5 reasons why many Scots will vote for independence

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Thursday’s referendum on Scottish independence could mark the end of the United Kingdom, a 307-year-old sovereign state made up of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Recent polls show the vote will likely be close, and a “yes” vote would have huge consequences not just for Scotland, but for the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.

Why do so many Scots say they plan to vote for independence, despite economists warning against fragmentation? The WorldPost has compiled a list of five reasons below explaining why Scots may want to break away from the U.K.

They want to see the Labour Party get elected.

Voters in Scotland have traditionally been left-leaning, and the country typically returns a huge majority for the Labour Party. The center-right Conservatives, meanwhile, usually fare poorly in Scotland — out of the 59 seats contested in the 2010 general election, Labour won 41 while the Conservatives won just a single seat (the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party took the rest).

England, conversely, is far more likely to vote for the Conservative Party, which is currently in power. So despite voting overwhelmingly for Labour, Scotland often finds itself under the rule of the Conservatives. If Scotland becomes independent, so the argument goes, Scots will finally get a government of their choosing.

They want to get rid of the Conservative Party for good.

Thursday’s vote is not just about independence. For many Scots, it’s also about making sure the Conservatives never again govern Scotland.

Since the 2008 financial crash, the British government has been married to a series of draconian austerity policies, including cuts to public sector jobs and a squeeze on welfare benefits. Low-income families in Scotland have been acutely affected by these policies. According to a June 2014 report by UNISON Scotland, the country’s budget has been cut by 6 billion pounds and 50,000 public service jobs have already been slashed.

They view autonomy as a symbol of national pride.

Although many economists have argued that it is in Scotland’s best interest to remain part of the U.K., there is a clear emotional pull toward voting for self-rule. As The Economist notes, “the referendum will turn not on calculations of taxes and oil revenue, but on identity and power. The idea that Scots can shape their own destiny, both at the referendum and afterwards, is exhilarating.”

In 1999, Scotland created its first parliament, giving the country a degree of autonomy on matters ranging from education to health. However, this has only fueled nationalist desires to control every aspect of governing the country. It has also been made clear that this is likely a one-off referendum. If Scots pass up the chance to vote for independence on Thursday, they may not get another chance for generations.

They believe having autonomy would improve the economy.

The camp in favor of independence has argued that an autonomous Scotland will be better at managing its economy, particularly when it comes to taxes and the oil reserves sitting off the Scottish coast. There is also widespread opposition in Scotland to nuclear weapons, and the “yes” campaign has promised to remove the weaponsentirely from the country.

Polls also suggest that the majority of Scots want to remain part of the European Union. Even if the U.K. leaves the EU in the next few years, an independent Scotland could vote to keep its EU membership.

They have been swayed by a brilliant campaigner.

Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland and the leader of the “yes” campaign, has proved to be a hugely effective campaigner, rallying Scots (particularly the younger generation) around the push for independence. In an August poll of 505 voters conducted by the polling company ICM for The Guardian, about 71 percent of decided voters said they supported Salmond, compared to 29 percent who said they backed his counterpart for the “no” campaign, Alistair Darling. It is a testament to Salmond’s leadership (and the lackluster “no” campaign) that the vote is too close to call with only two days left.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Here’s what to expect after Scotland’s independence vote

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The campaign pushing for Scottish independence has gathered considerable momentum in recent weeks, with the result of Thursday’s referendum likely to be close. Should Scottish voters choose to leave the United Kingdom, the decision will have far-reaching consequences for the people of Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Even if Scotland remains part of the U.K., the small island off Europe’s coast will be inexorably changed forever.

Here’s what to expect after the result comes in.

There will likely be another 18 months of debate.

If the Scots vote in favor of independence, untangling more than three centuries of a political and economic union will not be easy, especially given the rancorous nature of the campaign. One of the most contentious issues to be addressed in the 18 monthsbetween Scotland voting for independence and becoming autonomous would be the country’s currency.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and the leader of the “yes” campaign, has argued that an independent Scotland should be allowed to continue using the pound. But Westminster has said this is not a possibility, questioning why the U.K. should agree to a currency union with a country that votes to leave.

In response, Salmond has threatened to renege on the offer that Scotland would take on a share of the U.K.’s national debt if it votes “yes” on independence. If Westminster still rejects a currency union, Scotland would have to use the pound unofficially (similar to the way Ecuador and El Salvador use the dollar) and eventually move toward the euro. However, as Paul Krugman points out in The New York Times, “the risks are huge.”

“Everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 or so has demonstrated that sharing a currency without sharing a government is very dangerous,” he writes.

The National Institute for Economic and Social Research warned this week that Scotland could fail “within a year” if it uses the pound informally and refuses to take on a share of the national debt.

The vote could galvanize independence movements around the globe.

The Scottish independence debate has captured the world’s attention, with many governments concerned that a “yes” vote could inspire independence movements closer to home.

As the BBC notes, a recent editorial in the Hungarian economic news site Portfolio warned that “Europe will in all likelihood be infected by Scottish independence … Catalonia, the Basque Country, Flanders and even Venice are keeping a close eye on developments, which may once and for all justify their own aspirations of autonomy.”

Further afield, separatist movements from Quebec to Okinawa could be influenced by a Scottish vote for independence.

The United Kingdom may need a new prime minister.

If Scotland becomes independent, Prime Minister David Cameron may be forced to resign. His government is already unpopular thanks to austerity measures, and Cameron faces criticism from many members of his own center-right party over his stance on gay marriage and Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.

Even if Cameron survives until the next election in 2015, he will likely be punished at the polls for the breakup. Either way, the prime minister’s political career could be riding on the outcome of Thursday’s vote.

Even a “no” vote could spark huge political change.

After realizing that public sentiment in Scotland was shifting toward a “yes” vote on independence, the government in Westminster quickly backed a series of measuresthat would give Scotland more control over finance, welfare and taxation — almost all matters apart from defense and foreign affairs.

Even if Scotland votes against independence, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will likely demand a similar set of measures. Some politicians are even calling for an English-only parliament to match the regional bodies in the rest of the U.K.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Boris Johnson to hold a referendum on becoming an independent country

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Boris Johnson has launched an audacious bid to break away from the United Kingdom and declare himself an independent country.

The London Mayor and prospective parliamentary candidate for Ruislip announced on Monday that after 50 years as a citizen of the Union, he had decided to hold a referendum on whether to leave the UK and become an independent state.

Johnson told reporters that he had mentally scheduled the vote to take place on February 25, 2017, and would likely decide on this “important point of national self-determination” whilst cycling across Chelsea Bridge.

Comparing his future independent self with the “Athenian democracy of Pericles”, Johnson quipped that he was expecting a “high voter turnout – 100%”.

When quizzed on why he would break away, Johnson said that he had come to resent being ruled by a Westminster government 6 miles away from his Islington home, and that he should be able to control his “own monetary policy” and “determine his own future as a proud, independent nation”.

“I already comply with EU laws and regulations,” said Boris, “so reapplying for membership should I leave the UK will be a formality”.

On matters of defence, Boris said he hoped to remain a member of Nato, though he was not prepared to have Trident missiles siloed in his garden shed.

“This piffle will all be sorted out in the 18 months between me voting for my own independence and the day I actually become independent,” said Johnson.

On the question of currency, Johnson said an independent Boris would sign a formal union with Britain allowing him to keep the pound.

When pushed on a backup plan should the Chancellor rule against a currency union, Johnson ignored the question and said he would sign a formal union with Britain allowing him to keep the pound

“I’ve appeared seven times on ‘Have I Got News For You’, I can probably run my own country,” said the Mayor, before reminding reporters that an independent Boris would be the 14th richest nation in the OECD.

“My first policy as a country would be a 3% reduction in corporation tax,” he said, before belittled suggestions that the ageing population of an independent Boris would struggle with a budget deficit. “I have considerable oil reserves,” he said.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Mi5 conspiracy theories rife in Scottish referendum debate

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As the Scottish referendum has drawn closer, so the battle lines over narrative have become ever more acute. Truth, rationality and reason have occasionally been abandoned in favour of hyperbole and spin, while online message boards creak under the weight of conspiracy theories.

As now seems standard for world events, the internet becomes a repository for alternative theories and conjecture as keyboard polemicists search for meaning in a world often far beyond their control. The divisive nature of the forthcoming vote has provided fertile ground for those convinced shadowy forces are at work, with the media a familiar target (this article will no doubt be decried as establishment propaganda).

As highlighted in the Sydney Morning Herald, one of the more interesting online conspiracy theories focuses on the announcement of the second Royal baby.

Even the most paranoid keyboard tapper would baulk at the idea of Downing Street forcing the couple to conceive so that the news would fall just before the vote. But did Cameron, struggling in the polls, ask Buckingham Palace to push the news out early to bolster nationalistic fervor?

Of course, this is all good fodder for Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that belief in some form of conspiracy isn’t widespread. A YouGov poll commission by Buzzfeed earlier this week found that 26% of Scots think Mi5 is actively working to stop Scotland voting for independence – that’s one in four. A further 20% said that they didn’t know if the secret service was deliberately interfering in the democratic process. The BuzzFeed research also found that 19% of Scots believe the vote will be rigged.

Yet it’s not just bedroom activists tapping away at midnight who are indulging in possible paranoia – official figures have spoken similarly, with many trumpeting the belief that Britain’s domestic secret service is at work in Scotland on behalf of the Union.

The BuzzFeed poll was commissioned following an interview Jim Sillars gave The Independent in which the former SNP deputy leader said he was aware that at least one secret agent that had arrived in Glasgow, seemingly bent on influencing the course of the election.

“Are you so naive, that you never think that perhaps MI5 and special branch are taking a role in this campaign?” he told the newspaper. “As their function is protection of the British State, they would not be doing their jobs if they were not. There was, and probably still is, a section in MI5 that dealt with the Scottish national movement, headed by Stella Rimington, who became Director General in 1992, and is now Dame Stella.”

Then there’s JK Rowling, the Harry Potter author, who in June spoke out against independence, donating £1 million to the Better Together campaign. It was an intervention that led to an unsurprising raft of abuse via social media. Nothing new there, however outrage over the abuse was dismissed by SNP politician Christina McKelvie who subtly suggested that the vitriol was not the work pro-independence supporters but of “secret service plants”.

“The attacks on JK Rowling for her donation to Better Together were, in fact, down to a very few people whose accounts no one could trace back to having anything to do with the Yes campaign,” she said, adding: “Whoever made them – there are interesting conspiracy theorists who think it might all have been down to secret service plants – should be totally condemned. I have no time for this kind of small-minded viciousness.”

McKelvie isn’t alone. Margo MacDonald, the former deputy leader of the SNP, who died earlier this year, said that she was convinced MI5 were up to no good north of Hadrian’s Wall, penning a letter to the service’s Director General Andrew Parker last June demanding answer.

“I will be obliged if you can give me an assurance that UK Security Services will not be used in any respect in the lead-up to the Scottish referendum on sovereignty, unless, of course, the Scottish police have sufficient evidence to justify normal responses to potentially overtly criminal acts,” she wrote.

Who knows if Mi5 agents are in Scotland, special branch is tweeting abuse at JK Rowling or if Alistair Darling is an alien (the last one is actually quite credible). Conspiracies do and have happened. But should Scotland vote ‘no’ next week, expect recriminations to include plot, subterfuge and cover-ups… and, of course, complicity of the “London-centric media” in the pocket of Cameron and his Westminster cohorts.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

The 12-stage ‘evolution’ of a Richard Dawkins Twitter scandal

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Richard Dawkins has once again been embroiled in a Twitter storm, the latest upset caused by the prominent atheist’s comments about aborting fetuses with Down syndrome.

Of course this is not the first time the esteemed Oxford academic has found himself the focus of a collective scolding from the social network – a pooled rebuke occurs roughly once every three months.

To prepare you for the inevitable repeat here are the 12 stages of any Richard Dawkins Twitter scandal:

  1. The eminent biologist will employ the rigid rationalism of his discipline to a highly emotive issue – the lack of Nobel prizes for Muslims or how some types of rape are worse than others. Dawkins will then share this insight with his one million followers on Twitter.
  2. A cluster of Dawkins’ devotees will debate the professor’s contention in a reasoned and scientific fashion.
  3. Someone negatively affected by Dawkins’ clinical assertion will spot the tweet and take issue with his post, replying “really?? #twat”.
  4. A Twitter user with Jesus/crescent moon as their profile picture will call Dawkins a “c*nt”, likening the biologist to Josef Mengele and/or Harold Shipman. Soon thereafter Herr Hitler will be invoked.
  5. A journalist will spot the reaction, read Dawkins’ original tweet and pen a quick article highlighting the “prominent atheist’s latest Twitter storm”.
  6. A member of the blue tick Twitter elite – a newsreader or “social commenter” – will pick up on the rumpus, tweeting how the professor’s original post was “indefensible” and how these comments are “the worst yet”.
  7. Twitter users with #reason, #doubt and #MissTheHitch in their profile will distance themselves from Dawkins, telling their 73 followers that The God Delusion author no longer speaks for “atheists/anti-theists”.
  8. Dawkins will continue to defend his position, while other media outlets pen similar hit-focused articles on the brouhaha, many highlighting his past Twitter indiscretions. Right-wing media in the US will pick up on the tempest, decrying Dawkins as the emblem of a world “abandoned by God”.
  9. People personally affected by the issue of Dawkins’ original post will pen angry responses to Independent Voices and the Huffington Post, many concluding with the line: “How can such a clever man can be so stupid?”
  10. Dawkins will issue an apology via his website for the “misunderstanding” and though he will concede his “phraseology” was wrong he will maintain his “logic” was sound.
  11. Attempting to squeeze a few last hits out of the now-subsiding “outrage”, a journalist will write a meta-piece attempting to explain the anatomy of a Dawkins Twitter scandal.
  12. Wait 90 days and repeat.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Despite the dysfunction no new party is likely in Washington

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NEW YORK — On Tuesday conservative activist and commentator Steve Baldwin penned an article for the right-leaning website Barbwire calling for the emergence of a third political party in the US, one made up of religious and fiscal conservatives that could supplant the Republican Party. Baldwin even proposed a leader for this new political coalition – Sarah Palin, erstwhile governor of Alaska and, memorably, the vice-presidential Republican nominee in 2008.

According to the activist, the thrust of this new political force would be to eliminate “all federal abortion funding, reversing Roe vs. Wade [the Supreme Court decision to legalise abortion], and prohibiting the Federal government from granting special rights to people based upon sexual behavior (laws that almost always infringe on our religious, property, and freedom of association rights).”

Of course, the notion of Palin leading an alliance of the faithful and the frugal all the way to the White House is fanciful. However the US does have a history of intermittent dalliances with third parties, while the current dysfunction in Washington, a deadlock that peaked with the government shutdown late last year – a period in which Gallup revealed 60% of Americans thought it was time for a third party to emerge – has led to rumblings once again.

Palin herself floated the idea of a third party in a recent interview with Fox News, asking, “If Republicans are gonna act like Democrats, then what’s the use in getting all gung ho about getting more Republicans in there?”

But if Washington is broke, allied to widespread dissatisfaction with both main political parties, why has an alternative not emerged? After all in Britain, a country in which divergent political opinions are far more cramped in the middle, a genuine third party has still found room to manifest in the form of the Liberal Democrats (four parties if Nigel Farage is to be believed).

Speaking from a conservative standpoint, Baldwin suggests the main impediment to a third party in the US is the fear that it will “weaken the GOP, thus allowing more Democrats to win”. It’s certainly a legitimate concern with Tory strategists in the UK currently wracked by similar speculations as to what extent Ukip will split the Tory vote in 2015.

“Although many Americans say they want a strong third party, there are a lot of reasons to doubt that one will establish itself as a long-term presence in American politics,” Andrew E. Busch, a Crown professor of Government and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College, tells HuffPost. “For one thing, Americans can’t agree on what sort of third party they want.”

For Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, the prospect of a third party emerging is hampered by the existing parties’ grip on power.

“The two major parties do not do many things very well, but they are tremendously skilled at maintaining their duopoly over the American political system,” he tells HuffPost. “When a new issue or movement does emerge on the landscape, one party or the other invariably manages to co-opt it.”

The emergence of the Tea Party, a movement created in response to the 2008 financial crashes and galvanized by the election of the first African American president in US history, is a case in point.

Likewise the Libertarian movement, once an outlier in the GOP, which in recent years has been brought into the Republican mainstream, so much so that Rand Paul, the movement’s de facto leader, is expected to run for President in 2016. “That doesn’t leave a lot of creating room for a third party to emerge,” says Schnur.

According to Peter Levine, the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service of Tufts University, the existing system is rigged in favour of a two-party system. He tells HuffPost, “as long as legislators are elected in single-member districts where the candidate with the most votes gets the seat, two-party systems are inevitable”. As such, Levine argues, a vote for a third party invariably looks wasted.

Busch agrees that the entire electoral system favors big and broad parties, and unlike in proportional representation systems, “you get nothing for coming in second, let alone third with 15 percent of the vote”. He adds: “The most successful third parties in American history fill a space and address issues that are neglected by the major parties, make a splash for a short time, draw one or both of the big parties in their direction, then collapse.”

However, Levine suggests there are exceptions, such as when strong regional parties come to prominence: the rise of the Scottish Nationalists in Scotland is an obvious example. Another exception would be during what the academic calls “moments of disequilibrium,” such as when the old Whig Party collapsed and then the Republicans arose to fill the gap.

It’s a parallel not lost on Baldwin, whose wishful Palin-led collation, he suggests, should “do to the GOP what the GOP did to the Whig Party 150 years ago”. However, without these moments of disequilibrium, Levine argues, “systems like ours produce duopolies”.

Yet if the odds are stacked against a national third party emerging, the prospect of an independent candidate being elected to the state legislature may be more likely. Earlier this year Schnur ran as an independent candidate in California for Secretary of State, a bid he ultimately lost in the state’s June primary election.

Yet despite that defeat, the academic says he believes “even more strongly” than a year ago that “an independent candidate can be elected to statewide office”. He does, however, concede it will take a candidate with “much more time and much more money than the usual campaign” in order to “convince voters to cast their ballot in a fundamentally different way than they’ve become accustomed”.

Schnur concludes: “While the political space probably doesn’t exist for a full-fledged third party, a candidate who was better prepared and better funded than I can certainly occupy the political center that’s been vacated by the two major parties.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

The ties between the east coast and the European game are growing ever stronger

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Football is big in New York, with packed bars for Premier League and La Liga games, plus one – soon to be two MLS teams – making their home in the city. And with Frank Lampard the latest pilgrim to follow the Mayflower, the ties between the east coast and the European game are growing ever stronger.

That has been highlighted further this week with the arrival of Arsenal, the North London Club in town to play a pre-season fixture against the New York Red Bulls, captained by former Gunners’ striker Thierry Henry – another to have made the crossing from Europe to the game’s ‘New World’.

“Football is growing in America,” Mathieu Flamini tells HuffPost. “You have a good example from today with Frank Lampard coming to sign for a team in New York. More and more Americans seem to be appreciating soccer so it’s exciting, especially for players like us who get to play in Europe. Maybe one day we’ll have the opportunity to come and play in the US.”

Playing in the MLS is something the French midfielder would certainly consider, Flamini adds.

Likewise Mikel Arteta, who has watched with interest the transfer of his friend David Villa, who preceded Lampard in signing for the Manchester City-backed New York City FC, which is due to join the MLS next season.

“I think they are growing the sport and the fan base in a very intelligent way with the MSL,” the Spanish midfielder tells HuffPost. “They are making it very attractive and seem to have the structure in place to really progress with the domestic league. It helps that they are attracting big players, which means there’s a lot of media around the game, a lot of people are talking about it. The game in the US is definitely going in the right direction, so there’s a real opportunity for players to come over from Europe.”

On Villa, Arteta was not surprised at the move, saying he was “the right age”. “I know him well and he was looking for a move like that,” he adds. “I’m delighted for him. He’s really happy and I think it’ll be a great opportunity for him here, though it’ll be a different type of pressure. I think Xavi is close to coming as well, so there’s a lot of interest in joining the league.”

Iker Casillas too, according to the NYC FC Twitter page – a Spanish invasion complimented by a lad from East London.

“You could see how the US had progressed in the World Cup,” says Abou Diaby, now an Arsenal veteran. “They did really well and had the whole country behind the team. They got to the last 16, which is really good, so the potential is there for them to succeed.”

“In terms of the size of the US market for British domestic soccer, I don’t think they’ve even scratched the surface yet,” says Tom Fox, the club’s Chief Commercial Officer. “Plus all our commercial partners, the partners who ask us to help them promote their brand, are asking Arsenal to take a look at this market, so there’s something going on here in the US and we know it can help our partners be successful.”

It’s a market that many big European clubs are attempting to exploit, with Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Roma, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Olympiakos all currently muddying their boots on US soil.

“We have a huge following on social media – I think we have more Twitter followers than any other premier league club – and many of those Twitter/Facebook followers are in the United States,” says Fox.

Arsenal certainly has name recognition in the US, and not only from the NBC premier league coverage. Piers Morgan, a zealous Arsenal fan and erstwhile host of Piers Morgan Live on CNN, spent much of last season tweeting delight and disgust (mainly disgust) about his beloved team to his myriad of trans-Atlantic followers.

“Some of Piers Morgan’s comments are… very interesting,” says Flamini, with some slight unease.

So interesting he lost his show,” chimes in Fox.

Flamini continues: “Look, he’s very passionate and it’s good that as a supporter he loves the club that much… but sometimes it’s not that easy to perform and win titles, but hopefully he was happy that we won a cup last season. Maybe there will be more titles coming.”

The French holding player says that taking criticism is part of the team’s job as professional players.

“Everyone has something to say about the club so we focus on performing and not on what the fans are saying out side of the pitch,” Flamini says.

Moving on to more comfortable ground, Arsenal have a new ‘marquee’ player, the Chilean strike Alexis Sanchez, who Flamini says will add “quality to the team”.

“I met him when he was doing his medical,” says Arteta. “He was very happy to join the club; it’s a big time for him. We have to try and help him settle in as quickly as possible, but he will certainly bring a lot of quality to the squad, so we’re looking forward to having him.”

“I think he will fit in with the existing Arsenal system,” says Diaby. “He’s a very talented player, so he should match perfectly with our style of play.”

It’s a style that Arsene Wenger has developed over his 17-year tenure as manager of the club, and a way of playing that brands want to be associated with.

Swiss watchmaker Jean Richard is just the latest hoping to benefit from the association with the North London outfit.

“The fit was very easy,” Bruno Grande, the company’s MD, tells HuffPost. “Arsenal is all about style, respect, the way they play, the way the team behaves – it’s the reason why we decided to work with them. Luckily enough, they decided to work with us.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

EU sanctions against Russian elites could pose existential threat to Putin regime

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Responding to the renewed crisis in Ukraine, on Tuesday the European Union (EU) moved towards imposing economic sanctions on associates of Vladimir Putin, with foreign ministers agreeing to “concrete proposals” to create a list of the president’s “cronies” who would be subject to punitive measures.

Following on from sanctions earlier imposed by Washington, this week’s push by the EU to inflict more punishing strictures against Russia’s elites could not only have far-reaching consequences for the future conflict between Moscow and Kiev, but pose an existential threat to the Putin regime.

“The Russian political system rewards strong leaders who can keep order and stability, while providing the opportunity for people to gain economically,” Kimberly Marten, a professor of political science at Barnard College and Columbia University, told HuffPost. “The alternative in the minds of the population and the inner circle of elites is the terrible instability and violence of the 1990s.”

So, on the surface, all Putin needs to do is show the West a strong face while maintaining the stability and open markets that have allowed the elite class to prosper. However, herein sits the problem: within Russia’s “inner circle of elites”, various different interests are coming into conflict.

According to Samuel Greene, the Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London, the security establishment (members of the military and the secret services), and the ideological establishment (nationalists), both of which espouse a very isolationist agenda, are “pushing up against the interests of the business elites” who profit from the ability to move money and goods across borders.

“Putin’s goal is not to make any of the groups happy but to maintain a balance and a steady state,” says Greene. “What becomes a threat to him is if the system is unbalanced and everyone comes to the conclusion that they might be better off without him or with some other leadership.”

The problem for Putin is that sanctions targeted at members of the elite are likely to stir such an imbalance, the president’s high-wire act made all the more difficult by the nationalistic and imperialistic fervour he deliberately unleashed as a means to justify past actions, most recently the annexation of Crimea. As Greene points out, “It serves Putin’s purposes to use ideology as a tool to give the state legitimacy, to mobilise against the political opposition and marginalise them, and to justifying a certain amount of confrontation with the West.”

However, Putin may well have become hostage to this ideological framing. “The more you use it, and the more widespread it becomes in the media, the harder it becomes to back away from,” says Greene. A further consequence of the nationalistic rhetoric is the inspiration it provides for people within the hierarchy, who look to strengthen themselves through the ideology or “trying to be holier than the pope”. If people below are ratcheting up the ideology, Putin has to keep up or he could face a challenge from those that have bought into his imperial rhetoric.

So the Russian president can’t back down from the West without facing some tough questions from the ideological and security wings, but can’t shoulder economic sanctions without likewise weakening his position with those whose interests reside in international commerce.

It is this predicament that could prove an existential threat to Putin’s regime. “The problem for authoritarian rulers is that you make one mistake and you’re out of the game, and you’re out of it for good… there’s no coming back,” says Greene. As such, Putin is constantly fighting against not only real internal threats but perceived threats. “As soon as it looks like there might be an alternative or a better way, particularly for the elites, then he’s vulnerable.”

Yet even if Putin were deposed by an internal challenge, it is unlikely to come in the form of a liberal democrat bent on better relations with the West. As Marten forewarns, “Russians are afraid of changing away from Putin, because he has provided what they want. But if he starts slipping, and people doubt his ability to continue to provide order and wellbeing, the alternative is likely to be an even stronger nationalist who might move the country toward fascism.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Intervention or isolation?

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According to Hillary Clinton, David Cameron’s historic parliamentary defeat, in which MPs voted against the government’s proposed use of British military forces against Syria in August last year, exerted some influence over the US decision to likewise pull back from strikes against the Assad regime.

Both countries, scarred by the experience of Iraq, were unable to countenance another intervention, even, as was the case in Syria, with the regime deploying chemical weapons against its detractors. Of course, domestic politics played a role both in London and Washington, however for the two nations that led the charge against Saddam in 2003, intervention, it seemed, was now off the table.

A year later and the black flags of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS), currently fluttering across lands from from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala north-east of Baghdad, have once again pushed the noxious issue of intervention to the forefront of the US foreign policy debate – a discourse that is further dividing an already fractured Republican Party, with the question of action versus non-action likely to run all the way to the 2016 election.

In recent weeks, Bush-era Republicans have been sought for comment on the arrival of “Caliph” al-Baghdadi, most notably Dick Cheney, the ageing hawk revelling in the unexpected limelight and his chance to peddle aged bluster about long-discredited “links” between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

Yet Cheney’s Punch and Judy sideshow (the former VP is routinely hit over the head by everyone from his own party to Fox News) was just a foretaste to a more bitter debate that finally blossomed this week, with the crisis in Mesopotamia pitting traditional interventionist Republicans against the party’s youthful Libertarian and isolationist flank.

The debate was mediated through rival newspaper columns penned by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Governor Rick Perry of Texas – both already limbering up for a tilt at the Republican presidential nomination and the chance to thwart the other Clinton from entering the White House 15 years after the last one left.

Writing in the Washington Post, Perry outlined a worldview in which American security is best served through muscular interventionism, a traditional perspective not far removed from the last Bush White House and indeed most Republican administrations dating back to the Sixties. In his article, the Governor attempted to paint Paul as an isolationist, a timid idealist who would prefer “accommodation” with those that would threaten the homeland rather than revert to the use of force.

On Iraq and Syria, Perry wrote that the Islamic State was a “real threat to our national security – to which Paul seems curiously blind – because any of these passport carriers can simply buy a plane ticket and show up in the United States without even a visa.” He continued: “It’s particularly chilling when you consider that one American has already carried out a suicide bombing and a terrorist-trained European allegedly killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. Yet Paul still advocates inaction.”

Paul responded by allying Perry to Cheney and Bush – a member of the “let’s intervene and consider the consequences later crowd” – hawks that would honour American troops already lost in Iraq by sending in several thousand more to likely meet the same end.

Writing in Politico, Paul retorted: “I ask Governor Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country — a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves? How many Texan mothers and fathers will Gov. Perry ask to send their children to fight in Iraq? I will not hold my breath for an answer. If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an “isolationist,” then perhaps it’s time we finally retire that pejorative.”

Although Paul’s is the minority view within the Party, a recent poll showed that 52% of Republicans said that the US military did “too much” overseas, while the same overall percentage wanted the US to “mind its own business internationally and pay more attention to problems at home”. According to Pew, this is the highest measure of international disengagement in more than half a century, while support for US engagement overseas is currently close to an historic low. If the US is changing, it is going in the direction of the Senator from Kentucky.

Still, the historical pull for the US to try and reshape the world aboard to better serve its interests at home will be a difficult orbit from which to break, particularly as many of the same justifications for intervention – to enhance US credibility abroad and to provide reassurance to allies in the region – remain potent, particularly to those on the right.

The effectiveness of Paul being able to counter those traditional arguments will likely go a long way to shaping not only the next election but perhaps even America’s future role in the world.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

The brief sum of life…

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I thought death would be serene and gentle, a restful slipping from life into lifelessness, the mind clinging to the last moments while the body succumbed. Yet the act of breathing is a persistent habit. Even if death is desired, consciousness pleading for the final dream, the body endures, an act of primal hostility against surrender as it wrestles for every last second of life — air in, air out, air in, air out…

It had been two days since she had softly pleaded with doctors to end her treatment. The plastic pipes pushing food and water directly into her stomach had been retired; the medicines designed to march on the infection had similarly been withdrawn. Morphine was now her only sustenance but supplied in cruelly small and regimented doses.

Time passed no longer in hours but in intervals between shots of medical opiate. There was no final cocktail, no caring push into death. Each injection was followed by a period of sleep, then a sad awakening, her eyes straining up and right to see the walled clock, briefly fixating on the passing of time that, for her, refused to end. She was enslaved in a hospital room; a prisoner on a plastic mattress, shackled by her own body and its relentless need to breathe.

In the early morning of the fourth day, she started to drown. The liquid building up in her throat entered her lungs, shocking her awake with fear, desperation and a perhaps a realization that after seven months of sickness, suffering and depression, the dénouement would now be the hardest part. Yet the body continued, each breath now carrying an orchestra of deep rattles from within her beleaguered frame, the sound of air and water moving making her almost mechanical, a broken machine whose spring had yet to fully unwind.

She remained awake as her lungs slowly flooded, occasionally trying to force words between the tin-like clatter shaking out from her chest, her half-dead hands clamping to those of the living perhaps in pain, perhaps in disbelief that her end had to be so punishing. Her now-graying eyes told only of distress.

Finally, the metronome started to slow; fingernails turned blue as the air supply dwindled. On that small, unwelcome sheet, one arm under her head, the other grasping her hand, our eyes remained fixed as I watched the final scene of her life’s play, each breath now further apart and slightly shallower than the last.

And then there were no more.

I walked to my mother’s funeral on my own. There was no procession, no ride in a hearse; just a stroll from an empty hotel room to the crematorium, a functional brick outhouse circled by ornate grounds with small birds moving between the headstones.

Next to the door was a sign exacting the day’s services. She was third on a list of seven, her printed name resting between two strangers in this surreal, random roll-call of death.

Yet there was serenity here, in this place among the stones of those that had gone before. She had not slipped into death, but had been tortured, punished by her own body in a sickening coda to life. But the savagery had gone and the brutality had ended. All now left was the silence of a large wooden box mantled by curtains that slowly closed.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

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