Tag Archives: Fifth Republic

A CALL FROM SINGAPORE

Nestled in the heart of Southeast Asia and just at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula, the island country of Singapore is a melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western cultures. The Lion City is one of the world’s most dynamic, vibrant and prosperous nations.

A friend from Singapore called me at the weekend.   Amongst other things we discussed President Trump’s visit to the region, which is now taking place.   He told me that Singaporeans (mostly ethnic Chinese) believe that America is on the way down and China is on the way up.   In other words, the most powerful nation in Asia and the Pacific is now NOT the US, but China.   Every nation in the region is having to come to terms with Chinese domination.

My friend, who is over 80, remembered the events of 1942 that led Singaporeans to realize the British Empire was on its way down.   One of the greatest military defeats in British history was the fall of Singapore on the 15th of February in 1942.   The story is told of Lee Kwan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore.   While he was a student, the British blew up the causeway that linked the city to the mainland, to delay Japanese forces.   The sound of the explosion could be heard across the island.   When Mr. Lee’s British headmaster came out of the school building and asked him what the noise was, Mr. Lee responded: “It is the sound of the British Empire falling.”

Effectively, it was.   The fall of the British built and developed city started a series of events that led to American domination of Asia and the Pacific.   Now, China’s economic success means Beijing has greater clout in the area than Washington — many nations are looking to Beijing rather than Washington, to secure their future.

I posted an article to my blog in February to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first time anybody realized that the US had overtaken the United Kingdom as the world’s pre-eminent nation.   It’s all recounted in the book “Picking up the Reins,” by Norman Moss.   It wasn’t until the following year that the term “Leader of the Free World” was applied to the US.   Seventy years later, we find people openly talking about China overtaking the United States. Chinese resentment at US domination is illustrated by an item on today’s BBC World News website.   Apparently, the Chinese use the term “Boss of the World” to describe America.

China isn’t the only power center trying to take over from America. The European Union is also determined to provide an alternative to American hegemony, with Germany’s Angela Merkel now often labeled “the Leader of the Free World.”   Bible students will not be surprised at these developments.

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IRAN – SAUDI STRUGGLE

Keep an eye on the growing Sunni-Shia struggle in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia leads the former and Iran the latter.   The two countries are fighting a proxy war in Yemen.   The latest development was a missile attack on the Saudi capital, fired by Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran.

Iran also supports Hizbollah in Lebanon, whose prime minister resigned on Friday out of fear that he, like his father, will be assassinated.

From Monday’s Jerusalem Post:  “Saudi Arabia said on Monday that Lebanon had declared war against it because of attacks against the Kingdom by the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah.”

Syria is also caught up in the Sunni-Shia conflict.   Iran supports the Syrian president, Bashir Assad.

The West is solely focused on ISIS, a Sunni Islam group which is fighting Iranian backed forces in Iraq and Syria.   ISIS is re-grouping in a number of countries, claiming to represent and defend Sunnis from the Shi’ite heretics.

It’s all very complicated.   Not at all as simple as TV news depicts.

A new area of conflict is in the Sahara, where the US lost four military personnel last month.   Most attention was focused on President Trump’s call to the young wife of one of the men who died. Little attention has been given to the wider problem of a growing conflict right across the Sahel.

The West seems to think ISIS has been defeated; the reality is that the organization has dispersed and formed new radical terrorist groups in a number of different countries.  ISIS fighters have also been returning home to western nations – we should expect more terrorist attacks following the “defeat” of ISIS.

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WALL STREET’S BREXIT WARNING

Big banks are worried about Brexit.   A group of large financial institutions with big London operations, including JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and HSBC, has told US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross that Britain’s unstable government and slow progress in Brexit planning may force them to start moving thousands of jobs out of  the City in the near future.   The lack of clarity over a transition deal is making them nervous.

Their concerns are unlikely to be assuaged by the latest chaos in Theresa May’s cabinet.   Mrs. May is under pressure to strip two more cabinet ministers of their jobs following separate fiascos involving Priti Patel and Boris Johnson.   And the EU has warned that the UK has less than a month to make concessions on a divorce settlement.   The FT’s editorial outlines how the British government’s flailing at home is translating into weakness abroad: “Allies are increasingly wondering whether Mrs. May’s government has the focus or ability to play Britain’s traditional global position — let alone the enhanced role pledged by Brexit.”   (Financial Times, 11/8)

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TEXAS CHURCH ATTACK

26 people were shot dead in church Sunday, following a man’s argument with his mother-in-law.   Twenty others were injured, some very seriously.

This was the 307th incident of mass murder in the US this year. Today is the 310th days of the year, so, in effect, the US is experiencing an average of one mass attack per day.   A mass murder incident is defined as the murder of four or more people.

No other nation in the world sees so much violence.   Yemen, in a civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims (see segment above), has the second highest incident rate.   Statistically, you would be safer living in Yemen, than in the United States.

I’ve always believed that people have a right to defend themselves, a right that goes back at least to the time of Henry II in the 12th century and perhaps goes back to the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom prior to the Norman ascendancy.  The second amendment of the US constitution guarantees that right.   After an attack in London a few weeks ago, I pointed out that if one member of the public, just one, had been carrying a weapon, the terror attack might have been thwarted.

President Trump raised the issue of mental health in the context of mass shootings at a press conference in Tokyo.   Mental health is certainly a major issue.   But easy access to guns, especially by the mentally ill, is also a factor and needs to be addressed.   It’s time for that presidential commission of inquiry into mass gun violence.   Let the public have their say.   They are the ones that are dying, even in church.

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100-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF RUSSIAN REVOLUTION

November 7th is the anniversary of the Russian Revolution that brought the communists to power.   Not surprisingly, Russians are not enthused about the anniversary.   They rejected communism over 25 years ago.

There is still talk of a restoration of the monarchy, though most people do not seem to be in favor and do not expect it to happen.

There are lessons here from both France and Spain, two countries that were once dominated by their respective leaders, Charles de Gaulle and General Franco.   Both were strong men, who were vain enough to think that nobody could possibly replace them after their deaths.   Both men thought that the best way to preserve their nations in the future was through the restoration of their national monarchies.

De Gaulle was a close friend of the Comte de Paris, the descendant of the Orleanist monarch, Louis Phillipe, who ruled France from 1830-1848.   The Comte was aware of de Gaulle’s desire to restore the monarchy.

In 1968, France was rocked by student riots and violence across the country.   DeGaulle presented constitutional reforms (not including a restoration) that were rejected, leading to his resignation as President of France in April, 1969.   He died one year later.   De Gaulle, the inspiration behind the Fifth Republic in 1958, need not have worried  — the Fifth Republic remains to this day.

General Franco of Spain, a fascist dictator, had more time to think about the Spanish succession, proclaiming that his heir and successor was to be Juan Carlos, of the Bourbon line of monarchs. As soon as Franco died in 1975, Juan Carlos was proclaimed king.   Rather than continuing Franco’s conservative ideology, the new King dedicated himself to protecting Spanish democracy, thereby at the same time preserving the monarchy.   He even had the respect and support of Spanish communists.

Vladimir Putin may be thinking along the same lines.   He’s been a very strong leader, with a 90% approval rating at times.   He must be fearful of Russia’s future after he leaves the scene.

The restoration of the Romanov dynasty along Spanish lines, may be just what he’s thinking.   He’s already reviving Russian culture, and has helped the church take center stage.

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SYRIA SIGNS UP TO PARIS ACCORD

The US is now the only country in the world that has not signed up to the Paris climate treaty.   Syria was the only other holdout, but has now signed.

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PARADISE PAPERS SCANDAL

The Anglo-Saxon world loves its scandals, especially when its leaders are exposed.   In this regard, the Paradise Papers did not disappoint.

While TV audiences are focused on who has what and why, it should be emphasized that absolutely no one “exposed” broke the law.  They simply took advantage of legal tax loopholes, just as most people do, only theirs is on a much bigger scale than the average citizen.

The only law-breaking going on here was by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, which somehow gained access to private financial information.   The paper’s partners in this enterprise included the British Guardian newspaper and the New York Times.  No surprises there.

Another concern is this:   the revelations are the latest “scandal” to undermine our institutions.   As if the Harvey Weinstein and other sexual revelations are not enough, we now have nightly reports that Queen Elizabeth II (and others) have been protecting their assets by moving them beyond the control of national governments.

Times have certainly changed.   Fifty years ago, royal tour-guides would proudly announce that the British monarch was the richest woman in the world.   Now, she’s not even in the top 500 wealthiest people in Britain (J.K. Rowling heads the female list), and people are getting riled about it.

The amount involved was only 10 million pounds ($13 million).

Exactly 100 years after the class warfare of the Russian Revolution, people have learned nothing.   All socialism brought was “equal shares of misery for all” (Margaret Thatcher’s definition).   Do we really want to embrace it again, naively thinking it will improve all our lives?

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I LOVE PARIS IN THE SPRING TIME

The second round of the French presidential election takes place on Sunday.   Polls (!) show that the centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron, is leading with 62% of the vote.   Madame Marine LePen, of the National Front, is not doing so well.   Reports say that she is already looking to what is often called “the third round of the presidential election,” voting for the Legislative Assembly, in June.   She has the potential to lead the opposition to Macron, who has no party support.   A future crisis (financial or terrorism), could lead to a major upheaval that would be to her benefit.

Mrs. LePen’s support comes mainly from rural areas and France’s rust-belt; Mr. Macron has all but 5% of the vote in Paris and the more affluent regions of the country.

The French political system, with three elections in just a few weeks, is rather complicated and, certainly this time, quite suspenseful.   For the first time since the birth of the Fifth Republic in 1958, the major parties are not involved in this second round – their candidates did not garner the necessary support.

It’s not just the political system that is different in France. Mr. Macron, married to his former school-teacher, 25 years older than himself, laughed off an accusation that he has had a gay relationship with a prominent radio personality; but now is issuing frequent denials about an overseas bank account!

In a heated televised debate on Wednesday evening, Madame LePen made the best prediction of the evening.   She said that seven days from now, France will have a female leader – either her or Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor.   Mr. Macron is a committed European, whereas she would like the French people to have a Brexit style referendum on the country’s future membership. Under pressure,   M. Macron is talking about the need for Europe wide reforms, but he would keep France in both the EU and the single currency, the euro.

A victory for Emmanuel Macron would mean the 27 remaining members of the EU will stand together against the United Kingdom in the Brexit negotiations.   A win for Mrs. LePen would actually help London, though no politician in the UK is going to say anything to that effect!

So Sunday’s second round is not just about France, but Europe.   We should know the outcome sometime Sunday evening, Eastern time.

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MORE MIGRANTS COMING

  • Turkey appears determined to flood Europe with migrants either way:  with Europe’s permission by means of visa-free travel, or without Europe’s permission, as retribution for failing to provide visa-free travel.
  • The migrants arriving in Italy are overwhelmingly economic migrants seeking a better life in Europe.   Only a very small number appear to be legitimate asylum seekers or refugees fleeing war zones.
  • The director of the UN office in Geneva, Michael Møller, has warned that Europe must prepare for the arrival of millions more migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.   (Gatestone Institute, 5/5/17).

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DIVORCE EUROPEAN STYLE

Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister who negotiated with the EU during the financial crisis a few years ago, is warning the United Kingdom NOT to negotiate with the bureaucratic nightmare known as the European Union.   In effect, Mr. Varoufakis was saying that nobody wins against the undemocratic EU.

Wolfgang Munchau, a German contributor to the London-based Financial Times, is also warning the Brits that they cannot win against Brussels.

The alternative for the UK is simply to leave and face the consequences, what is called a “hard Brexit.”   There are plenty of other countries wanting trade agreements with the UK, so there’s definitely a case for this.   But the British government is hoping for a trade deal with the EU post-Brexit.   They have also re-committed themselves to closer military ties, reaffirming their commitment to Europe.

A hard Brexit could be a better choice.   It would certainly be quicker as Brexit talks will last two years – and that time frame only covers the actual exit, not talks on a new trade pact.

It’s like a divorce – after over 40 years together, the UK and the EU are now talking to divorce lawyers about a divorce settlement.   As with a divorce, the only people who will benefit are the lawyers.   And, as any divorced people know, divorce never ends – the animosity (and the financial costs) just go on and on.

Footnote:   Mr. Varoufakis, who cannot vote in France, has called on people to support M. Macron, in spite of the way he and his country were treated by the EU!

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PRINCE PHILIP TO RETIRE AT 96

Britain’s Prince Philip is retiring after seventy years of public service.   His wife, Queen Elizabeth II, will continue with royal duties, but will no longer be accompanied by her husband.

Shortly after the announcement, the prince was at a function when an older man came up to him and expressed his sorrow that the prince was “standing down” from his responsibilities; the prince consort quipped back that his problem was not standing down, but rather standing up!

In his seventy years of public service, Prince Philip has attended over 25,000 public engagements and made over 600 overseas trips representing the United Kingdom.

He will end his official duties in August, by which time he will be 96 but will still take on a few as he feels up to it.. The Queen turned 91 two weeks ago. It is expected that Princes Charles, William and Harry will take on some of Philip’s commitments.

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INTERESTING QUOTE

( I cannot independently verify the following, but thought that some readers would find it interesting. It’s from a magazine called “Truth in History,” which comes out of Oklahoma.)

“…Bob travels to London quite often on business and from time to time has dinner with a very close friend of his, which is Queen Elizabeth’s personal secretary.   Bob told me that he asked his friend when the Queen was going to turn the throne over to Charles.   He replied, “she does not intend to ever give the scepter to Charles – possibly to William, but her desire is to present her crown, throne and scepter to the Lord Jesus Christ when He returns, whose rightful throne it is. This is her desire.”

Anyone who has read “The Servant Queen and the King She Serves,” published a little over a year ago, will know that the queen is a very religious woman.

“This tribute focuses on the Queen’s own words to draw out the central role of her trust in Jesus Christ in shaping her life and work, offering us an inspiring multi-faceted insight into a life well lived for others.” (Backcover, Google Books)

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DEATH OF OBAMACARE

I have mixed thoughts about the vote yesterday to abolish Obamacare.   The ACA went into effect on April 1st, 2014.   Before you marvel at my memory, I should add that I ended up in the hospital on April 2nd and spent over four months fighting for my life. I had one of those deadly infections that’s killing people all over the world.   I needed two major back surgeries and then fought nausea and vomiting while working my way through all the medications.   They gave up on me twice.

During this time period I was in two different hospitals. The bill from the second one was a million dollars; from the first, it was roughly half that.

Obamacare covered almost all my bills.

If it had not been in place, I would have died.   If I had gotten sick a month earlier, before it came into effect, I would have, likewise, died.

Having said that, I’ve also seen the negative side of Obamacare, of people having to spend a significant part of their income to get coverage, of a bureaucracy that has often failed beneficiaries, of a system that is too expensive to be maintained.

I do believe that the Republicans have made a mistake – they should have come up with another system first, before abolishing what the country already had.

I’ve been in the United States for 27 years, since 1990.   Health care (and how to pay for it) has been at the center of American politics during that time.   Whereas other, less affluent countries, have been able to put a workable system in place in months, the richest country in the world still cannot find a solution to the problem of healthcare.

Apparently, President Trump, who is in New York to meet with Australia’s Prime Minister Turnbull, made a favorable comment to the visiting prime minister about their country’s healthcare system. It’s a single payer system, so the president’s comment is of particular interest.

A possible solution lies in each state working out it’s own system,

But it’s embarrassing that, after decades of talking about it, Washington still has not come up with a sustainable medical system.   Perhaps America could start by looking at the medical systems in Australia, the UK and Canada, our next-door neighbor.   France, too, which the WHO claims has the best system in the world. You would think that one of our TV news programs would take a look at one or two of these other countries.

I might add that if a Conservative government in the UK, the closest equivalent to a Republican administration, abolished the medical system, they would not make it back into power for decades.   The same goes for the French, Canadian and Australian conservatives.

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FAVORITE SCRIPTURE

John Wycliffe (1320-84) was a major figure in what became the Protestant Reformation.

“John Wycliffe was an English scholastic philosopher, theologian, Biblical translator, reformer, and seminary professor at Oxford.   He was an influential dissident within the Roman Catholic priesthood during the 14th century.”  (Wikipedia)

His favorite scripture was Philippians 2:12 – “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”   This was heresy to the Roman Church, which dominated the country at the time. Later, the Church had Wycliffe condemned as a “heretic.”   It didn’t bother him – he was already dead and buried. But his bones were exhumed and burnt.

He did not just influence religion.   He also had a profound political effect.   Not long after the birth of the modern parliament in 1265, Wycliffe encouraged people to think for themselves, thereby encouraging democracy, an idea the church did not like at all.

The freedom to think for ourselves is seriously threatened today by universities that won’t allow conservative speakers to address students, citing security concerns.   This is unlikely to be a temporary phenomenon.

Sadly, few remember Wycliffe today.   When I visited Lincoln Cathedral in England some years ago, I asked after the man who served there for some years in the 14th century.   A senior member of the cathedral’s clergy had never heard of him!   I did find a very thin book on him in the bookstore, which I bought.

John Wycliffe (pronounced WICKCliff) is one of the greatest men in our common history, who made a big difference both religiously and politically.

REPUBLICS DIVIDED

democrat-and-republican-symbols-of-a-donkey-and-elephant-facing-off

The Royalist Party of America (yes, there is one) is on to something.

They want the United States of America to rejoin the Commonwealth and recognize Queen Elizabeth as Head of State.  Something like Canada.  Canada is a democracy but its Head of State is not elected.  The Queen is a unifying figure above politics.

But that’s not what they are on to.

If you look at their Face Book page, you will see that they are worried about the state of this republic.  They point out that, historically, republics do not last very long.  Eventually, republics become terribly divided between two factions.  Using an analogy with marriage, eventually the two sides exhibit “irreconcilable differences” and divorce is inevitable.  When that happens, democracy is in danger and dictatorship looms.

Witness Rome 2,000 years ago; more recently, the Weimar Republic in the 1920’s.  Or any African republic in the last 50 years.

(For clarity, it should be pointed out that, outside of the United States, a republic is simply a country with a president rather than a king.)

The United States is very divided between what you might call the traditionalists and those who wish to take the country on a different, more secular, path.  In other words, Republicans and Democrats.

But it’s not just America.

Ukraine is a republic that seems on the verge of civil war.  Again, there are two factions.

Roughly half the country wants to strengthen ties with Russia, the country that ruled them for two centuries.  The Russians, led by Vladimir Putin, are certainly in favor of this, willing to spend billions propping up the Ukrainian economy.  There’s a sentimental attachment with Ukraine, as Russia owes its origins to the Kievan Rus who embraced Christianity in the latter years of the tenth century.

But the people in the western half of the country want links with the European Union, which has done so much to develop other former communist countries and to strengthen their democratic institutions.  Russian democracy is an oxymoron.

The latter have been demonstrating for over two months now.  The pro-Russian police force has been too heavy handed, killing some protesters, Russian style.

In a sense, this is part of the ongoing historical struggle between Germany and Russia.

The two countries have fought over Ukraine a number of times in the last hundred years, notably in both world wars.  This time, they are not using tanks or planes.  The battle this time is economic.  The EU is the world’s biggest trading bloc and can offer Ukraine a great deal.  It’s also a champion of human rights and basic freedoms, which new members are required to embrace.  This is in stark contrast to Russia’s shortcomings in these areas.

It’s going to be interesting to see the outcome of this struggle.

France is another republic in danger of falling apart, rather like the new president’s marriage (or, rather, non-marriage as the couple never actually tied the knot).

News sources have revealed that France is the latest subject of concern for the British and German leaders, who are concerned the Fifth Republic may collapse.  As this is the “fifth” Republic, it should be remembered that the country has tried a number of different constitutions since the overthrow of the ancien regime in 1789.  Not only have they tried five republics, there were brief periods of monarchy, dictatorship and foreign control in between.  France has, arguably, been the most unstable country in western Europe during the last two centuries.

President Hollande is not helping, with economic policies that are only making austerity worse.  A 75% tax on the wealthy is only going to drive money away (easy when France shares the euro with all its neighbors!).  Other socialist measures will also make things worse but Hollande is a socialist and has to answer to pressure from his support base, so change is not likely.  Without change, collapse is increasingly likely.  Germany may have bailed out Greece and other smaller members of the eurozone, but cannot bail out France, the fifth biggest economy in the world.

And, if France falls, chaos in Africa will only increase.

Last year, M. Hollande, to his credit, sent French troops into two African republics, both violently divided between Muslims and Christians.  The two nations, Mali and Central African Republic, are both former French colonies.  While things have stabilized for now, a French withdrawal could easily lead to fighting flaring up again.  Terrible acts of depravity have taken place, including cannibalism.  France’s colonial role was often described as a “mission to civilize” – hopefully they can restore a veneer of civilization to these two nations whose people have suffered so much.

Sadly, France’s military missions cost money, which only exacerbates the problems at home.  Reuters reported today that Germany wants to help support France’s military missions in Africa.  In contrast to the 1920’s, Germany today seems a model republic – the two main parties of left and right are cooperating and have formed a coalition government.  It’s hard to imagine such a development in the United States.

Back to the new Royalist Party of America.  Their Face Book page quotes from “Democracy Watch,” an international organization that monitors developments around the world.  A recent report showed that the seven most democratic countries in the world are all constitutional monarchies, including Canada, Australia, and Norway.

The Economist magazine has long described the US as a “corporate democracy,” with a government that is unduly influenced by corporations and where the people have little or no say.  It hasn’t always been that way but it has become so.

That’s certainly something to think about.

But lest those in the constitutional monarchies get too smug, it is clear that they also have their divisions.  And, if the American republic falls, it’s unlikely they would survive!