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Inchoate reactionary coup attempt December 7, 2022

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Does anyone else find the news today that there was an attempted coup in Germany remarkable? Or are the times just so strange, so event-filled, so seemingly uncontrolled, that it is yet another oddity in a world filled with oddities? But the details are striking.

Twenty-five people including a 71-year-old German aristocrat, a retired military commander and former MP for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) have been detained in Germany on suspicion of a terrorist plan to overthrow the state and renegotiate the country’s post-second world war settlement.

Thousands of police carried out a series of raids across Germany on Wednesday morning in connection with the far-right ring.

 

Federal prosecutors said 3,000 officers conducted searches at 130 sites in 11 of Germany’s 16 states against the group, whose members it said adhered to a “conglomerate of conspiracy theories” including the QAnon cult and the so-called Reich Citizens movement.

It gets even more bizarre. 

German media have identified as the group’s ringleaders Heinrich XIII, 71, a descendant of the noble Reuß family that used to rule over parts of eastern Germany in the 12th century, and a former senior field officer at the German army’s paratrooper battalion named only as Rüdiger von P.

Last year, the pair founded a “terrorist organisation with the goal of overturning the existing state order in Germany and replacing it with their own form of state, which was already in the course of being founded”, with Rüdiger von P in charge of planning the military coup and Heinrich XIII mapping out Germany’s future political order.

The group had even started to nominate ministers for a transitional post-coup government, reported the newspaper Die Zeit, in which one of the suspects, the former AfD MP Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, 58, was to be federal minister for justice.

Note that their motivating belief was that Germany was ‘run by a deep-state conspiracy’ and that ‘was about to be exposed by an alliance of German intelligence agencies and the militaries of foreign states including Russia and the US.’

Note too the language used:

“Everything will be turned upside down: the current public prosecutors and judges, as well as the heads of the health departments and their superiors will find themselves in the dock at Nuremberg 2.0”, one of the suspect said in a message posted on Telegram minutes before the start of Wednesday’s raids, Die Zeit reported.

That’s imported wholesale from Covid denialism.

And then there’s this:

After their takeover, the group had envisioned renegotiating the treaties Germany signed after the end of the second world war with the allies. “For now, the Russian Federation was exclusively to be the central contact for these negotiations,” prosecutors said.

Meanwhile, what to make of the following dispiriting news? From a similar point on the political compass, but one that is also alarmingly, pulling together previously disparate strands.

It is a Monday and for several years, Monday night protests – drawing attention to everything from the “over-Islamification” of Germany to “dictatorial” Covid prevention measures – have become a mainstay on the calendar of many German towns and cities in the former GDR or communist east…

In recent months, it is the cost-of-living crisis that has driven the agenda, with Germans in the east having been hit disproportionately hard by rising prices, owing to having lower wages, smaller pensions and less long-term accumulated wealth – whether property, inheritance or investments – than those in western Germany.

Observers have watched with varying degrees of fascination and horror to see in some cases the far-right and far-left in effect join forces for the first time to voice their anger, as a “heiße Herbst” (hot autumn) has turned into what organisers and media refer to as a “Wut Winter” (angry winter).

And:

To what extent the collaboration was planned or not it is hard to say. But what has emerged is a growing sense of cooperation due to an overlap of issues, elegantly compared to a “horse shoe” shape (the ends of which curve towards each other). There are suggestions that there might even be the possibility of both camps – the far-right AfD and the far-left Die Linke, or breakaway elements of that party, Sahra Wagenknecht and her husband Oskar Lafontaine, the erstwhile Social Democrat finance minister – entering government together.

Everyone is invited into the fold. “Have courage and join us, even if it’s just for a brief while,” a woman in an orange anorak says to onlookers through a microphone, speaking in time to the drum beat.

And:

Demonstrators’ demands to the government include dropping sanctions against Russia so that it is persuaded to resume its gas flows, doing away with coronavirus restrictions, a rent cap, “and an end to all the insanity”, the protest leader shouts shrilly, to cheers.

Buffer zones December 7, 2022

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This is good news, isn’t it?

The Northern Ireland assembly can legislate to create buffer zones around abortion clinics to protect users and staff, the UK’s highest court has ruled.

The supreme court’s unanimous judgment means the assembly can proceed with the abortion services (safe access zones) (Northern Ireland) bill, which criminalises people who enter the specified areas and influence people attending clinics.

The argument against? 

The attorney general for Northern Ireland argued that clause 5(2) of the bill was a disproportionate interference with the freedom of conscience, speech and assembly of anti-abortion protesters and demonstrators, protected under articles 9, 10 and 11 respectively of the European convention on human rights (ECHR), and so outside the assembly’s legislative competence.

However, Wednesday’s written judgment by Lord Reed said the restrictions were in pursuit of a legitimate aim – promoting public health – and compatible with the ECHR rights of anti-abortion protesters.

 

 

Food prices up… remind us again how that Brexit thing is going? December 7, 2022

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This is almost unimaginable. Almost, but not quite, for little in the world appears genuinely unimaginable.

Brexit added almost £6bn to UK food bills in the two years to the end of 2021, affecting poorest households the most, research has found.

The cost of food imported from the EU shot up because of extra red tape, adding £210 to the average household food bills over 2020 and 2021, London School of Economics (LSE) researchers discovered.

Most perniciously:

As low-income families spend a greater share of their income on food, the impact of Brexit on their purchases was disproportionately greater, they said.

The research comes the day after data from the British Retail Consortium trade body showed UK food price inflation hit a record high of 12.4% in November as the price of basics such as eggs, dairy products and coffee rose.

And it’s worth considering that even in the context of the referendum result, one which however much many of us disagreed with it was a legitimate outcome, it was possible to shape a Brexit that was much less irrational and damaging for those least resourced to cope with the outcomes. Continued membership of the single market would be one form of amelioration. Or a Swiss style deal for access. Or many other approaches. But, of course, the Brexit that we see is one that took place in the context of a Tory government eager to assuage the worst instincts of their most rightwards components. In that environment little wonder that what has actually been pursued has been quite literally the worst of all possible worlds for Britain. 

And it doesn’t stop now. It continues and will do so into the future.

Lord Frost’s Brexit trade deal signed at the end of the transition period in December 2020 ensures trade is tariff-free with the EU but created trade barriers in the form of customs, rules of original paperwork and regulatory standards checks for agri-food products.

“In leaving the EU, the UK swapped a deep trade relationship with few impediments to trade for one where a wide range of checks, forms and steps are required before goods can cross the border. Firms faced higher costs and passed most of these on to consumers,” said Richard Davies, a professor at Bristol University and co-author of the report.

He said the rise in non-tariff barriers (NTBs) for trade with the EU had contributed to the 11% inflation the UK is experiencing, the highest in 40 years.

What you want to say – 7th December 2022 December 7, 2022

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

100 years December 6, 2022

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Since:

On 6 December 1922, the Constitution of the Irish Free State came into effect. It was endorsed by both the Dáil and the British parliament in Westminster.

The endorsement was not a formality. It meant that the new Irish Free State could begin to govern itself, by rules and laws it had written itself.

 

UK Polling December 6, 2022

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Speaking of polling, and isn’t it a sign of the times that we move inexorably towards electoral contests of one sort or another, consider briefly UK Polling which – for me, is fascinating if only due to the remarkably chaotic swings that we have seen in the last while around it – with the end of the Johnson era, the Truss interregnum and now Sunak’s leadership of the Tories. And as a consequence of this the huge swings to Labour. Polling in the UK appears to be very frequent with numerous polls each week, so one does get a good impression of the overall dynamics.
That said, that said…

Marginal enough changes. Labour is on a slight downward tilt – but look at the Tory figures, descending far more rapidly. And all this is relative. The last two polls covering this last week still show the BLP at a robust 48% and the Tories at 25% or thereabouts. A hint that LD support is hardening? But really no great change and Labour still so far out ahead that one would have to wonder can the Tories catch up? Already a raft of stories of Tory MPs seeing the writing on the wall and deciding to step down ahead or at the next election. That alone presents that party with problems, after all, more difficult to fight in this context and win with unknown or new names. That the BLP is taking it almost absurdly cautiously – see some of Starmer’s rhetoric around the single market and how the UK wouldn’t be better off rejoining (it’s not that he’s wrong politically in that rejoining is not an option in the near to medium future, but that he’s not willing to even state the reality that yes Britain would be better off but that that is not an option politically) tells us much about its own self-perception as a party and perhaps a hint of the political reality it exists in, for better and for worse. Then again difficult to come out and say to voters that a referendum decision was materially wrong in many respects.

On Ukraine December 6, 2022

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Tomás O Flaharta notes a vigil of reflection and remembrance in support of the people of Ukraine on Orwell Road at the Russian Embassy and notable developments at same.

The vigil occurred from 2-4pm outside the Russian Embassy, Orwell Road, Rathgar. Despite awful weather – it rained cats and dogs – over 200 attended, and listened to readings of poetry & prose, as well as music including Christmas carols and traditional Ukrainian songs.

Irish Left With Ukraine (ILWU) activists attended, and were joined by Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD (Dublin Central)

ILWU member John Lyons (Independent Left member of Dublin City Council, Dublin Bay North)  [noted] “Great to see Sinn Féin Ireland president @maryloumcdonaldsf showing leadership, expressing her solidarity & support for the heroic people of Ukraine.”

Then there’s this, an overview of how the US right has prominent figures aligned with Russian tropes on the invasion and war.  

It is hardly news that they see common cause and a geopolitical ally in Putin and his ever increasingly reactionary approach to myriad issues. What’s fascinating and telling is how mainstream some of those involved appear to be. 

Some of the Kremlin’s most blatant falsehoods about the war aimed at undercutting US aid for Ukraine have been promoted by major figures on the American right, from Holocaust denier and white supremacist Nick Fuentes to ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon and Fox News star Tucker Carlson, whose audience of millions is deemed especially helpful to Russian objectives.

 

On a more political track, House Republican Freedom Caucus members such as Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Scott Perry – who in May voted with 54 other Republican members against a $40bn aid package for Ukraine, and have raised other concerns about the war – have proved useful, though perhaps unwitting, Kremlin allies at times.

That this has such luminaries tying themselves up in conceptual knots is almost neither here nor there:

Fuentes infamously dined with Trump at Mar-a-Lago last month despite his long record of cozying up to Putin and his antisemitic and white supremacist remarks. Back in March, Fuentes said on his podcast: “We continue to support czar Putin in the war effort.” Fuentes also falsely claimed the Russian war in Ukraine was “not aggression” and its goals were “not unreasonable”, repeating the Kremlin line that Moscow is trying to denazify Ukraine.

Meanwhile Mark Galeotti’s always useful podcast, In Moscow’s Shadow looks at the prospect for peace and the nature of that peace. As always he raises important issues – seeing the retaking of Ukrainian territory fully within the area demarcated by its borders, apart from Crimea (which he has some interesting thoughts on) as a plausible outcome. He also suggests that under Putin any ‘peace’ would be nominal, in the sense that while military action would have ceased other forms of conflict would persist. Well worth a listen from a voice that has always had a strong critique of the Kremlin while retaining a deep attachment and sympathy for Russia and Russians. 

As to latest developments? Interesting that Ukraine appears to be behind a spate of attacks on Russian military installations within Russia. The Guardian notes that:

Kyiv does not always tell its allies before it conducts certain types of risky military operations, western officials said. They believe the Ukrainians deliberately avoid disclosing attacks the west might try to dissuade them from carrying out, having previously come under pressure to abandon certain strikes. Attacks deep inside Russian territory are an area of particular sensitivity.

The Biden administration has indicated it is wary of coming into direct military conflict with Russia and fearful of nuclear escalation. The Kremlin says it is already at war with the US, and the west – and considers Ukraine to be a US-run puppet state. The White House has supplied Kyiv with almost $20bn in military and security assistance so far, but has refused to deliver long-range munitions that would allow Kyiv to strike Russia directly.

Instead Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government has used its own technology for special operations. They include an attack in October on the Russian bridge across the Kerch straight linking Russia with occupied Crimea. And in April the dramatic sinking of the Moskva battle cruiser, carried with two Ukrainian anti-ship Neptune missiles. Both were humiliating blows to Russia’s prestige.

It seems perverse to prevent Ukraine pushing back against military targets – but there are clear dangers involved in same and it makes sense that such supplies as are provided are not turned to that end, though what Ukraine does with its own resources are a matter largely for it to determine. 

Polling on unity… December 6, 2022

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The IT was very excited about the latest poll on unity, and in particular the result which suggests that:

The likely results of any vote for the foreseeable future are very clear: in Northern Ireland, among voters who declare a preference, the majority against unity is almost 2-1; 50 per cent against a united Ireland and just 26 per cent in favour. There is, for sure, a high proportion of don’t knows — almost one in five (19 per cent). But even if every single one of those don’t knows swung in favour of a united Ireland (and in the real world, that simply does not happen), the pro-union side would win.

The constitutional status quo in Northern Ireland is supported overwhelmingly by those from a Protestant background (78 per cent), by a significant minority of Catholic-background voters (21 per cent) and by a third of all those who describe themselves as being from neither a Catholic nor Protestant background.

 

This contrasts with 66 per cent in the ROI (with just 16 per cent against) in favour of unity. Pat Leahy, who wrote the above argued that ‘there are reasons to doubt the depth of that commitment, and the price in financial, political and symbolic terms that voters in the South might be willing to pay for unity’. Which is interesting because he counterposes the NI polling result as being entirely clear in the opposite direction. It seems that his instinct is to argue at all times that sentiment for unity is fragile even where it manifests. 

But even he conceded that:

to say that’s that and assume there is nothing else going on under the surface would be a mistake. There is something else interesting happening: there is a clear desire for referendums, not just in the Republic, but also in the North. This suggests a couple of things — that a not insubstantial minority of unionist voters want a referendum in order to put the question to bed but also that many people recognise that this conversation about a united Ireland is under way.

In fact, the desire for referendums in both jurisdictions is one of the striking features of today’s findings.

 

That’s key. Voters want their day at the polls. And moreover:

And while some unionist voters clearly favour holding a Border poll because they think they can win it, the data and the accompanying focus group discussions suggest that among many voters in the North there is an openness to a discussion — an openness that is in contrast to the unyielding attitude of much political unionism.

One further point should be made about this: the strength of the “others” and the size of the don’t knows suggest that these findings — unequivocal though they are — may not be set in stone forever, even if the widespread predictions of a united Ireland by the end of the decade look somewhat fantastical in the light of today’s headline findings.

Some of us, who nevertheless are supporters of unity, have been arguing that for quite some time now. Ten years has been deeply implausible, the idea that a British Secretary of State for NI would allow for a referendum has seemed, frankly zany – particularly a Tory SoS. Two decades seems more plausible, but in some respects I’d argue that to put time constraints on this is to miss the point entirely. This is a process and one that requires considerable consideration at every level throughout both North and South and amongst all the people of both parts of this island. To do anything else is to do an injustice to all involved – which really is all of us, whatever our views on the matter. That does not mean that everything has to be agreed in advance, or that every step of the way is delineated, but nor will it do to have a back of the envelope all things to all people process as was the case with Brexit. And I can’t help but think that the more clarity that enters these discussions the more the case for unity will strengthen. That’s not inevitable but to do anything else – particularly on the figures from this poll, suggests the enterprise will be delayed for many decades. 

This week’s percentage: 40% December 5, 2022

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Odd. Last week the Guardian/Observer was arguing that China had to alter its trajectory on zero-covid. Having done so, at least to some extent, this week the Guardian/Observer has clearly thought through some of the implications of a rapid change of policy. Because:

The problem, epidemiologists warn, is that Beijing’s stance does not reflect studies on the impact of Omicron, and the country is ill-prepared for a wave of deadly Covid infections that it may soon face.

As noted last week a too rapid change in the policy could result in dismal outcomes. Indeed the Guardian/Observer notes the same:

A spring outbreak in Hong Kong, which has a much stronger healthcare system, offers a grim forecast of what China could face if it mishandles opening up.

“There were a large number of deaths in Hong Kong, despite a relatively small outbreak,” said Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“While the data suggests that Omicron is much less severe than Delta, we have seen in Hong Kong how deadly Omicron can be where there is no history of past exposure [infections] and limited vaccinations in the vulnerable groups such as the elderly.”

In the largely unvaccinated elderly population, death rates were similar to those in the UK during the first wave of the pandemic, Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at Leicester University, said in the British Medical Journal in March.

Another piece in the Guardian notes:

If Xi allows further easing of controls, China risks being plunged into a devastating national Covid outbreak that would probably claim tens of thousands of lives at best – hundreds of thousands at worst – and temporarily overwhelm a patchy health system. After nearly three years of isolation from the world and from Covid, China’s population is extremely vulnerable to the disease, with almost no natural immunity. A lacklustre vaccination programme, using domestic vaccines that are not as effective or long-lasting as those developed in the west, has not done enough to bolster those defences.

Just two-thirds of people have had a booster shot, and less than half of over-80s. The government is pushing to address this but Covid is likely to spread at a rate that outpaces even China’s impressive mobilisation abilities. That could in itself cause a popular backlash.

There’s no good solutions in this, only bad and worse, but shifting from zero-Covid to a much laxer regime of constraints is a gamble in itself. And as the Guardian/Observer notes that:

There may also be health implications. China’s easing of restrictions was welcomed by the World Health Organization, but its director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also warned about the risks of new variants developing in any large population not protected by vaccination.

“Gaps in testing … and vaccination are continuing to create the perfect conditions for a new variant of concern to emerge that could cause significant mortality,” Tedros said on Friday.

SF support in polls December 5, 2022

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A column a week or so back in the Examiner noted:

Sinn Féin’s popular support has fallen to its lowest level in over a year to 31%, while Fine Gael has been given a boost ahead of re-taking the Taoiseach’s office, according to a new national opinion poll.

Sinn Féin led by its President Mary Lou McDonald has seen its support surge upward consistently since the 2020 General Election but its first major reversal since September 2021 sees it down four points from a high of 35%, according to the latest Red C poll published in the Business Post.

Under the headline:

Sinn Féin’s popularity drops as impact of Hutch trial hits support

Which raises an interesting question. Now that a more recent poll has indicated that support for SF remains where it was does that mean that the impact of that trial on its support has ended?

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