How Sen. Rick Scott Became Big Oil’s Point Man on Venezuelan Regime Change

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While National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have helped drive the Trump administration’s maximum pressure-style campaign against Venezuela, Rubio’s counterpart, Senator Rick Scott, has been every bit as fanatical about regime change in Caracas.

Speaking to a packed house of former government officials, oil executives, and lobbyists at a June 20th Atlantic Council event entitled “Russian Influence in Venezuela: What Should the United States Do?,” Scott launched into a tirade against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
“There is clearly genocide happening in Venezuela right now,” Scott declared. “Tens of thousands are dead, and it’s clearly genocide and it’s in our hemisphere.” 

Scott wasn’t referring to the tens of thousands of Venezuelans that have died as a result of the crippling US sanctions regime since 2017. He was pointing instead at Venezuela’s president.

“We are watching little children like my grandson Eli starve to death, intentionally!” Scott bellowed. “And there is one person that’s primarily responsible for it, and his name is Nicolás Maduro… I think we have to be very clear, whether it’s President Putin, President Xi or the Castro regime or Iran, they are part of killing little children.” 

In August 2017, as the United States launched the opening salvo of its economic assault on Venezuela, American oil and gas corporations who poured huge sums into Scott’s electoral campaign colluded in an attempt to suffocate the country’s energy sector.

At the same time, Scott – whose oil-heavy investment portfolio stood to grow as a result of the prospective coup – led the way in the halls of power in Washington. 

Scott’s donors in big oil have a clear interest in toppling Venezuela’s government. Since 2007, when President Hugo Chávez nationalized the assets of Venezuela’s national oil company, Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA), companies like ExxonMobil have been cut out of the country’s market.

“They will never rob us again, those bandits of ExxonMobil; they are imperialist bandits, white collar criminals, corruptors of governments, over-throwers of governments, who supported the invasion and bombing of Iraq and continue supporting the genocide in Iraq,” Chávez thundered that year on his weekly TV show Alo Presidente.

Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil at the time, sued Venezuela in international arbitration court, demanding the full $10 billion in lost assets. Tillerson was initially awarded $1.6 billion, but the compensation was reduced to approximately $188 million before a US appeals court blocked the award altogether.

In 2017, Tillerson became Trump’s first secretary of state and initiated the administration’s push for regime change in an apparent attempt at revenge.

When Rick Scott launched his first campaign for Florida governor, he relied on heavy donations from the same US-based oil titans seeking to retake Venezuela’s oil wealth. As the wealthiest person to serve as Florida’s governor, Scott also dipped into his $500 million family fortune to fund his campaign. But those assets were also heavily tied up in oil industry investments.

Big oil fills Scott’s stock portfolio and stuffs his campaign coffers

During his 2018 campaign for the Senate, Scott raked in tens of thousands of dollars from oil and gas industry political action committees, many of which had previously been customers of Venezuela’s national PDVSA oil company.

FEC records show Scott received $7,500 from Marathon Oil Corporation in 2018 through its PAC. Marathon had long anticipated the rounds of sanctions against Venezuela and had weaned itself off of the country’s crude in preparation.

Prior to the January 2019 sanctions that made importing fuel from PDVSA illegal, Marathon slashed its imports by 90 percent. “We saw this coming a long time ago,” Marathon CEO Gary Heminger said. “Five years ago [sanctions] would have had impact.” 

As president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, Cuba-born Maximo Alvarez contributed $38,500 to political action committees (PACs) supporting Scott’s run for Senate, while funneling a joint total of $66,200 in individual contributions with Sunshine Vice President Sandra Reuss.

Alvarez currently owns more than 300 gas stations in south Florida, maintaining gasoline contracts with Marathon, CITGO, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, and Texaco. 

Valero Energy Corporation was the top purchaser of Venezuelan oil until the US embargo choked off the country’s exports. When Scott ran for Senate, this oil titan’s PAC contributed $5,000. 

Scott’s campaign bragged that companies supported Scott because of his hard-line stance against Venezuela’s leftist government. “Those who contribute to the campaign do so to support his candidacy, which includes calling for an end to the Maduro regime,” a spokesperson told Politico.

Chevron’s PAC gave Rick Scott $10,000 in 2018 after it had cut Venezuelan oil imports by 27 percent, and Exxon’s PAC had contributed $5,000 to the campaign as well.

Scott and his wife owned as much as $30,000 in Chevron stocks and $65,000 in ExxonMobil stocks at the time the companies were funding his campaign, putting the couple in prime position to reap profits from regime change.

By 2014, Scott had a stake of $528,032 in Phillips 66. This oil giant was the fourth-largest importer of Venezuelan crude oil until 2017, and stopped importing Venezuelan oil altogether when the country was placed under embargo the following year.

As governor of Florida, Scott was the driving force behind his state’s decision to prohibit investment in Venezuela in 2017. A year later, he led the charge to enshrine that measure into state law.

Begging for an invasion

From the Atlantic Council podium, Scott opened up the floor for new ideas on attacking Venezuela’s economy.

“I tell people every day, ‘If you have an idea, I will see if I can make it happen,” the senator remarked, gazing out at the audience. 

As the event transitioned into Q&A, a fresh-faced young Venezuelan emigre named Daniel DiMartino rose nervously from the crowd to deliver a plea for the US to wage a military assault on Venezuela.
“I think this is just what every Venezuelan is asking right now,” DiMartino declared insistently, “and I think the most important question here is what will it take from the United States to give a real threat of military action to free Venezuela and actually follow through on that threat?”

While DiMartino sought to portray himself as an average Venezuelan, he was, in fact, a member of the hard-line Vente Venezuela (Come On Venezuela), an opposition party founded in 2012 by María Corina Machado.

One of Venezuela’s most extreme right-wing rabble rousers, Machado was implicated in an alleged plot to assassinate President Maduro in 2010. This January, when the US-backed coup was put into motion, Machado’s party introduced a call for the US military to enact the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, a thinly veiled call for invasion.

DiMartino is also an intern for Republican Indiana Sen. Todd Young, and a regular guest on Fox News and CNN, where he implores the US to invade Venezuela, just as he did at the Atlantic Council. 

But his call fell on deaf ears.

“We in the United States don’t have a lot of public support for a military intervention in Venezuela, or anywhere else for that matter, at the moment,” former Pentagon official Evelyn Farkas lamented. 

Farkas might have been as hawkish as anyone on the stage. She oversaw the Obama administration’s Russia policy until 2015 and proposed sending offensive weapons to far-right militias in Ukraine, a plan that was shelved until the Trump administration approved it in 2017. But even a hardliner like her understood that an invasion of Venezuela was a recipe for political and military disaster.

With Maduro still entrenched in the Miraflores presidential palace and firmly in control of PDVSA, Rick Scott may have to wait a while for his Exxon stocks to skyrocket. 

Reprinted with permission from The Grayzone Project.

Support the Grayzone Project here.

Trump To Unleash Hell On Europe: EU Announces Channel To Circumvent SWIFT And Iran Sanctions Is Now Operational

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With the world waiting for the first headlines from the Trump-Xi meeting, the most important and unexpected news of the day hit moments ago, when Europe announced that the special trade channel, Instex, that will allow European firms to avoid SWIFT and bypass American sanctions on Iran, is now operational.

Following a meeting between the countries who singed the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was ditched by US, French, British and German officials said the trade mechanism which was proposed last summer and called Instex, is now operational.

As a reminder, last September, in order to maintain a financial relationship with Iran that can not be vetoed by the US, Europe unveiled a "Special Purpose Vehicle" to bypass SWIFT. The mechanism would facilitate transactions between European and Iranian companies, while preventing the US from vetoing the transactions and pursuing punitive measures on those companies and states that defied Trump. The payment balancing system will allow companies in Europe to buy Iranian goods, and vice-versa, without actual money-transfers between European and Iranian banks.

The statement came after the remaining signatures of JCPOA gathered in Vienna for a meeting that Iranian ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called "the last chance for the remaining parties...to gather and see how they can meet their commitments towards Iran."

Until today, Tehran was skeptical about EU's commitment to the deal and threatened to exceed the maximum amount of enriched uranium allowed it by the deal after US had imposed a series of sanctions on the country.

Meanwhile, opponents of Instex - almost exclusively the US - have argued that the mechanism is flawed because the Iranian institution designated to work with Instex, the Special Trade and Finance Instrument, has shareholders with links to entities already facing sanctions from the US

The announcement sent oil sharply lower, with crude futures falling about $1/bbl in closing minutes before settlement, extending daily loss, as it means Iran now has a fully functioning pathway to receive payment for oil it exports to anyone it chooses.

The announcement will likely send president Trump off the rails, because in late May Bloomberg reported that as part of Trump's escalating battle with "European allies" over the fate of the Iran nuclear accord, he was "threatening penalties against the financial body created by Germany, the U.K. and France to shield trade with the Islamic Republic from US sanctions" including the loss of access to the US financial system.

According to Bloomberg, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, sent a letter on May 7 warning that Instex, the European SPV to sustain trade with Tehran, and anyone associated with it could be barred from the US financial system if it goes into effect.

“I urge you to carefully consider the potential sanctions exposure of Instex,” Mandelker wrote in an ominous letter to Instex President Per Fischer. "Engaging in activities that run afoul of US sanctions can result in severe consequences, including a loss of access to the US financial system."

Germany, France and the U.K. finalized the Instex system in January, allowing companies to trade with Iran without the use of US dollars or American banks, allowing them to get around wide-ranging US sanctions that were imposed after the Trump administration abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year.

“This is a shot across the bow of a European political establishment committed to using Instex and its sanctions-connected Iranian counterpart to circumvent US measures,” said Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.

Here is a simpler summary of what just happened: this was the first official shot across the bow of the USD status as a global reserve currency, and not by America's adversaries but by its closest allies. And once those who benefit the most from the status quo openly revolt against it, the countdown to the end of the USD reserve status officially begins.

* * *

When asked to comment on the letter, the Treasury Department issued a statement saying “entities that transact in trade with the Iranian regime through any means may expose themselves to considerable sanctions risk, and Treasury intends to aggressively enforce our authorities.”

The US ire was sparked by the realization - and alarm - that cracks are appearing in the dollar's reserve status, opponents of Instex argue - at least for public consumption purposes - that the mechanism is flawed because the Iranian institution designated to work with Instex, the Special Trade and Finance Instrument, has shareholders with links to entities already facing sanctions from the US

Separately, during a visit to London on May 8, Mike Pompeo also warned that there was no need for Instex because the US allows for humanitarian and medical products to get into Iran without sanction.

“When transactions move beyond that, it doesn’t matter what vehicle’s out there, if the transaction is sanctionable, we will evaluate it, review it, and if appropriate, levy sanctions against those that were involved in that transaction,” Pompeo said. “It’s very straightforward.”

In conclusion, one month ago we said that "In 2018, Europe made a huge stink about not being bound by Trump's unilateral breach of the Iranian deal, and said it would continue regardless of US threats. But now that the threats have clearly escalated, and Washington has made it clear it won't take no for an answer, it will be interesting to see if Europe's resolve to take on Trump - especially in light of the trade war with China - has fizzled. "

The answer, it appears is that Europe felt unexpectedly emboldened, just hours before Trump's meeting with Xi, and that it is ready and willing to call Trump's bluff; it goes without saying, that if the US does indeed retaliate and proceed with sanctions against European banks, than the global trade war is about to turn far, far uglier.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Trump To Unleash Hell On Europe: EU Announces Channel To Circumvent SWIFT And Iran Sanctions Is Now Operational

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With the world waiting for the first headlines from the Trump-Xi meeting, the most important and unexpected news of the day hit moments ago, when Europe announced that the special trade channel, Instex, that will allow European firms to avoid SWIFT and bypass American sanctions on Iran, is now operational.

Following a meeting between the countries who singed the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was ditched by US, French, British and German officials said the trade mechanism which was proposed last summer and called Instex, is now operational.

As a reminder, last September, in order to maintain a financial relationship with Iran that can not be vetoed by the US, Europe unveiled a "Special Purpose Vehicle" to bypass SWIFT. The mechanism would facilitate transactions between European and Iranian companies, while preventing the US from vetoing the transactions and pursuing punitive measures on those companies and states that defied Trump. The payment balancing system will allow companies in Europe to buy Iranian goods, and vice-versa, without actual money-transfers between European and Iranian banks.

The statement came after the remaining signatures of JCPOA gathered in Vienna for a meeting that Iranian ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called "the last chance for the remaining parties...to gather and see how they can meet their commitments towards Iran."

Until today, Tehran was skeptical about EU's commitment to the deal and threatened to exceed the maximum amount of enriched uranium allowed it by the deal after US had imposed a series of sanctions on the country.

Meanwhile, opponents of Instex - almost exclusively the US - have argued that the mechanism is flawed because the Iranian institution designated to work with Instex, the Special Trade and Finance Instrument, has shareholders with links to entities already facing sanctions from the US

The announcement sent oil sharply lower, with crude futures falling about $1/bbl in closing minutes before settlement, extending daily loss, as it means Iran now has a fully functioning pathway to receive payment for oil it exports to anyone it chooses.

The announcement will likely send president Trump off the rails, because in late May Bloomberg reported that as part of Trump's escalating battle with "European allies" over the fate of the Iran nuclear accord, he was "threatening penalties against the financial body created by Germany, the U.K. and France to shield trade with the Islamic Republic from US sanctions" including the loss of access to the US financial system.

According to Bloomberg, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, sent a letter on May 7 warning that Instex, the European SPV to sustain trade with Tehran, and anyone associated with it could be barred from the US financial system if it goes into effect.

“I urge you to carefully consider the potential sanctions exposure of Instex,” Mandelker wrote in an ominous letter to Instex President Per Fischer. "Engaging in activities that run afoul of US sanctions can result in severe consequences, including a loss of access to the US financial system."

Germany, France and the U.K. finalized the Instex system in January, allowing companies to trade with Iran without the use of US dollars or American banks, allowing them to get around wide-ranging US sanctions that were imposed after the Trump administration abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year.

“This is a shot across the bow of a European political establishment committed to using Instex and its sanctions-connected Iranian counterpart to circumvent US measures,” said Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.

Here is a simpler summary of what just happened: this was the first official shot across the bow of the USD status as a global reserve currency, and not by America's adversaries but by its closest allies. And once those who benefit the most from the status quo openly revolt against it, the countdown to the end of the USD reserve status officially begins.

* * *

When asked to comment on the letter, the Treasury Department issued a statement saying “entities that transact in trade with the Iranian regime through any means may expose themselves to considerable sanctions risk, and Treasury intends to aggressively enforce our authorities.”

The US ire was sparked by the realization - and alarm - that cracks are appearing in the dollar's reserve status, opponents of Instex argue - at least for public consumption purposes - that the mechanism is flawed because the Iranian institution designated to work with Instex, the Special Trade and Finance Instrument, has shareholders with links to entities already facing sanctions from the US

Separately, during a visit to London on May 8, Mike Pompeo also warned that there was no need for Instex because the US allows for humanitarian and medical products to get into Iran without sanction.

“When transactions move beyond that, it doesn’t matter what vehicle’s out there, if the transaction is sanctionable, we will evaluate it, review it, and if appropriate, levy sanctions against those that were involved in that transaction,” Pompeo said. “It’s very straightforward.”

In conclusion, one month ago we said that "In 2018, Europe made a huge stink about not being bound by Trump's unilateral breach of the Iranian deal, and said it would continue regardless of US threats. But now that the threats have clearly escalated, and Washington has made it clear it won't take no for an answer, it will be interesting to see if Europe's resolve to take on Trump - especially in light of the trade war with China - has fizzled. "

The answer, it appears is that Europe felt unexpectedly emboldened, just hours before Trump's meeting with Xi, and that it is ready and willing to call Trump's bluff; it goes without saying, that if the US does indeed retaliate and proceed with sanctions against European banks, than the global trade war is about to turn far, far uglier.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Problems Arise with Washington’s Latest ‘Color Revolution’ in Hong Kong

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The Western media has been boasting over recent protests in Hong Kong. Western headlines have claimed the protests have “rattled” Beijing’s leadership.

The protests have been organized to obstruct Hong Kong’s elected government from moving forward with an extradition bill. The bill would further integrate Hong Kong’s legal system with that of mainland China’s, allowing suspects to be sent to the mainland, Taiwan, or Macau to face justice for crimes committed anywhere in Chinese territory.

The protests oppose the extradition bill as a wider means of opposing Hong Kong’s continued reintegration with China – arguing that the “One Country, Two Systems” terms imposed by the British upon Hong Kong’s return under Chinese sovereignty in 1997 must be upheld.

Uprooting the Last Vestiges of British Imperialism 

The story of Hong Kong is one of territory violently seized by the British Empire from China in 1841, being controlled as a colony for nearly 150 years, and begrudgingly handed over to China in 1997.

The “One Country, Two Systems” conditions imposed by the British were a means of returning Hong Kong to China in theory, but in practice maintaining Hong Kong as an enduring outpost of Western influence within Chinese territory. The West’s economic and military power in 1997 left Beijing little choice but to agree to the terms.

Today, the Anglo-American international order is fading with China now the second largest economy on Earth and poised to overtake the US at any time. With economic and military power now on China’s side, it has incrementally uprooted the vestiges of British colonial influence in Hong Kong – the extradition bill being the latest example of this unfolding process.

Beijing has reclaimed Hong Kong through economic and political means. Projects like the recently completed Hong Kong high-speed rail link and the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macao Bridge have helped increase the number of mainlanders – laborers, visitors, and entrepreneurs – travelling to, living in, and doing business with Hong Kong. With them come mainland values, culture, and politics.

Hong Kong’s elected government is now composed of a majority of openly pro-Beijing parties and politicians. They regularly and easily defeat Hong Kong’s so-called “pan-democratic” and “independence” parties during elections. It is the elected, pro-Beijing government of Hong Kong that has proposed the recent extradition bill to begin with – a fact regularly omitted in Western coverage of the protests against the bill.

US Color Revolution Masquerades as “Popular Opposition”

Unable to defeat the bill legislatively, Hong Kong’s pro-Western opposition has taken to the streets. With the help of Western media spin – the illusion of popular opposition to the extradition bill and Beijing’s growing influence over Hong Kong is created.

What is not only omitted – but actively denied – is the fact that the opposition’s core leaders, parties, organizations, and media operations are all tied directly to Washington DC via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and corporate foundations like Open Society Foundation.

Hong Kong’s opposition has already long been exposed as US-sponsored.

This includes the entire core leadership of the 2014 so-called “Occupy Central” protests, also known as the “Umbrella Revolution.” Western media has portrayed recent anti-extradition bill protests as a continuation of the “Umbrella” protests with many of the same organizations, parties, and individuals leading and supporting them.

The Western media has attempted to dismiss this in the past. The New York Times in a 2014 article titled, “Some Chinese Leaders Claim US and Britain Are Behind Hong Kong Protests,” would claim:
Protest leaders said they had not received any funding from the United States government or nonprofit groups affiliated with it. Chinese officials choose to blame hidden foreign forces, they argued, in part because they find it difficult to accept that so many ordinary people in Hong Kong want democracy.
Yet what the protest leaders claim and what is documented fact are two different things. The New York Times article itself admits that:
…the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit directly supported by Washington, distributed $755,000 in grants in Hong Kong in 2012, and an additional $695,000 last year, to encourage the development of democratic institutions. Some of that money was earmarked “to develop the capacity of citizens — particularly university students — to more effectively participate in the public debate on political reform.”
While the New York Times and Hong Kong opposition deny this funding has gone to protesters specifically, annual reports from organizations opposition members belong to reveal that it has.

Hong Kong’s opposition leaders receiving US support include:

Benny Tai: a law professor at the University of Hong Kong and a regular collaborator with the US NED and NDI-funded Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) also of the University of Hong Kong.

In the CCPL’s 2006-2007 annual report, (PDF, since deleted) he was named as a board member – a position he has held until at least as recently as last year. In CCPL’s 2011-2013 annual report (PDF, since deleted), NED subsidiary, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is listed as having provided funding to the organization to “design and implement an online Models of Universal Suffrage portal where the general public can discuss and provide feedback and ideas on which method of universal suffrage is most suitable for Hong Kong.”

In CCPL’s annual report for 2013-2014 (PDF, since deleted), Tai is not listed as a board member but is listed as participating in at least 3 conferences organized by CCPL, and as heading at least one of CCPL’s projects. At least one conference has him speaking side-by-side another prominent “Occupy Central” figure, Audrey Eu. The 2013-2014 annual report also lists NDI as funding CCPL’s “Design Democracy Hong Kong” website.

Joshua Wong: “Occupy Central” leader and secretary general of the “Demosisto” party. While Wong and other have attempted to deny any links to Washington, Wong would literally travel to Washington once the protests concluded to pick up an award for his efforts from NED subsidiary, Freedom House.

Audrey Eu Yuet-mee: the Civic Party chairwoman, who in addition to speaking at CCPL-NDI functions side-by-side with Benny Tai, is entwined with the US State Department and its NDI elsewhere. She regularly attends forums sponsored by NED and its subsidiary NDI. In 2009 she was a featured speaker at an NDI sponsored public policy forum hosted by “SynergyNet,” also funded by NDI. In 2012 she was a guest speaker at the NDI-funded Women’s Centre “International Women’s Day” event, hosted by the Hong Kong Council of Women (HKCW) which is also annually funded by the NDI.

Martin Lee: a senior leader of the Occupy Central movement. Lee organized and physically led protest marches. He also regularly delivered speeches according to the South China Morning Post. But before leading the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, he and Anson Chan were in Washington D.C. before the NED soliciting US assistance (video).

During a talk in Washington titled, “Why Democracy in Hong Kong Matters,” Lee and Chan would lay out the entire “Occupy Central” narrative about independence from Beijing and a desire for self-governance before an American audience representing a foreign government Lee, Chan, and their entire opposition are ironically very much dependent on. NED would eventually release a statement claiming that it has never aided Lee or Chan, nor were Lee or Chan leaders of the “Occupy Central” movement.

But by 2015, after “Occupy Central” was over, NED subsidiary Freedom House would not only invite Benny Tai and Joshua Wong to Washington, but also Martin Lee in an event acknowledging the three as “Hong Kong democracy leaders.” All three would take to the stage with their signature yellow umbrellas, representing their roles in the “Occupy Central” protests, and of course – exposing NED’s lie denying Lee’s leadership role in the protests.

Additionally, multiple leaked US diplomatic cables (herehere, and here) indicate that Martin Lee has been in close contact with the US government for years, and regularly asked for and received various forms of aid.

Other opposition leaders have been literally caught meeting secretly with US diplomats including Hong Kong opposition leaders Edward Leung and Ray Wong in 2016.

Delaying the Inevitable 

Despite the supposed size of the protests it should be remembered that similar protests in 2014 and 2016 were also large and disruptive yet yielded no concessions from either Hong Kong’s elected government or Beijing. The extradition bill will pass – if not now – in the near future. The process of reintegration it represents will continue moving forward as well.

The longer the US wastes time, resources, and energy on tired tactics like sponsored mobs and political subversion, the less time, resources, and energy it will have to adjust favorably to the new international order that will inevitably emerge despite Washington’s efforts.

During this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue – an annual forum discussing Asia-Pacific security – the US would reiterate its designs to encircle and contain China. For an added twist, the US would include nations like the UK and France in its plans – specifically because of Washington’s failure to cobble together any sort of alliance of actual Asia-Pacific states.

China’s growing influence and its style of international relations built on investment, infrastructure development, and non-interference contrasts so favorably with Washington and Europe’s coercive neo-imperial foreign policy that despite a century headstart – the West now finds itself being left behind.

The protests in Hong Kong are organized to delay the inevitable end to the West’s “primacy” over Asia and in particular its attempts to dominate China. In the process, these protests will continue to expose Washington’s methods of fuelling political subversion and the Western media’s role in deceitfully promoting and defending it – compromising similar operations being carried out elsewhere across Asia-Pacific and around the world.

Reprinted with permission from 21st Century Wire.

Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange

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I know, you may think I am deluded. How could life in an Embassy with a cat and a skateboard ever amount to torture? That’s exactly what I thought, too, when Assange first appealed to my office for protection. Like most of the public, I had been subconsciously poisoned by the relentless smear campaign, which had been disseminated over the years. So it took a second knock on my door to get my reluctant attention. But once I looked into the facts of this case, what I found filled me with repulsion and disbelief.

Surely, I thought, Assange must be a rapist! But what I found is that he has never been charged with a sexual offence. True, soon after the US had encouraged allies to find reasons to prosecute Assange, two women made the headlines in Sweden. One of them claimed he had ripped a condom, and the other that he had failed to wear one, in both cases during consensual intercourse — not exactly scenarios that have the ring of "rape" in any language other than Swedish. Mind you, each woman even submitted a condom as evidence.

The first one, supposedly worn and torn by Assange, revealed no DNA whatsoever — neither his, nor hers, nor anybody else’s. Go figure.

The second one, used but intact, supposedly proved "unprotected" intercourse. Go figure, again.

The women even texted that they never intended to report a crime but were "railroaded" into doing so by zealous Swedish police. Go figure, once more.

Ever since, both Sweden and Britain have done everything to prevent Assange from confronting these allegations without simultaneously having to expose himself to US extradition and, thus, to a show-trial followed by life in jail. His last refuge had been the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Alright, I thought, but surely Assange must be a hacker! But what I found is that all his disclosures had been freely leaked to him, and that no one accuses him of having hacked a single computer. In fact, the only arguable hacking-charge against him relates to his alleged unsuccessful attempt to help breaking a password which, had it been successful, might have helped his source to cover her tracks. In short: a rather isolated, speculative, and inconsequential chain of events; a bit like trying to prosecute a driver who unsuccessfully attempted to exceed the speed-limit, but failed because their car was too weak.

Well then, I thought, at least we know for sure that Assange is a Russian spy, has interfered with US elections, and negligently caused people’s deaths! But all I found is that he consistently published true information of inherent public interest without any breach of trust, duty or allegiance. Yes, he exposed war crimes, corruption and abuse, but let’s not confuse national security with governmental impunity. Yes, the facts he disclosed empowered US voters to take more informed decisions, but isn’t that simply democracy? Yes, there are ethical discussions to be had regarding the legitimacy of unredacted disclosures. But if actual harm had really been caused, how come neither Assange nor Wikileaks ever faced related criminal charges or civil lawsuits for just compensation?

But surely, I found myself pleading, Assange must be a selfish narcissist, skateboarding through the Ecuadorian Embassy and smearing feces on the walls? Well, all I heard from Embassy staff is that the inevitable inconveniences of his accommodation at their offices were handled with mutual respect and consideration. This changed only after the election of President Moreno, when they were suddenly instructed to find smears against Assange and, when they didn’t, they were soon replaced. The President even took it upon himself to bless the world with his gossip, and to personally strip Assange of his asylum and citizenship without any due process of law.

In the end it finally dawned on me that I had been blinded by propaganda, and that Assange had been systematically slandered to divert attention from the crimes he exposed. Once he had been dehumanized through isolation, ridicule and shame, just like the witches we used to burn at the stake, it was easy to deprive him of his most fundamental rights without provoking public outrage worldwide. And thus, a legal precedent is being set, through the backdoor of our own complacency, which in the future can and will be applied just as well to disclosures by The Guardian, the New York Times and ABC News.

Very well, you may say, but what does slander have to do with torture? Well, this is a slippery slope. What may look like mere "mudslinging" in public debate, quickly becomes “mobbing” when used against the defenseless, and even “persecution” once the State is involved. Now just add purposefulness and severe suffering, and what you get is full-fledged psychological torture.

Yes, living in an Embassy with a cat and a skateboard may seem like a sweet deal when you believe the rest of the lies. But when no one remembers the reason for the hate you endure, when no one even wants to hear the truth, when neither the courts nor the media hold the powerful to account, then your refuge really is but a rubber boat in a shark-pool, and neither your cat nor your skateboard will save your life.

Even so, you may say, why spend so much breath on Assange, when countless others are tortured worldwide? Because this is not only about protecting Assange, but about preventing a precedent likely to seal the fate of Western democracy. For once telling the truth has become a crime, while the powerful enjoy impunity, it will be too late to correct the course. We will have surrendered our voice to censorship and our fate to unrestrained tyranny.

This Op-Ed has been offered for publication to the Guardian, The Times, the Financial Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, the Canberra Times, the Telegraph, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and Newsweek.

None responded positively.

Reprinted with permission from Medium.com.

The author is UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Trump Invites Debates over Omnivorous Crony Capitalism

Donald J. Trump’s 2020 election strategy is to connect his potential Democratic opponents with “socialism.” Trump plans to use this attack on the Democrats even if Senator Bernie Sanders, who proudly calls himself a “democratic socialist,” doesn’t become the presidential nominee (Sanders has been decisively re-elected in Vermont).

Senator Elizabeth Warren is distancing herself from the socialist “label.” She went so far as to tell the New England Council “I am a capitalist to my bones.”

Sanders and Warren are not what they claim to be. They are both updating Roosevelt’s New Deal and more closely resemble the Social Democrats that have governed western European democracies for years, delivering higher standards of living than that experienced by Americans.

The original doctrine of socialism meant government ownership of the means of production – heavy industries, railroads, banks, and the like. Nobody in national politics today is suggesting such a takeover. As one quipster put it, “How can Washington take ownership of the banks when the banks own Washington?”

Confronting Trump on the “socialism” taboo can open up a great debate about the value of government intervention for the good of the public. Sanders can effectively argue that people must choose either democratic socialism or the current failing system of corporate socialism. That choice is not difficult. Such an American democratic socialism could provide almost all of the long overdue solutions this country needs: full more efficient Medicare for all; tuition-free education; living wages; stronger unions; a tax system that works for the people; investments in infrastructure and public works; reforms for a massive, runaway military budget; the end of most corporate welfare; government promotion of renewable energies; and the end of subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear power.

In my presidential campaigns I tried to make corporate socialism – also called corporate welfare or crony capitalism – a major issue. Small business is capitalism – free to go bankrupt – while corporate capitalism – free to get bailouts from Washington – is really a form of corporate socialism. This point about a corporate government was documented many years ago in books such as America, Inc. (1971) by Morton Mintz and Jerry Cohen.

Now, it is even easier to make the case that our political economy is largely controlled by giant corporations and their political toadies. Today the concentration of power and wealth is staggering. Just six capitalist men have wealth to equal the wealth of half of the world’s population.

The Wall Street collapse of 2008-2009 destroyed eight million jobs, lost trillions of dollars in pension and mutual funds, and pushed millions of families to lose their homes. Against this backdrop, the U.S. government used trillions of taxpayer dollars to bail out, in various ways, the greedy, financial giants, whose reckless speculating caused the collapse.

In May 2009, the moderate Senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, said: “The banks – hard to believe when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created – are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”

Is there a single federal government agency or department that can say its most powerful outside influence is NOT corporate? Even the Labor Department and the National Labor Relations Board are under more corporate power than union power.

Who better than Trump, on an anti-socialist fantasy campaign kick, can call attention to the reality that Big Business controls the government and by extension controls the people?  In September 2000, a Business Week poll found over 70 percent of people agreeing that big business has too much control over their lives (this was before the horrific corporate crimes and scandals of the past two decades). Maybe that is why support in polls for “socialism” against “capitalism” in the U.S. is at a 60 year high.

People have long experienced American-style “socialism.” For example, the publicly owned water and electric utilities, public parks and forests, the Postal Service, public libraries, FDIC guarantees of bank deposits (now up to $250,000), Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, etc.

What the public is not sufficiently alert to is that Big Business has been profitably taking over control, if not outright ownership, of these public assets.

In the new book, Banking on the People, by Ellen Brown, readers can get an idea of the way large banks, insurers, and the giant shadow banking system – money market funds, hedge funds, mortgage brokers, and other unregulated financial intermediaries – speculate and shift deep risk and their failures onto Uncle Sam. These corporate predators gouge customers, and, remarkably, show a deep aversion for productive investment as if people matter.

Moreover, they just keep developing new, ever riskier, multi-tiered instruments (eg. derivatives) to make money from money through evermore complex, abstract, secret, reckless, entangled, globally destabilizing, networks. Gambling with other people’s money is a relentless Wall Street tradition.

The crashes that inevitably emerge end up impoverishing ordinary people who pay the price with their livelihoods.

Will the Democrats and other engaged people take Trump on if he tries to make “socialism” the big scare in 2020? Control of our political economy is not a conservative/liberal or red state/blue state issue. When confronted with the specifics of the corporate state or corporate socialism, people from all political persuasions will recognize the potential perils to our democracy. No one wants to lose essential freedoms or to continue to pay the price of this runaway crony capitalism.

The gigantic corporations have been built with the thralldom of deep debt – corporate debt to fund stock buybacks (while reporting record profits), consumer debt, student loan debt, and, of course, government debt caused by drastic corporate and super-rich tax cuts. Many trillions of dollars have been stolen from future generations.

No wonder a small group of billionaires, including George Soros, Eli Broad, and Nick Hanauer, have just publicly urged a modest tax on the super wealthy. As Hanauer, a history buff and advocate of higher minimum wages, says – “the pitchforks are coming.”

Libra: Facebook’s Audacious Bid for Global Monetary Control

Payments can happen cheaply and easily without banks or credit card companies. This has now been demonstrated – not in the United States but in China. Unlike in the US, where numerous firms feast on fees from handling and processing payments, in China most money flows through mobile phones nearly for free. In 2018 these cashless payments totaled a whopping $41.5 trillion; and 90% were through Alipay and WeChat Pay, a pair of digital ecosystems that blend social media, commerce and banking. According to a May 2018 article in Bloomberg titled “Why China’s Payment Apps Give U.S. Bankers Nightmares”:

The nightmare for the U.S. financial industry is that a technology company—whether from China or a homegrown juggernaut such as Amazon.com Inc. or Facebook Inc.—replicates the success of Alipay and WeChat in America. The stakes are enormous, potentially carving away billions of dollars in annual revenue from major banks and other firms.

That threat may now be materializing. On June 18, Facebook unveiled a white paper outlining ambitious plans to create a new global cryptocurrency called Libra, to be launched in 2020. The New York Times says Facebook has high hopes that Libra will become the foundation for a new financial system free of control by Wall Street power brokers and central banks.

But apparently Libra will not be competing with Visa or Mastercard. In fact, the Libra Association lists those two giants among its 28 soon-to-be founding members. Others include Paypal, Stripe, Uber, Lyft and eBay. Facebook has reportedly courted dozens of financial institutions and other tech companies to join the Libra Association, an independent foundation that will contribute capital and help govern the digital currency. Entry barriers are high, with each founding member paying a minimum of $10 million to join. This gives them one vote  (or 1% of the total vote, whichever is larger)  in the Libra Association council. Members are also entitled to a share proportionate to their investment of the dividends earned from  interest on the Libra reserve – the money that users will pay to acquire the Libra currency.

All of which has raised some eyebrows, both among financial analysts and crypto activists. A Zero Hedge commentator calls Libra “Facebook’s Crypto Trojan Rabbit.” An article in FT’s Alphaville calls it “Blockchain, but Without the Blocks or Chain.” Economist Noriel Roubini concurs, tweeting:

It will start as a private, permissioned, not-trustless, centralized oligopolistic members-only club. So much for calling it “blockchain”. … [I]t is blockchain in name only and a monopoly to extract massive seignorage from billions of users. A monopoly scam.

Another Zero Hedge writer calls Libra “The Dollar’s Killer App,” which threatens “not only the power of central banks but also the government’s money monopoly itself.”

From Frying Pan to Fire?

To the crypto-anarchist community, usurping the power of central banks and governments may sound like a good thing. But handing global power to the corporate-controlled Libra Association could be a greater nightmare. So argues Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who writes in The Financial Times:

This currency would insert a powerful new corporate layer of monetary control between central banks and individuals. Inevitably, these companies will put their private interests — profits and influence — ahead of public ones. . . .

The Libra Association’s goals specifically say that [they] will encourage “decentralised forms of governance”. In other words, Libra will disrupt and weaken nation states by enabling people to move out of unstable local currencies and into a currency denominated in dollars and euros and managed by corporations. . . .

What Libra backers are calling “decentralisation” is in truth a shift of power from developing world central banks toward multinational corporations and the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank.

Power will shift to the Fed and ECB because the dollar and the euro will squeeze out weaker currencies in developing countries. As seen recently in Greece, the result will be to cause their governments to lose control of their currencies and their economies.

Pros and Cons

In a June 9 review in Forbes, Caitlin Long, co-founder of the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition, agreed that Libra was a Trojan horse but predicted that it would have some beneficial effects. For one, she thought it would impose discipline on the US banking system by leading to populist calls to repeal their corporate subsidies. The Fed is now paying its member banks 2.35% in risk-free interest on their excess reserves, which this year is projected to total $36 billion of corporate welfare to US banks – about half the sum spent on the US food stamp program. If Facebook parks its entire US dollar balance at the Federal Reserve through one of its bank partners, it could earn the same rate. But Long predicted that Facebook would have to pay interest to Libra users to avoid a chorus of critics, who would loudly publicize how much money Facebook and its partners were pocketing from the interest on the money users traded for their Libra currency.

But that was before the Libra white paper came out. It reveals that the profits will indeed be divvied among Facebook’s Libra partners rather than shared with users. At one time, we earned interest on our deposits in government-insured banks. With Libra, we will get no interest on our money, which will be entrusted to uninsured crypto exchanges, which are coming under increasing regulatory pressure due to lack of transparency and operational irregularities.

UK economics professor Alistair Milne points to another problem with the Libra cryptocurrency: unlike Bitcoin, it will be a “stablecoin,” whose value will be tied to a basket of fiat currencies and short-term government securities. That means it will need the backing of real money to maintain its fixed price. If reserves do not cover withdrawals, who will be responsible for compensating Libra holders? Ideally, Milne writes, reserves would be held with the central bank; but central banks will be reluctant to support a private currency.

Caitlin Long also predicts that Facebook’s cryptocurrency will be a huge honeypot of data for government officials, since every transaction will be traceable. But other reviewers see this as Libra’s most fatal flaw. Facebook has been called Big Brother, the ultimate government surveillance tool. Conspiracy theorists link it to the CIA and the US Department of Defense. Facebook has already demonstrated that it is an untrustworthy manager of personal data. How then can we trust it with our money?

Why Use a Cryptocurrency at All?

A June 20th CoinDesk article asks why Facebook has chosen to use a cryptocurrency rather than following WeChat and AliPay in doing a global payments network in the traditional way. The article quotes Yan Meng, vice president of the Chinese Software Developer Network, who says Facebook’s fragmented user base across the world leaves it with no better choice than to borrow ideas from blockchain and cryptocurrency.

“Facebook just can’t do a global payments network via traditional methods, which require applying for a license and preparing foreign exchange reserves with local banking, one market after another,” said Meng. “The advantage of WeChat and AliPay is they have already gained a significant number of users from just one giant economy that accounts for 20 percent of the world’s population.” They have no need to establish their own digital currencies, which they still regard as too risky.

Meng suspects that Facebook’s long-term ambition is to become a stateless central bank that uses Libra as a base currency. He wrote in a June 16 article, “With sufficient incentives, nodes of Facebook’s Libra network would represent Facebook to push for utility in various countries for its 2.7 billion users in business, investment, trade and financial services,” which “would help complete a full digital economy empire.”

The question is whether regulators will allow that sort of competition with the central banking system. Immediately after Facebook released its Libra cryptocurrency plan, financial regulators in Europe voiced concerns over the potential danger of Facebook running a “shadow bank.” Maxine Waters, who heads the Financial Services Committee for the US House of Representatives, asked Facebook to halt its development of Libra until hearings could be held. She said:

This is like starting a bank without having to go through any steps to do it. . . . We can’t allow Facebook to go to Switzerland and begin to compete with the dollar without having any regulatory regime that’s dealing with them. 

A Stateless Private Central Bank or a Publicly Accountable One?

Facebook may be competing with more than the dollar. Jennifer Grygiel, Assistant Professor of Communications at Syracuse University, writes:

. . . [It] seems that the company is not seeking to compete with Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Rather, Facebook is looking to replace the existing global financial system with an all-new setup, with Libra at its center.

At least at the moment, the Libra is being designed as a form of electronic money linked to many national currencies. That has raised fears that Libra might someday be recognized as a sovereign currency, with Facebook acting as a “shadow bank” that could compete with the central banks of countries around the world.

Caitlin Long thinks Bitcoin rather than Libra will come out the winner in all this; but Bitcoin’s blockchain model is too slow, expensive and energy-intensive to replace fiat currency as a medium of exchange on a national scale. As Josh Constine writes on Techcrunch.com:

[E]xisting cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum weren’t properly engineered to scale to be a medium of exchange. Their unanchored price was susceptible to huge and unpredictable swings, making it tough for merchants to accept as payment. And cryptocurrencies miss out on much of their potential beyond speculation unless there are enough places that will take them instead of dollars . . . . But with Facebook’s relationship with 7 million advertisers and 90 million small businesses plus its user experience prowess, it was well-poised to tackle this juggernaut of a problem.

For Libra to scale as a national medium of exchange, its governance had to be centralized rather than “distributed.” But Libra’s governing body is not the sort of global controller we want. Jennifer Grygiel writes:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg . . . is declaring that he wants Facebook to become a virtual nation, populated by users, powered by a self-contained economy, and headed by a CEO – Zuckerberg himself – who is not even accountable to his shareholders. . . .

In many ways the company that Mark Zuckerberg is building is beginning to look more like a Roman Empire, now with its own central bank and currency, than a corporation. The only problem is that this new nation-like platform is a controlled company and is run more like a dictatorship than a sovereign country with democratically elected leaders.

A currency intended for trade on a national—let alone international—scale needs to be not only centralized but democratized, responding to the will of the people and their elected leaders. Rather than bypassing the existing central banking structure as Facebook plans to do, several groups of economists are proposing a more egalitarian solution: nationalizing and democratizing the central bank by opening its deposit window to everyone. As explored in my latest book, “Banking on the People: Democratizing Money in the Digital Age,” these proposals could allow us all to get 2.35% on our deposits, while eliminating bank runs and banking crises, since the central bank cannot run out of funds. Profits from the public medium of exchange need to return to the public, rather than enriching an unaccountable, corporate-controlled Facebook Trojan horse.

• This article was first posted under a different title on Truthdig.org.

Life Expectancy Falters in the UK

A special report in the Observer newspaper in the UK on 23 June 2019 asked the question: Why is life expectancy faltering? The piece noted that for the first time in 100 years, Britons are dying earlier. The UK now has the worst health trends in Western Europe.

Aside from the figures for the elderly and the deprived, there has also been a worrying change in infant mortality rates. Since 2014, the rate has increased every year: the figure for 2017 is significantly higher than the one in 2014. To explain this increase in infant mortality, certain experts blame it on ‘austerity’, fewer midwives, an overstrained ambulance service, general deterioration of hospitals, greater poverty among pregnant women and cuts that mean there are fewer health visitors for patients in need.

While all these explanations may be valid, according to environmental campaigner Dr Rosemary Mason, there is something the mainstream narrative is avoiding. She says:

We are being poisoned by weedkiller and other pesticides in our food and weedkiller sprayed indiscriminately on our communities. The media remain silent.

The poisoning of the UK public by the agrochemical industry is the focus of her new report: Why is life expectancy faltering: The British Government has worked with Monsanto and Bayer since 1949.

What follows are edited highlights of the text in which she cites many official sources and reports as well as numerous peer-reviewed studies in support of her arguments. Readers can access the report here.

Toxic history of Monsanto in the UK

Mason begins by offering a brief history of Monsanto in the UK. In 1949, that company set up a chemical factory in Newport, Wales, where it manufactured PCBs until 1977 and a number of other dangerous chemicals. Monsanto was eventually found to be dumping toxic waste in the River Severn, public waterways and sewerage. It then paid a contractor which illegally dumped thousands of tons of cancer-causing chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins and Agent Orange derivatives, at two quarries in Wales – Brofiscin (80,000 tonnes) and Maendy (42,000 tonnes) – between 1965 and 1972.

Monsanto stopped making PCBs in Anniston US in 1971 because of various scandals. However, the British government agreed to ramp up production at the Monsanto plant in Newport. In 2003, when toxic effluent from the quarry started leaking into people’s streams in Grosfaen, just outside Cardiff, the Environment Agency – a government agency concerned with flooding and pollution – was hired to clean up the site in 2005.

Mason notes that the agency repeatedly failed to hold Monsanto accountable for its role in the pollution (a role that Monsanto denied from the outset) and consistently downplayed the dangers of the chemicals themselves.

In a report prepared for the agency and the local authority in 2005 but never made public, the sites contain at least 67 toxic chemicals. Seven PCBs have been identified, along with vinyl chlorides and naphthalene. The unlined quarry is still leaking, the report says:

Pollution of water has been occurring since the 1970s, the waste and groundwater has been shown to contain significant quantities of poisonous, noxious and polluting material, pollution of… waters will continue to occur.

The duplicity continues

Apart from these events in Wales, Mason outlines the overall toxic nature of Monsanto in the UK. For instance, she discusses the shockingly high levels of weedkiller in packaged cereals. Samples of four oat-based breakfast cereals marketed for children in the UK were recently sent to the Health Research Institute, Fairfield, Iowa, an accredited laboratory for glyphosate testing. Dr Fagan, the director of the centre, says of the results:

These results are consistently concerning. The levels consumed in a single daily helping of any one of these cereals, even the one with the lowest level of contamination, is sufficient to put the person’s glyphosate levels above the levels that cause fatty liver disease in rats (and likely in people).

According to Mason, the European Food Safety Authority and the European Commission colluded with the European Glyphosate Task Force and allowed it to write the re-assessment of glyphosate. She lists key peer-reviewed studies, which the Glyphosate Task Force conveniently omitted from its review, from South America where GM crops are grown. In fact, many papers come from Latin American countries where they grow almost exclusively GM Roundup Ready Crops.

Mason cites one study that references many papers from around the world that confirm glyphosate-based herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup are damaging to the development of the foetal brain and that repeated exposure is toxic to the adult human brain and may result in alterations in locomotor activity, feelings of anxiety and memory impairment.

Another study notes neurotransmitter changes in rat brain regions following glyphosate exposure. The highlights from that study indicate that glyphosate oral exposure caused neurotoxicity in rats; that brain regions were susceptible to changes in CNS monoamine levels; that glyphosate reduced 5-HT, DA, NE levels in a brain regional- and dose-related manner; and that glyphosate altered the serotoninergic, dopaminergic and noradrenergic systems.

Little wonder, Mason concludes, that we see various degenerative conditions on the rise. She turns her attention to children, the most vulnerable section of the population, and refers to the UN expert on toxicity Baskut Tuncak. He wrote a scathing piece in the Guardian on 06/11/2017 on the effects of agrotoxins on children’s health:

Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weedkillers, insecticides, and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ. Last month it was revealed that in recommending that glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used pesticide – was safe, the EU’s food safety watchdog copied and pasted pages of a report directly from Monsanto, the pesticide’s manufacturer. Revelations like these are simply shocking.

… Exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer. Because a child’s developing body is more sensitive to exposure than adults and takes in more of everything – relative to their size, children eat, breathe, and drink much more than adults – they are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals. Increasing evidence shows that even at “low” doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

… In light of revelations such as the copy-and-paste scandal, a careful re-examination of the performance of states is required. The overwhelming reliance of regulators on industry-funded studies, the exclusion of independent science from assessments, and the confidentiality of studies relied upon by authorities must change.

Warnings ignored

It is a travesty that Theo Colborn’s crucial research in the early 1990s into the chemicals that were changing humans and the environment was ignored. Mason discusses his work into endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), man-made chemicals that became widespread in the environment after WW II.

In a book published in 1996, The Pesticide Conspiracy, Colborn, Dumanoski and Peters revealed the full horror of what was happening to the world as a result of contamination with EDCs.

At the time, there was emerging scientific research about how a wide range of man-made chemicals disrupt delicate hormone systems in humans. These systems play a critical role in processes ranging from human sexual development to behaviour, intelligence, and the functioning of the immune system.

At that stage, PCBs, DDT, chlordane, lindane, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, toxaphene, heptachlor, dioxin, atrazine+ and dacthal were shown to be EDCs. Many of these residues are found in humans in the UK.

Colborn illustrated the problem by constructing a diagram of the journey of a PCB molecule from a factory in Alabama into a polar bear in the Arctic. He stated:

The concentration of persistent chemicals can be magnified millions of times as they travel to the ends of the earth… Many chemicals that threaten the next generation have found their way into our bodies. There is no safe, uncontaminated place.

Mason describes how EDCs interfere with delicate hormone systems in sexual development. Glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor and a nervous system disruptor. She ponders whether Colborn foresaw the outcome whereby humans become confused about their gender or sex.

She then discusses the widespread contamination of people in the UK. One study conducted at the start of this century concluded that every person tested was contaminated by a cocktail of known highly toxic chemicals that were banned from use in the UK during the 1970s and which continue to pose unknown health risks: the highest number of chemicals found in any one person was 49 – nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of the chemicals looked for.

Corruption exposed

Mason discusses corporate duplicity and the institutionalised corruption that allows agrochemicals to get to the commercial market. She notes the catastrophic impacts of these substances on health and the NHS and the environment.

Of course, the chickens are now coming home to roost for Bayer, which bought Monsanto. Mason refers to attorneys revealing Monsanto’s criminal strategy for keeping Roundup on the market and the company being hit with $2 billion verdict in the third ‘Roundup trial’.

Attorney Brent Wisner has argued that Monsanto spent decades suppressing science linking its glyphosate-based weedkiller product to cancer by ghost-writing academic articles and feeding the EPA “bad science”. He asked the jury to ‘punish’ Monsanto with a $1 billion punitive damages award. On Monday 13 May, the jury found Monsanto liable for failure to warn claims, design defect claims, negligence claims and negligent failure to warn claims.

Robert F Kennedy Jr., another attorney fighting Bayer in the courts, says Roundup causes a constellation of other injuries apart from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma:

Perhaps more ominously for Bayer, Monsanto also faces 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.

In finishing, Mason notes the disturbing willingness of the current UK government to usher in GM Roundup Ready crops in the wake of Brexit. Where pesticides are concerned, the EU’s precautionary principle could be ditched in favour of a US-style risk-based approach, allowing faster authorisation.

Rosemary Mason shows that the health of the UK populations already lags behind other countries in Western Europe. She links this to the increasing amounts of agrochemicals being applied to crops. If the UK does a post-Brexit deal with the US, we can only expect a gutting of environmental standards at the behest of the US and its corporations and much worse to follow for the environment and public health.