Should Barack Obama have intervened in the European Union referendum debate?

The United States of America has intervened in the political affairs of a foreign power.  These are powerful words, full of intent and purpose. So often in the world the U.S has flexed its political and military muscles to bring about change in a foreign power over the 20th and 21st centuries.

The thing that separates this intervention from the countless others is that this intervention is not in the affairs of a lesser power in a far off land, where the political system is skewed or slanted towards a specific type of politics, this intervention is in a country of similar political and international stature to the U.S.  I’m talking about the United Kingdom and Barack Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate.

So why intervene?

Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America and the first black man to hold the office is running out of time.  In the waning months of his second term as president, he knows that his time is almost up. The vultures are circling; ready to pick apart the carcass of his presidency once he becomes a private citizen again. He has faced a heavily Republican senate, eager to block any and all legislation, a partisan populous not ready to face the harsher realities of the post crash world and an international community filled with crises and division.

Like a prize-fighter who knows his fighting days are over, Barack Obama has nothing to lose and can throw everything he’s got at his presidency. His conservative, compassionate stance has gone and has been replaced by a rushed desire to achieve lasting impact in his few remaining months as president.  He has vehemently spoken out on gun crime, on international terrorism, the economy and has pushed through significant diplomatic changes to the United States relationship with Cuba, paving the way for the greatest change in political relations between the two countries for half a century.

Intervention in European Affairs

Turning his attention away from domestic affairs to Europe and the UK could be seen by many as a dramatic overstepping of his presidential authority.  Indeed the rebukes since his initial speeches from the Brexiteers have been as stinging as they have been numerous.  By all means intervene in a foreign power, but save that intervention for a third world country or a dictatorship but don’t intervene in the affairs of an international partner, particularly one who you enjoy a “special relationship” with.

It’s easy to rebuke him, call him a hypocrite and ignore him, but as objective individuals we must look beyond the words to the real aims of his intervention in this integrally British issue.

We’ve already mentioned one point that is a key motivator for him: preserving the “special relationship”. The US has a vested interest in keeping Britain strong and an international power because we can achieve what they cannot: we can tread the fine lines of Europe, work in American interests and still be seen as an independent nation.

Our country provides a vital exporting and importing market to the US with many companies depending on British wealth and spending power to finance them.  Should the UK leave the EU, the United States will have to renegotiate its existing trade agreements with a newly independent UK. Renegotiation takes time and could cause damage to world financial markets, particularly across the European Union.

British influence on the EU cannot be understated, we are one of three key leading nations in the greater European alliance, the others being France and Germany. Our voice carries a significant weight and provides additional strength to the EU message.  As a significant political partner, America cannot help but see this and obviously make the logical leap that Britain outside of the EU is a weaker EU.

Playing the long game

You get the sense that America is playing a long game, keeping the EU strong enough while it readies itself for the inevitable confrontation with the newly resurgent Russian Federation.  A strong EU preserving its borders can accomplish more politically than NATO could in military terms, drawing other territories into the union and strengthening its existing members. Other nations in the EU have dithered in the past on larger world concerns like Iraq and Afghanistan but the UK has not, we have been prepared to move forward where others have been reticent to do so.

That voice in the EU could be used to motivate it to pursue the eventual military action which will undoubtedly occur as the two great superpowers continue to butt heads.

On the other hand, President Obama could be a pawn in a European game designed to keep Britain in the EU in exchange for certain US concessions across the territories.  The statements and speeches have been public but the real politics may be completely secret.

Is he right to do so?

Putting speculation aside, the ethics of President Obama’s intervention in this debate are questionable at best. We are not a dictatorship or a totalitarian society, British democracy has been key too much of the worlds greater democracy and indeed the US owes its constitution and political system to our political system.  Intervening in this debate is ill advised and would only be considered by the US if the issue itself were so serious and so game changing that not intervening would be perceptibly catastrophic to American long term interests.

Whether his intervention proves to be a catalyst for a remain landslide or it provokes the opposite response, he has thrown his hat into the centre of the ring and it is up to us now as voters to decide whether this is right or wrong.

What do you think?

 

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

The Tax Files- The Truth is (finally) out there

A conspiracy to cover up a truth, a truth reaching into the lives of every man, woman and child on this planet with key players at all levels of government and business: the truth about the existence of extra-terrestrials.  It sounds fantastical at first, that such a wide ranging conspiracy could exist in the world, but such a conspiracy does exist with its truth being of financial origins rather than extra-terrestrial ones.  It relies on silence being maintained and a careful balance of legality and discretion, its players keen to keep it that way.

But the silence is over and the truth is out. In the biggest ever leak of confidential documentation since the embassy cable leak of 2010: 11.5 million tax and financial documents have been passed to the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The documents come from one source, the Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca. This firm administers wealth and sets up legitimate companies in offshore tax jurisdictions, operating in over 42 countries including the popular tax havens of Switzerland, Cyprus and the British Virgin Islands.

The ICIJ has spent the last six months sifting through the massive amounts of documentation but the revelations from the files investigated so far have been explosive.  Current and former heads of state, prominent businessmen, senior politicians, heads of committees and organisations have been implicated.

The highest profile individuals implicated include Vladimir Putin, the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the president of Ukraine Petro Porshenko and the Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson (who has been forced to resign his position as a result of these revelations).  However the list of individuals implicated grows by the day.

We can expect strong denials from the implicated, a raft of resignations and the suppression of all utterances of the story in the more extreme governments like Russia and China.  The damage done will vary on the party or persons being implicated.

The obvious question is, how long has this been going on?

It is highly likely that this has been going on for many years, as a succession of individuals from the past and present have successfully moved money free of tax to these tax havens , keeping it out of the hands of the international tax system.

The worrying thing is, it’s totally legal and above board.

A tax haven is a country where certain taxes are collected at a reduced rate or not at all. These countries operate in an environment of total financial secrecy. Individuals and organisations can be assured of total discretion and secrecy in investments and companies which are incorporated in these locations often pay little or no tax. Financial services organisations (like Mossack Fonseca) exist in these countries to help individuals circumvent the payment of things like income tax or corporation tax.

What can the British government do to combat this?

As I confirmed previously, using tax havens in this fashion is completely legal, no laws have been broken it is just the exploitation of loopholes in existing legislation.  There is however a moral and ethical illegality, it is not right for these individuals or organisations to exploit laws to deprive countries and governments of legitimate tax revenue.

Closing the tax laws for everyone would ultimately prove to be counterproductive and would involve the re-writing of hundreds of laws and treaties to close the loopholes at potentially high cost.  There is also no guarantee that this would solve the problem, as new loopholes may be found by those multinational organisations whose finances allow for the recruitment of individuals who can examine tax law. This allows these organisations to continue and become richer.

The British Government can instead exercise the moral imperative with itself in the same way that it did with the governmental expenses scandal.  The records of any MP or member of the House of Lords implicated should be published and there should be significant political pressure for that individual to close down these financial instruments and make reparation to the Inland Revenue.  The house can then preclude any future instances by writing a constitutional code requiring the declaration of any and all offshore investments or prohibit the investment of any MP/ Lords money into offshore tax avoidance financial instruments.

The laws of incorporation of UK businesses are far simpler and less prone to loopholes. It is there that the UK government can make the legislatory changes which will enable it to make headway in solving this issue.

Many of the tax havens of the world are former British crown dependencies and overseas territories.  Unable to exert direct pressure on these governments, they can use the existing association of the Commonwealth to force these countries to exercise greater financial responsibility and increased taxation.

By highlighting and addressing its error in this matter, the British government can show the world that it is a transparent, morally and ethically sound government. It can say to the world: do as we do. Though it may not change anything, it is important that we act in a just, fair and transparent way.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

Six Steps from The Kremlin- The Murder of Boris Nemtsov

Lies, greed, political intrigue, corruption at the highest levels of government, conspiracies of silence and ultimately murder. In terms of a good story the murder of Boris Nemtsov has more in common with a bestselling thriller novel, than it does with real life, but unlike the plot of some blockbuster Hollywood movie, this scenario is being played out today in Moscow.

Boris Nemtsov, father of four, environmentalist, nuclear scientist and most notably, outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin was shot in the back four times by an as yet unknown assailant just yards from the heart of the Russian seat of government, the Kremlin.

At the time of his murder, he had been arranging a massed rally of opposition supporters in Moscow, protesting against the alleged Russian military support and involvement in the Ukrainian civil war.  He had been attempting to unite the factions of the opposition movement and it was claimed that he had proof of Russian involvement in Ukraine.

In an article, published in Russia on the tenth of February 2015, Mr Nemtsov stated that “I am afraid that Putin will kill me”. To the untrained observer, this shocking turn of events would seem to implicate Mr Putin directly in Mr Nemtsov’s death.

However the real truth of the matter has yet to be brought to light.

This murder is just the latest in a long line of politically motivated murders stretching back to the murder of Sergey Yushenkov at his Moscow home in April 2003 and seemingly continuing with Mr Nemtsov’s murder at the weekend.  Individuals who have had connections with Mr Putin in the past or in the present have been targeted, opposition politicians have been assassinated, even foreign journalists are not safe on the streets of Russia today. Four people have died in Moscow alone under similar circumstances to Mr Nemtsov’s over the past ten years.

These murders are not endemic to Russia itself and have occurred in this country with the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with the radioactive compound Polonium in London and the suspicious death of Boris Berezovsky, former Kremlin power broker turned Putin critic at his London home in 2013.

Statements of denial from the Kremlin are as regular as the morning paper. During this time the truth has been blurred, covered and cloaked in lies and rhetoric. That being said, Mr Putin deserves his day in court, even if it is in the form of this blog. For if we are to claim that we live in a fair and objective society, we must first practice what we preach.

So, what if Mr Putin was not directly responsible for the deaths of these individuals?

Who would be the most likely group to gain from discrediting the Russian government? Well the most obvious candidate, aside from half of the world’s countries would be the Russian opposition movement itself. By killing prominent individuals within their ranks, they could hope to engender a change in public opinion in Russia, polarizing anti-Putin sentiment both internally and internationally.  The big issue with this is that the opposition movement remains a largely factional one, with no obvious unity and no means at their disposal to enact this heinous agenda.

An international power seeking to discredit Russia would have both means and opportunity.  The obvious candidate for this would be the United States, in collusion with its allies within the European Union. However, agitating the Great Russian bear into a state of war would not be beneficial to them as most of their member states are in the firing line.  Destabilizing Russia would be of greatest benefit to countries like China or the members of the oil producing nations of the Middle East.

A Russian economy in ruins or a Russia in a state of War would be both beneficial politically and economically to both of these groups. China could complete its great rehabilitation into international society and score untold political points by stepping in to mediate an end to the crisis. The oil producing nations of the Middle East would no doubt benefit from an interruption to or an ending of Russian gas supplies to the European Union.  But would the benefits of this course of action justify the means?

The murder of a popular opposition politician, beloved by many Russians and a contemporary of Mr Putin would place his government in an increasingly hostile position, in terms of the amount of damage it could cause to Russia itself.  Mr Putin may continue to deny his involvement but the world it seems has already made up its mind on the matter.

The murder and the subsequent protests, with its high media exposure may force Moscow to change its policies, but then again it may not. The mechanism of political change often relies on opposing forces and in Russian politics, opposition can often mean imprisonment and even death, as the weekend’s events has proven.

But what would such public killings achieve? Russia has ostracized itself from the international community, alienated  many of its former satellites, caused irreparable harm to its own internal structure all to preserve the myth of the Soviet ideal and the failings of one man and one man alone: Vladimir Putin.

So is it worth it? Internal damage of the sort now being inflicted would only be risked if the truth was potentially more damaging both to Russia and Mr Putin himself.

Only then could you make the sort of calculations that end human lives. Only then could you entertain such notions.

Boris Nemtsov was a patriot, a man who believed passionately in Russia and like Boris the perpetrators of this crime may also believe passionately in Russia. But that is where the similarities end. He exercised his right to free speech, under the lawful government of his country and was ultimately killed for it. Four bullets may have ended his life, but those four bullets may have started a chain reaction in his beloved Russia leading to the creation of a fairer, freer Russia for Boris’s four children.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.