Six Ways to Unsettle Colleagues and Irritate Administrators

Here is what a pal of mine says about this very fine article:

In that, universities simply reflect the broader society, in which a wealthy class of rentiers, disconnected from the increasingly impoverished working class, use their political power (most often a consequence of their ability to bankroll “democratic” politicians and political parties) to impose austerity on the working class so that they can retain their ill-gotten wealth, until the whole system collapses because the impoverishment of nearly everyone kills demand and therefore the market economy (but, of course, the mainstream sees this critique as unacceptable, because the critique would undermine the stability of existing power relationships). Universities are merely a microcosm of the society in which they exist.

Six Ways to Unsettle Colleagues and Irritate Administrators

We need to be uncivil to preserve academic freedom and take on the corporate university.

Astrid Westvang / Flickr

Astrid Westvang / Flickr

Our new issue, “Rank and File,” is out now. To celebrate its release, new subscriptions are discounted.

No discussion of academic matters can begin without terminological clarification, so I hope readers will grant me a moment to complete the ritual. I’m being a smartass, yes, but I’m a smartass who chooses words carefully.

To unsettle colleagues isn’t to be a bad departmental citizen or an irredeemable asshole, but to engage the possibilities of dissent. And to irritate administrators isn’t to be hostile or dastardly, but to maintain a productive tension with management that either prevents or impedes the formation of a neoliberal consensus.

By unsettling one another, we inject creative and intellectual life into our relationships. We maintain a spirit of inquiry that values debate and analysis over discipline. We compel one another to identify the structures of power that govern our perceptions of bromides such as “pragmatism” and the “common good.”

By irritating administrators, we perform a necessary function of faculty governance: to disturb the ease of decision-making in executive offices. It is a way to interject friction into the smooth ennui of managerial logic. It offers a necessary if unwelcome veneer of discomfort. It prickles at custom. It undermines ceremony. It’s a bit of sandpaper on a mahogany table. Or an itch at that unreachable spot on the back.

These practices of unsettlement and irritation allow us to remain human by honoring the messiness of our humanity, a crucial task amid bureaucratic customs that so adeptly produce dehumanization. If we fail to resist the logic of campus corporatization, then we become negligible commodities, automatons of a self-regulated accreditation industry in which critical thinking becomes superfluous, or a threat to the industry altogether.

I make no claim that all upper administrators are bad.  That’s not the point of condemnation — or it shouldn’t be, anyway. In fact, determining the goodness and badness of individuals within a system as a means to perform systemic analysis is a stupid exercise.

We’re talking about the economic and philosophical functionality of the campus managerial class, not the individual morality of campus managers. In board rooms and country club parlors, altruism becomes either an obstacle or a branding mechanism.

I raise this point because I’ve had numerous upper administrators tell me that I unfairly generalize and that plenty of kindhearted people can be found among their ranks. Sure. Why not?

Here’s the thing, though: Upper administrators have public records, which seem to me better sites of rendering judgment than whether or not Presidents X, Y, and Z drop coins into the Salvation Army tin. And on issues related to Palestine, those public records look awfully uniform.

Unprotected Palestine

When the American Studies Association (ASA) resolved in late 2013 to honor the academic boycott of Israeli universities, hundreds of provosts, chancellors, and presidents, showing unusual levels of efficiency, released statements condemning the ASA. Some of the responses were threatening. Others were high-minded. All of them misread the resolution and the academic boycott movement more broadly. In contrast, no provosts, chancellors, or presidents went on record to praise the ASA or even to affirm its right to pass the resolution.

Campus managers routinely validate the safety and comfort of pro-Israel students, but how many decry Israeli closures of Palestinian universities? The arrest and torture of Palestinian academics? Thebombing of Palestinian campuses? The difficulty Palestinian researchers have traveling or hosting peers? The checkpoints and apartheid roads and concrete walls that make an uninterrupted education virtually impossible? The endless vilification of Palestinian intellectuals as terrorists, agitators, enemies, and fifth columns?

How many are complicit in the repression of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine? How many stay silent about the odious Canary Mission, an anonymous collective that posts defamatory online dossiers of college students with the express purpose of damaging their career prospects?

So devoted are these campus managers to appeasing power that they’re content to allow groups on and off campus to harm their own students.

Here a few words must be spared for the faculty: The professors who stay quiet when administrators sell out students for a pat on the back from AIPAC fail in their role as educators. No educator worth a damn wants to see students punished for discovering wrong in the world and working to end it. Professors unwilling to protest administrators who suppress students needn’t act surprised when the same administrators come for them.

Few in management break rank with the pro-Israel consensus. If somebody wants to find a site of rigid class discipline, then there’s no better place to look than presidential suites on campus. When a single upper administrator condemns the criminalization of student activists or the Canary Mission or the constant misery under which Palestinian scholars labor, then maybe we can take a moment to celebrate managerial diversity. Until then, we’re forced to respond to the evidence at our disposal.

The campus managerial class is international. We’re seeing aglobalized austerity at colleges and universities in which decision-making and resources are increasingly monopolized by a bloated leadership eager to appease donors, politicians, corporations, defense contractors, and sensationalistic media. We can’t properly understand the form and function of academic freedom without also understanding political power and how it determines which critiques are objectionable and which are acceptable. These valuations are never neutral, though neutrality is their primary brand.

Think about the trouble that attends critics of Zionism, colonization, or police brutality. Divya Nair was suspended from the Community College of Philadelphia for supporting Black Lives Matter. Saida Grundy nearly faced a similar fate at Boston University. Zandria Robinson. Deepa Kumar. Simona Sharoni. Nadia Shoufani. Terri Ginsburg. Jasbir Puar. All fired or publicly dragged. (Note the preponderance of women of color.)

And what for? What awful thing did they do? They attacked racism and state violence with unflinching language.

Were they impolite? Sometimes. Were they impassioned? Certainly. Only in a world desensitized to the normative violence of colonization are we supposed to tiptoe around injustice with wonkish detachment.

Contrast their disdain for demonstrably terrible things with the mannered analysis that earns scholars accolades and endowed chairs. Not long ago, Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University published an article that suggested “flattening” Beirut. The article’s profound belligerence hides behind its clinical tone, but the content of its argument is gruesome. It’s much easier to detect its gruesomeness if we grant that Beirut’s denizens are human beings. Harvard’s Niall Ferguson wrote a two-volume love letter to bona-fide war criminal Henry Kissinger. In the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Dick Cheney was fond of citing Bernard Lewis.

We also have countless examples of unethical scholarly pursuits: helping craft policies of physical and psychological torture, providing justification for imperialism and regime change, abetting security services, offering cultural rationales for colonization. Eminent scholars propose all kinds of violent things; we’re conditioned not to see those things as violent if they correspond with the national interest.

Servicing warfare and neoliberalism is a terrific path to scholarly eminence. Those who condemn warfare and neoliberalism become uncivil goblins, impenitent radicals, sloppy polemicists, immature agitators, scourges on the good name of the profession. Ruling-class sycophants, meanwhile, don’t encounter trouble for their service to power.

It’s the same around the world: dissenters are the ones to get fired, arrested, even murdered. It’s almost comically obvious, and yet plenty of academics persist in recycling the mythological virtues of tone and civility as criteria for fitness as an academic, as if those descriptors are detached from norms of power — as if using a civil tone means you can’t articulate ugly ideas.

Academic Freedom’s Promise

No universal definition of academic freedom exists, which reflects well on the phenomenon. I don’t know that it can be defined, at least not as a legal or philosophical denotation. It might be better to view it as a dynamic ideal that accommodates certain values and practices.

Those values and practices contain multitudes, some potentially in conflict with others. But among them should be the ability to pursue dissent, take intellectual risks, speak on social media, and deliver rousing orations at labor meetings, replete with the sharp language appropriate to exploited workers. Academic freedom ought to accommodate student activism, especially the sort that doesn’t get listed on resumes for NGO applications.

Academic freedom is, in essence, an invitation to reverie and disdain and sarcasm and foul language and the sort of close reading that identifies unwelcome problems. No notion of academic freedom is viable if we don’t explore how power functions through discourses of etiquette, propriety, and respectability.

In the end, academic freedom’s purpose is to keep us from being punished for unpopular work, or for expressing opinions as private citizens, which means we have to consider the ugly business of punishment. Is some work worthy of punishment? How do we proffer that sort of judgment when definitions of racism, sexism, un-collegiality, harassment, or any other damning identifier are unstable? (Discussing accurate definitions is less important here than recognizing that the more powerful party imposes its definition on everybody else.)

Starting with punishment is perhaps the least productive way of looking at academic freedom because we’re allowing retribution to organize logic. We can shift from the forbidden to the allowable.

What types of punishment should be verboten as arbitrary forms of top-down decision-making? Unceremonious firings, for sure, along with demotions, tenure denials, arrest, donor interventions, and secret disciplinary measures. Students and instructors also have a right not to be defamed by perturbed administrators attempting to appease the mob in moments of public controversy.

In our visions of academic freedom, what becomes punishable? Who decides? Who names the conditions of the punishment? Who carries it out? Who must necessarily be complicit in the act of punishing somebody who has run afoul of certain rules and regulations?

Herein lies the impossible complexity of the enterprise, and the recognition that academic freedom and castigation, albeit often in opposition, are intimately related. If we focus too much on the mechanics of recrimination — that is, if we allow notions of academic freedom to arbitrate when punishment is or isn’t justified — we can lose sight of the values and practices encouraged by the idea of a free academy.

I submit that we think through academic freedom as an affirmation of our research and pedagogy rather than a mere barricade against our flaws and failures.

Here, then, are six ways to unsettle colleagues and irritate administrators:

1. Decentralize Power

As a matter of principle, we should never allow management to make decisions that end up granting itself greater authority. It’s a terrible idea to voluntarily cede power to those above you in the hierarchy.

Sure, when an arbitrary, top-down dictum screws over those you dislike, you might enjoy it, but you won’t find it as funny when emboldened administrators do the same to you. And emboldened administrators are never idle.

2. Resist the Bosses

Trying to get people fired is a pathetic strategy.

Ruining careers as a sort of trophy sport seems to have become the go-to strategy for disgruntled consumers everywhere, including in academe. But in academe we’re supposed to deal with discomfort and controversy. Not doing so abdicates the spirit of inquiry, for punitive disagreement makes ideas that are hostile to power alien and threatening.

Going after somebody’s job? Find something else to do with your time. Pursuing somebody’s firing means ratting that person out to the boss. No amount of jargon occludes what it really is: class warfare.

3. Disobey

Recalcitrance is okay. I won’t go so far as to call it a noble quality, but it often produces dissent, anti-authoritarianism, variance, and heterodoxy. These characteristics don’t facilitate storybook collegiality, and that’s their value.

4. Collectively Bargain

Unionizing has become a critical feature of academic freedom in this moment of increased precariousness and stratified resource allocation.

There’s a wonderful scene in a Sopranos episode when Tony gathers his captains and upbraids them. “In this business,” he growls, “shit runs downhill, money goes up. It’s that simple.” Tony would have made an excellent college administrator, perhaps vice president for best practices.

Campus cultures differ, and some places are more functional than others, but as a general rule Tony’s principle organizes them all. The managerial class grows, the ranks of tenured faculty shrink. Adjunct or contingent labor increases in proportion to decreases in salary, benefits, and security.

Instructors, who interact with students on a daily basis and are responsible for their well-being, perform their duties in conditions management would never accept for itself. Academic freedom and job security are coterminous. We therefore cannot speak of maintaining academic freedom without simultaneously addressing oppressive labor conditions and the unequal distribution of resources.

5. Fight Back

It’s critical to cultivate antagonistic relationships with guardians of institutional values. I use the term to describe a tension borne of questioning, guardedness, and skepticism — not accepting at face value what we’re told.

This seems obvious, but I’ve been in academe long enough — and out of it long enough — to know that academics march to branding pitches more often than we’d like. Many academics want to believe in their superiors and in turn offer them unnecessarily generous leeway. When faculty align with administrative power, they assume relations of opposition to adjuncts, graduate students, and administrative staff — which is, incidentally, the rationale many private universities use to quash faculty unionization.

6. Decolonize the University

Unsettling colleagues isn’t merely a proposition, but a project, something that, if done seriously, might be likened to a state of mind or an analytic sensibility. Unsettling speaks to decolonization, which isn’t something we merely take up in convenient moments. It’s a commitment to reorganization and upheaval —altering the common practices of hierarchical governance that are the hallmark of a system produced by settler colonization and that in turn consistently reproduce its logic.

I’m talking about an ethics that values the integrity of the less powerful, the stewardship of Native nations seeking liberation on their ancestral lands, and the diverse communities working to make campus as lovely as an untruthful promotional brochure.

I’m asking for a form of democracy unattached to the hidebound ledgers that try to dictate our imagination. When we understand the university not as a regal wonderland beyond normal society, but as a contested space within the context of US colonization, then the managerial tolerance for racism, its fealty to Zionism, its cover-ups of sexual assault, its corporatized educational philosophies, and its affinity for militarism allow us to think about institutions beyond the antiseptic frame of individual failure.

Restoring Dissent as an Academic Value

It sometimes feels like our professional duty, no matter the occupation, is to reproduce the negative energy of competition. Conformity allows us to harness social capital. Replicating orthodoxy is an unsanctioned but crucial dimension of workplace survival. Relationships with centers of power inside the office allow for upward mobility, as do relationships with centers of power around the world.

Lots of people think college campuses escape these problems. Images of sartorial eccentricity and Socratic contemplation predominate, though the myths of academe have lost much of their romance.

Greater access to professors is pivotal. Social media proves that credentials don’t exempt people from stupidity. Education ideally is undisrupted by market demands, but in reality it competes with the same forces it claims to transcend. College is more like the hospitality industry than its guardians care to admit.

Campus may still be an enchanted site of erudition, according to the culture warrior’s nostalgia, but it’s a workplace just the same, withexploited labor and heavy-handed management, given to the rapacious logic of capitalism like any other billion-dollar corporation.

This world generates abundant displacement and migration. The casualties of academic capitalism are not refugees in the legal or historical sense of the term, but they must constantly seek refuge from contingency and recrimination. The market forces of bloated administration and private funding dictate our movement and regulate the time necessary to conduct scholarship, the most valuable product on a job candidate’s dossier.

Exile is an inevitable feature of this economy. Professors don’t get fired from single jobs; they are terminated from academe. New and seasoned scholars move to fancy satellite campuses on the Persian Gulf or scramble to freelance as informal journalists. We nestle into any space that might provide income or the illusion of prestige, which can strengthen personal ledgers even if it doesn’t cover the balance for student loans.

Management increasingly treats academic freedom as a reflection of the values consecrated in the vocabulary of private enterprise: return on investment, efficiency, annual revenue, diversity, best practices, flipped classroom, digital literacy, buy-in, leverage, synergy, streamlining, sustainability, shareholders, survival strategies, scalability, stratcom, and paradigm shifts.

I urge us — student, faculty, administrator, community member — to dislodge pedagogy and scholarship from these venal exercises in bean-counting. I don’t only reference our practices of teaching and writing, but our conceptions of what it means to educate, to be educated, and to be free academically.

The vast majority of us love our vocation; in fact we view it as an avocation. Herein exists the most meaningful principle of university life. Without it, we have little love to impart and little left to love. We must treat academic freedom as a dialectical feature of scholarship and pedagogy rather than as an abstract safeguard that supplements their performance. In this way, we can render academic freedom dynamic and indispensable — not merely tolerating of dissent, but encouraging of it, as well.

The basic goal of a critical education is to interrogate the sacrosanct and consecrated. We do this by fighting. No theory is worth anything if it doesn’t put us in a better position to eradicate injustice. No pedagogy is worth employing if it doesn’t help students understand the transformative potential of theory. Insofar as the corporate university treats justice as a threat to brand equity, we must then seek the eradication of the corporate university.

Adapted from a keynote delivered for the Foundations of Political Theory section at the 2016 meeting of the American Political Science Association.

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Confronting the Tyranny of the Free Market

Published on

Empire’s Religion: Arundhati Roy Confronts the Tyranny of the Free Market

‘Whether she is writing of Kashmir or of the Palestinians, of American foreign policy or of terror in the Middle East, of environmental degradation or of the threat posed by nuclear proliferation, [author and activist Arundhati] Roy,’ writes Johnson,  ‘maintains a sense of hope, one that jumps from the page even in the midst of her devastating polemics.’ (Photo: jeanbaptisteparis/flickr/cc)

Perhaps the most revealing words on the topic of globalization in recent years came not from the pen of Thomas Piketty, nor were they written by Robert Reich or Joseph Stiglitz or Paul Krugman — rather, they can be found in the pages of The Lexus and the Olive Tree, written by the notorious New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

“The hidden hand of the market,” Friedman notes in a particularly telling fragment, “will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglass, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.”

Friedman isn’t known for his subtlety or sincerity, but the above passage strikes at a crucial truth. So much so, in fact, that Arundhati Roy christened it “the most succinct, accurate description of the project of corporate globalization that I have read.”

Roy first made waves internationally with her novel The God of Small Things, published in 1997 — it was an instant hit, selling millions of copies and propelling the relatively obscure writer into stardom. The fame, as she would later recount, was overwhelming; her picture appeared in prominent magazines and she was sought out by mainstream outlets as an established literary voice.

Such acclaim among the upper classes and elite sectors of society both abroad and in India, her home country, would soon become less cheery, however.

In the year following her debut novel’s appearance, Roy wrote a scathing essay condemning the Indian government’s nuclear test, the nation’s second since 1974. The test featured, as CNN reported at the time, “two big explosions, including a thermonuclear ‘hydrogen bomb’ explosion, and three smaller blasts involving a nuclear yield of below one kiloton.”

Roy’s essay, titled “The End of Imagination,” made waves of an entirely different nature than those triggered by The God of Small Things. Fervent nationalism was on the rise in India in the 1990s, and Roy staked out a position against this trend, arguing that the mere existence of nuclear weapons is a sign not of national strength, but of “supreme folly.”

“Ever-present is an unblinking confrontation of the scourge of imperialism and of the devastation brought about by the forced imposition of so-called free market principles.”

“The fact that they exist at all, their very presence in our lives, will wreak more havoc than we can begin to fathom,” she wrote. “Nuclear weapons pervade our thinking. Control our behavior. Administer our societies. Inform our dreams. They bury themselves like meat hooks deep in the base of our brains. They are purveyors of madness.”

Thus began Roy’s foray into national, and global, politics, a foray motivated, at least in part, by a sense of obligation.

“If I had not said anything about the nuclear tests, it would have been as if I was celebrating it,” Roy told the New York Times. “I was on the covers of all these magazines all the time. Not saying anything became as political as saying something.”

Over the next several years, Roy would become an established voice of dissent at home, as well as a fierce critic of the world’s imperial powers — or, more accurately, power, the United States. And while it may seem as though these critiques occupy separate terrains, they always coalesce.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in The End of Imagination, a collection of Roy’s essays released earlier this month. Ever-present — whether stated outright or in narrative form — is an unblinking confrontation of the scourge of imperialism and of the devastation brought about by the forced imposition of so-called free market principles. And as Roy frequently urges us to remember, these two prominent features of the global political and economic landscape are deeply interconnected.

Sometimes, the objectives of empire are expressed in terms as frank as Thomas Friedman’s description of the project of global capitalism.

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people,” said Henry Kissinger, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, the same year, incidentally, that the CIA participated in the violent subversion of Chilean democracy, which resulted in the death of the country’s elected leader, Salvador Allende.

The coup prompted a reign of terror; it also presented, in stark terms, a rebuke to those who insisted (and still insist) that capitalism is a guarantor of freedom. In fact, as Roy often notes, capitalism and its purveyors have frequently been explicit opponents of freedom. The core project of the disciples of the “free market” is to subordinate society to the needs of the investors. If civil liberties must be curtailed, if democracy must be crushed, if war must be waged, so be it.

“The men in suits are in an unseemly hurry,” Roy wrote in an essay adapted from a speech she gave in Santa Fe, New Mexico, one week after the first anniversary of the attacks of September 11. “While bombs rain down on us and cruise missiles skid across the skies, while nuclear weapons are stockpiled to make the world a safer place, contracts are being signed, patents are being registered, oil pipelines are being laid, natural resources are being plundered, water is being privatized, and democracies are being undermined.”

The “free market” is, to use Karl Polanyi’s term, a “stark Utopia“: It is a construct peddled by those who insist upon the belief that the accumulation of wealth and resources at the very top is a natural phenomenon, one dictated by the immutable laws of the universe.

Furthermore, it is designed to provide a smokescreen for those who, in conjunction with their allies in government, write the rules of global trade and investment, tipping the scale in their favor.

“Multinational corporations on the prowl for sweetheart deals that yield enormous profits cannot push through those deals and administer those projects in developing countries without the active connivance of state machinery — the police, the courts, sometimes even the army,” Roy observes.

Meanwhile, she continues, “the ‘structural adjustment’ end of the corporate globalization project is ripping through people’s lives. ‘Development’ projects, massive privatization, and labor ‘reforms’ are pushing people off their lands and out of their jobs, resulting in a kind of barbaric dispossession that has few parallels in history.”

We are told the world is being made “safe for democracy,” a trope that dates back to the days of the First World War. But “democracy,” in elite-speak, is code for capitalism.

“Across the world,” Roy writes, “as the free market brazenly protects Western markets and forces developing countries to lift their trade barriers, the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer.”

A fist has, of course, always been behind the market’s “invisible” hand. And whether in Iran in 1953 or Guatemala in 1954, whether in Vietnam or Iraq or the Dominican Republic, the fist often takes the lead role, smashing disobedient nations into submission, forcefully prying open previously closed markets, shaping the world in such a way that is amenable to the needs of the profit-seekers and the already powerful.

The resulting consolidation of wealth is astonishing to behold. Each year, the remarkable achievements of the global elite are celebrated in Davos, Switzerland. And each year, Oxfam publishes a report detailing these achievements.

In 2013, Oxfam estimated that the income of the world’s “richest 100 billionaires would be enough” to eradicate extreme poverty “four times over.” A year later, little had changed: “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population,” the organization announced. A pattern is emerging. What about 2015? The world’s billionaires have it all, Oxfam told us, and they still want more.

Then there was the dutiful 2016 report, which featured many striking but unsurprising facts, like this one: “Runaway inequality has created a world where 62 people own as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population.”

The neoliberal period has been defined by these trends, and whatever critiques of the foundations of global capitalism that remained within mainstream political discourse have been decisively erased or confined to the margins. And, as Roy masterfully documents in her 2014 book Capitalism: A Ghost Story, massive corporations have taken to co-opting the heroes of progressive movements for their own purposes.

“Martin Luther King Jr. made the forbidden connections between Capitalism, Imperialism, Racism, and the Vietnam War,” Roy notes. “As a result, after he was assassinated even his memory became toxic, a threat to public order. Foundations and corporations worked hard to remodel his legacy to fit a market-friendly format.”

The Ford Motor Company — in partnership with Monsanto, General Motors, Procter and Gamble, and other corporate giants — helped set up and bankroll the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, which has coordinated with the U.S. Department of Defense and has run events with such titles as “The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Nonviolent Social Change.” To call such a headline insulting to Dr. King’s legacy would be to vastly understate the case.

Similar examples of the corporatization of social justice abound. Thanks to tremendous reporting by Slate‘s Maria Hengeveld, we have learned of the brutality with which Nike exploits its female factory workers — who face very credible threats of violence if they dare to speak out against their conditions — while simultaneously leading a campaign ostensibly dedicated to the empowerment of women.

As the interests of the state increasingly merge with the interests of business, the potential for change is further undercut; democratic institutions no longer function, as they are held hostage by various interest groups whose aims are fundamentally at odds with those of the public.

“The planet is faltering in the face of relentless corporate plunder; business is tightening its stranglehold on public policy; and violence, whether committed by state or non-state actors, is spreading.”

All of this, Roy contends, is perfectly predictable, given the concentration of power and resources. The effects of such a state of affairs are global — and existential.

The planet is faltering in the face of relentless corporate plunder; business is tightening its stranglehold on public policy; and violence, whether committed by state or non-state actors, is spreading.

Sunday marked another anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11. Combat missions continue in Afghanistan and Iraq, and, with little oversight, they have spilled over into Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya — a cause for celebration for the world’s weapons manufacturers.

Global business is also coalescing in support of the next big “trade” agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which, if passed, will grant multinational corporations unprecedented power. Heads of state are happy to play along, even to present the agreement as a step in the right direction for the working class.

The global poor are kept out of the negotiations, their needs apparently of little concern compared to those of the business class. So the plunder, the exploitation, the war, and the occupation continues.

But whether she is writing of Kashmir or of the Palestinians, of American foreign policy or of terror in the Middle East, of environmental degradation or of the threat posed by nuclear proliferation, Roy maintains a sense of hope, one that jumps from the page even in the midst of her devastating polemics.

Her hope, thankfully, is not contingent upon a leap of faith. There is supporting evidence, if one is willing to look closely enough.

Globally, resistance to the tyranny imposed by free market capitalism and its evangelists is burgeoning. In India, millions of workers took to the streets to protest privatization and austerity and to call for higher wages. Anti-TPP protests are spreading; in the United States, opposition to big oil is intensifying.

The public recognizes what is happening to them and their families, to their communities. They increasingly understand that “electoral democracy has become a process of cynical manipulation.”

“The crisis in modern democracy is a profound one,” Roy notes. “Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities available on sale to the highest bidder.”

Nasty, violent, and fascist groups and individuals will surely emerge from such circumstances. But a movement valuing solidarity, mutual aid, peace, and democracy can also thrive, with enough time, effort, and imagination.

Roy’s own prediction is cautious, but it leans in the direction of optimism.

“The urge for hegemony and preponderance by some will be matched with greater intensity by the longing for dignity and justice by others. Exactly what form that battle takes, whether it’s beautiful or bloodthirsty, depends on us.”

Jake Johnson

Jake Johnson is an independent writer. Follow him on Twitter: @wordsofdissent

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How Free trade screws us all

Trade deals’ investor-state provisions: A sub-criminal conspiracy?

There is a glaring disconnect in the world between economic growth, and trade and investment agreements.

At the same time that Canada and other countries are pushing hard for huge multi-national deals — the TPP, CETA and the U.S.-EU deal, the TTIP — all the evidence suggests that global trade is on a long-term downward trend. Nothing in the near or middle term future suggests that it will recover to anything like its China-driven peak.

Financial Times analyst Martin Wolf recently argued bluntly that globalization no longer drives the world economy.

He points out that “…ratios of world trade to output have been flat since 2008, making this the longest period of such stagnation since the second world war. According to Global Trade Alert, even the volume of world trade stagnated between January 2015 and March 2016…”

In addition, says Wolf, “The stock of cross-border financial assets peaked at 57 per cent of global output in 2007, falling to 36 per cent by 2015.” Foreign direct investment has also declined.

So if global trade isn’t going to pull the world economy out of its persistent doldrums, why are countries putting so much political energy into signing these agreements? They do little or nothing to enhance growth in global trade — trade is driven by global demand — also flat. Amongst the countries primed to sign these agreements trade is already virtually tariff free.

Even the government’s Global Affairs department’s recent analysis estimates the Pacific Rim deal, the TPP, would increase GDP by a minuscule .127 per cent ($4.3 billion in a $2 trillion economy) — but not until 2040! In short, we will gain virtually nothing.

If these deals don’t enhance trade or growth what do they do? Investment agreements like CETA, TTIP and the TPP are all aimed at making international investment by multinationals as risk free as possible. Corporations always try to externalize costs — but these deals and their ISDS clauses allow then to externalize risk — and it’s taxpayers who take the risk.

In a global economy that has virtually no prospect of recovering in the foreseeable future, one road to continued profitability lies in treaties that protect a company’s “projected future profits” against any government action in the public interest.

But it gets far worse. Over the past 10 years ISDS provisions in literally thousands of agreements have become tools for criminals, greedy law firms, and “investors” in ISDS cases.

In an excellent four-part series, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Chris Hamby reveals that: “Companies and executives accused or even convicted of crimes have escaped punishment by turning to this special forum.”

Hamby cites several cases: “… an Egyptian court had declared a foreign company’s purchase of a factory corrupt and nullified the deal, court records show. But after the company filed an ISDS claim, the government agreed to pay $54 million in a settlement…”

In another, two financiers had been convicted of embezzling $300 million from an Indonesian bank but used an ISDS finding to force Interpol to back off, protect their investment, and “…effectively nullify their punishment.”

Hamby found more than 35 cases where “…the company or executive seeking protection in ISDS was accused of criminal activity, including money laundering, embezzlement, stock manipulation, bribery, war profiteering, and fraud.” One ISDS lawyer admitted privately: “You have a lot of scuzzy sort-of thieves for whom this is a way to hit the jackpot.”

If it’s it not criminals escaping justice, it’s corporations gaming the system, perverting it so that the profit comes not from a planned or existing investment but from the increasingly enormous settlements demanded of governments if they win an ISDS arbitration.

A Canadian example is the U.S. quarry company, Bilcon, whose application to build a quarry in Nova Scotia was rejected by federal and provincial environmental review panels. It sued and a NAFTA arbitration panel ruled in its favour. Bilcon is seeking $300 million (an appeal is pending) for lost future profits — many times the potential profit on an actual investment that it will never make.

But it goes beyond just large companies seeking out-sized awards.

Lawyers taking these cases can make millions on a single case. The fat rewards has led to ISDS lawyers creating ISDS business by linking companies with potential cases, but limited resources (cases can cost as much as $8 million to litigate), to investors willing to finance the case for a big cut of any award.

Burford, a U.S. financier increased its profits nine fold in 2011 as a result; Juridica, its British competitor, managed an increase of 578 per cent, based on ISDS business. A 400 per cent return on investment is typical.

Selvyn Seidel, a New York attorney heads up a firm exclusively devoted to promoting ISDS cases. He told Hamby: “Some lawyers monitor governments around the world in search of proposed laws and regulations that might spark objections from foreign companies.”

Then they identify potential client companies and offer to head up a challenge. Litigation lawyers handling ISDS cases for corporate clients also regularly end up on arbitration panels where it is in their interest to find for the complainant — to encourage other companies to try their hand at an ISDS windfall. This glaring conflict of interest has prevailed for over 20 years.

This sleazy perversion of the ISDS provisions (originally intended to stop rogue governments from actually seizing assets) is blithely ignored by the Canadian government, by provincial premiers, mainstream economists, business writers, legal scholars, and just about anyone else with any influence over public policy.

It is, quite frankly, a disgusting abrogation of responsibility in all these quarters. Whether it is rooted in sheer laziness, willful ignorance, deliberate obfuscation, opportunism or intellectual dishonesty hardly matters, the results are the same: our government is determined to sign agreements that will expose public policy making to aggressive assaults by the most powerful corporations on the planet.

This sorry state of affairs is in stark contrast with Europe where there is growing public opposition to ISDS provisions in CETA and the TTIP — and extensive, detailed media coverage of the debate.

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We’d never kill an albatross or gorilla: but we let others do it on our behalf

Man riding accelerating skeletal fish - Illustration by Andrzej Krauze
‘Flying to Bermuda for a stag weekend, shopping trips to New York, eating tuna without a thought as to how it’s produced: these ephemeral satisfactions occupy a sacred and inviolable space.’ Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

The world’s largest land animal, the biggest fish, the bird with the greatest wingspan, the largest primate: all are sliding towards extinction at astounding speed. If we will not protect such magnificent species, what are we prepared to do?

In just seven years 30% of Africa’s savannah elephants have been wiped out. The other African subspecies, the forest elephant, has crashed by more than 60%since 2002. Perhaps this month’s resolution to ban domestic sales of elephant tusks will make a difference, but governments have done so little to restrain the international trade that illegal ivory and other wildlife parts are still sold on the surface web, rather than the dark web.

Last month the whale shark was classified as endangered. Some are still hunted for their meat and fins, and it seems that the revolting practice of live finning – slicing off the fins, then dumping the shark overboard to die slowly – continues. Most are killed as bycatch, in nets used to catch other species, especially tuna. Some fishing boats use whale sharks as markers (tuna tend to congregate under large objects), and deliberately cast nets around them.

Their decline – whale shark numbers have halved or worse in 75 years – reflects the global loss of ocean life. Since 1996 the fish catch has fallen by a million tonnes a year, as stocks are exhausted. Sieving the seas for what remains, fishing fleets will trigger the collapse of entire ecosystems.

Fishing also accounts for what has happened to the bird with the largest wingspan, the wandering albatross – whose population has fallen by about 30% in 11 years. Again, the tuna fishery is the principal threat, in this case through the use of baited longlines. The albatrosses dive for the bait, get hooked and drown.

albatross corpse rotting away to reveal the rubbish it’s consumed
An albatross corpse rotting away to reveal the rubbish it’s consumed. Photograph: Alamy

Another cause is their junk food diet: the plastic they eat, then feed to their chicks through regurgitation. The photographs taken by Chris Jordan on Midway atoll of the albatross corpses rotting away to reveal the rubbish they contain are a synopsis of our treatment of the living world. However far we travel, our impacts precede us.

A week ago the status of the eastern gorilla, the world’s largest primate, was changed from endangered to critically endangered: it has declined by 70% in 20 years. Its habitat, in central Africa, has been ripped apart by logging, mining and farming, and the gorillas are hunted for meat. All the great apes are now either endangered or critically endangered, in the case of orangutans largely as a result of palm oil production. What does it say about us that we are prepared to drive our closest relatives towards extinction?

The great acceleration towards a bare, grey world is also reflected in this week’sState of Nature report, which shows that over 10% of the remaining species in the UK are now threatened with extinction.

Last week we learned that one-tenth of the world’s wild places, forest and savannahs, and other lands in which human impacts are not obvious, have been lost – de-wilded – in the past 25 years. The trajectory suggests that there could be almost none left by the end of the century.

These should be among the central issues of our age. Yet we treat these losses as sad but peripheral, though we commission them through the things we buy. Elephants, rhinos, lions, polar bears, the great sharks, turtles, condors, whales, rainforests, wetlands, coral reefs: they are all the bycatch of consumerism. We assert both the right to consume – whatever we want, however we want – and the right to forget the consequences.

Flying to Bratislava or Bermuda for a stag weekend, shopping trips to New York, driving our gas guzzlers 300 metres to school, buying jetskis, leaf blowers and patio heaters, furnishing our homes with rare wood, eating tuna, prawns and salmon without a thought as to how they were produced: these ephemeral satisfactions, to judge by the reactions when you question them, occupy a sacred and inviolable space. The wonders of the living world, by contrast, are dispensable.

People who would never dream of killing an albatross or a whale shark are prepared to let others do so on their behalf, so that they may eat whatever fish they fancy. People who could not bring themselves to gut a chicken are happy to commission the disposal of entire ecosystems.

The act of not seeing is sanctioned and normalised, while attempts to explain the consequences are treated as abnormal and impertinent. On the Guardian’s website you can read about the global collapse of tuna populations – then, in a recipe published the following day, learn how to prepare a tuna salad, without a word about the implications.

Such cultural norms, positioning us as consumers first and moral beings either second or not at all, grant the disposal of the living planet its social licence. They allow us to compartmentalise, to be conscious of the issues when there is little that we can do about them, and to forget them at the moment when we have the capacity to act (or to refrain from acting). This is the safe space we establish for consumerism.

The costs cannot be computed in financial terms. There is no price that can capture the awe aroused by a whale shark, the deep being of an elephant herd, the way in which your heart soars with the albatross as it mounts a column of air, the gorilla’s fathomless gaze. The albatross hangs around our necks with a weight that defies calculation.

We were here: is this how we choose to be remembered? It is true that we existed: you can see it in the pulse of extinction. Are we to use our gift of life to snuff out other life forms? What will you leave behind, except your contribution to thePacific garbage patch?

fishing boat works amid garbage in Manila Bay, the Phillipines
‘What will you leave behind, except your contribution to the Pacific garbage patch?’ – a fishing boat works amid garbage in Manila Bay, the Phillipines. Photograph: Erik de Castro/Reuters

I believe we can do better, that we can position ourselves as just one participant in a world of wonders, blessed and cursed with higher consciousness, but using that capacity to embed ourselves within its limits.

We cannot wait for governments or schools or the media to deliver a new environmental ethics. Join the groups trying to defend the living planet; learn about the consequences of what you do; demand – from friends, from parents, from yourself – a better way of engaging with the world. By living lightly we enrich our lives.

George Monbiot will answer questions on this issue in a live Guardian Q&A on Friday, from 10-11am, BST. Post questions now (below), or join us on the day. He will answer questions on any aspect of the problem, but is particularly interested in opening a discussion on consumerism and its ethics.

Twitter: @georgemonbiot. A fully linked version of this article can be found

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Britain’s Complicity In Saudi Arabia’s Terror Campaign Against Yemen

Menwith Menace: Britain’s Complicity In Saudi Arabia’s Terror Campaign Against Yemen

The ‘mainstream’ Western media is, almost by definition, the last place to consult for honest reporting of Western crimes. Consider the appalling case of Yemen which is consumed by war and an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.

Since March 2015, a ‘coalition’ of Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, and supported by the US, Britain and France, has been dropping bombs on neighbouring Yemen. The scale of the bombing is indicated in a recent article by Felicity Arbuthnot – in one year, 330,000 homes, 648 mosques, 630 schools and institutes, and 250 health facilities were destroyed or damaged. The stated aim of Saudi Arabia’s devastating assault on Yemen is to reinstate the Yemeni president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and to hold back Houthi rebels who are allied with the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Saudis assert that the Houthis, who control Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, are ‘proxies’ for Iran: always a convenient propaganda claim to elicit Western backing and ‘justify’ intervention.

Philip Hammond, who was UK defence secretary when the Saudi bombing began in 2015, promised:

‘We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.’

The British government has been true to its word; in this respect at least. Campaign Against Arms Trade says that UK sales to Saudi Arabia since the start of the attacks on Yemen include £2.2 billion of aircraft, helicopters and drones, £1.1 billion of missiles, bombs and grenades, and nearly half a million pounds of armoured vehicles and tanks. Just days ago, it was revealed that Britain is now the second biggest dealer of arms in the world. Is there any clearer sign of the corrupt nature of UK foreign policy?

Perhaps there is. Last month, Oxfam reported that in excess of 21 million people in Yemen, out of a total population of around 27 million, are in need of humanitarian aid, more than in any other country. Over 6,000 people have been killed, more than 3 million displaced and more than 14 million are suffering hunger and malnutrition.

Amnesty International reports that British-made cluster bombs have been used in deadly attacks on civilians. Children are among those who have been killed and maimed. The human rights organisationsays that the UK should stop all arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Amnesty has also called for Saudi Arabia to be dropped from the United Nations Human Rights Council because of ‘gross and systematic violations of human rights’, both at home and abroad.


‘They Call It Natural Death. But It’s Not.’

In a two-part piece for BBC Newsnight last year, Gabriel Gatehouse commendably reported from Yemen on the plight of civilians there, including the Saudi targeting of civilian infrastructure. The BBC journalist also alluded to ‘the British dimension’ in which the Saudi ‘coalition’s efforts are supported by Britain and the United States’, with British-supplied weaponry being used by the Saudis. Although a welcome deviation from the norm, his criticism of UK foreign policy was muted and not subsequently maintained by BBC News, as far as we could see (with limited recent exceptions as we will discuss later).

Peter Oborne is a rare example of a Western journalist reporting from Yemen, also pointing unequivocally to British complicity in the country’s nightmare. Together with his colleague Nawal Al-Maghafi, Oborne notes in a recent article that:

‘We discovered indisputable evidence that the coalition, backed by the UK as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, is targeting Yemeni civilians in blatant breach of the rules of war.’

At the same time, Saudi Arabia has imposed a brutal blockade on Yemen preventing vital commodities from getting into the country. One doctor at the Republic teaching hospital in Sanaa told Oborne:

‘We are unable to get medical supplies. Anaesthetics. Medicines for kidneys. There are babies dying in incubators because we can’t get supplies to treat them.’

The doctor estimated that 25 people were dying every day at the Republic hospital because of the blockade. He continued:

‘They call it natural death. But it’s not. If we had the medicines they wouldn’t be dead.

‘I consider them killed as if they were killed by an air strike, because if we had the medicines they would still be alive.’

This is shocking enough. But Oborne adds that there is:

‘powerful evidence that the Saudi-led coalition has deliberately targeted hospitals across the country. Four MSF [Médecins Sans Frontières] hospitals had been hit by Saudi air strikes prior to the organisation’s withdrawal from the country, even though MSF were careful to give the Saudi authorities their GPS positions.’

Oborne, who resigned as political commentator from the Telegraph last year, places Western complicity in Yemen’s nightmare at the front and centre of his reporting. He points out that Britain has continued to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and its partners, despite copious evidence of breaches of international humanitarian law presented by human rights organisations.

This is an echo of Britain’s shameful role in arming Indonesia while it crushed tiny independence-seeking East Timor, killing around 200,000 people – about one-third of its population. Noam Chomskydescribed it as a ‘slaughter’ of ‘near-genocidal’ levels. He noted that:

‘By 1998, Britain had become the leading supplier of arms to Indonesia…over the strong protests of Amnesty International, Indonesian dissidents, and Timorese victims. Arms sales are reported to make up at least a fifth of Britain’s exports to Indonesia (estimated at one billion pounds), led by British Aerospace’.

(Noam Chomsky, ‘Rogue States’, Pluto Books, 2000, p. 232)

In the present case of Yemen, the British Foreign Office has repeatedly denied that Saudi Arabia had broken humanitarian law, asserting until a couple of months ago that the FO’s own ‘assessment’ had cleared the Saudis of any wrong-doing. As Oborne notes, however, on July 21 this year, the last day of parliament before the long summer recess:

‘the British government was forced to admit that it had repeatedly misled parliament over the war in Yemen.’

It turns out that no such ‘assessment’ had taken place; a grudging and potentially damaging admission that ministers had clearly hoped to slip out quietly without proper scrutiny. Oborne describes it as ‘a dark moment of official embarrassment.’ You have to dig deep in the BBC News website to find scant mention of this shameful episode.

Moreover, Britain has supported the UN Security Council resolution backing a Saudi blockade, and the UK has also provided the Saudis with intelligence and logistical support.

‘Perhaps most crucially of all, Britain and the United States have provided Saudi Arabia with diplomatic cover. Last year, Britain and the United States helped to block a Dutch initiative at the UN Human Rights Council for an independent investigation into violations of international humanitarian law.’

In a powerful accompanying filmed report on the destruction of Yemen’s capital Sanaa, Oborneconcludes:

‘This city of old Sanaa is as extraordinary, as priceless, as unique as any of the masterpieces of Western civilisation – like Florence or Venice. Just imagine the outcry if bombs were falling on Florence or Venice. But because this is old Sanaa, in forgotten Yemen, nobody cares a damn.’

And least of all Britain’s new Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who callously waved away copious evidence of Saudi breaches of international humanitarian law. The Guardian’s diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour writes of Johnson’s assertion that the Saudis are not ‘in clear breach’ of humanitarian law:

‘His judgment is based largely on a Saudi-led inquiry into eight controversial incidents, including the bombing of hospitals.’

To his credit, Wintour notes that Johnson was ‘defending the credibility of a Saudi-led inquiry exonerating Saudi targeting’. Comment seems superfluous. He then adds Johnson’s own unwittingly self-damning statement:

‘They [the Saudis] have the best insight into their own procedures and will be able to conduct the most thorough and conclusive investigations. It will also allow the coalition forces to work out what went wrong and apply the lessons learned in the best possible way. This is the standard we set ourselves and our allies.’

Indeed, this is the same standard that the world saw with horror last year when the US investigated, and largely exonerated itself, over its dreadful bombing of an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Boris Johnson is sweeping aside compelling evidence of serious breaches of international law in a cynical move to maintain lucrative UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and to protect close strategic ties with a brutal kingdom of state beheaders and torturers. All this belies his carefully-crafted media image as an amiably bumbling and largely harmless P.G. Wodehouse-like character. In reality, he is a dangerous, extreme right-wing politician with too much power. Sadly, even the often admirable Peter Oborne’s judgement went awry on his return from Yemen when he appealed to Johnson to ‘act boldly to reset Riyadh [i.e. Saudi Arabia] relations’:

‘Boris Johnson has the potential to be one of the great British foreign secretaries of the modern era.’

Sadly, this line by Oborne does not appear to be satire.

Meanwhile, on September 5, the foreign office minister, Tobias Ellwood, addressed the Commons after being requested to do so by the Speaker, John Bercow, because of previously misleading statements on Yemen given by ministers to parliament. Wintour claims in his Guardian report that Ellwood ‘apologised’ for these ‘inaccurate answers’. But the quoted wording is far from a proper apology. Indeed, the foreign minister obfuscated further in support of Saudi Arabia. Ellwood:

‘said it was not for the UK government to conclude whether individual bombing incidents by the Saudis represented breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL), but instead to “take an overall view of the approach and attitude by Saudi Arabia to international humanitarian law”.’

In effect, the UK would continue to rely on Saudi Arabia’s assessments on whether the latter had breached international humanitarian law. Worse, while Yemenis continued to die under US/UK-supported bombing, Ellwood went on to support the Saudis:

‘Defending the Saudi response to criticisms of its campaign, Ellwood said: “It was new territory for Saudi Arabia and a conservative nation was not used to such exposure.”‘

This was sophistry of the worst order. ‘New territory’ entails a murderous bombing campaign and a crippling blockade. And describing Saudi Arabia – a brutal and repressive regime which ranks amongst the world’s worst offenders of human rights – as merely ‘a conservative nation’, speaks volumes about the mental and ethical contortions required to defend British foreign policy.

But there is even more to say about the UK’s shameful complicity in Yemen’s destruction. And, from what we have seen so far, it has had zero coverage in the ‘mainstream’ media.


Media Silence Over UK Role In ‘Targeted Killing’

Last week, the online investigative journal The Intercept published an in-depth piece on revelations about spying based on top-secret documents provided to them by Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency whistle-blower. Titled ‘Inside Menwith Hill. The NSA’s British Base at the Heart of U.S. Targeted Killing’, the article was written by Ryan Gallagher, a UK-based journalist specialising in government surveillance, technology and civil liberties.

The RAF Menwith Hill base lies a few miles from Harrogate in North Yorkshire and is the largest electronic monitoring station in the world. As Gallagher notes: ‘it is a vital part of the NSA’s sprawling global surveillance network’. Consequently, its activities are shrouded in secrecy, despite the best efforts of human rights groups and a few British politicians demanding greater transparency. These efforts have been continually rebuffed by the UK government ‘citing a longstanding policy not to discuss matters related to national security.’

Now, however, the NSA files released by Snowden:

‘reveal for the first time how the NSA has used the British base to aid “a significant number of capture-kill operations” across the Middle East and North Africa, fueled by powerful eavesdropping technology that can harvest data from more than 300 million emails and phone calls a day.’

Over the past decade, advanced surveillance programmes at Menwith Hill have located ‘suspected terrorists accessing the internet in remote parts of the world’ and ‘provided support for conventional British and American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.’

But, adds Gallagher, ‘they have also aided covert missions in countries where the U.S. has not declared war’, including Yemen. These disclosures ‘raise new questions about the extent of British complicity in U.S. drone strikes and other so-called targeted killing missions, which may in some cases have violated international laws or constituted war crimes.’

Kat Craig, legal director of London-based human rights group Reprieve, told Gallagher that Snowden’s revelations are:

‘yet another example of the unacceptable level of secrecy that surrounds U.K. involvement in the U.S. “targeted killing” program. It is now imperative that the prime minister comes clean about U.K. involvement in targeted killing’.

Gallagher describes a number of surveillance programmes, including one called GHOSTWOLF used to monitor ‘terrorist’ activity in internet cafes in the Middle East. This information is being used to ‘capture or eliminate key nodes in terrorist networks’.

As Gallagher observes:

‘GHOSTWOLF ties Menwith Hill to lethal operations in Yemen, providing the first documentary evidence that directly implicates the U.K. in covert actions in the country.

‘Menwith Hill’s previously undisclosed role aiding the so-called targeted killing of terror suspects highlights the extent of the British government’s apparent complicity in controversial U.S. attacks — and raises questions about the legality of the secret operations carried out from the base.’

The British government has consistently asserted that operations at Menwith ‘have always been, and continue to be’ carried out with its ‘knowledge and consent.’ In the context of the commission of war crimes, this is a damning admission.

Gallagher expands:

‘For several years, British human rights campaigners and lawmakers have been pressuring the government to provide information about whether it has had any role aiding U.S. targeted killing operations, yet they have been met with silence. In particular, there has been an attempt to establish whether the U.K. has aided U.S. drone bombings outside of declared war zones — in countries including Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia — which have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and are in some cases considered by United Nations officials to possibly constitute war crimes and violations of international law.’

These new, deeply damaging revelations by Snowden appear to have been completely blanked by the ‘mainstream’ media. Searches of the Lexis-Nexis newspaper database yield zero hits on Snowden’s Menwith revelations, and there appears to have been nothing published on the BBC News website. Indeed, this dearth of coverage by UK media, including BBC News, had been anticipated by US investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald, who previously worked with Snowden.

Not unusually, one has to go to media such as RT or PressTV to find any coverage; another reason why these outlets are so often bitterly denigrated as ‘propaganda’ operations by corporate journalists who haven’t done their job of holding Western power to account.


The Post-Brexit, $2 Trillion Saudi Carrot

On September 7, BBC Newsnight revealed how a draft report by MPs on the influential committee on arms export control was being watered down to remove the call for a suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia (clip available here). A statement in the draft report had said:

‘The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia.’

But a number of ‘pro-defence’ MPs had then tabled more than 130 amendments, including a move to remove the call to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Guardian noted cautiously that this attempt:

‘underlines the sensitivity of the issue of UK-Saudi relations at Westminster, the importance of the Gulf to the UK defence industry and the concern that Britain, for a variety of security reasons, is too ready to take Saudi assurances about how it is conducting a difficult civil war in Yemen.’

That is putting it all too mildly; a point to which we return below.

The following evening (September 8), Tory MP Crispin Blunt refused to respond when pressed by Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark about reportedly walking out of the committee meeting in order to stall a vote. It appears that Blunt had feared his amendments were about to be rejected, and by walking out of the meeting the quorum requirement would fail and no valid vote could take place.

But the sickness of government priorities at the intersection of foreign policy and economic imperatives was really highlighted when the Saudi foreign minister declared last week that it was ‘in Britain’s interest’ to continue supporting Saudi Arabia in its murderous assault on Yemen. Or, as the neocon Telegraph defence editor Con Coughlin put it:

‘to continue supporting the Saudis in the battle to prevent Yemen falling into the hands of Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.’

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, then dangled a carrot in front of British ministers’ noses.

‘Apart from maintaining traditional links on military and intelligence cooperation, Mr Jubeir also said post-Brexit Britain could look forward to forging new trade links with the kingdom as Saudi Arabia embarks on its ambitious plan to restructure its economy under a plan called Saudi Vision 2030. “We are looking at more than $2 trillion worth of investment opportunities over the next decade, and this will take the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Britain to an entirely new level post-Brexit.”‘

Sometimes, you have to go to the extreme right-wing press to have the crude realpolitik spelled out so clearly.

Saudi pressure is considerable and difficult to resist. In June, it was reported that even the UNsuccumbed when it removed Saudi Arabia from a blacklist of countries responsible for child casualties in conflicts around the globe. Saudi Arabia had been placed on the list for killing and maiming childrenin Yemen bombing attacks. The country, along with other Arab and Muslim countries, had reportedlythreatened to withdraw funding from vital UN humanitarian programmes. One anonymous diplomatspoke of ‘bullying, threats, pressure’, and summed it up as ‘real blackmail’.

The reports on Yemen cited in this media alert from the Guardian and BBC News show the permissible limits of occasional – very occasional – challenges to state power. What is routinely missing, and what would be prominent in coverage of British foreign policy in honest news media, has never been better highlighted than by historian Mark Curtis. For many years, he has extensively analysed formerly secret government records detailing internal discussions about state policies and priorities. In his book, ‘Web of Deceit’, which lays out ‘Britain’s real role in the world’, Curtis concludes that the primary function of the British state:

‘virtually its raison d’être for several centuries – is to aid British companies in getting their hands on other countries’ resources.’

(Mark Curtis, ‘Web of Deceit’, 2003, Vintage, p. 210)

To pursue such state policies means initiating war, military interventions, threats, bullying, and other aggressive actions, usually in support of the United States and/or Nato. This global imperialism is dressed up in propaganda garb as ‘countering terrorism’, ‘improving world security’, ‘working with our allies’ and similar pieties propagated by the ‘mainstream’ media. Curtis lays particular responsibility for such propaganda at the door of the ‘liberal’ media, notably the Guardian and BBC News:

‘The liberal intelligentsia in Britain is in my view guilty of helping to weave a collective web of deceit…. To read many mainstream commentators’ writings on Britain’s role in the world is to enter a surreal, Kafkaesque world where the reality is often the direct opposite of what is contended and where the startling assumptions are frighteningly supportive of state power.’

(Ibid., p. 4)

This ‘surreal, Kafkaesque world’ – in which Britain shares responsibility for appalling violence, while proclaiming its supposed desire for ‘peace’ and ‘security’ – will continue for as long as we do not have an honest media that seriously and consistently challenges brutal state power.


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Why Justin Trudeau is a menace

Canadians need to read this expose of Trudeau II

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Canadian conceit about the American political system

I always laugh when Cdns opine seriously about how sad it is that the Americans only have two political parties. Essentially we have the same two parties here: the Liberals and the Conservatives. Oh sure we have the NDP who desperately crave to be the liberals and the Greens who the general public refuse to elect because they prefer their cars to the environment but the Libs and Cons are the happy face of the oligarchy that owns us all just as the Dems and Repubs do in the Excited states.

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