Category Archives: United Kingdom

Britain’s Homeless Crisis

Under the suffocating shadow of economic austerity, homelessness in Britain is increasing, poverty and inequality deepening. Since the Conservative party came to power via a coalition government in 2010, then as a minority government in 2015, homelessness has risen exponentially.

Whilst it is impossible to collect precise statistics on homelessness, these widely available figures, which exclude the ‘hidden homeless’, paint a stark picture of the growing crisis: In 2010 1,768 people were recorded as sleeping rough, whilst 48,000 households were living in temporary accommodation. By December 2017, according to A Public Accounts Committee report, there were almost 9,000 rough sleepers, and, The Guardian states, “nearly 76,000 households were living in emergency temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts, of which 60,000 were families with children or pregnant mothers” –  an increase of 58% on the 2010 figures.

Whilst someone rough sleeping in a doorway is a loud and painful declaration of homelessness, a person is also regarded as homeless if they are staying with family or friends or ‘sofa surfing’ (the ‘hidden homeless’), as well those living in temporary accommodation provided by a local authority. Councils have a legal duty to house certain people – such as pregnant women, parents with dependent children and people considered vulnerable (single people rarely qualify). If, after investigating a case, the council concludes they do not have a legal duty to provide housing, nothing permanent is offered and the temporary accommodation is withdrawn. The only option then is to find somewhere in the private sector, which is becoming increasingly difficult in many parts of the country, including rural towns as well as London and other major cities. Rents (and deposits) are high and landlords are more and more demanding, refusing to rent to people on state benefits, often asking for a guarantor and only offering Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST).

The Thatcher government introduced AST’s as part of the Housing Act of 1988, prior to which fair rents (as opposed to market rents) and protected tenancies existed, providing a high level of security of tenure. The Thatcher legislation changed all that; AST’s (usually six months) provide virtually no security to the tenant and, in line with the maxim of the market, set no limit on the level of the rent. Consequentially most landlords charge as much as they can get, many do not properly maintain the property, and are within their rights to raise rents and take possession of the property whenever they feel like it. The ending of an AST is now one of the most common causes of homelessness.

Austerity and Homelessness

Those in receipt of state benefits or on a low income can claim housing benefit (HB), which is paid by local authorities to help with rent payments. In 2010, shocked by the national HB bill, the coalition government initiated reforms to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for tenants in ‘the deregulated private rented sector’ – the key word here is deregulated. Within broader public spending cuts the policy changes set a cap on the level of housing benefit that can be paid. LHA levels are fixed well below market rents, which results in shortfalls in rent payments leading to arrears, subsequent evictions and homelessness; according to the homeless charity Crisis, “all available evidence points to Local Housing Allowance reforms as a major driver of [the] association between loss of private tenancies and homelessness”

Instead of taking measures to regulate the private housing market and deal with the extortionate rents charged by greedy landlords, the policy penalized the tenant and set in motion a system which, coupled with benefit freezes and the dire lack of social housing, has caused homelessness to grow at an alarming rate; Another example of government incompetence or social hardship by design? If the HB freeze remains in place until 2020 as planned by the government, the charity, Shelter says that “more than a million households, including 375,000 with at least one person in work, could be forced out of their homes.”

The cap on HB is one aspect of the government’s austere economic programme. Through the implementation of economic austerity the Conservative government is waging a violent assault on the poorest members of British society and ripping the heart out of the community. The justification for such brutality is the need to ‘balance the books’; however, the national debt is greater now than it was in 2010. The Office for National Statistics states that “UK government gross debt as of December 2017 was £1.7 trillion – equivalent to 87.7% of gross domestic product (GDP),” – compared to 60% of GDP in 2010. Austerity is an ideological choice not an economic necessity. Financial cuts have been applied in the most severe manner; budgets to local authorities, schools, the NHS (National Health Service), the Police and to the benefit system, among other areas. The consequences are homelessness and widespread economic hardship.

Nationwide food-banks run by the Trussell Trust provided 1.3 million food parcels last year, up 13% on 2016 – before the financial crash in 2008/9 the concept of “food banks” was virtually unknown in Britain. Shelter estimates that more than 130,000 homeless children will be living in temporary accommodation over Christmas, almost 10,000 of who will be in hostels or hotels “where in many cases their family will have been put up in a single room, sharing bathrooms and kitchens with other residents. Overall, 50,000 more children in England, Wales and Scotland are homeless compared with five years ago, a rise of 59%.” The government is doing nothing to alleviate the homeless crisis, on the contrary their policies are fuelling it; Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, says the government’s approach to tackling the problem of homelessness has been an “abject failure”.

The right to a home

Homelessness is one of the most destabilizing and painful experiences anyone can go through. It fuels psychological and physiological insecurity, places a person in situations of physical danger, erodes any positive sense of self and causes physical and mental health illness; Crisis records that 46% of homeless people suffer from a mental health illness compared to 25% of the general public. However, while this figure is itself extremely high, when asked, a staggering 86% of people who are homeless report suffering from one or other mental health illness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, research shows “that as a person’s housing becomes more stable the rate of serious mental illness decreases.”

Rough sleepers and people begging for money are routinely ignored and treated with disdain, police are instructed to move beggars on and so erase images of social hardship from the gentrified streets – it’s bad for the cities image – and hostile architecture makes even rough sleeping difficult. Shelter relates that the three main reasons for becoming homeless are: “parents, friends or relatives unwilling or unable to continue to accommodate them; relationship breakdown, including domestic violence and loss of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy.” These are causes that anyone could be the victim of.  They should not result in homelessness; indeed within a healthy, compassionately organized socio-economic order, homelessness would not exist at all.

Housing, like education and health care, should be safeguarded from the Madness of the Market; limits should be placed on the rents that private landlords can charge, and a nationwide building program of social housing initiated under the stewardship of local councils, not housing associations. At the same time tenancies need to be lengthened, tenants’ rights strengthened, and fair rents re-introduced.

A house or flat is a home, and a home is a basic human right – enshrined as such within that triumph of humanity, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: it is not and should not be regarded as a financial investment. At the root of the ‘housing crisis’ in Britain and elsewhere is the poison of commodification; whether it be a house or a forest, a school playground, library building or a public park, all are regarded in monetary terms, how much is it ‘worth’ – meaning how much is anyone willing to pay for it. The result is the commercialization of all areas of life including housing, and the promotion of an ugly way of life rooted in material greed and financial profit, no matter the impact on people or the natural environment.

This ideologically rooted approach to life is at the heart of many if not all of our problems, including the most pressing issue of the time, the environmental catastrophe. Government policies consistently add fuel to the fires, politicians lack vision and imagination, but it is the socio-economic ideology that underlies and fashions policy that is the problem; the system and the values it promotes need to be fundamentally changed, and a new order introduced that cultivates social justice, cooperation and tolerance.

The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian

This is going to be one of the most infamous news disasters since Stern published the ‘Hitler Diaries’.

— WikiLeaks, Twitter, November 27, 2018

Those at The Guardian certainly felt they were onto something.  It would be a scoop that would have consequences on a range of fronts featuring President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Julian Assange and the eponymous Russian connection with the 2016 US elections.

If they could tie the ribbon of Manafort over the Assage package, one linked to the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails in the summer of 2016, they could strike journalistic gold.  At one stroke, they could achieve a trifecta: an exposé on WikiLeaks, Russian involvement, and the tie-in with the Trump campaign.

The virally charged story, when run towards the leg end of November, claimed that Manafort had visited Assange in the embassy “in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016.”  Speculation happily followed in an account untroubled by heavy documentation.

It is unclear why Manafort would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed.  But the last apparent meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

It was a strikingly shoddy effort.  An “internal document” supposedly garnered from the Ecuadorean intelligence agency named a certain “Paul Manaford [sic]” as a guest while also noting the presence of “Russians”.  No document or individual names were supplied.

The enterprise was supposedly to come with an added satisfaction: getting one over the prickly Assange, a person with whom the paper has yet a frosty association with since things went pear shaped after Cablegate in 2010. Luke Harding, the lead behind this latest packaging effort, has received his fair share of pasting in the past, with Assange accusing him of “minimal additional research” and mere reiteration in the shabby cobbling The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014). “The Guardian,” Assange observed in reviewing the work, “is a curiously inward-looking beast.”  Harding, for his part, is whistling the promotional tune of his unmistakably titled book Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House.  The feud persists with much fuel.

Unfortunately for those coup seekers attempting a framed symmetry, the bomb has yet to detonate, an inert creature finding its ways into placid waters. WikiLeaks was, understandably, the first out of the stables with an irate tweet.  “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation.  @WikiLeaks is willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.”

Manafort himself denied ever meeting Assange.

I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him.  I have never been contacted by anyone connected to WikiLeaks, either directly or indirectly.  I have never reached out to Assange or WikiLeaks on any matter.

WikiLeaks has also pointed to a certain busy bee fabricator as a possible source for Harding et al, an Ecuadorean journalist by the name of Fernando Villavicencio.  Villavicencio cut his milk teeth digging into the record of Moreno’s predecessor and somewhat Assange friendly, Rafael Correa.

Glenn Greenwald, himself having had a stint – and a fruitful one covering the Snowden revelations on the National Security Agency – had also been relentless on the inconsistencies. If Manafort did visit Assange, why the vagueness and absence of evidence? London, he points out, “is one of the world’s most surveilled, if not the most surveilled, cities.”  The Ecuadorean embassy is, in turn, “one of the most scrutinized, surveilled, monitored and filmed locations on the planet.” Yet no photographic or video evidence has been found linking Manafort to Assange.

The grey-haired establishment types are also wondering about the lack of fizz and bubble.  Paul Farhi at The Washington Post furnishes an example:

No other news organization has been able to corroborate the Guardian’s reporting to substantiate its central claim of a meeting.  News organizations typically do such independent reporting to confirm important stories.

Another distorting aspect to this squalid matter is the Manafort-Ecuadorean link, which does little to help Harding’s account.  A debt ridden Manafort, according to the New York Times, ventured his way to Ecuador in mid-May last year to proffer his services to the newly elected president, Lenín Moreno.  Moreno could not have been flattered: this was a man’s swansong and rescue bid, desperate to ingratiate himself with governments as varied as Iraqi Kurdistan and Puerto Rico.

In two meetings (the number might be more) between Manafort and his Ecuadorean interlocutor, various issues were canvassed.  Eyes remained on China but there was also interest in finding some workable solution to debt relief from the United States.  Then came that issue of a certain Australian, and now also Ecuadorean national, holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge, London.

Moreno has been courting several options, none of which seem to have grown wings.  A possibility of getting a diplomatic post for Assange in Russia did not take off. (British authorities still threatened the prospect of arrest.)  The issue of removing the thorniest dissident publisher in modern memory remains furiously alive.

As ever, accounts of the Moreno-Manafort tête-à-tête vary.  A spokesman for Manafort, one Jason Maloni, suggests a different account.  Manafort was not the instigator, but merely the recipient, of a query from Moreno about “his desire to remove Julian Assange from Ecuador’s embassy.”  Manafort listened impassively, “but made no promises as this was ancillary to the purpose of the meeting.”  Russia, he sought to clarify, did not crop up.

Fraud might run through Manafort’s blood (convictions on eight counts of bank-and tax-fraud is fairly convincing proof of that), but the case assembled against Assange seems very much one of enthusiastic botch-up masquerading as a stitch-up.  So far, the paper has battened down the hatches, and Harding has referred any queries through The Guardian’s spokesman, Brendan O’Grady.  Zeal can be punishing.  O’Grady will have to earn his keep.

In Contempt of Parliament: The Legal Advice of Brexit

It is attrition, suffocation and contortion.  While Theresa May’s Brexit program, weak, compromising and cobbled as it is, endures that bit longer, her opponents from within and without government have been essentially undercutting her on various fronts.

Foppish and solutions-free Boris Johnson does so from the perspective that the May program as it has been agreed to with the EU so far is a case of Britannia surrendering to the wickedness of the Continent.  He prefers, according to Sir Roger Gale, “the grievance to the solution”.

In the Commons, Johnson persisted with his motif of imprisonment and punishment for the sceptred isle: that the bureaucrats across the channel were cooking up a terrible fate for Britain were the backstop not to be removed from any arrangement. “They will keep us in permanent captivity as a momento mori, as a reminder to the world of what happens to all those who try to leave the EU.” Britain would be hostage to Spanish claims on Gibraltar, the French purloining of its fish and bankers, and German pressing for concessions on the free movement of EU nationals.

Opposition parties assail the prime minister from the perspective that the entire campaign for Brexit, and government behaviour since, has been a tissue of irresponsibility and lying.  They are often not sure which, but they are chancing it.  Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is, however, playing a double game. Being himself sympathetic with the Leavers, he can only, as of this time, trash the Chequers proposals with indignant scrutiny.  Before his fellow parliamentarians, Corbyn insisted that May’s plan would cause a severe case of economic shrinkage: some 4 percent, precipitating the loss of £100 billion over the course of fifteen years.

What exercised the House of Commons on this occasion most, however, was a historical incident of singular rarity.  Members from Labour and the DUP were permitted by Speaker John Bercow to submit an emergency motion to find the government in contempt.  The motion carried.

The May government had not done itself any favours in that regard, equipping opponents with the bombs to duly situate under their chairs.  As if channelling her former self as home minister, the secretive May refused to release the full legal advice behind the Brexit deal that may yet be doomed.  A circulating rumour (for much, in these shadows, remains rumour), is the fear that the backstop might keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union indefinitely.

The government defence proved to be stock standard and would, in most instances, have worked: to release such a report would expose vulnerabilities in negotiating positions ahead of further talks with the EU, thereby rewarding the very individuals deemed enemies by many in parliament.  Besides, argued transport secretary Chris Grayling, himself a former lord chancellor, it remained “a central part of the principles of our legal system that the advice provided from a lawyer to their client is treated as confidential.”

Such is the dire, panicked state of British politics at the moment than even old principles of legal propriety, including that of professional privilege, should be seen to be broken in the higher national interest.  Parliament, as the people’s arbiter, must be informed, and not releasing the attorney general’s legal advice failed to comply, according to the parties behind the contempt motion, with the Commons resolution of November 13.  That resolution stemmed from the principle that legal advice on the Brexit deal would be published in its entirety.

Attempts to placate opponents were duly made. The first was the release by the government of an overview on Monday covering the gist of the attorney general’s legal advice.  Then came the appearance of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox in the Chamber. He expressed a willingness to answer questions put to him, but this proved a minor sedative to the proceedings.  A three-line whip, deployed by Conservative MPs in an effort to shield the government, also failed.

Cox’s responses conceded various government weaknesses in their negotiations with the EU.  He would have preferred, for instance, “a unilateral right of termination” over the Northern Ireland backstop.  Additionally, he would have also liked to see “a clause that would have allowed us to exit if negotiations had irretrievably broken down.”  But such frankness was to no avail, and Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, was compelled to accede to the wishes of the opponents, with the full advice set to be published on Wednesday.

Contempt matters are ancient things, the sort referred to a privileges committee.  But the focus here will be less seeking sanction against any relevant minister, including Cox, than the vote on December 11 in a house that is already faltering.  The government, surmised shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, “has lost its majority and the respect of the house”.  At this point, the deal in this form will be scuppered, leaving a drawing board bereft of options.  Those filling the void will do so with a formula so repetitive it has become traditional: extol the scenario of total collapse, or embrace the fiction a world outside Europe that can act as appropriate replacement for British trade and power.

Julian Assange: Could 50,000 People Provide a Human Corridor?

New Zealand citizen journalist Suzi Dawson, herself a whistleblower who has taken political asylum in Russia to avoid persecution by the New Zealand government, listed what she considered the ten most important achievements by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. This was in an interview with Jimmy Dore.

Here they are:

1)  “Wikileaks has been keeping the historical record intact, and is actually combating the digital loss as web pages and websites are constantly being taken down from the internet by the powers that be. In this current paradigm they’re actually scrubbing entire websites and domains at every opportunity. They’re trying to erase information from our living history. And Wikileaks’ founding charter says that any information that’s at risk of censorship or deletion can find a safe harbor at Wikileaks.”

2)  “Wikileaks enables victims of persecution to have admissible evidence to fight their cases in court…. 40,000 cases around the world have had Wikileaks documents submitted as evidence to the court.”

3)  “They’ve maintained a 100% accuracy record over ten years of publishing.”

4)  “Wikileaks is still publishing despite the full force of the Empire being used against them. Intelligence agencies, financial service providers, hostile media and law fare, and, of course, now Julian Assange’s solitary confinement, we still see Wikileaks releases being published.”

5)  “Wikileaks has established a digital library of over 10 million documents, containing pristine datasets, the full relevance of which will only become apparent years into the future. Every current news story can be further informed by doing a key word search to see what Wikileaks archives contain about topics or persons or places that may be relevant to that news story.”

6)  “Wikileaks has established a whole new way of doing journalism. They also initiated the first anonymous drop boxes, which we now see that a similar technology is being used by media outlets across the globe.”

7)  “Wikileaks has become the vanguard of press freedom, always pushing at the boundaries of what is acceptable in publishing. And that is incredibly important because as they are pushing those boundaries further and further out, it allows independent media and citizen media to fill that space in between. We can go further and do more significant things because Wikileaks is out there taking the heat for us.”

8)  “Wikileaks has published leaks on every country in the world without geopolitical bias.”

9)  “Wikileaks leaves no source behind, and not only do they go above and beyond to support their sources … they’ve actually established other organizations to support other at risk journalists and whistleblowers, such as the Courage Foundation, and we now have proven that Julian Assange was involved in the establishment of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.”

10)  “Julian saved the life of Edward Snowden, who is renowned as the greatest whistleblower of our generation, and was brought to you by Wikileaks.”

Julian Assange should be getting a Nobel Prize, not being persecuted.

What can we do to save this courageous, heroic man? 

Can we get 50,000 people to show up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to provide him a “human corridor” to escape to another embassy? They can’t arrest or kill 50,000 people.

U.K. and Ecuador Conspire to Deliver Julian Assange to U.S. Authorities

Ecuadoreans hold up pictures of Julian Asssange in a show of support at the Government Palace in Quito, Ecuador on Oct. 31, 2018. (Dolores Ochoa / AP)

The accidental revelation in mid-November that U.S. federal prosecutors had secretly filed charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange underlines the determination of the Trump administration to end Assange’s asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he has been staying since 2012. Behind the revelation of those secret charges for supposedly threatening U.S. national security is a murky story of a political ploy by the Ecuadorean and British governments to create a phony rationale for ousting Assange from the embassy. The two regimes agreed to base their plan on the claim that Assange was conspiring to flee to Russia.

Trump and his aides applauded Assange and WikiLeaks during the 2016 election campaign for spreading embarrassing revelations about Hillary Clinton’s campaign via leaked DNC emails.  But all that changed abruptly in March 2017, when WikiLeaks released thousands of pages of CIA documents describing the CIA’s hacking tools and techniques. The batch of documents published by WikiLeaks did not release the actual “armed” malware deployed by the CIA. But the “Vault 7” leak, as WikiLeaks dubbed it, did show how those tools allowed the agency to break into smartphones, computers and internet-connected televisions anywhere in the world — and even to make it look like those hacks were done by another intelligence service.

The CIA and the national security state reacted to the Vault 7 release by targeting Assange for arrest and prosecution. On March 9, 2017 Vice President Mike Pence called the leak tantamount to “trafficking in national security information” and threatened to “use the full force of the law and resources of the United States to hold all of those to account that were involved.”

Then came a significant change of government in Ecuador — an April 2, 2017 runoff election that brought centrist Lenin Moreno to power. Moreno’s win brought to an end the 10-year tenure of the popular leftist President Rafael Correa, who had granted Assange political asylum. For his part, Moreno is eager to join the neoliberal economic system, making his government highly vulnerable to U.S. economic and political influence.

Eleven days after Moreno’s election, CIA director Mike Pompeo resumed the attack on Assange.  He accused WikiLeaks of being a “hostile non-state intelligence service.” That was the first indication that the U.S. national security state intends to seek a conviction of Assange under the authoritarian Espionage Act of 2017, which would require the government to show that WikiLeaks did more than merely publish material.

A week later, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that arresting Julian Assange was a “priority.” The Justice Department was reportedly working on a memo detailing possible charges against WikiLeaks and Assange, including accusations that he had violated the Espionage Act.

On October 20, 2017, Pompeo lumped WikiLeaks together with al-Qaida and Islamic State, arguing that all of them “look and feel like very good intelligence organizations.” Pompeo said, “[W]e are working to take down that threat to the United States.”

Moreno’s Government Under Pressure

During this time, the Ecuadorean foreign ministry was negotiating with Assange on a plan in which he would be granted Ecuadoran citizenship and diplomatic credentials, so that he could be sent to another Ecuadorian embassy in a country friendly to Assange. The Ecuadorean government reached formal agreement with Assange to that effect, and Assange was granted citizenship on December 12, 2017.

But the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which was responsive to U.S. wishes, refused to recognize Assange’s diplomatic credentials. The foreign office stated that Ecuador “knows that the way to resolve this issue is for Julian Assange to leave the embassy to face justice.” On December 29, 2017, the Ecuadorian government withdrew Assange’s diplomatic credentials.

The Trump administration then took a more aggressive stance toward Assange and the policy of the Moreno government. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon Jr. visited Ecuador in late February 2018, and he was followed in March by Deputy Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Joseph DiSalvo, whose task was to discuss security cooperation with the Ecuadorean military leadership.

The day after DiSalvo’s visit, the Ecuadorean government took its first major action to curtail Assange’s freedom in the London Embassy. Claiming that Assange had violated a written commitment, reached in December 2017, that he not “issue messages that implied interference in relation to other states,” Ecuadorean officials cut off his access to the internet and imposed a ban on virtually all visitors.  The government’s statement alluded to Assange’s meeting with two leaders of the Catalan independence movement and his public statement of support for the movement in November 2017, which had provoked the anger of the Spanish government.

Ecuador’s economic situation offered further opportunity for U.S. leverage at that time. The steep drop in the price of Ecuador’s oil exports had caused the South American nation’s politically sensitive domestic fiscal deficit to increase rapidly.  In mid-June of 2018 an International Monetary Fund delegation made the organization’s first trip to Quito in many years in an effort to review the problem. A report by J. P. Morgan released immediately after the IMF’s mission suggested that it was now likely that the Moreno government would seek a loan from the IMF. The regime had previously sought to avoid such a move, because it would create potential domestic political difficulties. Seeking an IMF loan would make Ecuador more dependent than before on political support from the United States.

On the heels of that IMF visit, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Ecuador in June and delivered a blunt political message. An unnamed White House official issued a statement confirming that Pence had “raised the issue of Mr. Assange” with Moreno and that the two governments had “agreed to remain in close coordination on potential next steps going forward.”

In late July 2018, Moreno, then in Madrid, confirmed that he was involved in negotiations with the U.K. government on the issue of Assange’s status. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald reported that a source close to the Ecuadorean foreign ministry and the president’s office had warned privately that the two administrations were close to an agreement that would hand Assange over to the U.K. government. He reported further that it would depend on unidentified assurances from the United States.

The Tale of a Secret Plot Linking Assange With Russia

On September 21, 2018, the Guardian published an article titled “Revealed: Russia’s secret plan to help Julian Assange escape from the UK.” In that story, Guardian reporters Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Dan Collyns and Luke Harding asserted that Russia had devised a plot to “smuggle” Assange out of the embassy in a diplomatic car and then whisk him out of the U.K. The authors also claimed that Moscow had negotiated the alleged plot with a close Ecuadorian confidant of Assange and suggested that the scheme raised “new questions about Assange’s ties to the Kremlin”.

But the story was an obvious fabrication, intended to justify the agreement to deprive Assange of his asylum in the Embassy by linking him with the Kremlin. The only alleged evidence it offered was the claim by unidentified sources that the former Ecuadorean consul on London and confidant of Assange, Fidel Narvaez, had “served as a point of contact with Moscow” on the escape plan — a claim that the Narvaez had flatly denied.

A second Guardian piece published five days later implicitly acknowledged the fictitious nature of the first. It failed to even mention the earlier article’s claim that the Russians had concocted a plan to get Assange out of the Embassy secretly. Instead the article, by Dan Collyns, cited a “classified document signed by Ecuador’s then-Deputy Foreign Minister Jose Luis Jacome” that showed the foreign ministry had assigned Assange to serve in the embassy in Moscow. But the author acknowledged that he had not seen the document, relying instead on a claim by Ecuadorean opposition politician Paola Vintimilla that she had seen it.

In a September 28, 2018 story for ABC News, reporters James Gordon Meek, Sean Langan and Aicha El Hammar Castano reported that ABC had “reviewed and authenticated” Ecuadorean documents, including a December 19, 2017 directive from the Foreign Ministry on posting Assange in Moscow. They noted, however, that the documents “did not indicate whether Assange knew of the Ecuadorean directive at the time.”  The ABC story relied on unnamed Ecuadorean officials who, the reporters said, had “confirmed” the authenticity of those documents.

Former U.K. Ambassador Craig Murray, who had been forced out of the British diplomatic corps in 2004 for having refused to recant his reporting about rampant torture by the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan that was then supplying the United States with military bases, was a close friend of Assange and was helping him during the negotiations on a diplomatic post. “I was asked to undertake negotiations with a number of governments on receiving [Assange], which I did intensively from December to February last year,” Murray recalled in an email. “Julian instructed me which governments to approach and specifically and definitively stated he did not wish to go to Russia.”

Although Murray would not identify the countries with which he had conversations about Assange, his blog and social media postings between December 2017 and March 2018 show that he had traveled to Turkey, Canada, Cuba, Jordan and Qatar.

Murray also said that, to his knowledge, Assange had never been informed of any proposed assignment in Moscow. “Neither the Ecuadorean Embassy, with whom I was working closely, nor Julian ever mentioned to me that Ecuador was organizing a diplomatic appointment to Russia,” Murray said. According to the former ambassador, the Ecuadorean Embassy correspondence with the British Foreign Office, which the Embassy shared with him, did not mention a posting to Russia.

Murray believes that there are only two possible explanations for those reported documents. The first is the Ecuadorean government was working on its own plan for Assange to go to Russia without telling him, and “intended to present it as a fait accompli.” But the more likely explanation, Murray said, “is that the documents have been retrospectively faked by the Moreno government to try and discredit Julian and prepare for his expulsion, as part of Moreno’s widespread moves to ingratiate himself with the USA and UK.”

On October 12, the Moreno government took a further step toward stripping Assange of asylum status by issuing a “Special Protocol” that prohibits him from any activities that could be “considered as political or interfering with the internal affairs of other states.” It further required all journalists, lawyers and anyone else who wanted to meet with Assange to disclose social media usernames and the serial number and IMEI codes of their cellphones and tablets. And it stated that that personal information could be shared with “other agencies,” according to the memorandum reported by The Guardian.

In response, Assange’s lawyers initiated a suit against the Ecuadorean foreign minister, Jose Valencia, for “isolating and muzzling him.” But it was yet another sign of the efforts by both the British and Ecuadorean governments to justify a possible move to take away Assange’s protection from extradition to the United States.

When and whether that will happen remains unclear. What is not in doubt, however, is that the Ecuadorian and British governments, working on behalf of the Trump administration, are trying to make it as difficult as possible for Julian Assange to avoid extradition by staying in the Ecuadorean embassy.

• First published at Truthdig

Governments’ Failures On Climate Spur New Actions

We are currently traveling in the United Kingdom, following our participation in the No US NATO Bases conference in Dublin, Ireland and delivery of a letter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague calling for a full investigation of Israel’s war crimes. We spent the past few days meeting with activists and visiting some friends and family.

A major concern in the UK is Brexit. Everyone is talking about it. There is great fear that if Brexit goes through, it will harm the UK. Repeatedly, people told us they feared violence by Brexiters if there was another vote and the Remainers won. News reports indicate there are plans for the UK military to be on the streets if chaos breaks out over Brexit. Today, the EU’s Council agreed with Prime Minister May’s proposed Brexit agreement, but now it appears that the agreement is unlikely to pass the UK Parliament.

We also heard quite a bit about the National Health System which has been under attack by privatizers for years. Due to cuts and changes, they are already starting to experience some of the problems that are rampant in the US such as denials of care. People are seeing some of the worst aspects of the US healthcare crisis exported to the UK and do not want to see further starvation and privatization of their system.

On a positive note, the public transportation system in the UK is excellent and used heavily and there are cooperatives of all sorts. The cooperative movement has a long and strong history in the UK, starting prior to 1800 and really taking off when the Rochdale Principles were created in 1844.

Kevin J. Frost // ShutterStock

Action on climate change

There is a lot of enthusiasm for the new climate change effort in the UK, the Extinction Rebellion. Launched on October 31, the Extinction Rebellion calls for mass nonviolent, disruptive actions targeting the government for its failure to take appropriate action to address the climate crisis. On November 17, there were actions across the UK. Thousands of protesters shut down five major bridges in London.

There were also solidarity actions in other countries. 50,000 people marched in Montreal, Quebec to tell their government it needs to take stronger action. March organizers said that the lack of discussion of climate change in the elections is one element that is galvanizing people to take action.

Organizers in the UK hope the campaign goes worldwide. We interviewed Marijn Van de Geer who works with the Extinction Rebellion in London on Clearing the FOG. Van de Geer explained that while there is resistance to many fossil fuel projects in the UK, the Extinction Rebellion provides a way for the many campaigns to unite against a common target, the government, and still engage in their individual activities.

People opposed to the Potomac Pipeline and the Rockwool factory it would supply with gas gather to deliver petitions to the National Park Service./Photo courtesy of CCAN

Impossible to avoid the reality of climate change

There are strong campaigns in the US trying to stop fossil fuel projects. Activists with Rainforest Action Network are bird dogging JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon because of his bank’s investment in fossil fuel projects. This week, they disrupted his speech at Axios and delivered a copy of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) report to him.

Pipeline protests continue. Activists working to stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline had another success this week. The US Army Corps of Engineers has suspended permits that would allow the pipeline to cross bodies of water. Activists in West Virginia and Maryland are pressuring the National Park Service to deny permits for TransCanada to build a pipeline under the Potomac River in a fragile area. And Enbridge Line 3 opponents have vowed to continue their resistance.

On Friday, Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment was released by the Trump administration. Mandated by Congress and authored by officials from thirteen federal agencies, the report, though conservative, admits that climate change is happening rapidly, that human activity contributes to it, that the impacts are significant and that more needs to be done.

Of course, these are the same findings of the Third National Climate Assessment released in 2014, yet the United States government has not taken appropriate action to address the crisis and climate change was absent as a major topic in the most recent election. Perhaps it is time to organize an Extinction Rebellion in the United States.

The Democrats are already positioning themselves to give the appearance of doing something about the climate crisis. The newly-elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes has stated her intention to introduce a “Green New Deal,” an idea championed by the Green Party for over a decade. Will Morrow raises valid concerns that the Democratic Party Green New Deal will be more fluff than substance.

Mark Dixon/flickr/cc

Solving the climate crisis goes deeper than shifting to renewable energy

We don’t have time for the usual partial solutions offered by Democrats. The climate crisis is intimately related to racism, colonialism, capitalism, militarism and imperialism. It can’t be solved in isolation. It will take an organized movement of movements to mitigate and adapt to climate change in a way that causes the least harm.

In “Confronting Carbon Capitalists,” the Seattle IWW explain that privileged liberals are coming to understand what colonized people have known for a long time, that capitalism is at the root of climate change. They write, “labor and ecological exploitation has remained vast and systemic… and the story is always the same: colonize a population, use violence to break them from their land and means of subsistence, extract fossil capital, then move on and leave the decimated landscape to the locals.” They call for solidarity with the Indigenous and colonized people.

Manuel Garcia, Jr., writes that US imperialism will prevent the US from adequately tackling climate change. He explains, “American political power is based on fossil fuels, and the US military is the engine that consumes those fuels to produce that power.” In order to address climate change, there will have to be a massive shift in political ideology and power.

There are opportunities to move toward making the necessary changes. In California, the energy corporation PG&E has been found responsible for three major fires, including the most recent one in which 85 people died and hundreds are still missing. As a result, PG&E is on the verge of bankruptcy. This provides an opportunity for the state to make PG&E a public entity. Johanna Bozuwa describes what that would look like and how it would enable the state to act more quickly to move to renewable energy.

New economic models are also being developed. Through the Learning/Action Lab for Community Wealth Building, Native communities are creating new institutions that are centered in decolonization. Read more about a Lakota community’s efforts.

As with all of our efforts at transformational change, we need to connect our struggles, share a common set of principles and work together strategically to effect change. It is a process of both resistance to harmful policies and practices and creation of positive alternatives based on our values that will lead to success. There is something for everyone to do.

Remembering Canada’s Military Support for Colonialism in Africa

Now that November 11 and the official “remembering” of our “heroes”, their “bravery” and “greatness” is over, it is a good time to take a deeper, more critical look at Canada’s participation in wars.

While on Remembrance Day we are told to  “thank a soldier for your freedoms” and the commemorations talk about “defending democracy”, the reality of wars’ connections to colonialism, imperialism, and oppression are ignored.

A Global News story about Nova Scotia university students visiting Canadian World War II soldiers’ graves in West Africa highlights the matter. The report ignored that The Gambia, where the Canadians were buried, was a British colony at the time and that Canadian forces legitimated European rule in Africa during the country’s only ‘morally justifiable’ war.

(Nazi expansionism’s threat to British interests, not opposition to fascism or anti-Semitism, led Ottawa to battle but WWII was ultimately justifiable.)

During the Second World War Canadians fought by land, sea and air in colonial Africa. Describing a support mission in 1943 a Hamilton Spectator headline noted: “Canada Supplied 29 Ships and 3000 of Her Sailors for North African Action”. Many Canadian fighter pilots also operated over the continent. “During the Second World War,” notes Canadian African studies scholar Douglas Anglin, “considerable numbers of Canadian airmen served in R.A.F. [Royal Air Force] squadrons in various parts of the continent, particularly North Africa.” More than a half-dozen Canadian pilots defended the important Royal Air Force base at Takoradi, Ghana, and others traveled there to follow the West African Reinforcement Route, which delivered thousands of fighter planes to the Middle East and North African theatre of the war.

After Germany invaded France part of the French government relocated to the south. The Vichy regime continued to control France’s colonies during WWII. In a bid to prod Philippe Pétain’s regime to re-enter the war alongside the Allies, Canadian diplomat Pierre Dupuy visited on three occasions between 1940 and 1941. Describing Dupuy’s mission and the thinking in Ottawa at the time, Robin Gendron notes, “for the Canadian government as for the Allies in general, the colonies had no separate existence outside of France. In practical terms, the colonies were France.” Later in the war Prime Minister Mackenzie King expressed a similar opinion regarding Britain’s colonies. “In December 1942,” Gendron reports, “King informed the British Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs that colonial policy must remain the responsibility of the colonial powers, and he reiterated this position in late 1944 when the British government asked for Canada’s input on the latest proposals for the postwar settlement of colonial issues.”

Without Canada’s major contribution to WWII Britain and France may not have held their African colonies. And during World War I, which is the origin of Remembrance Day, Canadians helped the British, French and Belgians expand their colonial possessions in Africa. As I detail in Canada and Africa: 300 Years of Aid and Exploitation, Canada was modestly involved in two African theatres of WWI.

In the lead-up to the Great War hundreds of Canadians, usually trained at Kingston’s Royal Military College, fought to help Britain (and the Belgian King) conquer various parts of the continent. Canadians led military expeditions, built rail lines and surveyed colonial borders across the continent in the late 1800s and early 1900s. More significantly, four hundred Canadians traveled halfway across the world to beat back anti-colonial resistance in the Sudan in 1884-85 while a decade and a half later thousands more fought in defence of British imperial interests in the southern part of the continent.

If we are going to learn anything from history, Remembrance Day commemorations should include discussion of Canadian military support for European colonialism in Africa and elsewhere. To really understand war and its causes, we must take a look at its victims as well as its victors.

The Global Rise of Fascism: Capitalism End Game?

Photo from the archives of Torbak Hopper

It is everywhere. In a few years, it has metastasized like a cancer, on all continents. Its fervent proponents and ill-informed supporters call it populism or nationalism. In the Italy, Germany, or Spain of the 1930s, however, this ideology of exclusion and fear, defined by a hatred of the other, together with a tyrannical executive power, was called by its proper name: fascism. Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany and Franco in Spain were the bloodthirsty tenors of capitalism’s symphony orchestra, singing the deadly opera quietly conducted by the military-industrial complex. When the fascism-induced collective psychosis was put to an end in 1945 by Russia and the Western allies, between 68 and 80 million people had been slaughtered worldwide.

Banksy

MAGA is America Uber Alles

The disease, expressed by the term Deutschland Uber Alles (Germany above all else), was also contagious. It has been repackaged under the thinly concealed Make America — or Italy, Austria, Hungary, Brazil, or Israel — Great Again. The doctrine of one country above all else is, in reality, the best way to justify the tyranny of the State against its own population. Constant threats, external or internal, mostly fabricated and hugely amplified by subservient media, keep societies on edge and make people tolerate or, even worse, embrace an omnipresent security apparatus, either military or police. Fascist regimes always blur the line between military and police. Why not, indeed, be able to deploy your military against your own citizens if you have brainwashed them with the notion of lurking internal enemies? After all, fear and paranoia are the most powerful vectors of the global Orwellian empire we live in.

The nexus of fascism and capitalism

The neofascists have draped themselves in the flag of populism and nationalism and therefore have disingenuously convinced their supporters that they are the champions of a fight against globalism, elitism, and the corruption of the neoliberal political system. They are, however, fierce proponents of dog-eat-dog capitalism and its abject systematic exploitation of labor. Fascists enthusiastically support the global military-industrial complex as well as capitalism’s senseless exploitation of resources through mining and deforestation. For fascists, just as for capitalists, wealth must be concentrated in fewer hands, and money may circulate across borders without constraint while ordinary people may not.

Photo by Sandra Cohen-Rose

There is indeed nothing new under the sun. If industrialists today profit from wars on both sides of conflicts, giant US companies such as Ford and General Motors did the same in the build up to and even during World War II. Historian Bradford Snell wrote, more than 20 years ago, that “the Nazis could not have invaded Poland and Russia without GM.” The cozy relationship of Ford and GM with the Nazi regime went back to the early 1930s. Henry Ford himself was a Nazi supporter, and Hitler was a fan of the automaker. The two companies, Ford and GM, credited themselves with being “the arsenal of democracy” by transforming their production lines for US military purposes, but they were also, openly at least until 1942, the arsenal of fascism.

Banksy

The same apparent schizophrenia is at play today. Just like Ford and GM were complicit with the Nazis, global capitalism, driven by the merchants of death of the military-industrial complex, is profiting from war crimes by, for example, selling a massive amount of weapons to the Islamo-fascist regime of Saudi Arabia, which is currently committing crimes against humanity by killing thousands of civilians and starving the entire population of Yemen. These war crimes are committed with weapons made in the USA, the UK and France, in the respective order of the volumes sold to the Saudis. France has a liberal and pseudo human-rights champion as its leader in the person of Macron. Nevertheless the booming French military-industrial  complex sells 7 billion Euros worth of weapons per year. India, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are the top buyers of death made in France: a criminal industry that employs more than 200,000 people.

Banksy

Fascists have built mental walls of hatred

The likes of Trump, Salvini, Kurz, Orban and Bolsonaro were elected largely on the false premise and racist notion of culture wars and clash of civilizations: the mythical threat that, in an already multi-ethnic world, immigrants, the outsiders often with darker skins or another religion, represent an existential peril for host countries. The neofascists have risen by building mental walls of hatred in fortress Europe and fortress America. The worldwide proliferation of neofascism constitutes a new form of ideological globalization, and global capitalism is banking on it. For example, once it became obvious that Bolsonaro would be elected president of Brazil, the country’s stock market rose by 13 percent in two weeks while all the major international markets fell. During World War II the fascist axis powers were Germany, Italy, and Japan. Now they are the US, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Brazil, and India to some extent. All of it has the curious blessings of the mighty little State of Israel and the large money bags called the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

Banksy

Geopolitical conundrum

The global rise of fascism will change a landscape already on shaky ground. Trump’s National Security adviser, John Bolton, has already set the agenda and put in the neofascist crosshair Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, which he called the “troika of tyranny.” Naturally, Bolton counts on the new fascist regional helpers of US imperialism, Colombia and Brazil, to enforce a revived full-blown Monroe Doctrine.  In Europe, neofascists have risen to power in Hungary and the coalition governments of Italy and Austria. Their ideological comrades in Germany, Poland, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands have not risen to power, but their political clout is quickly growing. This rise of the neofascists, combined with the UK’s Brexit, is jeopardizing the European Union. In these developments, Steve Bannon of the US is playing the part of a fascism ideologue and black-clad eminence grise.

Banksy

The Russians, for their part, have developed a dangerously cozy relationship with today’s European fascists, as if the history of World War II has not taught them anything about fascism.  The pact of non-aggression between Nazi Germany and the USSR, signed in August 1939, not only allowed Hitler to unleash his killing spree on the West, but also did not prevent the German army from launching an attack two years later on the USSR. Stalin’s strategic mistake resulted eventually in the deaths of 27 million Soviet citizens. In the current context, it seems that a potential dismantlement of the EU is one of the only geopolitical goals that Russia and the US can agree on. As an example, the Russians as well as the US’ Bannon like and promote Italy’s powerful Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, a rising star of European neofascism and a euro-skeptic whose motto is: “Make Europe Great Again!”

From the archives of Kitchener

Gott Mit Uns (God with us)

“Gott Mit Uns,” in raised letters around an eagle and swastika, was the inscription that adorned the German army’s belt buckles during World War II. If there is a God, his power certainly did not much help the soldiers of the Third Reich! That being said, there is definitely a religious track in the rise of global fascism. In the US and in Brazil, the vote of the evangelical Christians was a primary factor in the elections of Trump and Bolsonaro. “Born-again” Christian fundamentalists in the US are mainly concentrated in the formerly Confederate Southern states of the Civil War. These evangelical fundamentalist communities largely reject evolution, secularism, and the reality that climate change is man-made. Many in these communities believe that the US should be a Christian state. These Christian fundamentalists are the most reliable voting block for Trump, just as they were for George W. Bush. Well-funded far-Right fundamentalist think tanks like The Heritage Foundation have been pulling the strings in the background since the early 1970s.

 

Photo by Gilbert Mercier

Brazil’s Bosonaro was raised a Catholic, but he became, in what could be viewed as a cynical political calculus, a “born-again” evangelical. The evangelical voting block arguably gave him the edge on his opponent during the country’s October 2018 presidential election. Meanwhile, in what they see as fortress Europe, the European fascists have embraced their so-called Christian heritage, and they fuel anti-Islam sentiments, blurring the line between racism and religious intolerance. In Israel, under what can be called PM Netanyahu’s Judeo-fascism, Palestinians are dehumanized and persecuted, as the Jews were in Europe’s pogroms. In Saudi Arabia, the Islamo-fascist Mohamed bin-Salman does the same by painting Iran’s Shiites as heretics and terrorists. In India, PM Modi, who is considered by many Indian Muslims to be a Hindu-fascist, is also using religion to create conflicts and justify massive military spending. In brief, religious fundamentalists of all stripes are today the neofascists’ best assets to manipulate people and turn them, often violently, against each other.

 

Photo by Gilbert Mercier

Fascism’s unbearable ecological footprint

In the mold of Trump in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil, neofascists are by-and-large climate change deniers, or “skeptics,” as they prefer. After all, the Lord or Allah knows best and holds the key to their destinies. For the rest of us, who do not expect God to have an extra planet Earth in his back pocket, the rise of global fascism offers a grimmer prospect for  humanity’s survival. Under the jackboots of the global fascism stormtroopers, the little that is left of our shattered ecosystem will meet its final solution. Bolsonaro could engineer a tabula rasa in the Amazon, which is considered the lung of the earth, due to its capacity to absorb CO2. The super-rich who control global capitalism will give carte blanche to their fascist surrogates to grow and use a massive military-police apparatus to repress the billions of climate change refugees and victims of ecological collapse. Despite their assumptions and planning, discretely run by the Pentagon based on climate change becoming a national security issue, climate change will be capitalism’s end game. All the gold and diamonds in the world will not stop the storms or shield the atmosphere from the deadly rays of a blazing sun.

• First published at News Junkie Post

Forgive them their debts as they forgive those…

It is “budget time” again!

That is the season when the persons displayed on television screens as representatives of those who have no representation engage in the theatrical display of subordination to those who actually own things, like the countries we happen to inhabit. Although there have been a few publicised investigations and even some occasional criminal charges against (usually septuagenarians) some conspicuous miscreants, there has been no action which could restore some health or sanity to what most of us consider the daily economy. In some countries, like where I live, people go on strike. There is little indication that the fundamental message of the strikers gets heard. Perhaps that is also why the television seems obsessed with the marketing of hearing aids. There is a hearing aid for every occasion, except sessions of the national assembly, where such technology might really help.

One way of dealing with the hearing impaired is repetition. In scientific terms this means increasing the rate of signal in proportion to noise in the hope that the essential message is received. Although I wrote a version of this paper in 2014, four years later I cannot help feeling some repetition would do no harm. If every budget season one has to listen to the same set of distortions, then it is only fair to reproduce the corrections.

Like the absurd climate debate, which never includes the “carbon footprint” of the largest military machines, the budget debates (essentially interchangeable) never discuss the cost of subsidising international banks and corporations to facilitate their extraction of wealth from the national economy. There is no intelligent, let alone honest, discussion of what is meant by “public debt”—or why the taxpayers must bear losses to guarantee tax-exempt profits for investors.

I always ask myself when someone says or writes “loss”, where did the money go? Even when a ship is lost at sea there is generally wreckage. Of course, the ocean is bigger than the economy and it is possible that a ship’s remains disappear beyond recovery. The price of abandoning the very modest social gains of the New Deal in the US and social democracy in Europe with the ascendancy of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan has been enormous, not only for US and European working people but, for the rest of the world. In fact, the meter is still running with no indication of when it will stop.

The crisis no one cares to talk about any more comprises trillions in losses. If these losses are real, then that means the value has been forfeited in favour of someone else. E.g. after the Great War France and Britain were essentially bankrupt: they owed nearly everything to US banks. Without economic manipulation, war and terror, India would probably have occupied the same status vis a vis Great Britain in 1945 that Brazil gained vis a vis Portugal after the Napoleonic Wars. The claims against the productive capacity and assets of Old Europe were held by identifiable third parties, representing, then as now, a tiny band of bankers. Of course, those claims were so great that no normal income streams from taxation could satisfy them. Control of Britain was effectively ceded to the US, while India was wracked by civil war rather than collecting the wartime debt Britain owed to her.

The other meaning of loss is the inability to sustain a certain valuation of an asset or income stream. The nature of the initial valuation is then the problem. The continuous attempts in the IFRS (international accounting standards) to skirt around the issue of essentially fraudulent valuation illustrates that even the private sector’s notion of “value”, whether book value or fair value, is the product of casuistry.

Since European “banking” was reorganised on the US Federal Reserve model by creation of the European Central Bank, it is instructive to consider how grand theft in the state-banking sector of the US functions. In other words, the “losses” hidden on the books of the USG banks, “Fannie” and “Freddie”, are either notional or they reflect claims that were satisfied in favour of third parties beyond the capacity of those institutions to generate income. Again we know who those third parties are. The “losses” are essentially sacrificed sovereignty.

Government institutions pledge to private persons (corporations and foreign exchange pirates) the State’s capacity to pay, derived from the ability to tax the working population, beyond any realistic possibility to extract that income. This was called “tax farming” in the bad old days of “colonialism”. Frequently punitive military force was sent into any country that was not delivering enough booty (aka interest on foreign debt). In fact, as retired general of US Marines infamously confessed that was his main job in the Corps—protecting corporate plunder.

This is essentially the same principle imposed through the ECB—except that some nominal account has to be taken of national political systems. Since in Europe the State was far more frequently the owner of capital infrastructure, absorbing the cost of its operation and regulating labour as civil servants, considerable ideological work had to be performed to cultivate the generation, which privatised most of the national capital assets held by European states. The fact that since 1945 the US has controlled the international payments system has reduced the need for military intervention. Decisions taken in New York, London, Frankfurt or Brussels can deprive a country of any affordable means to engage in the most basic financial transactions. The entities involved are privately owned and therefore cannot be coerced except by measures that would “threaten private property”.

Just as the railroads and banks obtained control over most of the continental US by defrauding the US government in the 19th century, the surviving banks have defrauded most of the American population of its home equity today. Although it was established that a conspiracy of UK-based clearing banks illegally fixed the LIBOR/ EURIBOR rates, this had no serious consequences. If one considers very carefully that nearly all mortgage and commercial financing agreements base their interest computations on one of these benchmarks, the true scope of the fraud becomes apparent. Everyone who made an interest rate agreement assuming the “free market” condition of the underlying rate was cheated. It could be argued that the interest rate clauses of innumerable contracts were void due to fraud. A perusal of public debt instruments would no doubt reveal even more catastrophic deception.

The endless wars, funded by plundering the public treasury and the wealth of other countries, are part of that income extraction, too. Now the US government and those of its vassals are little more than one large mercenary enterprise, together as NATO, the most heavily armed collection agency on behalf of third party creditors on the planet. It does not matter who occupies the mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Of course, there is plausible denial for any of the beneficiaries of this plunder since populations weaned on soap operas and “crime drama” are incapable of examining, let alone comprehending, the most obvious operations of US corporations and their agents– who almost never appear as criminals on television. The “crime drama” narrative dominates almost every bandwidth on the critical spectrum and as a much younger US director, Michael Moore demonstrated in Bowling for Columbine, corporate crime does not make acceptable television. The most elemental sociological truths, plain to anyone who has ever belonged to a club or worked in middle management of a company, namely that “democratic” and “meritocratic” decisions are regularly subverted by scheming among the ambitious at the expense of the docile– become discredited when the insight is applied to the polity as a whole. People who do not think twice about making a phone call to a “friend” to influence a decision in their social club or place of employment, become incredulous at the suggestion that the chairman of a major investment bank would dictate policy to the head of state whose election he had financed.

In short, the debate about the current global economic “crisis” is obscenely counterintuitive and illogical to the point of incoherence. Who is willing to “follow the money”? This dictum, popularised in the Woodward and Bernstein fairy tale of US President Richard Nixon’s demise– All the President’s Men— appears utterly forgotten, despite recurring astronomic fraud perpetrated by US corporations since the so-called “S&L scandal”– crimes for which no more than a handful of people were indicted, let alone tried or sentenced. Only one corporation was deprived of its right to do business, Arthur Andersen, and this was patently done to spare all the politicians from the reigning US president, most of the US Congress, and untold state and local officials who had been bribed or otherwise influenced by Enron.

If the stories reported by Pete Brewton in 1992, the documented history of the OSS “China insurer” AIG, and the implications of the 2002 Powers Report on the Enron collapse are taken seriously, then Houston lies on a financial fault line more devastating than the San Andreas. That fault line runs from Texas through Virginia to the bedrock of Manhattan. The economic earthquakes that have persisted since 1980 are both literally and figuratively the result of deployment of the US atomic arsenal and the policies that gave rise to it. The US dollar’s continued, if fluctuating, strength as a reserve currency is based on drugs, weapons, and oil– all traded in US dollars. However, this material reality is also based on an ideological or dogmatic constitution. The seismic activity induced by US corporations created gaping holes in the global economy– holes which could only be breached by the financial instruments developed in the weapons laboratories of Wall Street based on the same conceptual models as the neutron bomb and today’s nano-munitions developed at Lawrence Livermore. Indeed, the theory has been almost universally accepted that people are always to blame for the problems of government and Business is the sole and universal solution to all problems. Hence tax monies will only be spent on weapons, war, and subsidies for corporations—the things Business needs.

A considerable obstacle to any change in the US, short of its destruction, is the fact that as Michael Hudson and former assistant Treasury secretary under Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts, write repeatedly, the US government has absolutely lost whatever legitimate function it may ever have had as an instrument of popular will. In other words, the efforts of working people, whether immigrant or ex-slave to remake the plutocratic regime of the 19th century into a State responsive to their needs were frustrated by the massive assaults on labour, combined with the ideological warfare of the “Progressive” movement. The latter, funded heavily by the newly created super-philanthropies, including those of Rockefeller, Sage, Peabody, and Carnegie, predated CIA-style front organizations and infiltration. They helped turn popular sovereignty movements into the kind of technocratic organisations which prevail today– dependent on corporate donations and led by the graduates of cadre schools like the Ivy League colleges, Oxford and the LSE. With few exceptions the only remnants of the “popular will” in the US are those that drive lynch mobs, reincarnated in “talk radio” today.

The main work of the USG and the corporations for which it stands has been to undermine any notion that the State is rightfully an expression of the popular will for the realisation of popular welfare. The State has been reduced to a protection racket. By the time Ronald Reagan, imitating Margaret Thatcher, pledged to “get government off the back of the people”, the only “people” who counted were corporations and those in thrall to them.

It is easy to forget that the US was actually founded on the basis of a kind of white (in that sense “enlightened”), oligarchic absolutism– the British parliamentary dictatorship minus hereditary monarch. Its moral vision predated the Thirty Years War and, until John Kennedy was elected president, its hypocrisy was that of Cromwellian fanatics. In revolutionary France and countries that were inspired by France, as opposed to the American independence war, struggle continued on the premises that the State is not the King (in whatever incarnation) but created by the citizens (not the possessive individual) for the maintenance of the common weal– including the nutrition, health, housing, education of its people. The opposition to destruction of the public sector or public services and the debate that continues in Greece, France, Italy, and to a lesser extent Germany, defies comprehension in North America and Great Britain because of some unfortunate residues of that revolutionary vision of the State so violently opposed by Britain and the US ever since 1789– except when the resulting instability provided business opportunities. (Thatcher did not restore the spirit of Churchill to power—but that of Wellington.)

Moreover as Coolidge once said, “the business of America is business”. If a policy or action of government cannot be expressed in terms of someone’s maximum private profit then it is indefensible in the US. The conditions of the Maastricht Treaty establishing the euro and the ECB are an attempt to impose those same ideological and political constraints on the European Union enforced by adoption of the Federal Reserve Act in the US. The Federal Reserve is essentially a technology for naturalising usury and endowing it with supernatural legitimacy. But just as it has been argued in some quarters that the US Federal Reserve triggered the Great Depression– for the benefit of the tiny bank of banking trusts– the European Central Bank, urged by the right-wing government in Berlin, is being pressured to follow the same rapine policies as the FED is pursuing today. Of course, there are other countries ruled by financial terrorism or where banking gangs have turned their entire arsenal against sovereign peoples.

The “Crisis” is not really about the “debt” or the heinous losses. It is a crisis of sovereignty. The failure of popular sovereignty means that a microscopic bacterial colony of the immeasurably rich can make war on the rest of the world, destroying the common weal and commerce at home and everything else abroad. Germany’s citizens have been bludgeoned since 1945 by Anglo-American propaganda and the occupation forces to persuade them that they– not the great banking and industrial cartels on both sides of the Atlantic– were responsible for Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. When in 1968, student leaders like Rudi Dutschke tried to remind Germans that their democracy was destroyed before Hitler’s putsch and that they had the right and opportunity to demand a democratic Germany after the war, those young people were harassed and even killed. (Dutschke was shot in the head by an unemployed labourer. That “lone” killer later died in prison with a plastic bag over his head.) Attempts to create a truly popular democratic government in Germany have been frustrated by foreign intervention since the French Revolution. Nevertheless people in Germany still believe that the State is there to provide services to the people– and not to fight wars to further foreign trade as suggested by Horst Köhler before he was relieved of his duties (ostensibly resigning) as German federal president.

There is no doubt in Germany that former Chancellor Schroeder’s refusal to follow the US into Iraq—whatever motivated it—enjoyed the widest support, even among those who tend to believe anything the US government says. The resignation of former IMF director and Federal President Köhler expressed the sensitivity of the situation then. On one occasion he referred to the great banking interests as “monsters” and then broke the silence on the German war efforts in Central Asia by explicitly articulating what had been Chancellor Merkel’s, silent but deadly policy of supporting US counter-terror in Afghanistan. Köhler was not opposed to the future escalation of German belligerence, but by his calling a spade a spade on national radio, the right-wing government in Berlin almost had to defend its unconstitutional deployment of German soldiers in public. Already that April Angela Merkel had been forced to sacrifice an army general and a cabinet minister when it became known that German combat aircraft were also bombing civilians like their US counterparts—and trying to keep the fact a secret.

In the midst of the financial crisis, that is the plunder and pillage of the accumulated reserves of Europe’s working population after those of the US are exhausted, it is impossible to ignore the restoration of Asian political and economic prominence. This process started in the 1960s when Britain and the US launched their wars to secure footholds and control of the vast resources of Indonesia and Indochina. Although only partly successful, the destruction of national independence movements throughout South Asia created the conditions for de-industrialising Europe and North America. Mistakenly much of the North American and European Left judged the losses in Korea and Vietnam as defeats for US power. Such judgments have been based on assessments of the official war aims and not on any analysis of the underlying corporate and financial policy objectives. The long-term results of those wars included creation of the massive debt system that is at the root of financial collapse for the majority of US Americans. Of course, China remains the great unconquerable threat to continuation of US hegemony. The balance of power in Asia may be very delicate indeed.

Continental Europe remained somewhat insulated from those seismic forces until 1989. The “velvet” invasion of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union led by US capital, aided as usual by the combined secret services and economic “consultants” of Shock Therapy, began the destruction of the economic base for European social democracy and “real socialism”. The debt machine created to exploit Eastern Europe was applied in Germany first– destroying the GDR and financing that destruction with EU-generated debt, culminating in the euro. Introduction of the euro effectively destroyed half of the purchasing power of working people in the Euro Zone overnight, creating the conditions for consumer borrowing which had prevailed in the US since the late 60s and eroding wages and benefits drastically.

The final loss of control over archaic legislative instruments (whether in the US or Europe) is not only assured by the system of bribery that turns those in office into indentured servants of corporations. Full investigation of the Enron scandal would have proven once and for all that there is almost no one in the US Congress not owned by some corporation. Similar conditions have come to prevail in European legislatures where for decades US academic and policy exchange programmes have trained the political class to work first and foremost for Business.

The loss is also assured by the now entrenched belief that the only legitimate human goal is individual personal profit. As Hudson has suggested, this is the “theology of the Chicago School”. Since Margaret Thatcher was appointed to convert Britain to that dogma, nearly the entire political, academic and “civil” culture has been saturated with people who cannot think in any other terms– even when they assert that they are still social democrats or democratic socialists. The latter insist that “social policy” is merely a palliative to prevent the poor and destitute from becoming unsightly spectres in urban entertainment centres. They all have become positivists– reifying the prevailing economic relations and worshipping quantitative methods– subordinating human agency to pseudo-science and thinly disguised opportunism. The only kindness this ethical standpoint can express is “charity”. Charity, however, has nothing to do with the common weal or the State as an embodiment of the popular will. In fact, it is just as parasitic as the belief from which it springs. If those whom John Pilger called “the new rulers of the world” consent to relieve us– that is to allow us anything resembling our dignity and subsistence wages– then it will scarcely exceed the infamous “dimes” with which John D. Rockefeller cloaked his cynicism in piety and charity. Nowhere is the cynicism more profound than in the expression “giving back”. Of course, the pennies “given back” are microscopic compared with the billions “taken” in the first place. But those shiny pennies and dimes are enough to keep embedded intellectuals loyal to Bill Gates or George Soros. For a few dollars more they will even protect the likes of Blankfein or Buffett.

“Charity” is the gratification a person finds when scratching a mosquito bite. One feels better while scratching– although this provides no relief. The cause of the itch is the substance injected by the mosquito while sucking the blood from its victim. Of course, some mosquitoes offer only token charity and the itch disappears. But there are mosquitoes that carry other parasites– the effects of their charity can last forever, or at least until the victim dies.

Fracking Filthy Fuel

Burning fossil fuels is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions (GGE), and, greenhouse gas emissions (water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O)) are the principle cause of man-made climate change. Given this fact, governments throughout the world should be moving away from fossil fuels and investing in, and designing policies that encourage development of, renewable sources of energy. But the British Conservative government, despite public opinion to the contrary, has all but banned the construction of onshore wind turbines and is encouraging fracking in England. The Tories are the only UK political party to offer support for this regressive form of energy production, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens having all promised fracking bans should they gain political office at the next general election.

Hydraulic fracking is the process of releasing gas and oil from shale rock: huge quantities of water, proppant (usually sand) and chemicals are injected at high-pressure into hydrocarbon-bearing rocks, rocks that can be up to a mile down and were once thought to be impermeable. This process of fracturing (or cracking) forces the rocks to crack open, and gas held inside is released and allowed to flow to the surface.

Shale gas is a fossil fuel, and when combusted produces GGE, albeit at around 50% less than coal or oil, but GGE nevertheless. The leading fracking company in Britain is the energy firm Cuadrilla. An organization that according to its website, aims “to be a model company for exploring and developing shale gas in the UK,” they state that they are “acutely aware of the responsibilities this brings, particularly with regard to safety, environmental protection and working with local communities.” Really?

After protests by the local community and various court cases (Lancashire County Council had refused drilling rights, but the Secretary of State ignored community voices and approved the company’s request on appeal), Cuadrilla recently commenced fracking at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire. However, as in 2011 when the company was forced to abandon drilling, work was suspended for two days out of four because of earthquakes. Tremors measured 0.5 on the Richter scale, which breached the seismic threshold established following the 2011 earth tremors. Instead of abandoning the project as the local community and environmental groups are demanding, the firm’s chief executive, Francis Egan, wants the Government to raise the threshold.

Another Regressive Step

America is home to hydraulic fracturing, where it’s been taking place for decades. Greenpeace states that as of 2012 the “fracking industry [in USA] has drilled around 1.2 million wells and is slated to add at least 35,000 new wells every year.” Fracking has led to US oil production increasing faster than anytime in its history, resulting in lower domestic gas prices. The US Energy Information Administration record that around two thirds of gas is now produced by fracking and almost half the countries crude oil.

Shale gas is spoken of as a positive alternative to coal, but it’s just another filthy fossil fuel that is adding to GGE, which in turn are driving climate change. Fracking has a substantive impact on the natural environment and the health of those living within the surrounding area. Earthquakes, air pollution, soil pollution, carcinogenic chemical leakage and contaminated groundwater are the primary risks.

An enormous amount of water, which needs to be transported to the site incurring significant environmental costs, is required in the fracking process. The amount of water used varies per well: between 1.5 and 10 million gallons is required every time a well is fractured. Greenpeace relates that, “in 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 70 to 140 billion gallons of water were used to fracture just 35,000 wells in the United States.” The water is mixed with various chemicals to make fracking fluid, a toxic cocktail that can be further contaminated by “heavy metals and radioactive elements that exist naturally in the shale.” A significant portion of the frack fluid returns to the surface “where it can spill or be dumped into rivers and streams…fracking fluids and waste have made their way into our drinking water and aquifers. Groundwater can be contaminated through fracking fluid and methane leakage and the energy companies have “no idea what to do with the massive amount of contaminated water it’s creating,”

In addition to water and soil pollution, fracking adds to existing levels of air pollution as methane gas is released into the atmosphere through leaks and venting. A study conducted by Cornell University found that “over a well’s lifetime, 3.6 to 7.9 percent of methane gas escapes” in this way. Unlike CO2, which sits in the atmosphere for centuries or millennia, methane only lasts for decades, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change asserts that it warms the planet by 86 times as much as CO2 before then degrading to become CO2.

Many countries recognize the retrogressive nature of fracking and have passed legislative bans or moratoriums; England is the only country within the UK where it is currently allowed. More than 100 fracking licenses have been awarded by the government, but in order to start fracking they need permission from the local council. Fracking is universally unpopular amongst the communities where sites are located or proposed; on 13th October the Gasdown-Frackdown action saw thousands of people from six continents take to the streets demanding an end to fracking and calling for long-term investment in renewable sources of energy. Fracking is not an environmentally sane way to meet the energy needs of a country. It is part of the problem not the solution and it should be rejected totally. What is required is a global energy strategy rooted in environmental sustainability. As Friends of the Earth rightly say, “a 21st Century energy revolution based on efficiency and renewables, not more fossil fuels that will add to climate change.”