Tag Archives: Russia

REFLECTIONS

gift-return

USA Today disclosed last week that the average family home in the US has 71 toys.   71?!?    I can only remember having two when I was a child — a farm set and a train set.   Admittedly, both had multiple pieces.   But 71?

Actually, I can believe it.   I always seem to be stepping on toys when I walk through our home.   Even at our daughter’s in Indianapolis, the living room floor is the favored spot for dumping toys.  My wife always said that toys were things to drag from the bedroom and dump on the living room carpet, and then the kids go out and play with a stick.

It wasn’t like this in Africa.   Most children there had no toys, unless a family member had made one from a used car tire or an old cardboard box.

When we first moved to the US, I was fascinated by how different American children are from African children; not for the better, I might add.  Too many American kids say bad things back to their parents and are more materialistic when it comes to getting things (toys and candy, mostly).

Part of the problem is television programs and commercials.   Children put incredible pressure on parents to buy them everything they’ve seen on TV and advertisers know this.   Credit cards enable parents to buy – few in Africa have CC’s.   One other factor I think all parents should think about – how many buy toys out of guilt?  With very little time to devote to children, parents over-compensate by buying lots of things.

I think their offspring would prefer time with Mom and Dad.  We didn’t have lots of things growing up, but our mother was always there, thankfully.

One other thing we should be concerned about is not to encourage materialism or greed in our children and grandchildren.  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “ (Matthew 6:19-21).

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It’s no surprise that Jimmy Fallon and Meryl Streep criticized President-elect Donald Trump Sunday night at the Golden Globes.

Fallon even commented that the Globes are now the only place in America where the “popular vote” counts.  Really?   I wasn’t asked to vote on the best movies of 2016.

The theater was full, as usual.  Many of those seated threatened to leave the United States if Trump won the election.   Canada seemed the preferred destination.  But they were there at the Globes.  Presumably they flew back for the evening!!!   Or, perhaps, upon reflection, when they saw how much they would have to pay in taxes in Canada, they decided to stay in the United States.

These people are unreal.  (Well, they are actors, after all.)  They rake in the millions or hundreds of millions and spend more money on face-lifts and breast enhancements than Donald Trump will ever spend on the military.  Their gowns alone cost more than the GNP’s of many countries.

Meryl Streep is a good actress.  So are some of the others in the audience.  They should stick to acting and stay out of politics, before millions of their fans turn away from them in disgust.

There was also an element of hypocrisy when Meryl Streep, commenting on Donald Trump, warned that violence begets more violence.  Hollywood has arguably done more to promote violence than Donald Trump or any other president could possibly do.

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alixs-kids

Diane and I have just been down to Indianapolis to see our eldest daughter, Alix, her husband, Mike, and their four children.  It was an enjoyable and relaxing few days.

I was able to take our two granddaughters, Alyssa and Elena, to tour President Benjamin Harrison’s home in downtown Indianapolis.   It was well worth the time and money to tour the historic house.   I am pleased to say that both girls asked intelligent and perceptive questions.

President Harrison was the 23rd President of the United States, in office from 1889 to 1893.   He replaced Grover Cleveland and was succeeded by the same man, a Democrat.   Harrison was a prime example of Churchill’s later dictum:  “If you’re not a socialist (liberal) at 20 you’ve got no heart; if you’re still a socialist at 30, you’ve got no head.”  He started out as a Whig but later became a Republican.

Historians do not rate his presidency very highly, but it’s interesting to note that he was facing the same issues that confront President-elect Trump today.   He raised tariffs on imports to help reduce the federal deficit and built up the navy which had been neglected since the Civil War.  (Interestingly, the day we toured the home, a website revealed that, for the first time in decades, there were no US naval vessels on patrol anywhere in the world.)

President Harrison is remembered as the grandson of President William Henry Harrison, who was president for exactly one month. He gave a very long speech at his Inaugural in 1841, caught a cold which developed into pneumonia, and died.   The two Harrisons are the only grandfather-grandson presidents in US history.

The second president also saw six states enter the Union during his four-year term, a record number under any chief executive.

It was sobering to note that the three-story home had no indoor plumbing!

It was an interesting visit and I recommend it if you are ever in Indianapolis.

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On a different day I took the twins to McDonald’s for an ice cream sundae, followed by a visit to Meijer, a huge grocery store that also sells toys.  (The twins would probably describe it as a toy store that also sells groceries!)

When ordering ice cream for them, I asked for a hot tea for myself.   The man taking the order responded with “Excuse me?”  I repeated my request.  He said he had never heard of it!  (seriously!)   So I asked for the manager and, again, repeated my request for a hot tea.   He had at least heard of it.   I added a request that the bag be put in the cup before the water as it tastes so much better that way.   My order came five minutes later – a styrofoam cup with luke-warm water and a separate tea bag!

I’m pleased to say that Tim Horton’s is moving south – they have now reached Ft Wayne.  I think I will stay away from Indianapolis until they move the extra 120 miles!  At least the Canadian franchise makes decent tea – just stay away from the donuts.

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There was an interesting paragraph Monday morning from an Israeli paper:

“Religious Jews are more excited about Messiah’s return than Christians are,” Markell told WND.   “Muslims are more anticipatory about their Mahdi’s return than are Christians about Jesus’s return. This shows the deplorable state of the church today that is ‘majoring in minors.’   They have their finance seminars and marriage conferences but have shoved the idea of the Lord’s imminent return not just to the back burner, perhaps to the back yard.”   (WND)

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AIRPORT ATTACK

The latest terrorist attack at Fort Lauderdale’s airport is disturbing.  It highlights the danger that ISIS is spreading beyond Islam to non-Muslims.  The perpetrator of Friday’s attack was an American born Hispanic.   If ISIS spreads its influence to hispanics and other minorities in America, attacks like this will only become more common.

A Palestinian drove a truck into a group of soldiers in Jerusalem on Sunday, killing four and injuring dozens.   These truck (or lorry) attacks in France, Germany and Israel are also spreading.

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NEW YEAR, 1917

We were with Alix and Mike over the New Year’s weekend.   Mike came across a quote, supposedly from Russia’s last Czar, Nicholas II, who wrote on the last day of 1916, in the middle of World War I:   “1916 was cursed. The new year will surely be better.”   Those who know Russian history will be aware that the Czar abdicated in February of 1917, the country was plunged into civil war before the year ended and the royal family were all slaughtered.   The “quote” was tweeted by Gary Kasparov, the famous Russian chess player who now lives in the United States.   Whether it’s true or not, it should make us think!

BINGE WATCHING RECOMMENDATIONS

war-and-peace

Diane and I spent Saturday night and too much of Sunday afternoon watching “War and Peace”, the BBC adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel that has been described as the greatest novel ever written.

It’s set during the period of the Napoleonic Wars, concentrating on the years between 1805 and 1812 when France turned its attentions to Russia, arguably Napoleon’s biggest mistake.

It isn’t just about the military and endless battles.   There’s the usual romantic entanglements that make a good novel, which keep you enthralled until the end.

The television series lasts eight hours.  According to a website I checked, it takes 32 hours and 40 minutes for the average person to read the book.   So you can save yourselves almost 25 hours by watching the series, even if you do feel guilty about “wasting” a Sunday afternoon binge watching.

Warning:  once you start, you won’t want to stop!!!

(It’s even led to me starting to read the 3 volume set that has been on my bookshelf for fifty years.)

NETFLIX:  THE CROWN

the-crown

We also binge-watched “The Crown” over Thanksgiving when our eldest daughter, her husband and children were with us.  This is the most expensive online production ever, showing on Netflix.  They reportedly spent over 100 million pounds on it (approx. $125 million).  As it’s the first of four seasons, they will be spending a good $500 million before it’s over.   One newspaper said that Netflix is hoping to bury cable with this and other upcoming productions.

“The Crown” tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, from her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947, up till the present time.  As flashbacks go back to the Abdication in 1936, it effectively covers her life from the moment she learned she would become Queen when her uncle abdicated, until the present day.   The first series ends in 1955, when Sir Winston Churchill resigned as Prime Minister.    Coincidentally, with the recent deaths of the King of Thailand and Fidel Castro, she is now the only political figure who was around in the 1950’s.

Although many of the conversations that take place in the series are pure conjecture, the production is remarkably accurate in its portrayal of the 1940’s and 50’s and its attention to detail.   The deep spiritual and historical meaning of the coronation is brilliantly conveyed to audiences that are unfamiliar with the biblical significance of the ceremony, which has its origins in the coronation of Israel’s King Solomon and his anointing by Zadok, the priest.

Politically, the series will help people to understand constitutional monarchy.   43 countries around the world are monarchies, not all of them constitutional.   Queen Elizabeth II is Head of State of 16 of those countries.  Each country chose to remain a constitutional monarchy at the time of independence.

All four of us recommend the series and look forward to the following three seasons.

Footnotes:  In one scene Prince Philip says something negative about visiting Australia; in a later episode, he is asked to go there alone for the opening of the Olympic Games in 1956 and, again, expresses a complaint.  I question the series’ interpretation of events here.   Mark Steyn, a Canadian of decidedly conservative views who now lives in New Hampshire, wrote an article some years ago about a dinner he had with others at Buckingham Palace, where he was hosted by the Queen and Prince Philip.  In the article he recounted a private conversation with the Prince in which they both compared and discussed the Canadian and Australian constitutions.   It didn’t seem as if the Prince was not interested in the two countries.  The trips were undoubtedly a challenge as they went by sea and were away from their children for months at a time.    This fact is alluded to in the later episode.

Personal footnote:  Our son was helping his eldest daughter, Paris, prepping her for a test on Canada the following day in her fifth grade exam.   One question was “What kind of government does Canada have?”  Kurt told her Canada is a constitutional monarchy.  It turned out to be the wrong answer.  What the teacher wanted was:  “Canada has its own government.”   Even teachers don’t seem to understand “constitutional monarchy,” which has a very good track record of preserving democracy.

ANTENNA

the-hollow-crown

A third series we’ve started binge-watching (well, every Sunday evening for a couple of hours) is “The Hollow Crown,” adaptations of Shakespeare’s historical plays.  The series is showing in the Sunday night “Masterpiece Theater” slot on PBS.  It stars some of the world’s greatest actors. Somehow, we missed the first series, which we’ve now requested through our public library system.   But we’ve started the second series, which begins in 1422 with the death of Henry V and the ascension to power of his son, Henry VI.   Actually, it was not that simple – the new king was only nine months old, the youngest monarch in English history.  In view of his age, there had to be a regency – and that was the start of his problems.   Out of this came the War of the Roses, a civil war that lasted over thirty years.

SERIOUSLY

“Britain’s oldest manufacturing firm put its business up for sale.  Based in East London, Whitechapel Bell Foundry was established in 1570 and cast the original Liberty Bell in Philadelphia as well as Big Ben and bells for St Paul’s Cathedral.  Fewer churches mean fewer orders for large bells.  But the success of “Downton Abbey” has wrought a new market:  for handbells to ring for tea.”  (The Economist, December 10th.)

 

EUROPE CHANGES WHILE US PRE-OCCUPIED

British Prime Minister Theresa May, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet at the German Chancellery in Berlin, Germany November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
British Prime Minister Theresa May,  Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet at the German Chancellery in Berlin, Germany November 18, 2016.       REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

When newspapers around the world reported that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand had been assassinated in Sarajevo, nobody would have thought it would lead to the First World War, the worst war in history.  The subsequent war started in the Balkans, a part of Europe that frequently saw conflict; it didn’t seem anything to worry about.

25 years later, another world war followed on from the first, again started in Europe.

You would think that, consequently, the world would want to know what’s happening in Europe!   But the mention of Europe is likely to see wide-mouthed yawns in an audience – Europe is a continent of the past, not the future; a quaint place to visit but of no relevance.

However, Europe is a continent that is unraveling as old rivalries rise to the surface.   The end result could be a Europe that is very different from what we see now.

What we are witnessing is the return of nationalism, the root cause of both world wars.   Right now, we are in the dark, just as the world was the morning after the Archduke’s assassination.   Another seemingly insignificant event could lead directly to global conflict, just as the assassination did over a century ago.

After six decades of the European Union and its predecessor, Europeans are turning against the idea of “an ever closer union.” Now, they want to put their own country first.   It started in the United Kingdom with the Brexit vote.   Outside of Europe, the Americans voted earlier this month to put “America First.”   Austrians seem likely to elect their “far right” candidate to the presidency on December 4th.   If he wins, he has promised to dissolve parliament and to hold a vote on whether or not the country should stay in the EU.   A referendum in Italy on the same day could also have a profound effect on other countries in Europe.

However, the biggest two upcoming elections will be in France in May and Germany four months later.

France just had its primaries for the center-right party, resulting in the selection of Francois Fillon as their presidential candidate. He will run against the leader of the Socialist Party.   It’s not likely that their candidate will be the current socialist president, Francois Hollande, as his approval rating is down to only 4%.   A third party candidate, Marine LePen, of the National Front, could beat the two establishment figures.   Ms. LePen is against both the EU and immigration, two popular positions that could give her victory.

Elections next year in France and Germany may see a continuation of the trend toward nationalist parties.

Brexit has already led continental Europeans to move ahead with a European Army, independent of NATO.   This has been talked about for some time, amid growing concerns about Russia and Islamic terrorism.   Donald Trump’s victory in the US led, hours later, to a German call to quickly move forward – without Britain this is now possible.   It’s also the case that, until the UK actually exits the EU, it will have to help pay for the combined military force.

Europe and America differ on Russia, even more so now that Trump will be president.   Note the following from The Orange County Register, November 25th.

“Russian and American interests in Europe do not align.   Although both powers do share the general goal of preventing Islamic terror networks from spiraling out of control, Russia’s tacit support for some acts of terrorism, through its close relationship with state sponsors of militant jihad, is well known.   The truth is that Putin’s regime wants instability in Europe, by hook or by crook, so as to replace U.S. dominance on the continent.” (“High-stake Russian relations”)

The editorial continues:   “And the reality is that Putin is well on his way to getting it.   NATO allies like Turkey, Bulgaria and Hungary have joined in a clear pendulum swing away from Western liberalism.   At the same time, reactionary parties on the ascent aim to shake off the political bonds economically forged by the international institutions that give the US its influential stake in European affairs.   Few in Europe wish to become satellites of Moscow.   But few realize that, absent a robust American role in Europe, there is no European force powerful enough to keep its patchwork of small states from slipping into Russia’s shadow.

“Were the US capable of defending a persuasive liberal agenda abroad, friendlier European relations toward Russia wouldn’t necessarily be cause for such profound alarm.   But today, America’s leadership – like public opinion – is divided and unsure about just how much support free trade and international agreements deserve. Without clarity and confidence, even a little resurgence in traditionally pro-Russian sentiment in Europe could trigger a stampede away from the kind of American influence that has helped build and maintain security and order on the continent for generations.

“Is that a price America’s pro-Russian right and left are willing to bear?   Whatever Trump’s actual preference around Russian relations may be, he is well advised to take into account the answer to that question.   Nothing can ruin a presidential legacy like losing Europe.” (The last sentence was italicized by myself for emphasis.)

Five days earlier, another editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette addressed European issues:

“President Obama spent Thursday and part of Friday in Germany, underlining the importance of the relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel and, particularly, their personal rapport.   With Obama’s imminent disappearance from the world stage, the transition to a Donald Trump administration is creating international disquiet, as world leaders prepare for the unknown.   The German chancellor is arguably the most important figure of stability in international politics . . .   They met in Berlin, increasingly the capital of Europe, although Brussels still hosts the headquarters of both the European Union and NATO, British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Maariano Rajoy all traveled to Berlin for their farewell-as-president meeting with Obama.”

Continuing:   “Germany is the economic and, thus, probably, the political center of Europe, an ironic epilogue to its loss of two major wars in the last century.”  (“Obama’s last key European stop.”  Italics mine)

Put these two articles together and what you have is this:

Europe is increasingly likely to break away from America; and Germany is the leader of Europe.

But . . . not yet!

The Economist magazine’s Charlemagne column adds that Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel “are still too hesitant to be able to lead the free world” (“Iron Waffler,” Charlemagne, November 19th):

“Now, after an election campaign in which Mr. Trump trashed immigrants, vowed to rewrite trade deals and threatened to withdraw America’s security guarantee, the West’s indispensable nation appears to have dispensed with itself.   Desperate for a candidate to accept the mantle of leader of the free world, some alighted on Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor.”

Yet Mrs. Merkel’s options are limited.   “We are protected by our terrible history,” says Joschka Fisher, a former foreign minister.   “You cannot say, ‘Make Germany Great Again’.”

Times are changing – and further changes are likely as a result of Donald Trump’s victory in the US.   “The Westbindung (Western integration), a staple of German foreign policy since Adenauer, is fraying as extremist parties on the left and right cozy up to Russia.”

Konrad Adenauer was Germany’s first chancellor after the formation of the Federal Republic in 1949, four years after Adolf Hitler.   Germany’s foreign policy since then has been firmly rooted in both NATO and the EU.   Extremist parties in the country threaten this and could destroy this policy after next year’s election.

“Germany’s stake in the global liberal order is immense.  Its export-led economic model relies on robust international trade; its political identity is inexorably linked to a strong EU; its westward orientation assumes a friendly and engaged America.   All of these things may now be in jeopardy, and Germany would suffer more than most from their demise.   But do not look to Mrs. Merkel to save them, for she cannot do so alone.”

A different chancellor, a stronger chancellor, perhaps with more extremist views of either left or right, could make a huge difference in the 2017 general election.

It’s very difficult to predict what will happen in the next twelve months in Germany or other European nations, but the continent is going through a peaceful turmoil that could see radical changes in the months ahead.

The biblical books of Daniel and Revelation both wrote of the Roman Empire and successive attempts to revive the empire down through the ages.  In 1922 Mussolini proclaimed a revived Roman Empire; in 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed to lay the groundwork for another attempt at European Union.   A final group of European nations will soon come together, with Germany as its leader.   Bible students have expected this for years — now the world’s media sees Berlin as the new European capital and Germany as the driving force behind the world’s biggest single economic grouping.

 

Does any reader have 60,000 frequent flyer miles they are not likely to use?  I would like to go over to Europe to research and write on developments on the continent.

CATCHING UP

Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, with bloodied face, sits with his sister inside an ambulance after they were rescued following an airstrike in the rebel-held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria August 17, 2016. Picture taken August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mahmoud Rslan
Five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, with bloodied face, sits with his sister inside an ambulance after they were rescued following an airstrike in the rebel-held al-Qaterji neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria August 17, 2016. Picture taken August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mahmoud Rslan

Our lives are dominated by medical concerns at the moment.

I’ve just been in the hospital again, this time with vomiting, dehydration, high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation.   I drink more water than most people I know, but seem to have trouble retaining it.   I’ve started supplementing my diet with a natural substance full of electrolytes.   Together with prayer and moderate exercise, I hope this will keep me out of the hospital.

Of far greater concern is our ninth grandchild, who turns three months on August 24th.   He has saggital craniolsinostenosis and is scheduled for surgery on November 4th.   His name is Hayden.   Your prayers for him are greatly appreciated.

A longer-term problem remains with his eldest brother, Aubren, who is autistic.   He will be attending a new school after Labor Day, which is supposed to have a good program for autism.   He attended a school last year that helped him considerably, but we are now in a different school district.   Autistic children do not generally adjust well.   Again, we ask for your prayers.

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At the same time, do not forget to pray:  “Thy Kingdom come.” (Matthew 6:10)   72 hours ago a photo of a five-year-old boy in Aleppo went around the world and showed the continued suffering of children in Syria, in a war without end.   Similar photos were taken of children during the Blitz in World War II.   Some of those children were evacuated to rural areas for their own safety.   Now, the pressure is on to evacuate the children to other countries.   Surely western nations can secure a war-free zone near Aleppo that would provide safety to all children, while greater pressure is applied on Russia to end the war.   The latest news is that the boy’s older brother has died from his injuries.

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An Orthodox Jew was attacked Friday morning in Strasbourg, France, by a man shouting “Allahu Akhbar!”   The police say there was no link with terrorism.   I suppose they mean there was no perceived link with Islamic State.   What they should be looking for is a link with Islam.   If that were the standard to judge attacks by, the general public would be better informed of the dangers from radical Islam.   Almost all terror attacks are perpetrated by Muslims – whether they are affiliated with ISIS or not is a side issue.

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With so many attacks in France, Marine LePen is now the favorite to win the French presidential election next year.   As Hillary Rodham Clinton is leading polls in the US, 2017 could see all four major western countries (Britain, France, Germany and the US) led by women.   That would be a definite first!   I should add that, beyond their gender, they have little in common.

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Donald Trump was in town on Friday.   Dimondale, to be exact, just one suburb away from where we live.   My son, Kurt, and I had two tickets.  Trump’s speech was postponed from 2 till 5pm due to an urgent visit to Louisiana to deliver relief to flood victims, while the president was playing golf and Mrs. Clinton was “resting.”   We arrived at the building three hours before the rally.   The lines were unbelievably long.   Lots of enthusiastic people, almost all white, waiting in line to enter.   Kurt thought, correctly, that I would not be able to handle the line, so after looking around we returned home and I watched the speech on television.   It was widely thought to be the best speech he had ever given.   Even his detractors agreed on that point.

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Meanwhile, even the pro-Clinton Boston Globe has called on the Democratic presidential candidate to close down the Clinton Foundation, a “charity” that has helped make the Clintons very wealthy people.   A spokesperson for the Foundation has said that if Mrs. Clinton wins in November, they will stop accepting foreign donations.   It’s a clear conflict of interest and one of the reasons people question her ethics.

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If Trump wins, it could mean the end of the western alliances that have helped give us peace for 70 years, coinciding with America’s supremacy as the global superpower.   Mr. Trump has been critical of the fact that some allies are not doing enough.  That’s a fair point, but overlooks the fact that the alliances are what give America it’s leadership role.   If NATO is disbanded, the US president will no longer be “the Leader of the Free world.”

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Having said that, if Mrs. Clinton wins the election, promising more of the same, the country is well on the way to national bankruptcy.

Either way, America’s period of global domination is coming to an end.   In February 2017, just after the new president takes office, it will be exactly 70 years since the first perception that Washington had replaced London as the main center of global power.   Seventy years.   That’s how long the first superpower, Babylon, stayed at the top.  (“When seventy years are completed….” Jeremiah 29:10).   All great powers eventually burn out – America will be no different. America replaced the British Empire.   Who will replace America?

THE PASSAGE OF TIME

Aubren watching the clock strike.
Aubren watching the clock strike.

We’re still moving.

Although the move has gone smoothly, we’re still adjusting to a new home and can’t seem to find anything when we need it.   Or it’s still at the old house!

One little thing has made quite a difference.

In 2002, our youngest daughter bought an “antique grandfather clock” from England that was a limited edition clock to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.   The clock bears a commemorative plate on the front.   Of course, it’s not really an antique as it’s only 14 years old, but it looks like an antique.   Finally, we have a good place for it and it’s now chiming every 15 minutes from 7am to 10pm.

Our eldest grandson loves it.

Wherever he is in his “new house” he runs to the clock when it starts chiming and is fascinated by it.   He then comes running back to me pointing in the direction of the clock and repeating enthusiastically “Hickory Dickory Dock.”   (Long-time readers will remember his love of the old nursery rhyme.)   I’m taking the opportunity to teach him time using the clock.   Every hour you hear the number of strokes denoting the passage of time.   The chimes are “Westminster” chimes, just like Big Ben.

Although, to be exact, not like Big Ben, which, after 150 years, has now been silenced for extensive repairs.  I don’t know what the BBC will do.  When we lived in Ghana, we heard the chimes of Big Ben every day on the BBC World Service, the most listened to radio service in the world.   In a period of turmoil, it conveyed a sense of stability, normalcy and even sanity.  But it’s now too old to continue – until it’s fully repaired.

Our clock and London’s famous clock are reminders of the passage of time.

No two days are exactly alike in this world.   Every fifteen minutes, there’s likely to be some change.   I wonder what the world of our grandchildren will be like when they are 65?

This year we are seeing some changes that may turn out to be very significant.

On Sunday, Austrians gave the right-wing Freedom Party the most votes in the first round of the Austrian presidential election. Now, the president of Austria does not have executive powers.   His responsibilities are more ceremonial, similar to what the Queen has in the United Kingdom.   However, he can dissolve parliament and call an election.   If he does, we may find his party wins and controls parliament.   Europe is moving to the right as the people reject the traditional centrist parties that have governed for seven decades. It’s similar to the 1930’s with a rising nationalism, xenophobia and economic stagnation all contributory factors.

Arguably, the same phenomenon is taking place in the United States with Donald Trump.

We see it in a number of different countries.  In the United Kingdom, a referendum is to take place in a few weeks on the country’s continued membership of the European Union.   We should not confuse this with the euro-zone – Britain has an exemption on this issue regardless of the outcome of the vote.   The EU itself is the issue in June. The EU has a great deal of support, but many want to put “Britain First,” the name of one of the anti-EU parties on the political right.

In hindsight, it was a big mistake for Britain to enter the Union in 1973.  But after more than 40 years of marriage, divorce is not going to be easy.   In the short-term the outcome may not make much of a difference.  The EU is evolving into something more akin to the Holy Roman Empire than the United States, with no two members seemingly alike.  Whatever the outcome of the June 23rd vote, the UK will have to come to terms with a German-dominated potential superpower on its doorstep.

So will the US.   Donald Trump gave a major speech yesterday calling for a radical reappraisal of US foreign policy.   He promised to put “America First,” the name of a movement in the 1930’s to keep America out of Europe’s rising conflict.

It’s been 25 years since the fall of communism but the US continues to spend billions each year defending long-time allies against Russia, China and North Korea.   There is growing resentment amongst American voters who feel that the US has to spend more than its fair share, at a time when Americans are experiencing a fall in their standard of living.

There could be significant changes if Trump wins the election in November.

At the same time, there could be significant changes in Europe regardless of who wins the US election.

King Solomon wrote 3,000 years ago:

“That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Future historians may label this period in time as “the rise of nationalism.”   But it’s nothing new.   We’ve been there before.   The post-World War II international set-up is increasingly falling apart.   Within the next few months we could see some real changes.

In Daniel 2:21 the ancient prophet says of God:

“And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.”

God is behind the rise and fall of nations.   America, like Britain before it, has had its period of pre-eminence.   A withdrawal from much of the world would inevitably diminish America’s international standing – the president would no longer be “the Leader of the Free World.”

It would be time for another superpower to fill the vacuum.

Like our grandfather clock, our grandchildren are likely to see these changes and feel the impact as their world dramatically changes.   They will need to remember the words of Jesus Christ to pray fervently for the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:10).

ACROSS THE POND

Queen's 2016 birthday

I’ve not been able to write much recently.   This is due to the fact that we moved house on Sunday.   Or, rather, I should say we moved the big, heavy items with the help of younger men from our church. For a month before that, we were moving small items ourselves.   Now, we still have to clear out our old house.  We have a few more days to do that and then things should get back to normal.  (Why is my wife laughing hysterically . . . ?)

Moving house later in life is more difficult.   Not only is lifting harder, especially after two major back surgeries and my wife’s cancer surgery.   But also we have accumulated more.   So this has been an opportunity to get rid of some things.   We still have a long way to go, though.   We must keep working on it.

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President Obama is in England as I write.  He’s upset a lot of people by urging the British to stay in the EU.   A referendum on the issue is due in two months.

The US president stated that fighting terrorism is more effective within the European Union.   This is debatable – the EU allows freedom of movement within the 28-member organization.   In itself, this encourages terrorism.

It should be noted that Switzerland is surrounded by the EU, but not a member and has not had one single terrorist incident.

It’s also true that the EU is not a security organization – NATO is.   There is no suggestion that Britain leave NATO.

Thirdly, it has always been the case that foreign leaders do not interfere in elections in other countries.   Is a new precedent being set here?   Can Mr. Cameron now come over to Washington and tell Americans not to vote for Trump?

Having said that, President Kennedy over 50 years ago, encouraged the United Kingdom to join what is now the European Union.   The reason is simple – Washington wants a reliable pro-American voice in the world’s biggest single market.

But how would Americans feel if they were part of an Americas Union, bringing all the nations of North and South America together in one bloc?   Would they willingly take orders from Havana and Caracas?   That’s exactly what the Brits are having to do as members of the EU.   Some member countries have lost considerable financial independence, as they have to wait for orders from Berlin.   Germany is the dominant power in the EU.   The Union is a socialist bloc that tries to control every aspect of daily life.   No wonder so many Brits want out.   The president should stay out of the debate and leave it to the British people, who have to subsidize the organization from their taxes each and every day.

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The Obamas arrived in London on the Queen’s 90th birthday.   They will be having lunch with her on Friday.   The official reason for their visit is to honor the Queen.   Mrs. Obama has expressed a desire to see the monarch’s grandchildren and great grandchildren.   A family photo was released this week showing four generations of monarchs sitting together – Queen Elizabeth and future monarchs Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George.   A similar picture was taken in the 1890’s of Queen Victoria with her oldest son, grandson and great-grandson (the future Edward VII, George V and Edward VIII).

No other British monarch has ever lived to be 90.   Nor has any other monarch reigned as long as the Queen.   The Queen’s marriage is also the longest ever royal marriage in history.   It’s interesting to note that out of 40 monarchs, the three most prominent ones have all been women, Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II.

Commentators on BBC World yesterday expressed the opinion that the Queen’s longevity and famous devotion to duty owes a great deal to three things – good health, strong faith and Prince Philip, who turns 95 in June.   For the first time, a book on her faith is available for people to read.   It’s title is The Servant Queen and the King She Serves.   Hopefully, it will influence more of her subjects to reject the secular humanism that has brought so many evils into British society and look to Jesus Christ for solutions to their problems.   This is equally true for Commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

In contrast to most world leaders the Queen sees herself as a servant.   She is no doubt familiar with the words of Jesus Christ who taught His disciples to be different to the leaders they saw around them.

”But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.   Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.   And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20: 25-28).

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Pat Buchanan has just written a column on “America’s Imperial Overstretch,” comparing the country’s present state to the last days of the British Empire.   Most people today are unaware that when the British monarch was born, the British Empire was the greatest power in the world.   At the start of her reign, Britain was still a very powerful country.   One of its greatest strengths was the Royal Navy. Now, there are so few ships, there are none available to protect the Falkland Islands from Argentina.   Nor are there any to defend Gibraltar.   The governments of the two colonies took the unusual step earlier this month of issuing a joint statement reminding potential aggressors (Argentina and Spain) that the United Nations charter calls for the “self-determination of peoples.”   The populations of both colonies want to remain British but Britain can’t or won’t defend them.

This is the future Americans have to look forward to – imperial decline on a massive scale.

Note Pat Buchanan’s comments:

“Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, this country has been steadily bled and slowly bankrupted. We are now as overextended as was the British Empire in the 1940s.

“And like that empire, we, too, are being challenged by nations that seek to enlarge their place in the sun — a resurrected Russia, China, Iran.   And we are being bedeviled by fanatics who want us out of their part of the world, which they wish to remake according to the visions of their own faiths and ideologies.  (“America’s Imperial Overstretch,” 4/14)

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President and Mrs. Obama arrived in England after visiting Saudi Arabia.  It was clear the Saudis are upset with the United States.   For decades the alliance between the two has been a cornerstone of US foreign policy.   Now that the US is cuddling up to Shi’ite Iran, the Saudis feel betrayed.   As one commentator put it – they don’t like playing the role of a rejected wife as the husband turns his attention to his new mistress, Tehran!   Divorce, however, is not considered an option. It is also the case that many Saudis (maybe most) are more enamored with IS than the US!

TWO SIGNIFICANT ELECTIONS

Candidates

I thought readers might appreciate the following from a friend in Australia:

“Your presidential race is fascinating yet depressing.  Away from America, nobody, and I mean just about no one, can believe that Americans would support such a demagogue as Trump and all he stands for.   To say they like him because he speaks his mind and refuses to be PC is just inane.  Look at the type of person he is.  I would really fear for America, and more so the world, with a clown like him in charge.   It is positively sickening.

Bernie Sanders sounds like maybe a nice guy but a bit out of touch. I don’t think America could work his way. So Hilary . . .  there are skeletons in the closet so to speak but at least she has experience and did quite a reasonable job of it.  I think much of America still lives in the Teddy Roosevelt era in outlook . . . with little knowledge of the outside world and sort of contempt for it.”

Similar comments are also being made in newspapers in other parts of the world.

It’s difficult to imagine the Atlantic alliance holding together if Trump wins the election; having said that, the Democrats have not done any better.   Bret Stephens in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal wrote an article titled:   “Barack Obama checks out.”   With 311 days left until he hands over to his successor, the president seems to be insulting America’s friends while embracing her enemies (visits to Vietnam and Cuba are going to follow last year’s treaty with Iran).

Mr. Stephens’ article follows on from one in The Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg.   Mr. Goldberg interviewed President Obama, who seemed to forget he is still president and spent quite some time criticizing US allies, including Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron and former President Sarkozy of France who may be re-elected. He even made it clear that if Russia invades Moldova, the US will do nothing, giving the Russian president the go-ahead to annex another neighbor.   Even Israel is set to suffer another blow from the US president, who is treating Saudi Arabia equally in arms sales.

Historian Niall Ferguson also commented on the Goldberg article in today’s Boston Globe:

“At the top of the list of scapegoats are America’s traditional allies: not only Britain and France (Libya’s descent in chaos was all their fault) but also Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.   Then comes the Washington “foreign policy establishment” and the US military, who are always trying to “jam” him into going to war.   Next in line are the members of his own cabinet — among them former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who urged him to intervene in Syria in 2012.

“The president says he is “very proud” of his decision in 2013 not to follow through on his earlier threat to take military action if the Assad regime used chemical weapons in Syria.   He seems not to understand that by asking President Putin to “force Assad to get rid of the chemical weapons,” he opened the door to Russian intervention in the Middle East, a region the Kremlin was effectively shut out of by Henry Kissinger in the early 1970s.   Wondering why the death toll in Syria has leapt upwards in recent months?   Step forward President Putin, whose air campaign against every anti-Assad force except ISIS has been a horror show.

“The Mosul dam symbolizes the critical state of an entire region. Like a huge wall of water, barely held in check by a crumbling dam, the combined forces of Islamic extremism, vicious sectarianism, networked terrorism, and Arab-Iranian rivalry have yet to wreak all the havoc of which they are capable.  But why worry?  The president has stuck to his foreign policy doctrine:   “Don’t do stupid sh–.”   As for ISIS, according to Goldberg, the president likens them to the Joker in the Batman movies.” (“A Catastrophe of Epic Proportions,” Niall Ferguson, Boston Globe).

As a President, Hillary Clinton seems likely to continue Mr. Obama’s policies and Europe is apprehensive of a Trump presidency, the Atlantic alliance could have some serious problems a few months from now.

Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson once observed: “it is true that, in America, any boy can grow up to become president.   This is something we are going to have to learn to live with!”   That was said over sixty years ago.   The problem has since doubled as every girl can now also aspire to be president.

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The United States isn’t the only country experiencing an interesting and potentially nation-changing election.   Germany had one, too. Last Sunday three of Germany’s states voted.  The result was significant gains for the AfD, the Alternative for Germany, an anti-immigrant party.   Trump is not the only western politician who wants to do something about immigration.

As Reuters put it:   “Voters punished Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in three German regional elections on Sunday, giving a thumbs-down to her open-door refugee policy and turning in droves to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD).

“The result is a big setback for Merkel, who has led Europe’s biggest economy for a decade, and could narrow her room for manoeuvre as she tries to convince her European Union partners to seal a deal with Turkey to stem the tide of migrants.

“Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) lost ground in all three states – Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in the west and Saxony-Anhalt in the east – which were together widely seen as offering a verdict on Merkel’s liberal migrant policy.”

Following the election we see this report from the New York Times today:

BERLIN — German authorities banned a neo-Nazi group known as the White Wolves Terror Crew after the police conducted early morning raids on Wednesday in 10 of the country’s 16 states, confiscating weapons but making no arrests, the Interior Ministry said.

Far-right parties have gained strength as Germany struggles to integrate more than one million migrants, and the ban is intended to demonstrate that the authorities will not tolerate agitation against foreigners and migrants “and certainly no violence,” Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said.

“This group is an association of neo-Nazis who openly and aggressively agitate against our state, against our society, against people who think differently, against migrants and against the police,” he said.

Mr. de Maizière said that the group wanted to build a dictatorship, and that its aim “is supposed to be realized with all means available,” including violence. He added that the core of the group was made up of approximately 25 people, with the leaders coming from Hamburg.

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Staying in Europe, the Prime Minister of Iceland, a European country that is not a member of the EU, has warned the United Kingdom to recognize a European reality.   The Daily Telegraph carried the following headline on March 9th:

“Britain warned it wields no power in German dominated EU.”

It’s even losing control of its own stock market. Deutsche Bourse and the London Stock Exchange are to merge, with Deutsche Bourse holding a 54.4% stake in the London Stock Exchange, giving it effective control of one of the most important stock markets in the world.

Whether the British vote to leave the EU or remain a member on June 23rd may not make much difference. They will still be under the dominance of Berlin, whatever the outcome.

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Another March 9th headline from the UK’s Daily Mail:

London is more Islamic than most cities in Muslim countries, says Pakistan-born Islamic scholar.”