Tag Archives: Persian Gulf

THE DEATH OF FREEDOM

A person does a cartwheel in Oxford Circus during rush hour as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

We have less freedom today than we have had in over 400 years.   And we’ve all consented to this loss of freedom.

Freedom of assembly and the freedom to worship have both suffered.  Even the freedom to go out for a meal or a drink.    Nor can we shake a friend’s hand or give a hug.   Again, with our consent.

As one British paper put it:  “It is no exaggeration to say these are the most extreme powers ever used against citizens in peace time Britain.”

It’s understandable.  We want to live.  We want to survive the coronavirus.

But will we ever get these freedoms back?

Most importantly, what will be the next crisis that makes us so quick to jettison our freedoms?

MR       

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“A heart attack is occurring in the economy”  (Sky News comment, 3/20)

This was a comment about the British economy, but it describes every country right now.   So, let’s take a look at some of the economic consequences of coronavirus.

Argentina’s new government will today publish GDP figures for last year, with economists warning that the covid-19 pandemic could be about to send the country into a deep recession.   GDP is forecast to have contracted by 2.1% in 2019.   But what matters now is the dire situation to come.   One former central banker predicts that the country’s economy could shrink by up to 4% in 2020.   Though weighed down by high inflation and heavy debt, President Alberto Fernández’s government is implementing fiscal stimulus measures worth billions of dollars.   Its treasury minister, Martín Guzmán,  warns that the covid-19 crisis means that it is now impossible to say when, and how, Argentina can return to growth.   That was Mr. Fernández’s primary goal when he took office just four months ago, an aim that looks harder by the day as infections mount in the country.     (The Economist, 3/25/2020)

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For years Germany has run the tightest of fiscal ships, frustrating many in the euro zone and beyond.   Then came covid-19.   Today the Bundestag will approve a €156bn ($168bn) supplementary budget for 2020, under which Germany will issue new debt for the first time since 2013.   The borrowing breaks Germany’s “black zero” balanced-budget policy and exploits an emergency rule in the constitutional “debt brake.”   Yet it is just one part of Germany’s response.   The government has expanded Kurzarbeit support (in which the state partly covers the lost wages of workers who have their hours cut), extended various loan guarantees and even earmarked funds for direct investment in companies.   The package amounts to a potential €750bn, and more may follow.   The scale of the response has surprised observers—but at European level less is happening.   Germany, and the euro area’s other hawks, remain implacably opposed to debt mutualization.   (The Economist, 3/25/2020)

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Today’s meeting of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee should have been the first with Andrew Bailey in the chair.   But the new governor found himself presiding over an emergency meeting last week, amid what he described as “borderline disorderly” market conditions.   In common with other central banks, the Bank of England is aggressively easing monetary policy to react to a rapid economic slowdown due to the spread of covid-19.   Despite interest-rate cuts, £200bn ($232bn) more quantitative easing (amounting to some 10% of GDP) and more direct support for private-sector lending, the bank is more worried about undershooting its inflation target than overshooting it. Today’s consumer-price statistics show inflation running at 1.7%, below the 2% target.   More monetary easing is likely, but with interest rates already at 0.1%, an all-time low, fiscal policy will have to do most of the heavy lifting.  (The Economist, 3/25/2020)

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Coronavirus lockdown measures implemented in the UK may trigger an economic downturn that could kill more people than the virus itself, a new study warns.

Philip Thomas, a professor of risk management at Bristol University, says that a fall in GDP of more than 6.4% could lead to a devastating recession in which “more years of life will be lost . . . than will be saved through beating the virus,” reports The Times.  (The Week, 3/25/2020)

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The worst outbreak of Coronavirus in the Middle East, so far, is in Iran.  Thousands have died and tens of thousands have been exposed to the virus.   An overlooked developing crisis parallel to Iran’s is the situation of the country’s neighbors across the Persian Gulf.

Beyond the civilian element affecting Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE; tens of thousands of American military personnel are also stationed in these countries.   Once facing the Iranian threat and ISIS, they are now involved in combating the invisible enemy:   Covid-19.      (Greg Roman, MEF, 3/20)

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This is an emergency, track everyone:   If there were ever a time to set concerns about privacy aside, this is it.   Giving public health authorities access to everyone’s location data gives them a better chance of tracking down people who have been in contact with confirmed cases – and helps ensure that those who are already sick stay in quarantine.   Right now, governments need all the help they can get.   Give them the data.   Debates about the privacy implications can wait.

China is in this camp. So are other countries in Asia, like South Korea and Taiwan, that have had better success containing the epidemic – although it’s still too early to say whether access to mobile phone location data was the deciding factor.   (Gzero, 3/25/2020)

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A SURPRISING LETTER FROM HOLLYWOOD

Dear Mr. President, @realDonaldTrump

I wanted to thank you for ur recent decorum, sincerity, & care towards us.   You’re taking charge & leading in a manner needed & wanted for this country.   I highly commend you for ur boundless energy & willingness to solve problems.   Thank you!

— Kirstie Alley (@kirstiealley) March 24, 2020

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TO THE POINT

  • LAGOS — A jihadist group ambushed and killed around 70 Nigerian government troops in Borno state, in the north-east of the country.   The guerrillas used rocket-propelled grenades to attack a vehicle full of soldiers; they also took several captive.  The group they belong to split off from Nigeria’s homegrown Boko Haram in 2016, and now considers itself an Islamic State affiliate. (The Economist, 3/25/2020)
  • BERLIN – A court in eastern Germany convicted eight far-right extremists who were accused of planning to violently overthrow the state.   The regional court in Dresden on Tuesday convicted one of the men on a charge of forming a “terrorist organization” and the other seven of being members of the group, called Revolution Chemnitz.   Five of the man were also found guilty of a serious breach, while one was convicted of bodily harm.  The court sentenced the defendants to prison terms that ranged from 27 months to 5 ½ years.  (Lansing State Journal, 3/25/2020)
  • UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged leaders of the world’s 20 major industrialized nations on Tuesday to adopt a “wartime” plan including a stimulus package “in the trillions of dollars” for businesses, workers and households in developing countries trying to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.   He said in a letter to the Group of 20 leaders that they account for 85% of the world’s gross domestic product and have “a direct interest and critical role to play in helping developing countries cope with the crisis.”  (Lansing State Journal, 3/25/2020)
  • LONDON – Prince Charles has coronavirus.  Prince Charles, 71, is displaying mild symptoms “but otherwise remains in good health,” a spokesman said, adding that the Duchess of Cornwall, 72, has been tested but does not have the virus.   Charles and Camilla are now self-isolating at Balmoral.   Buckingham Palace said the Queen last saw her son, the heir to the throne, on 12 March, but was “in good health.”   The palace added that the Duke of Edinburgh was not present at that meeting, and that the Queen was now “following all the appropriate advice with regard to her welfare.”
    A Clarence House statement read:   “In accordance with government and medical advice, the prince and the duchess are now self-isolating at home in Scotland.  “The tests were carried out by the NHS in Aberdeenshire, where they met the criteria required for testing.  “It is not possible to ascertain from whom the prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during recent weeks.”
  • Germany is the only country in Europe to have currently rejected China’s offer of support in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. According to China’s President Xi Jinping, he informed Chancellor Angela Merkel that the People’s Republic of China “is willing to provide help within our capabilities,” if Germany “is in need.”   Over the past few days, Beijing has sent aid supplies and – in some cases – teams of doctors to provide practical on-site assistance to several European countries including Italy, Spain and France.   Berlin has ignored the offer of support, even though there is, for example, a glaring shortage of respiratory protection masks in Germany.   More than 80 percent of Germany’s registered doctors are complaining that they cannot procure sufficient protective clothing.   Serious accusations for failing to take preventive measures are being raised against the German government, which has been emphasizing that it is “well prepared.”   Leading German media are denouncing China’s aid as a “propaganda campaign” and accuse the country of being “the cause of the pandemic.”  The only thing missing is the use of Trump’s label of a “Chinese virus.” (German Foreign Policy, 3/24/2020)
  • A growing number of businesses and individuals worldwide have stopped using banknotes in fear that physical currency, handled by tens of thousands of people over their useful life, could be a vector for the spreading coronavirus.   Public officials and health experts have said that the risk of transferring the virus person-to-person through the use of banknotes is small.   But that has not stopped businesses in the US from refusing to accept currency and some countries from urging their citizens to stop using banknotes altogether.   (Times of Israel, 3/20/2020)

 

A GROWING SENSE OF CRISIS

(MGN Image)

There’s a growing sense of crisis all over the world.

The immediate cause is the coronavirus, which gets worse every day.   Worse, by the numbers.   Daily, there are more deaths, more people have it and the virus is spreading, covering a wider area.

Conspiracy theories abound.   In the US, some people are saying that the virus is being spread to undermine Trump and give the Democrats victory in November.   How does that explain it’s a bigger problem in Italy, in the UK, China and elsewhere, countries with no election this year, or any other year, in the case of China.

Nations are reacting to what promises to be a major game changer in the global economy.   Tourism has ground to a halt, flights are empty, delivery of goods suffering major delays, employees are dying, and there’s no end in sight.

In the UK, Rishi Sunak, Britain’s new Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) delivered a very professional budget speech that was over an hour long.  He’s the first Indian to be appointed to the second highest political office in the land, the first Hindu (sworn into office with a Hindu holy book) and at only 39, one of the youngest chancellors in history.  His budget was the first one since Britain left the EU, the first in almost 50 years that Britain has been totally independent.  The budget was scheduled weeks ago, before the virus, but it gave the government the opportunity to tackle it from the financial perspective.  It’s going to cost billions of pounds (dollars or euros), increasing deficits and threatening the international exchange rate of currencies.  The stimulus package promised this morning  in Britain is thirty billion  pounds ($39 billion).

It’s unpredictable – but it’s very real.  It will affect President Trump’s chance of reelection, but it’s not a deliberate attempt to thwart his success.   The medical crisis will inevitably affect the economy, which may affect the election, though its doubtful anybody else could manage the crisis better.   In the UK it is estimated that, at the peak of the crisis, one fifth of all workers will have to stay home.

The virus started in Wuhan, China.   We may never know exactly what caused it, but pigs, bats and pangolins seem the most likely candidates.  But there is also a government laboratory in Wuhan.  The suspicion is also that it might have been a biological warfare experiment gone wrong.

MR       

Putin forever  — Russian president Vladimir Putin is backing sweeping constitutional changes that would allow him to stay at the helm of the country until 2036.  (Financial Times)   If approved, the reforms would give Putin the option to serve another two terms and cement an unbroken run of 24 years as president and 36 years in power.   A “people’s vote” referendum is due next month.   The New York Times notes that 36 years is longer “than Stalin but still short of Peter the Great, who reigned for 43 years.”   (Financial Times Brussels Briefing, 3/10/2020)

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WHY GAS IS CHEAP

For three years, Russia and Saudi Arabia, the world’s two largest oil exporters, had a deal to prop up global crude prices by limiting production.   They calculated that by producing fewer barrels, rising prices would make each barrel worth more.

Over the weekend, that deal collapsed when Russia backed out, allegedly because it decided that higher prices were also providing an unexpectedly large boost for the US oil industry, which has expanded its market share by increasing production by nearly 50 percent since the Russia-Saudi (formally, Russia-OPEC) deal began in late 2016.   A lot of that increase has come from US shale oil.

Saudi Arabia, eager to show Russia that its market power is not to be ignored, slashed the price at which it sells its own oil, and moved to sharply boost production.   The expected flood of new Saudi supply dropped global oil prices by more than 30 percent on Monday, the biggest overnight drop in almost three decades.   Stock markets, already wobbly thanks to coronavirus, took a dive.

Now Moscow and Riyadh appear locked in a price war – a crude game of chicken that could last for weeks or even months.   Oil markets are reeling because this conflict comes just as the coronavirus clobbers demand for oil as factories close, and as international shipping and air travel slow dramatically.   More supply + less demand = price collapse.     (Signal, the Gzero Newsletter, 3/10/2020)

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The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries publishes its latest oil report today, amid turmoil.   OPEC and its allies met on March 5th and 6th to discuss production cuts to boost the oil price. Russia refused a deal, stunning the market.   Saudi Arabia then said it would ramp up production next month and lower its selling price.  On March 9th the price of Brent crude fell by 24%, its biggest one-day drop since 1991.   There is a chance that Russia and Saudi Arabia will compromise, but most analysts think the price war is more likely to continue, as they battle for market share and try to squeeze the shale companies that have made America the world’s biggest oil producer.   Saudi Arabia’s low production costs mean it can fight fiercely, but not without suffering.   The kingdom requires oil to top $80 a barrel to balance its budget.   This year’s average may be less than half that.  (The Economist, 3/10/2020)

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FRANCE SET TO BECOME MUSLIM

Domestically, the past fifty years of steady immigration from Islamic countries into France is “transforming the fabric of French society” from within.   Demographic and sociological surveys indicate that 10-15% of the French population is now of Muslim origin, including 20-30% of French citizens or residents under the age of 25.   Some integrate successfully, but many align with the most radical and militant expression of the religion.   Their rejection of France’s secular constitution is matched by resentment of the French military’s fight against global jihadism in Africa and the Middle East, seen as a “deliberate assault … on Islam.”

Whereas religious zeal is steadily increasing among French Muslims, Gurfinkiel said that “the classic national religion of France, Catholicism,” is declining, citing research found in The French Archipelago (L’archipel français) by French pollster, demographer and sociologist Jérôme Fourquet.   Traditional family and marriage are “unraveling among the native French,” while birthrates drop.  (“A very good chance of Islamists conquering France”, Marilyn Stern, MEF, 3/7.   Interview with Michel Gurfinkiel, of the Paris based Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute.)

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The Western Armament Community (II)                                                              German-Foreign-Policy.com * (10 March 2020)

 Germany, the EU and the western powers altogether have increased their already dominant share of the booming global arms export, according to a report on international arms transfers published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) yesterday.   Germany is the fourth largest arms export nation. With a 26 percent share, the EU is well ahead of Russia (21 percent) and behind the USA (36 percent).   Two thirds of the world’s exports of heavy war machinery are attributed to arms manufacturers in North America and Europe (excluding Russia).   SIPRI’s list of recipient states is a clear indication of current and future hot spots. Six of the top ten global arms importers are located in the Arab world, particularly at the Persian Gulf.   One sixth of all arms exports are being delivered to western allies in the power struggle with China in East and Southeast Asia and in the Pacific realm – with German arms exports being an integral part.    (More…   https://www.german-foreign-policy.com/en/news/detail/8213/)

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USA and France dramatically increase major arms exports;             Saudi Arabia is largest arms importer, says SIPRI

 (Stockholm, 9 March 2020) — International transfers of major arms during the five-year period 2015–19 increased by 5.5 per cent compared with 2010–14.   According to new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the largest exporters of arms during the past five years were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. The new data shows that the flow of arms to the Middle East has increased, with Saudi Arabia clearly being the world’s largest importer.

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Significant increase in arms exports from the United States and France
Between 2010–14 and 2015–19, exports of major arms from the USA grew by 23 per cent, raising its share of total global arms exports to 36 per cent. In 2015–19 total US arms exports were 76 per cent higher than those of the second-largest arms exporter in the world, Russia. Major arms transferred from the USA went to a total of 96 countries.

‘Half of US arms exports in the past five years went to the Middle East, and half of those went to Saudi Arabia,’ says Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher at SIPRI.   ‘At the same time, demand for the USA’s advanced military aircraft increased, particularly in Europe, Australia, Japan and Taiwan.’

French arms exports reached their highest level for any five-year period since 1990 and accounted for 7.9 per cent of total global arms exports in 2015–19, a 72 per cent increase on 2010–14.  ‘The French arms industry has benefited from the demand for arms in Egypt, Qatar and India,’ says Diego Lopes Da Silva, SIPRI Researcher.

Other notable developments:

  • Germany’s arms exports were 17 per cent higher in 2015–19 than in 2010–14.
  • China was the fifth-largest arms exporter in 2015–19 and significantly increased the number of recipients of its major arms: from 40 in 2010–14 to 53 in 2015–19.
  • South Korea’s arms exports rose by 143 per cent between 2010–14 and 2015–19 and it entered the list of the top 10 largest exporters for the first time.
  • Israeli arms exports increased by 77 per cent between 2010–14 and 2015–19 to their highest-ever level.
  • West and Central European states had outstanding orders at the end of 2019 for imports of 380 new combat aircraft from the USA.
  • Egypt’s arms imports tripled between 2010–14 and 2015–19, making it the world’s third-largest arms importer.
  • Brazil’s arms imports in 2015–19 were the highest in South America, accounting for 31 per cent of the subregion’s arms imports, despite a 37 per cent decrease compared with 2010–14.
  • South Africa, the largest arms importer in sub-Saharan Africa in 2005–2009, imported almost no major arms in 2015–19.

(https://www.sipri.org/media/press-release/2020/usa-and-france-dramatically-increase-major-arms-exports-saudi-arabia-largest-arms-importer-says)

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Germany ‘should join in French nuclear deterrent’
The former Airbus executive Tom Enders urged Berlin to do the “unthinkable”
by Oliver Moody, Berlin, 6 March 2020, The Times (of London)

Germany has been urged to work with France on a joint nuclear deterrent amid doubts about President Trump’s readiness to stand by Europe in a military crisis.  Tom Enders, the former chief executive of Airbus, called on Berlin to overcome its taboo against atomic weapons and buy a stake in the French force de frappe (strike force), consisting of some 290 warheads.   President Macron recently offered EU leaders a “strategic dialogue” on the role of France’s nuclear arsenal.   The German response has so far been ambivalent.   The country is covered by the US “nuclear umbrella” through its membership of Nato.   It is an open secret that Germany hosts about 20 American warheads at the Büchel airbase, near the Belgian border.   The weapons are under the… [Paywall].
(https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/germany-should-join-in-french-nuclear-deterrent-g7vcz63rf)

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TO THE POINT

  • BIDEN BID – With primary wins in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho, Joe Biden took a commanding lead over Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.   The two are even neck-and-neck in Washington, expected to go to Mr. Sanders.   Sights are already on Florida, the big prize next Tuesday, where Mr Biden leads in polls.   The race is his to lose.  (The Economist, 3/10/2020)
  • The Bank of England cut interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25% to cushion the economic blow from coronavirus.   It also announced a new scheme to provide cheap funding for banks that increase loans to small and medium-sized firms, and capital buffers were cut to ease credit conditions further.   The bank’s rate-cut follows cuts in America, Canada and Australia.  (The Economist, 3/10/2020)
  • The Democratic Republic of Congo, the biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa, confirmed its first case of covid-19.   Cases have also been recorded in South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal.   The World Health Organization has warned that the greatest concern is that the virus spreads “to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it”.    (The Economist, 3/10/2020)
  • I took one of my grandsons to see “The Call of the Wild” Monday night.   It’s the third or fourth version of the Jack London classic I’ve seen.  This one was the best.  It was good, family entertainment.  Try to see it before it leaves the big screen.
  • My wife and I have been watching “Beecham House”, a PBS series set in British India in 1795.   Although it has the usual anti-colonial stance, we found it very enjoyable.

I will write again a week from now – unless I succumb to the virus!

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S BIGGEST MISTAKE SO FAR

US considering troop withdrawal from Germany, report says

Lord Ismay, the first Secretary-General of NATO, stated, in 1957, that the organization’s goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.”

This is now forgotten.

Last week, the British withdrew almost all of their troops from Germany.   A token force of 185 is remaining, with an additional 60 Ministry of Defense civilians. There were 19,100 troops until recently.

At the weekend, President Trump threatened to withdraw Americans troops from the country.

“The US has threatened to withdraw thousands of troops stationed in Germany amid a dispute with Angela Merkel’s government over defence spending.

“Richard Grenell, the US ambassador in Berlin, warned that his country could pull out some of its forces if Germany continues to fall short of the alliance’s spending target of 2 per cent of GDP.

“It is actually offensive to assume that the US taxpayer must continue to pay to have 50,000-plus Americans in Germany, but the Germans get to spend their surplus on domestic programs,” Mr. Grenell told Germany’s DPA news agency.

“The remarks will add to concerns that the NATO alliance is becoming strained by President Trump’s impatience with German military spending.” (Justin Huggler, Daily Telegraph, 8/9)

The British withdrawal from the EU leaves Germany without any challenger in the EU.   The withdrawal of troops makes it more likely that Europe will pursue an independent military policy.

The Bible prophesies the rise of a European military, political and economic power at the end time (Revelation 17:12-14).

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GERMANY TO LEAD EU IN PERSIAN GULF NAVAL OPERATION

(Own report) – German military experts have presented their first concrete plans for an EU naval operation in the Persian Gulf. According to the draft of two well-connected government advisors and a Bundeswehr professor, warships should be cruising at the two entrances to the Strait of Hormuz.   Supplementary warships should escort oil tankers through the strait with armed troops on board to ward off possible attacks – depending on the disposition to escalate. This would necessitate “between 10 and 30 percent of the EU’s naval capacities,” and Berlin should be in command of the deployment to demonstrate its aspiration to shape global policy. Whereas sectors of the SPD and the opposition reject the operation, the chancellor and foreign ministry are promoting the plan also within the EU.   Previously, Foreign Minster Heiko Maas had rejected the US demand for Germany to deploy warships in a US-led naval mission in the Middle East.   Berlin is positioning itself to be an independent power in global politics.   (German Foreign Policy, 8/15)

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PELOSI THREATENS BREXIT

If there is no deal with the EU on Brexit, Nancy Pelosi threatens the proposed trade deal between Britain and the US.

The reason is simple.   Leo Varadkar is against it.  He’s the Irish PM and does not want the British to leave the EU, thereby bringing back the border between Britain and Ireland.

Ms. Pelosi, a Catholic (except on abortion), sympathizes with Ireland on this issue.

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WASHINGTON TO FOLLOW DETROIT

“Washington is headed where Detroit once was” was the headline in the “Think” section of the Detroit News August 1st.   In an article by Alison Acosta Winters and Russell Latino, the authors wrote:   “The U.S. House of Representatives just passed a two-year budget deal that will bust the spending cap by $320 billion and put our country on a fiscal trajectory that the Congressional Budget Office called its “worst case scenario.”

“Worst case,” indeed.

“At a time when the federal debt has surpassed $22 trillion, lawmakers have voted not to address the explosion of debt, but to add to it.   Over the next decade, the latest bipartisan budget deal will increase federal debt by $1.7 trillion beyond the already-baked-in debt of $12.4 trillion.

“Fiscal watchdog groups from across the political spectrum slammed the deal as reckless and irresponsible.   The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said the deal “may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history.”

“This week the 2020 presidential campaign came to Detroit, a city that knows first-hand what a debt crisis looks like.

“In 2013, the Motor City, more than $18 billion in debt, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection, the culmination of decades of poor policy choices and economic decline . . .

“Unlike Detroit, the US government can’t declare bankruptcy to get out from under its mountain of debt growing at more than $1 trillion a year.   But even without bankruptcy, that’s a recipe for an economic catastrophe that would make the 2008 financial collapse pale in comparison.   And when it comes, it will be programs like defence, Medicare and Social Security that take the biggest hits.

“To avoid that outcome, we are going to have to get serious about reining in out-of-control spending.”

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TOP PAY

The chief executives of America’s 350 leading companies took home an average $17.2m last year, 278 times the salary of their average worker.   A new survey by the Economics Policy Institute found the average pay of a top US CEO has grown by 1,007.5% in the past four decades, while a typical worker’s grew by just 11.9%.   The trend is so dramatic even CEOs are sounding the alarm.   Ray Dalio, the founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund, warned this year that the US wealth gap was becoming a “national emergency.”

Byron Auguste says the US labour market is broken, and to fix it we need an “Opportunity Marketplace:” new rules and tools “to empower Americans without college degrees to earn more, in better jobs, and to gain new skills at much lower financial risk.”   (Guardian briefing, 8/14)

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Collateral damage:  Germany’s economy

As the trade war rages between America and China, export-orientated economies are caught in the crossfire.   Figures out today showed that Germany’s economy contracted by 0.1% in the second quarter compared to the first.   Exports appear to have taken some flak.   So has industrial production – particularly car making, which suffered a blow from last year’s changes to emissions-testing rules. German industrial weakness tends to spread eastwards, thanks to tightly-knit manufacturing supply chains:  growth in Slovakia, also out today, was modest (0.4% on the previous quarter), though Hungary’s (1.1%) was stronger.   Despite Germany’s limping manufacturing, household spending has soldiered on.   But how long can consumers hold out?   In the face of slowing demand, BASF, a chemicals maker, is cutting 6,000 jobs.   Some firms are scaling back working hours.   Economists hope that fiscal policy might come to the rescue.   But so far German politicians show little inclination to change their tight-fisted ways to defend growth.   (The Economist Briefing, 8/14)

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LETTER FROM GHANA

“Tolerance now means, if you don’t agree with me you are my enemy.

The NPP Government is ruling like a dictatorship with reckless abandon.   They have mortgaged the Nation to China, borrow more money than all other Governments put together in just three years with absolutely nothing to show for it.

“Those of Us who can feel the rumblings are praying for it to pass us by.   Unfortunately the Nation is been driven into survival mode and behaves abnormally.   Reactionary rather than reasonable response.

“Like all wars in Africa,  it will start as NPP against NDC but quickly degenerate in ethnic wars with  some tribes splitting on the Akans and Ewes.   Ghanaians have nowhere to go but pray.”  (8/13)

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FORGOTTEN ROLES

The movie “Mission of Honor” tells the story of the R.A.F.’s 303 Squadron during World War II’s Battle of Britain.   This was a squadron made up of Polish volunteers.  Poles accounted for 20% of pilots at this critical time for Great Britain.   After the war, most were sent back to Poland and died at the hands of Stalin.

I doubt there will ever be a movie about the Rhodesians who fought in the Battle of Britain, including the “rebel” leader, Ian Smith. Rhodesia was also a training ground for British RAF pilots, thousands of miles away in the safety of the African bush.

Without the Rhodesians and the Poles, it’s doubtful Britain would have won the battle in the skies.   That would have meant a German victory, altering the outcome of the Second World War.   After the war, Britain betrayed both.

TALIBAN VICTORY IN AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan Taliban members

Our neighborhood has had internet problems all week, so my blog is shorter than usual.   It should be solved by 5pm tonight.

“At the July 7-8 talks in Doha, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization), backed by Qatar and the U.S., emerged victorious, extracting major advantages from Afghan delegates and the international community.   A key Taliban advantage was that they held on to the Islamic Emirate’s long-standing position of not recognizing the elected government of Afghanistan as a legitimate entity.   While the Afghan delegates, including those from the government, were forced to attend the talks in their personal capacity, the Taliban representatives came to the table as the Taliban.

“As per a statement issued by Qatar, Dr. Mutlaq bin Majid Al-Qahtani, the Qatari Special Envoy for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution, announced the “success” of the talks, stating:   “We are very pleased today to reach a joint statement as a first step to peace.”  The “success” and the “first step to peace” which Al-Qahtani spoke of belong to the Taliban and shari’a, not to the democratic government in Kabul, not to Afghan women who suffered under the Taliban’s shari’a rule during the 1990s, and not to common Afghans whose civil liberties are at stake in Doha.

“The Afghan Taliban – as a result of the Doha talks which were sponsored jointly by Qatar and Germany – marched closer to their stated objectives of enforcing Islamic shari’a rule in Afghanistan and of restructuring the Afghan government institutions, including the military, to their liking.”   (Tufail Ahmad, MEMRI #191. 7/12/19)

A total of almost 3,500 coalition forces have died in the 18-year conflict.

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BRITISH CLASH WITH IRAN

There was a time, even in my lifetime, when the British dominated the Persian Gulf.   But that was before 1971.   Now, a British naval presence is once again essential, to protect British shipping.   A British tanker was intercepted by Iranian vessels earlier in the week.

This was seen as retaliation for a previous confrontation off the coast of (British) Gibraltar.

Things were a lot easier during the four centuries when Britain had the greatest navy in the world.   The navy held the “multitude of nations” together (Genesis 48:19).   Since World War II it has been allowed to decline, so that more and more money could be spent on Britain’s welfare system and its National Health Service.

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BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO US QUITS

The American Ambassador to the Court of St. James (London), has always, in effect, bought his way into the position.   His contribution to the presidential election campaign would have been one of the largest contributions made.

Not so the other way around.

Britain’s diplomatic service is always made up of career diplomats. Nobody has bought a position and the service is non-political.

This week, unexpectedly, it became “political” when a memo from the British Ambassador in Washington was leaked.   The memo evaluated the Trump Administration as “inept.”

President Trump exploded and the Ambassador resigned.   President Trump rightly felt he could no longer work with the man.

The Ambassador will take early retirement (he was due to retire at the end of the year, anyway).   The big question is:  who leaked the memo and why?

It may have something to do with Brexit.   What doesn’t nowadays?

Somebody might be trying to damage US-UK relations at a time when Brexit is imminent.   Could this worsen relations with the US and therefore make it more likely that Britain will stay in Europe?  Or could it have been an attempt to get rid of a man who is critical of the US president, in time for Boris Johnson to become PM and appoint a more pro-US Ambassador?

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CHENNAI OUT OF WATER

India’s sixth biggest city has run out of water.   Tankers have to deliver water to its seven million plus inhabitants.

It highlights a problem that is set to make life much harder for people around the world.

Water is the one commodity that people can’t live without.

GLOBAL DEBT AT 317% OF GDP

The world’s debt burden stands at a staggering 317 per cent of global gross domestic product, just shy of its all-time high in 2016, according to the Institute of International Finance.   Years of low and negative interest rates have fed the debt habit:   since the 2008 financial crisis, the world has added an extraordinary $70tn in debt, or 25 per cent of GDP, with sovereign debt accounting for nearly 40 per cent of that increase.

“To be clear: responsibly incurred debt can play an important and constructive role in economic development.   Long-term investments that enhance productivity can foster a more prosperous future. Amid subdued growth in many parts of the world and a critical need for infrastructure, there are arguments to be made in support of using debt to foster growth.

“But too much debt is a risk for lenders and borrowers alike, as history has shown time and again.”

(“We need transparency to keep countries out of a debt spiral,” Axel Weber, Financial Times, 6/18)

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CURRENCY WARS

Europe has been warned. Any use of monetary levers to hold down the euro exchange rate will be deemed a provocation by the Trump administration.

Further cuts in interest rates to minus 0.5pc or beyond will be scrutinized for currency manipulation.   A revival of quantitative easing will be considered a devaluation policy in disguise, as indeed it is, since the money leaks out into global securities and depresses the euro.

The Bank for International Settlements says €300bn of Europe’s QE funding reached London alone between 2014 and 2017.

If the ECB copies the Swiss National Bank and starts to amass foreign assets directly to cap currency strength Europe will face certain retaliation.

(“Currency war is the next phase of global conflict and Europe, the chief parasite, is defenceless,” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Daily Telegraph, June 19th)

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BRUSSELS BRIEFING

Donald Trump’s found someone else in Europe he doesn’t like.   The US president launched a Twitter tirade against Mario Draghi after the ECB president said he was ready to inject new stimulus into the eurozone, sending the euro tumbling against the dollar.  (Brussels Briefing, Financial Times, 6/1)

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 TRUMP’S WAR

“President Donald Trump cannot want war with Iran.

   Such a war, no matter how long, would be fought in and around the Persian Gulf, through which a third of the world’s seaborne oil travels.   It could trigger a worldwide recession and imperil Trump’s re-election.

   It would widen the “forever war,” which Trump said he would end, to a nation of 80 million people, three times as large as Iraq.   It would become the defining issue of his presidency, as the Iraq War became the defining issue of George W. Bush’s presidency.

 And if war comes now, it would be known as “Trump’s War.”

In conclusion:

“Who wants a U.S. war with Iran?

   Primarily the same people who goaded us into wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, and who oppose every effort of Trump’s to extricate us from those wars.

   Should they succeed in Iran, it is hard to see how we will ever be able to extricate our country from this blood-soaked region that holds no vital strategic interest save oil, and America, thanks to fracking, has become independent of that.”    (“War with Iran would become “Trump’s War,” Pat Buchanan, 6/18)

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Iran shoots down US drone aircraft

Oil prices jump after action by Revolutionary Guard escalates tensions between Tehran and Washington (Financial Times, 6/20)

“Iran shoots down US military drone to send “clear message” to Trump”   (Independent, 6/20)

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GERMAN POLITICIAN ASSASSINATED BY NEO-NAZI

Germany’s federal prosecutors have taken over the investigation into the murder of Walter Lübcke, indicating that the killing of the Kassel district president on June 2 is being treated as a politically motivated terrorist act.

If indeed the murder is shown to have been politically motivated, it would be the first such assassination on a sitting German politician since the 1970s.

Trail included death threats, weapons.

A number of German outlets have reported details of the alleged far-right ties of the suspect arrested in the central city of Kassel in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Monday that the 45-year-old man, named only as Stephan E., had a long criminal record, had already issued death threats via his YouTube channel, and that weapons were found during the search of his home.

According to the paper, Stephan E. had written a comment on YouTube in 2018 under his alias ‘Game Over’ that read, “Either this government abdicates soon or there will be deaths.”  ( “Walter Lubcke murder raises specter of neo-Nazi terrorism,”   Deutsche Welle news)

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Xenophobia stokes extreme-right activism

Puls has also noticed that neo-Nazis became more and more vocal in the last few years, following the influx of refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 and 2016, which led to more anti-immigrant sentiment in the mainstream political debate and hate speech on social media.

As a supporter of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy, Walter Lübke himself was on the sharp end of much of this.

“One can certainly say that the propensity for violence has certainly risen following the right-wing debates around immigration,” he said. “The case of Lübcke is certainly very revealing here.   Walter Lübcke faced an enormous amount of hatred in 2015.   That does raise the question:   how much does it take before one person says ‘I’ll reach for a weapon?’   In certain circumstances, not much.”

( “Walter Lubcke murder raises specter of neo-Nazi terrorism,” Deutsche Welle news)

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Stand up to far right, Germany’s Angela Merkel tells Europe

The resignation of Austria’s vice chancellor led German politicians to warn against alliances with populists.   Chancellor Merkel spoke out against right-wing populism as many are now demanding new Austrian elections.   (DW)

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NEO-NAZIS IN AMERICA

The definition of a neo-Nazi is someone who belongs to an organization that is similar to the German Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler.

“Frontline” (PBS) this week showed the growth of neo-Nazis across America.   It showed synagogues that are now doing everything they can to prepare for further mass shootings.

It also interviewed members of neo-Nazi groups and showed a perverse link with the current Administration.    “To make America great again, you would have to make America white again”,  is a direct quote from a leader of the neo-Nazi movement, the Waffen.

“FRONTLINE and ProPublica continue reporting on the resurgence of white supremacist groups in the United States.   “Documenting Hate:   New American Nazis” investigates a violent neo-Nazi group that has actively recruited inside the U.S. military, and examines the group’s terrorist objectives.” (Frontline).

Overlooked here is the major contribution made by liberals, in the growth of Nazism.   The massive influx of immigrants since 1965 has led directly to anti-immigrant feeling.   The 2008 financial crisis contributed greatly to anti-semitism.

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ZUCKERBERG LAUNCHES NEW CURRENCY

“He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has [a]the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” (Rev 13:16-17)

Zuckerberg’s $538 billion social network on Tuesday announced plans to create a new digital currency and financial system that it claims will revolutionize banking. Facebook announced the new currency, called Libra, in a 12-page white paper that promised vast improvements on bitcoin and other volatile digital coins.” (New York Post, 6/18)

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THE DARK SIDE OF ZUCKERBERG’S POWERFUL NEW CRYPTO COIN

“In its quest for world domination, Facebook has already disrupted everything from the media industry to American democracy, drawing scrutiny for things like its pitiful handling of user data, its monopolistic tendencies, and a “digital gangster” mentality along the way.   Now, as regulators in Washington, D.C., bear down on Facebook, co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has acquired a new target: the global financial system.

“On Tuesday, Facebook announced plans to debut Libra, a cryptocurrency it has been developing for more than a year. Described by the company as “a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that can empower billions of people,” Libra will partner Facebook with Mastercard, Visa, Uber, and an array of other high-profile companies in what the New York Times called “the most far-reaching attempt by a mainstream company to jump into the world of cryptocurrencies.”

“David Marcus, who is leading Facebook’s blockchain technology research, is stoked.   “It feels like it is time for a better system,” Marcus told The Times. “This is something that could be a profound change for the entire world.”   Even Zuckerberg, who has spent much of the last two years on a sort of apology tour, sounds like he’s regained his change-the-world mojo.   “Being able to use mobile money can have an important positive impact on people’s lives because you don’t have to always carry cash, which can be insecure, or pay extra fees for transfers,”    Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.   “We aspire to make it easy for everyone to send and receive money just like you use our apps to instantly share messages and photos.”   (Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair, 6/18)

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THREAT TO US FOOD SUPPLY

“US beekeepers lost 40% of colonies over past year” – The Guardian 6/19

BOTSWANA ENDS SEXUAL DISCRIMINATION

Activists pose with a rainbow flag as they celebrate outside Botswana High Court in Gaborone on June 11, 2019. Tshekiso Tebalo/AFP/Getty Images

Botswana has become the latest nation to legalize sexual relations between members of the same sex.   This puts them at odds with most African nations, but brings them into line with neighboring South Africa, which enshrined anti-discrimination in their new post-apartheid constitution.

African nations have long persecuted homosexuals, believing that sexual preference is simply a choice.

Botswana used to benefit immensely during the apartheid era from white men crossing the border to have relations outside of marriage with African women. Inter-racial sex was banned under apartheid.

Now same-sex relations are on a par with adultery.   They are both legal.  As is fornication.   I Corinthians 6, written by the Apostle Paul, lists all three as sins that will keep a person out of the kingdom of God.   If you study the Greek, you will find that all three involve penetration.

“ Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?   Do not be deceived.   Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

A female lawyer in Botswana explained on DW.news that the previous law went back to 1533.   Botswana only goes back to 1966.  But before that, it was a British colony and inherited many British laws.

Before 1533, ecclesiastical courts used to deal with all of these sins.   In 1533 England passed the anti-buggery laws.

It was the country’s first civil sodomy law, such offenses having previously been dealt with by the ecclesiastical courts.   The Act defined buggery as an unnatural sexual act against the will of God and man. ”  (wikipedia)

Adultery and fornication were not mentioned, as King Henry VIII was a serial adulterer.   They were also passed at this time because Henry was breaking away from the Church of Rome (1532-34) and the ecclesiastical courts ceased to exist.

Wikipedia has this to say on the break with Rome:

“The break with Rome was effected by a series of acts of Parliament passed between 1532 and 1534, among them the 1534 Act of Supremacy, which declared that Henry was the “Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England.”

These anti-sodomy laws were later “exported” to British colonies. Over half the countries in the world that still outlaw this particular sin are former British colonies.   Britain, through its Commonwealth ties, has been encouraging nations to change but many still strictly enforce the laws.

This is hypocritical, to say the least.   Many African nations come down hard on same-sex relationships, while their leaders commit serial adultery.   In African culture, the “big man” syndrome encourages men in public office to have plenty of relationships with women.   Churches don’t help, often turning a blind eye to adultery and fornication, while condemning homosexuality.

Of course, in an ideal world, fornication, adultery and sodomy would not exist.  We will have to wait for the Kingdom of God to see that happen.  But persecuting a minority in today’s world is not going to stop anything.

The Enduring Word Commentary has this to say on I Corinthians 6:

“Paul did not write in or of a “homophobic” culture.   Homosexuality was rampant in the ancient world; 14 out of the first 15 Roman emperors were bisexual or homosexual.   At the very time Paul wrote, Nero was emperor.   Nero castrated a boy named Sporus and then married him (with a full ceremony), brought him to the palace with a great procession, and made the boy his “wife.”   Later, the emperor lived with another man, and Nero was declared to be the other man’s “wife.”   In this list of sins, homosexuality (not some “special” version of homosexuality) is described, but it is described right along with other sins.  Some who so strongly denounce homosexuals are guilty of other sins on this list.   Can fornicators or adulterers or the covetous or drunkards rightly condemn homosexuals?   Of course not.

“Christians err when they excuse homosexuality, and deny that it is sin, but they also err just as badly when they single it out as a sin God is uniquely angry with.”   (Enduring Word Commentary)

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HONG KONG RIOTS

Talking of the legacy of the British Empire, Hong Kong is a territory in upheaval, with hundreds of thousands of people (all Chinese) rebelling against the Extradition Bill, that could have them all sent to mainland China for prosecution.

Hong Kong was British for over 150 years. During that time, the people were acquainted with freedom. The law was separate from the government.   China has no such tradition.

Although all the people are Chinese, many obviously still want the British tradition.   According to the Basic Law, they were guaranteed that for fifty years after Beijing took control of the former colony they could keep their laws and traditions.   Less than halfway into the fifty years, China has clearly changed its mind.

That makes it less likely that Taiwan will ever consent to being taken over by China.

China, we must never forget, is a one party state with all that that implies.   China will win this one.

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CHERNOBYL

The nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, which exploded in 1986, is now the subject of a five part television series, produced by HBO and Sky. We found it excellent, compelling viewing.  (Warning:   it contains a scene showing nudity – but not involving sex.)

Again, it shows the absurdity of socialist thinking, that everything (even a disaster) has to be directed by the party.   Mikhail Gorbachev wrote that Chernobyl was the biggest single factor in the fall of the Soviet Union.

The official death toll was 31.   The actual death toll is closer to 31,000!

It should be compulsory viewing for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and AOC – and all those inclined to vote for them.

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PELOSI SORRY FOR THE POOR

From the Financial Times (3rd June) comes the following on Nancy Pelosi:

“It is dangerous to underestimate Nancy Pelosi . . .

“It is interesting, however, that Ms. Pelosi says:   “What took me from the kitchen to Congress was knowing that one in five children in America lives in poverty.   I just can’t stand that.”   (Anne Marie Slaughter, FT)

(COMMENT:   In which case, why is she in favor of allowing in so many refugees?   They depress wages at the bottom, making it harder for Americans.)

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BREXIT DEVELOPMENTS

The Conservative Party has ten people vying for the leadership.  One of them is Boris Johnson, a maverick who has been likened to Donald Trump, who is a personal friend.   Mr. Johnson was born in the US, so could actually also run for president.

Although Boris says he would prefer a deal with the EU, he is promising to leave the EU by October 31st, with or without a deal.   In an attempt to thwart this, and stop Britain leaving without a deal, a parliamentary vote this week was narrowly lost, meaning that the country can leave without a deal.

If the vote had gone the other way, Britain would have been in the position of not being able to get a deal and not being able to leave without one.   The country would have, effectively, been a prisoner of the EU indefinitely.

It should be clear to everyone that the biggest obstacle to leaving remains parliament.   Supposedly the house of the people,   it has become the house that denies the voice of the people.   At the next election, people should remember this and vote the incumbents out of office.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon has visited Brussels once again.  The leader of Scotland seems determined to keep Scotland in the EU. The only way this is possible is if Scotland breaks away from England.

“Ms. Sturgeon said that because of Brexit “there is now a deeper understanding” in EU capitals “of why Scotland might want to be independent” compared to in 2014, when the Scottish referendum took place.   “The vibe here compared to 2014 about this question is like night and day,” she said.”  (Brussels Briefing, FT, June 12th).

Scotland would need a great deal of financial help if she left the United Kingdom.   Only one country could give her what she needs – Germany.   What would England do if Scotland broke away and formed a de facto alliance with Germany?

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WAR WITH IRAN?

The latest attack on oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz raises the stakes in the Persian Gulf.   Undoubtedly, Iran was responsible.

Although war with the US is not likely, another regional war could start over this.   The United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia, both Sunni Muslim nations, could be provoked into a conflict with their arch enemy, Iran.   If that happens, it’s difficult to see how the United States could remain uninvolved.

Many Bible students are fond of identifying Iran with the King of the South, the ancient prophecy in Daniel 11.   It’s difficult to see how Iran can be the king of the South now when it was a part of the King of the North in biblical times!

Don’t look for rationale in this.   Iran’s theology embraces an apocalyptic vision of the future, which might encourage them to go to war.

Iran has three times the military power Iraq did.   If there is a conflict, it could tie down the US for years.