Tag: United Kingdom

  • By-election results make poor predictors.  The government of the day can often count on a swing against it by irritated voters keen to remind it they exist.  It’s an opportunity to mete out mild punishment.  But the loss of the seat in Hartlepool by the British Labour party is ominous for party apparatchiks.  For the first time in 62 years, the Conservatives won the traditional heartland Labour seat, netting 15,529 votes.  Labour’s tally: 8,589.  The swing against Labour had been a devastating 16%.

    The scene of Hartlepool is one of profound, social decay.  Its decline, wrote Tanya Gold on the eve of the by-election, “meets you like a wall of heat.”  She noted an era lost, the trace of lingering memories.  Hartlepool was once known for making ships.  “Now it makes ennui.”  Male unemployment is a touch under 10%. Rates of child poverty are some of the highest in the country.  Services have been withdrawn; the once fine Georgian and Victorian houses are mouldering.

    The seat presented the Conservatives an opportunity to take yet another brick out of Labour’s crumbling red wall.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson made visits to back his candidate, Jill Mortimer, hardly a stellar recruit.  Labour was suffering establishment blues.  They struggled to find a pro-Brexit candidate.  Their choice – Paul Williams – was a Remainer who formerly represented the seat of Stockton, which returned a leave vote of 69.6%.  It was a statement of London-centric politics, the Labour of the city rather than the locality; the Labour of university education rather than the labour of regional working class.

    Birmingham Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, formerly shadow defence secretary, is bitter about the estrangement and emergence of what are effectively two parties.  “A London-based bourgeoisie, with the support of the brigades of woke social media warriors, has effectively captured the party,” he lamented in an article for the conservative think tank Policy Exchange.  “They mean well, of course, but their politics – obsessed with identity, division and even tech utopianism – have more in common with those of Californian high society than the kind of people who voted in Hartlepool yesterday.”

    Energy had been expended on such causes as trying to pull down Churchill’s statue rather than “helping people pull themselves up in the world.”  The patriotism of the voters had not been taken seriously enough.  “They are more alert to rebranding exercises than spin doctors give them credit for.”

    Labour’s campaign in Hartlepool was not so much off-message as lacking one.  “Today,” penned progressive columnist and Labour Party supporter Owen Jones, “we saw the fruits of a truly fascinating experiment”.  It was one featuring a political party going to an election “without a vision or a coherent message against a government that has both in spades.”

    The tendency was repeated in local elections, with ballots being conducted across Wales, England and Scotland in what was called “Super Thursday”.  The Teesside mayoralty was regained by Ben Houchen for the Conservatives by a convincingly crushing 72.7%, three times that of Labour, prompting Will Hutton to see a new ideology of interventionist conservatism.  Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer could do little other than call the results “bitterly disappointing” and sack the party’s chair and national campaign coordinator, Angela Rayner.  He is chewing over the idea of moving his party’s headquarters out of London. The feeling of panic is unmistakable.

    What is even more startling is the enormous latitude that has been given to Johnson.  Despite bungling the response to the initial phases of the pandemic, an insatiable appetite for scandals and a seedy, authoritarian approach to power, Labor voters have not turned away, let alone had second thoughts about this Tory.  His mendacity and pure fibbing is not something that turns people off him; the stream of Daily Telegraph confections from the 1990s on what those supposedly nasty bureaucrats in Brussels were up to had a lasting effect on Britain’s relations with Europe.  Mendacity can work.

    Last April, Jonathan Freedland examined the prime minister’s resume of scandals and found it heaving.  He shifted the cost of removing dangerous cladding in the wake of the Grenfell fire, along with other hazards, to ordinary leaseholders.  He slashed the UK aid budget and reduced contributions to the UN family planning program.  He delayed lockdowns in March, September and the winter in 2020, moves that aided Britain lead Europe’s coronavirus death toll.  There were the contracts to supply personal protective equipment to Tory donors and the frittering away of £37 billion on a test-and-trace programme “that never really worked.”  And that was just a modest sampling.

    The refurbishment scandal is particularly rich, given the bundle Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds have spent on their private residence.  The public purse will foot the bill to the value of £30,000, but the amount spent was more in the order of £200,000.  With a very heavy axe to grind, Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former advisor and confidant turned blogging snitch, suggested that the PM’s grand plan was to have that inflated amount covered by donors.   “The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.”

    Johnson, for his part, claims that he covered the costs himself, though he refuses to answer questions put to him on whether Lord David Brownlow initially covered it, and was then repaid.  Not declaring this transaction would have broken electoral law.  The Electoral Commission has not found the affair particularly amusing, and is investigating the refurbishment transactions.

    The disaster that befell Labour in the 2019 general election sees little prospect of being reversed.  Starmer, generally seen as the more decent chap, is rapidly diminishing as a chance for Downing Street honours.  As for Johnson, Freedland suggests that the good fortune of the scandal ridden PM reveals an electorate “still seduced by a tousled-hair rebel shtick and faux bonhomie that should have palled years ago.”

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • In 2020 Kier Starmer became UK Labour leader and promptly reneged on just about every campaign promise he’d made to adhere to the policies, traditional Party principals, and post-war consensus values, that had been restored under Jeremy Corbyn’s previous tenureship.  Starmer has withdrawn the Party Whip from Corbyn – effectively exiling him – and more recently given interviews about the Party supposedly having to ‘recover’ from Corbyn’s leadership.  In this he’s been consistently aided and abetted by various commentariat neoliberal mouthpieces in the corporate media, similarly implying that the Blairite era was some sort of successful norm.

    This spin on recent history presupposes two false premises.  Firstly, that the era of Corbyn’s grassroots mobilisation was some sort of oxymoron democratic failure, this the available evidence belies.  Secondly, that rather than being a process of direct democratic representation on behalf of the mass of society, electoral politics should be treated as some sort of advertising/marketing game designed to facilitate the careers of a small handful of individuals, operating on behalf of highly financed corporate lobbyists. This was not what the Labour Party was formed to do.

    As a representational organisation, the Labour Party had been originally founded by mass movement Trade Unionists and Chartist campaigners for the poor. Post-war, in terms of representing the economic interests of society’s economically oppressed working-class, the marginalised, and have-nots, it had prior to neoliberal entryism, some similarities with the pre-Clinton insurgency Democratic Party. Contrary to Starmer’s and corporate media’s constructed narrative of supposed neoliberal electoral efficiency, the evidence from recent history of collapsing General Election voter numbers demonstrates quite starkly, that Labour’s social base, has realised it’s being democratically denied the representation from its Party, it historically could have expected and desired.  Its societal grassroots therefore recognised it had no vested interest in continuing to vote.

    The Labour Party came unsuccessfully through Thatcherism smeared and bullied by the right-wing Murdoch and Rothermere Press who day-to-day, did the propaganda heavy-lifting for the Tory Party’s campaigning. From this era, Neil Kinnock was the last traditional Labour leader. Kinnock invoked working-class authenticity by claiming to be a proud Welsh socialist – though having subsequently accepted a peerage and later supported neoliberal entryism, this historical claim would seem to have been just spin.

    That said, Labour under faux but perhaps at least perceived real traditionalist Kinnock, came out of the 1992 General Election losing, yet with an improved 11.5 million votes. In 1997, years of Tory corruption resulted in Tony Blair riding into power on an anti-Conservative turnout for New Labour, of 13.5 million votes. Yet, five years of pandering to big money and therefore economically attacking his own supporters, meant that at the 2001 General Election only 10.7million voters thought the Party still represented them. Blair had lost nearly 3 million voters — 2 million the Party had previously picked up off the Tories, and nearly a further million, down on the Party’s performance under Kinnock had disappeared on apparent electoral strike (significantly this is well before the Iraq War). In 2005 the deterioration continued under Blair with the Party albeit staying in power, but losing another million Labour voters, now down to 9.5 million.  In 2010 Labour’s neoliberal former Chancellor Gordon Brown, led the Party to defeat and astonishingly only 8.5 million people now thought the Party actually represented them.

    In all during this period Blair and Brown managed — via their self-serving corporate lobbying aligned curatorship of the Party — to burn their way through the allegiances of 5 million voters, while losing two thirds of Labour’s once 400,000 strong membership, and this during a period when the UK population was actually increasing. If Labour’s social base had any voice in an ever more unrepresentative billionaire orientated corporate media, somebody surely would have asked ‘just who have these neoliberals been working for?’

    Labour’s new young Leader Ed Miliband, rhetorically made the pretence in the 2015 General Election, of apparently moving the Party back to the left and from Gordon Brown’s mere 8.5 million votes, managed to stabilise the rout of its disappearing grassroots, but still only obtaining an electorally failing and underachieving, 9.5 million voters support.

    Jeremy Corbyn then became Leader and the Party in losing the 2017 General Election, still dramatically managed to turn around 16 years of decline, with 12.8 million voters now believing Labour once again represented them. Indicative of the renewed long-term health of Labour its now 0.5 million members made it the largest political organisation in Europe.  All of this was achieved with the neoliberal Labour right doing everything possible to bring Corbyn down in the two years prior to the General Election – even restaging a Leadership contest within a year of Corbyn first success.

    In the run-up to the 2019 General Election the Party had to contend with a partisan corporate media at war with it, an ongoing pro-Israel moral panic, an attempt to subvert the Brexit referendum by globalised free trade interests, clearly designed to change Labour’s leadership and direction.  All of which was supported by the Party’s neoliberal right.

    Given that much of Labour’s heartlands favoured leaving the EU, the anti-democratic attack on the referendum result was probably the most damaging. If you’re not respecting votes cast you can’t expect voters to support you. In any case, contrary to media spin, the referendum result had not been particularly close. The available pool of voters was 46 million. 16 million voted to remain in the EU and lost. That meant 30 million people either favoured leaving or in abstaining, were content to go along with the democratic outcome, whichever way — Leave/Remain — it came out.

    Consequently Labour under Corbyn lost a lot of MPs in the 2019 General Election, many in Party heartlands. This was spun in the media as one of Labour’s worst ever results. Actually, even in these circumstances, 10.2 million voters felt that the values and manifesto of Labour with Corbyn leadership represented them. This was more than voted for the Party under Ed Milliband, more than voted for the Party when Gordon Brown was leader. It was even more than voted for the Party during Blair’s last election win. The nature of Britain’s ‘first past the post’ voting system means that if your Party turn-out is not concentrated in specific districts but instead spread-out, you might enjoy popular support but not constituency MP successes.  But at least under a Party traditionalist like Corbyn the future health of Labour as a social movement could be regarded as secure – at least until Starmer came along.

    All of which begs the question once the dust from electoral marketing has settled, why comparatively do neoliberals haemorrhage votes so quickly? In the case of Blair and Brown, in wasn’t only the case their reputations were in tatters with Muslims and anti-war groups. In order to maintain a low tax regime on the rich and corporate elites, there was hardly a part of working-class life that was not attacked by them. They abolished the mandatory student grant and introduced fees, so now deeply indebted students had no reason to be grateful to them.  The poor, who had their access to welfare cut while being stigmatised as ‘scroungers… part of a culture of dependency’, had no reason to vote neoliberal New Labour. Low income social housing residents told, their rents would be forced up to market levels, similarly had no reason for gratitude.  And of course neoliberal employment casualisation means that a generation of young workers now have less job protections than previously enjoyed by their grandparents.

    As Karl Marx put it and contrary to neoliberal political marketing: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.”

    We might also presume that the Clintons have done similar damage to the long-term culture of the Democrat Party.  The people of Arkansas experienced three terms of the Clintons in the governor’s office. They had two terms of the Clintons in the White House.  Yet in the 2014 US poverty rankings Arkansas came forty-eighth out of fifty states. One of the two worse-off states was Louisiana. It might be glib and not particularly original but it is possible to conclude that having the Clintons represent you is nearly as bad as experiencing Hurricane Katrina.

    Of course it is difficult to identify the same level of voter decline in the United States because in the same 1992 to 2020 time period, the country’s population increased from 256,990,607 to 331,449,281.  This increase of 74,458,674 is so large it’s roughly the size of Trumps 2020 second ever largest Presidential voter turnout (obviously this does not necessarily indicate the same people voted for him).

    However, there is one US example that is quite helpful. In 2008 Barack Obama campaigned for the Presidency – like Blair in 97 – as the anti-status-quo ‘change candidate’ and picked up a historically large voter turnout of 69,498,516. But in office he continued foreign wars, protected the professional banking class, little was done to improve the economic or educational opportunities of working-class Americans, and Obama impotently rung his hands while a Black Lives Matter crisis played out on the streets.

    In 2012’s election Obama’s turnout dropped to 65,915,795. The resulting loss of 3.5 million voters, who no longer felt represented, is not huge in a country the size of the US. But what happened next is interesting. In the run up to the 2016 Presidential election the Democrats could at least claim to have expanded US medical cover. Yet Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump despite him being depicted in the corporate media as a bogeyman. Clinton’s loss was spun in the corporate media as a popular vote win.  However her 65,853,514 turnout meant she’d struggled to just about get into the ballpark of Obama’s declining second, Presidential vote count.  Significantly Clinton had only made it into the race courtesy of DNC shenanigans in her favour at the expense of grassroots darling Bernie Sanders.

    In 2020 Joe Biden made it into the White House on the back of a massive record breaking anti-Trump vote of 81,268,924 million. Biden is little better than neoliberal Hillary Clinton.  Over the next five years every failure, every betrayal of leftist grassroots Democrats will – according to past form – erode that voter turnout. Short of Trump or a significant number of his older supporters dropping dead, come the next election, most of his fanatical 74,216,154 voter turnout will be intact.  The losers will be those who wanted a fairer America but got stuck with neoliberals.

    Here in the UK there are local elections on Thursday May 6 2012. Labour Leader Starmer has spent the last year, attacking, smearing and banning the Party’s own constituency groups and supporters. The word is that Labour voters are back on electoral strike. Some have formed The Northern Independence Party (NIP). Activists are refusing to canvass and campaign for the Party.  If results are as bad as expected, Starmer will no doubt blame Corbyn and his legacy. The corporate media will likely choose to echo this untruth.  The message from this is that grassroots groups need to find a way turning their Parties back into representative social movements, instead of marketing machines for unscrupulous careerists, in pursuit of corporate lobbying money.

    Gavin Lewis is a freelance Black-British mixed-race writer and academic. He has published in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States on film, media, politics, cultural theory, race, and representation. He has taught critical theory and film and cultural studies at a number of British universities. Read other articles by Gavin.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • British justice is a splendidly odd animal.  Its miscarriage is one of those wonders of institutional repetition.  When textbooks are written on the subject, one will feature prominently.  On April 23 this year, the convictions of 39 former sub-postmasters were quashed by the criminal division of the Court of Appeal.  They had been accused, and convicted, for theft and dishonesty after the UK Post Office installed the wonky wonder of the Horizon IT system.

    There were figures such as Seema Misra, convicted for stealing £74,000 in cash from the Post Office branch under her stewardship in West Byfleet in 2010.  At the time, the press delighted in calling her the “pregnant thief”.  Her husband was assaulted by locals.  Della Robinson, who ran the Dukinfield, Greater Manchester Post Office, could not account for £17,000 by 2012.  She was suspended, reported to the police and faced a community service sentence.

    The reason for their convictions lay in the accounting nightmare produced by the Horizon system.  It had ominous beginnings, growing up from a contract between the computer company ICL, the Post Office and the Benefits Agency, all part of what were termed private finance initiatives (PFI).  Developed by Japanese company Fujitsu, Horizon featured a swipe card system for paying pensions and benefits via the counters of Post Office branches.  The venture proved calamitous, ailed by chronic mismanagement, weaknesses in the technology and general human incompetence.  The cost of that endeavour to the British taxpayer: £700 million.

    Refusing to wipe the slate clean, the Post Office beefed up the Horizon project, using it to convert accounting done through paper format into an electronic system.  Over time, this made it the largest IT contract in Europe not connected with the military.   But the stench refused to go away.  “Serious doubts over the reliability of the software remained,” warned the Post Office board of directors in their minutes in September 1999.

    Glitches duly mounted.  Variations in revenue in some branches were noted.  Two months after Horizon began operating, the Post Office branch in Craig-y-Don in Wales showed up a “variance” totalling £6,000.  In time, these proliferated. In some cases, sub-postmasters, seeing these errors as not occasioned by computer error but their own, sought to cover revenue discrepancies with their own resources.  Their contracts did mention that shortfalls be covered in instances of “carelessness or error”.

    Between 2000 and 2014, the Post Office, with witch-hunting zeal, prosecuted a stunning 736 sub-postmasters, seeking convictions for false accounting and theft.  Many were financially ruined.  A number took to addiction, suffered ill-health and premature death.  The sheer number facing charges raised an obvious question: how could there have been so many copy-cat crimes perpetrated by supposedly upstanding workers? (The Post Office itself admitted to investing time identifying and recruiting appropriate candidates.)  The more troubling, and logical reason: the continuing, near manic refusal to acknowledge the gremlins in the Horizon system.

    The sub-postmasters fought back.  In December 2019, the Post Office agreed to settle with 555 claimants, accepting that it had previously erred in its “dealings with a number of postmasters”, agreeing to pay £58m in damages, with claimants receiving a £12 million share after legal fees.

    Battle that year was also waged in the High Court through several trials.  The Post Office, remarkably, attempted to tar the presiding judge Sir Peter Fraser in one case with the brush of bias, suggesting he step down.  The failed effort to recuse him had arisen because of a previous ruling that over 500 sub-postmasters had been wrongly held responsible for Horizon’s accounting bungles.   In another of Justice Fraser’s judgments handed down in December 2019, the Post Office was accused of showing “simple institutional obstinacy or refusal” in considering “any possible alternatives to their view of Horizon, which was maintained regardless of the weight of factual evidence to the contrary.”  Reality was ignored.  “It amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.”

    The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) proceeded to refer 42 sub-postmaster cases to the Court of Appeal.  The judges were charged with considering whether the prosecutions had been an abuse of court process and whether the convictions were unsafe. The salient consideration was whether the Horizon accounting system, already damned by Fraser, was reliable or not.

    To the last, the Post Office, rather than conceding in full error, fought.  It did concede that 39 of the 42 former sub-postmasters “did not or could not have a fair trial.”  But in 35 of those 39 cases, it objected to the claim that the prosecutions were “an affront to the public conscience”.

    In the criminal division of the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Holroyde and his fellow judges found the “failures of investigation and disclosure were in our judgment so egregious as to make the prosecution of any of the ‘Horizon cases’ an affront to the conscience of the court.”  The Post Office had effectively reversed the burden of proof by firstly assuming that the Horizon system was reliable and placing the onus upon the sub-postmasters to show why shortfalls had been registered.  “Denied any disclosure of material capable of undermining the prosecution case, defendants were inevitably unable to discharge that improper burden.”  Their prosecutions, convictions and sentences were pursued “on the basis that the Horizon data must be correct, and cash must therefore be missing, when in fact there could be no confidence as to that foundation.”

    The snarling ugliness of conduct by the Post Office was laid bare.  It refused to comply with its own obligations when prosecuting the sub-postmasters using Horizon data.  It doggedly insisted that the sub-postmasters “make good all losses and could lose their employment if they did not do so.”  This was all done despite the selection of those very same individuals as trustworthy occupants of their positions.  The Post Office also dismissed claims that the shortfalls had arisen because of “an error or bug in the system”.  Internal documentation dealing with the explanation by one sub-postmaster that a system error had occurred was contemptuously swatted as “jumping on the Horizon bandwagon”.

    Of the 42 original appellants, only three – Wendy Cousins, Stanley Fell and Neelam Hussain – failed to achieve their aim.  Their convictions were found to be safe, as “the reliability of Horizon data was not essential to the prosecution case”.  For the rest, a grotesque, wearing chapter of British injustice had been reversed.  An unquestioning faith and dogma, alloyed with some venality, had been repudiated.  Sadly, the Post Office executives, board members and those at Fujitsu, remain at large, ready for the next erring.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • On 9 April 2021, retired physician and health and environmental campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason wrote to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (DEPA). She wanted to draw the agency’s attention to the findings that indicate the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup causes high levels of mortality following contact exposure in bumble bees (glyphosate-formulated herbicides are the most widely used weedicides in agriculture across the globe).

    This, Mason argued, has led to a decline of bumblebees in Denmark. She asked the agency why it had used “fraudulent science” on glyphosate from the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency, which in turn take their ‘science’ from Monsanto/Bayer, rather than from the direct observations of The Danish Nature Agency.

    Mason’s correspondence focused not only on the destructive environmental impacts of glyphosate but also on the devastating human health aspects.

    In relation to sanctioning the continued use of glyphosate in Europe, Mason has previously noted that it was totally unacceptable, possibly negligent or even criminal, for the European Union to have allowed a group of plant scientists on the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF) – whose knowledge of human physiology was so lacking that they did not recognise that glyphosate has effects on humans – to make decisions that affect human health.

    PAFF’s role was pivotal in the decision to re-licence the use of glyphosate in the EU in 2017.

    To date, aside from the DEPA acknowledging receipt of Mason’s letter, there has been no response to the issues raised.

    As a follow up, Mason has sent the latest insights to DEPA on the Monsanto-Bayer lawsuits in the US. Three cases brought by Lee Johnson, Edwin Hardeman and Alva and Alberta Pilliod have already gone to trial. In each case, the courts found that Roundup caused their cancers and that Monsanto hid the risks of its product.

    Mason also forwarded information to Magnus Hennicke, the health minister, indicating the role glyphosate plays in fuelling cancers and other diseases in Denmark. Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fishery Rasmus Prehn and Special Adviser Casper Steen Petersen also received copies of this information.

    Their attention was drawn to the Institute for Responsible Technology claims that cancers caused by Roundup include non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bone cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer.

    Mason also quoted Robert F. Kennedy Jr, the renowned environmental attorney, who in 2018 talked of:

    … cascading scientific evidence linking glyphosate to a constellation of other injuries that have become prevalent since its introduction, including obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, autism, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, brain, breast and prostate cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and declining sperm counts. Strong science suggests glyphosate is the culprit in the exploding epidemics of celiac disease, colitis, gluten sensitivities, diabetes and non-alcoholic liver cancer which, for the first time, is attacking children as young as 10.

    Mason concluded her correspondence by saying:

    I will leave Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (to whom I have also sent a copy) and other ministers to demand answers from the Danish Environmental Protection Agency. Are they or their relatives suffering from any of these diseases – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc? Until Roundup is eliminated from food and from drinking water, these conditions will continue to afflict us all. That means that farmers must stop using Roundup.

    Rosemary Mason has been writing to officials in the UK and Europe about the effects of Roundup and other agrochemicals for over a decade, documenting the health and environmental impacts as well as the institutional corruption that has led to their continued use. Her many reports are littered with peer reviewed scientific literature to support her claims and can be accessed on the academia.edu website.

    New study

    It seems that not a month goes by until some new paper or study appears and supports what Mason has been saying for a long time. For example, according to the recent multiple author paper ‘In-depth comparative toxicogenomics and Roundup herbicides’, glyphosate and Roundup changes gene function and causes DNA damage.

    The research found that glyphosate and glyphosate-formulated herbicides activate mechanisms involved in cancer development, including DNA damage – and these effects occur at doses assumed by regulators to have no adverse effects. The study found that DNA damage was caused by oxidative stress, a destructive imbalance in the body that can cause a long list of diseases.

    Writing on the GMWatch website, Claire Robinson summarises the findings and the policy implications. She states that the findings, according to the EU’s pesticide law, should result in a ban on glyphosate and all its formulations.

    The study was led by Dr Michael Antoniou and Dr Robin Mesnage at King’s College London. It builds on the findings of a previous study by the same authors. In that study, the findings showed that glyphosate and Roundup, given at doses that regulators say are safe, result in gut microbiome disturbances and oxidative stress, with indications that the liver is affected and possibly damaged.

    In the new follow-up study, the researchers carried out some of the standard tests that regulators require the pesticide industry to conduct to gain market authorisation for their products – namely blood biochemistry and kidney and liver histopathology (microscopic examination of tissue).

    They also carried out in-depth tests (molecular profiling) that are not demanded by regulators or typically carried out by the industry. In addition, the researchers undertook tests that can detect direct damage to DNA.

    Robinson notes that, worryingly for public health, it was the non-standard molecular profiling tests that are not required by pesticide regulators that were most revealing.

    Roundup was found to alter the expression of 96 genes in the liver specifically linked to DNA damage and oxidative stress as well as disruption of circadian rhythms or ‘body clocks’. The findings strongly suggest that the key changes in gene function reflective of oxidative stress and DNA damage was due to glyphosate and not the additional substances (adjuvants) present in the Roundup formulation. Direct DNA damage to the liver was found to increase with glyphosate exposure.

    Protect public health

    Claire Robinson says that these findings potentially constitute a bombshell that could end the authorisation of glyphosate in the EU because the EU pesticide regulation (1107/2009) has what is known as hazard-based cut-off criteria.

    She states:

    This means that if a pesticide active ingredient is shown to cause a certain type of harm to health at whatever dose, it must be banned. One of the named types of harm is damage to DNA. The discovery that glyphosate alone damages DNA in a living animal should, if regulators follow the law, result in a ban on glyphosate.

    The study indicated that both glyphosate and its commercial formulation Roundup activate mechanisms involved in cancer development, causing gene expression changes reflecting oxidative stress and DNA damage.

    The UK is currently pushing for the deregulation of genetically engineered crops and products and the non-regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) derived from newer techniques like gene-editing. This in itself is worrying given the scientific evidence pointing to the health and ecological dangers associated with this technology.

    At the same time, however, the government’s proposed strategy would only further serve the bottom line of the agrochemical companies while contributing to the ongoing public health crisis brought about by their products.

    For instance, the recent paper ‘Herbicide Resistance: Another Hot Agronomic Trait for Plant Genome Editing’ (in the peer reviewed journal ‘Plants’) says that, in spite of claims from GMO promoters that gene editing will reduce pesticide use, what we can expect is just more of the same – GMO herbicide-tolerant crops and increased herbicide use.

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that he wants to “liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules”. The type of ‘liberation’ Johnson really means is the UK adopting unassessed GM crops and food and a continuation of the chemical bombardment of our food, environment and bodies.

    It is time for Johnson to serve the public not the bottom line of the government’s corporate masters.

    It is time for the EU to ‘follow the science’ and side-line industry influence.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • He seemed frustrated.  While Scott Morrison’s international colleagues at the Leaders Summit on Climate were boastful in what their countries would do in decarbonising the global economy, Australia’s feeble contribution was put on offer.  Unable to meet his own vaccination targets, the Australian prime minister has decided to confine the word “target” in other areas of policy to oblivion.  Just as the term “climate change” has been avoided in the bowels of Canberra bureaucracy, meeting environmental objectives set in stone will be shunned.

    Ahead of the summit, Nobel Prize laureates had added their names to a letter intending to ruffle summit participants.  Comprising all fields, the 101 signatories urged countries “to act now to avoid a climate catastrophe by stopping the expansion of oil, gas and coal.”  Governments had “lagged, shockingly, behind what science demands and what a growing and powerful people-powered movement knows: urgent action is needed to end the expansion of fossil fuel production; phase out current production; and invest in renewable energy.”

    Deficiencies in the current climate change approach were noted: the Paris Agreement, for instance, makes no mention of oil, gas or coal; the fossil fuel industry was intending to expand, with 120% more coal, oil and gas slated for production by 2030. “The solution,” warn the Nobel Laureates, “is clear: fossil fuels must be kept in the ground.”

    To Morrison and his cabinet, these voices are mere wiseacres who sip coffee and down the chardonnay with relish, oblivious to dirty realities.  His address to the annual dinner of the Business Council of Australia took the view that Australia would “not achieve net zero in the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities.”  Having treated environmental activism as delusionary, he suggested that industries not be taxed, as they provided “livelihoods for millions of Australians off the planet, as our political opponents sought to do when they were given the chance.”

    US President Joe Biden had little appetite for such social distinctions in speaking to summit participants.  (Unfortunately for the President, the preceding introduction by Vice President Kamala Harris was echoed on the live stream, one of various glitches marking the meeting.)   After four years of a crockery breaking retreat from the subject of climate change, this new administration was hoping to steal back some ground and jump the queue in combating climate change.  The new target: cutting greenhouse gas emissions by half from 2005 levels by 2030.

    Biden wished to construct “a critical infrastructure to produce and deploy clean energy”.  He saw workers in their numbers capping abandoned oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal mines.  He dreamed of autoworkers in their efforts to build “the next generation of electric vehicles” assisted by electricians and the installing of 500,000 charging stations.

    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken laboured the theme of togetherness in his opening remarks: “We’re in this together. And what each of our nations does or does not do will not only impact people of our country, but people everywhere.”  But Blinken was also keen, at least in terms of language, to seize some ground for US leadership.  “We want every country here to know: We want to work with you to save our planet, and we’re all committed to finding every possible avenue of cooperation on climate change.”

    A central part of this policy will involve implementing the Climate Finance Plan, intended to provide and mobilise “financial resources to assist developing countries reduce and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience and adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

    While solidarity and collaboration were points the Biden administration wished to reiterate, ill-tempered political rivalries were hard to contain.  On April 19, Blinken conceded during his address to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that China was “the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles.”  It held, he sulkily noted, almost “a third of the world’s renewable energy patents.”

    Environmental policy, in other words, had to become the next terrain of competition; in this, a good degree of naked self-interest would be required.  “If we don’t catch up, America will miss the chance to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people.”  Forget bleeding heart arguments about solidarity and collective worth: the US, if it was to win “the long-term strategic competition with China” needed to “lead the renewable energy revolution.”

    Others in attendance also had their share of chest-thumping ambition. The United Kingdom’s Boris Johnson was all self-praise about his country having the “biggest offshore wind capacity of any country in the word, the Saudi Arabia of wind as I never tire of saying.”  The country was half-way towards carbon neutrality.  He also offered a new target: cutting emissions by 78 percent under 1990 levels by 2035.  Wishing to emphasise his seriousness of it all, Johnson claimed that combating climate change was not “all about some expensive politically correct green act of ‘bunny hugging’.”

    Canada also promised a more ambitious emissions reduction target: the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) would be reduced by 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.  “Canada’s Strengthened Climate Plan,” stated Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “puts us on track to not just meet but to exceed our 2030 emissions goal – but we were clearly aware that more must be done.”

    Brazil’s President and climate change sceptic Jair Bolsonaro chose to keep up appearances with his peers, aligning the posts to meet emissions neutrality by 2050.  This shaved off ten years from the previous objective.  He also promised a doubling of funding for environmental enforcement.  Fine undertakings from a political figure whose policies towards the Amazon rainforest have been vandalising in their destruction.

    Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga also threw in his lot with a goal of securing a 46 percent reduction by 2030. (The previous target had been a more modest 26 percent reduction based on 2013 levels.)  This did little to delight Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor.  “What Japan needs to do now,” he warned, “is to expand its options for technology.”  Any immediate bans on gasoline-powered or diesel cars, for instance, “would limit such options, and could also cause Japan to lose its strengths.”

    Toyoda’s sentiments, along with those of Japan’s business lobby Keidanren, would have made much sense to Morrison.  In a speech shorn of ambition, the Australian prime minister began to speak with his microphone muted.  Then came his own version of ambitiousness, certain that Australia’s record on climate change was replete with “setting, achieving and exceeding our commitments”.

    It was not long before he was speaking, not to the leaders of the world, but a domestic audience breast fed by the fossil fuel industries.  Australia was “on the pathway to net zero” and intent on getting “there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create, especially in our regions.”  His own slew of promises: Australia would invest in clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture.  The US might well have Silicon Valley, but Australia would, in time, create “Hydrogen Valleys”.

    With such unremarkable, even pitiable undertakings, critics could only marvel at a list of initiatives that risk disappearing in the frothy stew.  “Targets on their own, won’t lead to emission cuts,” reflected Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Kate Blagojevic.  “That takes real policy and money.  And that’s where the whole world is still way off course.”  Ahead of COP26 at Glasgow, Morrison will be hoping that the world remains divided and very much off course.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Former leader’s disciplinary code, which was criticised by pro-Israel groups, is still being used under Starmer, party officials admit after court hearing

    A group of Labour activists fighting through the courts to discover why they and others were investigated or expelled from the UK’s Labour Party for antisemitism say they have flushed out proof of bad faith from their accusers.

    The group, who call themselves Labour Activists for Justice (LA4J), say the new disclosure confirms their claim that leading Jewish organisations intentionally politicised the meaning of antisemitism to entrap left-wing critics of Israel and undermine Labour’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

    As a result, the number of cases of antisemitism in Labour was inflated, falsely feeding the public impression that the political party under Corbyn had attracted Jew haters, say the Labour activists.

    The suggestion that groups like the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Labour Movement “weaponised” antisemitism against Corbyn is currently seen as grounds by Labour to suspend or expel members.

    But according to LA4J, evidence revealed in their legal case has now vindicated that claim.

    The activists note that Jewish groups that waged a campaign of attacks on Corbyn over an antisemitism code of conduct drafted by the party in 2018 are now “deafeningly silent” on discovering that Keir Starmer, Labour’s new leader, has been secretly using exactly the same code.

    When it was first published, the Board of Deputies and other Jewish organisations erupted in outrage, alleging that the 16-point code was proof of “institutional antisemitism” in the Labour party – and even that Corbyn posed a threat to Jewish life in Britain.

    But the admission by Starmer’s officials that they are using the same code of conduct to investigate members has gone entirely unremarked three years later.

    That is despite a submission to the courts from Labour’s own lawyers that the code had been kept secret because its publication might prove “politically incendiary”.

    LA4J points out that back in 2018 the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement and other groups insisted that Corbyn replace the code with an alternative, controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

    According to the activists, the current silence of these Jewish groups, after Starmer’s officials have conceded that they are using Corbyn’s code rather than the IHRA definition, further indicates bad faith.

    Despite public statements to the contrary, the organisations knew that the IHRA definition was unworkable for Labour’s disciplinary procedures back in 2018, LA4J say.

    “If Labour believes that the code issued by Corbyn was ‘incendiary’, the question is where is the bushfire now, when Starmer’s team admit they are using the very same code,” Chris Wallis, a spokesman for LA4J, told Middle East Eye.

    “One of the things this case suggests is that groups like the Board of Deputies hoped to weaponise antisemitism as a way to attack Corbyn.”

    Disciplinary process ‘back to front’

    The group’s legal action is due to reach the High Court in June. It will be the first wide-ranging legal examination of Labour’s disciplinary procedures relating to antisemitism. In October 2019, the High Court ruled that the suspension of then-Labour MP Chris Williamson for “bringing the party into disrepute” over antisemitism allegations was illegal, though the judge did not overturn a second suspension that ousted him from the party.

    Eight party members, including three Jews, are pursuing the case after they were investigated for alleged antisemitism. LA4J estimates that at least 30 Jewish members of the party have been accused of antisemitism, some repeatedly.

    Late last year the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the UK’s equalities watchdog, issued a report critical of Labour’s handling of antisemitism cases, especially over what it termed “political interference” by Corbyn’s office, which it said had resulted in “a lack of transparency and consistency in the complaints process”.

    However, the EHRC found that in practice such interference chiefly harmed the interests of those accused of antisemitism rather than their accusers. Corbyn’s officials often tried to speed up investigations in the hope of ending the barrage of criticism from Jewish organisations.

    LA4J argue that hundreds of members have been drummed out of the party in a process that has lacked the transparency and fairness demanded by the EHRC. The procedure, they say, has failed to provide those under investigation with an opportunity to challenge the allegations.

    Most members receive a “notice of investigation” that typically cites social media posts as evidence of antisemitism. In some cases, members have been accused of sharing articles from prominent websites, such as Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, known to be harshly critical of Israel for its repeated violations of Palestinian rights.

    No explanation is made in the notice of why party officials believe the posts to be antisemitic. Instead, it is required of those under investigation to demonstrate why their posts should not be considered antisemitic.

    The notices also demand that members under investigation not publicise their case or the information that is being used against them. It is unclear whether they are even allowed to seek legal advice. Instead, they are encouraged to get help from a GP or the Samaritans to aid their “wellbeing”.

    Wallis, a former BBC radio drama producer who has been under investigation since last year, is one of the eight members taking the party to court.

    “The disciplinary process has been entirely back to front,” he said. “We were never told about the secret code being used to judge our cases and it was never explained how what we did was antisemitic. The assumption was that we were guilty unless we could prove otherwise, and we were expected to incriminate ourselves.”

    ‘Sickness’ in Labour

    At a preliminary hearing in February, the Labour Party argued that the courts had no place adjudicating on its handling of antisemitism cases. However, the judge approved the High Court hearing for June and awarded costs against Labour.

    In what appears to be an attempt to avoid a second adverse ruling, Labour officials made the disciplinary process more transparent last month by divulging how it assessed antisemitism cases.

    Starmer’s officials published on the party’s website the same antisemitism code of conduct that had been drafted during Corbyn’s time as leader. They did so despite a submission from one of Labour’s senior lawyers during February’s court hearing that such an admission could prove “politically incendiary”.

    That was because a wide range of Jewish leadership groups rounded on Corbyn and Labour over the code when it was first published in July 2018.

    Dave Rich, head of policy at the Community Security Trust, set up to protect Jewish communities from antisemitic attacks, lambasted Corbyn in an article in the Guardian headlined “Labour’s antisemitism code exposes a sickness in Jeremy Corbyn’s party”.

    A blog on the Trust’s website added that the code “brazenly contravenes basic anti-racist principles”.

    The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, both claiming to represent Britain’s Jewish community, stated that the adoption by Corbyn’s officials of the code would “further erode the existing lack of confidence that British Jews have in their sincerity to tackle antisemitism within the Labour movement”.

    The Jewish Labour Movement, a Labour party affiliate connected to the Israeli Labor party, argued that the code was “a get out of jail free card” for antisemites, and claimed it breached equalities legislation.

    Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s chief rabbi, called the code “a watershed moment” for Labour and warned that it sent “an unprecedented message of contempt to the Jewish community”.

    Dozens of rabbis backed him, accusing the Labour leadership of having “chosen to ignore the Jewish community”.

    And the Campaign Against Antisemitism, a pro-Israel lobby group, argued that “the code seems to be designed to give free rein to certain forms of antisemitic discourse”.

    ‘It was about who was in charge’

    But despite the outpouring of concern back in 2018, note LA4J, Jewish organisations have remained silent since Labour revealed that the same antisemitism code of conduct introduced under Corbyn is being used by Starmer’s officials in disciplinary cases.

    “This was never about what was going on inside Labour, as was claimed,” said Wallis. “It was about who was in charge. The aim was to remove Corbyn at all costs.”

    Labour’s stated goal in drafting the code in 2018 was to assist with ironing out problems in the IHRA definition, which was being aggressively lobbied for by leading Jewish groups.

    In particular, Corbyn’s code provided additional context to help judge aspects of the IHRA’s 11 potential examples of antisemitism, seven of which relate to Israel.

    The code warns that the IHRA text “is not a legal definition, and on its own does not provide clear guidance about the circumstances in which particular conduct should or should not be regarded as antisemitic”.

    The Labour antisemitism code also emphasises a need for “respectful debate” between party members when talking about contentious political matters around Israel and warns that the party “will not tolerate name-calling and abuse”.

    The concern among Corbyn’s team was that the definition would shift the focus of antisemitism away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel, and expose activists supportive of Palestinian rights to investigation.

    The imprecision of the IHRA definition, and its politicisation of antisemitism, had already been widely criticised, including by a former Court of Appeal judge and the British parliament’s home affairs select committee.

    Kenneth Stern, the chief architect of the IHRA definition, had also weighed in to note that it was unsuitable for use in disciplinary procedures and was being “weaponised” by elements of the Jewish community to stifle criticism of Israel.

    Jewish organisations, on the other hand, argued that Corbyn was using the Labour code to avoid adopting the IHRA definition in full with all its examples, and implied that his motivation was to make Labour hostile to British Jews.

    Facing the backlash, and concerted criticism in the media, Corbyn’s officials appeared to discard the code and instead adopted the IHRA definition in full a few weeks later, in September 2018.

    Definition ‘not fit for purpose’

    It is unclear whether Corbyn’s officials ever used the 2018 code to adjudicate in disciplinary cases. But LA4J say its adoption by Starmer’s officials – and their efforts to hide the fact that they were using the code – confirm that the IHRA’s definition was indeed unworkable.

    Jenny Manson, a co-chair of Jewish Voice for Labour, which was set up in 2017 to show support for Corbyn among Jewish party members and is now supporting LA4J, said that the weaknesses of the IHRA definition must have been clear to organisations like the Jewish Labour Movement and Board of Deputies.

    “Their current silence shows that they must have known the IHRA definition wasn’t fit for purpose as it was,” she said. “The additional code of conduct was needed. They opposed it in 2018, it seems clear, only because they were looking to damage Jeremy [Corbyn].”

    Although LA4J argue that the code is fairer than the IHRA definition, they also say it has been widely misused against members as officials have sought to placate Jewish groups accusing Labour of being institutionally antisemitic.

    Diana Neslen, an 82-year-old Orthodox Jew who has been investigated for antisemitism and sanctioned by the party, said: “Even a quick look at [the code] suggests that all of us have been wrongfully accused. Indeed, we should never have been investigated in the first place.”

    LA4J hopes that, with the code no longer secret, Labour members will have a better chance to challenge current and future investigations conducted against them by party officials.

    Neslen warned, however, that existing injustices needed to be addressed too: “What are they going to do about the hundreds of people already judged under the secret code, including me?”

    She and LA4J have called for those suspended or expelled to have their cases reopened and the evidence reassessed in a transparent manner.

    The Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Community Security Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council were all approached by Middle East Eye for comment. None had responded by the time of publication.

    According to LA4J, their court case highlights how little evidence there was for the claim that antisemitism within the Labour party had been an especial problem under Corbyn’s leadership.

    Levels of antisemitism in Labour appear to be lower than in the wider British public, within which about five percent of people could “justifiably be described as antisemites”, according to research published by the Community Security Trust in 2017.

    Corbyn’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, issued figures in April 2019 that showed disciplinary action had been taken against just 0.08 percent of Labour’s 540,000 members, even after the strict application of the antisemitism code and “political interference” by Corbyn’s officials in speeding up disciplinary proceedings.

    During the latest legal proceedings, Labour has revealed equivalent figures for Starmer, relating to the period between May last year and last month. Although details about the investigations are not precise, in the worst-case scenario an even smaller percentage of Labour members were found to be antisemitic.

    These figures, the LA4J argue, suggest that Labour has not had an “antisemitism problem” under either Corbyn or Starmer.

    That impression is shared by most Labour members. According to a YouGov poll commissioned last month by the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, a significant majority – 70 percent – believe that Labour does not have a serious problem with antisemitism.

    Most appear to agree with Corbyn’s reaction to the Equalities Commission report that the claims against Labour were “dramatically overstated for political reasons”. That statement led to Starmer expelling Corbyn from the Labour parliamentary party.

    • First published in Middle East Eye

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • The student from Ghana was insistent. “I want to meet him.” The stubborn, well-attired fool, groomed and keen to make a good impression, was attending the Senate House ceremony in Cambridge for honorary awardees. He was not the only one. In attendance on this warm June day in 2006 were a gaggle of rascals, well-wishers and rogues. This was gawking made respectable.

    The awardees were justifiably brilliant. There were the establishment birds of paradise: the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, a man who soporifically charmed; and the Bank of England governor, Mervyn King. The mad cat mathematician’s contribution was also honoured in the form of string theorist Edward Witten of Princeton. Honorary doctorates in law were also conferred upon educator Charles Vest and writer Njabulo Ndebele. Ahmed Zewail scooped the honorary doctorate in science and novelist Margaret Drabble the honorary doctorate in letters.

    The ceremony was softly coated in formal Latin, the awards themselves granted to the bright and the brightest, the hall acting as a brace of history. But it was the Duke of Edinburgh who, as ever, managed to cut through what would have otherwise been a stuffy gathering with his immemorial manner. Cambridge University’s chancellor turned up to preside, and, his cloak train held by the unfortunate subaltern, appeared like a decorated reptile, gown merged with body.

    The reception – for that is what many there had hoped to get a hack at — saw Prince Philip make his various social sorties. These had the usual devastating air about them. Old mocking remarks about colonies; jabs of casual racism garnished with a mock innocence. Andrew O’Hagan of the London Review of Books was not wrong to observe that his questions would often lie “somewhere between existential brilliance and intergalactic dunce-hood.” To the student from Ghana, who sauntered up to him expecting a nugget of revelation, he said this: “I say, are you still a colony of ours?”

    The Prince Philip treasury is laden with such remarks, the sort that inspired other family members such his grandson Prince Harry while enraging commentators such as Hamid Dabashi. To a Scottish driving instructor, the Duke of Edinburgh inquired how it was possible to “keep the booze long enough to pass the test.” To an Australian Aboriginal: “Still throwing spears?” To a group of British students on a royal visit to China: “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”

    A national treasure? A petrified disgrace? For Dabashi, very much the latter, with one redeeming feature. “He is not faking it,” railed the Columbia University professor of Iranian studies in 2017. “This is who he is — and the long panoply of his racist, sexist, elitist, misogynistic, class-privileged and unhinged prejudices is a mobile museum of European bigotry on display.”

    A man such as the Duke of Edinburgh operated in a different dimension, distanced from revolutionary tremor and social evolution, even as the country he presided over with Queen Elizabeth II changed. To expect such a man to evolve with an institution created before an understanding of genetics was hope defiant of experience. He was expected to remain in the putty of permanent infantilism — at least on some level, more role than man. Accepting monarchy is accepting a condition of long service, and the Westminster model demands that the sovereign reigns but does not rule. And that role was reserved for Prince Philip’s wife, Queen Elizabeth.

    So much came to massaging him into roles he did not want, and situations he would have thought peculiar. A man condemned to opening buildings most of his life is bound to get tetchy at some point, strapped to concrete, pillars and boredom. Presiding over the opening of structures can risk turning you into a monument, a biped structure condemned to endless ceremonies of tenured stiffness. Naturally, he had to assume the role of consort as robot, breaking occasionally into performance, his sparkles of misguided human observations rippling through the institutional straitjacket.

    The role of service can be deforming. The Duke of Edinburgh Awards is touted as an example of “Prince Philip’s belief in the infinite potential of young people”. The Royal had a rather different view of it: the awards were not to be celebrated as some deep, insightful contribution to society. It was simply something to do. At points, he seemed to have strange attacks of modesty. On one occasion, he admitted that his greatest speech involved the utterance of a few words: “I declare open the Olympic Games of Melbourne, celebrating the sixteenth Olympiad of the modern era.”

    In the biography of the queen mother by William Shawcross, we find a note written by a newly married Prince Philip to his mother-in-law, touching in so far as it shows an awareness of role and position. “Lilibet is the only ‘thing’ in this world which is absolutely real to me and my ambition is to weld the two of us into a new combined existence that will not only be able to withstand the shocks directed at us but will also have a positive existence for the good.”

    A profound shock was the emerging force of media scrutiny, prompting him to call it “a professional intruder”. That was, is, its job, so you could not “complain about it.” So, in front of the media, he would be able to tell the young children’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai that children went to school because parents wanted them out of the house. Many wearied parents would have agreed; even the youthful Malala stifled a giggle.

    The river of tributes duly flowed on the announcement of his passing. Few were more suited to delivering one than Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister, in various previous incarnations, had merrily offended a good portion of the earth’s nations and races. “Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and around the world,” said the Prime Minister. “By any measure, Prince Philip lived an extraordinary life — as a naval hero in the Second World War, as the man who inspired countless young people through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and, above all, as Her Majesty The Queen’s loyal consort.”

    Not much difference was noted on the Labor side of politics. “The United Kingdom,” wrote Sir Keir Starmer, “has lost an extraordinary public servant in Prince Philip.” He noted a life marked by dedication to country, a distinguished career in the Royal Navy during conflict, and decades of service.

    From outside Britain, Barack Obama was off the mark, unable to resist the urge to be modern and very contemporary. “At the Queen’s side or trailing the customary two steps behind, Prince Philip showed the world what it meant to be a supportive husband to a powerful woman.”

    From the European Union, there was understanding without hyperbole. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen preferred a no-nonsense approach, expressing her sadness and extending “sincere sympathy to Her Majesty The Queen, the Royal Family and the people of the United Kingdom on this very sad day.”

    During the reception of the honorary graduands that day in 2006, the strawberries being readily consumed, the champagne flowing like arteries let, Prince Philip could still muster a few remarks, speared, sharpened, and directed. He mocked those who had not been to Cambridge, geniuses who never had the chance to go to that great educational wonder in the Fens. “Is it true that there are actually a few of you who did not go to Cambridge?” To see him in motion was to see an institution within a man, bones and flesh going through tasks he did with a certain measure of irritation and resignation. The heat of battle must have been much more fun.

  • Image credit: ex-iskon-pleme
  • This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • On April 1 — appropriate date, perhaps, for a saga of unending western foolishness and villainy — the EU announced that officials from Iran, Russia, China, the UK, France, and Germany would be meeting virtually to discuss a possible return of the USA to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Later announcements indicated that representatives of both the USA and Iran would meet with European partners in Vienna in the first week of April, although possibly from different rooms to separate US and Iranian representatives. Talks began on August 6.

    A State Department spokesman welcomed the move, indicating the Biden administration’s preparedness to return to the 2015 deal tortuously negotiated over several years between Iran, the US Obama administration and European powers, and that former President Donald Trump later unilaterally abrogated in May 2018. A pretense by the USA and Europe that resumption of JCPOA requires arduous negotiation camouflages the reality that it has always been obvious that removal of US sanctions on Iran would automatically prompt its immediate return to the JCPOA framework.

    The use of the potential (but not the actuality) of nuclear weapons in the form of weapons development capability has arguably been an instrument of Iranian foreign diplomacy from the days of the Shah, first as a defense against nuclearization of regional neighbors and, since the Islamic revolution in 1979 — and in the guise of varying percentages of uranium enrichment and the construction of centrifuges (many unused) — against US and European opposition to Iranian independence from Washington.

    The 2015 deal itself was the outcome of a long-standing, bullying, propaganda campaign by the USA, Israel, and Europe (UK, France, and Germany) to smear Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program (including the slight enrichment of uranium for scientific and medical purposes, far below the 90%+ required for nuclear weaponry) as a meaningful threat of nuclear war. Yet Iran, a signatory in 1968 of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), had over several decades conceded detailed scrutiny of its energy program (perfectly legitimate, under the NPT) to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Israel, on the other hand, in possession of one hundred or more nuclear warheads, never signed the NPT.

    Israel, with a far smaller population (9 million) than Iran (82 million) and a far smaller territory (22,145 sq.km to Iran’s 1,648,195 sq km), is and has consistently shown evidence of being by far the more likely nuclear aggressor in the Middle East. In June 1981, an Israeli airstrike destroyed an unfinished suspected Iraqi nuclear reactor located 17 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. In 2007, Israel struck a suspected nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria. In the period 2009 to 2012 the Israeli administration of Benjamin Netanyahu several times threatened to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. In addition, the US and Israeli administrations collaborated in a cyberattack on Iranian facilities (“Stuxnet”) in 2009. There have been several assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists – the latest reported in November 2020 – mostly attributed to Israel’s Mossad.

    Through JCPOA, Iran — which has never possessed nuclear weapons and which has never formally revealed evidence of wanting or planning them — was cowered into conceding an implicit but false admission to being at fault in some way. Iran’s Supreme Leaders have consistently stated their belief that such weapons are immoral.  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, confirmed a fatwa against the acquisition, development and use of nuclear weapons in October 2003. “Evidence” of Iranian scientists’ planning for nuclear weaponry is based on forgeries.
    The bullying gang was a cabal of more prosperous nations that unlike Iran, did possess nuclear weapons and, in the case of the USA, had actually used them and, from time to time, demonstrated continuing willingness to consider their use.

    Furthermore, Washington has never shown a fraction of the hysteria it regularly performs on account of Iran’s (non-existent) nuclear “threat” as it did with the actual nuclear weaponization of India from 1998 (with possibly 150 nuclear warheads today) and Pakistan in 1972.

    Iran’s misleading concession to the West’s false narrative was the product of Western coercion through sanctions’ regimes. US-driven sanctions’ terror over Iran, both primary (involving relations between Iran and U.S. actors) and secondary (involving relations between Iran and non-U.S. actors), started from the early 1980s and extended in 1995 to cover bilateral trade and foreign investment in Iranian oil and gas development. Sanctions were further extended in 2002 to include nuclear and missile technology, financial services, transportation, foreign banks operating in Iran, and purchase of Iranian oil. Although many sanctions were lifted by JCPOA, others were retained, including Iranian support for terrorism, development of ballistic missiles, arms-related transactions, violations of human rights and corruption. The slipperiness of concepts such as “terrorism,” “human rights,” and “corruption” in the hands of U.S. and allied states and state-compliant “NGO” agencies provides ample room for continuing sanctions aggression on false or misleading pretext. This is particularly worrisome in the contexts of covert and proxy wars between the US, European powers, Gulf States, Israel, and Salafist rebels in Syria, on the one hand and, on the other, the Syrian government, Russia, and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, as also in the case of Iranian support for the Houthis in Yemen. Even a return to JCPOA, therefore, would exercise considerable restraint on Iranian exercise of its legitimate, sovereign power.

    Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program originated from imperial machinations in Iran. It was launched in 1957 with US and European assistance in the administration of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, in the wake of the US-UK orchestrated coup d’etat of 1953 that toppled democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh. The program continued until the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The Shah approved plans to construct up to 23 nuclear power stations by 2000. It is possible that the Shah always entertained the possibility of transitioning from a nuclear energy to a nuclear weapons program should neighboring states do the same. The USA supplied the country with a reactor fueled by highly enriched uranium in 1967. After a two-year hiatus, the Shah’s program was resumed by the revolutionary administration in 1981. The regime intended to continue collaborating with a French-owned consortium, but France succumbed to pressure from the Reagan administration in 1984 to end all nuclear cooperation with Iran, despite the absence of any evidence for US claims that Iran’s then only reactor presented a risk of proliferation. In the 1990s, Russia formed a joint research organization with Iran, providing Iran with Russian nuclear experts and technical information.

    Sanctions have a negative impact on the Iranian economy and the welfare of its people. The value of Iranian petroleum exports fell from $53 billion in 2016-2017 to $9 billion in 2019-2020. Iranian GDP shrank by between 5% and 6.5% each year in the period 2018-2020, and inflation rose each year between 30% and 41%. The value of the Iranian currency, the rial, fell from 64,500 rials to the dollar in May 2018 to 315,000 to the dollar in October 2020.

    As strategies of control, sanctions have significant other weaknesses, even from the western point of view. Since the revolution of 1979, first, there is a clear correlation between western aggression towards Iran and the influence on the Iranian polity of anti-western Iranian conservatives and their control over Iranian society through the clerical hierarchy and its exercise of superordinate power over Iran’s parliamentary democracy by the Office of the (non-elected) Supreme Leader, the Council of Guardians, the religious foundations (or bonyads) and Revolutionary Guards. Second, sanctions encourage Iranian strategies of import substitution and technological independence. Third, they help consolidate Iran’s relations with global powers that rival Washington, including Russia and China, and its relations with sympathetic powers in the region, including Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. In March 2021 Iran and China agreed a deal whereby China would invest $400 billion in Iran over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to fuel. The deal represented a further incursion of Chinese influence in the Middle East (extending to an offer by China to broker peace between Israel and Palestine) at the likely expense of the USA, promising further escalation of tensions between China and the USA and the ultimate threat of nuclear war.

    Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus of Bowling Green State University, Ohio. He is a scholar of international media, news, and war propaganda. Read other articles by Oliver.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Australia has always struggled to present an independent foreign policy to the world. For example, during its early days as a British colony its soldiers fought in the Crimean war in the mid 19th century, although it would be impossible to identify any Australian interest in that conflict. World War One saw a similar eagerness to die on behalf of the British Empire. To this day the most solemn day in the Australian calendar is 25th April, ANZAC Day, when Australian and New Zealand troops were sacrificed by their incompetent British officers to a hopeless campaign in Turkey during World War One.

    The same saga was repeated during World War II when Australian troops were rushed to North Africa to fight Rommel’s desert army. They were only withdrawn from that theatre following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when defending home territory from the Japanese superseded defending Britain in its European war.

    The fall of Singapore to the Japanese had a profound effect on Australian military thinking. Foremost was the realisation that they could no longer rely on Britain for their safety.  Rather than formulating a plan for having a uniquely Australian tinge to their defence, Australia simply switched its allegiance from the British to the Americans. That allegiance has continued to the present day and is essentially a bipartisan affair, with both the major political parties swearing undying allegiance to the Americans.

    What did not change from the days of allegiance to a participation in Britain’s wars, was an affinity simply transferred to the Americans to join their wars, regardless of the merits, military or otherwise, of doing so.

    Thus Australia was an eager participant in the first post-World War II exercise in American imperialism when it joined the war in Korea. Australian troops later joined in the invasion of North Korea, contrary to the terms of the United Nations resolution authorising the conflict. After the Chinese joined the war when the western forces reached the North Korea – China border, they were quickly expelled back to the southern portion of the Korean peninsula.

    As is well known, the Americans used their aerial domination to bomb the North until the armistice was finally signed in 1953. During that air war every city in the North suffered severe damage. More than 600,000 civilians died, which was greater than the military losses of around 400,000. To this day the war remains technically alive as no peace treaty has been signed. Of the 17,000 Australian troops that served in Korea, there were 340 fatalities and more than 1400 injured, a comparatively small number for a war that lasted three years.

    In 1962 Australian troops arrived in South Vietnam and remained there until January 1973 when they were withdrawn by the Whitlam Labor government. It was Australia’s longest war up until that time. The withdrawal of Australian troops by the Whitlam government incensed the Americans, on whose behalf they were there. The withdrawal drew the enmity of the Americans and was a major factor in the American role in the overthrow of the Whitlam government in November 1975. It is a fact barely acknowledged in Australian writing on the demise of the Whitlam government. It did, however, have a profound effect on Australian political and military thinking. Since November 1975 there has been no recognisable Australian difference from United States belligerence throughout the world.

    The next miscalculation was Australia joining the United States led war in Afghanistan. That is now Australia’s longest war, rapidly approaching 20 years of involvement with no sign or political talk about withdrawing. It is a war that has largely passed out of mainstream media discussion. This ignorance was briefly disrupted by revelations in late 2020 that Australian troops had been involved in war crimes in Afghanistan, specifically, the killing of innocent Afghanistan civilians.

    The brief publicity given to this revelation rapidly passed and Australia’s involvement in its longest war once more faded from public view. The mainstream media remains totally silent on Australia’s involvement on behalf of the Americans in protecting the poppy crop, source of 90% of the world’s heroin supply and a major source of uncountable illicit income for the CIA.

    Australia’s next foreign intervention on behalf of the Americans was in the equally illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. They have simply ignored demands by the Iraqi government in 2020 that all uninvited foreign troops should leave. The involvement of Australian troops in that country, and indeed in adjoining Syria where they have been since at least 2015 is simply ignored by the mainstream media.

    Australia also plays a role in the United States war machine through the satellite facility at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory. That base is one of a number of United States military facilities in the country, another topic that is deemed by the mainstream media as being unfit for public discussion.

    Another unsung role of the Australian Navy is to be part of the United States confrontation with China in the South China Sea where they protect so-called freedom of navigation exercises, despite the complete absence of any evidence of Chinese interference with civilian navigation in those waters. Equally unexplained is the Australian Navy’s presence in the narrow Straits of Malacca, a vital Chinese export waterway.

    Last year the Trump administration resurrected the “gang of four” that is, India, Japan, the United States and Australia, a blatantly anti-China grouping designed to put pressure on the Chinese government in the Indo Pacific region. The measure is doomed to fail, not least because both India and Japan have more attractive opportunities as part of the burgeoning cooperation in trade among multiple countries in the Asia-Pacific who see better opportunities arising from a friendly relationship with China than the blatantly antagonistic options offered by the Americans.

    Australia seems impervious to these signals. It has already suffered major setbacks to its trade with China, not to mention a diplomatic cold shoulder. The political leadership is silent on this development, perhaps unable to grasp the implications of its changing relationship with China. The inability of the Labor Opposition to grasp the implications of the consequences of Australia clinging to the fading American coattails is of profound concern.

    All the signs are that the relationship with its largest trading partner, by a big margin, will continue to deteriorate. Australians seem unable or unwilling to grasp the lesson that its economic problems are intimately linked to its subservient role to the United States.

    There is every indication that their fortunes in Asia will sink together.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • A year in, the British Labour leader is giving the Tories an easy ride while investing his energy in an all-out war on the party’s left

    The completion of Keir Starmer’s first year as Labour leader might have passed without note, had it not been the occasion for senior party figures to express mounting concern at Labour’s dismal performance in opposition to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government.

    At a time when Labour ought to be landing regular punches on the ruling party over its gross incompetence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, and cronyism in its awarding of multimillion-pound coronavirus-related contracts, Starmer has preferred to avoid confrontation. Critics have accused him of being “too cautious” and showing a “lack of direction”.

    Dissatisfaction with Starmer among Labour voters has quadrupled over the past 10 months, from 10 percent last May to 39 percent in March. His approach does not even appear to be winning over the wider public: a recent poll on who would make a better prime minister gave incumbent Johnson a 12 percentage-point lead.

    Increasingly anxious senior Labour MPs called late last month for a “big figure” to help Starmer set aside his supposed political diffidence and offer voters a clearer idea of “what Keir is for”.

    That followed a move in February by Starmer’s team to reach out to Peter Mandelson, who helped Tony Blair rebrand the party as “New Labour” in the 1990s and move it sharply away from any association with

    ‘Cynically’ evasive

    But there is a twofold problem with this assessment of Starmer’s first year.

    It assumes Labour’s dire polling is evidence that voters might warm to Starmer if they knew more about what he stands for. That conclusion seems unwarranted. A Labour internal review leaked in February showed that the British public viewed Starmer’s party as “deliberate and cynical” in its evasiveness on policy matters.

    In other words, British voters’ aversion to Starmer is not that he is “too cautious” or lacklustre. Rather, they suspect that Starmer and his team are politically not being honest. Either he is covering up the fact that Labour under his leadership is an ideological empty vessel, or his party has clear policies but conceals them because it believes they would be unpopular.

    In response, and indeed underscoring the increasingly cynical approach from Starmer’s camp, the review proposed reinventing Labour as a patriotic, Tory-lite party, emphasising “the flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly”.

    However, the deeper flaw in this assessment of Starmer’s first 12 months is that it assumes his caution in taking on the Tory government is evidence of some natural restraint or reticence on his part. This was the view promoted by a recent commentator in the Guardian, who observed: “‘Starmerism’ has not defined itself in any sense beyond sitting on the fence.”

    But Starmer has proved to be remarkably unrestrained and intemperate when he chooses to be. If he is reticent, it appears to be only when it serves his larger political purposes.

    All-out war

    If there is one consistent thread in his first year, it has been a determined purging from the party of any trace of the leftwing politics of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as a concerted effort to drive out many tens of thousands of new members who joined because of Corbynism.

    The paradox is that when Starmer stood in the leadership election last spring, he promised to unify a party deeply divided between a largely leftwing membership committed to Corbyn’s programme, on the one hand, and a largely rightwing parliamentary faction and party bureaucracy, on the other.

    As an internal review leaked last April revealed, party officials were determined to destroy Corbyn even while he was leader, using highly undemocratic means.

    Even if Starmer had chosen to be cautious or diffident, there looked to be no realistic way to square that circle. But far from sitting on the fence, he has been busy waging an all-out war on one side only: those sympathetic to Corbyn. And that campaign has involved smashing apart the party’s already fragile democratic procedures.

    The prelude was the sacking last June of Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary – and the most visible ally of Corbyn in Starmer’s shadow cabinet – on the flimsiest of pretexts. She had retweeted an article in the Independent newspaper that included a brief mention of Israel’s involvement in training western police forces in brutal restraint techniques.

    Real target

    A few months later, Starmer got his chance to go after his real target, when the Equalities and Human Rights Commission published its highly flawed report into the claims of an antisemitism problem in Labour under Corbyn’s leadership.

    This provided the grounds Starmer needed to take the unprecedented step of excluding Corbyn from the parliamentary party he had been leader of only months earlier. It was a remarkably provocative and incautious move that infuriated large sections of the membership, some of whom abandoned the party as a result.

    Having dispatched Corbyn and issued a stark ultimatum to any MP who might still harbour sympathies for the former leader, Starmer turned his attention to the party membership. David Evans, his new general secretary and a retread from the Blair years, issued directives banning constituency parties from protesting Corbyn’s exclusion or advocating for Corbynism.

    Corbyn was overnight turned into a political “unperson”, in an echo of the authoritarian purges of the Soviet-era Communist party. No mention was to be made of him or his policies, on pain of suspension from the party.

    Even this did not suffice. To help bolster the hostile environment towards left wing members, Starmer made Labour hostage to special interest groups that had openly waged war – from inside and outside the party – against his predecessor.

    During the leadership campaign, Starmer signed on to a “10 Pledges” document from the deeply conservative and pro-Israel Board of Deputies of British Jews. The board was one of the cheerleaders for the evidence-free antisemitism allegations that had beset Labour during Corbyn’s time as leader – even though all metrics suggested the party had less of an antisemitism problem than the Conservatives, and less of a problem under Corbyn than previous leaders.

    Alienating the left

    The Pledges required Starmer to effectively hand over control to the Board of Deputies and another pro-Israel group, the Jewish Labour Movement, on what kind of criticisms Labour members were allowed to make of Israel.

    Opposition to a century of British-sponsored oppression of the Palestinian people had long been a rallying point for the UK’s left, as opposition to the treatment of black South Africans under the apartheid regime once was. Israel’s centrality to continuing western colonialism in the Middle East and its key role in a global military-industrial complex made it a natural target for leftwing activism.

    But according to the Pledges – in a barely concealed effort to hound, alienate and silence the party’s left – it was for pro-Israel lobby groups to decide who should be be declared an antisemite, while “fringe” Jewish groups, or those supportive of Corbyn and critical of Israel, should be ignored.

    Starmer readily agreed both to adopt the board’s conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism, and to disregard prominent Jews within his own party opposed to pro-Israel lobbying. His office was soon picking off prominent Jewish supporters of Corbyn, including leaders of Jewish Voice for Labour.

    One of the most troubling cases was Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, who was suspended shortly after she appeared in a moving video in which she explained how antisemitism had been weaponised by the pro-Israel lobby against left wing Jews like herself.

    She noted the pain caused when Jews were smeared as “traitors” and “kapos” – an incendiary term of abuse, as Wimborne-Idrissi pointed out, that refers to “a Jewish inmate of a concentration camp who collaborated with the [Nazi] authorities, people who collaborated in the annihilation of their own people”.

    In suspending her, Starmer’s Labour effectively endorsed that type of ugly demonisation campaign.

    Israeli spy recruited

    But the war on the Labour left did not end there. In his first days as leader, Starmer was reluctantly forced to set up an inquiry into the leaked internal report that had exposed the party bureaucracy as profoundly hostile to Corbyn personally, and more generally to his socialist policies. Senior staff had even been shown trying to sabotage Labour’s 2017 general election campaign.

    But once the Forde Inquiry had been appointed, Starmer worked strenuously to kick it into the long grass, even bringing back into the party Emilie Oldknow, a central figure in the Corbyn-era bureaucracy who had been cast in a damning light by the leaked report’s revelations.

    A separate chance to lay bare what had happened inside Labour head office during Corbyn’s term was similarly spurned by Starmer. He decided not to  defend a defamation case against Labour brought by John Ware, a BBC reporter, and seven former staff in Labour’s disciplinary unit. They had worked together on a Panorama special on the antisemitism claims against Corbyn that did much to damage him in the public eye.

    These former officials had sued the party, arguing that Labour’s response to the BBC programme suggested they had acted in bad faith and sought to undermine Corbyn.

    In fact, a similar conclusion had been reached in the damning internal leaked report on the behaviour of head office staff. It quoted extensively from emails and WhatsApp chats that showed a deep-seated antipathy to Corbyn in the party bureaucracy.

    Nonetheless, Starmer’s office abandoned its legal defence last July, apologising “unreservedly” to the former staff members and paying “substantial damages”. Labour did so despite “clear advice” from lawyers, a former senior official said, that it would have won in court.

    When Martin Forde, chair of the Forde inquiry, announced in February that his report had been delayed “indefinitely”, it seemed that the truth about the efforts of Labour staff to undermine Corbyn as leader were being permanently buried.

    The final straw for many on the party’s left, however, was the revelation in January that Starmer had recruited to his team a former Israeli military spy, Assaf Kaplan, to monitor the use of social media by members.

    Much of the supposed “antisemitism problem” under Corbyn had depended on the Israel lobby’s efforts to scour through old social media posts of left wing members, looking for criticism of Israel and then presenting it as evidence of antisemitism. As leader, Corbyn was pushed by these same lobby groups to adopt a new, highly controversial definition of antisemitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It shifted attention away from hatred of Jews to criticism of Israel.

    A former Israeli spy trained in the dark arts of surveilling Palestinians would be overseeing the monitoring of party members’ online activity.

    Tory party of old

    Far from sitting on the fence, as his critics claim, Starmer has been ruthless in purging socialism from the Labour party – under cover of claims that he is rooting out an “antisemitism problem” he supposedly inherited from Corbyn.

    In a speech last month, Mandelson – the former Blair strategist who Starmer’s team has been consulting – called on the Labour leader to show “courage and determination” in tackling the supposedly “corrupt far left”. He suggested “large numbers” of members would still need to be expunged from the party in the supposed fight against antisemitism.

    Starmer is investing huge energy and political capital in ridding the party of its leftwing members, while exhibiting little appetite for taking on Johnson’s right wing government.

    These are not necessarily separate projects. There is a discernible theme here. Starmer is recrafting Labour not as a real opposition to the Conservative party’s increasingly extreme, crony capitalism, but as a responsible, more moderate alternative to it. He is offering voters a Labour party that feels more like the Tory party of old, which prioritised tradition, patriotism and family values.

    None of this should surprise. Despite his campaign claims, Starmer’s history – predating his rapid rise through the Labour party – never suggested he was likely to clash with the establishment. After all, few public servants have been knighted by the Queen at the relatively tender age of 51 for their radicalism.

    In safe hands

    While head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Starmer rejected indicting the police officers who killed Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson, and his department effectively cleared MI5 and MI6 officers of torture related to the “War on Terror”.

    His team not only sought to fast-track the extradition to Sweden of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder who exposed western war crimes, but it also put strong pressure on its Swedish counterpart not to waver in pursuing Assange. One lawyer told the Swedes in 2012: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!”

    Starmer’s actions since becoming Labour leader are very much in line with his earlier career. He wants to prove he is a safe pair of hands to the British establishment, in hopes that he can avert the kind of relentless vilification Corbyn endured. Then, Starmer can bide his time until the British public tires of Johnson.

    Starmer seems to believe that playing softball with the right wing government and hardball with the left in his own party will prove a winning formula. So far, voters beg to differ.

    • First published in Middle East Eye

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Nothing makes better sense to the political classes than small time demagoguery when matters turn sour. True, the United Kingdom might well be speeding ahead with vaccination numbers, and getting ever big-headed about it, but there is still good reason to distract the voters.  Coronavirus continues to vex; the economy continues to suffer. In February, the Office of Statistics revealed that Britain’s economy had shrunk by 9.9%.  The last time such a contraction was experienced was in 1709, when a contraction of 13% was suffered as a result of the Great Frost which lasted for three devastating months.

    With Brexit Britain feeling alone, it is time to resort to mauling targets made traditional during the 2016 campaign to exit the European Union: the asylum seeker, the refugee and anyone assisting in that enterprise.  And the person best suited to doing so is the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who outlined the government’s New Plan for Immigration on March 24th.  It has three objectives with one overarching punitive theme “to better protect and support those in genuine need of asylum.”  The authenticity of that need will be aided by deterring “illegal entry into the UK, thereby breaking the business model of criminal trafficking networks and protecting the lives of those they endanger”.  Those with “no right to be” in the UK will also be more easily “removed”.

    It is in the nature of such policies to conceal the punitive element by extolling virtues.  “The UK accepted more refugees through planned resettlement schemes than any other country in Europe in the period 2015-2019 – the fourth highest resettlement schemes globally after the USA, Canada and Australia,” reads the policy statement. “The UK also welcomed 29,000 people through the refugee family reunion scheme between 2015 and 2019. More than half of these were children.”

    This self-praise ignores the inconvenient fact that the UK received fewer applications for asylum than European states such as France and Germany in 2020.  According to the UNHCR, both countries received four times the number in 2020.  “The number of arrivals in the UK in 2020,” remarks academic Helen O’Nions, “was actually down 18% on the previous year.”

    It does not take long, however, to identify and inflate the threats: people crossing the English channel in their “small boats reached record levels, with 8,500 … arriving this way” in 2020.  Sinister imputations are made: 87% of those arriving in small boats were male.  In 2019, 32,000 illegal attempts were made to enter the UK, but foiled in Northern France while 16,000 illegal arrivals were detected in the UK.

    The Home Office laments the rapid increase of asylum claims; decisions cannot be made “quickly”; “case loads are growing to unsustainable levels”.  Never mind the UN Refugee Convention and human rights: what matters is bureaucratic efficiency.  To achieve that, Patel hopes to “stop illegal arrivals gaining immediate entry into the asylum system if they have travelled through a safe country – like France.”  Any arrivals doing so could not be said to be “seeking refuge from imminent peril”.  Stiffer sentences are also suggested for those aiding asylum.  “Access to the UK’s asylum system should be based on need, not on the ability to pay people smugglers.”

    Much of what the Home Office makes of this is nonsense.  It entails a fantasy about a model cut, idealised asylum seeker: those with state documents from the persecuting state, clearly of the identifiable sort, all morally sound.  The murkier reality necessitates deception as an indispensable part of the process.  To not have documents makes travel impossible.  Alternative routes and means are therefore required.

    The threat to relocate and refuse those seeking asylum would also breach the UK’s own Human Rights Act of 1998, obligating the state to prevent people from being returned to places where they are at the risk of torture, inhuman, degrading treatment or cruel and unusual punishment.  That principle is also a cardinal feature of the Refugee Convention.

    The view from those who actually have more than a passing acquaintance with the field is vastly different from Patel’s.  Politely, some 454 immigration scholars in the UK have told the Home Secretary in an open letter that she does not know what she is talking about.  The New Plan, for instance, may have 31 references, but “there is just one reference to research evidence, a research paper on refugee integration.”  The undersigned scholars suggest that Patel look more deeply, as the plans being proposed “not only circumvent international human rights law, but are also based on claims which are completely unfounded in any body of research evidence.”

    The scholars also note that asylum seekers and refugees lack safe and legal routes, with countries across Europe, North American and Australasia going “to huge efforts and massive expense in recent decades to close down access to the right to asylum.”

    The markings of the New Plan resemble, all too closely, the Australian approach of discrimination which has become an exemplar of how to undermine the right to asylum: an obsession with targeting those people smuggling “gangs” and associated business rackets, merely code for targeting those fleeing persecution; distinguishing the method of arrival in order to demonise the plight of the asylum seeker; the decision that, irrespective of the claims of asylum, no sanctuary would ever be given to certain individuals because they chose to jump a phantom queue and not know their place.

    The open letter also notes the “distinct and troubling echoes” of “the Australian Temporary Protection Visa programme and the vilification of people with no option but to travel through irregular means to flee persecution and seek sanctuary.”

    Another unsavoury aspect of the British turn in refugee policy towards the antipodean example can be gathered by the possible use of offshore detention centres.  Canberra relies on the liberal use of concentration camps on remote sites in the Pacific, centres of calculated cruelty that serve to destroy the will of those whose governments have already done much to encourage their flight.  The official justification is one of killing asylum seekers with kindness: We saved you from almost certain drowning at sea, only to seal you within the confines of legal purgatory.  In the New Plan, one senses a touch of envy for it.

    In October last year, it was revealed that the UK Prime Minister’s office was considering the detention of asylum seekers in places as varied as Moldova, Morocco and Papua New Guinea.  According to documents obtained by The Guardian, the Foreign Office had been charged with a task by Downing Street to “offer advice on possible options for negotiating an offshore asylum processing facility similar to the Australian model in Papua New Guinea and Nauru”.  Patel herself had flirted with the idea of establishing centres at Ascension and St. Helena, though she has had to content herself with ill-suited military barracks on the mainland that facilitated the spread of COVID-19.

    Alison Mountz, in The Death of Asylum, makes much of this transformation of the island from a point of transit to that of hostile containment.  From field research conducted in Italy’s Lampedusa Island, Australia’s Christmas Island and the US territories of Guam and Saipan, Mountz argues that “the strategic use of islands to detain people in search of protection – to thwart human mobility through confinement – is part of the death of asylum.”  Officials such as Patel are happy to help matters along.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • According to material openly available, BBC World Service is immune from any form of regulation and can produce all the disinformation it likes with legal impunity in the UK. It has caused the spread of the fake news virus not only in the UK but all over the world. BBC should try to do more just and truthful reports to tackle its credibility crisis, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Wednesday.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • On 15 July 2015 — the day after the United States agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA; also called the Iran nuclear deal) along with China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, plus Germany — then US president Barack Obama said in an interview that Iran was “a great civilization.” Without listing any of the great attributes of Iran, Obama then proceeded to criticize Iran, saying, “but, it also has an authoritarian theocracy in charge that is anti-American, anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic, sponsors terrorism, and there are a whole host of real profound differences…”

    That is American exceptionalism. The US is a country whose sense of diplomacy deems it appropriate to openly criticize other nations. And because of this self-bestowed exceptionalism, it need not substantiate any criticisms it makes, and, of course, no such accusations could be leveled against the US.

    However, soon after Donald Trump won the electoral college vote to become the US president, the days of the US abiding by the JCPOA were numbered. The US State Department said that the JCPOA “is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document.”

    Apparently, US and international definitions on what constitutes a treaty differ. Since the JCPOA had not received the consent of the US Senate, as per domestic US law, it was not considered a treaty. Another instance of US exceptionalism — how the US legally separates itself from the international sphere.

    On 8 May 2018, the US pulled out from the Iran nuclear deal.

    Even though the US had withdrawn, Iran made it known that it would continue to comply with its commitments to the JCPOA if Europe also complied with its commitments. One important condition was that Europe must maintain business relations with Iranian banks and purchase Iranian oil despite US sanctions. Europe, however, failed to uphold its commitments.

    China stood steadfast with the JCPOA. Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, called upon the US to quickly and unconditionally return to the Iran nuclear deal. Wang also called on the US to remove sanctions on Iran and third-parties.

    Wang also urged Iran to restore full compliance with the JCPOA. China, though, has made it clear that the US “holds the key to breaking the deadlock” by returning to the JCPOA and lifting sanctions on Iran.


    When the Trump administration slapped sanctions on Iran, a devastating result was expected.

    The effects of sanctions are lethal. Americans professors John Mueller and Karl Mueller wrote in their Foreign Affairs article:

    economic sanctions … may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history.

    The lethality has been borne out. A large-scale human suffering was part of the plan to topple the government in Iran, which secretary of state Mike Pompeo admitted to. Not even the serious outbreak of COVID-19 would stir mercy in the hearts of American politicians. Included in the sanctions were medicines and food.


    When targeted by a hegemonic military superpower, the importance of powerful friends cannot be underestimated. China seems like a natural ally for Iran.

    Like Iran, China has historically been targeted by brutish American imperialism. China, like Iran finds itself ringed by American militarism. China also has US sanctions levied against it. Western governments and their mass media bombard readers and viewers with disinformation to demonize China. US warships ply the South China Sea as they ply the waters of the Persian Gulf. Both China and Iran deal with domestic terrorism (undoubtedly abetted by western foes).

    Thus, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), designated as a terrorist group by the US in 1997, would be dropped from the US terrorist list in 2012. Later, the “cult-like” MEK would be embraced by right-wing Americans such as Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, and Mike Pompeo, in hopes of furthering US aims of “regime change.” In a similar move, the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Xinjiang, China was removed from the US terrorist list.

    US machinations have only served to hasten closer relations between China and Iran.

    On March 27, Iran and China signed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, a $400 billion 25-year agreement that includes oil and mining, promoting industrial activity in Iran, and collaborating in transportation and agriculture.

    It’s a win-win. Iran gets a market for its commodities and investment. China gets access to needed resources and a partner for its Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme to encompass Eurasia and abroad.

    Iran also has economic and technology agreements with another US-sanctioned country that is a close ally of China, Russia. In February 2021, there was the important symbolism of the Iran-China-Russia collaboration on naval maneuvers in the Indian Ocean.

    Iran does not have nukes, but it has powerful friends.

  • First published at Press TV.
  • This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • There’s a new dawn evident: China is not putting up with what it sees as hypocritical Western interference in its sovereign affairs. Sanctions are being met with rapid counter-sanctions, and Chinese officials are vociferously pointing out Western double standards.

    There was a time when the United States and its allies could browbeat others with condemnations. Not any more. China’s colossal global economic power and growing international influence has been a game-changer in the old Western practice of imperialist arrogance.

    The shock came at the Alaska summit earlier this month between US top diplomat Antony Blinken and his Chinese counterparts. Blinken was expecting to lecture China over alleged human rights violations. Then Yang Jiechi, Beijing’s foreign policy chief, took Blinken to task over a range of past and current human rights issues afflicting the United States. Washington was left reeling from the lashes.

    Western habits die hard, though. Following the fiasco in Alaska, the United States, Canada, Britain and the European Union coordinated sanctions on Chinese officials over provocative allegations of genocide against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Australia and New Zealand, which are part of the US-led Five Eyes intelligence network, also supported the raft of sanctions.

    Again China caused shock when it quickly hit back with its own counter-sanctions against each of these Western states. The Americans and their allies were aghast that anyone would have the temerity to stand up to them.

    Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau bemoaned: “China’s sanctions are an attack on transparency and freedom of expression – values at the heart of our democracy.”

    Let’s unpack the contentions a bit. First of all, Western claims about genocide in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang are dubious and smack of political grandstanding in order to give Washington and its allies a pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

    The latest Western sanctions are based on a report by a shady Washington-based think-tank Newlines Institute of Strategic Policy. Its report claiming “genocide” against the Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority in Xinjiang has the hallmarks of a propaganda screed, not remotely the work of independent scholarly research. Both China and independent journalists at the respected US-based Grayzone have dismissed the claims as fabrication and distortion.

    For the United States and other Western governments to level sanctions against China citing the above “report” is highly provocative. It also betrays the real objective, which is to undermine Beijing. This is a top geopolitical priority for Washington. Under the Biden administration, Washington has relearned the value of “diplomacy” – that is the advantage of corralling allies into a hostile front, rather than Trump’s America First go-it-alone policy.

    Granted, China does have problems with its Xinjiang region. As Australia’s premier think-tank Lowy Institute noted: “Ethnic unrest and terrorism in Xinjiang has been an ongoing concern for Chinese authorities for decades.”

    Due to the two-decade-old US-led war in Afghanistan there has been a serious problem for the Chinese authorities from radicalization of the Uyghur population. Thousands of fighters from Xinjiang have trained with the Taliban in Afghanistan and have taken their “global jihad” to Syria and other Central Asian countries. It is their stated objective to return to Xinjiang and liberate it as a caliphate of East Turkestan separate from China.

    Indeed, the American government has acknowledged previously that several Uyghur militants were detained at its notorious Guantanamo detention center.

    The United States and its NATO and other allies, Australia and New Zealand, have all created the disaster that is Afghanistan. The war has scarred generations of Afghans and radicalized terrorist networks across the Middle East and Central Asia, which are a major concern for China’s security.

    Beijing’s counterinsurgency policies have succeeded in tamping down extremism among its Uyghur people. The population has grown to around 12 million, nearly half the region’s total. This and general economic advances are cited by Beijing as evidence refuting Western claims of “genocide”. China says it runs vocational training centers and not “concentration camps”, as Western governments maintain. Beijing has reportedly agreed to an open visit by United Nations officials to verify conditions.

    Western hypocrisy towards China is astounding. Its claims about China committing genocide and forced labor are projections of its own past and current violations against indigenous people and ethnic minorities. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia have vile histories stained from colonialist extermination and slavery.

    But specifically with regard to the Uyghur, the Western duplicity is awesome. The mass killing, torture and destruction meted out in Afghanistan by Western troops have fueled the radicalization in China’s Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan. The Americans, British and Australians in particular have huge blood on their hands.

    An official report into unlawful killings by Australian special forces found that dozens of Afghan civilians, including children, were murdered in cold blood. When China’s foreign ministry highlighted the killings, the Australian premier Scott Morrison recoiled to decry Beijing’s remarks as “offensive” and “repugnant”. Morrison demanded China issue an apology for daring to point out the war crimes committed in Afghanistan by Australian troops.

    It is absurd and ironic that Western states which destroyed Afghanistan with war crimes and crimes against humanity have the brass neck to censure China over non-existent crimes in its own region of Xinjiang. And especially regarding China’s internal affairs with its Uyghur people, some of whom have been radicalized by terrorism stemming from Western mass-murder in Afghanistan.

    China is, however, not letting this Western hypocrisy pass. Beijing is hitting back to point out who the real culprits are. Its vast global economic power and increasing trade partnerships with over 100 nations through the Belt and Road Initiative all combine to give China’s words a tour de force that the Western states cannot handle. Hence, they are falling over in shock when China hits back.

    The United States thinks it can line up a coalition of nations against China.

    But Europe, Britain, Canada and Australia – all of whom depend on China’s growth and goodwill – can expect to pay a heavy price for being Uncle Sam’s lapdogs.

    • First published in Sputnik

    Finian Cunningham has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent. Read other articles by Finian.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Boris Johnson’s March 16 speech before the British Parliament was reminiscent, at least in tone, to that of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China.

    The comparison is quite apt if we remember the long-anticipated shift in Britain’s foreign policy and Johnson’s conservative government’s pressing need to chart a new global course in search for new allies – and new enemies.

    Xi’s words in 2019 signaled a new era in Chinese foreign policy, where Beijing hoped to send a message to its allies and enemies that the rules of the game were finally changing in its favor, and that China’s economic miracle – launched under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping in 1992 – would no longer be confined to the realm of wealth accumulation, but would exceed this to politics and military strength, as well.

    In China’s case, Xi’s declarations were not a shift per se, but rather a rational progression. However, in the case of Britain, the process, though ultimately rational, is hardly straightforward. After officially leaving the European Union in January 2020, Britain was expected to articulate a new national agenda. This articulation, however, was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the multiple crises it generated.

    Several scenarios, regarding the nature of Britain’s new agenda, were plausible:

    One, that Britain maintains a degree of political proximity to the EU, thus avoiding more negative repercussions of Brexit;

    Two, for Britain to return to its former alliance with the US, begun in earnest in the post-World War II era and the formation of NATO and reaching its zenith in the run up to the Iraq invasion in 2003;

    Finally, for Britain to play the role of the mediator, standing at an equal distance among all parties, so that it may reap the benefits of its unique position as a strong country with a massive global network.

    A government’s report, “Global Britain in a Competitive Age”, released on March 16, and Johnson’s  subsequent speech, indicate that Britain has chosen the second option.

    The report clearly prioritizes the British-American alliance above all others, stating that “The United States will remain the UK’s most important strategic ally and partner”, and underscoring Britain’s need to place greater focus on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region, calling it “the centre of intensifying geopolitical competition”.

    Therefore, unsurprisingly, Britain is now set to dispatch a military carrier to the South China Sea, and is preparing to expand its nuclear arsenal from 180 to 260 warheads, in obvious violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The latter move can be directly attributed to Britain’s new political realignment which roughly follows the maxim of ‘the enemy of my friend is my enemy’.

    The government’s report places particular emphasis on China, warning against its increased “international assertiveness” and “growing importance in the Indo-Pacific”. Furthermore, it calls for greater investment in enhancing “China-facing capabilities” and responding to “the systematic challenge” that China “poses to our security”.

    How additional nuclear warheads will allow Britain to achieve its above objectives remains uncertain. Compared with Russia and the US, Britain’s nuclear arsenal, although duly destructive, is negligible in terms of its overall size. However, as history has taught us, nuclear weapons are rarely manufactured to be used in war – with the single exception of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The number of nuclear warheads and the precise position of their operational deployment are usually meant to send a message, not merely that of strength or resolve, but also to delineate where a specific country stands in terms of its alliances.

    The US-Soviet Cold War, for example, was expressed largely through a relentless arms race, with nuclear weapons playing a central role in that polarizing conflict, which divided the world into two major ideological-political camps.

    Now that China is likely to claim the superpower status enjoyed by the Soviets until the early 1990s, a new Great Game and Cold War can be felt, not only in the Asia Pacific region, but as far away as Africa and South America. While Europe continues to hedge its bets in this new global conflict – reassured by the size of its members’ collective economies – Britain, thanks to Brexit, no longer has that leverage. No longer an EU member, Britain is now keen to protect its global interests through a direct commitment to US interests. Now that China has been designated as America’s new enemy, Britain must play along.

    While much media coverage has been dedicated to the expansion of Britain’s nuclear arsenal, little attention has been paid to the fact that the British move is a mere step in a larger political scheme, which ultimately aims at executing a British tilt to Asia, similar to the US ‘pivot to Asia’, declared by the Barack Obama Administration nearly a decade ago.

    The British foreign policy shift is an unprecedented gamble for London, as the nature of the new Cold War is fundamentally different from the previous one; this time around, the ‘West’ is divided, torn by politics and crises, while NATO is no longer the superpower it once was.

    Now that Britain has made its position clear, the ball is in the Chinese court, and the new Great Game is, indeed, afoot.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • I’m seated in the police Zoom briefing with other council representatives for my small seaside town in England. Our Chief Inspector is telling us about the crisis we have with soaring heroin addiction in the town. The recent surge is contributing to a general increase in crime. The next section of the briefing is about the future use of police surveillance drones, and how they could become useful in combating crime.

    A few months ago, Nigel Farage, a far-right politician, arrived in my town to film himself on our tourist beaches; aiming to drum up hate and hostility toward migrants and refugees arriving in the UK on precarious inflatables, having just traversed the channel of water between England and France. Farage complains that the new arrivals are taking up hotel spaces, he triggers the public by saying it’s all coming out of the public purse, we can’t afford to look after our own citizens let alone refugees, and that these people will one day take their homes and jobs. The Home Office considers proposals to use water cannons on the migrant sea crossers, while Home Secretary, Priti Patel suggests the transportation of migrants and refugees to Ascension Island in the South Pacific, harking back to the 18th century, when Britain deported convicts to the penal colony of Australia.

    The British Army Watchkeeper drone has been commissioned to help with surveillance of people crossing the Channel. The Watchkeeper was initially developed when the British military requested £1 billion to develop a military drone. An Israeli arms company, Elbit Systems, was awarded the contract to design and develop the drone. When completed in 2014, it was transported to Afghanistan for ‘field testing’.

    Was a ‘field testing’ in Afghanistan part of the tragic mistake made when a U.S. weaponized drone killed my friend Raz Mohammed’s brother-in-law and five of his friends? The young men were enjoying an early evening gathering in their orchard in Wardak province Afghanistan. All the men were unarmed, none of them were involved with the Taliban. Their instant deaths were the result of a ‘signature strike’ – a targeted killing based on racial profiling, the men ‘fitted’ the demographic of the Taliban – they were wearing Pashtoon clothing, in a Pashtoon village, men of fighting age – that was enough to get them killed.

    Our local Chief Inspector finishes talking about police surveillance drones. At present, in my area of  Sussex, they are mainly using surveillance drones for traffic and ‘operations’, though elsewhere in the UK they have so far been used to survey a Black Lives Matter protest and another at an immigration centre.

    Knowing how I would come across to others in the Zoom room, I decided to take the risk of sounding like a ‘conspiracy loon’ and plunged in – I highlighted the military method of ‘racial profiling’ during surveillance and targeted assassinations, how the US police have started using drones armed with non-lethal weapons (tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets) against their own civilians, often anti-war, environmental and anti-racist protestors. The chief inspector was a little taken aback but quickly started to respond that British police were not like the military or the US police, that drones are really useful for helping lost people on mountain tops, and that having a drone operator walking around town, while flying a surveillance drone, would be great for community engagement.

    I suddenly recollect a fight which broke out in our town centre and wonder how a drone would have helped. Some sort of argument had arisen amongst the ‘street community’, a mixture of people who gravitate on the street to drink, to buy or take heroin and crack, or wait for their methadone subscription from the local rehab centre based above an arcade of shops which shadows the street community and the raucous outbreak. Shoppers walked past, some looking at the commotion, others head down, not wanting to inadvertently get dragged into a drug fueled hullabaloo. A young woman, weathered skin, tattered clothing, decaying teeth, aged beyond her years screams obscenities at another member of the community. Her gaunt face reminded me of people I’ve seen in Kabul who have become addicted to heroin, the people who live under a bridge, huddled in small groups, heads under a scarf as they cook up opium on a spoon. Their eyes are distant – friends and family say they are gone.

    Heroin addiction in impoverished British towns has soared in the last 10 years. At the crime briefings I attend as a Councillor, no one ever talks about where this cheap high-quality opium has flooded in from, the root cause probably considered ‘too political’. But in reality, heroin supply to Britain has careened in the last decade, namely due to the ‘solar revolution’ in Afghanistan. This has enabled farmers to use electricity generated from solar panels to pump untapped water from 100 meters under the desert. Now, where there was once an arid dust belt, there are now fields of thriving poppy, punches of colour lighting up the desert, too much of a lucrative cash crop for Afghan farmers to pass up.

    Many of the newly blooming fields are in Helmand, the Afghan province where Britain was assigned to fight the Taliban. Britain was also delegated, at the 2001 International Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, the responsibility of counter narcotics in Afghanistan. Considering Afghanistan was the first country in the world where weaponized drones were used – the 2001 unsuccessful assassination of Osama Bin Laden – and thereafter used as a “playground for foreign nations to kill Afghans like a video game” — as one of my young Afghan friends once described to me; it’s highly unlikely British Intelligence Agencies were unaware of the newly blossoming industry, much of which is growing in Helmand, a ‘hotspot’ for drone strikes and aerial surveillance. Today Afghanistan produces 90% of the world’s heroin, 3% of the Afghan population are addicts, and production of the crop has more than doubled, from 3,700 tonnes in 2012, to 9,000 tonnes in 2017.

    And so, in my home town, deprivation, crime, conflict and all the ills associated deepen. Drones are sent in to ‘solve’ the problem. To date, at least 40 UK police forces  have either purchased a drone or have access to using one. In the area of Sussex and Surrey, there are 23 drones and, according to a recent Freedom of Information, they were used 108 times between January- June 2020.

    Afghans are amongst the refugees washed up upon our beaches in flimsy dinghies, their channel crossing overseen by the very same Watchkeeper drone used to exacerbate war which drove them from their homeland. The most vulnerable in our society, from Britain to Afghanistan, are seized by the scourge of heroin and the conflagration of violence caused by war. The vaunted “eyes in the skies,” the surveillance drones, won’t help us understand these realities. The proliferation of weaponized drones will unleash more misery.

    Momentum for campaigns to ban land mines, cluster bombs and nuclear weapons began with grassroots efforts to tell the truth about militarism and war. I hope a surveillance drone will get the message painted on large banners we’ve held, standing along our seacoast, proclaiming a welcome for refugees and a longing for peace.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Welcome to the age of fear. Nothing is more corrosive of the democratic impulse than fear. Left unaddressed, it festers, eating away at our confidence and empathy.

    We are now firmly in a time of fear – not only of the virus, but of each other. Fear destroys solidarity. Fear forces us to turn inwards to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Fear refuses to understand or identify with the concerns of others.

    In fear societies, basic rights become a luxury. They are viewed as a threat, as recklessness, as a distraction that cannot be afforded in this moment of crisis.

    Once fear takes hold, populations risk agreeing to hand back rights, won over decades or centuries, that were the sole, meagre limit on the power of elites to ransack the common wealth. In calculations based on fear, freedoms must make way for other priorities: being responsible, keeping safe, averting danger.

    Worse, rights are surrendered with our consent because we are persuaded that the rights themselves are a threat to social solidarity, to security, to our health.

    Too noisy’ protests

    It is therefore far from surprising that the UK’s draconian new Police and Crime Bill – concentrating yet more powers in the police – has arrived at this moment. It means that the police can prevent non-violent protest that is likely to be too noisy or might create “unease” in bystanders. Protesters risk being charged with a crime if they cause “nuisance” or set up protest encampments in public places, as the Occupy movement did a decade ago.

    And damaging memorials – totems especially prized in a time of fear for their power to ward off danger – could land protesters, like those who toppled a statue to notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last summer, a 10-year jail sentence.

    In other words, this is a bill designed to outlaw the right to conduct any demonstration beyond the most feeble and ineffective kind. It makes permanent current, supposedly extraordinary limitations on protest that were designed, or so it was said, to protect the public from the immediate threat of disease.

    Protest that demands meaningful change is always noisy and disruptive. Would the suffragettes have won women the vote without causing inconvenience and without offending vested interests that wanted them silent?

    What constitutes too much noise or public nuisance? In a time of permanent pandemic, it is whatever detracts from the all-consuming effort to extinguish our fear and insecurity. When we are afraid, why should the police not be able to snatch someone off the street for causing “unease”?

    The UK bill is far from unusual. Similar legislation – against noisy, inconvenient and disruptive protest – is being passed in states across the United States. Just as free speech is being shut down on the grounds that we must not offend, so protest is being shut down on the grounds that we must not disturb.

    From the outbreak of the virus, there were those who warned that the pandemic would soon serve as a pretext to take away basic rights and make our societies less free. Those warnings soon got submerged in, or drowned out by, much wilder claims, such as that the virus was a hoax or that it was similar to flu, or by the libertarian clamour against lockdowns and mask-wearing.

    Binary choices

    What was notable was the readiness of the political and media establishments to intentionally conflate and confuse reasonable and unreasonable arguments to discredit all dissent and lay the groundwork for legislation of this kind.

    The purpose has been to force on us unwelcome binary choices. We are either in favour of all lockdowns or indifferent to the virus’ unchecked spread. We are either supporters of enforced vaccinations or insensitive to the threat the virus poses to the vulnerable. We are either responsible citizens upholding the rules without question or selfish oafs who are putting everyone else at risk.

    A central fracture line has opened up – in part a generational one – between those who are most afraid of the virus and those who are most afraid of losing their jobs, of isolation and loneliness, of the damage being done to their children’s development, of the end of a way of life they valued, or of the erasure of rights they hold inviolable.

    The establishment has been sticking its crowbar into that split, trying to prise it open and turn us against each other.

    ‘Kill the Bill’

    Where this leads was only too visible in the UK at the weekend when protesters took to the streets of major cities. They did so – in another illustration of binary choices that now dominate our lives – in violation of emergency Covid regulations banning protests. There was a large march through central London, while another demonstration ended in clashes between protesters and police in Bristol.

    What are the protesters – most peaceful, a few not – trying to achieve? In the media, all protest at the moment is misleadingly lumped together as “anti-lockdown”, appealing to the wider public’s fear of contagion spread. But that is more misdirection: in the current, ever-more repressive climate, all protest must first be “anti-lockdown” before it can be protest.

    The truth is that the demonstrators are out on the streets for a wide variety of reasons, including to protest against the oppressive new Police and Crime Bill, under the slogan “Kill the Bill”.

    There are lots of well-founded reasons for people to be angry or worried at the moment. But the threat to that most cherished of all social freedoms – the right to protest – deserves to be at the top of the list.

    If free speech ensures we have some agency over our own minds, protest allows us to mobilise collectively once we have been persuaded of the need and urgency to act. Protest is the chance we have to alert others to the strength of our feelings and arguments, to challenge a consensus that may exist only because it has been manufactured by political and media elites, and to bring attention to neglected or intentionally obscured issues.

    Speech and protest are intimately connected. Free speech in one’s own home – like free speech in a prison cell – is a very stunted kind of freedom. It is not enough simply to know that something is unjust. In democratic societies, we must have the right to do our best to fix injustice.

    Cast out as heretics

    Not so long ago, none of this would have needed stating. It would have been blindingly obvious. No longer. Large sections of the population are happy to see speech rights stripped from those they don’t like or fear. They are equally fine, it seems, with locking up people who cause a “nuisance” or are “too noisy” in advancing a cause with which they have no sympathy – especially so long as fear of the pandemic takes precedence.

    That is how fear works. The establishment has been using fear to keep us divided and weak since time immemorial. The source of our fear can be endlessly manipulated: black men, feminists, Jews, hippies, travellers, loony lefties, libertarians. The only limitation is that the object of our fear must be identifiable and distinguishable from those who think of themselves as responsible, upstanding citizens.

    In a time of pandemic, those who are to be feared can encompass anyone who does not quietly submit to those in authority. Until recently there had been waning public trust in traditional elites such as politicians, journalists and economists. But that trend has been reversed by a new source of authority – the medical establishment. Because today’s mantra is “follow the science”, anyone who demurs from or questions that science – even when the dissenters are other scientists – can be cast out as a heretic. The political logic of this is rarely discussed, even though it is profoundly dangerous.

    Political certainty

    Politicians have much to gain from basking in the reflected authority of science. And when politics and science are merged, as is happening now, dissent can be easily reformulated as either derangement or criminal intent. On this view, to be against lockdown or to be opposed to taking a vaccine is not just wrong but as insane as denying the laws of gravity. It is proof of one’s irrationality, of the menace one poses to the collective.

    But medicine – the grey area between the science and art of human health – is not governed by laws in the way gravity is. That should be obvious the moment we consider the infinitely varied ways Covid has affected us as individuals.The complex interplay between mind and body means reactions to the virus, and the drugs to treat it, are all but impossible to predict with any certainty. Which is why there are 90-year-olds who have comfortably shaken off the virus and youths who have been felled by it.

    But a politics of “follow the science” implies that issues relating to the virus and how we respond to it – or how we weigh the social and economic consequences of those responses – are purely scientific. That leaves no room for debate, for disagreement. And authoritarianism is always lurking behind the façade of political certainty.

    Public coffers raided

    In a world where politicians, journalists and medical elites are largely insulated from the concerns of ordinary people – precisely the world we live in – protest is the main way to hold these elites accountable, to publicly test their political and “scientific” priorities against our social and economic priorities.

    That is a principle our ancestors fought for. You don’t have to agree with what Piers Corbyn says to understand the importance that he and others be allowed to say it – and not just in their living rooms, and not months or years hence, if and when the pandemic is declared over.

    The right to protest must be championed even through a health crisis –most especially during a health crisis, when our rights are most vulnerable to erasure. The right to protest needs to be supported even by those who back lockdowns, even by those who fear that protests during Covid are a threat to public health. And for reasons that again should not need stating.

    Politicians and the police must not be the ones to define what protests are justified, what protests are safe, what protests are responsible.

    Because otherwise, those in power who took advantage of the pandemic to raid the public coffers and waste billions of pounds on schemes whose main purpose was to enrich their friends have every reason to dismiss anyone who protests against their cupidity and incompetence as endangering public health.

    Because otherwise, leaders who want to crush protests against their their current, and future, criminal negligence with extraordinary new police powers have every incentive to characterise their critics as anti-lockdown, or anti-vaccine, or anti-public order, or anti-science – or whatever other pretext they think will play best with the “responsible” public as they seek to cling to power.

    And because otherwise, the government may decide it is in its interests to stretch out the pandemic – and the emergency regulations supposedly needed to deal with it – for as long as possible.

    Selective freedoms

    Quite how mercurial are the current arguments for and against protest was highlighted by widespread anger at the crushing by the Metropolitan Police this month of a vigil following the murder of Sarah Everard in London. A Met police officer has been charged with kidnapping and murdering her.

    In the spirit of the times, there has been much wider public sympathy for a vigil for a murder victim than there has been for more overtly political demonstrations like those against the Police and Crime Bill. But if health threats are really the measure of whether large public gatherings are allowed – if we “follow the science” – then neither is justified.

    That is not a conclusion any of us should be comfortable with. It is not for governments to select which types of protests they are willing to confer rights on, even during a pandemic. We either uphold the right of people to congregate when they feel an urgent need to protest – whether it be against the erosion of basic freedoms, or in favour of greater safety for vulnerable communities, or against political corruption and incompetence that costs lives – or we do not.

    We either support the right of every group to hold our leaders to account or we do not. Selective freedoms, inconsistent freedoms, are freedom on licence from those in power. They are no freedom at all.

    Fight for survival

    What the UK’s Police and Crime Bill does, like similar legislation in the US and Europe, is to declare some protests as legitimate and others as not. It leaves it to our leaders to decide, as they are trying to do now through the pandemic, which protests constitute a “nuisance” and which do not.

    The political logic of the Bill is being contested by a minority – the hippies, the leftists, the libertarians. They are standing up for the right to protest, as the majority complacently assumes that they will have no need of protest.

    That is pure foolishness. We are all damaged when the right to protest is lost.

    It is unlikely that the aim of the Police and Crime Bill is to keep us permanently locked down – as some fear. It has another, longer-term goal. It is being advanced in recognition by our elites that we are hurtling towards an environmental dead-end for which they have no solutions, given their addiction to easy profits and their own power.

    Already a small minority understand that we are running out of time. Groups like Extinction Rebellion – just like the suffragettes before them – believe the majority can only be woken from their induced slumber if they are disturbed by noise, if their lives are disrupted.

    This sane minority is treading the vanishingly thin line between alienating the majority and averting oblivion for our species. As the stakes grow higher, as awareness of imminent catastrophe intensifies, those wishing to make a nuisance of themselves, to be noisy, will grow.

    What we decide now determines how that struggle plays out: whether we get to take control of our future and the fight for our survival, or whether we are forced to stay mute as the disaster unfolds.

    So pray for the “anti-lockdown” protesters whether you support their cause or not – for they carry the heavy weight of tomorrow on their shoulders.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Both before the First World War and before the Second World War, the world public basically simply watched the arms build up and other preparations for war. This lackadaisical blandly interested public attitude seems to be present again. Criminally insane investors in war openly race forward with the inventing and manufacturing of ever new and novel weapons of mass destruction, while planning and propagandizing a need for war. From time to time, spokespersons for their political, media and military lackeys discuss their prerogatives for war as if the rest of us didn’t matter a hoot.

    CNBC published an article headlined: “Britain changes policy so it can use nuclear weapons in response to ‘emerging technologies’” on 17 March.

    The U.K. has changed its defense policy which may enable it to use nuclear weapons in response to “emerging technologies.”

    The country’s 111-page Integrated Defense Review, published Tuesday, included a subtle line on when the U.K. “reserves the right” to use nuclear weapons.

    It says the U.K. could use nuclear weapons if other countries use “weapons of mass destruction” against it. Such weapons include “emerging technologies that could have a comparable impact” to chemical, biological weapons or other nuclear weapons. [italics added by author]

    So if the British feel or think they feel an attack of whatever sort, they have the right to cause the possible destruction of all life on the planet.

    The U.K.’s nuclear program, known as Trident, was established in 1980. The Integrated Defense Review confirmed that the U.K. is allowing a self-imposed cap on its nuclear weapon stockpile to rise to 260, abandoning the previous cap of 225 warheads as well as the current reduction target of 180 by the mid-2020s.

    A single Trident II submarine can inflict more death than all prior wars in history. Twenty-four missiles, launched while submerged, each with seventeen independently targeted, maneuverable nuclear warheads five times more powerful than the atom bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, can travel 5,000 nautical miles to strike within 300 feet of 408 predetermined targets. Nuclear winter might very well follow even if no other weapons are used.

    No nation or individual should be permitted to possess the power to destroy the world. An imperative need is for an informed and active public to struggle for its right to survive.
    — Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark

    Is it not a crime to claim a right to endanger all life on Earth?

    Is there no legal authority to sanction the UK and its officials involved in threatening humanity — the UN Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission, the IAEA, the WHO, the International Criminal Court? Is it not a crime to claim a right to endanger all life on Earth?

    Shall we all ignore the fact that the officials of the United Kingdom claim Britain to be threatened by China, Russia and Iran without giving any evidence for this claim, or what could possibly be a motive to attack Britain. And what simple-minded tough talk leaves out mention of the incoming nuclear missiles that would be in response to Britain’s Trident missiles.

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson informed Parliament that the UK will now expand its nuclear arsenal.

    The 100 page report titled ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age,’ is the product of an integrated review of security, defence and foreign policy designed to refocus British policy in the face of perceived threats from Russia, China, and other adversaries.

    Do humans just sit around and merely listen to the officials of the former #1 genocidal colonial powered British Empire citing imaginary threats from Russia and China and calling them adversaries? Neither the Chinese nor Russians refer to Britain as an adversary. It is up to us observant bystanders to call a spade a spade, and expose such braggadocio from a apparent bunch of jerks.

    The same CNBC article seemed to report a British plan to return to world empire status.

    Indo-Pacific tilt

    The Integrated Defense Review also outlined a new “tilt” toward the Indo-Pacific region.

    “By 2030, we will be deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific as the European partner with the broadest, most integrated presence in support of mutually-beneficial trade, shared security and values,” the document reads.

    It says the U.K. will the push into the Indo-Pacific region partly in response to “geopolitical and geoeconomic shifts” including China’s global “power and assertiveness,” as well as the growing importance of the region to “global prosperity and security.”

    The report references partnerships with countries including India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. [italics added by author]

    Another headline reads, “UK seeks more influence in Indo-Pacific as ‘moderating impact’ on China”:

    Calling the Indo-Pacific “increasingly the geopolitical centre of the world”, the government highlighted a planned British aircraft carrier deployment to the region and said a previously postponed visit to India would go ahead in April.

    The Chinese and Indians, representing two fifths of the population of planet Earth, have not forgotten the long murderous British military occupation of their lands. Does PM Boris Johnson imagine the rest of us have? The UK will push back into the Indo-Pacific region? We assume that those who wrote the Integrated Defence Review mean for Britain to ‘push back in’ Asia by riding on the coat tails of the American Empire’s killing machine, similarly as it has done in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Whew! It is sad to see such preposterous tough-guy war talk go unanswered by our leading alternate media anti-imperialist journalists. This nonsensical, boisterous, almost childish posturing of grown men (and some women) may be puerile, but they are curiously officials representing a nation with the sixth most powerful economy in the world. This is regardless of the fact that it be ever so dwarfed by that of China.

    This author, awaited some response to the British announcement of its increasing its number of nuclear warheads, but to date, has not read any published response.


    There is presently a renewed Western media frenzy over a hyped up demand for North Korea to give up its (defensive) nuclear weapons even after having been threatened by at least three US presidents with atomic attack (Truman, Eisenhower, and Trump, who threatened nuclear annihilation). Meanwhile Britain announces plans to increase its nuclear arsenal, claims a right to use nuclear weapons, and at the same time calls for China to reduce its nuclear arsenal.

    Cosmic insanity! North Korea, a tiny nation of twenty-five million has its citizens of all ages punished with cruel economic sanctions by the United Nations because it finally has a few nuclear weapons as a deterrent, after having been threatened for years with nuclear destruction. Meanwhile officials of the government of the United States of Americans, which once destroyed every North Korea city and town with napalm and bombs before threatening to use atomic bombs, regularly discusses how and when it might use its tens of thousands of nuclear tipped missiles in wars without referring to what would happen to the Earth’s atmosphere.

    It was the Americans, after dropping two atomic bombs on Japanese cities, who then targeted Soviet cities before the Soviets got their own nuclear bombs and were able to reply in kind. Yet, there is never even a polite request from the mass of Americans to destroy their vast nuclear arsenal — an arsenal of apocalyptic proportions!

    Last, but not least, is it apropos to mention the probability that humankind can no longer afford to have so much of its financial and human resources used for weapons and wars, and still have enough to avert a cataclysm by climate change and the abysmal ongoing degradation of Mother Nature.

    Jay Janson, spent eight years as Assistant Conductor of the Vietnam Symphony Orchestra in Hanoi and also toured, including with Dan Tai-son, who practiced in a Hanoi bomb shelter. The orchestra was founded by Ho Chi Minh,and it plays most of its concerts in the Opera House, a diminutive copy of the Paris Opera. In 1945, our ally Ho, from a balcony overlooking the large square and flanked by an American Major and a British Colonel, declared Vietnam independent. Everyone in the orchestra lost family, “killed by the Americans” they would mention simply, with Buddhist un-accusing acceptance. Jay can be reached at: tdmedia2000@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Jay.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • UK health minister Matt Hancock has warned the government’s timeline for unlocking coronavirus restrictions could be slowed as ministers remain “vigilant” against infection rates. What began in March 2020 as a three-week lockdown to ‘save the NHS’ has turned into a year-long clampdown on fundamental liberties with the spectre of freedom through vaccination (‘COVID status certificates’) and the eventual roll out of all-encompassing digital IDs on the horizon.

    In the meantime, children’s education, small independent businesses, livelihoods and lives have been wrecked all in the name of a coronavirus whose impact has been overstated – certainly if we take time to deconstruct the media narrative of 120,000 ‘COVID-19 deaths’ in the UK to see how that figure has been arrived at.

    For example, the vast majority of the deceased had on average almost two serious life-threatening co-morbidities and ‘COVID deaths’ are defined as someone who had a positive COVID test result within 28 days of death, regardless of subsequent cause of death.

    Moreover, in the UK, the average age of a ‘COVID death’ is 82.4, in a country where life expectancy is 81.

    Fear rather than science has been key to UK government strategy. Using lockdowns to control the virus has little if any scientific basis. On the other hand, there is much evidence that shows lockdowns destroy lives. Little wonder then that behavioural strategists are included as part of the top committee (SAGE) advising ministers. And little wonder, therefore, that the public overestimates the threat of COVID-19.

    What has disturbed many commentators, such as former Chief Justice Lord Sumption, is that the media, politicians and ordinary people have rolled over and accepted the erosion of fundamental civil liberties – and by implication, the tyranny of lockdown, based on a corruption of science and the type of medical hubris that Ivan Illich alluded to many decades ago.

    These are liberties that ordinary people fought and struggled (and often died) for down the ages.

    What is just as disturbing is that prominent commentators on the ‘left’ have supported the restrictions, often calling for tighter controls. Other voices on the left have been conspicuous by their silence. These figures have wholeheartedly bought into the official COVID-19 narrative – the people who are usually first in line to criticise and challenge anything a Conservative administration does.

    The aim here is not to regurgitate what has already been stated in the many articles that have appeared over the last year about the current crisis of capitalism or the ‘great reset’. The aim of this article is intended as a brief reminder.

    There is a tradition of struggle in Britain which many people appear to have abandoned – the very people who would be expected to carry on that proud tradition.

    People’s struggle

    Arthur Leslie Morton’s A People’s History of England is a classic text. Morton (1903-1987) takes us back to when humans first inhabited England and then on a forward journey that ends on the eve of the Second World War. His book shows that countless millions have inhabited the place we call England, from ancient hunter-gatherer tribes and the ‘Beaker People’, to the Vikings, Normans and those of the industrial age.

    If you are familiar with the words of the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan, they may well resonate when reading Morton’s book. Sagan stated that generals, kings, rulers and politicians have spilled rivers of blood just to become temporary masters of some or other part of the planet and that endless cruelties have been visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the globe upon inhabitants in another corner.

    However, in all of this cruelty and bloodshed, Morton accounts for the plight of the ordinary person, both in England and abroad, who has borne the brunt of war, famine, exploitation and the political machinations of tyrants and unscrupulous leaders, whether Roman, medieval monarch, feudal baron or modern-day capitalist.

    He describes the rise of feudalism and its decline, the agrarian revolution, the English Revolution, the rape of Ireland, colonial expansion and the Industrial Revolution.

    As this land grew to be the pre-eminent world power, ordinary people struggled to find a voice within these shifting tectonic plates of history. Nevertheless, they succeeded.

    Morton discusses the development of the working class movement and subsequent struggles: he notes the impact of the Peasants’ Revolt, Peterloo, trade unionism and many other inspiring events that litter the historical landscape of England.

    The conclusion to be drawn is that most change that has benefited ordinary people has resulted from the actions of ordinary folk themselves. Such benefits have never been handed out freely by the rich and powerful. This is true for women’s rights and political freedoms, as much as it is for workers’ rights or any other number of gains.

    This is worth bearing in mind as Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock et al decide whether to ‘give back’ to the public their liberties. History shows that once the powerful seize more power, they do not cede it unless forced to.

    If Morton shows us anything, it is that, when conscious of their collective interests, ordinary folk acting together can and do make a difference.

    Whether we look at Klaus Schwab’s ‘great reset’ and what it entails, the struggle of Indian farmers against Facebook, Google, Amazon and Cargill (etc) or Bill Gates and his plan to vaccinate the planet, geoengineer the climate or roll out his and his tech-giant cronies’ warped vision for a one-world fake-food agriculture, it is becoming increasingly clear that the rich and powerful are mounting an ultimate power grab.

    Based on their warped techno-utopian vision of the future, they want to exert total control of farming, food, nature, personal identities, information, the climate, our bodies – just about everything that will shape the rest of this century and beyond.

    They want to ‘build back better’ by ensuring they own everything and you own nothing. Lockdowns have been a convenient tool for helping to kick-start their ‘new normal’.

    A L Morton’s book can teach us much about resisting tyranny – but only if we listen.

    An abridged version of A People’s History of England (edited by Giles Wynne)  can be accessed here.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Despite the long-awaited political change in Washington as Democratic President, Joe Biden, has officially become the 46th President of the United States, Europe is unlikely to resume its previously unhindered reliance on its trans-Atlantic partner.

    The four years of Donald Trump were rife with tension and strife between the US and Europe – in fact, between the US and its traditional allies, including Mexico and Canada. However, the strain in the US-EU relationship long preceded Trump’s presidency.

    Trump’s eccentric personal style – and often blunt rhetoric and action – was an indicator to Europe that the continent urgently needed to create its own leadership alternatives to Washington. Following World War II, the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949 and the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact in 1991, the US became the uncontested leader of the West and, eventually, the globe’s only superpower. These dynamics are now experiencing an unparalleled influx.

    The US commitment to the post-war paradigm was clearly faltering. Consequently, statements from Europe’s political elites in recent years suggest a massive rethink among European governments regarding their definition of the relationship with Washington, an alliance that ran the world for decades.

    In an unprecedented statement in May 2017, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, articulated the massive shift in Europe’s new political outlook when she said, “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over.” In that momentous speech in Munich, Germany’s strong leader signaled the beginning of the end of the disproportionate reliance on the US and the UK.

    The reason behind the distrust in Washington and London was obvious. On the one hand, President Trump has labored to disrupt and reverse traditional US policies towards Europe, including a scathing attack on the integrity and the mission of NATO, and the latter’s usefulness to the US in terms of global security.

    The UK, no longer a member of the European Union, on the other hand, has confronted the EU with its greatest challenges, as it rejected not only EU’s fiscal, migration and other policies but also the very notion of the ‘European Community’. Coupled with Washington’s global retreat, ‘Brexit’ decisively ended any illusion that a post-WWII political scenario can still be possible.

    Attesting to this seismic change in the attitude of Europe’s mainstream politicians, were the remarks by French President, Emmanuel Macron, in November 2018 when he called for a “true European army” to protect the continent from outside threats. “We must have a Europe that can defend itself on its own without relying only on the United States,” Macron said.

    While there is some truth to media assertions that “the EU sighs with relief as Biden readies to enter White House,” this should not be confused with hyped European expectations that the new American President is able to fully reset EU-US ties of yesteryears, nor should it indicate European eagerness to engage the US with unfiltered trust and enthusiasm.

    Actual data from a large pan-European survey commissioned by the European Council on Foreign Relations confirm Europe’s fundamentally changing attitude toward the US. The survey included more than 15,000 people in 11 EU countries and was held after it became clear that Biden had won the US elections.

    According to the survey, the majority in leading EU countries believe that “the US political system is broken,” that “China will be more powerful than the US within a decade” and, finally, that “the Europeans cannot rely on the US to defend them.” Particularly interesting, the ECFR’s commissioned poll signaled a massive geopolitical shift in Europeans’ view towards global alliances, viewing “Berlin, rather than Washington, as the most important partner”.

    On the issue of trust, only 27% of polled Europeans believe that ‘Americans can be trusted’ after they voted for Trump in 2016. With Germany currently being Europe’s de facto leader, the views of Germans towards their American counterparts are particularly critical. Hence, the US must take note that 53% of German respondents have lost trust in a country that once was a close partner.

    ECFR chose the eve of Biden’s inauguration to release the findings of the report, itself a message to the new administration to tread very carefully while attempting to repair broken ties on both sides of the Atlantic.

    The ball is no longer in Washington’s court alone. The fact that the majority of Europeans believe in China’s impending global leadership in a matter of a few years means that the EU will have no patience for any American ultimatum to choose between Washington and Beijing. The latter is no longer a fleeting economic phenomenon but an irreversible force on the global stage that cannot be easily dismissed, effectively ‘sanctioned’ or simply wished away.

    The next few years should be enough for Europe to determine its new identity, without Britain and without relying on American guidance and leadership. Considering Europe’s brewing political crises, with Italy being the latest example, and the unavoidably dire economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Europe’s journey to a revamped version of itself is likely to be a painful one and, like all difficult choices, rife with challenges and much introspection.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • With changes of presidential administrations, radical departures in policy are always exaggerated.  Continuity remains, for the most part, a standard feature.  It is precisely that continuity being challenged by groups fearful of the continuing prosecution of Julian Assange.

    The effort by the US Justice Department to extradite Assange from the UK on eighteen charges based on the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act met a stumbling block in the courts on January 4 this year.  The decision by District Judge Vanessa Baraitser proved exceedingly unsympathetic to the press and to Assange in general, but found his “the mental condition … such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”

    Undeterred, the Justice Department promised to appeal (the February 12 deadline looms), while President Donald Trump showed little interest in dropping the case or using his pardoning powers.  With the Biden administration still finding its feet, advocacy groups have gathered to press for the dropping of the case against the founder of WikiLeaks.  On February 9, the Freedom of the Press Foundation sent a letter to President Joe Biden making the case.  Signatories included Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, the Knight First Amendment Institute, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.

    “While our organizations have different perspectives on Mr Assange and his organization,” states the letter, “we share the view that the government’s indictment of him poses a grave threat to press freedom both in the United States and abroad.”  The letter distils the implications of the continued prosecution to model simplicity.  The indictment is a threat to press freedom given that it covers the sort of conduct “journalists engage in routinely – and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do.”  Journalism entails speaking with sources, seeking clarification or further documentation and receiving and publishing documents “the government considers secret.”

    Biden is weakly kitted out in the garb of a press defender, having positioned himself against Trump’s designation of the fourth estate as “the Enemy of the People”.  In May last year, he promised that a Biden White House would ensure that there was “no bullying of the media from the press room podium or by tweet.”  But for a good stretch of the presidential campaign, Biden tended to ignore the press, part of a general strategy to avoid his famed bumbling.  For three months he did not hold a single news conference, even in virtual format.

    Biden was also Vice President in an administration that preached mightily about the values of the press while regularly resorting to the Espionage Act in prosecuting journalistic sources and whistleblowers.  Parker Higgins of the Freedom of the Press Foundation even argues that the Obama administration created a model Trump would grasp with glee, one characterised by the Espionage Act, efforts to “eviscerate reporter’s privilege,” the use of surveillance and the “abuse of the classification system”.

    The new president does not count himself among Assange’s fans.  In the aftermath of the publication of US State Department cables by WikiLeaks in 2010, Biden went so far as to call the publisher a “high-tech terrorist”, a position almost intemperate relative to other White House officials.  The point is worth reiterating, given the Obama administration’s general reluctance to prosecute either Assange or WikiLeaks given the proximity of their activities to journalism.  In 2013, Obama’s officials fell back on precedent, sparing WikiLeaks, and by virtue of that other press outlets, from legal action.

    In that unfortunate interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, an irony that eluded him at the time, the then Vice President revealed that the Justice Department was “taking a look” at possible charges.  If conspiracy could be proven behind obtaining “these classified documents with a member of the US military that is fundamentally different than if someone drops on your lap … if you are a press person, here is classified material.”

    Biden also threw cold water on any claims that the publications had been anything like the Pentagon Papers released during the Nixon administration.  Assange had “done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world.”  There was also a complaint that meeting world leaders had become more onerous.  “For example, in my meetings … there is a desire to meet with me alone, rather than have staff in the room.  It makes things more cumbersome – so it has done damage.”

    Such reasoning has been essentially duplicated in the current indictment, despite a paucity of evidence as to what actual harm the disclosures are said to have caused.   Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the release of the Pentagon Papers, told the court in Assange’s extradition trial that US authorities had “not been able to identify a single person at risk of death, incarceration or physical harm.”

    Given Biden’s previous form on the subject, it is hardly surprising that his administration is promising to continue the prosecution.  On February 9, Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi revealed that there would be no change of tack in pursuing Assange. “We continue to seek his extradition.”  The new is looking awfully like the old on this point.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • RT’s Murad Gazdiev reports on new evidence of links between MI6 and Russian opposition figure and activist Alexei Navalny. Then author and professor of international human rights Dan Kovalik joins Rick Sanchez to discuss the role of the US and UK in fomenting political discord in Russia and other countries.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • The instinct among parts of the left to cheer lead the right’s war crimes, so long as they are dressed up as liberal “humanitarianism”, is alive and kicking, as Owen Jones reveals in a column today on the plight of the Uighurs at China’s hands.

    The “humanitarian war” instinct persists even after two decades of the horror shows that followed the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US and UK; the western-sponsored butchering of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi that unleashed a new regional trade in slaves and arms; and the west’s covert backing of Islamic jihadists who proceeded to tear Syria apart.

    In fact, those weren’t really separate horror shows: they were instalments of one long horror show.

    The vacuum left in Iraq by the west – the execution of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of his armed forces – sucked in Islamic extremists from every corner of the Middle East. The US and UK occupations of Iraq served both as fuel to rationalise new, more nihilistic Islamic doctrines that culminated in the emergence of Islamic State, and as a training ground for jihadists to develop better methods of militarised resistance.

    That process accelerated in post-Gaddafi Libya, where Islamic extremists were handed an even more lawless country than post-invasion Iraq in which to recruit followers and train them, and trade arms. All of that know-how and weaponry ended up flooding into Syria where the same Islamic extremists hoped to establish the seat of their new caliphate.

    Many millions of Arabs across the region were either slaughtered or forced to flee their homes, becoming permanent refugees, because of the supposedly “humanitarian” impulse unleashed by George W Bush and Tony Blair.

    No lesson learnt

    One might imagine that by this stage liberal humanitarianism was entirely discredited, at least on the left. But you would be wrong. There are still those who have learnt no lessons at all – like the Guardian’s Owen Jones. In his column today he picks up and runs with the latest pretext for global warmongering by the right: the Uighurs, a Muslim minority that has long been oppressed by China.

    After acknowledging the bad faith arguments and general unreliability of the right, Jones sallies forth to argue – as if Iraq, Libya and Syria never happened – that the left must not avoid good causes just because bad people support them. We must not, he writes:

    sacrifice oppressed Muslims on the altar of geopolitics: and indeed, it is possible to walk and to chew gum; to oppose western militarism and to stand with victims of state violence. It would be perverse to cede a defence of China’s Muslims – however disingenuous – to reactionaries and warmongers.

    But this is to entirely miss the point of the anti-war and anti-imperialist politics that are the bedrock of any progressive left wing movement.

    Jones does at least note, even if very cursorily, the bad-faith reasoning of the right when it accuses the left of being all too ready to protest outside a US or Israeli embassy but not a Chinese or Russian one:

    Citizens [in the west] have at least some potential leverage over their own governments: whether it be to stop participation in foreign action, or encourage them to confront human rights abusing allies.

    But he then ignores this important observation about power and responsibility and repurposes it as a stick to beat the left with:

    But that doesn’t mean abandoning a commitment to defending the oppressed, whoever their oppressor might be. To speak out against Islamophobia in western societies but to remain silent about the Uighurs is to declare that the security of Muslims only matters in some countries. We need genuine universalists.

    That is not only a facile argument, it’s a deeply dangerous one. There are two important additional reasons why the left needs to avoid cheerleading the right’s favoured warmongering causes, based on both its anti-imperialist and anti-war priorities.


    Jones misunderstands the goal of the left’s anti-imperialist politics. It is not, as the right so often claims, about left wing “virtue-signalling”. It is the very opposite of that. It is about carefully selecting our political priorities – priorities necessarily antithetical to the dominant narratives promoted by the west’s warmongering political and media establishments. Our primary goal is to undermine imperialist causes that have led to such great violence and suffering around the world.

    Jones forgets that the purpose of the anti-war left is not to back the west’s warmongering establishment for picking a ‘humanitarian’ cause for its wars. It is to discredit the establishment, expose its warmongering and stop its wars.

    The best measure – practical and ethical – for the western left to use to determine which causes to expend its limited resources and energies on are those that can help others to wake up to the continuing destructive behaviours of the west’s political establishment, even when that warmongering establishment presents itself in two guises: whether the Republicans and the Democrats in the United States, or the Conservatives and the (non-Corbyn) Labour party in the UK.

    We on the left cannot influence China or Russia. But we can try to influence debates in our own societies that discredit the western elite headquartered in the US – the world’s sole military superpower.

    Our job is not just to weigh the scales of injustice – in any case, the thumb of the west’s power-elite is far heavier than any of its rivals. It is to highlight the bad faith nature of western foreign policy, and underscore to the wider public that the real aim of the west’s foreign policy elite is either to attack or to intimidate those who refuse to submit to its power or hand over their resources.

    Do no harm

    That is what modern imperialism looks like. To ignore the bad faith of a Pompeo, a Blair, an Obama, a Bush or a Trump simply because they briefly adopt a good cause for ignoble reasons is to betray anti-imperialist politics. To use a medical analogy, it is to fixate on one symptom of global injustice while refusing to diagnose the actual disease so that it can be treated.

    Requiring, as Jones does, that we prioritise the Uighurs – especially when they are the momentary pet project of the west’s warmongering, anti-China right – does not advance our anti-imperialist goals, it actively harms them. Because the left offers its own credibility, its own stamp of approval, to the right’s warmongering.

    When the left is weak – when, unlike the right, it has no corporate media to dominate the airwaves with its political concerns and priorities, when it has almost no politicians articulating its worldview – it cannot control how its support for humanitarian causes is presented to the general public. Instead it always finds itself coopted into the drumbeat for war.

    That is a lesson Jones should have learnt personally – in fact, a lesson he promised he had learnt – after his cooption by the corporate Guardian to damage the political fortunes of Jeremy Corbyn, the only anti-war, anti-imperialist politician Britain has ever had who was in sight of power.

    Anti-imperialist politics is not about good intentions; it’s about beneficial outcomes. To employ another medical analogy, our credo must to be to do no harm – or, if that is not possible, at least to minimise harm.

    The ‘defence’ industry

    Which is why the flaw in Jones’ argument runs deeper still.

    The anti-war left is not just against acts of wars, though of course it is against those too. It is against the global war economy: the weapons manufacturers that fund our politicians; the arms trade lobbies that now sit in our governments; our leaders, of the right and so-called left, who divide the world into a Manichean struggle between the good guys and bad guys to justify their warmongering and weapons purchases; the arms traders that profit from human violence and suffering; the stock-piling of nuclear weapons that threaten our future as a species.

    The anti-war left is against the globe’s dominant, western war economy, one that deceives us into believing it is really a “defence industry”. That “defence industry” needs villains, like China and Russia, that it must extravagantly arm itself against. And that means fixating on the crimes of China and Russia, while largely ignoring our own crimes, so that those “defence industries” can prosper.

    Yes, Russia and China have armies too. But no one in the west can credibly believe Moscow or Beijing are going to disarm when the far superior military might of the west – of NATO – flexes its muscles daily in their faces, when it surrounds them with military bases that encroach ever nearer their territory, when it points its missiles menacingly in their direction.

    Rhetoric of war

    Jones and George Monbiot, the other token leftist at the Guardian with no understanding of how global politics works, can always be relied on to cheerlead the western establishment’s humanitarian claims – and demand that we do too. That is also doubtless the reason they are allowed their solitary slots in the liberal corporate media.

    When called out, the pair argue that, even though they loudly trumpet their detestation of Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad, that does not implicate them in the wars that are subsequently waged against Iraq or Syria.

    This is obviously infantile logic, which assumes that the left can echo the rhetoric of the west’s warmongering power-elite without taking any responsibility for the wars that result from that warmongering.

    But Jones’ logic is even more grossly flawed than that. It pretends that the left can echo the rhetoric of the warmongers and not take responsibility for the war industries that constantly thrive and expand, whether or not actual wars are being waged at any one time.

    The western foreign policy elite is concerned about the Uighurs not because it wishes to save them from Chinese persecution or even because it necessarily intends to use them as a pretext to attack China. Rather, its professed concerns serve to underpin claims that are essential to the success of its war industries: that the west is the global good guy; that China is a potential nemesis, the Joker to our Batman; and that the west therefore needs an even bigger arsenal, paid by us as taxpayers, to protect itself.

    The Uighurs’ cause is being instrumentalised by the west’s foreign policy establishment to further enhance its power and make the world even less safe for us all, the Uighurs included. Whatever Jones claims, there should be no obligation on the left to give succour to the west’s war industries.

    Vilifying “official enemies” while safely ensconced inside the “defence” umbrella of the global superpower and hegemony is a crime against peace, against justice, against survival. Jones is free to flaunt his humanitarian credentials, but so are we to reject political demands dictated to us by the west’s war machine.

    The anti-war left has its own struggles, its own priorities. It does not need to be gaslit by Mike Pompeo or Tony Blair – or, for that matter, by Owen Jones.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • On 5 January, British MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi wrote a letter to Boris Johnson urging him to convey to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi the “heartfelt anxieties” of MPs’ constituents (many emanating from Punjab) regarding the treatment of protesting farmers in India. The letter was signed by more than 100 MPs and Lords and had cross-party support.

    Dhesi stated that many constituents had been horrified to see footage of water cannon, tear gas and brute force being used against protesting farmers on the outskirts of Delhi. He made it clear to Johnson that farmers were protesting against major corporates moving into India’s farming sector. Johnson was asked if he could clarify whether he understood the issue (a previous baffling statement by him indicated that he did not) and whether he agreed that everyone has a fundamental right to peaceful protest.

    The letter was written against the backdrop of an Indian diaspora community in Britain that had taken to the streets in support of Indian farmers who are demanding the repeal of three farm laws that were forced through the Indian Parliament. These laws could pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving farmers at the mercy of powerful corporate players.

    UK campaign

    The Landworkers’ Alliance (a UK cooperative) recently posted a link to a campaign page urging people in Britain to write to their MPs asking them to support farmers in India.

    The campaign explains that the legislation will:

    … loosen rules around sale, pricing and storage of farm produce, allowing a farm sector which has historically been protected by government regulation to be liberalised and opened to corporate investment.

    It says that India will be taken down the route that the UK has already followed towards the consolidation and industrialisation of the agriculture sector:

    … this is a path for agriculture that consolidates the control of corporations and supermarkets and negatively impacts the independent SME farming sector, destroying our food sovereignty.

    India is still very much an agrarian-based society with over 60 per cent of the population still depending (directly or indirectly) on agriculture for a living. The campaign notes that India’s states have strong powers to provide a guaranteed minimum price to farmers, which can provide a fair livelihood for them and the agricultural workers they may hire, alongside ensuring basic food security for India.

    Removal of these protections will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of these millions of farmers and farm workers and may lead to poverty and loss of dignity on an unimaginable scale.

    The campaign condemns the British government for being “implicit in promoting market reforms and providing expertise to the Indian government to allow private investment and increase corporate control of the agriculture sector in India.” For instance, the Conceptual Farmework on Agriculture and the UK-India Infrastructure Technical Co-Operation Facility (ITCF) promotes contract farming (one of the issues the farmers are protesting about) and finances consultants to “alleviate bottlenecks to private sector investment in agriculture” in India.

    Voice of the farmer

    In a short video that appears on the empirediaries.com YouTube channel, an interview with a protesting farmer camped outside near Delhi is very revealing.

    During lockdown and times of crisis, he says farmers are treated like “gods” but when they ask for their rights, they become labelled as “‘terrorists”.

    He goes on to say that the contested legislation is a matter of “ego” for Modi:

    Corporates invested in Modi before the election and brought him to power. He’s sold out. He’s an agent of Ambani and Adani. He’s unable to repeal the bills because his owners will scold him. He’s trapped. But we are not backing down either.

    The farmer then asks:

    Do ministers know how many seeds are needed to grow wheat on an acre of land? We farmers know. They made farm laws sitting in AC rooms. And they are teaching us the benefits!

    While corporates will initially pay good money for crops, once state-run markets are gone, they will become the only buyers and will beat prices down:

    Why can’t farmers put minimum prices on the crops we produce? A law must be brought to guarantee MSP. Whoever buys below MSP must be punished by law.

    In finishing, he asks why, in other sectors, do sellers get to put price tags on their products but not farmers.

    Visit the UK campaign page at here.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • The UK government has launched its public consultation on the deregulation of gene editing in England. To kick things off, somewhat predictably Environment Secretary George Eustice recently spun a staunch pro-industry line at the Oxford Farming Conference by stating:

    Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that Mother Nature has provided in order to tackle the challenges of our age. This includes breeding crops that perform better, reducing costs to farmers and impacts on the environment and helping us all adapt to the challenges of climate change.

    In the wake of Brexit, he attacked the EU’s stance on genetic engineering in agriculture by saying:

    Its potential was blocked by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018, which is flawed and stifling to scientific progress. Now that we have left the EU, we are free to make coherent policy decisions based on science and evidence. That begins with this consultation.

    Eustice’s statements form part of a long-term pro-genetic engineering-deregulation propaganda campaign. It follows on from Boris Johnson’s first speech to parliament as prime minister in 2019 in which he proclaimed:

    Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bioscience sector from anti-genetic modification rules and let’s develop the blight-resistant crops that will feed the world.

    The type of ‘liberation’ Johnson advocates forms part of the usual neoliberal evangelism which this time revolves around the adoption of unassessed genetically engineered crops and food, while overseeing the gutting of food safety and environmental standards, especially in light of a potential post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

    It is no secret that various Conservative-led administrations have wanted to break free from the EU regulatory framework on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for some time. In 2014, Genewatch exposed collusion between the government and global agribusiness giants to force GMOs into Britain above the heads of a highly sceptical public.

    In response to Eustice’s comments, GMWatch stated on its website that deregulation would result in no or few safety checks and probably no labelling for gene-edited products. This is despite dozens of top scientists having warned that they could be dangerous for human health and the environment in a 2017 Statement on New Genetic Modification Techniques.

    Commenting on the government’s recent press release sent out to journalists to publicise the consultation process, the Beyond GM campaign group said:

    … the mendacious propaganda material on the benefits of genome editing… which was sent to journalists throughout the country… will be widely taken up as fact, preventing any intelligent public debate during the consultation period.

    The press release is in GMWatch’s view “a pack of lies from beginning to end” based on unsubstantiated ‘jam tomorrow’ claims that gene editing has the potential to protect the nation’s environment, pollinators and wildlife. These claims ignore the reality that the first gene-edited crop to be commercialised (Cibus’s SU canola) is gene edited to survive being sprayed with toxic herbicides. GMWatch argues that there is no gene-edited crop available anywhere in the world that offers environmental benefits.

    It is telling that all the claimed advantages of gene-edited crops of the future are already available in the form of agroecological farming methods and high-performing conventionally bred crops. Agroecology offers system-wide solutions that tackle the now well-documented system-wide health, nutrition, social and environmental problems inherent in the model of industrial agriculture supported by corporations behind the genetic engineering project.

    However, the UK government shows no interest in these solutions.

    GMWatch notes that the government press release claims that gene editing is not genetic modification. The industry has put much effort into spinning this next generation of genetically engineered crops in this way. It wants at all costs to avoid the bad press and negative public perception that has surrounded the first generation of transgenic GMOs by avoiding the GMO tag.

    However, gene editing most certainly falls within the definitions of GMOs from technical, scientific and legal (in the EU) standpoints. In fact, the EU and existing UK definition of a GMO does not depend on whether it contains foreign DNA. EU law defines a GMO as an organism in which “the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination”. Regardless of what the government says, gene-edited organisms fall under this definition.

    Moreover, the government is wrong to claim that gene-edited organisms do not contain foreign DNA. This can happen intentionally (in the case of certain types of gene-edited organism) and unintentionally, as a result of the inherent inaccuracy and imprecision of gene-editing procedures. To support this claim, a compilation of peer reviewed evidence has been posted on the GMWatch website in the article ‘Science supports need to subject gene-edited plants to strict safety assessments’.

    As for the government’s claim that gene-edited organisms only contain “changes that could be made more slowly using traditional breeding methods”, GMWatch says:

    We look forward to their proof that the unintended outcomes of gene editing could happen in traditional breeding. They include large deletions, insertions and rearrangements of DNA, as well as unintended incorporation of foreign DNA and entire genes.

    Long-time campaigner Jim McNulty of the Genetic Engineering Network is scathing in his assessment of how the UK government is currently acting. He says:

    When we look at this administration, filled to the roof with fraud, corruption and cronyism, we now have Boris Johnson trying to make or break the rules on new gene-editing techniques.

    He adds that the Brexiteers in government wasted no time in setting their pro-GMO agenda:

    Within a week of leaving the EU, the UK moved quickly to challenge and compete with our former European partners. The US is refusing to regulate the new genetic engineering techniques, just like they did with the first wave of transgenic GMOs. We in Europe, in the mid-90s, were faced with untested, unstable and unregulated GMOs in soy and maize going into two thirds of EU food products.

    It was a mammoth task to bring politicians, supermarkets and all government bodies on board to regulate the original wave of GMOs.

    McNulty explains:

    We succeeded because in the UK, Germany and France campaigners and activists demanded action. The media, retailers and politicians buckled under the massive pressure of public opinion that we created to bring that about.

    The US also felt the pressure:

    Because the EU and its markets were the prize and there was so much anti-GM sentiment, GMOs were driven out and EU lawmakers have never changed their position. Science and public opinion won.

    McNulty argues that we now see treachery in our midst: a former member state has seen fit to bury 25 years of evolving laws and regulations founded on a science-based approach and the precautionary principle.

    The consultation will close on Wednesday, 17 March at 23:59 and can be accessed here.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • History, while not always a telling guide, can be useful.  But in moments of flushed confidence, it is not consulted and Cleo is forgotten.  A crisp new dawn can negate a glance to the past.  Having received the unexpected news that Julian Assange’s extradition to the United States for charges of breaching the Espionage Act of 1917 and computer intrusion had been blocked by Justice Vanessa Baraitser, his legal team and supporters were confident. All that was left was to apply for bail, see Assange safely to the arms of his family, and await the next move by wounded US authorities.

    Former UK ambassador Craig Murray, human rights activist and veteran reporter on the Assange case, was initially buoyant in his column.  “I fully expect Julian will be released on bail this week, pending a possible US appeal against the blocking of his extradition.”  He further got “the strong impression that Baraitser was minded to grant bail and wanted the decision to be fireproof.”

    That fireproofing never came.  On Wednesday, January 6, the application for bail by Assange’s legal team was rejected.  Counsel for the US government, Clair Dobbin, built the prosecution’s case around the strong possibility that the publisher might flee the clutches of UK authorities even as the US was gathering its wits for an appeal to the High Court.  “His history shows he will go to any lengths to get away.”

    Forums would welcome this disreputable character: Mexico, for instance, had offered to “protect Assange with political asylum.”  The defence might well say that he would not flee due to poor health, but could they be sure?  A “flight risk” had little to do with mental wellbeing.  Remember, she pressed, what he did during the Swedish proceedings, how he “ruthlessly” breached the trust of those who fronted the bail money. Those who had offered surety for him, such as the Duchess of Beaufort, Tracy Worcester, had also failed in ensuring that Assange presented in court in 2012.  Beware, warned Dobbin, of sinister networks of operatives he could call upon to aid him vanish.  WikiLeaks had, after all, facilitated the escape of Edward Snowden.

    Dobbin’s tone and manner – gloomy and Presbyterian, as Murray described it – was all judgment.  She insisted to the court that, “any idea that moral or principled reasons would bear on Mr Assange’s conscience turned out to be ill-founded indeed.”  And she had much to go on, as Baraitser’s own judgment had essentially accepted virtually everything the prosecution had submitted bar grounds of mental health and the risk posed to him in US prison facilities.

    As for the basis of whether an appeal would succeed, Dobbin was convinced the prosecution were on to something.  The judge, she respectfully submitted, had erred on a point of law in applying the incorrect test on the prison conditions awaiting Assange.  The test was not whether measures taken by US prison authorities would make suicide impossible; the only issue was for authorities to put measures in place to lessen its prospects.  Reprising her role in attacking various defence witnesses who had put together a picture of grotesque danger awaiting Assange, including the ADX supermax prison in Colorado, Dobbin was convinced that the US system stood the test.

    Sidestepping the defence evidence on this, more thorough than anything supplied by the likes of US Assistant US Attorney Gordon Kromberg during the trial, Dobbin argued that no thorough assessment of the facilities for treatment and prison conditions had taken place.

    Baraitser proved accommodating to Dobbin’s whipping submission.  “Notwithstanding the package offered by the defence, I am satisfied he might abscond.”  Having discharged Assange, she promptly repudiated her own ruling in a fit of Dickensian jurisprudence.  “The history of this case is well known…  Assange skipped bail and remained in the Ecuadorian Embassy to avoid extradition to the US.”  Assange would remain in Belmarsh prison pending the US appeal.

    In her Monday judgment, Baraitser had acknowledged the signs of potential suicide shown by Assange during his stay in Belmarsh.  The prison adjudication report confirmed that, on May 5, 2019 “during a routine search of the cell solely occupied by Mr Assange, inside a cupboard and concealed under some underwear, a prison officer found ‘half a razor blade’.”  Baraitser even went so far as to accept, based on the assessment of defence witness Professor Michael Kopelman, that the finding of the razor was not merely a “disciplinary infraction” but one of the “very many factors indicating Mr Assange’s depression and risk of suicide.”

    On Wednesday, her tune was indifferent to the consequences of sending Assange back to a maximum security prison stocked with Britain’s most notorious inmates.  Continuing her long spell of denial on the seriousness of COVID-19 in the UK prison system, she swatted the submission by defence counsel Edward Fitzgerald QC that there had been 59 cases specific to Belmarsh before Christmas and that the prison remained locked down.  Dobbin demurred on this point, showing an email sent by prison authorities at 10.49 pm the previous night claiming that only 3 positive tests for COVID for Belmarsh had been returned.

    The result is that Assange continues to be punished, facing brutal carceral conditions while he awaits the next move by US prosecutors, despite having already served his sentence of skipping bail.  As a dejected Murray wrote, “Julian is living his life in conditions both torturous and tortuous.”

    Amidst the banal cruelties of Wednesday’s proceedings came a smidgen of hope for Assange.  G. Zachary Terwilliger, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia handling the prosecution, had to admit to being uncertain about what a Biden administration would do.  Speaking to NPR, Terwilliger suggested that any decision taken on Assange would “come down to resources and where you’re going to focus your energies.” But he is not waiting to find out: a position at the law firm Vinson & Elkins awaits.

    The UK, having adopted a position as Washington’s proxy jailor, is not about to quit its sordid role. Assange’s wellbeing and health continue to be jeopardised by his stay in Britain’s most notorious prison, where determined despair, as Baraitser herself has acknowledged, can take their toll.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • A London court has ruled against those seeking Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US. Assange is charged with 17 counts of espionage as well as hacking.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Filling the espionage ranks with legions of the non-belonging comes with its share of risk.  The process is counter-intuitive, putting stock in skill and aptitude above the potential compromise of loyalty and divergence.  Eventually, such a recruit might find a set of closely guarded principles.

    The son of a Sephardic Jew and Dutch Protestant might well count as excellent material for British intelligence but George Behar ended up condemned in Britain and the toast of the now defunct Soviet Union.  George Blake, as he came to be known, along with that other great British export of betrayal, Kim Philby, was always convinced that to authentically betray, you had to belong.  That belonging came in loyalty to the Soviet Union.  As Russian President Vladimir Putin declared solemnly on Blake’s passing this month, “The memory of this legendary person will be preserved forever in our hearts.”

    The clandestine world of the Rotterdam-born Blake began early.  He joined the Dutch resistance during World War II, serving as a courier after obtaining a set of forged papers.  Under British instruction, he travelled through Brussels and Paris to unoccupied France, and made his way through neutral Spain, enduring a three-month period of imprisonment before making it to Britain via Gibraltar in January 1943.  A spell with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve led to his enlistment into the ranks of British intelligence in 1944.  There, he was charged with deciphering coded messages from the Dutch resistance.

    After the war, his intelligence brief followed the pattern that would lead to his imminent conversion.  He was tasked with keeping an eye on the Soviet forces in occupation of East Germany, a task he excelled at.  He undertook courses in Russian at Cambridge.  Then came the Communist states to the east: North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, and the Soviet Far East.  Stationed in South Korea just before the outbreak of the Korean War in November 1948, he was given the herculean mission of creating networks within North Korea itself.  In June 1950, he was captured by forces of the DPRK and interned with a coterie of diplomats and missionaries.

    The internment period of 34 months proved critical.  Blake claimed that his push towards the communist cause came during this time, a reaction to particularly brutal war methods, notably those used by the US Air Force.  “It made me feel ashamed of belonging to these overpowering technical superior countries fighting against what seemed to be quite defenceless people.”  The destruction of Korean villages, and a reading diet of Karl Marx, granted him alibis for the cause.  “I felt it better for humanity if the communist system prevailed, that it would put an end to war.”

    The credulous might think this to be the case, but Rebecca West, in her eminently interesting study of treachery in The Meaning of Treason, suggests a conversion during his time in the Dutch underground.  Blake himself remained cryptic in his later days.  “It is no longer of particular importance to me whether my motivations are generally understood or not,” he told the BBC’s Gordon Corera a decade before his death.

    On his return to England in 1953 as a free man, Blake had already been recruited as a Soviet agent.  His status as a full-blooded double agent was affirmed from his time in Berlin, where he was sent in 1955 with the mission of recruiting Soviet double agents.

    For almost a decade Blake passed on information to his KGB handlers both bountiful and rich. According to a US estimate, 4,720 pages of documentary material made its way into Soviet hands between April 1953 and April 1961.  It unmasked 40 MI6 agents in Eastern Europe.  Highly placed agents working for Western agencies such as General Robert Bialek, Inspector General of the People’s Police in East Germany, were captured, suffering death or imprisonment.

    Blake’s work also enabled the Soviets to score successes against the US Central Intelligence Agency.  The late CIA case officer William Hood is convinced that Blake played a salient role in unmasking Peter Popov, an officer of the GRU, the Soviet Union’s military intelligence service and, it so happens, a CIA agent.

    The greatest of blows, however, came in the exposure of the CIA Berlin Tunnel, which featured the tapping of three Soviet communications cables, an operation lasting 11 months and 11 days over 1955-6.  Conducted jointly with British intelligence, Operation Gold involved the digging of a 1,476 feet tunnel six feet in diameter from West Berlin into the communist eastern sector of the city.  Blake had foreknowledge of the tunnel, but a decision was made by the Soviets to prevent its initial exposure so as not to draw suspicion to their valuable mole.  The discovery of the project was duly engineered as an accident; British and US intelligence were left out of pocket, furnished with a trove of useless disinformation.

    Blake’s undoing came with the defection of Polish secret service officer, Michael Goleniewski.  On his recall to London, he was arrested and pleaded guilty to five counts of passing information to the Soviet Union, breaching the Official Secrets Act.  The case proved exceptional in a few respects.  There was the severity of the sentence: 42 years.  There was the breach of convention: the call made by the Lord Chief Justice Hubert Parker, to the then British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to discuss the case.  Even Macmillan was shocked by the decision.  “The LCJ has passed a savage sentence – 42 years!”  The Lord Chief Justice thought the time fitting, as Blake had, in his opinion, rendered much of the best efforts by British intelligence useless.

    The sentencing came as a rude shock to Blake, having expected a term of 14 years.  It also served to inspire support for his cause.  “As a result, I found a lot of people who were willing to help me for the reason they thought it was inhuman.”

    He would not be disappointed.  In 1966, with the assistance of two anti-nuclear campaigners, Michael Randle and Pat Pottle, aided by Sean Burke, a colourful Irish petty criminal, Blake made his escape from London’s Wormwood Scrubs.  Both Bourke and Blake were smuggled out of Britain and to East Germany.  Blake’s final destination would be the Soviet Union, where a colonel’s rank with the KGB, awards and belonging awaited.

    The British establishment was left reeling.  Randle and Pottle went on to justify their actions to save Blake from a sentence “vicious and indefensible, reflecting no credit on British justice but rather the obsessions of the Cold War, and the hypocrisy and double standards over espionage by ‘our’ side and ‘theirs’.”  To have spied for the Soviet Union was “no more reprehensible, morally or politically, than much of the activity of Western Intelligence Agencies.”

    One CIA note on Blake’s escape is sour.  “The facts of the escape demonstrated beyond doubt that it was engineered by the Soviets.  The buoying effect upon the morale of Soviet spies everywhere can be easily imagined.”  Once in the business of espionage, everything must have a sinister design, an architectural base upon which to reap success and failure.  One could always blame those other worthy agents of history, incompetence and complacence.  The journalist Philip Knightley, an accomplished student on the subject of espionage, points to a third: opportunity.

    The exploits of the Cambridge set – Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, John Cairncross and Philby – soiled British intelligence.  But Blake proved more devastating than all of them, though measuring that contribution is a near impossible task.  Britain’s secret services, as Andrew Boyle concludes, were embarrassed for both the harsh judicial sentence against Blake and the fact that his case “made, and still makes, the SIS the laughing-stock of the world.”  The skilled spy outwitted the SIS and CIA; the KGB gave him deserved recognition.  Had it not been for Blake’s own confession – the SIS having authorised him to maintain close connections with the Soviets – he might never have been nabbed.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Capitalism and patriotism do not share the same stable. When those in the business of accumulating profits suggest a love for flag and country, be wary.  Wars might take place and trade agreements struck by governments, but the capitalist will go for the market that matters, whatever the flag.

    A recent exponent of this proposition is Sir Jim Ratcliffe, a billionaire who was a strong advocate for Britain leaving the European Union. In approaching negotiations with the EU after the referendum result, he had an instruction to Britain’s diplomats: “We must listen, we must be unwaveringly polite and retain our charm. But there is no room for weakness or crumpling at 3am when the going gets tough and when most points are won or lost.” He praised Britain’s “decent set of cards”: London as a key financial centre; companies such as Mercedes continuing to sell cars in the country.

    This sentiment was echoed by other wealthy British billionaires who simply assumed that the consequences of a UK exit from the EU were going to be minor ripples rather than a massive shake. It was the sort of advice given by occupants of mansions and gilded penthouses, gradually ossifying with time. Lord Anthony Bamford, Chairman of JCB and Construction Equipment, claimed from his summit of comfort that “European markets are important to many UK businesses, including JCB, and this will not change.”  The UK, being the “world’s fifth largest trading nation” had “little to fear from leaving the EU.”

    Ditto the Barclay twins Sir David and Sir Frederick and John Caudwell, founder of Phones4u.  Caudwell remains dogmatically convinced that the EU was thieving from Britons, claiming that the “Brussels Bully Boys” had benefited “by £80 billion in trade benefit in trading with Britain,” plundered the UK’s fishing waters and obtained “£8 billion in net value from the country.”

    In the aftermath of the Brexit vote in 2016, Ratcliffe’s business mind initially turned to the Union Jack and all matters Britannic. He had hoped to build the Grenadier off-roader, inspired by the original Land Rover Defender, at a new plant at Bridgend in south Wales. To do so showed, according to Ratcliffe, “a significant expression of confidence in British manufacturing”. It also showed a leap of faith on his part, given how he had made his previous fortune.  As he told the Times in September 2017, “Maybe it’s a little bit arrogant for a chemical company to think it can produce a world class 4×4 but I think we can have confidence we can manufacture things.”

    But Sir Jim, with fine arrogance, was sniffing for other options, as have many firms who have been relocating, closing, and hacking through staff. In July, Ratcliffe’s Ineos Automotive began negotiations to purchase Mercedes-Benz’s Hambach site in Moselle. He was all praise for the facility and the workforce, which he considered “world-class”.  His company had “set out a vision to build the world’s best utilitarian 4×4, and at our new home in Hambach, we will do just that.”

    The Welsh Labour MP for Ogmore, Chris Elmore, was unimpressed by the extolling of French expertise at the expense of a British workforce. “The highly-skilled and dedicated workforce in Ogmore, Bridgend and surrounding areas would have risen to the challenge.”

    Sir James Dyson, despite being warm for his country’s EU departure, has also given Brexiteers a false sense of Making Britain Great Again. In September 2017, the inventor revealed his dreams to employees that “we’ve begun work on a battery electric vehicle, due to launch in 2020.” In immodest terms, this would become something like a European Tesla.

    Such optimism began to sour.  First came an epiphany on where the cars would be manufactured.  In October 2018, Dyson abandoned RAF Hullavington as a production site for the proposed cars, preferring Singapore.   Twelve months later, staff were informed that, despite developing “a fantastic electric car,” the project had not proved to be “commercially viable.”  That same year, it became clear to all that Singapore was his new love, with reports that Dyson had spent $54.24 million on purchasing the small state’s most expensive penthouse at Guoco Tower.

    Dyson had also taken a shine to Singapore’s company tax arrangements.  Chief executive for Dyson’s company Jim Rowan suggested that the decision had little to with Brexit or even that thorny issue of tax.  He preferred using a hideous term to cover the obvious: “future-proofing”.  The billionaire was merely being prudent.  But Rowan also tellingly revealed that Dyson should not be considered a British entity so much as a “global technology company.”  Patriotism could sod it.

    Not to be outdone on the issue of tax, Ratcliffe has also made a critical move on preserving his earnings.  Just to show how bound up he feels to his fellow Britons, the Ineos boss has also changed his tax domicile.  Brexit Britain will no longer be receiving tax revenue from a man whose wealth is valued at £17.5 billion.  His move to Monaco will save him, and lose the UK government, £4 billion.  Patriotic he might claim to be, but certainly not when it comes to his wallet.  As Jonathan Freedland caustically observes, such figures are part of “a Brexiteer elite who believe that the pain of Brexit is for the little people.”

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.

  • Before the January 4 ruling of District Judge Vanessa Baraitser in the extradition case of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks publisher will continue to endure the ordeal of cold prison facilities while being menaced by a COVID-19 outbreak.  From November 18, Assange, along with inmates in House Block 1 at Belmarsh prison in south-east London, were placed in lockdown conditions.  The measure was imposed after three COVID-19 cases were discovered.

    The response was even more draconian than usual.  Exercise was halted; showers prohibited.  Meals were to be provided directly to the prisoner’s cell.  Prison officials described the approach as a safety precaution.  “We’ve introduced further safety measures following a number of positive cases,” stated a Prison Service spokesperson.

    Assange’s time at Belmarsh is emblematic of a broadly grotesque approach which has been legitimised by the national security establishment.  The pandemic has presented another opportunity to knock him off, if only by less obvious means.  The refusal of Judge Baraitser to grant him bail, enabling him to prepare his case in conditions of guarded, if relative safety, typifies this approach.  “Every day that passes is a serious risk to Julian,” explains his partner, Stella Moris.  “Belmarsh is an extremely dangerous environment where murders and suicides are commonplace.”

    Belmarsh already presented itself as a risk to one’s mental bearings prior to the heralding of the novel coronavirus.  But galloping COVID-19 infections through Britain’s penal system have added another, potentially lethal consideration.  On November 24, Moris revealed that some 54 people in Assange’s house block had been infected with COVID-19.  These included inmates and prison staff.  “If my son dies from COVID-19,” concluded a distressed Christine Assange, “it will be murder.”

    The increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Belmarsh has angered the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer.  On December 7, ten years from the day of Assange’s first arrest, he spoke of concerns that 65 out of approximately 160 inmates had tested positive.  “The British authorities initially detained Mr. Assange on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Sweden in connection with allegations of sexual misconduct that have since been formally dropped due to lack of evidence.” He was currently being “detained for exclusively preventive purposes, to ensure his presence during the ongoing US extradition trial, a proceeding which may well last several years.”

    The picture for the rapporteur is unmistakable, ominous and unspeakable.  The prolonged suffering of the Australian national, who already nurses pre-existing health conditions, amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.  Imprisoning Assange was needlessly brutal.  “Mr. Assange is not a criminal convict and poses no threat to anyone, so his prolonged solitary confinement in a high security prison is neither necessary nor proportionate and clearly lacks any legal basis.”  Melzer suggested immediate decongestion measures for “all inmates whose imprisonment is not absolutely necessary” especially those, “such as Mr Assange, who suffers from a pre-existing respiratory health condition.”

    Free speech advocates are also stoking the fire of interest ahead of Baraitser’s judgment.  In Salon, Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, penned a heartfelt piece wondering what had happened to the fourth estate.  “Where is the honest reporting that we all so desperately need, and upon which the very survival of democracy depends?”  Never one to beat about the bush, Waters suggested that it was “languishing in Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh.”  To extradite Assange would “set the dangerous precedent that journalists can be prosecuted merely for working with inside sources, or for publishing information the government deems harmful.”  The better alternative: to dismiss the charges against Assange “and cancel the extradition proceedings in the kangaroo court in London.”

    In the meantime, a vigorous campaign is being advanced from the barricades of Twitter to encourage President Donald Trump to pardon Assange.  Moris stole the lead with her appeal on Thanksgiving.  Pictures of sons Max and Gabriel were posted to tingle the commander-in-chief’s tear ducts.  “I beg you, please bring him home for Christmas.”

    Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has added her name to the Free Assange campaign, directing her pointed wishes to the White House.  “Since you’re giving pardons to people,” she declared, “please consider pardoning those who, at great personal sacrifice, exposed the deception and criminality in the deep state.”

    Pamela Anderson’s approach was somewhat different and, it should be said, raunchily attuned to her audience.  She made no qualms donning a bikini in trying to get the president’s attention.  “Bring Julian Assange Home Australia,” went her carried sign, tweeted with a message to Trump to pardon him.  Glenn Greenwald, formerly of The Intercept, proved more conventional, niggling Trump about matters of posterity.  “By far the most important blow Trump could strike against the abuse of power by CIA, FBI & the Deep State – as well as to impose transparency on them to prevent future abuses – is a pardon of @Snowden & Julian Assange, punished by those corrupt factions for exposing their abuses.”  Alan Rusbridger, formerly editor of The Guardian, agrees.

    While often coupled with Assange in the pardoning stakes, Edward Snowden has been clear about his wish to see the publisher freed.  “Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency during your time in office, please: free Julian Assange.  You alone can save his life.”  As well meant as this is, Trump’s treasury of pardons is bound to be stocked by other options, not least for himself.

    This post was originally published on Radio Free.