Apr 172018
 


Charles Sprague Pearce Lamentations over the Death of the First-Born of Egypt 1877

 

In Matthew 12:22-28, Jesus tells the Pharisees:

 

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.

In 1858, US Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln borrows the line:

 

On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention. At 5:00 p.m. they chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. At 8:00 p.m. Lincoln delivered this address to his Republican colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. The title reflects part of the speech’s introduction, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” a concept familiar to Lincoln’s audience as a statement by Jesus recorded in all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).

Even Lincoln’s friends regarded the speech as too radical for the occasion. His law partner, William H. Herndon, considered Lincoln as morally courageous but politically incorrect. Lincoln read the speech to him before delivering it, referring to the “house divided” language this way: “The proposition is indisputably true … and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”

On April 12, 2018, the Washington Post runs this headline:

We need to go big in Syria. North Korea is watching.

The WaPo is undoubtedly disappointed that James Mattis prevailed over more hawkish voices in Washington and the least ‘expansive’ attack was chosen.

Then after the attack, Russian President Putin warns of global ‘chaos’ if the West strikes Syria again. And I’m thinking: Chaos? You ‘Predict’ Chaos? You mean what we have now does not qualify as chaos?

Yes, Washington Post, North Korea is watching. And you know what it sees? It sees a house divided. It sees an America that is perhaps as divided against itself as it was prior to the civil war. An America that elects a president and then initiates multiple investigations against him that are kept going seemingly indefinitely. An America where hatred of one’s fellow countrymen and -women has become the norm.

An America that has adopted a Shakespearian theater as its political system, where all norms of civil conversation have long been thrown out the window, where venomous gossip and backstabbing have become accepted social instruments. An America where anything goes as long as it sells.

 

In an intriguing development, while Trump pleased the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and MSNBC, his declared arch-enemies until the rockets flew, his own base turned on him. While the ‘liberals’ (what’s in a word) cheered and smelled the blood, the right wing reminded the Donald that this is not what he was elected on – or for.

Can Trump afford to lose his base? Isn’t the right wing supposed to be the side that calls for guns and bombs? It’s unlikely that he can do without his base, it would weaken him a lot as the Lady Macbeths watch his every move looking for just that one opportunity, that one moment where his back is turned.

As for the right wing not being the bloodthirsty one, that is quite the shift. Not that it’s a 180 on a dime, it has been coming for a while. It’s not just interesting with regards to Trump, there are many war hawks who -will- see their support crumble too if or when they speak out for more boots in deserts. Maybe John McCain should consider changing parties?

 

So yeah, what does North Korea see? Should it be afraid? Will it have become more afraid? Kim Jong-Un will have watched for China’s reaction, much more important to him that what the US does. And China has condemned the attack. It would do the same if America were to attack North Korea, and a lot stronger. Therefore Kim Jong-Un doesn’t believe Washington will dare attack him.

An interesting line from Chinese state run newspaper Global Times illustrates how China sees the world, and the US in particular, at present:

 

“A weak country has no diplomacy. As a hundred years have passed, China is no longer that [weak] China, but the world is still that world.”

That is how China, and in its wake, North Korea, see America. And so does Russia. Americans may -and do- think that they are still no. 1, and the most powerful, economically, politically, militarily, but that’s no longer what the rest of the world sees.

Is the US still mightier than China militarily? Probably, but not certainly. Still, how do you conquer 1.3 billion people and keep them subdued? Xi Jinping is very aware of that, and he bides his time.

Is the US still mightier than Russia militarily? Almost certainly not. To quote Paul Craig Roberts once more (and he’s no amateur):

The Russians know that they can, at will within a few minutes, sink the entire US fleet, destroy every US airplane & ship in the ME & within range of the ME, completely destroy all of Israel’s military capability & wipe out the military of the two-bit punk state of Saudi Arabia.

I’ve written this before in the past: there is a big difference between how America sees and treats its military, and how Russia does it. A difference that explains how Russia can, with one tenth of American defense spending, still be militarily superior, or at least make any wars against it unwinnable.

That is, in the US the focus is not on making the best weapons, it’s on making the most money on weapons. Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed will develop those weapons that are most profitable, not those that are most effective. The interminable story of the development of the Joint Strike Fighter is perhaps the best example of this, but there are many others. The Pentagon is a money pit.

Americans can perhaps still make the best weapons for the least money, but they don’t do it. Russia does. For Putin, the best weapons are a matter of survival. Russia has been under American threat as long as he can remember.

While Americans believe so strongly in their supremacy, and have grown so accustomed to the idea, that they no longer see having the best weapons as a matter of survival for the nation. They have come to see their superiority as something automatic and natural.

 

The attack on Syria is seen as a sign of weakness. Because there was no need for it. Because the evidence is flimsy at best. Because the world has international bodies to deal with such issues. Because there is no logic in allowing the blood to flow in the Gaza and Yemen but cite humanitarian reasons for bombing alleged chemical facilities elsewhere.

What the world sees is bluster emanating from a deeply divided nation (and we haven’t even tackled Britain). It sees that less than 48 hours after the airstrikes, a former FBI chief talks about his former boss in terminology that nobody would dare use in most countries, and throughout most of history,

James Comey is beyond Shakepeare. And in America, the issue is who’s right in the Comey-Trump conflict. In Russia, China et al it’s not. They see a house, a country divided. A weak country has no diplomacy.

That’s how all empires end. Complacency and division. That is what North Korea sees when it watches America, what China, and Russia see. And they may even know how Jesus put it. He didn’t just say a kingdom divided would become less powerful or wealthy, he said:

 

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.

 

 

May 072017
 
 May 7, 2017  Posted by at 6:46 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


J.M.W. Turner Old London Bridge 1794

 

The French election, won just now by Emmanuel Macron, put several segments of the French population opposite one another in a pretty fierce contest. And that contest will continue. Because Macron won’t be able to lift the French economy out of its doldrums any more than Le Pen could have, or than Trump can life the US, and the new president will have the honor of presiding over a further and deepening downturn. The French political dividing line was aptly described by Simon Kuper recently:

The ultra-nationalist writer Charles Maurras believed there were “two Frances”. The one he loved was the “pays réel”, the real country: a rural France of church clocks, traditions and native people fused with their ancestral soil. Maurras loathed the “pays légal”, the legal country: the secular republic, which he thought was run by functionaries conspiring for alien interests.

Maurras was born in 1868 and died in 1952. But if he returned on Sunday to witness the French presidential run-off, he would instantly recognise both candidates. He would cast Emmanuel Macron as the incarnation of the “legal France” and Marine Le Pen as embodying the “real” one.

Maurras may have been a questionable character, but that description is not half bad. Once enough people in the country understand the failure of ‘legal’ France, they will want ‘real’ France back. That will be true in countries all over Europe; to a large extent it already is. Marine Le Pen summed up the key issue really well a few days ago when she said of the country post election: “France will be led by a woman, me or Mrs. Merkel.”

There is only one reason the French people would ever tolerate Germany having an outsized influence in their politics and economics: that they feel they benefit from it financially. And yes, if you put it that way, it’s already quite something that they haven’t revolted more and earlier.

The generous unemployment benefits are undoubtedly part of that. But those can’t last. And since the Germans owe their influence in Paris to the EU, it’s obvious how the French will feel they can stop that influence. And then the EU will turn out to be not a peacemaker, but the opposite.

 

Still, as much as France is divided, and as serious as that division is, the country is a shining beacon of unity compared to the UK, where the dividing lines are as manifold as they are laced with toxins. The snap election PM Theresa May called, in just over a month, can do nothing to resolve any of it. That means the EU can do what they want in the Brexit negotiations. Which will therefore be an unparalleled disaster for May and the UK.

The EU can and will ‘have its way’ with the UK for one simple reason: the United Kingdom is anything but United. It makes no difference what the EU does to the UK, the British won’t blame them for it. They will blame each other instead. No matter what happens these days, the British always know in advance who’s to blame, and it’s never themselves; it’s always another group of Brits.

The Tories are deeply divided between pro- and anti-Brexit forces. Labour is divided along those same lines, and adds pro- and anti-Corbyn sentiments for good measure. Other parties don’t really matter much, but they have similar dividing lines as well.

Anti-Corbyn Labour MPs have convinced themselves they know better than pro-Corbyn party members. They’ve kept claiming for so long that Corbyn is unelectable it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They’ll be lucky not to face the fate of their former brethren in François Hollande’s Parti Socialiste, who ended up with just 6% of the vote in the 1st round of the French elections.

PM Theresa May called the snap election for June 8 to hide some of the divisions behind, to make them appear less relevant, or even to profit from them and grab more power. But the very fact that Brexit was voted in, already makes the election nigh irrelevant.

Whoever wins, and it looks certain to be May herself. will open themselves to being scapegoated in a big way. Which won’t keep them from seeking victory, because the loser can expect the same fate. The trenches have been dug, and deeply. Governable? Don’t count on it. It feels more like 40 years later we’re back to Johnny Rotten ‘singing’ Anarchy in the UK.

 

If May threatens to leave the EU ‘cold’ and trigger a ‘Hard Brexit’, she will simultaneously trigger a whole lot more, and much wider, divisions in the country (or is that countries?!), and that’s even without mentioning an entire minefield of legal, and potentially constitutional, issues. The latter especially because Britain doesn’t have an actual -written- constitution.

For Brussels, it’s easy pickings, and pick they will. This week, they casually raised the UK’s cost of leaving the EU to €100 billion, from estimates varying from €40 billion to €60 billion before. Paddy Power and its equally powerful bookie ilk soon won’t be taking any bets below, say, €150 billion. In that regard, and many others, the EU will do to the UK what it is doing to Greece.

The only way to stand up against that is to show a common front. But there will be no such thing in the Divided Kingdom, not for a long time. Everyone has their favorite scapegoat, for some it’s Nigel Farage, for others David Cameron, George Osborne, Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May. And nobody is going to leave their blame trenches. They’re the only places they feel somewhat comfortable, less scared, in.

 

Theresa May, if the polls are to be believed -and given the divisions we might for once-, will have to sit down and negotiate with the multi-headed Hydra that is the EU, ‘strengthened’ by a major election victory, but she will find it the ultimate Pyrrhic victory, because Brussels will have a ball playing her divided ‘nation’.

Scotland can probably easily be seduced with the carrot of EU membership, but more importantly, Juncker and his people can cast doubt on the entire Brexit vote, and they will have many interested takers.

The Brexit negotiations will take at least 2 years. But it could be 3 or 4 years, who knows? May has no power over that duration, unless she walks. She won’t. And as things are drawn out, Juncker et al have all the time and opportunities they want to tell both May and the British public that Brussels has no intention of punishing them, but will have to do so anyway.

After all, Brexit is a threat to the entire European project, and all the leaders of the 27 remaining nations, as well as the vast majority of their domestic opposition parties, are behind that project, no questions asked. And the many thousands of people working their very well-paid jobs in Brussels and Strasbourg are not too critical either.

All in all, the British need to wake up and smell the roses as long as there are any left, and before they have been replaced with less savory odors. Or they will have to seriously wonder whether the Kingdom, united or not, can outlive the Queen, aka the London Bridge.

 

 

“London Bridge is Down” was recently revealed as the secret UK government code for the moment the Queen dies.