Thirty Years On

Thirty years ago tomorrow came the first breach in the Berlin Wall. Here is a photo I took at the Wall and the Brandenburg Gate as a wide-eyed young tourist around midnight on New Years Eve, 1989, a few weeks later.

My monthly travel column on Monday at 3 Quarks Daily will be a quiet commemoration of the end of the Cold War era.

For background, try Constanze Stelzenmüller’s essay German Lessons, Thirty years after the end of history: Elements of an education, here.

See also The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte    

and the newly released Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Iain MacGregor  

Taylor Testifies

American Chargé d’ Affaires to Ukraine William B. Taylor, characterized by the White House as a “radical unelected bureaucrat,” testified before the House Intelligence Committee today and I read his opening statement tonight. Remarkable. I’d just suggest that when John Bolton is the adult in the room, we are in an entirely new American foreign policy universe.

It’s Not Just our Corrupt President

I agree with Sarah Chayes, former NPR foreign correspondent, adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and currently a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, who wrote this morning that our entire influence-peddling, revolving-door system of governance needs a thorough housecleaning. Having visited Ukraine last month, I’ve had a lot of smug fun showing you pictures like the two below and those in this previous post. They show the excess and corruption Ukrainians tried to upend by ousting President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. President Yanukovich lived in this place on a salary of around a thousand dollars a month.

Yanukovych’s fleeing to the protection of Russia was a victory for everyday Ukrainian people who forced him out, no question. But it is not to the honor of the United States that as soon as Yanukovych was safe in Vladimir Putin’s arms the American Vice President’s son came ’round, and as Chayes put it in her article headlined No Excuses for Hunter Biden,

“He had no prior experience in the gas industry, nor with Ukrainian regulatory affairs…. He did have one priceless qualification: his unique position as the son of the vice president of the United States, newborn Ukraine’s most crucial ally. Weeks before Biden came on, Ukraine’s government had collapsed amid a popular revolution, giving its gas a newly strategic importance as an alternative to Russia’s, housed in a potentially democratic country. Hunter’s father was comfortably into his second term as vice president—and was a prospective future president himself.”

Despite any apparent qualifications beyond bloodline, Biden-the-younger was named a director of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer.

Most of us, all but President Trump’s 30-something percent hardcore supporters, can agree that this president has to go. To my fellow Trump opponents who advocate electing Joe Biden to “get back to normal,” I suggest that the status quo ante won’t do, either.

So now for more of the self-satisfied display of corruption and greed, Ukrainian-style:

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s home from the rear. The balcony leading from the President’s bedroom, top right, afforded him a lovely private view of the Dnieper River. The corresponding balcony, on the left, opened from his girlfriend’s bedroom.

The view from the front of the former president’s home.

Huts and History

Red Sky Shepherd’s Huts builds outbuildings. Among their sheds, one model offers “timber frame construction with tongue and groove interior pine walls. Each wall and floor are five layers deep (with) … a cavity filled with quality sheep’s wool insulation.” One specific hut of this type features “a corner-set wood-burning stove … (and) a pull-out double sofa bed.”

This particular hut connects the most historically disastrous British Prime Minister I can name to a really big personal dilemma. For in this hut, his publicists would have it at least, David Cameron has been writing his memoir, For the Record.

For the Record is published by Harper Collins, a subsidiary of News Corp, a Rupert Murdoch company. The book is available for pre-order just now on Amazon in the U.S. for $40.00.

I’d be interested to read Mr. Cameron’s version of events. The problem: paying a person who has done great harm. A couple of other books come to mind – those of the East German spy master Markus Wolf and O. J. Simpson.

Simpson’s 2006 If I Did It was to be published by ReganBooks, which is also an imprint of Murdoch’s HarperCollins, but universal disgust led to a court awarding royalties to the victim’s family. So that worked out okay, although it was an easy choice not to be stained by reading that book.

•••••

Cameron, for all his slack-jawed inattention, was no O.J. Simpson. To his credit, the New Statesman reports that

“Cameron is donating the £800,000 that the publisher HarperCollins paid for his book to charities for Alzheimer’s, veteran servicemen and childhood disability (his six-year-old son, Ivan, who suffered from severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy, died in 2009).

(Do not fret for the former Prime Minister. His fee for speeches about Brexit: £2000 per minute.)

Mr. Cameron’s long-delayed book drops next Thursday in the U.K., the following week in the United States. Suppose For the Record is a Brexit tell-all and a ripping good read. You reckon?

Amazon isn’t encouraging:

“In For the Record, he will explain how the governments he led transformed the UK economy while implementing a modern, compassionate agenda that included reforming education and welfare, legalizing gay marriage, honoring the UK’s commitment to overseas aid and spearheading environmental policies.”

Ehhh.

I imagine Cameron will claim to have been undermined by the current Prime Minister and Michael Gove, who is currently heading up planning for a crash out of the EU. If he does and he was, he will have been betrayed by dicey bedfellows. Dicey bedfellows who, as it happens, run the government just now.

Former P.M. Cameron will pursue a cautious book tour:

“The only events on the calendar are An Evening with David Cameron, at a yet-to-be-revealed central London location on 6 October, and an interview by the BBC’s Sophie Raworth at the Times-sponsored Cheltenham literature festival a day earlier.”

Meanwhile the U.K. parliament has been sent home by a Prime Minister eager for an unimpeded stomp across the political landscape through the upcoming weeks of party conferences. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost every parliamentary vote since he assumed office while withdrawing the whip (in American, that means he stripped the benefits of running on behalf of his party) from 21 party stalwarts, meaning they can’t stand as Tories in the next election, and as a result now commands a distinct minority.

You can see why Mr. Johnson might wish to send his parliamentary opponents back to the provinces. You can also see the peril to the British system of governance. The demons David Cameron unleashed with his 2016 Brexit referendum vote are circling their devilish roost.

Johnson’s boorish challenge to the parliament’s (unwritten) constitutional authority speeds up everything from the prospects for a new general election to the collapse of the confidence and supply agreement with Northern Ireland’s DUP to Scottish succession. History is revving up in the United Kingdom.

But about those memoirs: seems like the Trump tell-alls are shallow and cash-motivated. I’ve passed on them. Have I missed anything? Anyone? I’ve enjoyed two Brexit books, Tim Shipman’s All Out War and Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Demons. But what to do on Cameron’s book?

•••••

I had a dear German friend who spent her life, spanning the entire division of her country, in western Berlin. She would not countenance buying the East German spymaster Marcus Wolf’s 1999 memoir Man Without A Face (co-authored by Anne McElvoy). For Inge it was a bridge too far. Wouldn’t buy it, wouldn’t read it.

Still, conflicted, I just may enrich the bank accounts of Wolf’s estate, Cameron’s charities and Wolf’s and Cameron’s publishers, and in some kind of odd, backwards tribute to Inge, read both their memoirs together. I’ll bet Man Without a Face is not turgid. Place your bets on the Cameron book?