"The West's Iranian Policy" or "Fantasy Land"

Lord Maginnis   |   September 7, 2015   12:10 AM ET

Last month's agreement with the harsh Tehran regime over its nuclear programme may be touted by proponents as the conclusion to a decade-long dispute. But surely this optimistic assessment it is no more realistic than was the Munich Accord signed 77 years ago this month. Just as betraying an understanding with the Sudetenland was to flatter Hitler's ambitions and precipitate nations into World War II so one must look at both the history of relations with the Mullahs' Regime and the 'small print' in the text. Comparable to 1938 one can see little hindrance to the Regime ambition to actually accelerate Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons work, leaving the country free to enrich uranium for a viable bomb within the next ten to fifteen years.

In the midst of the polarising debate over this agreement, the excessive optimism of its defenders is not even limited to the deal itself. They would have us believe that the negotiating process has also led to the conclusion of yet another years-long dispute, namely the frequently stalled and obstructed probe into the past military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme.

Tehran, they suggest, has accepted unprecedented inspection of its current nuclear activities when everyone can see that the deal allows Iran to stall some inspections for 24 days, giving it an opportunity to conceal evidence. They would also have us believe that Tehran has agreed to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency's probe when in fact the UN nuclear watchdog has all but abdicated its responsibility to inspect sites where evidence of illicit activity has been spotted in the past.

This latter fact recently became abundantly clear when the Associated Press obtained a draft of one of the "side deals" signed between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran around the same time as the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The AP's transcription reveals that Iran is to be permitted to effectively manage its own inspection of the Parchin military base, where Tehran has been suspected of conducting experiments on such things as nuclear detonators.

The suspicious nature of Parchin has hardly abated in recent years or months. In fact, in July satellite images obtained by U.S. intelligence agencies showed evidence that Iran had been operating machinery in the area, in an apparent effort to sanitise the site ahead of IAEA inspections.

Now it turns out that notwithstanding whatever concealment they have accomplished through these efforts, there will not even be genuine IAEA inspections anytime in the near future. Rather, "separate arrangement II" assigns Iran to the task of taking photographs and video of the site, as well as collecting its own soil samples from areas mutually agreed upon by Iran and the IAEA. Furthermore, the document gives Tehran the power to limit the visual evidence that it provides for off-site analysis by citing "military concerns."

Even in the midst of the P5+1 negotiations, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano repeatedly issued statements indicating that Iran was falling short of required transparency and had provided answers to only one of a dozen key questions that were supposed to be resolved "before the negotiations finished".

Now, instead of enforcing such transparency, the UN agency has handed the Islamic Republic the tools for more effective obfuscation. And the Obama administration has declared that it is "comfortable" with the arrangement and "confident" in the IAEA's ability to settle the issue.

All of this confidence seems to depend upon an inexplicable belief that Iran will reverse a long pattern of deceptive behaviour now that the deal has been signed. In fact, this has been guiding Iran policy since President Obama began on the path to rapprochement. And that appears to be grounded in the mistaken belief that the West is now dealing with a different kind of Iranian leadership.

In actuality, even the so-called moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is an establishment figure and a regime insider who previously served as the lead negotiator on Iran's nuclear programme and later boasted of Tehran's ability to deceive the West and maintain a "calm environment" in order to dramatically expand the country's enrichment capabilities.

If this is not sufficient to undermine confidence in Iran's willingness to cooperate with the existing agreements, the Iranian signatory to the IAEA side deal is even more obviously the wrong sort of person to be dealing with. A day after the AP's report on that document, the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), released a profile of that individual, Ali Hosseini-Tash, a Brigadier General in the terrorist-sponsoring Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Putting Hosseini-Tash at the centre of this agreement highlights both the level of importance that Tehran attaches to it and the apparent obliviousness of the IAEA as to what it has agreed. The NCRI points out that Hosseini-Tash, a former deputy Defence Minister and deputy for the Supreme National Security Council, has long played leading roles in Tehran's nuclear programme, as well as being linked to a biological weapons programme.

What is particularly telling is that Hosseini-Tash directly supervised the Organisation for Defensive Innovation and Research, the body that the NCRI has identified as being in charge of armament projects. Furthermore, he did so at the exact time that Iran was known to be carrying out experiments at Parchin with nuclear weapons applications.

What this means is that the person who has been entrusted with an agreement allowing Iran to collect and filter information on one of its most suspicious sites is perhaps the person who is most intimately familiar with the nuclear-related experiments that occurred there, and thus with what aspects of the site Iran most needs to hide.

The Persian saying relevant to the situation might be cited: Someone asked the fox, "who is your alibi," and the fox answered, "my tail," is very appropriate.

Given the background of Ali Hosseini-Tash, we now know that in this case, the fox's tail is adept at covering the fox's tracks. And yet we have accepted that alibi with the same outlandish optimism that has guided so much discussion of the nuclear deal among its supporters, especially the Obama administration.

Nothing has really been settled. There is every reason to believe that Tehran regime is not only committed to cheating, but also that it has now enshrined the means to do so in the 'agreement'. And meanwhile - not a word about the rate of executions of ordinary Iranian citizens. The more policymakers and their constituents understand these facts, the better a chance we will have of taking measures to correct the indefensible mistakes the U.S. and the UN have made in recent months.

Eve Hartley   |   September 4, 2015   12:02 PM ET

President Barack Obama has taken to Facebook to comment on the extraordinary kindness of an Iranian child, featuring on a Humans Of New York post.

Brandon Stanton, the photographer and photojournalist behind the project, is currently documenting the lives of those in Iran.

During this trip, Stanton stumbled across a father and son who were celebrating the boy's tenth birthday in the Iranian town of Tabriz.

“Today’s his tenth birthday. He’s a very emotional young man. He likes to solve other people’s problems. One time...

Posted by Humans of New York on Thursday, 3 September 2015
President Obama commented on the story of a boy's kindness in Iran

The father shared the heart-warming story, telling Stanton the tale that made him realise he "was raising a humanitarian."

He continued: "One time when he was five years old, he came with me to the store and we bought two pounds of fresh apricots. I let him carry the bag home.

"He walked a little bit behind me the entire way. After awhile, I asked him to hand me an apricot. ‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘I’ve given them all away.'"


After reading the tale of selflessness, an obviously moved President Obama stepped in, using the White House's account to respond.

He wrote: "What an inspirational story. One of the most fulfilling things that can happen to you as a parent is to see the values you’ve worked to instill in your kids start to manifest themselves in their actions — and this one really resonated with me,

obama comment hony

Obama's comment on the picture can be seen with the signature '-bo'

"I hope this young man never loses his desire to help others. And I'm going to continue doing whatever I can to make this world a place where he and every young person like him can live up to their full potential. (And if I ever get to meet him, I hope he’ll save me an apricot!)"

The comment was signed with “bo,” which the President uses to sign off on social media posts, and comes just one day after he secured enough Democratic support to safeguard a pending Iran nuclear deal.

Paul Vale   |   September 2, 2015    2:35 PM ET

Here’s an unusual selfie -- the 44th president of the Unites States… and Bear Grylls.

The snap was take on Tuesday during Barack Obama’s trip to Alaska during which POTUS taped an episode of the show “Running Wild” with the British survivalist.

Glad this was the only Bear I met in the park. -bo

A photo posted by The White House (@whitehouse) on

Filmed for NBC, the episode will air later this year and will focus on the impact of climate change in the northeastern state.

Obama has been criticised in the US over his taping of the show, having recently signed a deal to let Shell Oil drill in the Arctic.


Paul Vale   |   August 31, 2015   10:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Bear Grylls has snared his biggest catch to date -- the 44th President of the United States. Barack Obama is to appear alongside the British adventurer on a hike into the Alaskan wilderness for a TV programme to be broadcast later this year, NBC announced on Monday.

The show will focus on the environmental impact of climate change in the northern state, which is known for its freezing temperatures (minus 80F) and impenetrable icy terrain... and Sarah Palin.

bear grylls

The British adventurer is to show the president how to survive on Alaska's Exit Glacier in the Kenai Mountains

"President Obama will meet with Grylls while visiting Alaska to observe the effects of climate change on the area,” read a statement from the network. “The two will then come together in the Alaskan Wilderness. President Obama will become the first US president to receive a crash course in survival techniques from Bear Grylls. The visit will be taped and aired on NBC later this year."

The film is to be taped on Tuesday in Exit Glacier in Kenai Mountains, according to the New York Times. The trip could prove dangerous, with black and brown bears roaming the Alaskan coastline, though it's likely a heavily armed secret service detail will be in tow.

On Monday, Obama set off for a three-day tour of Alaska to view for himself the consequences of warmer global temperatures. Following tough new regulations on carbon emissions, the president is bent on spending the last 16 months of his administration pushing for greater consensus on how to tackle climate change,

Speaking to Reuters, Sharon Burke, a former Pentagon official who worked on energy issues for Obama, said: "It's a really important punctuation mark on what he's saying is a top priority for him. It's the ultimate legacy issue because it is something that's going to affect so many generations of Americans."

obama bike

US President Barack Obama rides a bike on August 22, 2015 in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts on Martha's Vineyard

Grylls, who once served with the SAS, is well known in the US for guiding a raft of hapless yet willing celebrities into unfriendly environments, forcing them to learn and rely on survival skills.

Called "Running Wild With Bear Grylls," Kate Winslet, Zac Efron and Channing Tatum have all appeared on the show. In a recent episode, "Fast and Furious" star Michelle Rodriguez was asked to eat a mouse stewed in her own urine. On Monday, a petition was launched demanding the Commander-in-Chief do likewise.


As Egypt Jails Al Jazeera Journalists, the West Still Tolerates El-Sisi

Nehad Ismail   |   August 30, 2015    3:49 PM ET

An Egyptian judge on Saturday 29th Aug handed down an unexpectedly harsh verdict in the trial of three journalists from the Al Jazeera English news channel, sentencing them to three years in prison on charges that legal experts said were unfounded and politically motivated. The New York Times described the sentences as "stunning". In a separate development the BBC reported that Amal Clooney who represents Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy has called on President al-Sisi to pardon the men.

Recently the United States has denounced Egypt's newly expanded counter terrorism law and expressed concern about its potential impact on human rights in the country. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a law on 16th August expanding the government's surveillance powers and, according to critics, muzzle dissent and target opponents. Human rights activists have accused Sisi of leading an increasingly repressive regime.

However, despite the American denunciation, Egypt remains a solid military ally of the United States. According to Aljazeera the US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo on Sunday 2nd to meet his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He said that US-Egyptian relations were returning to a "stronger base" in bilateral ties despite tensions and human rights concerns.

In a statement that day the US State Dept noted that the two sides had "renewed their commitment to the strategic relationship and resolved to take practical and specific steps to consolidate it.
This came just after the US delivered eight F-16 fighter jets to Egypt as part of a military support package. At the same time Kerry acknowledged stress in the US-Egypt relationship over human rights and said the US would continue to press Egypt on the arrests of dissidents and journalists and mass trials.

The US moves come as some analysts argue that the new regime is no better than the old. For example a headline in The Atlantic January read: Is Egypt on the Verge of Another Uprising? The article argues that the regime the Egyptians overthrew 4 years ago has returned. "In the face of relentless pressure and violence from the authorities, most of the revolutionary movements have been side-lined or snuffed out".

Following the revolution the Muslim Brotherhood won the November 2011 elections and the presidential elections of June 2012.

Having been declared the fifth President of Egypt Mohamad Morsi, instead of acting as President for the country acted as a political party chief. He swiftly moved to get rid of Army Chief Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and replaced him with the younger General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Morsi then cancelled a constitutional declaration aimed at curbing his powers. In November 2012 he stripped constitutional court judges of all powers. Secular and liberal Egyptians felt excluded and disenfranchised. Once again the people protested and denounced Morsi as the new Mubarak. The economic situation got worse, prices of essential commodities shot up, the country suffered repeated power cuts and fuel shortages. The protests grew culminating in June 2013 with millions of Egyptians assembling in Cairo. The army intervened, backed by liberals, the Copts and Al-Azhar Authority (the highest religious authority in the Muslim Sunni world) and Morsi was removed from office by the army.

However, many observers and analysts agree with The Atlantic view that the harsh tactics used by the security forces are taking Egyptians to the days of the Mubarak era. The courts have lost their independence and impartiality. The judiciary has been politicised and is seen as a tool of the regime. The chronic problems of poverty, unemployment, acute housing shortages, and inadequate health care system remain unaddressed and even got worse.

So why does the US not criticise el-Sisi?
According to a recent analysis by Bloomberg "President Barack Obama's decision to lift the partial embargo on military aid to Egypt is a harsh nod to reality. Since taking power in a military coup in 2013, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has been every bit the tyrant, showing utter disregard for civil rights. And the Obama administration has long claimed it would lift the embargo only if Egypt showed "credible progress" toward restoring democracy."

Yet despite all of this, the US-Egyptian ties are warming after two years of strain, doubt and uncertainty.

Egypt has been considered a solid ally to the West since the early 1970s when President Sadat expelled Soviet advisers and reoriented Egypt westwards.

Then in 1977 Sadat paid a historic visit to Israel, beginning the process that led to the 1979 peace treaty. By 1991 they were so close that Egypt joined the allied coalition to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

Yet despite all the criticism and the damage that the Al Jazeera journalist's case has done to the image of Egypt, the West looks at Egypt as a robust linchpin in the fight against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and the West supports Egypt efforts in defeating al Qaeda and ISIS in the Sinai. Despite all the short-comings Egypt remains a regional power and a bulwark against Islamic extremism and terrorism.

The American Gun Control Debate - Again

Ioan Marc Jones   |   August 27, 2015   10:24 PM ET

He approaches his victims, shaking. A handgun enters the frame, pointed directly at his former colleague. He whispers 'bitch' in a cold tone. He withdraws. He records his victims for a few seconds, hovering around. It's hard not to wonder why he didn't pull the trigger on the first opportunity. Was he having second thoughts? Then, suddenly, shots ring out. His first victim attempts to run, but can't escape. The others come under fire. The camera swings left and right and eventually the viewer can only hear the sounds. The sounds - gunshots, screaming, gunshots, weeping - are more horrifying than the video.

This isn't the first time people across the world have witnessed a recording of an American shooting of this nature. It won't be the last. Yet again, we ask the same question: How many shootings have to take place before we see progressive change in the gun control debate? Unfortunately, the arguments that have followed this incident are all too familiar.

They begin with attempts at progression. A friend or family member of the victim courageously vows to fight for gun control. They speak passionately about their loss. They appeal to their leaders. Everyone in America, one would think, agrees. The so-called liberal media note the need for change. They explain that this time - considering the horror - it might be different. The media in Britain - and assumedly across the developed world - explain the absurdity of the American situation. Some politicians offer their sympathies. Others - such as the President - make promises.

Then there is the backlash from gun enthusiasts. Apparently, the real problem is mental health. The solution therefore is to tackle mental health, not to implement gun control. Apparently, there are not enough guns. Apparently, this situation could have been avoided if the victims were armed to the teeth. This is a particularly absurd argument in this case, as there is no way to prevent a surprise attack of this nature. The right stick to the argument nonetheless. Then they descend into arguments even more absurd - scraping the bottom of an ostensibly never ending barrel - and blame everyone and everything in sight: Hip-Hop, video games, prescription medication, abortion, Marilyn Manson.

Commentators cite the statistics and make a seemingly irrefutable case for gun control. Some compare America's gun-related death rate to other developed countries. Others reveal the number of American children that die every year from accidents involving guns. Others cite the number of American children that die every year from massacres. Everyone is verily aware of the statistics, especially the gun enthusiasts. Statistics apparently have little affect on the American gun control debate. Gun supporters reject statistics in favour of some outlandish and diabolical ideology. If statistics mattered the way they inexorably should, there would be no debate. Indeed, there would be no guns.

Barack Obama has - yet again - promised to fight for gun control. He has failed in every previous attempt. He will fail again. His previous proposals - unfortunately - aren't advocating the abolition of the sale of guns. They are far more timid. Obama proposed a limited capacity of 10 rounds, background checks, financial incentives to protect the public against shootings and the restriction of assault weapons. Obama, I suppose, simply wants fewer shootings. The Senate nonetheless rejected his moderate proposals. They will inevitably reject the next round of proposals.

It's difficult to remain optimistic in this debate. Commentators in America, and indeed across the world, are aching from the constant smashing of heads against an ideological wall. One has to wonder how many incidents like this - recorded on camera and distributed worldwide - need to occur before America will implement progressive legislation. America remains the only developed nation without adequate gun-safety laws. It has been for many years. We, in Britain, don't have this debate. Britain started to restrict the sale of firearms in the 1903 Pistol Act.

I hope some good comes from this latest incident. If I have learnt anything from recent American history, however, I am regrettably certain that nothing will change. This is just another gun control debate - the same as the last. I imagine this article will be relevant in a few weeks or months, or whenever the next individual pops down to his local Walmart and decides to take a few more peoples' lives.

Data Is a God-Like Power - And Our Political Parties Are Taking Note

Joseph Musgrave   |   August 27, 2015    1:20 PM ET

We produce an awful lot of data. To be precise, we churn out 2.5 exabytes of the stuff every day (2.5x10*18). Exactly how this information is used gives rise to much debate, one which centres on how our data is collected and the ways in which it is subsequently used. (Imagine trying to store every word ever spoken by all the human beings that have ever lived. If you store all these words in text form, you'd need 5 exabytes of storage space. Ref: here and here. Annoyingly, Huffington Post's blogging technology doesn't allow for embedded references.)

What I wondered recently was how politicians and political parties use personal data. There seem to be three main reasons: (a) mobilise their own voters to get out and vote; (b) target voters they need to convince in order to win more support; and (c) attempt to raise money from their supporters.

Speaking about (b), do you know precisely how political parties do this, perhaps the most crucial task that parties perform around election time? Well, you can probably recall a time when you were repeatedly bothered by people knocking on your door asking how you intend to vote at the upcoming election (unless, of course, you fall into the vast majority of the population who don't live in a marginal or swing area - in which case, sorry, you don't matter). After a chat, they quickly categorise you (either by giving you a number, usually from 1 - 10, or by lumping you into a group like "friendlies" denoting propensity to back their party) and feed that information back into central command.

This whole deal just got more sophisticated. It started in the United States during Barack Obama's campaigns. Obama's team took the data from door knockers and combined it with information gathered online (think Facebook and Twitter) in order to build targeted, and extremely effective, operational plans (ref: here). Once his last campaign was over, Obama and his team did not want to lose all this valuable data - so they kept it. It's now in the hands of Organizing for America being put to use for the stated purpose of furthering Obama's presidential ambitions (with mixed results...).

It's unclear to me exactly how well informed individuals, who signed up in the heyday of Obama's campaign, were that a couple years down the line their information would still be used. Similarly, I've received an email alleging that a large amount of data changed hands after the Scottish referendum that would raise serious questions about user consent (not to mention fairness - more on all this when I've done some digging).

Using all this data brings a myriad of implications, not least the increasing atomisation of voters by political parties. We have already briefly explored this. What I didn't mention was how Obama's operation would send door knockers to specific doors as the data they gathered told them how many people in a given street they needed to convince.

Such detailed insight into the voting intentions of the population, and on such a wide scale, is unprecedented. It affords the holder of the information God-like power to command the political battlefield (and at least the Big Guy upstairs takes Sundays off). When we look to the elections of the future, the best determinant of a party's success will be the answer to this question - "How good is their data operation?"

Caroline Frost   |   August 19, 2015    9:59 PM ET

Morrissey has never been backwards at coming forwards when it comes to expressing his more extreme opinions, but he appears to have surpassed himself - calling the black US president "white inside" when it comes to his response to the Ferguson riots.

In conversation with his host on Larry King Now on Ora TV, the former Smiths frontman says that President Obama "disappointed a lot of people" with his response supporting police to the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown.

"I don’t think with places like Ferguson and so on that [Obama has] really helped his own people," Morrissey tells Larry King. "So is Obama, is he white inside? That's a very logical question, but I think he probably is."

The full interview will be broadcast on Ora TV later today, but preview clips have revealed one of pop's big thinkers in full flow.

And he opens up about more personal topics, including his cancer diagnosis, his battle with depression and an alleged sexual assault against him that took place at a US airport.

Of his cancer diagnosis, he tells Larry King that he's currently in "blooming" health. He explains, "Barrett’s cancer, it’s in the oesophagus. They scrape it occasionally and I have medication, but I’m OK. Lots of people have it and they fade away, lots of people have it and they don’t fade away.”

His depression, however, remains a constant, ever since he first took antidepressants aged 17.

“For me, it never gets better,” he tells King. “I’ve had it for many years. I refer to it as the ‘black dog’. It doesn’t go away. It’s usually the very first thing when you wake up, there is no cure, and I think it’s part of being a sensitive, open human.

“I don’t [take medication], I’ve been through everything, it’s pointless. It’s a frame of mind, a state of mind, it’s circumstantial.”

Morrissey remains indignant about a sexual assault he claims he suffered at the hands of a security guard at an airport in the States. He tells Larry King, "he went straight for my private bits and then he put his finger down my rear cleavage" and adds that, although he made a complaint, nothing happened.

Read More: Morrissey Accuses US Airport Guard Of 'Groping Him'

Click here for the full interview


Dear Mr. President

Jonathan Arnott   |   August 13, 2015    3:39 PM ET

The European Union has just released a video comparing the European Union to the federalised structure of the United States. Given President Obama's recent suggestion that Britain must stay in the European Union, I've written an open letter wondering what it would be like if America had to be part of an EU-like structure...

Dear President Obama,

I see you've told the United Kingdom that you should stay in the European Union. Politics is all about trying to understand other people's point of view, so I'm going to try to make it easy for you to understand mine. Put yourself in our shoes, and let's imagine together what it would be like if America had a fully-fledged equivalent to the European Union.

You could forget the US Constitution. The Republicans claim you forget it anyway, but the pan-American Union would be able to pass laws to override America's. Your Supreme Court would be allowed to keep the name but would no longer be in any way supreme; new pan-American courts would be able to overrule it - and they would, on a regular basis.

You're debating at the moment how best to police the border with Mexico. If you had a Union like ours, the answer would be very simple. To get into the United States and have the right to live or work there, all you'd have to do would be to show a Mexican passport. Or a Venezuelan, Argentinian or Canadian passport. Even if they had criminal records, it would be very difficult - bordering on impossible - to say no. To give some idea of the scale we're talking about, we had more immigration in the year 2010 alone than in all of the years from 1066 to 1950 put together. Imagine the social welfare bill that you'll create: lots of American workers will lose their jobs because they'll be undercut by the huge oversupply of migrant labour. The only upside is that it would annoy Donald Trump. A lot.

Actually that's pretty much the same excuse the British Labour Party gave to voters. Lord Mandleson described it as sending out 'search parties' for new immigrants, and one of Tony Blair's (George Bush's mate, remember?) advisers said they were doing it to 'rub the Right's noses in diversity'. Guess what? Labour have lost the next two elections.

Because you're a relatively prosperous nation, you'd have to pay in more than you get out. It'd be costing you about $1,750 per year for every family of 4 in the USA. Well, that's what we're paying in Europe. As you're relatively economically prosperous you'd probably have to pay more actually. Then you'd get roughly half of that money handed back to you in 'grants'. They'd tell you that they were giving you money, expect you to be grateful, and you'd have to take every opportunity to thank them for their overwhelming generosity.

Whilst we're on the subject of money, I know Americans are very keen on their petrol (you call it 'gas' but it's clearly a liquid to us) prices. Motorists at the pump are paying about $2.60 per gallon today in America. You'll have to introduce a new fuel tax of at least $1.55 per gallon. Then, on top of the whole price of the fuel, you'll have to add an extra sales tax (we call it VAT, and your bureaucrats are going to just love it, but more of that later) of at least 15%. By the time you're done, I'd say that American motorists would have to pay at least an extra $2 a gallon. I don't think your motorists would like that, but you might try to confuse them: you won't be measuring fuel in gallons any more, you'll be measuring it in litres. There's no choice about it, you're also going to have to convert to the metric system of measurements. So that it doesn't confuse people in Paraguay.

In America, the highest Sales Tax is in California at 7.5% but five states have no Sales Tax at all. You'll have to raise that to a minimum of 15% in Value Added Tax. But you know how a Sales Tax works, right? At the point of sale to the consumer, you charge the tax. VAT is a little more...complicated. At every stage of the manufacturing process, when you go from manufacturer to wholesaler, wholesaler to retailer, you charge VAT. Every time it's sold on, businesses can reclaim the VAT they've paid and charge it to the next business in the chain. It can be paid and reclaimed five or more times until finally the customer pays their tax. Think that's a recipe for fraud? It is. Think it adds massive red tape and makes your businesses uncompetitive? It does.

You know that trade deal, TTIP, that you're currently negotiating with Europe? The one that's causing all the stir about secret courts and opening the British NHS up to competition? Well, you can forget negotiating that trade deal on your own. You'd have a pan-American trade chief to negotiate your trade deals for you. Not in America's interests? Sorry, but it's that deal or no deal.

New pan-American laws would override your own. Forget whether they're actually needed in America or not. And all US businesses would have to abide by those laws, whether they traded outside the European Union or not. You'd get a new 'Parliament', but it would have very few actual powers. For arcane reasons no-one would quite be able to understand, once a month every month - regular as clockwork - it would pack its bags and move itself backwards and forwards between Chile and Brazil. The real power would lie with unelected bureaucrats. Despite America being a world power, you'd have one Commissioner just like any of the tiny countries in the continent of America.

You'd get a new anthem, a new flag to fly over your government buildings, and your soldiers would be allowed to fight and die under that flag. Foreign-flagged vessels would be welcome to fish your waters and you'd have an agricultural policy that would be the same for America as the more rural nations.

Have you given any thought to replacing the dollar with a new currency? It might be called something like the panamericano. In Europe, the new currency doesn't feature greats like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. It has pictures of a series of European bridges. Not real bridges, you'll understand: that might favour one country over another. Just pictures of things that look like they might be real bridges. It's all fake, which actually is a great metaphor for our European Union.

If you decided to join the new currency you'd share the same fiscal policy with the whole of South America. I know that Argentina's currency peg with the dollar didn't work out too well, but never mind: if you actually shared notes and coins too they'd pretty much be trapped into it, right? On the other hand you could, like the UK, decide not to join. Then whenever one of those countries that did join gets into trouble because it joined, your taxpayers get the privilege of writing a large cheque to bail them out.

You know how America has a vote at the World Trade Organisation and some influence in world affairs? You'd lose that. If you're anything like us, you'd be hugely unsuccessful. Our record in the Council of Ministers is 'played 55, lost 55' - that's worse even than your Chicago Bears did last season. We opposed 55 measures and were outvoted on every single one. So in theory you'd have a reasonable amount of influence but in practice you'd have next to none.

I'll finish this letter with a challenge. If you really believe that the UK should be a part of the European Union, why don't you propose a system like this for America? You could probably get Hillary to take it up. Might make your Presidential election a bit more interesting and give the Republicans a chance. You could be the man responsible for President Trump or President Jeb Bush. Maybe even President Carly Fiorina - imagine the look on Hillary's face if the Republicans had the first female President of the United States!

If you're not prepared to do this, please leave the UK to take our own democratic decisions without interference.

Many thanks,

Jonathan Arnott (UKIP Member of the European Parliament for North East England)

Countdown to Paris: Lessons from Obama

Natalie Bennett   |   August 7, 2015    1:06 PM ET

It's not often that one of the world's biggest polluters fills me with hope that we can tackle climate change. But yesterday President Obama showed leaders around the globe what climate action looks like, and his timing couldn't be better.

In the run-up to this December's vital negotiations on worldwide climate action, we ought to be seeing bold statements like Obama's from every country - particularly those, like Britain, that have contributed the most to the problems we are now facing.

Unfortunately, our own Prime Minister appears to be doing the opposite. In the three short months that David Cameron has led his Conservative government, he has waged war on the renewables industry, on the small businesses and workers who were making our homes more comfortable and affordable to heat, and attempted to "go all out" for fracking.

We never expected great environmental progress from an austerity-obsessed Tory government, but the scale of the attack we have seen on every small step Britain has made towards fighting climate change has been galling. Instead of setting out our stall as a world leader in renewables by embracing the exciting technologies that allow us to breathe cleaner air, democratise our energy supply and enjoy greater energy security, we are now increasing our reliance on finite fossil fuels.

And worse, David Cameron still claims we need to tackle climate change.

Too often our Prime Minister talks about safeguarding our environment while scouring it for places to erect new fracking wells. Too often he boasts of leading the "greenest government ever" moments before bemoaning "green crap". Too often he offers tax breaks for the oil industry while cutting green initiatives because they are "unaffordable".

The reality is that in the sixth-largest economy in the world, we could be doing much more. It is time David Cameron recognised that it is his own policies of austerity which render renewables "unaffordable", and are wholly incompatible with the fight against climate change.

What we really cannot afford is to go on contributing to the warming of our planet, which increases our risk of dangerous storms, floods and heatwaves. By reversing austerity and creating an economy based not on maximising profits for the few, but on enriching everyone in society, we can reduce these risks.

And by doing more to cut our carbon emissions and move to a sustainable energy model, we can improve people's lives.

Instead of slashing subsidies for Britain's world-class offshore wind sector, Cameron should be offering stability and support. By investing and solar and wind energy, we can create new, highly skilled jobs that will help to rebalance our economy away from London's financial sector.

If Cameron wants to cut fuel bills, fracking and reduced building standards are not the way to go. A programme to invest in insulating Britain's homes would reduce fuel poverty, slash bills and fund thousands of new jobs in a way that would cut, not hike, our carbon emissions.

If he wants to improve our roads, he should not be building more of them. Instead he should be investing in clean, reliable and affordable public transport to reduce pollution, cut congestion and make our streets more pleasant places to BE.

The necessity of tackling climate change is not a barrier but a key opportunity to create the fairer economy Britain so desperately needs. If there was one single thing David Cameron could do to follow Obama's lead and make a strong statement ahead of December, it would be to announce significant investment and stable long-term rules to support a sustainable future.

Britain should be a world leader in tackling climate change. As it stands, it is lagging behind while the rest of the world powers ahead.

US President - Barack Obama's Impact on African Youth

Meron Semedar   |   August 6, 2015   10:45 PM ET

In July 2015, US President Barack Obama became the first sitting President to visit the Horn of Africa, as well as Kenya, his father's place of birth. Obama was also the first US President to speak to the African Union at its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. During his visit to Africa, the President met with head of states, hosted the entrepreneur's global summit, addressed the African Union, visited US Embassy personnel and, most importantly- engaged with young African leaders.


President Obama greeting youth audience members following his remarks. Source- The White House

Following on from this historic visit, President Obama initiated a three day summit, starting on 3rd August, with 500 young African leaders in Washington DC. During his opening statement, President Obama told the delegates that the summit will provide them with opportunities to create stronger networks and a platform to become global leaders. The aim of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) is to offer young Africans a chance to further educate themselves in the hope that, one day, they will be the future generation of African leaders.

Obama's visit to Africa has come at a very crucial time. Many African countries are experiencing fast economic growth and, as a result, there are many opportunities for international investors. The population of Africa is also increasing quickly and there has been a huge increase in middle class spending across the continent. Nonetheless, many African leaders are still using political power to further their personal interests.


Obama on stage at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with panelists. Source- The White House

In the 1960s, African countries started to gain independence, however, over the past 50 years Africa has seen little progress in eradicating poverty and encouraging democratic processes. At the gathering of Africa's future leaders in Kenya, Obama gave his views on, what he calls, the Pillars of Progress:

1. Democracy - which starts with a peacefully elected government.
2. Development - the encouragement of economic opportunity and dignity for all.
3. Choosing a future of peace and reconciliation.

During the AU address, Obama said the most important aim is to create opportunities for the next generation and to generate millions of jobs. Obama warned that Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to see Arab Spring style uprisings if future generations are not cared for. The president also discussed female empowerment, national and regional security, food security, renewable power enrichment, ending corruption and tribal ethnicity, and trade.


Obama delivering remarks in Nelson Mandela Plenary Hall at the African Union. Source- The White House

On governance, the president strongly stated that Africa does not need strong men and that no head of state should run for a third term in office. Obama believes that Africa's progress depends greatly on democracy. He also explained that as Africa changes, the world needs to change its approach too. Africa wants trade over aid. Africa wants partners not patrons, who will help them build. African people want to make their own choices, instead of the indignity of dependence.

Obama's visit offered many highlights and motivation to strive for change. However, it is, ultimately, up to the African heads of state to fundamentally change African politics and to show themselves to be good examples for the younger generations. Finally, it is also important that the youth of Africa help to build their nations and become productive and engaged citizens.

Lucy Sherriff   |   August 6, 2015    4:39 PM ET

Earlier this week, President Obama revealed new climate change plans to cut US carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

Over in the UK, David Cameron recently declared the 2015 Conservative government as the "greenest" ever - whilst simultaneously slashing solar power subsidies, cancelling plans to build onshore wind farms and canning requirements for new homes to be zero carbon.

After Ed Miliband said the urgency to address the climate change problem had gone out the window, perhaps it's time we stepped up our game?

Syria: Assad-Iran's Faustian Pact with ISIS

Nehad Ismail   |   August 6, 2015   10:19 AM ET

According to Zvi Bar'el the Israeli analyst writing in Haaretz 3rd June 2015 the "Assad regime forces abandoned the city of Palmyra and allowed ISIS to take it over unopposed, and it appears they may do the same in the southern province of Daraa, leaving ISIS to fight the other rebel groups on their behalf. Salim Idris, defense minister in the rebels' provisional government, said approximately 180 Syrian Army officers are currently serving with ISIS and coordinating the group's military operations with the army".

According to media reports in June 2014 the Assad regime had refrained from attacking ISIS bases. A Syrian government adviser told the New York Times' Anne Barnard this was indeed a deliberate policy designed to "tar" the broader opposition and "frame [the] choice" as either Assad or the extremists.
In a further twist that implicates the Assad regime in collusion with ISIS, on 6th February 2015 the US Embassy in Syria accused the regime of supporting ISIS advance on Syria's largest city, Aleppo. The Embassy tweeted:
"Reports indicate that the regime is making air-strikes in support of ISIL's advance on Aleppo, aiding extremists against Syrian population," said the post.
In a string of tweets, the U.S. embassy condemned Assad's actions, saying he "will never be an effective counterterrorism partner." Embassy operations have been suspended since 2012, but the Twitter account is still active.

In March 2014 the news media reported that the EU issued sanctions against "seven persons and six entities providing support to the Syrian regime as well as benefitting from it". They included George Haswani, a prominent Syrian businessman said to be in direct contact with Assad and accused of brokering oil deals between the regime and ISIS.
The sanctions against Haswani represent one of the first official positions taken by Western countries acknowledging the links between the terror group and the Syrian regime, a position long maintained by those in the region and beyond.

Philip Hammond UK Foreign Secretary announced at the time:
"We have also agreed to target individuals supplying oil to the regime, including George Haswani, a middleman buying oil from ISIL [Isis] on behalf of the regime. This listing gives yet another indication that Assad's 'war' on ISIL is a sham and that he supports them financially."

In January 2014 a report in the Daily Telegraph by Ruth Sherlock drew attention to the oil deals between ISIS and the Assad regime.
"The regime has "financed" the jihadists "by selling oil and gas from wells under their control to and through the regime".

The Iranian Link:
A question that puzzled Western observers what would Iran's motivation be to support a Sunni jihadist organizations like ISIS? In Syria, ISIS has forced the West to choose between the regime of Bashar al-Assad or a terrorist outfit. Given that choice, it was assumed that the West would back Assad, as did the Russians and the Chinese.
Cynically Iran is exploiting the Western fear of terrorism to make common cause with the West against ISIS.
But ample evidence exists to prove Iran's collusion with Al Qaeda. The US 9/11 Commission Report, had already established that Iran "facilitated the transit of Al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, including future hijackers. Iran, according to the report, wished to conceal any past evidence of its cooperation with Sunni terrorists' association with Al-Qaeda," but these connections continued.

At ISIL's headquarters in rural western Aleppo in March 2014 opposition forces discovered official documents, passports and SIM cards issued by the Iranian authorities to fighters from Chechnya and Kazakhstan. Doesn't this suggest some kind of connection between ISIL leaders and Iranian intelligence, of which rank and file of ISIS are likely ignorant?
ISIS suddenly emerged in Syria, at a time when the collapse of Assad's regime seemed imminent. The emergence of ISIS saved the Syrian regime by threatening the world that an alternative terrorist regime would replace Assad's.
A report in the Economist magazine 21st June 14 explained how ISIS was less interested in toppling the Assad's regime than fighting other groups.

ISIS has been criticized for its attacks on civilians and rival opposition groups. It has rarely targeted the Assad's regime and not a single barrel bomb has been dropped by the regime on ISIS.
Iran actually has a lot to gain from keeping ISIS alive. As long as the group survives, Iran can claim that their allies in Syria and Iraq are preventing a jihadist takeover -- an argument that raises Tehran's prestige and ensures it a degree of international support for their allies in both countries. This argument has so far worked. The Guardian reported in Sept 2014 that "the Syrian government and its close allies in Moscow and Tehran warned Barack Obama that an offensive against Islamic State (Isis) within Syria would violate international law". The implication is obvious: leave ISIS alone.

Sophie Brown   |   August 5, 2015    8:24 PM ET

The woman who interrupted Obama's speech during an event honouring LGBT Pride Month has spoken out about the moment that propelled her into the global spotlight.

Jennicet Gutiérrez cut off the president mid-speech when she called for the release of all LGBTQ immigrants from detention.

Footage from the event quickly became a viral sensation after Obama responded "Listen, you're in my house," and asked Gutiérrez to either be quiet or leave.

jennicet gutiérrez

Gutiérrez, a transgender woman, is a passionate LGBTQ rights activist and the co-founder of Familia, a 'trans queer liberation movement'.

Tired of being dubbed as a 'heckler' while the cameras showed Obama's witty retorts to her interjection, she spoke to Fusion.net about her experience in the White House.

"I was thinking to myself, what would have happened if they had joined me, if only 10 people joined me imagine the impact that would have," Gutiérrez said.

"When people called me a heckler, I felt somewhat disempowered. It attacks your character, your credibility, but most importantly your message. And it's a message that has to be heard because we can not tolerate any social injustices for the undocumented trans women in detention centres who are being abused and harassed and mistreated."

She went on to express her disappointment at the reaction of the crowd made up largely of prominent LGBTQ influencers.

Just days after Gutiérrez spoke out during Obama's speech, immigration officials announced that transgender immigrants would be housed in detention facilities that corresponded with their gender identity.