Category Archives: Boris Johnson

Chaff Candidates: The Race for the UK Tory Leadership

As UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson set the scene in spectacular fashion.  All who sought to confine him to history, perished.  He was the only one who seemed to survive, and reject, one diabolical scandal after the next – till now.

No leader with such a destructive sense of presence could do anything but impair those who followed him.  But that impairment lingers in the contenders who are seeking to replace him, and it shows.

In a system that is admirably daft, the governing party, namely the Conservatives, have given themselves a remarkable span of time to pick Johnson’s successor.  A number of candidates initially put their name forth, a chaff-wheat separation exercise that eventually led to the selection of chaff.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss rallies the Tories within the party ranks (a YouGov poll puts Truss at 62 per cent over her rival contender, Rishi Sunak, at 38 per cent).  Sunak seems more appealing to the wider conservative vote.  Both are unappealing in several ways and have already shown that they are not beneath populism and demagoguery in convincing the party faithful.

Like most Tories hoping to court gullible voters in the centre, we are facing an elaborate deception of privilege burnished as hard work and triumph in adversity.  This is the season for counterfeiters.

Sunak is proving something of an adept in this, diminishing his privileged background in order to polish and flash invisible, underprivileged credentials.  Truss supporter, culture secretary Nadine Dorries, will have none of it, noting that Truss will campaign around the country in £4.50 earrings, but Sunak will do so in a £3,500 bespoke suit, along with £450 Prada loafers.

Truss is also playing on false images, though prefers to lie in more confident fashion.  With mendacious thrill, she claims to have grown up in a “red wall” seat, as if it might have proved anything.  “I got where I am today through working hard and focusing on results.”  If it is that mindless, corrosive activity of Instagramming, then she might have a point.  If an event is not posted on social media, it never took place.

In terms of policy, if we dare go there, Truss is a conventional supply sider, wanting to cut taxes despite obstinately rising inflation.  She argues that the budget has enough fiscal headroom to the tune of £30 billion, an amount that will be dramatically cheapened with inflation.  She also boasts of delivering a number of trade agreements, though many were simply copied, roll-over versions of deals made when the UK was an EU member.

Sunak, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, does not see taxes as satanic, and is considering raising them as a dampening measure to cope with rising prices.  Should he become Prime Minister, the corporation tax rate will rise from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.

Sunak, in some respects, is going for a softer touch, such as improving home insulation to cut energy bills.  Unfortunately, the Energy Savings Trust has found that loft insulation, while saving a terraced home £230 a year on energy bills, would also cost £500 to install.  Even as Chancellor, his efforts to encourage homes to install insulation via the green homes grant scheme failed to gain momentum, resulting in its scrapping.

On foreign policy, however, Sunak claims to be the hardest of hard men. Having been called by Chinese state outlet Global Times “clear and pragmatic” in the face of Sinophobia, he was bound to insist on a measure of difference.  To that end, the closure of the Confucius Institutes in Britain – namely, all 30 of them – is promised.  In doing so, he hopes to strangle Chinese “soft power” while rooting out Beijing’s industrial espionage efforts.

With militant fervour, he also promises to “kick the CCP out of our universities”, the sort of meaningless babble that risks harming academic endeavours.  The method of doing so will involve mandating higher education establishments to disclose the nature of their foreign funding associations for amounts above £50,000, including the review of research partnerships.  All such proposals always tend to harm the host institution more than the foreign target.

This was of little concern to Sunak, who has suddenly discovered an interest in human rights.  “They torture, detain and indoctrinate their own people, including in Xinjian and Hong Kong, in contravention of their human rights.  And they have continually rigged the global economy in their favour by suppressing their currency.”

Sunak’s language on rights is rich given his own attitude to those wishing to find sanctuary in Britain.  His ideas on irregular migration have ranged from housing arrivals in cruise ships in a hark back to the bad old days of British penology to enthusiastically supporting, along with Truss, the transfer of irregular migrants to Rwanda, a country not exactly famed for its human rights record.  This, from a grandson of immigrants from Punjab who ended up in East Africa before making their way to Britain.

A deliciously appropriate note on the campaign so far was struck in this week’s The Sun and TalkTV debate, hosted by journalist Kate McCann.  Both Truss and Sunak fronted up.  Harry Cole, political editor of The Sun, intended to co-host, but contracted Covid.  McCann, left in charge, made her solid contribution to the whole affair by fainting.  “We apologise to our viewers and listeners,” the channel stated with regret, sparing the audience the inanity of it all by calling the whole thing off.  Johnson must have relished it all.

In the slime-touched final runoff between two bottom-of-the-barrel finds, voters meet two candidates who, in finding wealth or coming from it, seek the ultimate prize of a country that once kept a quarter of the globe in described, cricket-enlightened subjecthood.  The prize is barely worth it, and, with Britain no longer part of the EU, barely noticeable.

The post Chaff Candidates: The Race for the UK Tory Leadership first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Poverty Division Democratic Destruction: The Johnson Legacy

It’s a tad over three hundred years since Britain had what is generally regarded as its first Prime Minister. Since 1721 and Robert Walpole, 76 have held the highest public office, some good, some indifferent, many rubbish, but none as appalling as the current resident of 10 Downing Street. The soon-to-be-ousted Boris “there were no parties” Johnson, who is without doubt the worst prime minister Britain has ever had.

Not only is he a compulsive liar, an arrogant, spoilt misogynist, he and his gaggle are completely incompetent. As a result of their appalling governance over the last 12 years, yes the Conservatives have been in power in one form of another for 12 disastrous years, they have created a catalogue of crises that will take a generation to put right, and unless they are ejected from office swiftly, could relegate the UK to a second tier nation – economically and socially, including health care, education and other public services, many of which are in tatters.

It is hard to overestimate the damage the Tories have done. First there’s Brexit, something Johnson claims as one of his three major achievements, that he “got Brexit done”. Brexit should never have happened and it would not have happened had the 51% that voted to leave been given the correct information and understood the implications. The Leave Campaign, with Johnson as its loudest mouthpiece, repeatedly and knowingly lied, completely distorting and misrepresenting issues including the economic impact, which is and will continue to be devastating. Immigration,  employment, environmental standards, workers rights, etc., etc. They didn’t just mislead and manipulate, they trampled on the truth and seasoned their lies with large dollops of tribal nationalism and British bravado, hiding duplicity in the folds of the flag.

Brexit followed on from years of austerity administered by a previous Conservative government led by PM David Cameron (who gave in to the far right fanatics in the party to grant the EU referendum in 2016). Brutal cuts in funding for public services, including the National Health Service (NHS) were made under the guise of fiscal responsibility, pay was frozen for workers in low paid jobs, inequality deepened, and continues to increase, geographically and between the rich and the rest.

The response to Covid, in particular the vaccine program, is another area where Johnson blubbers success. Currently it is estimated that 178,000 people have died in the UK from Covid/Covid related causes. This is 266 per 100,000 and places the UK seventh in the list of countries with the highest rates of Covid deaths (behind, in order, the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru): this is hardly a success. The UK government was slow to lockdown, had no workable testing system for months in 2020, making diagnosis impossible, and allowed untested patients to be discharged from hospitals to care homes in England and Wales, which resulted in more than 20,000 deaths of elderly/disabled people between March and June 2020. A barrister representing the daughter of someone who died prematurely in a care home told the BBC, that the government’s failure to protect residents of care homes and decisions that allowed Covid to infest care homes “represent one of the most egregious and devastating policy failures in the modern era.” As for the vaccine, this was indeed offered and delivered quickly, but it was administered by the NHS and had little or nothing to do with Johnson, who routinely claims the credit.

The final area that Johnson claims as a triumph is his government’s response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The UK has provided weapons, some training of military personnel and a badly designed, appallingly managed asylum program for Ukrainian refugees. By supplying arms and making outlandish, unrealistic claims about Ukraine “winning the war”, Johnson and co., have prolonged the conflict and condemned hundreds of Ukrainians to death who need not have died.

If peace is the objective (of the UK, US etc) in Ukraine (and elsewhere), and it’s a big if, and if conflict resolution is the test of success in relation to the war, Johnson (and others) has failed totally. Engagement/discussion with Putin is needed (as President Macron of France has been attempting) not more and more arms. At the same time NATO should be scaled back, with the view to disbanding it completely, not increasing troop numbers and raising defense spending, as is happening. When will humanity learn? Preparing for war is the guarantee of conflict, death and terrible suffering, it is not the way to peace. But men and women like Johnson and his monstrous foreign secretary, Liz Truss (who looks like to become the next PM), have no interest in peace and even less in Ukraine; they are concerned only with stirring up their misguided supporters, strengthening nationalism/idealism – the single greatest cause of conflict – agitating hate and division.

Domestically the UK is facing acute problems; headline issues include: huge increase in the number of people living in poverty (estimated to be around one in five of the population or 14.3 million), with 2,173,158 forced to use a (registered) food bank in 2021/22, up from 40,000 in 2008/9 – before which there were no such things as food banks; inequality has deepened and growth is forecast to be the lowest in the G20 with the exception of Russia. Inflation at 11% is a forty-year high; 6.6 million patients are waiting for NHS treatment (May figures); ambulances are taking on average 50 minutes to respond to emergency calls (the target is 15 minutes) because hospitals are full, because patients cannot be discharged as there is no functioning social care provision; airports have seen huge delays in flights due to lack of staff – many of whom were laid off during Covid or returned home, to Poland or Spain; e.g., after Brexit poisoned the collective atmosphere for European workers; the asylum system is totally broken; Britain’s international standing, particularly within the EU has been trashed and after a litany of Johnson lies and cronyism trust in politicians is at an all-time low.

Dishonesty, incompetence and social erosion

On 7th July, after an unprecedented 53 members of the government resigned over Johnson’s serial deceptions, he was forced, kicking and screaming, to step down. But lacking any self-respect and moral fiber, instead of going immediately and allowing the deputy PM to stand in while a new Conservative leader was elected, he remained in office, and will be there until the replacement is chosen (5th September). It’s Conservative members (180,00 roughly) only, not the general public, that get to vote – this is plainly undemocratic. In circumstances when the leader of the party in government, and therefore the PM, is driven out, a general election should be called.

Constitutional reform with the establishment of a written constitution, which does not currently exist, is required to look at a plethora of democratic inadequacies revealed by Johnson’s abuse and manipulation of power. Included in the changes is the urgent need to move from the unjust first-past-the-post election system to proportional representation; greater regional/national devolution, including perhaps Home Rule for Scotland, and a binding ministerial code of conduct, among other matters.

Johnson and his cronies have presided over a shambolic, deeply damaging period in British politics and national life. A period in which truth has been sacrificed, facts dismissed and the political and social landscape has been poisoned totally. Divisions have intensified (Brexit being the loudest example), tolerance of differences and common sense routinely sacrificed upon the alter of ambition and ideological arrogance, the rule of law ignored; a shameful period of dishonesty, incompetence and social erosion. Johnson’s legacy, as Jeremy Corbin recently said in the House of Commons, is “[greater] poverty, [intensified] inequality and [grinding] insecurity.”

As the final two Conservative leadership candidates (Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss) – is this really the best they have to offer — are demonstrating, the policies and general approach of the Conservative party, which has moved increasingly to the right/far right of the political spectrum, is completely out of step with the needs of the people and the planet. They are ideologically imprisoned in the past and, despite their robotic rhetoric to the contrary, are driven by a determination, not to serve the needs of the populous and be a force for peace and unity in the world, but by raw ambition and a determination to remain in power by appealing to the lowest common denominator – tribal nationalism, hate and prejudice – no matter what damage is done to the country, its reputation or the environment, which they care not a tot about.

In many ways Johnson (like Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro of Brazil, Modi of India, Orban of Hungary etc.) and the toxic brand of Conservatism he represents is a product of the age, The Age of Populism, which has infected many democracies. Such malignant, mendacious men and women (Liz Truss loud, stupid and incompetent) represent, and are powerful expressions of the backward-looking, divisive and deeply dangerous reactionary forces that are standing in the way of change. And if there is ever to be peace and social justice in our world, and if we are to have any chance at all of stopping the environmental catastrophe that is unfolding, they must be swept aside totally.

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The post Poverty Division Democratic Destruction: The Johnson Legacy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Rise Of Oligarchical Politics

Millions of people in the UK are beset by insecurities and worries about the rising cost of living. Fuel and energy prices are escalating, variously blamed on Brexit, Covid, and the war in Ukraine. A recent survey reported that 67% of Britons are worried about paying food and fuel bills, and 56% believe their household finances have worsened in the past 12 months.

The NHS is experiencing huge pressures. Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor and the author of Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic, said in March that the NHS:

‘is not coping much better now than it was at Covid’s peaks. We are drowning – in Covid patients, cancer patients, the patients on the waiting list backlogs, and the patients whose conditions have become infinitely more complex and harmful because they’ve been waiting so long. There are so few staff – and those left are so burned out and traumatised – that patients are inevitably being neglected.’

Too many people in this country are relying on food banks. Between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2022, the Trussell Trust network, the UK’s largest foodback organisation, distributed over 2.1 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis. This is an increase of 81% compared to the same period five years ago.

Hundreds of thousands of disabled and chronically ill people are having to wait an average of five months for disability benefits. Employees are working long hours on short-term and zero-hour contracts. There are persistent delays and poor services on public transport. And people have to wait inordinately long times to obtain driving licenses and passports.

All of this is taking place against the reality of industrial action and rising public dissatisfaction with what passes for ‘news’ or ‘politics’ in the Westminster bubble, or any of the other bubbles inhabited by Western elites.

Public trust in the ‘mainstream’ media has dropped dramatically in recent years. According to a recent analysis by Press Gazette, BBC News experienced the biggest drop in public confidence, along with the Times and the Telegraph. BBC News, regularly touted by its managers and senior journalists as the ‘gold standard’ in reliability and accuracy, has seen trust in its journalism drop from 75% four years ago to 55% now.

For what it’s worth, that still leaves it the most trusted newsbrand in the UK, along with ITV news, also at 55%. Channel 4 News was just behind on 54%. Sky News saw trust in its output decline from 62% to 45%. The Guardian could only manage 48% (remarkably high, given its record), down from 61%.

Press Gazette summed up the findings:

‘Major newsbrands have a crisis of trust’.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook observed:

‘Is the reason all establishment media are seeing huge drops in audience trust the fault of Russian disinformation? Or is it because they act as brazen mouthpieces for the establishment? Be sure all these outlets will tell you it’s down to Russia.’

Commenting on the low trust figures, Cook added:

‘half of audiences think our main news shows actually peddle fake news.’

Rossalyn Warren, Reuters audience editor, recently shared a headline finding from the Oxford-based Reuters Institute that:

‘46% of people (mostly women and young people) actively avoid the news because it has a negative impact on their mood. That’s up from 24% in 2017.’

The prevailing public mood was pithily summed up by writer Umair Haque as a ‘feeling of downward mobility’. This, he said, is how many people feel today:

‘They don’t feel good. Confident. Assured. Optimistic. They feel…worthless. Defeated. Helpless and hopeless. Traumatized and weary.’

Haque continued:

‘I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take it financially — how am I going to make ends meet? I can’t take it economically — no matter how hard you work, little seems to change. I can’t take it culturally — nothing, no one out there seems to help me, aid me, be there for me. I can’t take it socially — this whole society feels like it’s against me.’

There is, warned Haque, a ‘tsunami of demoralisation’ sweeping our societies:

‘And as people grow demoralized, they grow de-moralized. Their moral centers and cores stop working. Only the strong survive, and the weak perish? I had better become ruthless, cunning, cruel. I must learn how to be a knife. Not a lever, not an open hand. A closed fist. In the bitter battle for self-preservation, the great virtues — empathy, grace, truth, knowledge — all themselves become needless luxuries and unaffordable indulgences.’

To some extent, in this harsh depiction, Haque was playing devil’s advocate. But his point was clear. Many of us are struggling and perhaps tempted to protect and preserve what we have, in our own limited spheres; and woe betide anyone who gets in our way.

However, rather than feel despair or harden our hearts, an alternative approach is to admit that many of us sometimes feel demoralised, even overwhelmed, and to share that feeling with others. As Haque said:

‘You’re not alone, my friend.’

That may be a small step on a new journey that we all need to take. Because we have to accept that real change is not going to come from our ‘leaders’, but from ourselves.

Consider the rail strikes that have been taking place in the UK. The most overtly right-wing press – the likes of the ‘soaraway Sun’ – wailed about ‘a return to the 1970s’ driven by ‘Marxist thugs’. Such defamation is to be expected in the vitriolic pages of the billionaire-owned press.

But how different is this from the more subtle vilification by an ostensibly neutral BBC journalist? On the eve of recent industrial action, Nick Robinson, former BBC political editor and now a Radio 4 Today presenter, tweeted:

‘Who’s the man behind the strikes which are threatening a week of rail chaos? Is he a champion of workers who deserve a pay rise or a politically motivated dinosaur? You decide after listening to my half hour conversation with Mick Lynch @RMTunion

This might appear a relatively minor example. But it is symptomatic of the insidious, endemic anti-working class, anti-trade union stance embedded in BBC News ‘impartiality’. Robinson would never say of a senior Tory leader:

‘Is he a public servant or an oligarchy-serving, greed-driven predator?’

Scale up Robinson’s attitudes, shared across leading BBC News presenters and editors, and you get what the BBC represents; indeed, what the BBC is: a state-affiliated broadcaster relentlessly pitching elite perspectives on domestic and international affairs. Challenges are routinely met with disdain, blanking or arrogance.

‘Once You See How The Super Rich Run Everything Solely For Their Own Benefit You Cannot Unsee It’

In his calm, articulate determination to get his points across in recent media interviews, many of them conducted risibly by highly-paid celebrity journalists, RMT union leader Mick Lynch has been a ray of hope for many people.

Speaking live on BBC News from a picket line in London last month, Lynch said:

The whole country is suffering. And we have got a membership and a trade union that is prepared to fight for what we’ve got. What the rest of the country suffers from is the lack of power.’

Lynch expanded:

‘The lack of the ability to organise and the lack of the wherewithal to take on these employers that are continually driving down wages, and making the working class in this country poorer, year on year on year, while the rich get richer and dividends are accelerated and the stock market is reasonably healthy. We’ve got full employment and falling wages, and that is a situation that has never happened before and it cannot be tolerated by working people or by the trade union movement.’

In a Sky News interview, the union leader highlighted the deceptive rhetoric of many businesses:

‘What we’re seeing here is a smokescreen caused by Covid, and many employers are taking this opportunity. They’re using what is a temporary phenomenon – Covid – and the temporary phenomenon of people being told not to go to work as a smokescreen to get rid of decent conditions, decent pay rates and decent agreements.’

Making the kind of rational, reasonable points that rarely get an airing on state-corporate ‘news’ outlets, Lynch added:

‘Everybody wants our cities, towns and villages to recover. The way we do that, and one of the most important aspects of that, is by having a decent public transport system that can be relied on, is safe and accessible. Cutting staff, cutting services and cutting funding is the opposite to that, and nobody in our community should tolerate that from this government of billionaires who tell everyone else they’ve got to tighten their belts while they’re raking it in.’

Lynch’s assured media performances, particularly when confronted with ludicrous questions, won him praise from many corners. A Guardian piece observed that the union boss had been ‘deft, scornful and effective.’

Political economist Matt Bishop noted:

‘What’s remarkable about the Mick Lynch coverage is just how rarely we hear straightforward, working-class lefty union people in mainstream debate. Our media is dominated by a privately educated professional pundit class, their MP and banker chums, and it’s all the poorer for it.’

Exactly. Although, of course, it is not ‘mainstream’ debate. It is a tightly-controlled ‘debate’ that exists within the severely skewed bias of a state-corporate media, owned and managed by elite interests.

Even Mark Solomons, a former industrial correspondent at the Sun noted in an article in the right-wing Spectator, that:

‘Lynch is currently dominating TV screens and social media, making mincemeat out of politicians and broadcast interviewers alike.’

Solomons added:

‘He has stuck to his guns, confounded his opponents, and used simple, plain-talking language. He comes across as a working-class man who has made it to the top of his profession without selling out his principles, someone who makes it quite clear why the union is doing what it is doing irrespective of whether or not we agree with him.’

There was understanding and support from members of the public. An anonymous 53-year-old manager of an NHS mental health team living in south London blamed the government for the rail strikes:

‘I wish the government would meaningfully and consistently fund public infrastructure and the key workers who keep our city and society running. I’m tired of services being cut to the bone, everything being done on the cheap and workers being told to simply work harder to fill the gaps.’

Giles Barret, a 38-year-old owner of a recording studio, said:

‘Collective action is the reason we have a weekend, among many other hard-won rights, and we must never stop fighting for them – capital certainly won’t.’

And David Ling, a 69-year-old pensioner, also pointed to the bigger picture behind the rail strikes:

‘There’s so many problems in this country that are caused by austerity, privatisation and cutbacks that in the end it’s gonna be a reaction. It’s not just the railway workers – it’s teachers and nurses and everything. In the end, something’s got to give. You can’t carry on cutting back and people scrimping and saving. It doesn’t work.’

Barnaby Raine of Novara Media commented approvingly of Mick Lynch’s media performances:

‘Our whole media debate is a surreal circus until someone bursts it open.’

An opinion poll showed that public opinion had shifted dramatically in support of rail strikes following Lynch’s media appearances. Previously, support for the strike was at 38%, while opposition to the strike was 43%. Afterwards, support for the strike had risen 7% to 45%, while opposition to the strike had dropped 6% to 37%.

On Twitter, political writer John Traynor provided a potent summary of why Lynch had been so effective at getting his points of view across to the public.

First:

‘Lynch knows that what he is saying is both factually correct and consistent. This contrasts with conservative voices who know what they are spouting is [a] pack of lies and drivel, and comically inconsistent.’

Second:

‘Lynch understands fully what he is talking about. His knowledge allows him to counter any derisory interruption. This contrasts with conservative voices who know only a few mendacious soundbites with no in depth knowledge, and this causes them to fall.’

Third:

‘Lynch speaks sincerely; he believes in all the points he makes. This contrasts with conservative voices who believe in nothing and are just playing a part for money.’

Matthew Todd, author of the best-selling LGBT mental health book, Straight Jacket, said via Twitter that:

‘Ive worked in the media alongside politicians for 25 years. Once you see how the super rich run everything solely for their own benefit you cannot unsee it. If people understood what lies in store for us they wouldn’t be on strike, there would be a revolution #RailStrikes

Despite this brief opening in permissible debate around the economy, if Lynch continues to be this effective, then the state-corporate media will revert to type and attempt to crush him, just as they did with Jeremy Corbyn.

The Guardian Is ‘A Tool Of The British Establishment’

Indeed, in a recent compelling interview with Matt Kennard of Declassified UK, Corbyn opened up about the experience he had gone through as Labour Party leader during which he had been the target of arguably the biggest ever propaganda blitz against a British political leader. He was particularly scathing of the Guardian which, long ago, may have been regarded by some as a reliable left-leaning newspaper:

‘I have absolutely no illusions in the Guardian, none whatsoever. My mum brought me up to read the Guardian. She said, “It’s a good paper you can trust”. You can’t. After their treatment of me, I do not trust the Guardian.”’

He continued:

‘There are good people who work in the Guardian, there are some brilliant writers in the Guardian, but as a paper, it’s a tool of the British establishment. It’s a mainstream establishment paper. So, as long as everybody on the left gets it clear: when you buy the Guardian, you’re buying an establishment paper.’

Indeed, the Guardian and BBC News were central to the establishment’s cynical exploitation of antisemitism allegations to kill Corbyn’s chances of becoming Prime Minister:

‘an analysis of the Guardian’s treatment of the time that I was leader of the party needs to be made because they and the BBC had more unsourced reporting of anti-semitic criticisms surrounding me than any other paper, including the Mail, The Telegraph and the Sun.’

As for the British media as a whole:

‘We have a supine media in this country. The British self-confidence of saying we’ve got the best media in the world, the best broadcasting in the world, the best democracy in the world. It’s nonsense, utter, complete nonsense. We have a media that’s supine, that self-censors, that accepts D-Notices, doesn’t challenge them, and the vast majority of the mainstream media haven’t lifted so much as a little finger in support or defence of Julian Assange.’

Today, Labour has a new ‘leader’ who is trying as hard as possible to stifle left policies and voices within the party, dragging it relentlessly towards the right; or what Sir Keir Starmer calls the ‘centre ground’. In an Observer opinion piece, ‘Labour has now claimed the centre ground – and has shown it can win’, this Blairite establishment stooge boasted:

‘Since the horror of the last general election, we have rolled up our sleeves and focused on listening to the public and changing our party. We’ve rooted out the poison of antisemitism, shown unshakeable support for Nato, forged a new relationship with business, shed unworkable or unaffordable policies and created an election machine capable of taking on the Conservatives. Being able to win again has taken more than two years of hard graft from all those who ache to see the transformation a Labour government would bring the country we love.’

As political writer Steve Topple noted, Starmer’s comments were largely ‘vacuous dross and detached from reality’. In particular:

‘Labour has “shed unworkable or unaffordable policies” but with no clear reference to what these are. Clearly, it’s those promises he made during the Labour leadership election. Remember those? The talk of nationalisation of industries and services? We can now categorically see that Starmer’s pledges were nothing short of manipulation of party members. This is despite the fact that with things like rail renationalisation, the public consistently supports it.’

A ’Bent’ System Of Government

Peter Oborne, former political editor at the Spectator and former Daily Telegraph chief political commentator, recently warned of the rising oligarchical nature of politics in the UK, whether Conservative or Labour:

‘You would hope that in a well-managed democracy the purpose of political power was to challenge the super-rich, make sure they didn’t get what they wanted. Under [Boris] Johnson, political power has been a vehicle for the super-rich to make sure that they do get what they want.’

Oborne offered this damning verdict on our supposed ‘free press’:

‘The second element of Johnson is that the media class and the political class have merged in Downing Street; they are the same thing. And so all the stuff which we as journalists get taught at journalism school – it’s the task of the press to hold government to account, and there is a sort of separation of powers – is no longer the case. There has been a merger.’

Oborne called Johnson ‘the billionaire’s bitch’. Why? First, because Johnson was, before he announced his resignation as Tory leader on 7 July, dependent on billionaire donors to the Tory party who saw him – until recently, at least – as the best option to represent their interests:

‘You can see what they want is access to power, it’s contracts – we saw this with Covid when Tory donors were rewarded endlessly.’

Second, because Johnson has curried favour with billionaire newspaper proprietors, such as the Barclay brothers, owners of the Telegraph, and Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Times and the Sun.

In an article titled, ‘Boris Johnson is finished. But will the rotten system that created him fall too?’, Oborne pointed out:

‘The Murdoch Press, Associated Newspapers and the Telegraph group control approximately three quarters of the newspaper reading market. These three groups have been central to Johnson’s success.

‘Every title in all these groups supported Johnson’s bid for the Tory leadership, his 2019 general election campaign, and through last month’s vote of confidence. Throughout all of this they played down the corruption, fabrication, scandal, cronyism, law-breaking and incompetence of the Johnson government.’

Oborne found some hope in democratic pressures at last having some effect:

‘Very late in the day the reputational damage of sticking with Johnson has struck home. The newspapers, finally scared of their readers, are running for cover. On Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch’s Times belatedly pulled the plug – “The prime minister has lost the confidence of his party and the country. He should quit now”.’

Faced with the prospect of crumbling support from even the right-wing press, together with multiple resignations across government, Johnson finally bowed to the inevitable and resigned as Tory leader, while remaining as Prime Minister until a new leader can be elected in the autumn.

What will happen next? Oborne warns that nothing much will change:

‘The global super-rich are looking for a British prime minister who will look after their interests without the reputational damage. Ex-chancellor Sunak, now the bookies’ favourite, looks like their choice.

‘A near-billionaire himself, he at least has no incentive to take bribes. But he’s been at the heart of the bent Johnson system of government for almost three years, repeating the prime minister’s lies and tolerating his incompetence, bigotry and incessant sleaze.’

Whether Sunak or someone else takes over, warned Osborne:

‘The next Tory leader will almost certainly pursue the same policies as Johnson.

‘On Brexit. On civil liberties. On the Human Rights Act. The same English nationalism and cheap, ugly, vicious populism.’

He added:

‘Remember that all the leading candidates in the leadership contest served in Johnson’s cabinet. They supported his policies, and in many cases repeated his lies.

As for Keir Starmer, Knight Commander of the Order of Bath, Oborne is scathing, pointing out that the politician ‘dishonestly’ represented himself as coming from the left when bidding to become Corbyn’s successor. Since Starmer was elected Labour leader, he has been ‘trying to buy into the Blair model’ of relying on donors, appeasing newspaper proprietors, ‘ruthlessly’ excluding the trade unions, and indeed attacking the left, notably Stop the War and any Labour MPs critical of Nato:

‘He made a choice to define himself not against Boris Johnson, the billionaire’s person. He decided to define himself as not being Jeremy Corbyn. That was the classic Blairite pivot. Blair chose to win by sucking up to Rupert Murdoch, and sucking up to the billionaires, and Starmer appears to be doing just the same thing.’

Oborne predicts that, if Starmer ever becomes Prime Minister, all he would be is ‘maybe a more scrupulous version of Boris Johnson’; in other words, ‘a slightly softer version of oligarchical politics.’

If the public is to get what it supports and deserves – not least a basic standard of living, and a rational and urgent response to the climate crisis – we all need to take action now.

The post The Rise Of Oligarchical Politics first appeared on Dissident Voice.

COVID, Capitalism, Friedrich and Boris

And thus it renders more and more evident the great central fact that the cause of the miserable condition of the working class is to be sought, not in these minor grievances, but in the capitalistic system itself.

— Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) (preface to the English Edition, p. 36).

The IMF and World Bank have for decades pushed a policy agenda based on cuts to public services, increases in taxes paid by the poorest and moves to undermine labour rights and protections.

IMF ‘structural adjustment’ policies have resulted in 52% of Africans lacking access to healthcare and 83% having no safety nets to fall back on if they lose their job or become sick. Even the IMF has shown that neoliberal policies fuel poverty and inequality.

In 2021, an Oxfam review of IMF COVID-19 loans showed that 33 African countries were encouraged to pursue austerity policies. The world’s poorest countries are due to pay $43 billion in debt repayments in 2022, which could otherwise cover the costs of their food imports.

Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI) have also revealed that 43 out of 55 African Union member states face public expenditure cuts totalling $183 billion over the next five years.

According to Prof Michel Chossudovsky of the Centre for Research on Globalization, the closure of the world economy has triggered an unprecedented process of global indebtedness. Governments are now under the control of global creditors in the post-COVID era.

What we are seeing is a de facto privatisation of the state as governments capitulate to the needs of Western financial institutions.

Moreover, these debts are largely dollar-denominated, helping to strengthen the US dollar and US leverage over countries.

It raises the question: what was COVID really about?

Millions have been asking that question since lockdowns and restrictions began in early 2020. If it was indeed about public health, why close down the bulk of health services and the global economy knowing full well what the massive health, economic and debt implications would be?

Why mount a military-style propaganda campaign to censor world-renowned scientists and terrorise entire populations and use the full force and brutality of the police to ensure compliance?

These actions were wholly disproportionate to any risk posed to public health, especially when considering the way ‘COVID death’ definitions and data were often massaged and how PCR tests were misused to scare populations into submission.

Prof Fabio Vighi of Cardiff University implies we should have been suspicious from the start when the usually “unscrupulous ruling elites” froze the global economy in the face of a pathogen that targets almost exclusively the unproductive (the over 80s).

COVID was a crisis of capitalism masquerading as a public health emergency.

Capitalism

Capitalism needs to keep expanding into or creating new markets to ensure the accumulation of capital to offset the tendency for the general rate of profit to fall. The capitalist needs to accumulate capital (wealth) to be able to reinvest it and make further profits. By placing downward pressure on workers’ wages, the capitalist extracts sufficient surplus value to be able to do this.

But when the capitalist is unable to sufficiently reinvest (due to declining demand for commodities, a lack of investment opportunities and markets, etc), wealth (capital) over accumulates, devalues and the system goes into crisis. To avoid crisis, capitalism requires constant growth, markets and sufficient demand.

According to writer Ted Reese, the capitalist rate of profit has trended downwards from an estimated 43% in the 1870s to 17% in the 2000s. Although wages and corporate taxes have been slashed, the exploitability of labour was increasingly insufficient to meet the demands of capital accumulation.

By late 2019, many companies could not generate sufficient profit. Falling turnover, limited cashflows and highly leveraged balance sheets were prevalent.

Economic growth was weakening in the run up to the massive stock market crash in February 2020, which saw trillions more pumped into the system in the guise of ‘COVID relief’.

To stave off crisis up until that point, various tactics had been employed.

Credit markets were expanded and personal debt increased to maintain consumer demand as workers’ wages were squeezed. Financial deregulation occurred and speculative capital was allowed to exploit new areas and investment opportunities. At the same time, stock buy backs, the student debt economy, quantitative easing and massive bail outs and subsidies and an expansion of militarism helped to maintain economic growth.

There was also a ramping up of an imperialist strategy that has seen indigenous systems of production abroad being displaced by global corporations and states pressurised to withdraw from areas of economic activity, leaving transnational players to occupy the space left open.

While these strategies produced speculative bubbles and led to an overevaluation of assets and increased both personal and government debt, they helped to continue to secure viable profits and returns on investment.

But come 2019, former governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King warned that the world was sleepwalking towards a fresh economic and financial crisis that would have devastating consequences. He argued that the global economy was stuck in a low growth trap and recovery from the crisis of 2008 was weaker than that after the Great Depression.

King concluded that it was time for the Federal Reserve and other central banks to begin talks behind closed doors with politicians.

That is precisely what happened as key players, including BlackRock, the world’s most powerful investment fund, got together to work out a strategy going forward. This took place in the lead up to COVID.

Aside from deepening the dependency of poorer countries on Western capital, Fabio Vighi says lockdowns and the global suspension of economic transactions allowed the US Fed to flood the ailing financial markets (under the guise of COVID) with freshly printed money while shutting down the real economy to avoid hyperinflation. Lockdowns suspended business transactions, which drained the demand for credit and stopped the contagion.

COVID provided cover for a multi-trillion-dollar bailout for the capitalist economy that was in meltdown prior to COVID. Despite a decade or more of ‘quantitative easing’, this new bailout came in the form of trillions of dollars pumped into financial markets by the US Fed (in the months prior to March 2020) and subsequent ‘COVID relief’.

The IMF, World bank and global leaders knew full well what the impact on the world’s poor would be of closing down the world economy through COVID-related lockdowns. Yet they sanctioned it and there is now the prospect that in excess of a quarter of a billion more people worldwide will fall into extreme levels of poverty in 2022 alone.

In April 2020, the Wall Street Journal stated the IMF and World Bank faced a deluge of aid requests from scores of poorer countries seeking bailouts and loans from financial institutions with $1.2 trillion to lend.

In addition to helping to reboot the financial system, closing down the global economy deliberately deepened poorer countries’ dependency on Western global conglomerates and financial interests.

Lockdowns also helped accelerate the restructuring of capitalism that involves smaller enterprises being driven to bankruptcy or bought up by monopolies and global chains, thereby ensuring continued viable profits for Big Tech, the digital payments giants and global online corporations like Meta and Amazon and the eradication of millions of jobs.

Although the effects of the conflict in Ukraine cannot be dismissed, with the global economy now open again, inflation is rising and causing a ‘cost of living’ crisis. With a debt-ridden economy, there is limited scope for rising interest rates to control inflation.

But this crisis is not inevitable: current inflation is not only induced by the liquidity injected into the financial system but also being fuelled by speculation in food commodity markets and corporate greed as energy and food corporations continue to rake in vast profits at the expense of ordinary people.

Resistance

However, resistance is fertile.

Aside from the many anti-restriction/pro-freedom rallies during COVID, we are now seeing a more strident trade unionism coming to the fore – in Britain at least – led by media savvy leaders like Mick Lynch, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), who know how to appeal to the public and tap into widely held resentment against soaring cost of living rises.

Teachers, health workers and others could follow the RMT into taking strike action.

Lynch says that millions of people in Britain face lower living standards and the stripping out of occupational pensions. He adds:

COVID has been a smokescreen for the rich and powerful in this country to drive down wages as far as they can.

Just like a decade of imposed ‘austerity’ was used to achieve similar results in the lead up to COVID.

The trade union movement should now be taking a leading role in resisting the attack on living standards and further attempts to run-down state-provided welfare and privatise what remains. The strategy to wholly dismantle and privatise health and welfare services seems increasingly likely given the need to rein in (COVID-related) public debt and the trend towards AI, workplace automisation and worklessness.

This is a real concern because, following the logic of capitalism, work is a condition for the existence of the labouring classes. So, if a mass labour force is no longer deemed necessary, there is no need for mass education, welfare and healthcare provision and systems that have traditionally served to reproduce and maintain labour that capitalist economic activity has required.

In 2019, Philip Alston, the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty, accused British government ministers of the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population” in the decade following the 2008 financial crash.

Alston stated:

As Thomas Hobbes observed long ago, such an approach condemns the least well off to lives that are ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. As the British social contract slowly evaporates, Hobbes’ prediction risks becoming the new reality.

Post-COVID, Alston’s words carry even more weight.

As this article draws to a close, news is breaking that Boris Johnson has resigned as prime minister. A remarkable PM if only for his criminality, lack of moral foundation and double standards – also applicable to many of his cronies in government.

With this in mind, let’s finish where we began.

I have never seen a class so deeply demoralised, so incurably debased by selfishness, so corroded within, so incapable of progress, as the English bourgeoisie… For it nothing exists in this world, except for the sake of money, itself not excluded. It knows no bliss save that of rapid gain, no pain save that of losing gold. In the presence of this avarice and lust of gain, it is not possible for a single human sentiment or opinion to remain untainted.

The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), p. 275.

The post COVID, Capitalism, Friedrich and Boris first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Abandoning the Sinking Rat: Boris Johnson Resigns

Like the political equivalent of a cockroach, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived and endured one strike after another.  His credibility was shot, his mendacity second to none.  He lost the confidence of a party that delighted in his buffoonish performances and appeal.  Fearing electoral punishment, senior ministers and aides have left his side.  Labour opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer, found himself making a witticism, calling this the first instance in history of the ship leaving the sinking rat.

No chronology on this would be sufficient.  But the recent turn of events has been something verging on spectacular.  There was partygate, which demonstrated the fullness of contempt shown by the Prime Minister and his staff to their constituents.  In April, he was fined for breaking his government’s own lockdown rules, having attended a gathering for his birthday in June 2020.  He also apologised for attending a “bring your own booze” party held in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown.  Despite showing some contrition, he believed, for the most part, that he had been following the rules and operating within them.

The occasion led to fines aplenty, though even the Police, at some point, drew a line underneath the sad and sorry saga.  Sue Gray, the senior civil servant tasked with investigating a series of social events held by political staff, came up with a grave conclusion.  “The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”

On June 16, the Tory leader survived a no-confidence vote from his own party, in which four out of ten parliamentarians voted against him.  Most PMs would have made a hasty exit.  Not Johnson, who seemed quixotically willing to make his last stand.

Then came the by-election losses in Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield of June 23rd.  Instead of treating them as symptoms of a malady requiring treatment, Johnson simply put them down to the UK “facing pressures on the cost of living” and the fact that “in mid-term, governments post-war lose by-elections.”

The latest, and typically seedy entry in the scandals inventory, was the sexual harassment imbroglio involving Chris Pincher (“Pincher by name, Pincher by nature,” Johnson is said to have quipped).  As Conservative deputy-chief whip, he went to a private members’ club in London on June 29, got sozzled and was accused of groping two men.

A number of sexual assault allegations followed, some duly dusted for the occasion.  Despite a formal complaint being made against Pincher, Johnson denied knowledge of the “specific allegations”.  Not so, suggested former civil servant, Lord McDonald, seeing that he briefed the PM about it.  True to form, Johnson subsequently admitted he had been told in 2019, and regretted appointing Pincher to the party position in the first place.

Over the course of 48 hours, the Tory front bench was dramatically thinned of members.  Law makers and government officials left in an exodus of calculated and self-interested disaffection.  Stripped of support from across the most powerful figures in the party, the decision was made.

The resignation speech exuded reluctance, sounding more like a resume pitch for a return to the job.  It reflected the spectacular tone-deafness of his rule, with Johnson going so far as to lament those “Darwinian” rules that govern Westminster politics, driven by the hungry, remorseless “herd”.  The herd had moved and found their quarry.

Johnson extolled his government’s pandemic response on the vaccine front despite incompetence and bungling that led to the deaths of tens of thousands during the pre-vaccine phase.  Confused health directions on everything from mask wearing to whether Christmas might go ahead as usual, did not help.  When those responses firmed up in the form of strict lockdown rules, Johnson, his colleagues, and advisors flouted them with condescension and arrogance.

While being self-congratulatory on his own Brexit record, the report card is far from glowing.  Despite advertising the deal to electors as “oven ready”, the withdrawal agreement with the EU proved half-baked and raw at the core.

Even after reaching an accord with the EU, his government, last month, introduced plans to override parts of it, thereby threatening relations with the Union, the unity of the United Kingdom and the Irish peace process.  Only Johnson could term scrapping sections of the Protocol, which covers the way goods enter Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, “a relatively trivial set of adjustments.”

There was little chance Johnson would leave Ukraine out of his resignation speech.  Detractors, and even some of those sympathetic to him, had noticed how willingly he seemed to extol the virtues of Ukraine as each crisis engulfed him.  He was the first leader of any major Western nation state to visit Kyiv, and also pledged a number of weapons, including the Javelin and NLAW missiles, and M270 precision-guided rocket launchers.

Another largely neglected legacy of the Johnson years should be noted.  Domestically, his conduct in centralising power during the course of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic at the expense of Parliament has emboldened the executive arm of government and damaged accountability.  In August 2019, he suspended, or prorogued Parliament for 5 weeks, just prior to the return of MPs from the summer recess.  The following month, the UK Supreme Court declared the prorogation unlawful.  “It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks”.

Through the course of his political career, Johnson never changed.  He had his supporters, his conspirators, his plotters.  He stayed true to his lies, abject opportunism and tabloid-styled villainy.  His administration proved rotten, but so were the various figures that gave him succour, including the indignant former advisor Dominic Cummings who now plays the role of stone-thrower in chief against his former boss.

Even now, some journalists and commentators detected throbbing notes of magnanimity and grace in his resignation speech, showing again how a profession that Johnson himself corrupted with such glee cannot be trusted to assess this legacy.

The post Abandoning the Sinking Rat: Boris Johnson Resigns first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Obscene Outsourcing: The UK-Rwandan Refugee Deal

This month, the government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined an ignominious collective in announcing a refugee deal with Rwanda, seedily entitled the UK-Rwanda Migration Partnership.  The fact that such terms are used – a partnership or deal connotes contract and transaction – suggests how inhumane policies towards those seeking sanctuary and a better life have become.

In no small measure, the agreement between London and Kigali emulates the “Pacific Solution”, a venal response formulated by the Australian government to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat and create a two-tiered approach to assessing asylum claims.  The centrepiece of the 2001 policy was the transfer of such arrivals to Pacific outposts in Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru, where they would have no guarantee of being settled in Australia.  Despite being scrapped by the Labor Rudd government at the end of 2007, the policy was reinstated by a politically panicked Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2012 under what was billed the Pacific Solution Mark II.

The victory of the conservative Liberal-National Party coalition in the 2013 elections led to its most cruel manifestation.  Operation Sovereign Borders, as the policy came to be known, cast a shroud of military secrecy over intercepting boats and initiating towaways.  The crude, if simple slogan, popularised by the Abbott government, was “Stop the Boats”.  Such sadistic policies were justified as honourable ones: preventing drownings at sea; disrupting the “people smuggler model”.  In truth, the approach merely redirected the pathways of arrival while doing little by way of discouraging the smugglers.

More measures followed: the creation of a specifically dedicated border force kitted out for violence; the passage of legislation criminalising whistleblowers for revealing squalid, torturous camp conditions featuring self-harm, suicide and sexual abuse.

Inspired by such a punitive example despite its gross failings and astronomical cost (the Australian policy saw a single asylum seeker’s detention bill come to $AU3.4 million) , the Johnson government has been parroting the same themes in what the UK Home Office called, misleadingly, a “world first partnership” to combat the “global migration crisis”.  The partnership sought to “address” the “shared international challenge of illegal migration and break the business model of smuggling gangs.”  Not once did it refer to the right to asylum which exists irrespective of the mode of travel or arrival.

Johnson also reiterated the theme of targeting those “vile people smugglers” who have turned the ocean into a “watery graveyard”, failing to mention that such individuals serve to also advance the right of seeking asylum.  More on point was his remark that compassion might be “infinite but our capacity to help people is not.”

If one is to believe the Home Office, sending individuals to Rwanda or, as it puts it, “migrants who make dangerous or illegal journeys” is a measure of some generosity.  Successful applicants “will then be supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest-growing economies, recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants.”

Rwanda is certainly going to benefit with a generous bribe of £120 million, slated for “economic development and growth”, while it will also receive funding for “asylum operations, accommodation and integration similar to the costs incurred in the UK for these services.”

The country will also take some pride in sidestepping its own less than savoury human rights records, which boasts a résumé of extrajudicial killings, torture, unlawful or arbitrary detention, suspicious deaths in custody and an aggressive approach to dissidents.  In 2018, Rwanda security forces were responsible for killing at least 12 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They had been protesting a cut to their food rations.  Various survivors were then arrested and prosecuted for charges ranging from rebellion to “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state.”

The UK-Rwandan partnership also perpetuates old libels in discrediting cross-Channel crossers as purely economic migrants who somehow forfeit their right to fair assessment.  Emilie McDonnell of Human Rights Watch UK dispels this myth, noting Home Office data and information gathered via freedom of information laws that 61% of migrants who travel by boat are likely to remain in the UK after claiming asylum.  The Refugee Council, in an analysis of Channel crossings and asylum outcomes between January 2020 and June 2021, noted that 91% of those making the journey came from 10 countries where human rights abuses are acknowledged as extensive.

Refugees and asylum seekers are the stuff of political value, rising and falling like stocks depending on the government of the day.  For Johnson, the agreement with Rwanda was also a chance to preoccupy the newspaper columns and an irate blogosphere with another talking point.  “Sending refugees to Rwanda,” claimed The Mirror, “is the political equivalent of a distraction burglary, only less subtle and infinitely more criminal.”

The event in question supposedly warranting that hideous distraction was serious enough.  Johnson, along with his wife Carrie and UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak, were all found to have breached government COVID-19 emergency laws and fined by the police.  In the history books, this is already being written up as the “partygate affair”, which featured a number of socialising events conducted by staff as the rest of the country endured severe lockdown restrictions.  Those same history books will also note that the prime minister and chancellor are both pioneers in facing police-mandated penalties.

Johnson’s own blotting took place on June 19, 2020, when he held a birthday gathering in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street.  “In all frankness, at that time,” he reasoned, “it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules”.  With such a perspective on legality and breaches, the Rwanda deal seems a logical fit, heedless of human rights, a violation of dignity, a potential risk to life and a violation of international refugee law.

The post Obscene Outsourcing: The UK-Rwandan Refugee Deal first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Normal Butcheries:  Saudi Arabia’s Latest Mass Execution

Great reformers are not normally found in theocratic monarchies.  Despite assertions to the contrary, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains archaic in the way it deals with its opponents.  In its penal system, executions remain standard fare.  With liberal democratic countries fixated with the Ukraine conflict and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, it was prudent for Saudi authorities to capitalise.

On March 12, the Saudi Ministry of the Interior announced the execution of 81 Saudi and non-Saudi nationals, bringing the total of those put to death by Riyadh in 2022 to 92.  The last grand bout of killing was in 2019, when 37 people, including 33 Shi’a men, were put to death after being convicted by customarily dubious trials.

Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, claimed that this orgy of state killing was “all the more chilling in light of Saudi Arabia’s deeply flawed justice system, which metes out death sentences following trials that are grossly and blatantly unfair, including basing verdicts on ‘confessions’ extracted under torture or other ill-treatment.”

Another sordid feature of the system described by Maalouf is the tendency of authorities to underreport the number of trials that result in death sentences being meted out.  Death row, in other words, is a burgeoning feature of the Kingdom’s repertoire.

The executed victims were convicted of a whole miscellany of charges.  According to Human Rights Watch, 41 of the men, as has become a standard practice, were of the Shi’a group. The crimes ranged from murder, links to foreign terrorist groups and the vaguely worded offence of “monitoring and targeting officials and expatriates”.  Other offences included planting landmines, the attempted killing of police officers, the targeting of “vital economic sites” and weapons smuggling “to destabilize security, sow discord and unrest, and cause riots and chaos”.

Mohammad al-Shakhouri, sentenced to death on February 21 last year, was accused of violent acts while participating in anti-government protests.  Through the course of detention and interrogation, he lacked legal representation.  His family were not permitted to see him till eight months after his arrest.

The judge of the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) overseeing his trial took only qualified interest in the evidence submitted by the accused that he had been tortured.  He had also lost most of his teeth due to the handiwork of security officers.  Al-Shakouri’s withdrawal of the worthless confession extracted under such pressure meant that he was given a discretionary death sentence.

In addition to al-Shakouri, Human Rights Watch also noted that in four other cases – Aqeel al-Faraj, Morada al-Musa, Yasin al-Brahim and Asad al-Shibr – due process violations were rife.  All spoke of torture and ill-treatment under interrogations; all claimed that their confessions had been extracted under duress.

These state killing sprees are not out of the ordinary in Saudi Arabia.  On January 2, 2016, 47 people were executed, the largest since 1980.  A prominent figure in the death list was Shi’a cleric Nimr al-Nimr, a critic of the House of Saud.  He died along with other members of the Shiite community and captives accused of terrorist related charges after, in the words of the Interior Ministry, much “reason, moderation and dialogue”.

The governing formula for Saudi Arabia’s rulers has been to maintain an iron hand over protest and dissent while fashioning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a visionary reformer.  In 2020, the same petulant figure behind the brutal murder of the journalist and Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi, gave signals that a generous resort to the death penalty would be stopped.  Islamic scripture would guide the future use of capital punishment.

This was hardly reassuring.  The legal reforms announced on February 8, 2021, which include the first written penal code for discretionary crimes – those under Islamic law not defined in writing and not carrying pre-determined penalties – is being undertaken without civil society involvement.  This promises to be a very top-down affair.

The calendar events of state inflicted death may well cause outrage, but governments and companies continue to deal with the Kingdom with business-minded confidence.  Unlike the treatment now handed out to Russia, there has never been a mass cancellation of its officials from public appearances for its butcheries, be they legally sanctioned at home, or in such theatres in Yemen. Anger and disapproval, if expressed, are only done so in moderation.  Debates about the death penalty remain confined to such theatres as the UN General Assembly.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with typically bad timing, also showed why Riyadh has nothing to be worried about when it comes to its treatment of dissidents and convicts.  The UK continues to find the Saudis appreciative of made-in-Britain weapons, which are used readily in the war against the Houthis in Yemen.

The priority now is less reforming barbaric legal measures than finding alternative energy suppliers.  Johnson hopes to wean Britain and Western countries off their “addiction” to Russia’s hydrocarbons.  “We need to talk to other producers around the world about how we can move away from that dependency.”

This entailed a visit to the Kingdom, which Johnson gave no indication of calling off.  Mark Almond, director of the Crisis Research Institute, is very much in support of this morally bankrupt calculus.  “The realpolitik of this situation is that to free ourselves from our dependence on Russian fossil fuels, we will have to turn a blind eye to other evils in other regimes.”

The trip proved fruitless.  The Prime Minister failed to secure an agreement to increase oil production, a point brushed aside in Downing Street by a spokesman’s platitudes.  “Both the Crown Prince of the UAE and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia agreed to work closely with us to maintain stability in the energy market and continue the transition to renewable and clean technology.”

So cocky has Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince become, he even refused to take the call of US President Joe Biden on opening negotiations on the rising oil prices. And he can point out that allied countries such as the United States still maintain capital punishment in their chest of judicial weapons against the errant and deviant.  Things have never looked better for the murderous schemer.

The post Normal Butcheries:  Saudi Arabia’s Latest Mass Execution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Crisis in Ukraine is a Planetary Crisis Provoked by the U.S. that Threatens Nuclear War

Let us begin a conversation in response to what currently qualifies as the most profound question, the one that needs most urgently to be addressed if we are to have any chance of understanding what we conveniently refer to as the “Ukraine crisis.” This is, more accurately, a planetary crisis—close in magnitude to the near-certainty of species extinction within the next century, but in some ways ahead of secondary catastrophes such as the obscene, raging inequality between peoples and nations unleashed by President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s, and the global conglomerations of immense corporate and plutocratic power.

Why is it, then, that the three most important power alliances of the Western and Eurasian worlds—North America, led by the United States alongside its “Trudeauesque” poodle and with the problematic connivance of Mexico’s López Obrador; the European Union and post-Brexit UK; and the Russian Federation, in wobbly alliance with China—consider it worthwhile to suffer intensification of the risks of nuclear annihilation? This, in the face of an abundance of routes available for peaceful settlement, given a minimum of goodwill and genuine humanitarian concern?

In the case of Russia, we know very well what these reasons are because Russia has told us—clearly, consistently, loudly, and transparently—for more than 15 years. First and foremost, Russia resents the West’s violation of its unmistakable and supremely important pledge to President Gorbachev in 1990 that the power of NATO would not move one further inch eastward. Secretary of State James Baker gave this commitment at least three times on February 9 that year. This was in return for Russian acquiescence to the tragic error of German reunification, paving the way for an accelerating renaissance of an aggressively militarized and potentially neo-Nazi European hegemon.

President George H. W. Bush (left) with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker (right) in 1989. (Credit: theguardian.com)

Yet in place of the 16 members of NATO that existed in 1990, we today have 30, and Ukraine is more and more desperately knocking on the door, conceivably to be followed by Georgia, Finland and Sweden. Current U.S. President Joe Biden, whose son enjoyed a senior place on the board of Ukraine energy giant Burisma, played a key role in that process of enlargement. The U.S. and Russia possess more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, around 4,000 each.

But the United States has deployed its weapons far closer to Russia than Russia has deployed weapons close to the U.S. (each power also has fleets of nuclear submarines: in 2018 the U.S. had 14, against Russia’s 12). The United States has positioned nuclear defense/offense capabilities close to Russian borders in countries such as Poland and Romania. There are between 160 and 240 U.S. atomic bombs in NATO countries, of which 50 to 90 are stored in Turkey, a NATO member. Britain (225) and France (300) have their own sizeable nuclear arsenals.

(Source: atlanticcouncil.org)

Although it is commonly presumed that a nuclear exchange would quickly move from incremental (if there is any moderation at all) to massive, assessments as to how a nuclear war would actually pan out are extremely complicated for both technological and geopolitical reasons. It is not beyond comprehension that a conflict might be confined to so-called low-yield nuclear bombs or mini-nukes. Nor is it at all certain that nuclear weapons will all work as they are supposed to (in fact, it is reasonable to presume they will not). Many uncertainties attend the newest generation of hypersonic missiles. And the functionality of so-called missile defense systems is perhaps most of all in question.

In addition, there is the issue of the weaponization of nuclear reactors, which is to say their conversion into weapons by missile or other form of strike, whether intentional or otherwise. There are 15 reactors in Ukraine, and another 123 in Europe. The U.S. has 93, Russia 38. Not least is the danger of nuclear accident, which almost certainly increases in the context of accelerating tensions between countries at least one of which possesses nuclear weapons or countries that can strike the nuclear facilities or reactors of other countries. There have been at least a dozen or so near misses since the U.S. dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Although their deliberate use by the United States that year is the only time that nuclear weapons have actually been fired in conflict, there have been many instances in which the use of nuclear weapons has been seriously considered. Peter Kuznick and Oliver Stone, in their book The Untold History of the United States, relate several instances in which U.S. presidents have given serious consideration to their use. This featured in Winston Churchill’s Operation Unthinkable, formulated within weeks of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It contemplated a nuclear strike against Soviet Russia.

The Pentagon developed at least nine such first-strike nuclear war plans before the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb in 1949. The 1949 Dropshot plan envisaged 300 nuclear bombs and 20,000 tons of conventional bombs on 200 targets in 100 urban areas, including Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Fortunately, the U.S. did not have sufficient weaponry for the purpose at that time.

(Source: express.co.uk)

In the United States and its allies, Russia confronts an adversary which is the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons on another, although this made little concrete difference to the outcome of the Second World War. This is also an adversary which has many times since considered using nuclear weapons again, which tolerates the acquisition of nuclear weapons by its closest allies (e.g., Britain, France, Israel) and bitterly opposes even the faintest possibility of their acquisition by its opponents (e.g., North Korea and Iran).

It is an adversary which fails to keep even its most important promises (e.g., about not allowing NATO to expand), a country which abrogates important treaties (as did Bush in abrogating the ABM treaty in 2002), and which has crowned itself as the rightful hegemon, entitled to crush any power, global or regional, that would dare challenge its hegemonic status (as in the “Wolfowitz doctrine” 1992, progenitor of the Bush doctrine in 2002 by which the U.S. entitles itself to preemptive war).

Paul Wolfowitz (Source: geopoliticsca.ru)

The U.S.’s credibility in international relations is profoundly undermined by: a long history of invasions and occupations of other powers—most egregiously, perhaps, in the case of Afghanistan 2001-2021, or that of Iraq (2003-2021), which can be counted along with many dozens of other instances since World War Two; overt and covert military interventions, with or without the consent of legitimate authorities, often reckless and cruel; fomenting of regime-change “color revolutions” as in Ukraine 2004 and 2014; and universal meddling with elections and political processes as in the activities of organizations such as Cambridge Analytica, and its parent Strategic Communications Limited, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Not least is its equally long-established history of lying, just about everything, but particularly in matters of war. The Pentagon Papers, exposed by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971 with respect to the Vietnam War, or the so-called Afghanistan Papers, gathered into book form by Craig Whitlock in 2021, should be sufficient cause for considerable alarm in this respect.

There is a context here of a profound U.S.-led, multi-media and multi-targeted anti-Russia propaganda campaign that dates to the accession to the Russian presidency of Vladimir Putin in 1999-2000. It builds on previous relentless Cold War propaganda against the Soviet Union (which had us all thinking this titanic struggle was all about capitalism versus communism when it was really just about who could steal the most from the developing world), and on an even more distant anti-Russian campaign stretching back at least as far as the Crimean War of 1853-56—all chronicled by Gerald Sussmann, among others, in 2020.

(Source: Russia-now.com)

To this must now be added recent unfounded or presumptive anti-Russian harassment regarding an incessant and unlikely litany of all manner of accusations. These include the shooting down of MH17 in 2014; the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal in 2018; purported collusion with Syrian President Assad over the use of chemical weapons; and, the most dramatic fable of all, alleged Russian hacking of DNC/DCCC servers and interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Russia has had every reason for deep distrust of the United States and its NATO and European allies. In addition, as I have chronicled elsewhere, we must take account of US/EU/NATO abetment to the illegal Euromaidan coup d’état of 2014 that was staged against a democratically elected president in 2014, just months away from scheduled elections, and whose muscle was provided by long-established Ukrainian neo-Nazi movements implicated in the assassinations of hundreds of protestors in Kiev and Odessa. To secure “legitimacy” and to stuff the coup legislature with their own people, the new leaders were obliged to ban the country’s major political parties, including the Party of the Regions and the Communist Party.

Scene from the 2014 Euromaidan coup. (Source: inquiriesjournal.com)

Terrified by the anti-Russian threats of the coup leaders, the largely pro-Russian population of Crimea (including Sebastopol, Russia’s major Black Sea port, held on long-lease from Ukraine and where Russia was entitled to maintain thousands of soldiers) voted to secede from Ukraine and to seek annexation by Russia.

In the significantly pro-Russian Donbass, citizens established the independent republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Kiev has never deigned to negotiate directly with the republics, with its own citizens, but has instead, having lost the initial war, violently subjected residents to extensive shelling (with most of the casualties taking place in the republics) and spitefully withdrawn all social security protections.

Workers bury the dead in Slovyansk in Eastern Ukraine where mass graves were found (Source: hrw.org)

The republics did not seek annexation by Russia, nor did Russia entertain annexation. Instead, Russia negotiated the Minsk agreements through the “Normandy Round” in 2015-2016. This sought and agreed to greater autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk within Ukraine. Unwilling or unable to combat its neo-Nazi extremists, Kiev proved unable to implement Minsk, nor did the international community, other than Russia, exert pressure on Kiev to make it happen.

It would have taken unusual credulity and naivety on the part of Russian leaders not to have concluded by 2022 that the U.S. and, with some exceptions, its NATO and EU allies, were resolutely and unforgivingly hostile to Russia.

Russia, having explored the possibility of accession to NATO in the 1990s and been rejected, resigned to the provocative continuation of NATO not just beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union—the very reason for NATO’s existence—but even beyond the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. It has been targeted close to its borders by U.S./NATO nuclear weapons that are mockingly and ludicrously described as defenses against Iran’s (non-existent) nuclear missiles, and routinely humiliated and threatened by massive annual NATO military exercises along its borders and the Black Sea.

Members of the U.S. Marine Corps perform military exercise in (now Russian-occupied) Kherson on July 28, 2021 (Source: reuters.com)

Further, it has to listen to Ukrainian President and former clown Volodymyr Zelensky plead for speedier access of Ukraine to NATO membership (extending just days ago to a demand for the placement of nuclear weapons in Ukraine) and for a no-fly zone.

As such it could have had no reasonable hope ever to be freed of the scourge of U.S./EU/NATO salivation for the break-up of the Russian Federation and unregulated freedom for Western capital, as prelude to the Western world’s ultimate confrontation with China.

Whether Russian military exercises on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine from the end of 2021 were intended from the beginning as a platform for invasion is not clear. The invasion may have been provoked by the intensification of Ukrainian army assaults against the Donbass.

Incessant, even hysterical, U.S. warnings of a Russian invasion may themselves have provoked exactly that outcome if it seemed to Russia that the United States was determined to stage any kind of provocation that would have made it impossible for Russia to resist.

Presuming, surely correctly, that the U.S./NATO has long expected and salivated for a conflict that would provide sufficient pretext for the extermination of the Russian Federation, Russia decided on a measure of preemptive advantage at a singular moment when Russia possibly enjoys nuclear superiority over the West because of its further advance (at budgets a small fraction of those enjoyed by its adversary, whose military procurement practices are rife with corruption) of hypersonic missiles and a developing alliance with China.

Putin has indicated willingness to keep moving until Russia conquers the entire territory of Ukraine. The more he can acquire, the more he can negotiate with. At the time of writing the areas under control resemble the buffer zone created by Turkey along its border with northwestern Syria and by the U.S. along Syria’s northeastern border. This seizure of the land of a sovereign nation to add to Turkish security from what it regards as the Kurdish threat, and which it is using to hold the most extremist jihadist groups that the West and others have exploited in their efforts to destabilize the Syrian government, did not occasion the squeals of indignation from Western media that we now hear from them with regard to Ukraine.

Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine as of March 1, 2022 (Source: bbc.com)

Nor did the U.S. grab for Syria’s oil fields, and for its most fertile agricultural land, under proxy Kurdish control. And when the refugees from the U.S. wars of choice in Iraq, Syria and Libya reached the gates of Europe they were inhumanely humiliated and turned away (even allowing for a surprising measure of German generosity). Unlike whiter refugees from Ukraine into Poland and other neighbors. The oozing hypocrisy of Western self-righteousness is merely par for the course.

These considerations therefore help us to understand Russian preparedness to risk nuclear conflict. Indeed, it is possible that for Russia there is now no going back on the path to potential Armageddon. The decision to avert catastrophe has been thrown resolutely into the Western court. But what about the U.S. and its European allies? They are not in too great a hurry for the ultimate wet dream of Russian dissolution, although sooner would likely be more gratifying than later. For the moment, the conflict is well worth it, for as long as it is only Ukrainians who pay the ultimate price. Zelensky’s greatest folly has been to recklessly offer his country and its people as ground zero for World War Three.

Volodymyr Zelensky (Source: marca.com)

Short-term benefits for the West include a potential fillip to Joe Biden’s otherwise steep decline in domestic popularity. War has been the eternal answer to internal instability. It is too soon to say that the Ukraine crisis will help bridge the gulf between Democrats and Republicans, but there is a chance of some measure of healing, perhaps just enough to weaken the hold of the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party.

This in turn could be deeply reassuring to the military-industrial complex (or, as Ray McGovern calls it, the MICIMATT—the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academic-think tank complex) whose distrust for Trump’s wavering on Putin provided fertile ground for the success of the Clinton campaign’s fabrication of the Russiagate saga.

Although Biden followed up on a shockingly incompetent withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021—alongside signs of a final exit from Iraq and from Syria—with a multi-billion dollar increase in the military budget, he has since advocated a further increase of 8% in 2022-2023.

Since this is close to the rate of inflation, the weapons lobby will doubtless require another 4% or so, if they are being modest (unlikely), and a sharp increase in European tension will not only boost their cause for a further budget increase but will greatly incentivize the demand for weapons for years to come.

The bloated U.S. 17-agency Intelligence community and its underworld of private contractors will be delighted that, for the first time in a generation, their intelligence (on the Russian invasion, at least) has been perceived by many to be correct, and that, for the first time in a generation, it is not a U.S. war of choice that must be lied about. Such a glorious moment of self-righteousness will go far in the propaganda business. So long as Intelligence can manipulate and coopt corporate, plutocratic, mainstream media, the extent and depth of previous U.S. evils need never prove an obstacle to beating the drums for perpetual war. The mainstream media can be relied upon to foreshorten the narrative, pull in the context, focus on only one side, demonize and personalize. Intelligence will always help with fabrication of what counts as “real.”

The Ukraine crisis upends the energy markets in a way that puts even broader smiles on the faces of fossil-fuel bosses. The forced closure of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to the rest of Europe will create an involuntary European appetite for (more expensive) U.S. LNG exports.

(Source: nationalworld.com)

The brunt of energy price increases will be suffered more by Europe than by the United States. Combined with growing European dependence on the U.S., the impoverishment of Europe is to the U.S.’s advantage, under the scope of the Wolfowitz doctrine, and sustains the buffer between Russia and the continental U.S. Pressure on the U.S. to return to a policy of self-sufficiency in energy will reinvigorate public tolerance for fracking and drilling, for pipelines and spills and fires (if the world is going to end in any case.).

On the downside, from a U.S. perspective, higher energy prices will boost the Russian economy and sustain its servicing of Chinese and other Asian markets, provided they can work around U.S. sanctions (they will).

Ukraine is a test of Chinese resolve in its move toward Russia, reminding it of the economic threats to Chinese interests from U.S. sanctions in countries of the Belt and Road initiative. But this will not be sufficient to shift China from what must surely be its conclusion that the United States is irredeemably wedded to the vision of a perpetually unipolar U.S. world.

In Europe, the crisis will help Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson escape decapitation over the embarrassment of the “Partygate” scandal. It has already enhanced President Macron’s bid to appear statesmanlike in the face of upcoming elections in April, and his ability to ward off threats from the extreme right. But mainly, the crisis will benefit Germany which, in recent years, has broken free of its punitive post-war chains not only to burnish its long-established economic primacy but to rebuild and modernize its military, and to send arms to Ukraine. The sleazy proto-fascist governments of several new East European and former Soviet Union governments will feel similarly enabled and justified.

But all these short-term outcomes notwithstanding, nobody should discount the possibility, short of a robust peace agreement, of nuclear war. If not a nuclear war, then prepare for a protracted global recession, if not depression.

The sorrowful-but-gritty public faces of Europe’s equivalent to MICIMATT—Europe’s financial, plutocratic, military and intelligence elites—are President of the European Union Ursula von der Leyen, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Along with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron, it will be their faces we need to first scrutinize for a heads-up as to whether, finally, there is to be a public climb-down in the face of Russia’s nuclear checkmate. For that, indeed, is what it appears to be.

• First published in CovertAction Magazine

The post The Crisis in Ukraine is a Planetary Crisis Provoked by the U.S. that Threatens Nuclear War first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Innate Warmongering: Seeing Conflict in Ukraine as Inevitable

US President Theodore Roosevelt never had much time for peace, seeing its returns as distinctly less than those of war.  Despite his love of military conflict and its touted benefits, he was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering peace in the Russo-Japanese War.  But for old Teddy peaceniks were sissies, degenerates, and probably sexually dubious.

The intoxicant that is war tends to besot its promoters, however balanced they might claim to be.  On February 21, the Australian public broadcaster, the ABC, seemed to embrace a subliminal message in its programming, notably on the issue of war.  The standard reference?  The outbreak of the Second World War.  September 1939.  Poor Poland, and benighted UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

The blind, the daft and the reality television viewer may have missed the programming point, but others could not have.  Russian forces are posed on the borders of Ukraine.  In the presses of Australasia, Europe and the United States, there is more talk of war than that of diplomacy.  There is the prospect of much death and many body bags.  Instead of running documentaries, statements or messages on how war might be averted, thereby yielding the floor to diplomacy, the message of conflict has become inexorably clear.

This is perhaps the most visibly sickening feature of the enterprise.  It is a reminder that war has a seductiveness, acts as a paralytic agent, dulling sensibility whilst arousing other senses.  The opposite is never as inspiring because it is always constructively dull: negotiations, peace, averting death and the cracking of skulls.  Best encourage powers to shred a few people, slaughter the residents of a village or two, and crow about the evils of the enemy.  Add some political garnish: they died in the name of democracy; they were killed because they needed to be enlightened by the rules-based order.

The message of war was promoted with unbending consistency when it came to the certifiably criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003 by US-led forces.  It was very much in keeping with the rules-based order according to President George W. Bush, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Australia’s own yappy John Howard.  War would take place, whatever the evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons capabilities.

Having decided that invading Iraq would be good copy, the Murdoch Press Empire went to work softening minds and adding Viagra to war adventurism.  Of the stable of papers run by Rupert Murdoch, only one of the 175 – the Hobart Mercury – supported the war.  The project certainly bore rewards in terms of moving opinion.  A Gallup International survey’s findings released on February 4, 2003 revealed that 68 percent of Australians backed military action against Iraq.  Of those Australians surveyed, 89 percent expected war to be imminent.  This was, pure and simple, an incitement to conflict, a hardening of the resolve.

While it is not NATO, or the United States, that is contemplating an invasion of Ukraine, a country meshed with Russian history and influence, the language of predictability, the undeviating lingo of war, has come to heavily shade the workings of diplomacy.  In London, Washington and Canberra, we are already seeing the position that war will take place.

Speaking to CBS, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was as good as convinced that “provocations created by the Russian or separatist forces over the weekend, false flag operations” suggested a state of advanced preparedness for invasion.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in his address to the Munich Security Conference, conceded to not fully knowing “what President [Vladimir] Putin intends but the omens are grim and that is why we must stand strong together.”  Should Russia invade, Johnson promised, Russian individuals would be sanctioned, along with “companies of strategic importance to the Russian state”.  Raising capital on London capital markets would be made all but impossible “and we will open up the matryoshka dolls of Russian-owned companies and Russian -owned entities to find the ultimate beneficiaries within.”

Western press outlets are also aiding in this, using, for the most part, images and material of moving tanks and personnel supplied by the Russian Ministry of Defence.  Even mocking opinions expressed by the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the “invasion date” have been spun as tangible proofs of coming war.

As New Lines Magazine points out, “the West is doing such an eloquent job of broadcasting the reality of Russian military might” for the Putin regime.  In a conversation with one of the magazine’s authors, the editor of a British “mid-market tabloid” thought that “this invasion stuff is probably all nonsense.”  But no matter.  “Boris needs this to run and run.”

The headlines and titles of various papers are all too drearily reminiscent of 2003.  “We may be just hours away from war in Europe,” shrieked Mark Almond on February 15 in the Daily Mail.  Some hours have passed since then, but there is no sign of the journalist being held accountable for this nakedly hysterical effusion.

The Scottish Sun was even more blood thirstily confident, with its February 13 issue trumpeting that there was “48 hours to war.”  Moscow’s “bombing blitz may be early as Tuesday after Prez talks deadlock.”  That same day, The Sunday Telegraph insisted that Russia was plotting an imminent “‘false flag attack to provoke war.”

The script for invasion, in other words, has already been written, and not necessarily or entirely from the pen of the Russian leader.  The pieces are all in place: the assumption of invasion, the promised implementation of sanctions and limits on raising finance, and strong condemnation.  A fever has taken hold, and it promises to carry away much life and sensibility.

The post Innate Warmongering: Seeing Conflict in Ukraine as Inevitable first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Paralysing Afghanistan: Washington’s Regime Change Agenda

Nation states are habitually doomed to defeat their best interests.  Conditions of mad instability are fostered.  Arms sales take place, regimes get propped up or abandoned, and the people under them endure and suffer, awaiting the next criminal regime change.

Nothing is more counter-intuitive than the effort to isolate, cripple and strangulate the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.  For all the talk about terrorism and concerns about failing regimes, the Biden Administration is doing every bit to make this regime fail and encourage the outcome it decries. Along the way, a humanitarian catastrophe is in the making.

Prior to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021, foreign aid constituted a mainstay of the economy, covering roughly three-quarters of public spending.  After August 15, an almost immediate cessation of funding took place, led by the United States, and those less than noble institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  But it did not stop there.  Billions of dollars in Afghanistan’s own funds were frozen.  (For the US alone, this amounted to $9.4 billion.)

This particularly nasty bit of statecraft was justified by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as necessary to coerce the Taliban into good conduct.  Releasing such reserves was “no guarantee that the Taliban will actually use it effectively to solve problems.”

Johnson should know, given his government’s profligate tendency of waste and dissoluteness during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Ever one to relish hypocrisy, he claimed that Britain and its allies needed “to ensure that that country does not slip back into being a haven for terrorism and a narco-state.”  Ironically, the sanctions and asset freezing regime will be an incitement to just that.

The move did not only paralyse the Central Bank of Afghanistan but impose dramatic limits on the use of bank accounts by Afghans.  Loans have been left unrepaid, the amount in deposits has declined, and the liquidity crisis has become acute.  In November 2021, the UN Development Programme observed that the economic cost of a banking collapse in the country “would be colossal.”

The UNDP also remarked that the banking situation had to be “resolved quickly to improve Afghanistan’s limited production capacity and prevent the banking system from collapsing.”  Unfortunately, the organisation’s Afghanistan head, Abdallah al Dardari, was wishing to do the impossible.  “We need to find a way to make sure that if we support the banking sector, we are not supporting the Taliban.”

This foggy-headed reasoning typifies much policy towards Afghanistan, dooming humanitarian programs and other measures of assistance.  It also renders Washington, and its allies, culpable in fostering famine, starvation, and death.  As long as they can focus their attention on the wickedness, and lack of competence, of the Taliban regime, this monumental bit of callous gangsterism can be justified.  The Afghan civilian can thereby be divorced from the government official disliked and disapproved of by foreign powers.

With pestilential force, this contorted line of thinking finds its way into the heart of the US State Department, which has expressed its desire to cooperate with the UNDP and other institutions “to find ways to offer liquidity, to infuse, to see to it that the people of Afghanistan can take advantage of international support in ways that don’t flow into the coffers of the Taliban”.

In January, the crisis was becoming so grave as to compel the UN Secretary General António Guterres to describe a landscape of catastrophe: the selling of babies to feed siblings, freezing health facilities overrun by crowds of malnourished children and people “burning their possessions to keep warm.”  Without a full-fledged effort by the international community, the Secretary warned, “virtually every man, woman and child in Afghanistan could face acute poverty.”

A modest request was made: that Afghanistan receive $5 billion in aid.  The UN chief has also urged the release of international funding to pay the salaries of public sector workers and aid the distribution of health care, education “and other vital services.”

The international community, or at least a portion of it, is certainly not listening.  Sanctions continue to be the mainstay of the treatment of Afghanistan, as orchestrated through the UN Security Council.  Perversely, this is done, in the words of the Australian Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs to “promote the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan.”  This is darkly witty stuff indeed, given that sanctions are, by their very purpose, designed to destabilise and target governments, while impoverishing the populace and creating desperation.

What President Biden has done this month is tinker with the freezing order by decreeing the release of $7 billion.  But there is a huge catch: half of the funds will be reserved to satisfy legal claims brought by the families of US 9/11 victims; the rest will be placed in a designated humanitarian fund for Afghanistan.  In doing so, a foreign government has effectively determined how to deal with a country’s national assets and foreign reserves, effectively initiating a de facto theft.

Many a famine and societal collapse has been a product of engineered circumstances.  “This impending mass murder of Afghan civilians,” argue the undersigned luminaries of a note published in CounterPunch, “is preventable.”  For those on a list including Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk and Tariq Ali, the Biden Administration should “immediately end these cruel and inhumane policies by lifting the sanctions, unfreezing Afghanistan’s foreign assets, and increasing humanitarian aid.”

For those wedded to the canard and moral excitement of the “rules-based” order, causing a degree of horrendous harm comes as second nature.  Having lost Afghanistan, as every great power has tended to do, revenge is being sought.

The post Paralysing Afghanistan: Washington’s Regime Change Agenda first appeared on Dissident Voice.