuing the long march to power while the Clintons and their plutocratic pals were hollowing out the Democratic Party and concentrating on big donors to get themselves in the Senate and the White House. With centralized Leninist discipline, the avowed right took over the Republican Party and won power in states, counties and cities across the country. They used it to gerrymander districts, purge voter rolls and ensure that even if people vote in the face of all the contrived obstacles, it is their local officials who count the resulting ballots. They have deployed their people in the courts, not least the Supreme Court, and are set to add even more.
Hillary was right to say there was a vast right-wing conspiracy, but she flattered herself to think she was the main target. These guys are serious about reconstructing the US as some Ayn Rand dystopia – and frankly the Clintons have never posed much of an obstacle to it, as their steps at dismantling of the New Deal demonstrated.
Be warned: it is coming soon to a House of Commons near you. While they have been too clever to acknowledge it, the Tory Party has clearly been studying the techniques of voter dissuasion and boundary reform as gerrymandering.

About Ian Williams
Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

UN - Occupied Territory or Disputed?

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2017, pp. 32-33

United Nations Report

Emulating the Settlers He Supports, Israeli Ambassador Danon Seizes U.N. Territory

By Ian Williams

williams
Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., speaks to journalists, May 11, 2017. (U.N. PHOTO/MARK GARTEN)

FOR A LONG TIME, Israeli right wingers have scorned and reviled the United Nations and all its works—apart, of course, from General Assembly Resolution 181 partitioning Mandatory Palestine.
As an Israeli right-wing settler supporter himself, Ambassador Danny Danon, the state’s permanent representative to the U.N., surprised many Israelis when he took the position, which Netanyahu had offered him as a way to get rid of a domestic rival. The ambassador, however, has exploited his position well. In the U.N., occupied territories, seizing ground wherever and whenever he can and then expanding from there.
Even though his grandstanding in the General Assembly is aimed less at winning over other U.N. members and more at amassing potential future contributors for his political ambitions back home from affluent American supporters, it does indeed have the effect of softening up the institution, whose staff have seen what happens to people who utter inconvenient truths.
In the halls of the U.N. itself, the Americans had to bully the West European and Other Group some years ago to accept Israel as an associate member of their regional bloc. It is now a full member, and a majority of the group successfully placed Danon as chair of the U.N.’s Legal Committee—the U.N. equivalent of putting Goldman Sachs in charge of banking regulation. If the poacher keeps on poaching, any arguments about promoting him to gamekeeper lose some validity, but it’s a measure of the success of Israel’s PR push that the West Europeans could vote for a state that has a record-breaking run of scofflaw behavior standing in defiance of innumerable U.N. resolutions. 
One cannot help but suspect that the de facto axis that has developed between Saudi Arabia and Israel against Iran has also contributed to the successful “normalization” of Israel in the international system. As we saw, the Saudis explicitly claimed quasi-Israeli privileges when they successfully censored a report on the effect of their horrifying bombardment of Yemen, and they continue to evade successfully examination of the effect of their sanctions on Yemeni civilians. 
It has to be said that while the defection of reactionary Arab regimes might enhance the Palestinians’ moral high ground, the Israelis and their friends almost have a point about the U.N.’s special treatment of Israel. In reaction to their military and economic impotence, Palestine and its remaining friends have generated innumerable resolutions against Israeli behavior, each of them separately well merited. But the overwhelming number has tended to devalue those issues that matter, and of course the nature of the complainants leaves much to be desired.  
At one time the resolutionary road to liberation was an attempt by Palestinians to fight on the only battlefield that they had a chance of winning, but now it is almost counterproductive—although the reactions of Israel must be gratifying. 
The UNESCO board, for example, pointed out the legal truth that West Jerusalem is not under legal Israeli sovereignty, even if it has parked the Knesset there. Trump’s promises notwithstanding, that is why there are no diplomatic missions there. And innumerable resolutions condemn the continuing Israeli presence in “the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem,” which of course galls them almost as much. 
The Israeli response has been to enlist the U.S. externally, and lobbies internally in many countries, to soften their positions so countries will now abstain on resolutions that they used to support, and in some cases—notably the Anglo-Saxon axis of Canada, Australia and the UK—to move closer to the U.S. on Middle East questions.  Once again, the Saudi dimension is important. Margaret Thatcher, for example, did not care in the slightest for Palestinian rights—but she cared deeply about arms sales to the Gulf states and looking after their petrodollars banking for them. The new British Prime Minister Theresa May is equally concerned about arms sales—but it is now clear the possibility that British diplomatic positions could veer toward Israel now weigh much less heavily in Riyadh than in the past.
So it is against this U.N. backdrop against which Ambassador Danon is now screening his hasbara (propaganda) events, most recently using a U.N. committee room for a forum to pillory the Palestine Authority for payments to the families of alleged terrorists. In particular, Danon has used his office to book the U.N. General Assembly Hall to sponsor “Ambassadors Against BDS” mass rallies where the usual suspects among pro-Israeli organizations bused in their supporters to fill the hall. Although the Assembly has been available for private hire in the past—when, for example, the Church of Scientology rented it—U.N. officials carefully covered U.N. insignia so the organization’s integrity would not be compromised. 
On this occasion, the podium with the U.N. badge formed the backdrop for Danon’s photo-ops, with thousands of supporters waving Israeli flags. Interestingly, apart from Danon there were few ambassadors actually present, but billing U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley as his guest speaker doubtless helped intimidate any U.N. officials who remembered U.N. decisions on the Middle East. 
Haley is of Indian origins and is close to the current Indian government. But one would never guess the role played by boycotts in the India independence movement, which targeted government salt and British manufactures in an effort to get rid of the colonial yoke. Indeed, one would never guess the iconic role played by U.S. agitators in boycotting tea imports in times past in Boston. 
One cannot help but wonder why other states, like South Africa, do not join hands with the Palestine Mission for a conference on the essential role played by civil society organizations in BDS movements against apartheid and other repressive regimes. In case the flood of Israeli indignation clouds the view, one should perhaps remember that the BDS movement is an attempt by civil society to enforce international law and U.N. decisions on the government that has been defying them for 50 years!

APARTHEID REPORT WITHDRAWN

Perhaps most symbolic of the march of Israel through the institutions is the withdrawal of the report from the Economic Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) on Israeli Apartheid, which brings together all these strands. The impassioned torrents of outrage from Israeli supporters about BDS and comparisons with apartheid have intimidated commentators across Europe and America, despite their essential validity. The white regime in South Africa was, after all, a close collaborator with Israel in sanctions busting, arms trading and, it would appear, even nuclear weapons development, so quite why the comparison should have become odious to the point of “anti-Semitism” is a mystery. After all, few, if any, of the people now so outraged objected to Israel’s aid and support for the apartheid regime.
There was a dilemma for ESCWA. Prof. Richard Falk has an outstanding record in international law and human rights, but like anyone else who submits critical reports on Israel he has been demonized and vilified. But not to use his expertise would be to bow down to politically motivated slander, so he was commissioned, along with Virginia Tilley, anyway.  
The ad hominem slurs were wheeled out immediately—think poor Judge Richard Goldstone—and cries came for the report to be withdrawn. New Secretary-General António Guterres had just taken office and the biggest item on his agenda was relations between the U.N. and the new U.S. president, Donald Trump, who had adopted a strong anti-U.N. and pro-Israel stance, so when the U.S. asked for the report to be removed, he folded. Despite the U.N.’s withdrawal of the report, it is still available ­online, at <www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/26223/un-report-establishes-israeli-apartheid;-fallout-b>, and it is still valid. It is reassuring that Rima Khalaf, ESCWA’s director, resigned in protest at being forced to take down the report.
The report meticulously demonstrates the apartheid-like conditions Israel imposes—and one should remember that there is a binding International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid—which, like the earlier Genocide Convention, commits states to action about it. 
Indeed, that is one of the reasons Israeli leaders get so upset about the comparison, since although the blow to their reputation can hurt in PR or political terms, such charges carry international legal weight, not least with the International Criminal Court hovering around. Similarly, they might have physical possession of the occupied territories (and East Jerusalem, of course!), but without legal title that only the U.N. can give them, their behavior is subject to potential jurisdiction of the ICC and other tribunals adjudging the Geneva Conventions.
However, as a resounding footnote, the report also answers the question Israeli supporters keep asking: why is Israel singled out so often at the U.N.? The report explains: “the situation in Israel-Palestine constitutes an unmet obligation of the organized international community to resolve a conflict partially generated by its own actions. That obligation dates formally to 1922, when the League of Nations established the British Mandate for Palestine as a territory eminently ready for independence as an inclusive secular State, yet incorporated into the Mandate the core pledge of the Balfour Declaration to support the ‘Jewish people’ in their efforts to establish in Palestine a ‘Jewish national home.’ Later United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions attempted to resolve the conflict generated by that arrangement, yet could not prevent related proposals, such as partition, from being overtaken by events on the ground. If this attention to the case of Israel by the United Nations appears exceptional, therefore, it is only because no comparable linkage exists between United Nations actions and any other prolonged denial to a people of their right of self-determination.”
And that, dear reader, is why the international community keeps going on about ­Israel—it is the world’s own guilty conscience. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

"This is my truth. Tell me yours." Aneurin Bevan, founder of Tribune.

Sunday 30th April 2017
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Letter From America

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: April 30, 2017 Last modified: April 30, 2017
There is a spectre haunting the world’s left. It is the ghost of the Comintern. Over sixty years since Nikita Khrushchev blew the whistle on the “workers’ state,” and a quarter of century after the Soviet Union disintegrated, Moscow current kleptocratic rulers can still enthrall the hearts and minds of alleged peace activists and anti-imperialists.
Even in the old days, the regime that had invaded Poland, the Baltics and Finland, suppressed popular uprisings in East Berlin, Prague and Budapest and had its closing debacle in Afghanistan, was an unlikely poster child for nonintervention and national sovereignty. Putin, with his troops holding chunks of Ukraine, the Crimea, Georgia and Moldova, does keep up some of the old predatory Soviet habits, but his Orthodox Slavic nationalism no longer even feigns a socialist tradition.
How Moscow still has reflexive support from so many, is surprising, but even more so is how its ectoplasmic aura of leftist virtue extends to cover some of the nastiest regimes on the planet. Syria’s recidivist mass-murderer Bashir Al-Assad, like Saddam Hussein before him, has become an expedient anti-imperialist icon, with Moscow vetoing resolutions that would let chemical weapons inspectors or the International Criminal Court investigate allegations about both sides.
Some of the left who used to talk about proletarian internationalism are now staunch supporters of national sovereignty, defending the right of unelected “sovereigns” to kill, starve and torture their citizenry without let or hindrance. They condemn “intervention” in abstract even as they cheer the reality of Iranian, Russian and Hezbollah fighters for Al-Assad.
But allowing the possibility of intervention begs the question of what form it should take. Being for or against “intervention” is like arguing with a Christian Scientist about the pros and cons of surgery. Supporting “surgery” does not necessarily embrace brain surgery with a hatchet, any more than accepting the possibility of intervention means cheering Trump’s missile strike.
Trump’s raid was a self-serving and useless gesture which repeated the illegality of the Iraq war while emulating its ineffectuality. The $100 million’s worth of Raytheon missiles boosted the stock price of the company while leaving the airbase runway intact for Al Assad’s air-force to continue bombing Syrian towns. It also boosted Trump’s political standing with all who like that sort of thing. Chilcot’s labours were all in vain for the Labour rightists now wildly applauding Trump. It led many to overlook the messy detail that Trump is cutting payments to the UN agencies that have been feeding and sheltering the Syrian refugees that he will not allow in the US.
The bombing was worse than a crime. It was a blunder. It gave the Russians cover for vetoing yet another resolution against the carnage in Syria. Within a day, the majority of the Security Council voted for a resolution that would have passed except for the Russian veto. Even with the veto, it could have lent some moral authority for action, and even opened up the possibility of referring the issue to the General Assembly – except for the illegal bombing.
I trust that most of those who demonstrated against the bombing were equally repelled by the nerve gas bombs that were dropped, almost certainly by Al-Assad, but one cannot help suspect that for a significant number of so-called peace activists, either the nerve-gassing had not happened, or it was self-inflicted by the rebels.
“My country right or wrong” has never been an effective political principle – but somebody’s else country right or wrong is probably even more dubious. Being appropriately skeptical of the BBC and CNN is one thing, but that should not lead to absolute faith in RT and the Syrian News Agency.
Since the Syrian regime has failed to protect its own people, under UN’s Responsibility to Protect resolution, the rest of the world community has a duty to act – which it has been failing to fulfil for too long now. Bombing does nothing for the Syrian people. At this late stage, the problem is trying to decide what would not make things worse. Every last one of the regional players is now too ethically and politically compromised to be trusted with the task.
But the attempt to reduce it to simple binary choices needs rebutting. Neither Al-Assad nor ISIS deserve support and any solution should sideline both. There are partial possibilities. A UN-mandated no fly zone, rigorously enforced safe havens for civilians, but there is understandably little enthusiasm from countries to send their troops into the killing fields of the formerly Fertile Crescent.
However, there are signs of tectonic shifts. The Chinese did not join the Russians in the vote. Is Putin prepared to risk diplomatic isolation for a regime that embarrasses him so often? Of course, there is a missing link here. The Americans, still, are almost as essential as they think they are. However, who can have hopes for a Missing Link who rhapsodizes over chocolate cake as he announces his breach of the UN Charter to the Chinese President?

About Ian Williams
Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Martin McGuinness at the UN

When I was President of the UN Correspondents' Association we were grappling with censorship. The UN at the behest of Beijing refused to allow dissidents from Tien An Men Square to enter the building to talk to the press there. They also banned Taiwanese representatives and even correspondents from entering. So we kept pushing the envelope.

Among others, we had Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness come to speak to us on several occasions, with quite big coverage in the media. This was throwing stones at two separate targets since ridiculous British censorship rules banned the media there from broadcasting them.  To be fair, we also tried to get the Unionist leader David Trimble, but he would not come.

To get the IRA in, I had to liaise with UN Security, who jumped to the task with alacrity, since many of them were Irish American veterans of the NYPD.  The officer in charge  told me as I waited to escort our visitors in that "as a courtesy to Mr McGuiness," he would not have to go through the metal detector. He looked puzzled when I laughed and suggested that as a courtesy to the thousands of staff in the UN, perhaps an IRA veteran should be a priority to put through the detector!

Later Sir David Hannay, the British Ambassador asked me how the visit had gone, and I told him it was fine, but we disappointed that the UK had not asked Boutros Ghali to ban the press conference. he said indignantly with raised eyebrows and in best patrician fashion, "Ian, who do you think we are, the Chinese?"

Whatever his past, which was certainly now worse than many other bloodstained characters to speak at the UN, they have risen from their past with the current, more durable, peace in Northern Ireland!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Inauguration: Not Reveille but Last Trump for Economy

Investor Relations Magazine

Trump’s market fundamentalists risk repeat of 2008

Markets are efficient at sorting out goods prices, but less so at uncovering snake oil in financial investments
Gary Cohn wants to overturn the US Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule that pension sellers’ primary duty is to their customers. Cohn, formerly Goldman Sachs president but now US President Trump’s National Economic Council director, complained that it was ‘like putting only healthy food on the menu, because unhealthy food tastes good but you still shouldn’t eat it because you might die younger.’
In fact, it is more like saying you should not put melamine in baby milk, or sell thalidomide to expectant mothers. Indeed, the call from the ‘industry’ to rescind the rule is like the burglars’ lobby calling for a ban on locks. I suspect that Cohn’s words will epitomize this age the way Marie Antoinette’s recommendation of cake to the starving poor represented the French monarchy.
Within weeks, the Trump administration is building a bonfire of the regulations that were designed to stop an action replay of 2008, and it is all the more worrying that so many nominees have gold on their hands from the crash. Lobbyists had previously attenuated Dodd-Frank so much in drafting that it was already the Maginot Line of financial regulation. But filling in the holes would be much more effective than demolishing the partial defense it represents against the Barbarians looting at the gaps, so it is disturbing how much enthusiasm Trump has for tearing down this wall, even as he demands a new wall against the US’ neighbor and trading partner Mexico. 
The market fundamentalists now in office consider it axiomatic that lead in gasoline, paint and water, asbestos insulation, unrestrained pollution and BSE in beef notwithstanding, markets are better than regulation and governments. In fact, that is murder by metaphor: when physicists studied how gases expand, they derived laws based on aggregate results of individual gas molecules that bounce about in what some happy scientist called the Drunkard’s Walk as they ricochet from their equivalent of lamp post to street sign. Taken together, however, as energy levels rise, the random molecular wobbles average out and the gas expands predictably. Fundamentalists make a metaphor into a model and compare the behavior of molecules to humans, extrapolating that a host of individual economic decisions will coalesce to form a predictable and benign hidden hand. 
If you tried to parallel the expanding gas experiment with a square full of actual drunks, however, it would not compute: people are not molecules. Some of them would pass out, some would make out, some would fight it out and yet others would try to rob the more incapacitated. Investors act on sentiment and prejudice, they listen to each other – and they often make irrational decisions, or make rational decisions based on ‘alternative facts’.  Some are contrarian, although the history of the markets suggests that most suffer from lemming syndrome and follow the crowd wherever it leads. Markets can indeed be efficient at sorting out the prices of tangible goods, but are much less so at evaluating the percentage proof of snake oil in financial investments.
We have expert evidence to reinforce our suspicions about the economic strategy. President Trump’s connection with casinos brings to mind the gambling inherent in investment strategies, but those of us without chips to place can watch and learn from the experienced punters at play. So we should draw lessons from the big bank executives who, the Wall Street Journal reported in January, were dumping more of their own stocks after the election than at any time over the last 10 years.  
The implication is that they knew the market would rise on Trump’s inauguration because of ‘animal spirits’, like a cobra charmed by the mantra of tax cuts and deregulation. But they were also sure that stock prices would reflect the real economy and face a high risk of falling as soon as he began actually administering.
So how can actual business flourish in an economy run by an administration of the impenitent wild things who gave you 2008 and are now declaring tariff wars with every major trading partner, not to mention getting close to declaring actual war on many others? In fact, while the presidential decrees might augur a business collapse for us professional Cassandras, some boats will float high regardless of the receding waters.  
Look on the bright side: there will be plenty of opportunities for IROs who feel the feral spirits of the age. There will be a lot of penny stocks to be pumped and dumped along with exotic financial instruments reflecting the outburst of predatory ingenuity that awaits us.