colonel cassad for tuesday nov 24

Exodus from Karabakh through the eyes of Patrick Lancaster
Colonel Cassad, Nov 24, 20:58

A series of stories by military commentator Patrick Lancaster from Karabakh on the theme of the withdrawal of Armenians from the territories that are transferred to Azerbaijan.

Destruction of your own business in Kelbajar.

A cemetery near Martuni destroyed during the hostilities.

Exodus from Karvachar.

Armenians ask Russian peacekeepers to protect Dadivank monastery.

Armenian soldiers leave the base in Kelbajar.
The Armenians must leave Kelbajar by the end of November.

Plus Azerbaijani video of Shushi from the air.

Departure for permanent residence in Karabakh from Syria
Colonel Cassad, Nov 24, 11:25 am

Kurds scribble boldly about Turkey’s plans to transport ethnic Turkmens from Syria to Karabakh. Afrinpost learned from its sources that the Turkish occupation authorities recently opened two offices in the center of the occupied Kurdish region of Afrin in northern Syria for families wishing to register their names in preparation for moving to the Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh region, with a view to a final settlement on territories occupied by the Azerbaijani army after the battles with the Armenian army. Sources confirmed that the first office is located at People Credit Bank in the old Afrin district, which Turkish intelligence has converted into its headquarters, and the second office is located in the former “Ronahi Press” site located near Al Shifa in the New Afrin district, which is also the center of Turkish intelligence activities. Sources indicated that two offices have already seen the turnout of Turkmen families, especially from the province of Homs, and data on families is being collected in preparation for their transfer to the Karabakh region, most of which has been occupied by the Azerbaijani army after three weeks of fighting with the Armenian army. Sources indicated that the so-called “Abu Tarvat,” a Turkish intelligence officer from the Azaz countryside, is in charge of the first office, and a second man named “Khiru,” a Turkmen from a village in the Rai district, as they promote the plan in cooperation with Islamic militias, which contain armed Turkmen in their ranks. So far, the Kurds have not provided actual data, but I would not be surprised if the Turks have such plans, given that Ankara considers such a contingent of citizens as an instrument of its foreign policy in relations with Syria, Greece, Libya.

Police attack on a migrant camp in Paris
Colonel Cassad, Nov 24, 12:50 pm

Punishers of Macron’s totalitarian regime attacked the camp of peaceful migrants in Paris, which is tolerantly located in the Saint-Denis area. The protesters, in the best democratic traditions of Ukraine, set up a tent camp, taking warm clothes and good mood with them. But having lost all popular support, Macron decided to arrange the dispersal of the Parisian tent camp.

As a result of these terrible events, Tikhanovskaya called on the French police to be declared a terrorist organization and to impose powerful sanctions against the leadership of the French Ministry of Internal Affairs. France will be a free country!

south front for tuesday nov 24

Saudi Arabia Receives Dangerous Gifts From Houthi-Iranian Alliance
South Front, Nov 24 2020

The Yemeni Houthis have fired their new cruise missile, the Quds-2, at a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station in the kingdom’s city of Jeddah, the group’s media news wing announced early on Nov 23. A spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Houthi-led government, Yahya Sarea, said foreign companies and residents in Saudi Arabia should stay away from the military and oil infrastructure of Saudi Arabia as “operations will continue”. He emphasized that the missile precisely hit its target causing notable damage. The Houthis claim that the Quds-2 is a new generation “winged missile” produced by their Missile Forces. As always, the missile was likely assembled thanks to technical assistance from Iran or Iranian-supplied components. That facility is located southeast of Jeddah’s King Abd’ul-Aziz International Airport. Over the past years, the Houthis have repeatedly pounded the military section of the airport with missiles and drones. Therefore, it was just the question of time, when the nearby oil infrastructure would be hit. At the same time, the Saudi side remains silent regarding the impact of the Houthi missile strike. This is an ordinary posture of Saudi Arabia towards Houthi missile and drone strikes. The Kingdom censors social media, denies any damage and claims that all targets were intercepted, if it appears possible and that no visual evidence of destruction are leaked immediately. Also, the main oil production and export facilities of Aramco are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, more than 1000km across the country from Jeddah. Therefore, Riyadh likely believes that it can silence another setback in the ongoing war with the Yemeni movement.

In Sep 2019, when the Houthis, with probable help from Iran, put out of service almost a half of Saudi oil infrastructure by hitting targets in Abqaiq and Khurais, the Kingdom was vowing a powerful response and the full destruction of Houthi missile and drone capabilities. However, a year later, the situation on the ground in Yemen for Saudi-backed forces became even worse and the widely-promoted ‘great Saudi victory’ over the Houthis turned into ashes. In recent months, Saudi-led forces lost the battle for the Yemeni province of Bayda, and now they seem to be losing the battle for Marib. Recently they retreated from the key Maas Base and the route for the potential Houthi advance on the provincial capital is almost open. The denial of the facts on the ground and the air dominance of the Kingdom did not help it to achieve a victory in the war. In turn, it’s the Houthis who have put themselves in the position that allowed them to turn the tide of the conflict. With the current trend in the Yemeni conflict, Saudi Arabia will apparently have to pay an even bigger price for its intervention in the Arab country.

Saudi Arabia Admits That Houthi Missile Struck Its Oil Facility On Red Sea Coast
South Front, Nov 24 2020

Saudi Arabia has finally admitted that a missile launched by Yemen’s Houthis struck its oil facility located on the Red Sea coast, near the city of Jeddah. According to reports, the missile strike on Saudi Aramco oil facility caused an explosion and a fire in a fuel tank. The strike occurred on November 23, just after the kingdom hosted a virtual summit of G20 nations, and more than a year after a large–scale missile and drone strike of major Aramco sites that caused turmoil on global oil markets.

Military Situation In Nagorno-Karabakh
South Front, Nov 24 2020

A brief overview of the recent developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh region:

  • On Nov 23, a Russian peacekeeper, 4 employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic were wounded and an Azerbaijani soldier was killed in a mine explosion near Mataghis;
  • On Nov 23, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visited the city of Agdam;
  • On Nov 24, Russian engineering units continue their work on engineering reconnaissance and mine clearance in the areas of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Karabakh;
  • On Nov 25, the district of Kalbajar is expected to be transfered to Azerbaijan.

Russian Peacekeepers Clear Out Mines, As Azerbaijan’s President Visits “Liberated Aghdam District”
South Front, Nov 24 2020

In Armenia, on Nov 24, ex-Constitutional Court judge Kim Balayan said that Pashinyan had violated the Constitution by signing the Karabakh War peace deal with Azerbaijan. According to him, Article 116 of the Constitution clearly establishes which issues should be regulated by international agreements. Pashinyan could have signed an agreement on a humanitarian truce, but the statement on Nov 9 is fundamentally different. Balayan’s claims were also addressed to Prosecutor General Artur Davtyan and the head of the Special Investigation Service Sasun Khachatryan, who have not yet initiated a criminal case on the fact of overthrowing the constitutional order. Balayan decided to hold a hunger strike with until his demands are met. Otherwise, he will “join the 5k soldiers who gave their lives.” Relatives of the missing and captured people met with Pashinyan, who said:

I want to apologize to all of you for the fact that so far our state agencies have not been able to answer your questions. There are objective and subjective reasons for this. These meetings will continue, and I shall meet with all relatives.

Nikol Pashinyan still refuses to resign, and protests are on-going in Armenia. As for the Russian peacekeeping contingent, it launched an operation South of Stepanakert. Russian military personnel continue to carry out tasks in the regions of Nagorno-Karabakh, where fierce fighting has recently taken place. Arrived specialists of engineering and sapper divisions began work in the dangerous zone of the stopped military operations. On Nov 23, the center for humanitarian demining from the center (interdepartmental, humanitarian response) conducted an engineering survey of the area on the southern outskirts of Stepanakert. In total, 1 hectare of territory was surveyed, 7 artillery shells, 2 RPG shots and one powder charge were found. So far, 23 observation posts have been set up in the Sothern and Northern zones of responsibility of Karabakh. Since Nov 14, over 11k Armenian refugees have returned. Between Nov 21-22 alone, 2,334 refugees returned from Armenia. The An-124, Il-76 and Tu-154 aircraft of the Military Transport Aviation of the Aerospace Forces of Russia from the Chkalovsky airfield near Moscow delivered specialists, equipment and hardware, as well as service dogs of the International Mine Action Centre of the Russian Ministry of Defense to perform tasks in the zone of the peacekeeping operation in Nagorno-Karabakh. More than 100 servicemen of the centre, 13 pieces of military and special equipment, including multifunctional robotic demining complexes Uran 6, armored personnel carriers and armored vehicles were delivered to the airfields of the Yerevan city. The demining operations are on-going, one of the stages of work on the survey of the area for the presence of explosive objects is the study of the positions on which stationary posts will be built to serve the Russian peacekeepers. The servicemen participating in demining are equipped in modern protective suits of a sapper and are armed with modern means of searching for explosive objects: mine detectors IMP-S2 and searchers INVU-3M. Separately, a video was released showing the last battle of Shusha, when Azerbaijan entirely turned the tide of the war. The video is 18+ and as an age-restricted video cannot be embedded, it can be freely seen on YouTube. Aliyev visited the region of Aghdam, which was surrendered to Azerbaijan on Nov 20, and Azeri soldiers entered the area. He says in the video:

Look at the enemy’s line of defense! The enemy had several lines of defense all the way to the city of Aghdam. Look at that! Now we are driving into the liberated lands. The destination is the city of Aghdam. We have liberated the city of Aghdam and the occupied lands of Aghdam district without firing a single shot. We have defeated the enemy on the battlefield and forced them to withdraw from Aghdam district. Look, here is another line of defense! On the right are the houses of Azerbaijani citizens destroyed by the enemy. Let the whole world see what the savage enemy has done to our villages, what savages we were facing, what savages we have defeated! The whole world should see this! There is not a single safe building here! Everything is destroyed! They have destroyed our houses and villages. They exploited our lands. The enemy will be held accountable for all the war crimes. We will also invite journalists to Aghdam, including foreign journalists and representatives of the diplomatic corps. Let them come and see!

Aliyev continues presenting it as a great victory, even though Azerbaijan simply got what it was supposed to get under the previous Minsk agreements, and little more.

Armenian Ombudsman Investigates Azerbaijani War Crimes, Baku Plays Victim
South Front, Nov 24 2020

On Nov 22, the Office of the Ombudsman of Armenia Arman Tatoyan received a signal that a few days prior during the recent war the Azeri military beheaded an Armenian soldier. He urgently initiated an investigation into this report and published the results. In the course of the commenced production, it turned out that on Oct 16 at about 1 pm a serviceman of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces called the brother of the Armenian soldier and said that the latter was with them, they beheaded him and intend to post the corresponding photo on the Internet. Subsequently, a few hours later, the brother of the killed Armenian soldier found the deceased’s photo published on his page on the social network. Tatoyan said:

We are convinced that it was the servicemen of the Azerbaijani army who posted the picture of the Armenian soldier on his page on the social network. The brother of the deceased spoke twice on the phone with the Azerbaijani military, who mocked him, tried to humiliate him in every possible way, spoke the language of enmity and hatred. human rights brother of the deceased Armenian soldier, calls were made from the phone number of the deceased. These are cruel and barbaric, openly terrorist methods. We also recorded other cases of torture and barbarism by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces, and work in this direction continues. All data are duly documented and will be submitted to the relevant international bodies. The perpetrators of such crimes must inevitably be punished to the fullest extent of international criminal law. We possess videos and photographs demonstrating the cruel, inhuman treatment of Armenian prisoners of war by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. These show how the Azerbaijani military humiliate people, and then kill them with special cynicism and cruelty. The speech of the representatives of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces is filled with hatred of the Armenians. These videos were replicated on the Internet by Azerbaijani sources. Children and elderly people could see them. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry issued a denial, stating that the department had nothing to do with these videos. After that, these records began to be deleted from Azerbaijani sources. However, we recorded all sources in a timely manner. We have established the exact place and hour of the crimes committed by the Azerbaijani military. Video recordings and photographs are already considered incontrovertible legal evidence of a war crime. These will be sent with the necessary description to international structures.

Separately, to prove that the Armenian side was also cruel with the Azerbaijani soldiers, a video was released purportedly showing an Azerbaijani soldier being tortured.

The video shows a bloodied Azerbaijani soldier being slapped by medical personnel so as not to black out. The part of the video that’s shown makes it appear as if he is being treated roughly. The entire video, however, is a report by Anna News in which it is shown how the Azerbaijani soldier is provided with medical aid.

Purely due to coincidence, of course, Anna News is now entirely banned for access from Azerbaijan soil.

Lessons Learned From Second Nagorno-Karabakh War
Thurisaz Solutions, South Front, Nov 23 2020

On Nov 10 2020, the Republic of Armenia signed a ceasefire with Azerbaijan, agreeing to hand over nearly a fifth of the territory within its sphere of influence prior to the signing. While maintaining the Lachin corridor, as well as a passageway to Stepanakart, the former capital of the self proclaimed Artsakh Republic; the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, was forced to accept a peace agreement returning all surrounding territories to Azeribaijani control, as well as permitting Russian Peacekeepers to set up observation posts throughout the Lachin corridor and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Leading up to this historic agreement was a bloody, and largely one-sided conflict in which Azerbaijan proved once and for all that a new generation of warfare has arrived

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh as well as the surrounding territories have been fiercely contested between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Initially the undisputed territory of Azerbaijan, the regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh have been under the de-facto control of the Artsakh Republic, an autonomous region within the Armenian sphere of influence, since the brutal First Nagorno-Karabakh War ended in 1994. During this war more than 700k Azerbaijani civilians were displaced from the region, causing enormous friction in the years following the OSCE-brokered ceasefire, as they were not permitted to return to their homes after the territorial handover took place. While the territory surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh has remained de-jure Azerbaijani, internationally recognized to be so, the negotiations regarding their return remained fruitless for the 26 years they had been underway.

Baku, growing increasingly dissatisfied with this lack of progress, began to consider military options during the mid-2010s. Border skirmishes became a common occurrence, with hundreds of Azerbaijani and Armenian troops being killed and wounded in the years before the 2020 conflict. In 2016, a large scale flare-up in the fighting brought tensions to a fever-pitch, with more than 100 combatants being killed. This also served as confirmation for the Azeri military that they were truly a match for Armenia. While undesirably large casualties were suffered, the advance had been extremely rapid; in some cases with Armenian positions being overrun in a matter of hours from the beginning of operations. Taking note of these results, Azerbaijan’s government began to remedy them in the form of further military modernization and expansion. Large deals between Israel and Turkey provided Baku with loitering munitions such as the IAI Harop, developed by Israel, and the Bayraktar 2 reconnaissance drone, built by Turkey. The Azerbaijani military also began a general restructuring of their tactics, aiming for a truly multi-domain capability rather than the two-dimensional operational thinking common amongst second-rate powers. In order to make this happen, Baku increased their defense budget by more than 60% between 2016 and 2020.

Following further skirmishes in 2017 and 2018, the gloves finally came off on Sep 27 2020. Initial skirmishes along the line of contact led to the declaration of martial law in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the beginning stages of mobilization by the Armenian Military. The following day, Azerbaijan began its own mobilization efforts. Much to the consternation of the UN and the International Community at large, Azerbaijan did not relent and continued its offensive actions past the first skirmishes. Following initial moderately successful counter-attacks by Armenia in an effort to retake lost positions, the lines became relatively static for the following days despite intense clashes between the two forces. As early as the beginning of October, the Armenian lines began to crack. Intense usage of long-range artillery with observation drones in a forward observer role started to take their effect on Armenian manpower and morale. Azerbaijani forces were able to advance in both the Northern and Southern sectors of fighting throughout the beginning of the month; and following incremental Azerbaijani advances, on Oct 10 Russia brokered an initial Ceasefire between the two sides. However, within a matter of hours this ceasefire fell apart and hostilities resumed across the entire front.

Throughout mid-October the advantage shifted further and further towards Azerbaijan. The Republic of Artsakh began losing more and more territory, and the Armenian aligned military forces continued losing more and more men and equipment. It was at this point where Azerbaijan began exerting more operational dominance on the battlefield. By Oct 19, Azerbaijani forces had occupied a significant portion of southern Artsakh, and were successfully holding their gains in the north as well. Hundreds, if not thousands of Armenians had been killed by this point, and hundreds of trucks, tanks, and other pieces of military equipment had been destroyed by Azerbaijani drones and artillery. Following yet another unsuccessful Russia-brokered ceasefire, Azerbaijani offensives resumed in the South. Armenian and Artsakh forces were forced into a total retreat, being continuously targeted by unseen drones, loitering munitions, and shelling.

At this point the air defenses within Nagorno-Karabakh had been utterly dismantled by effective Azerbaijani use of air assets, such as the IAI Harop that Baku had previously acquired. A notable image encapsulates the conflict by showing the moment before a Harop impacts into an S-300PS Transporter Erector Launcher. By the beginning of November, the entire Artsakh-Iranian border had been occupied by Azerbaijani forces, and the Armenian aligned forces were on a distinct strategic backfoot. With morale at an all time high for Azerbaijan, their forces pivoted to the Northwest to begin an offensive targeting Stepanakart, the capital of The Republic of Artsakh. Within a matter of days, large scale breakthroughs had been made, as the shattered remnants of the Armenian aligned forces hastily attempted to halt the Azerbaijani advance. However, the Armenian forces were no longer capable of any significant impact on the battlefield, and the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, was forced to the negotiating table after the fall of Shusha, the second largest city in Nagorno Karabakh, and the last stronghold before Stepanakart.

It is essential to take lessons from this war, due to a number of key properties it displayed. The usage of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) is impossible for any nation not to take note of. Unlike in prior conflicts, aerial capabilities are no longer exclusive to large powers, and can be employed to enormous effect by any military regardless of size or funding. There is no longer an ability to fight a nation state without considering the aerial dimension of the conflict, and air defense capabilities must be high up on the priority list of any military planner. Had the Armenian air defenses been competent and extensive, the war may have turned out significantly differently. The employment of stand-off loitering munitions also holds with it enormous consequences for future conflicts. Relatively inexpensive precision guided munitions are proliferating massively, and as a result any concentrated military formation or emplacement is vulnerable from the air.

While in the past it may have sufficed to entrench military hardware to protect it, modern warfare now dictates that such two-dimensional thinking is a recipe for disaster. Even small, lightly-funded militaries are now capable of precision stand-off strikes without putting their forces at risk. The most important effect of these two new factors is that wars are likely to be more relegated to stand-off engagements, rather than troop-on-troop kinetic fights. If it is possible to dismantle a military without ever putting a soldier in harm’s way, a commander will undoubtedly choose that option. It is likely there will be a shift from typical “troop” movements towards an initial battle for aerial dominance, and an attempt to attrit (sic – RB) enemy air defenses and destroy enemy formations as quickly as possible with cheap stand-off munitions, followed by what is most aptly characterized as “mopping up” by ground formations.

While ground formations are by no means useless, their role has undergone a total change. In a conventional conflict, they no longer are most effective in their offensive capability and ability to destroy the enemy, but rather are now most useful solely to hold off an enemy ground force from being able to deny the use of a military’s aerial assets, and to secure territory following the dismantling of a nation’s military from the air. It is blindingly clear that as soon as Azerbaijani forces were capable of effectively utilizing the air to project power and destroy Armenian aligned formations, the war was as good as won. Nikol Pashinyan had in fact been warned of this eventuality by the fourth day of the conflict, however he had failed to react accordingly. Instead of ensuring a successful and timely mobilization of the nation, he instead issued orders to halt replacements to the front, and opted to send only volunteers to the front lines. Acquisition of new, effective Short Range Air Defense (SHORAD) systems such as the Tor-M2KM were also neglected, and instead older 9K33 “Osa” Short Range Air Defense systems were procured.

While simple procurement and mobilization policies would likely not alone have resulted in a victory for Armenia, it would undoubtedly have made the conflict much more difficult for the Azerbaijani military, and a more favorable peace agreement could have been achieved. When one opts to ignore the reality of the modern battlefield in favor of political fantasy as Pashinyan has done, good men die. The Armenian military was not equipped with the necessary tools to wage a modern war, and the result was a crushing defeat, with thousands of unnecessary casualties. If any military seeks to win conflicts in the modern age, it must take these lessons from Nagorno-Karabkh, lest they suffer the same fate.

French police demolish protest camp, after 450 migrants pitch their tents in center of Paris
South Front, Nov 23 2020

Place de la Republique, Nov 23 2020. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

Police in Paris have cleared out a temporary migrant camp set up in the middle of the French capital, clashing with pro-migrant protesters. The demonstrators say the migrants set up the camp to demand accommodation. Rows of identical tents sprung up on the Place de la République in central Paris on Monday. The camp was organized by Utopia56, a migrant advocacy group, who say that the 450 or so migrants in the encampment were left homeless when police cleared 2,000 migrants from a shanty town in the suburb of Saint-Denis last week.

Riot police soon arrived on the scene and started dismantling the pop-up camp.

The sweep didn’t go completely smoothly. Those who refused to leave were muscled out by the riot cops, while pro-migrant protesters who came between the police and the tents were met with batons and shields. Actu reported that some members of the Council of Paris were present, and tried to stop the clearout.

Utopia56 has demanded that the French government provide “1k immediate accommodation places” for homeless migrants, and called on the state to set up a “permanent reception system” to house more entering the country. The total number of illegal migrants living in Paris is unknown. A migrant rights group last year estimated that 2k were sleeping on the streets of the French capital, while a 2018 government report claimed that between 150k and 400k were living either homeless or in accommodation in the suburban region of Seine-Saint-Denis alone.

France To Sacrifice Its Security Amid Growing Terrorist Threat
South Front, Nov 23 2020

Widespread protests are taking place in numerous world regions. The countries in Central and Latin America, such as Peru, Guatemala, Chile, and Brazil, face mass demonstrations against existing political regimes. Armenian defeat in the Nagorno-Karabakh region resulted in violence in Yerevan. A wave of protests came in Georgia after the parliamentary elections. The protests do not subside in the European region. The situation in Belarus remains tense after the presidential elections in Aug 2020. The largest protests over the past decades took place in Poland after the introduction of a strict abortion ban. Violent demonstrations and clashes with police are reported in Germany, amid the introduction of new restrictive measures against the COVID pandemic. The entrepreneurs go out on the streets of Spain, Ukraine, Italy, England, where the demonstrations often lead to clashes with law enforcement officers. British police officers are detaining participants of protests against the government’s quarantine measures in Liverpool:

Police actively used water cannons to disperse protesters in Berlin:

Situation remains unstable in France, where, since mid-September, the “yellow jackets” and trade unions protested against job cuts in large employer companies. Mass protests once again flare up in Paris and other big cities. Surprisingly, they are not related to restrictive measures or the economic consequences of the pandemic. This time, the streets are flooded with those who disagreed with the introduction of a new draft law “On global security.” The new law prohibits the distribution on social networks and in the media of any images or videos of law enforcement officers at the time they perform their duties, according to which they can be identified. The purpose of the law project is to protect police officers from threats of persecution by Islamists, radical activists, criminals etc. Article 24 banning filming of law enforcement officials was approved by a large majority on Nov 20 in the first reading by the French National Assembly. This law project provides for a fine of €45k and a year in prison. The day after the adoption at first reading by the Assembly of a text penalizing the malicious dissemination of images of the police officers, demonstrations took place in the center of Paris, this Saturday, Nov 21. Under the knockdown, about 1k people attended the first protests in Paris, but even such a small rally turned into clashes with the police, who were forced to use water cannons and tear gas. Similar demonstrations were held in other cities: Toulouse, Bordeaux, Rennes, Lille. During the protests on Nov 22, at least 23 participants were arrested. Some people, including police officers, were injured. At the same time, some videos demonstrate police support for the protesters. The offiers take off their helmets and show their faces.

The demonstrators are unambiguous about the consequences of the adoption of such a law. The provisions of the draft law threaten the free information of the population and the freedom of press. Journalists do not support this law project because it prevents them from freely reporting on protests or other events where the police are involved. Discontent with journalists in France turned into an acute phase after several journalists were detained at a demonstration on Tuesday, one of them was detained for 12 hours.

The reaction of the Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanen, was not long in coming. The next day, he stated that media personnel must be accredited for each manifestation in order to be able to freely cover the event on the spot. Later, he said that anyone can film and take photos without an accreditation, only the publication of videos and photos of law enforcement officers with captions calling for violence and hatred will be punished. On Saturday, he wrote on his Twitter:

It is in no way intended to accredit or authorize a journalist to cover an event: each journalist is obviously free to do so or not.

As journalists complain about the threat to the principle of freedom of speech, then most of the protesters fear an increase in arbitrariness of law enforcement officials. At the same time, the threat of terrorist acts is growing, number of murders is increasing in the country, gangs and entire diasporas have got out of the control of law enforcement agencies. This was confirmed by the fierce clashes between the Chechen and Arab diasporas in the summer of 2020.

However, the very population of France is likely not to notice the existing threats and continues to persistently promote the neoliberal agenda, while sacrificing their own defenders. Already in the summer, after the Black Lives Matter movement began in the US, France rushed to take action to prevent any kind of racism and sacrificed the safety of its own police officers. French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said that a racist had no right to wear the uniform of a policeman or gendarme. The minister will not allow discrimination in the ranks of the law enforcement officers, any case will result in suspension from service, investigation and punishment. Policemen and gendarmes were prohibited from performing actions that are potentially life-threatening: no strangulation, pressure on the neck or the back of the head. The police officer, betrayed by her own leadership, managed to bring Castaner to the resignation.

Also today, liberal-minded activists do not think about ensuring the safety of police officers, who are increasingly risking their lives to protect citizens. The population unreasonably fears police brutality more than, for example, the growing terrorist threat. An illustrative example for French citizens could be the Belorussian opposition, who deliberately spreads personal information of the law enforcement officers to expose them and their families to the prosecution. Apparently, such a cruelty and impunity represent the unmitigated good of Western model for opposition activists. The ensuing discussion in the French political establishment confirms the deep contradictions both among the country’s political elites and in society itself. To all appearances, today’s obstacles are just another signal that France is not yet ready to blindly follow a neoliberal, individualistic agenda and remains  to some extent committed to right-wing conservative values.

speaking personally, i’m so tired of your world

Britain’s military has a permanent presence at 145 base sites in 42 countries or territories around the world
Phil Miller, Declassified UK, Nov 24 2020

The size of this global military presence is far larger than previously thought and is likely to mean that the UK has the second largest military network in the world, after the US. It is the first time the true size of this network has been revealed. The UK uses 17 separate military installations in Cyprus as well as 15 in Saudi Arabia and 16 in Oman, the latter both dictatorships with whom the UK has especially close military relations. The UK’s base sites include 60 it manages itself in addition to 85 facilities run by its allies where the UK has a significant presence. These appear to fit the description of what General Mark Carleton-Smith, Britain’s Chief of the General Staff, recently termed as “lily-pads,” sites which the UK has easy access to as and when required.

Declassified has not included in the figures the UK’s small troop contributions to UN peacekeeping missions in South Sudan or the Cyprus buffer zone, nor staffing commitments at NATO administrative sites in Europe or most of its special forces deployments, which are largely unknown. The findings come days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced an extra £16b would be spent on the UK military over the next four years, a 10% increase. The spending announcement was originally meant to be combined with a review of defence strategy, that was being championed by Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings. The results of Whitehall’s “integrated defence review” are now not expected until next year. Indications suggest the review will recommend a traditional British strategy of building more overseas military bases. Last month, former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the UK needs a more permanent presence in the Asia-Pacific region. The current Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, has gone further. In September he announced a £23.8-million investment to expand Britain’s army and navy bases in Oman, to accommodate the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers as well as many tanks. General Carleton-Smith recently said of Asia:

We think there is a market for a more persistent presence from the British Army.

His superior, Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter, spoke more cryptically when he said:

Our posture will be engaged and forward-deployed.

The rise of China is leading many Whitehall planners to believe Britain needs military bases in the Asia-Pacific region to counter Beijing’s power. However, the UK already has military base sites in five countries around China. These include a naval logistics base at Sembawang Wharf in Singapore, where eight British military staff are permanently based. The base provides Britain with a commanding position overlooking the Malacca Strait, the world’s busiest shipping lanes which are a key choke point for vessels sailing from the South China Sea into the Indian Ocean. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has previously told Declassified:

Singapore is a strategically important location for commerce and trade.

Singapore’s most elite police unit is recruited by British soldiers and commanded by UK military veterans. As well as having a naval base on the rim of the South China Sea, the British military has an even more central basing location in Brunei, near the disputed Spratly Islands. The Sultan of Brunei, a dictator who recently proposed the death penalty for homosexuals, pays for British military support in order to stay in power. He also allows the British oil giant Shell to have a major stake in Brunei’s oil and gas fields. The UK has three garrisons in Brunei, at Sittang Camp, Medicina Lines and Tuker Lines, where around half of Britain’s Gurkha soldiers are permanently based. Declassified files show that in 1980, British troops in Brunei were based “on land provided by Shell and in the middle of their headquarters complex.” Special accommodation for British troops is provided through a network of 545 apartments and bungalows in Kuala Belait, near the military bases. Elsewhere in Brunei, 27 British troops are on loan to the Sultan at three locations, including the Muara naval base. Their roles include imagery analysis and sniper instruction.

Declassified has found that the UK also has around 60 personnel spread across Australia. Some 25 of these hold defence attaché roles in the British High Commission in Canberra and at Australian Defence Department sites near the capital, such as the Headquarters Joint Operations Command at Bungendore. The remainder are on exchange to 18 separate Australian military bases, including a warrant officer at Australia’s Electronic Warfare Unit in Cabarlah, Queensland. Four RAF officers are based at the Williamtown airfield in New South Wales, where they are learning to fly the Wedgetail radar plane. Britain’s MOD is also testing its high-altitude Zephyr surveillance drone at an Airbus site in the remote settlement of Wyndham in Western Australia. Declassified understands from a freedom of information response that MOD staff visit the test site but are not based there. Two members of UK Strategic Command, which manages British military operations across the services, and one from Defence Equipment and Support visited Wyndham in Sep 2019. The Zephyr, which is designed to fly in the stratosphere and could be used to surveil China, has crashed twice during testing from Wyndham. Another high-altitude drone, the PHASA-35, is being tested by staff from arms corporation BAE Systems and the UK military’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Woomera, South Australia.

Airbus also operates a ground station for the Skynet 5A military communications satellite on behalf of the MOD at Mawson Lakes in Adelaide. A British naval commander is based in the coastal city, according to a freedom of information response. A further 10 British military personnel are based at unspecified locations in New Zealand. Parliamentary data from 2014 showed their roles included working as navigators on a P-3K Orion aircraft, which can be used for maritime surveillance. Meanwhile in Nepal, on China’s western flank close to Tibet, the British army runs at least three facilities. These include Gurkha recruitment camps in Pokhara and Dharan, plus administrative facilities in the capital Kathmandu. Britain’s use of young Nepalese men as soldiers has continued despite a Maoist government coming to power in Kathmandu. In Afghanistan, where peace talks are now under way between the government and the Taliban, UK forces have long maintained a quick reaction force at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, as well as providing mentoring at the Infantry Branch School and the Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy. The latter, known as ‘Sandhurst in the Sand’, was built with £75m of British money. Around 10 personnel are based in Pakistan, where roles have included teaching pilots at the air force academy in Risalpur.

In addition to concern over China, military chiefs believe Britain is now locked in a permanent competition with Russia. The UK has a military presence in at least six European countries, as well as at NATO administrative sites, which Declassified has not included in our survey. Britain continues to run four base sites in Germany that house 540 personnel, despite a 10-year drive called “Operation Owl” to scale down its Cold War-era network. Two barracks remain in Sennelager, in northern Germany, with a vast vehicle depot in Mönchengladbach and a munitions storage facility in Wulfen on a site originally built by slave labour for the Nazis. In Norway, the British military has a helicopter base codenamed “Clockwork” at Bardufoss airport, deep in the Arctic Circle. The base is frequently used for mountain warfare exercises and lies 350 miles from the headquarters of Russia’s northern fleet in Severomorsk near Murmansk. Since the fall of the USSR, Britain has expanded its military presence into former Soviet bloc states. Twenty UK military personnel are currently on loan to the Czech military academy in Vyškov. Closer to Russia’s border, the RAF bases Typhoon fighter jets at Estonia’s Amari Air Base and Lithuania’s Siauliai Air Base, from where they can intercept Russian jets over the Baltic as part of NATO’s “air policing” mission.

In the eastern Mediterranean, Declassified has found there are 17 separate UK military installations in Cyprus, which analysts have traditionally counted as one British overseas territory comprising the “sovereign base areas” of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, containing 2,290 British personnel. The sites, which were retained at independence in 1960, include runways, firing ranges, barracks, fuel bunkers and spy stations run by the UK’s signals intelligence agency GCHQ. Declassified has also found that several of the sites are located beyond the sovereign base areas, including on the top of Mount Olympus, the highest point on Cyprus.

British military exercises areas L1 to L13 are outside of the UK enclave and inside the Republic of Cyprus

A map obtained by Declassified shows that the UK military can use a large area of land outside Akrotiri known as Lima as a training area. Declassified previously revealed that low flying British military aircraft have caused the deaths of farm animals in the Lima training area.

British special forces operating in Syria are believed to be resupplied by air from Cyprus, where RAF transport planes can be seen online taking off before their trackers disappear over Syria. Little is known about the location of UK special forces teams in Syria, aside from a claim that they are based at Al-Tanf near the Iraq/Jordan border and/or in the north near Manbij. RAF flights from Cyprus also frequently land in the Gulf dictatorships of the UAE and Qatar, where the UK has permanent bases at the Al Minhad and Al Udeid air fields, run by around 80 personnel. These bases have been used to supply troops in Afghanistan as well as for conducting military operations in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Qatar has a joint Typhoon squadron with the RAF based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire which is half-funded by the Gulf emirate. Defence minister James Heappey has refused to tell Parliament how many Qatari military personnel are based at Coningsby amid plans to expand the base.

Even more controversial is Britain’s major military presence in Saudi Arabia. Declassified has found that UK personnel are installed across 15 key sites in Saudi Arabia. In the capital, Riyadh, British armed forces are spread out over half a dozen locations, including the air operations centres where RAF officers observe Saudi-led coalition air operations in Yemen. Under the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Project (MODSAP), BAE Systems has made 73 accommodation units available to UK military personnel at its Salwa Garden Village compound in Riyadh. RAF staff, some of whom are on secondment to BAE Systems, also serve at the King Fahad air base in Taif, which services the Typhoon jet fleet, the King Khalid air base in Khamis Mushayt close to the Yemen border and at the King Faisal air base in Tabuk where Hawk jet pilots train. There are separate contracts for Britain to support the “special security brigade” of Saudi Arabia’s National Guard (SANG), a unit that protects the ruling family and promotes “internal security.” British soldiers are believed to be stationed at the Guard’s ministry in Riyadh as well as at its Signals School (SANGCOM) in Khashm al-An on the outskirts of the capital, in addition to smaller teams at SANG command posts in the western and central regions at Jeddah and Buraydah. The rest of the British personnel in Saudi Arabia are situated in its oil-rich eastern province, whose Shia Muslim majority is harshly discriminated against by the ruling Sunni monarchy. A Royal Navy team teaches at the King Fahd Naval Academy in Jubail, while RAF staff assist the Tornado jet fleet at King Abd’ul-Aziz air base in Dhahran.

Accommodation for British contractors and personnel is provided by BAE at the company’s purpose built Sara compound at Khobar, near Dhahran. A British army lieutenant colonel advises SANG infantry units at their Eastern Command post in Damman. These British personnel in the eastern province are close to the King Fahd Causeway, the vast bridge connecting Saudi Arabia to the neighbouring island of Bahrain where Britain has a naval base and a smaller presence (costing £270k/yr) near the international airport in Muharraq. In 2011, the SANG drove BAE-made armoured vehicles over the causeway to suppress pro-democracy protests by Bahrain’s Shia majority against its Sunni dictator King Hamad. The British government later admitted:

It is possible that some members of the Saudi Arabian National Guard which were deployed in Bahrain may have undertaken some training provided by the British military mission.

After the uprising was crushed, Britain increased its military presence in Bahrain with the construction of a naval base that was opened in 2018 by Prince Andrew, a friend of King Hamad. Britain maintains a substantial military presence in seven Arab monarchies where citizens have little or no say in how they are governed. These include around 20 British troops supporting the Sandhurst-trained King Abdullah II of Jordan. The country’s army has received £4m in aid from Britain’s shadowy Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund to set up a quick reaction force, with a British army lieutenant colonel on loan to the unit. Last year it was reported that a British military adviser to Jordan’s King, Brigadier Alex Macintosh, was “fired” after becoming too politically influential. Macintosh was reportedly replaced immediately, and Declassified has seen army records that show a serving British Brigadier remains on loan to Jordan.

Similar arrangements exist in Kuwait, where around 40 British troops are stationed. They are believed to operate Reaper drones from the Ali Al Salem air base and teach at Kuwait’s Mubarak Al-Abdullah Joint Command and Staff College. Until August, former Royal Navy officer Andrew Loring was among the college’s leading staff, in keeping with a tradition of giving British personnel very senior roles. Although there are British personnel on loan to all three branches of Kuwait’s military, the MOD has refused to tell Declassified what role they have played in the war in Yemen, where Kuwait is a member of the Saudi-led coalition. The most extensive British military presence in the Gulf can be found in Oman, where 91 UK troops are on loan to the country’s repressive Sultan. They are stationed at 16 sites, some of which are run directly by the British military or intelligence agencies. These include the Royal Navy base in Duqm, which is being tripled in size as part of a £23.8m investment designed to support Britain’s new aircraft carriers during their deployments to the Indian Ocean and beyond. It is unclear how many British personnel will be based at Duqm. Heappey has told Parliament:

The possibility of additional personnel to support this logistics hub at Duqm is being considered as part of the ongoing Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

He added that 20 personnel have been temporarily deployed to Duqm as a “UK Port Task Group” to assist with the expansion plans. Another major development to Britain’s base network in Oman is the new “joint training area” located 70 km south of Duqm at Ras Madrakah, which it has used for tank firing practice. It appears plans are underway to move a large number of Britain’s tanks from their current firing range in Canada to Ras Madrakah. In Oman, it is a criminal offence to insult the Sultan, so domestic resistance to the new British bases is unlikely to get far. British forces at Duqm will likely work closely with the US military facility at Diego Garcia on the Chagos Islands, part of the British Indian Ocean territory that belongs to Mauritius under international law. Some 40 UK military personnel are stationed at Diego Garcia. Britain has refused to return the islands to Mauritius, in defiance of a recent UNGAR, after having forcibly removed the indigenous population in the 1970s. In Iraq, the only democracy in the Arab world which housed British troops this year, the political figures have taken a different approach. In January, Iraq’s parliament voted to expel foreign military forces, which include the remaining 400 British troops, and which, if implemented, would bring an end to their presence at four sites: Camp Havoc in Anbar, Camp Taji and Union III in Baghdad and Erbil International Airport in the north.

Britain’s other military presence in the Middle East can be found in Israel and Palestine, where around 10 troops are stationed. The team is split between the British embassy in Tel Aviv and the US security coordinator’s office which is, controversially, based in the US embassy in Jerusalem. Declassified recently discovered that two British army personnel assist the US team.

Another feature of Britain’s overseas military bases is that they are often located in tax havens, with Declassified finding six such sites. Closest to home, these include Jersey in the Channel Islands, which is one of the world’s top ten tax havens according to the Tax Justice Network. A crown dependency and not technically part of the UK, Jersey’s capital, St Helier, is home to an army base for the Royal Engineers’ Jersey Field Squadron. Further afield, Britain continues to govern Gibraltar, at the southernmost tip of Spain, amidst demands from Madrid to return the territory which was seized by the Royal Marines in 1704. Gibraltar has a corporation tax rate as low as 10% and is a global hub for gambling companies. Approximately 670 British military personnel are stationed across four sites in Gibraltar, including at the airport and dockyard. Accommodation facilities include the Devil’s Tower Camp and an MOD-run swimming pool.

The rest of Britain’s militarised tax havens can be found branching out across the Atlantic Ocean. Bermuda, a British territory in the mid-Atlantic, is ranked as the world’s second “most corrosive” tax haven. It contains a small military site at Warwick Camp, run by 350 members of the Royal Bermuda Regiment which is “affiliated to the British army” and commanded by a British officer. A similar arrangement exists on the British territory of Montserrat in the Carribean, which is periodically included on lists of tax havens. Security for the island is provided by 40 local volunteers of the Royal Montserrat Defence Force based in Brades. This model appears to have inspired plans for similar schemes in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos, two British Carribean territories which are both major tax havens. Since 2019, there have been efforts to establish a Cayman Islands Regiment, which aims to recruit 175 soldiers by the end of 2021. Much of the officer training has taken place at Sandhurst in the UK. Plans for a Turks and Caicos Regiment appear to be less advanced.

While these military installations in the Caribbean are unlikely to grow to significant size, the UK presence in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic is much larger and more expensive. Thirty-eight years after the Falklands war with Argentina, the UK maintains six separate sites across the islands. The barracks and airport at RAF Mount Pleasant is the largest, but it relies upon a dockyard at Mare Harbour and three anti-aircraft missile silos on Mount Alice, Byron Heights and Mount Kent. Their remote nature has given rise to abusive behaviour. RAF veteran Rebecca Crookshank claims she was subjected to sexual harassment when serving as the only female recruit at Mount Alice in the early 2000s. Naked airmen greeted her upon arrival and rubbed their genitals against her in a crude initiation ritual. Later she was cable-tied to a bed. The incident is alleged to have taken place in facilities where the MOD subsequently spent £153m in 2017 to install a Sky Sabre air-defence system, the majority of which is supplied by Israeli arms company, Rafael. The move was criticised at the time, given Rafael’s history of supplying missiles to Argentina.

In addition to these sites, there is a local defence camp in the capital of Stanley, while Royal Navy vessels keep a constant patrol offshore. The net result is a military presence of between 70 and 100 MOD personnel, although the Falkland Islands Government puts the figure much higher: 1,200 troops and 400 civilian contractors. None of this comes cheap. Stationing soldiers and their families overseas requires housing, schools, hospitals and engineering work, overseen by the government’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which has a 10-year investment scheme for the Falklands budgeted at £180m. Almost a quarter of this has been spent on keeping troops warm. In 2016, £55.7m went on a boiler house and power station for the Mount Pleasant military headquarters complex. In 2018, Mare Harbour was expanded at a cost of £19m, mainly to ensure food and other supplies can reach the troops more easily. Cleaning, cooking, emptying the bins and other administrative tasks costs another £5.4m/yr, payable to outsourcing firm Sodexo. This expenditure has been justified by the government despite a decade of austerity on the UK mainland, which saw 59-year-old army veteran David Clapson die in 2014 after his job seeker’s allowance was stopped. Clapson was diabetic and relied on a supply of refrigerated insulin. He had £3.44 left in his bank account and had run out of electricity and food. The Falklands also serves as a link to the British Antarctic Territory, a vast area which is reserved for scientific exploration. Its research station at Rothera relies on logistical support from the UK military and is resupplied by HMS Protector, an ice patrol ship in the Royal Navy with around 65 personnel usually onboard.

Maintaining such a ‘forward’ presence in Antarctica and the Falklands is only possible because of another expensive British territory in the South Atlantic, Ascension Island, whose runway at Wideawake Airfield acts as an air bridge between Mount Pleasant and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Ascension recently hit the news with Foreign Office proposals to build a detention centre for asylum seekers on the island, which is 5k miles from the UK. In reality such a scheme is unlikely to go ahead. The runway is in need of costly repairs, and Britain’s secretive spy agency GCHQ has a significant presence there at Cat Hill. In total there appear to be five UK military and intelligence sites on Ascension, including accommodation at Travellers Hill and married quarters at Two Boats and George Town. The USAF and NSA operate alongside the UK personnel on the island, a relationship mirrored in the US, where 730 Britons are spread throughout the country. Many of them are clustered in US military command centres around Washington DC and NATO sites in Norfolk, Virginia. The RAF has around 90 personnel based at Creech AFB in Nevada, where they fly Reaper drones on combat operations around the world. Until recently, there were also major deployments of RAF and Navy pilots at other airfields in the US, where they were learning to fly the new F-35 strike fighter. This scheme saw 80 British personnel conducting long-term training at Edwards AFB in California. Other sites involved in the F-35 training scheme included Eglin AFB in Florida, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina and the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. By 2020, many of these pilots returned to the UK to practice flying the F-35s from the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers.

In addition to these deployments, there are British military officers on exchange to a wide range of US units. In Sep 2019, British Maj-Gen Gerald Strickland held a senior role at the US army base in Fort Hood, Texas, where he was working on Operation Inherent Resolve, the mission to combat Islamic State in the Middle East. There have also been British personnel stationed inside President Trump’s much derided Space Force. Last December, it was reported that the Deputy Director of the Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was “Group Captain Darren Whiteley, an RAF officer from the UK.” One of the few British overseas bases that looks threatened by the government’s defence review is the tank training range at Suffield in Canada, where around 400 permanent staff maintain 1,000 vehicles. Many of these are Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The Defence review is expected to announce a reduction in the size of Britain’s tank force, which would decrease the need for a base in Canada.

However, there is no sign that Britain’s other major base in the Americas, in Belize, will be axed by the review. British troops maintain a small garrison at Belize’s main airport from where they have access to 13 sites for jungle warfare training. Declassified recently revealed that British troops have access to one sixth of Belize’s land, including a protected forest area, for such training, which includes firing mortars, artillery and “machine-gunning from helicopters”. Belize is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, home to “critically endangered species” and rare archaeological sites.

Exercises in Belize are run by the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB), located at Price Barracks near Belize City. In 2018, the MOD spent £575k on a new water treatment plant for the barracks. Another region where the British military still maintains military bases is Africa. During the 1950s, the British army suppressed anti-colonial fighters in Kenya by using concentration camps where prisoners were tortured and even castrated (with pliers – RB). After independence, the British army was able to retain its base at Nyati Camp in Nanyuki, Laikipia County. Known as BATUK, it is the hub for hundreds of British army personnel in Kenya. Britain has access to five more sites in Kenya and 13 training grounds, which are used for preparing troops before they deploy to Afghanistan and elsewhere. In 2002, the MOD paid £4.5m in compensation to hundreds of Kenyans who had been injured by unexploded weaponry fired by British troops at these training grounds. From Nyati, British soldiers also make use of the nearby Laikipia air base, and the training ground at Archers Post in Laresoro and Mukogodo in Dol-Dol. In the capital Nairobi, British troops have access to Kifaru Camp at Kahawa Barracks and an International Peace Support Training Centre in Karen. An agreement signed in 2016 states:

The Visiting Forces shall respect and be sensitive to the traditions, customs and cultures of local communities of the places where they are deployed in the Host Nation.

British soldiers are also known to use local sex workers. There have been attempts to attack the British troops in Kenya. In January, three men were arrested for attempting to break in to Laikipia and were questioned by anti-terrorism police. They are believed to be linked to the Al Shabaab group in neighbouring Somalia, where British troops also have a permanent presence. Army training teams are stationed at Mogadishu International Airport, with another team at the Baidoa Security Training Centre. A smaller British military presence can be found at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, where UK forces are involved in drone operations over the Horn of Africa and Yemen. This secretive site is linked by a high-speed fibre optic cable to the Croughton spy base in England, which is connected to the GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham. Djibouti has also been linked to UK special forces operations in Yemen. A more overt British presence is maintained in Malawi, where British soldiers are assigned to counter-poaching missions in Liwonde National Park and the Nkhotakota and Majete Wildlife Reserves. In 2019, a 22-year-old soldier, Mathew Talbot, was trampled by an elephant in Liwonde. There was no helicopter support on standby to airlift injured troops and it took over three hours for a paramedic to reach him. Talbot died before arriving at hospital. An MOD investigation made 30 recommendations to improve safety after the incident.

Meanwhile in west Africa, one British officer still runs the Horton Academy, a military training centre, in Sierra Leone, a legacy of Britain’s involvement in the country’s civil war. In Nigeria, around nine British troops are on loan to the Nigerian armed forces, amid its controversial human rights record. British troops seem to have regular access to Kaduna International Airport where they train local forces to guard against the threat from Boko Haram. Amnesty International alleges that 10,000 civilians have died in detention camps run by the Nigerian military, one of which was part funded by the UK. Britain’s military presence in Africa is set to grow substantially later this year with the deployment of a “peacekeeping” force to Mali in the Sahara. The country has been rocked by civil war and terrorism since the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. UK troops have operated with French forces in Mali under the banner of Operation Newcombe almost continuously since the Libya intervention. The current order of battle involves RAF Chinook helicopters based in Gao flying ‘logistical’ missions to more remote bases manned by French troops who have suffered heavy losses. The SAS is also reported to be operating in the area. The future of the mission has been in jeopardy since Mali’s military staged a coup in August 2020, following massive protests against the presence of foreign forces in the country and years of frustration at the government’s handling of the conflict.

people like bernhard and people like helen are probably just about ready to throttle each other

Pandemic Freedom
Moon of Alabama, Nov 23 2020

On Thursday the US will celebrate Thanksgiving. That will cause an increase in the number of Covid-19 cases and in the number of deaths. The states could have intervened but did little to prevent this from happening. The politicians are reluctant to act because the US public at large follows an ideology that is incompatible with a pandemic. The CDC warns of Thanksgiving celebrations:

As cases continue to increase rapidly across the US, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

In my view that warning is not strong enough. There should be more draconic measures and restrictions of freedom to prevent higher Covid-19 casualties. In October Canada already celebrated its version of Thanksgiving. The result was a notable acceleration of the pandemic.

More can be done and more should be done to prevent this from happening in the US. But there are people who argue even against stronger warnings

This week, a survey reported that 38% of people planned to gather with 10 or more people for Thanksgiving, and just a third said they would wear a mask. Twitter reacted predictably. Public health experts and doctors pointed to rising COVID-19 case numbers in many states and scolded (often in all caps): DO NOT HAVE THANKSGIVING. Of course, there is no doubt that large gatherings, indoors, and without masks is a recipe for the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, but at the same time, I worry that the abstinence-only approach, the just-don’t-have-Thanksgiving approach, is not the right way for public health experts to respond. I think public health experts should not just listen, but hear what people are saying. Americans are saying that despite all the damage done by COVID-19, despite the rising cases and at-capacity ICUs around the country, their desire for human connection is so great, that they are willing to take the risk and have Thanksgiving. Americans are, in effect, expressing the longing and desperation of their soul. Instead of admonishing people to not gather, public health experts should begin from the starting point that people really want this. Correction, people are saying they need this. Given that the desire is so strong, what advice can we give to minimize the risk? How can we reduce,- not eliminate risk?

As Thanksgiving family meetings happen indoor with everyone talking and eating together in one room there is little one can do to reduce the risk and to avoid new infections except to call off the event. That is why I think that the states should have intervened more by restricting travel and the size of private meetings. That is not happening because for many people in the US this is not about ‘longing’ or a ‘need’ but about a mistaken understanding of freedom:

Here’s a question for all red-blooded liberty-loving American patriots: Who has a greater lived experience of freedom at the moment, citizens of Vietnam or the US? Vietnam, of course, is a one-party Communist state, with fairly strict limitations on freedom of speech, the press, and so on, while the US has (at least for now) a somewhat democratic constitution and (at least formally) some protections for civil liberties. But in Vietnam, there is no raging coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to swift action from the government, that nation squelched its initial outbreak, and has so far successfully contained all subsequent infection clusters before they got out of hand.

Vietnam is free of Covid-19 and its people are mostly free to do what they want to do. The same goes for China were Covid-19 restrictions are now minimal. People are free to travel within the country and to live a normal life. The few local outbreaks that are still happening are rigorously hunted down. Still, the AP depicts those interventions as an assault on the ever ephemeral ‘freedom’:

Chinese authorities are testing millions of people, imposing lockdowns and shutting down schools after multiple locally transmitted coronavirus cases were discovered in three cities across the country last week. In Manzhouli, a city of more than 200k people, local health authorities are testing all residents after two cases were reported on Saturday. They also shut down all schools and public venues and banned public gatherings such as banquets. China has resorted to its heavy, top-down approach each time new cases of local transmission are found, shutting down schools and hospitals, locking down residential communities and entire neighborhoods, and testing millions. Tianjin authorities shut down a kindergarten and moved all the teachers, family and students to a centralized quarantine space. They also sealed the residential compound where the five cases were found. China’s approach to controlling the pandemic has been criticized for being draconian. It locked down the city of Wuhan, where cases were first reported, for more than two months to contain the virus, with the local government shutting down all traffic and confining residents to their homes. Domestically, however, China has called its strategy “clear to zero” and has boasted of its success.

China used science and strong public health measures to defeat the pandemic. Being draconic in doing that is the only way to really get a pandemic under control. The AP’s negative tone about the anti-Covid-19 measures is typical for US media:

91% of stories by US major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-US major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals. The negativity of the US major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials. Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining.

That may have been caused partially by anti-Trump sentiment in the media:

Among US major media outlets, stories discussing President Donald Trump and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) are more numerous than all stories combined that cover companies and individual researchers working on COVID-19 vaccines.

Trump surely could have done more. Still, he is now getting too little credit for his successful Operation Warp Speed which has created three reasonable good vaccine in record time. But would the people in the US really have followed Trump’s or any others president’s advice if he had called for or ordered more restrictions? I find that unlikely, because the preeminent ideology in the US is this false understanding of ‘freedom’ which is incompatible with a pandemic:

Life for Vietnamese people has returned to normal, with a few sensible precautions. If their success holds for a few more months until a vaccine can be deployed, Vietnam will have dodged the pandemic nearly perfectly. Meanwhile in the self-appointed “land of the free,” on Sunday (Nov 15) the seven-day average of daily COVID-19 deaths was 1,148. The bleak irony of American life is our boastful and hyperbolic national conception of liberty has left us as one of the most unfree peoples on the globe. There can be no freedom without government, a lesson currently being inscribed in blood, and stacked up in the mobile morgues that are overflowing with corpses in more cities around the country every day. All the political freedoms I supposedly enjoy as an American citizen are useless in the face of this unending tsunami of death and misery. The plain fact is that the average resident of Vietnam, under a repressive dictatorship, let me emphasize, has more freedoms in the places where, for most people, it really counts: the freedom to leave the house, the freedom to see and touch one’s family and friends, the freedom to go to a restaurant or a bar or a movie or a concert, and simply the freedom from constant grasping fear of invisible death. In reality, as Vietnam demonstrates, the only way to have freedom during a pandemic is with a competent, aggressive state that does intrusive, coercive things on a hair trigger, the very instant they become necessary.

The US and other ‘western’ societies have failed to understand that. Individual liberties are all fine. But they must stand back when the liberty of the general society is endangered. Emergency medicine (triage) knows the concept of minimizing ‘life years lost’ when deciding to either save patient A or B. The patient who has more potential life years left is preferred to survive. We may need a similar concept for ‘freedom’ where the aim is to maximize the amount of total freedom not for individuals but for the society as a whole, not within a short moment but over a considerable period of time. This what China and Vietnam have done. Their draconic local measures have harshly restricted the freedom of relative few but maximized the freedom their societies could allow themselves. In the end even those whose freedoms were restricted the most, the inhabitants of Wuhan for example, have gained more freedom than a runaway pandemic would have allowed them to have.

Why are millions of Americans traveling for Thanksgiving as the pandemic rages?
Niles Niemuth, WSWS, Nov 23 2020

Workers coming off shift at Life Care Center, Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle. (Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP)

The coronavirus pandemic is breaking records every day in the US, filling up intensive care units, overwhelming hospital systems and exhausting health care workers. A record 203k Americans tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, and the seven-day average is above 170k. Despite significant advances in treating the disease, more than 1.5k people are dying every day, the highest level since May. The CDC predicts that the US will record 300k deaths by the middle of December, and there could be as many as 21k new coronavirus hospitalizations each day. The CDC has issued a severe warning against traveling for Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. It recommends that people restrict their dinner plans to those who live in their households in order to limit the further spread of the virus. Dr Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager explained at a press conference last week:

The tragedy that could happen is that one of your family members is coming to this family gathering and they could end up severely ill, hospitalized or dying. And we don’t want that to happen.

Under these conditions, many people are choosing not to travel. The number of people flying for Thanksgiving is down by more than half from last year. However, the Transportation Security Administration reported that more than three million people passed through airport security checkpoints between Friday and Sunday, making it the busiest travel weekend since March, when restrictions and lockdowns were implemented to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Crowded security lines snaked through terminals as travelers packed onto airplanes to head home to see their families. All told, the American Automobile Association projects that 50 million people will travel by car, air and rail throughout the US during the Thanksgiving holiday period stretching from Nov 25 through Nov 29. While this represents a 10% decline from 2019, the consequences of such a mass travel event will likely be catastrophic. The pandemic saw its initial widespread transmission when five million people traveled out of the city of Wuhan in Hubei Province, where the first cases of COVID-19 were detected, to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year with family. The virus quickly spread from China to the rest of the world.

Canada saw a significant spike in coronavirus infections and deaths two weeks after families across the country gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving on Oct 12. During the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, Thanksgiving in the US was followed by a devastating third wave that did not subside until the summer of 1919. With all that is known about COVID-19, how it is spread, its lethality for the elderly and medically vulnerable, why are so many still traveling for the holiday? There are complex and varying factors at work. Many students, for example, are returning home after the cancellation of in-person classes by universities, following the reckless reopening of campuses that has helped to propel the present outbreak. Thanksgiving is a cultural tradition in the US, the one time in the year when family members living in disparate parts of the country come together. As a result of the pandemic, tens of millions of people have not seen their parents, children, significant others or friends for months. They have gone through varying levels of lockdown and coronavirus restrictions while suffering through a period of unprecedented stress, turmoil, and financial difficulty.

Many people have been led to believe that travel can be safe, or at least that the danger can be minimized. In the days preceding the holiday, demand for testing has surged, as millions hope that a negative test means that they can interact with their families over the holidays. Testing labs, however, starved of critical supplies, are reporting delays in delivering timely results. While the ruling class and the media focus on the “personal responsibility” of those who travel, the fact is that the present spread of the virus is the direct product of the policy of “herd immunity” spearheaded by the Trump administration and backed by the entire ruling class. Every day, workers are being forced to interact with their coworkers in factories and other workplaces in order to produce profits for the corporations. Falsely told that it is safe to return to school and work, many ask themselves: Could flying or driving to eat dinner with my family be any worse? Then there is the immense confusion generated by the mainstream media, whose presentation, day after day, is that the pandemic is about to turn a corner for the better. The NYT, the editorial voice of the Democratic Party, has been demanding that schools remain open and insists that they are safe even though more than one million children have contracted the disease. And it was the NYT’s columnist Thomas Friedman who vocalized the slogan of the ruling elite’s approach to the pandemic, that the “cure cannot be worse than the disease.”

Finally, there is the abysmal state of scientific education in America, the outcome of four decades of attacks on public education, which has resulted in a situation where significant sections of the population deny the existence of the virus, refuse to wear masks when in public and oppose the use of vaccines to protect the population from disease, ignorantly placing themselves and others at risk. Trump’s repeated promotion of quack remedies, including the injection of bleach, while pressing for the rapid development and distribution of a vaccine during his administration for clearly political purposes, has sown great distrust among the population. The systematic denigration of science is not limited to the Trump administration. In academia, the postmodernist rejection of rationality and the denial of objective truth prevails. At the same time the churches, which play an outsize role in social and political life in the United States, peddle superstition and backwardness. The collapse of the labor movement also plays a significant role in disorienting and polluting popular consciousness. In 2005, remarking on the bizarre spectacle surrounding the case of Terry Schiavo, a brain-dead woman who was removed from life support by her husband, WSWS Editorial Board Chairman David North noted the socioeconomic changes underlying the influence of backwardness and superstition among broader layers of the population:

The virtual disappearance of what had been the principal form of mass organization and popular resistance to corporate power radically changed the nature of the relationship between workers and the economic structure within which they live. Whereas in the past they confronted this structure, however inadequately, as a class, they now confront this structure as isolated individuals. They find themselves in a situation where they are compelled to confront problems not as part of a social collective, but by themselves.

This describes very well the situation tens of millions of people confront as the coronavirus pandemic rages. Workers and young people have been worn down by the daily onslaught of infection and death without any support. They have been left by the ruling class to confront the horror of the pandemic entirely by themselves. Nothing has been done to mobilize resources to stop the disease or to address its massive economic, social and psychological consequences. The unions play no role in educating the working class about the dangers of the pandemic or the public health measures needed to contain the virus. Nor have they done anything to counter the anti-science sentiments that have been cultivated among a layer of backward workers. Instead, they have collaborated with the companies as their enforcers, keeping the factories, schools and other workplaces open without any restrictions, even as tens of thousands in the auto industry, hospitals, slaughterhouses and Amazon’s warehouses have fallen ill, and many have died.

The disaster that is unfolding and set to dramatically worsen in the next four weeks is the outcome of the fact that the needs of the masses are subordinated to the profit interests of the super-rich. While the billionaires rack up record profits and Wall Street soars to new heights, the working class is experiencing an economic crisis without precedent since the Great Depression. With the ending of the last vestiges of pandemic aid after Christmas and the lifting of moratoriums on evictions, millions face complete destitution. The promotion of cultural backwardness by the ruling class now intersects with a homicidal policy. While the coronavirus pandemic is the immediate cause of the catastrophe that is enveloping the United States, its impact is bound up with the degraded social-economic and political conditions produced by American capitalism.

nazi israel

Pompeo spells out the new normal: All criticism of Israel is ‘anti-Semitic’
Jonathan Cook, Middle East Eye, Nov 24 2020

A woman calls for a boycott of Israeli goods at the Ofer checkpoint near Ramallah, Aug 6 2019 (AFP)

It is tempting to dismiss last week’s statements by Pompeo equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and suggesting the global movement to boycott Israel is driven by hatred of Jews, as the last gasp of a dying administration. But that would be foolhardy. Pompeo’s decision to label all but the most tepid criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism is fully in line with the current redrawing of the limits of western political debate about Israel. To underscore his message, Pompeo issued his statement as he headed to an illegal Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the first such official visit by a US Sec State. New guidelines announced that in future the US would mark settlement goods as “Made in Israel,” concealing the fact that they are produced in the occupied Palestinian territories. For good measure, Pompeo added:

The US government will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups. We want to stand with all other nations that recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.

The settlement visit was doubtless intended as affirmation by the departing Trump administration of its recognition of Israel’s right to annex swaths of the West Bank seized by settlers. That position was cemented into a so-called “peace plan” earlier in the year. Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian peace negotiator,warned that Pompeo’s declarations would be hard for the Biden administration to reverse, either rhetorically or substantively, when it takes office in January. She said:

Such malicious measures are intended to corner the incoming US administration with layers of legal and administrative measures that maintain the destructive Trump legacy beyond his disruptive term.

To change course, Biden will have to declare the settlements illegal and come to the defence of the BDS movement, incurring the wrath of Israel’s lobbyists in Washington and opposition from the overwhelming majority of his own lawmakers in Congress. It is fanciful to imagine he will do either. The reality is that Israel’s endless facts on the ground, all ultimately pushing towards annexation, will continue as before, whether Biden or Trump is in charge. More significantly still, however, Pompeo’s statement marks the logical endpoint of a new foreign policy consensus on Israel that has rapidly taken shape in the US and Europe. By this stage, only concerted action from western states to penalise Israel can alter the cost-benefit calculus that has so far made expanding the settlement enterprise pain-free. But trenchant criticism of Israel, of the kind so urgently necessary, is now increasingly off-limits. Instead western states are actually defaming and outlawing even the most limited forms of grassroots, non-violent action against Israel, like the BDS movement. Pompeo’s statement, in fact, marks a complete inversion of the UN’s decision in 1975 to declare Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination.” At the time, supporters of Resolution 3379 made a self-evident case: any state is structurally racist if its founding ideology, as with Zionism, accords superior rights to citizens based on their ethnicity or religion.

Palestinians call for a boycott of Israeli goods at the Ofer checkpoint near Ramallah, Aug 6 2019 (AFP)

An international convention further makes clear that such a political arrangement amounts to apartheid. While in the 1970s Israel made efforts to obscure its ideological character, it has long since abandoned such pretence. In 2018 Israel passed the Nation-State Law making its apartheid explicit. The law affirmed superior legal rights for Jewish citizens over a large minority of Palestinian citizens. In late 1991, however, the UN was browbeaten into revoking the “Zionism is racism” resolution after the Soviet Union fell and the US, Israel’s patron, emerged as the sole global superpower. We have now reached the point where, as Pompeo’s statement underscores, it is criticism of Israel and Zionism that is viewed as racism. In this topsy-turvy worldview, nuclear-armed Israel is the victim, not the Palestinians who have been dispossessed and ethnically cleansed by Israel for decades. This derangement is so entrenched that last year the House of Representatives passed a near-unanimous resolution pushed by AIPAC denouncing any boycott of Israel as anti-Semitic. Some 32 US states have passed legislation uniquely denying First Amendment rights to those who support a boycott of Israel in solidarity with oppressed Palestinians. Other states have similar legislation in the pipeline.

The absurdity extends beyond the US. The German parliament passed a resolution last year that declared boycotting Israel, a state occupying Palestinians for more than five decades, comparable to the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews.” Bonn has the power to deny public funds to any group that supports, however tangentially, such a boycott. Last month, Israeli Jewish academics in Berlin became the latest group targeted. Their art school removed their web page and cut funding for a series of workshops critical of Zionism after an outcry from German anti-racism groups and the media. A similar inversion of reality is taking place in the UK, where the government has ruled that local authorities are not allowed to divest pension funds from Israel. These investments, some in illegal Jewish settlements, are assessed at nearly £3.5b, meaning ordinary Britons heavily subsidise Israel’s occupation. The decision by Boris Johnson’s government was struck down by Britain’s highest court in April, but the government has vowed to bring in new anti-BDS legislation that would nullify that ruling. In France, meanwhile, support for boycotting Israel has long beentreated as a criminal offence under anti-discrimination legislation. A group of 12 Palestinian solidarity activists lost a series of court battles in France after they were convicted a decade ago of calling for a boycott outside a supermarket. The activists received a reprieve in June only after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that their convictions violated Europe’s human rights convention.

That judgment serves only to highlight the growing chasm between the political and legal environments being shaped by lobbyists in individual western states on one side and the principles of international law and human rights established in the wake of WW2 on the other. Pompeo’s claim that opposition to Zionism, the ideology oppressing Palestinians, is anti-Semitic has taken widespread root because pro-Israel activists have managed to advance an entirely novel definition of anti-Semitism. In 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance adopted a highly contentious and politicised “working definition” of anti-Semitism promoted by Israel. The definition is illustrated with 11 examples, seven of which refer to various criticisms of Israel, including that it is a “racist endeavour.” A conclusion reached by the UN 45 years ago, that it is racist for a state to promote rights based not on our shared humanity but on ethnic or religious difference, is now defined as anti-Semitic. Donald Trump used an executive order to incorporate this weaponised definition into the Civil Rights Act last year, thereby chilling speech about Israel, especially on US campuses. The IHRA definition is now widely accepted in the West, making it all but impossible to mount a defence against the malicious characterisation of support for Palestinian rights as equivalent to hatred of Jews. Pompeo is simply echoing a discourse that has rapidly become entrenched.

Protesters outside Germany’s Representative Office in Ramallah following the Bundestag’s
condemnation of the BDS movement, May 22 2019 (AFP)

This became obvious when the British Labour party found itself plunged into a manufactured controversy in early 2016 that overnight it had become uniquely and institutionally anti-Semitic. The campaign began shortly after the membership elected as leader Jeremy Corbyn, one of a handful of socialist MPs in Labour and a vocal advocate of Palestinian rights. The degree to which Israel has become untouchable, even when criticisms accord with international law, was highlighted when the UN compiled a list of businesses colluding with Israel’s illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Publication of the database was repeatedly delayed for fear of the backlash the UN would receive for offending Israel and its lobbyists. The list finally saw daylight last February. But the firms identified in the list have not come under any significant pressure to pull out of the settlements. In fact, what pressure they have faced has been for them to stay put, or otherwise face accusations of unfairly discriminating against Israel. Countervailing pressure on them could come through the actions of popular, grassroots groups calling for a boycott. But western states now characterise the BDS movement that organises such boycotts as antisemitic too. Quiescence and inaction are the only options allowed, if one wishes to avoid being labelled anti-Semitic.

Pompeo’s remarks in support of the settlements last week were foreshadowed by reports last month that the State Dept is considering a mechanism for labelling the world’s most prominent human rights groups as anti-Semitic. The US would then urge other states not to deal with organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam. Pompeo’s approach, ridiculous as it might have seemed a decade ago, does not stray far from the current logic in western capitals. Their officials have ridden roughshod over international law for some time, especially with their “interventions” in Arab states such as Iraq, Libya and Syria. As the Palestinian cause is progressively sidelined by both western states and Arab states, groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have found themselves solitary critical voices on Israel. They are almost alone in continuing to articulate concerns about Israel’s egregious violations of international law, especially in relation to the settlements. As a result, Pompeo’s moves to silence them may face much less resistance than many observers might assume. They have been strong-armed into the dock and must prove to their accusers the impossible: their innocence, measured not in concrete, public positions but in what supposedly lies behind them, in the form of private and unprovable motives. This is safe ground for right-wing politicians and lobby groups. Anti-Semitism is the insidious charge that sticks to anything it touches. The stain is all but impossible to remove. Which is why those standing up for human rights, and against racism and oppression, are going to find themselves ever more aggressively condemned as anti-Semitic.  This is a path not towards peace and reconciliation but towards greater tribalism, confrontation and violence. It strips out the tools of argument and persuasion, as well as non-violent forms of pressure like boycotts, and ensures a world ruled by “might makes right.”

Trump Administration Displays Its Love for Israel
Philip Giraldi, Unz Review, Nov 24 2020

Trump’s gifts to Israel in the last few weeks of his administration are, quite frankly, incomprehensible based on any consideration that US foreign policy should be reflective of American national and international interests. On the contrary, the nearly worldwide assessment of the US as a completely rogue nation headed by someone who is quite plausibly insane and led by the nose by Israel has done considerable damage to America’s ability to lead on important issues like nuclear proliferation and climate change. Much of the bad decision making by Trump is derived from his having bought into the Israeli view of Iran, which, in reality, does not threaten Americans or US interests. On his recent visit to Israel, Pompeo added new sanctions against Iran while also releasing a State Dept statement defending Trump’s “maximum pressure” against the Islamic Republic. He boasted about the damage being done to the Iranian economy:

The Maximum Pressure campaign against the Iranian regime continues to be extraordinarily effective. Today, Iran’s economy faces a currency crisis, mounting public debt, and rising inflation. Prior to the Maximum Pressure campaign, Iran was exporting nearly 2.5mb/d of oil. Now it struggles to export even a quarter of that volume.

Hostility towards Iran also means continuing a military presence in Syria as well as in Iraq. Whatever troop withdrawals Trump is envisioning between now and the time he leaves office will certainly not include Syria and he will surely be leaving a considerable presence in Iraq, deferring to Israeli interests. Trump and Pompeo have doubled down on pleasing Israel, even though Netanyahu was quick off the mark in acknowledging that Biden had indeed won the presidential election. Netanyahu was able to do so because he knows that his influence over the White House is matched by his ability to get favors from both major parties in the US Congress. And if all else were to fail, unlikely as that is, the Israeli leadership is confident that it can make the American media dance to its tune. In other words, no matter what Netanyahu does vis-a-vis the US election, Israel would find itself well positioned to manipulate America’s foreign policy to favor its own interests.

Pompeo’s latest and just concluded trip to the Middle East involved the usual stops in Israel to be given his marching orders but he also was bearing gifts. His visit was clearly intended to deliver the message that as far as the Trump Administration is concerned Israel can do whatever it wants relating to the Palestinian West Bank, which is now home to 700k illegal settlers. Pompeo accomplished that part of his mission in two ways. First, he visited both the annexed Golan Heights as well as an illegal Israeli settlement at Qasr el Yahud on the Jordan River. He also stopped at a winery located on land blatantly stolen from Palestinians, whose Florida-based Jewish “owners” had previously named a wine in his honor. It was the first time that a US Sec State had visited a settlement, and it was a signal that Washington no longer regards the exclusively Jewish enclaves as an obstacle to peace and no longer considers them illegal. Second, Pompeo, while in Israel last Thursday, made two significant statements regarding US policies on Israel and the Palestinian territories, revealing stronger support for Israel’s presence in the West Bank. He said that as a result of the State Dept taking a “reality-based foreign policy approach,” products exported to the US from the illegally occupied territory shall be marked as Israeli. He elaborated:

In accordance with this announcement, all producers within areas where Israel exercises the relevant authorities, most notably Area C under the Oslo Accords, will be required to mark goods as ‘Israel,’ ’Product of Israel’ or ‘Made in Israel’ when exporting to the US.

In other words, the US is now endorsing the reality that much of the formerly Palestinian West Bank is now both de facto and de jure part of Israel. Area C comprises 60% of it. The move was immediately denounced by former Palestinian Chief Negotiator Hanan Ashrawi as “an attempt to legitimize the theft of Palestinian land and plunder of Palestinian resources that runs counter fundamental principles of international law and the global consensus.” And so it is, but it was followed by a second statement which no doubt pleased the Israelis but which should concern all Americans who are troubled about the dramatic erosion of free speech in the US. Pompeo, standing next to Netahyahu, said the BDS movement was “a cancer” and anti-Semitic, adding the US would work to stop its funding. Netanyahu called the move “wonderful.” Formed in 2005, BDS is non-violent. It is active in many countries around the world and calls for a total boycott of Israel, including cultural, economic and academic activities, over the brutal Israeli repression of the Palestinian people. Pompeo personally pledged:

The US government will immediately take steps to identify organizations that engage in hateful BDS conduct and withdraw US government support for such groups. We want to stand with all other nations that recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.

An accompanying State Dept press statement issued by Pompeo elaborated:

It is the policy of the US to combat anti-Semitism everywhere in the world and in whatever form it appears, including all forms of discrimination and hatred rooted in anti-Semitism. The US strongly opposes the global discriminatory BDS Campaign and practices that facilitate it, such as discriminatory labeling and the publication of databases of companies that operate in Israel or Israeli-controlled areas. As we have made clear, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The US is, therefore, committed to countering the Global BDS Campaign as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. To advance this policy, I have directed the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism to identify organizations that engage in, or otherwise support, the Global BDS Campaign. In identifying such organizations, the Office of the Special Envoy will consider whether an organization is engaged in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, or otherwise limit, commercial relations specifically with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in any territory controlled by Israel.

The Pompeo statement is a declaration of war against a non-violent group that seeks to bring about change through peaceful means. Many US states have already taken steps to punish BDS and its supporters and there is legislation in Congress that will make it guilty of hate speech as well as anti-Semitism due to its criticism of the Jewish state. The legislation includes substantial fines and prison time. In France, for example, it is already illegal to advocate a boycott of Israel.

While Pompeo was in Israel, lest there be any doubt about the Trump Administration’s love for the Jewish state, the president himself, speaking from Washington, announced that Sudan would be establishing diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. He added that many more countries would be doing likewise in the next two months. That Sudan made its decision under intense American pressure and due to suffocating sanctions imposed by Washington was not mentioned by President Trump. Trump also responded favorably to another request from Netanyahu. Last Friday his Justice Dept blocked any extension of the travel limitations imposed by the terms of the parole of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. The move came over the objections of many in intelligence and national security communities, but was intended to please Israel. Pollard, a former Navy intelligence analyst, is now free from any travel restrictions and will move to Israel, where he is regarded as a hero and has been granted citizenship in absentia. He was the most damaging spy in US history, having revealed top secret information on US intelligence sources and communications, some of which was passed on to the Soviet Union by Israel in exchange for allowing the emigration of Russian Jews. It is being argued that both Trump and Pompeo have ulterior motives for expressing their warm feelings towards Israel and all its works. Pompeo would like to be the GOP presidential candidate in 2024 and Trump would like to retain his control over the party. Either would benefit from the powerful support of the Israel Lobby in the US and through solidifying their positions as being among the greatest friends of the Jewish state. The tragedy is that what benefits two more politicians on the make has absolutely nothing in it for the American people. And from Joe “I’m a Zionist” Biden we certainly can expect more of the same, both because the outgoing Trumpsters are creating a web of complications around what is taking place both with Iran and Israel that will be difficult to unravel and because the new president would fear taking any steps not approved by Netanyahu.

nazi mideast

Did Netanyahu meet with the Saudi crown prince?
Tamara Nassar, Electronic Intifada, Nov 23 2020

Netanyahu secretly met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Israeli media have reported. If true, this would be the first known visit of a senior Israeli official, let alone a prime minister, to Saudi Arabia, and would indicate a significant advancement in relations between the two countries amid a flurry of normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states. Several Israeli media reported the meeting, including the Israeli army radio, citing unnamed Israeli sources. The WSJ quoted two unidentified Saudi government advisers confirming the meeting. The publication All Israel News reported that “multiple” senior diplomatic Israeli and American sources confirmed that the meeting took place. Netanyahu appears to have taken a private jet from Tel Aviv on Sunday and flown directly to NEOM, a supposed state-of-the-art city that Saudi Arabia is building on its Red Sea coast.

Pompeo, who was already in the Gulf country, was at NEOM on the same day of Netanyahu’s alleged flight.

Netanyahu, Pompeo and the crown prince reportedly held a trilateral meeting there, where they discussed “normalization of ties and Iran,” The WSJ reported, citing one unnamed senior Saudi adviser familiar with the talks. Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, however, denied that “such a meeting occurred” between Saudi and Israeli officials. He wrote in a tweet on Monday:

Netanyahu’s office neither confirmed nor denied that the meeting took place when contacted by reporters. Israel’s housing minister Yoav Gallant apparently confirmed the meeting to the Israeli army radio. He said, according to Reuters:

The very fact the meeting happened, and was outed publicly, even if half-officially right now, is a matter of great importance.

Netanyahu, reportedly accompanied by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, is understood to have spent only a few hours in the Saudi city. NEOM is also where the crown prince hosted a delegation of Christian evangelicals and pro-Israel American figures in Sep 2019. In the months prior to the US elections in November, the Trump administration brokered normalization deals between Israel and three Arab nations: the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. The UAE and Bahrain signed normalization agreements with Israel during a White House ceremony in September, while Sudan announced its intention to do so once an official government is formed in Khartoum. An Israeli delegation reportedly headed to Sudan to firm up ties this week.

At the press conference announcing Sudan’s agreement to normalize relations with Israel, Trump said he expected Saudi Arabia to be among more countries that would follow suit. Israel and Saudi Arabia have no formal diplomatic ties but covert relations go back years. Arabia has reportedly been instrumental in sealing recent normalization deals. For Israel, meanwhile, normalization with Arabia would be the grand prize. In addition to relegating the Palestinian question, the forging of formal ties between Israel and Gulf states is intended to build an alliance to present a united front against Iran. This comes as the Trump administration escalates economic sanctions against Iran in an effort to make Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement irreversible after Joe Biden replaces him as president. Netanyahu recently argued that there must be no return to that deal. He said in a speech in Israel on Sunday:

There must be no return to the previous nuclear agreement. We must stick to an uncompromising policy to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

The 2015 deal reached by the Obama administration and other states saw Iran voluntarily restrict its nuclear energy program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Israel has relentlessly lobbied for intensified economic warfare against Iran, which causes suffering to ordinary Iranians and devastates the country’s economy during a pandemic. In a recent interview with Saudi-owned television channel Al Arabiya, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a former intelligence chief who previously spent decades as the Saudi ambassador in Washington, slammed the Palestinian leadership for its “failures.” He said:

The Palestinian cause is a just cause, but its advocates are failures and the Israeli cause is unjust, but its advocates have proven to be successful.

Prince Bandar’s covert collusion with Israel, including supporting Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, goes back years. Speculation has mounted that the Trump administration is accelerating efforts to implement its so-called Peace to Prosperity plan before it leaves office. Crown Prince Mohammed has been under fire in the last two years after his henchmen murdered and dismembered Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in Oct 2018. MBS, as he is often known, hasn’t entered the US since, where multiple lawsuits have been filed against him in relation to Khashoggi’s murder.

nazi USA

Right Calls Biden A Xi Puppet As He Packs His Cabinet With China Hawks
Caitlin Johnstone, Nov 24 2020

This is your brain:

This is your brain on media echo chambers:

Prior to the US election I wrote a couple of articles saying that if Biden wins he will be attacked by the right as a Xi Jinping puppet even as he escalates dangerous cold war aggressions with China, in exactly the same way Trump was attacked by Democrats as a Putin puppet even as he escalated dangerous cold war aggressions with Russia. This extremely obvious prediction is of course already coming true. I’m still getting dopey wingnuts in my social media notifications telling me that Biden is a Xi Jinping puppet who is going to be soft on China, even as Biden packs his cabinet with virulent anti-China hawks: Biden’s expected Defense Secretary Michele Flournoy opined this past June that the US military needs a new arms race to obtain “the capability to credibly threaten to sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours.” Biden’s choice for Sec State Tony Blinken plans on undermining Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, reportedly wants to “tame” and “try to coalesce skeptical international partners into a new competition with” China, and said that the Biden administration will “fully enforce” the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, “including sanctions on officials, financial institutions, companies and individuals.” Earlier this month The Economist reported that Republican China hawks would be happy with a Sec State nomination for Blinken. Biden’s choice for National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was described by Forbes this past June as a “Peter Navarro-like China hawk” who believes that Beijing is “gearing up to contest America’s global leadership” and that those signs are “unmistakable, and they are ubiquitous.”

It’s not hard to see where people of a certain ideological bent are getting the impression that Biden is going to be a sycophantic Beijing lackey, though, with influential rightist voices pounding that message into their skulls all day every day despite all evidence to the contrary. Just today within hours of this writing you’ve got Republican congressman Dan Crenshaw tweeting that “Biden‘s plan is to let radicals destroy our economy, with little if any benefit for the environment, and huge benefits for China,” right-wing pundit Paul Joseph Watson labeling the murderous war whore Blinken a “compromised SIMP for China,” and bloodthirsty psychopath Tom Cotton proclaiming on no basis whatsoever that Biden is “surrounding himself with panda huggers who will only reinforce his instincts to go soft on China.” “Panda huggers.” This is a sitting member of the US Senate.

This complete schism from reality, where you’ve got an incoming administration stacked with Beltway insiders who want to attack Chinese interests running alongside an alternate imaginary universe in which Biden is a subservient CCP lackey, is only made possible with the existence of media echo chambers. It’s the same exact dynamic that made it possible for liberals to spend four years shrieking conspiracy theories about the executive branch of the US government being run by a literal Russian agent even as Trump advanced mountains of world-threatening cold war escalations against Moscow in the real world. You see this dynamic at work in conventional media, where plutocrat-controlledoutlets like Breitbart are still frantically pushing the Russiagate sequel narrative that Hunter Biden’s activities in China mean that his father is a CCP asset. You also see it in social media, where, as explained by journalist Jonathan Cook in an article about the documentary The Social Dilemma:

As we get herded into our echo chambers of self-reinforcing information, we lose more and more sense of the real world and of each other. We live in different information universes, chosen for us by algorithms whose only criterion is how to maximise our attention for advertisers’ products to generate greater profits for the internet giants.

Because people are a lot more likely to click, read and share information which validates their pre-existing opinions and follow people who do the same, social media is notorious for the way it creates tightly insulated echo chambers which masturbate our confirmation bias and hide any information which might cause us cognitive dissonance by contradicting it. Whole media careers were built on this phenomenon during the years of Russiagate hysteria, and we see it play out in spheres from imperialism to Covid-19 commentary to economic policy.

Someone benefits from this dynamic, and it isn’t you. As we’ve discussed previously, we know from WikiLeaks documents that powerful people actively seek to build ideological echo chambers for the purpose of propaganda and indoctrination, and there is surely a lot more study going into the subject than we’ve seen been shown. Splitting the public up into two oppositional factions who barely interact and can’t even communicate with each other because they don’t share a common reality keeps the populace impotent, ignorant, and powerless to stop the unfolding of the agendas of the powerful.You should not be afraid of your government being too nice to China. What you should worry about is the US-centralized power alliance advancing a multifront new cold war conducted simultaneously against two nuclear-armed nations for the first time ever in human history. There are far, far too many small moving parts in such a cold war for things to happen in a safely predictable manner, which means there are far, far too many chances for something to go very, very wrong. Whenever someone tells you that a US president is going to be “soft” on a nation the US government has marked as an enemy, you are being played. Always, always, always, always. It’s just people manipulating you away from your natural, healthy inclination toward peace. Get out of your echo chamber, look at the raw information instead of the narratives, and stop letting the sociopaths manipulate you.

Biden’s getting the Obama band back together again for an encore performance celebrating nostalgia for a never-was golden age
Helen Buyniski,, Nov 24 2020

The incoming Biden administration’s cabinet carries a strong whiff of deja vu, and that’s no accident. The uninspiring president-elect is staking everything on evoking a lost utopia that never existed under Obama. The Biden campaign’s rule of thumb for his cabinet appointments seems to be to channel the Obama administration, with an extra helping of wokeness where possible. This has seen him float Pentagon veteran and dyed-in-the-wool megahawk Michele Flournoy as the first-ever female Sec Def and former DACA czar Alejandro Mayorkas as the first Latino-Jewish head of the DHS. There’s also the rumor he’s planning to pick Obama’s former Fed chair Janet Yellen as the first-ever female Treasury Sec, but even if she’s not the lucky lady, fellow former Clinton adviser Lael Brainard could get the nod, or one of two black candidates, one of whom happens to be gay. Whoever he picks, they’ll be a “first,” and, given their institutional history as reliable servants of the ruling class under Obama, a dependable source of more-of-the-same fiscal policies.

Lest all this wokeness turn off the Republicans who defected to Biden out of distaste for Trump’s determination to upset the military-industrial applecart, the presumed president has also brought back ex-Sec State ‘Jackass’ Kerry, who’ll be returning to Washington to serve as a ‘climate czar’ on the NSC. While Kerry would be the first person to hold such a position, which will allow him to skip a Senate confirmation that could be unfriendly given the chamber’s Republican control, Kerry’s time at the head of the State Dept saw the Obama administration continue digging the US deeper into its portfolio of ill-advised wars. And Kerry was the man who signed the Paris Climate Accords on behalf of Washington in 2016, a treaty Trump wasted no time removing the US from. He should go down plenty smooth indeed. Most of the Biden picks were second-stringers during the Obama years and thus haven’t quite become household names yet. This is likely to be a point in their favor. If the history of would-be Sec State Antony Blinken is any indication, Biden has good reason for picking relative unknowns.

A report from the American Prospect revealed Blinken had spent the post-Obama years getting rich quick at consulting firm WestExec, which coincidentally (or not) was co-founded by would-be Pentagon chief Flournoy after her most recent stint at the Pentagon. The firm focuses on “helping new companies navigate the complex bureaucracy of winning Pentagon contracts,” suggesting a Biden presidency won’t just deliver a fatter Pentagon budget, but new wars to go with it. It’s no surprise, then, that Washington-watchers are sinking into deja vu. Biden was elected as the “anti-Trump,” a return to some vague fantasy of “normalcy.” Except the nostalgia for the Obama era that helped shoehorn Biden into office earlier this month was based on a wholly synthetic reimagining of the eight years in which the career politician served as vice president. Obama may have inherited Bush 43’s financial crisis in 2008, born of rapacious investment banks that mistook people’s life savings for free chips from a casino, but the “recovery” he claimed as his own never bothered to lift up most working, and middle-class Americans. Many of these lost their homes, and if they didn’t, their children “failed to launch,” in no position to strike out on their own. The younger generation were either mired in student debt or merely unable to afford even the cheapest ‘starter homes’ due to an absence of living-wage jobs open to young adults entering the workplace.

Biden made it clear repeatedly in the run-up to this month’s election that he had no interest in feeling these people’s pain. “I have no empathy for it. Give me a break,” he said, complaining that millennials had been given everything by his own generation, the Baby Boomers. In reality, those “whiners” so loathed by the president-to-be made 20% less than Biden’s generation at the same age at best, assuming they were lucky enough to have a job at all. Back when it was still considered acceptable to trash Biden, most establishment outlets raked him over the coals for such tone-deaf comments. But such negativity was memory-holed when the Democrats crowned Biden their pick to run against Trump, speaking ill of the anointed one got progressives labeled Trump supporters or Nazis or worse.

Those whose rose-colored glasses let them see Biden as the second coming of Obama forget that “Bush in a black-man suit” turned two wars into seven, allowed Citibank, one of the worst offenders of the 2008 financial crisis, to shape his cabinet, and passed a mockery of “universal health-care” that forced the lower-middle-class to purchase health insurance they couldn’t afford or shoulder a tax penalty they also couldn’t afford. Biden has promised to reignite the war in Syria, veto the actual universal health-care policy that is Medicare for All, and ensure nothing will fundamentally change for his fat-cat Wall Street donors, and those donors seem to be picking his cabinet just like they did his boss’ in 2008. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

WaPo Quickly Renames Story on DC’s Political ‘Aristocracy’
Morgan Artyukhina,, Nov 24 2020

In a year that’s featured guillotines at protests and ever-increasing consciousness of social wealth disparities, perhaps deliberately invoking a term that means “rule by the best” wasn’t the most politically savvy move. In a stunning moment of honesty, the WaPo’s editors dropped a story about the attitudes of the US “aristocracy” toward a potential new Joe Biden administration. With Trump losing one state ballot count legal challenge after another, it seems increasingly likely that when the Electoral College’s electors from each state meet next month to cast their official votes for US president, it’s Biden who will come out on top. That has the country’s sociopolitical crème de la crème preparing for a White House whose doors will once again be open to their influences, and being a bit too honest about their enthusiasm. The original headline of a Monday story by Roxanne Roberts in the DC paper’s Style section read:

Washington’s aristocracy hopes a Biden presidency will make schmoozing great again.

However, not long after the story went up, someone clearly realized the horrible optics of the headline and quickly changed it to say “Washington’s establishment” instead. ​After all, it was only a few months ago that protesters demonstrating against Amazon CEO and WaPo owner Jeff Bezos’ record profit-making amid skyrocketing poverty under the COVID-19 pandemic brought to his DC abode a facsimile of a guillotine, the French Revolution-era head-chopping device on which many an 18th-century marquis met their gruesome end. ​Despite the headline shift, the text of the article continues to refer to “the aristocracy of this city,” noting the elite policy influencers in a city that voted 93% for Democrat candidate Biden earlier this month are delighted at the idea of being able to flex those lobbyist muscles once more. The story reports an influential Republican hostess, who notably spoke anonymously, as saying:

The Bidens know how to get around Washington, how to be a part of the establishment, how to make it work for them in their everyday lives. People who have always enjoyed the Washington scene are yearning to get back to that, have some semblance of what they enjoyed so much before. There are a lot of Republicans who sat out the Trump years and bit their tongues for four years who are thrilled to have Biden.

However, it’s not the would-be Jacobins that these patricians seem to fear: according to the story, it’s another four years with a chief executive who spurns their parlors’ rarified air. The Post opines:

For the last four years, the tone from the White House was contemptuous of Washington, dismissing the permanent establishment, the long-time politicians and former administration officials who call it home, as the ‘swamp’ or ‘deep state.’ The social arbiters, traditionally respectful of a new administration, quickly found themselves between a Trump and a hard place: To invite or not to invite?’ … Washington never forgets, sometimes forgives, and carries on.

However, the WaPo isn’t the only paper worried about the opinions of US elites in a post-President Trump world. Earlier this month, a CNN story speculated about the future social life of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, noting:

Jared and Ivanka are poised to return to a Manhattan social scene that no longer welcomes them.

Then on Friday, the NYT ran a story elaborating on the likelihood of Ivanka getting kicked out of galas and being forced to buy clothes at retail in New York, “where the performative distaste for the couple is unsurpassed,” after she and her husband went to work as unofficial advisers for her father in the White House.

nazi britain

Boris Johnson politicized the Ministerial Code in 2019 & now, anything goes
Leighton Andrews, Byline Times, Nov 24 2020

The Foreword to the Ministerial Code written by Boris Johnson in August 2019 gives the full context of why Priti Patel was allowed to stay in the Cabinet. The Foreword’s opening sentence reads:

The mission of this Government is to deliver Brexit on Oct 31 for the purpose of uniting and re-energising our whole United Kingdom and making this country the greatest place on earth.

The Government may have failed its Oct 31 mission, but the Brexit context is everything. Later on, the Prime Minister’s Foreword states:

Crucially, there must be no delay, and no misuse of process or procedure by any individual Minister that would seek to stall the collective decisions necessary to deliver Brexit and secure the wider changes needed across our United Kingdom.

This is the Ministerial Code used as a weapon in the culture war. Everything, including standards in government, is seen through the Brexit lens. Brexiteers like Patel are safe. The mission to deliver Brexit overrides what we had come to understand were the acceptable standards of public life. Awkwardly, the Prime Minister’s Foreword also states:

There must be no bullying and no harassment; no leaking; no breach of collective responsibility. No misuse of taxpayer money and no actual or perceived conflicts of interest.

Bullying, leaking, misuse of taxpayers’ money: well, all those have been evident. The Prime Minister has contradicted his independent advisor on the bullying issue; two of the alleged chief leakers have departed; the National Audit Office has produced a scathing report on the separate high-priority channel for friends of MPs and Ministers to win Covid procurement contracts at a high cost to the taxpayer. But no matter, if you’re a Brexiter. The PM will get his mates to form a square around you, a much better defence than the ‘protective ring’ Matt Hancock claimed had been thrown around care homes. Boris Johnson has never believed that the rules apply to him. He is the first Prime Minister to have been censured by both the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments and the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for breaking the rules. In his first few weeks, he sought a prorogation of Parliament subsequently judged illegal by the Supreme Court. His Internal Market Bill breaks international law “in a limited and specific way.” Johnson’s rule-breaking is a policy, not an accident. In a system where so many of the rules rest on unwritten consensus on norms and behaviours, Johnson tests what he can get away with. And his adherents want more. The think-tank Policy Exchange, some of whose authors have been keen to stress their role in writing last year’s Conservative manifesto, has been developing proposals for a radical constitutional reordering. The proposed rebranding the Supreme Court as an Upper Court of Appeal, essentially nullifying its role as a constitutional court, strengthening ministerial oversight of judicial appointments and limiting judicial review, the reestablishment of Parliamentary sovereignty but with the executive’s powers reinforced, limits on the Human Rights Act and on the application of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the politicization of public appointments, something the Commissioner on Public Appointments, the respected former political editor Peter Riddell, has warned about.

The Queen’s Speech announced a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights commission whose members, says Policy Exchange, must be ‘united by a shared appreciation of the UK’s traditional constitution.’ Since we are not yet a hundred years form the establishment of the Irish Free State, it’s not entirely clear what that ‘traditional constitution’ might mean. But this is an agenda based on the notion of ‘the will of the people,’ enshrined in the Ministerial Code as the mission to deliver Brexit. If Johnson gets his way, we can expect it to be implemented ruthlessly, just as the majoritarian vote in the referendum was used ruthlessly to remove a variety of citizenship rights from UK citizens, and as ruthlessly as dissident long-standing Conservatives were thrown overboard for their summer rebellion last year. We’ve had twenty-five years since Lord Nolan’s report on public standards was adopted. The Nolan rules depended on a shared political consensus about the norms which underpin standards in public life and a media that endorsed those standards and ways of operating and refused to downplay breaches of norms simply because the politician affected shared their views on a particular issue. In the UK today, attitudes to Brexit determine attitudes to political norms, and the Ministerial Code is simply a weapon in the culture war. The Nolan rules, in the jargon of today, need a reset, and they need statutory underpinning. We need an Office of Government Ethics, properly resourced, staffed and empowered, accountable to Parliament not Government, in place of the advisory bodies and rules which have been ignored or shredded by the Prime Minister. But don’t hold your breath.

Hancock added to anti-Muslim hate with distancing claims, says government adviser
Josh Halliday, Guy Kilty, Groan, Nov 24 2020

The government has been criticised by its own Islamophobia adviser for refusing to publish the evidence behind Matt Hancock’s claim that people were “not abiding to social distancing” as he imposed a lockdown on 4.6m people in northern England at the start of the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Adha. Qari Asim, the deputy chair of a government taskforce on anti-Muslim hatred, said:

Hancock’s claim on Twitter added to hateful narratives and gave the impression that Muslim communities were not social distancing and were ignoring the government guidelines.

Hancock made the remark in a late-night Twitter thread on Jul 30, when Eid al-Adha started, announcing with three hours’ notice that strict restrictions would be imposed on Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Leicester from midnight. He said:

The spread is largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing. So from midnight tonight, people from different households will not be allowed to meet each other indoors in these areas.

The lockdown, imposed 12 weeks ago and largely still in place, sparked a frenzy on far-right social media networks as extremists blamed Muslims for spreading the coronavirus. The timing and manner of the announcement was immediately criticised by police chiefs, MPs from all parties, and Muslim leaders who described it as “shameless scapegoating of Muslims.” Many of the northern cities and towns placed under lockdown have above-average south Asian populations. In response to a freedom of information request, the Dept of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed it held the evidence to support Hancock’s claim but refused to publish it. It said:

To publish the data would jeopardise the internal deliberative process as it relates to policy-making.

Asim, a senior adviser to the government, urged ministers to publish the data immediately. He said:

Hancock’s claim gave the impression that Muslim communities were not social distancing and were ignoring the government guidelines. Therefore it’s only right that full data is made public to make things clearer. We saw a rise of Islamophobia online [in the aftermath of the announcement] and the Muslim communities were seen as the cause of another lockdown. Some people definitely felt that the timing of the announcement was very poor. The way it was made showed disregard to a faith community. We don’t want to give rise to hateful narratives and it’s really important that the authorities ensure that such hateful narratives are not supported.

Hancock’s tweets came just hours after a high-level meeting had considered a report by a subgroup of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) that said:

Local lockdowns lead to a divided nation and, may be exploited by extreme right-wing groups. Perceived inconsistency or unfairness in how and where restrictions are imposed could lead to social unrest and public disorder.

‘Sir’ Chris Ham, the former chief executive of the health think-tank the King’s Fund, said:

The evidence used by ministers when taking lockdown decisions should always be made public, especially as these decisions have a major impact on the lives of people affected. Transparency is essential if public trust in the government’s decisions is to be restored, as already happens with Sage minutes.

Wajid Khan, the mayor of Burnley borough council, one of the towns placed under lockdown, said:

The manner of Hancock’s announcement led Muslims to feel scapegoated and blame. They felt used, confused and abused. The government’s failure to publish the evidence behind Hancock’s claim will exacerbate distrust towards the way decision-making affects those communities. It is in all of our interest to find out what led to this controversial decision.

The DHSC has been contacted for comment.

‘Orwellian’ government unit obstructs freedom of information, says report
Rob Evans, Groan, Nov 24 2020

The government has been accused of operating an “Orwellian” unit that obstructs the release of sensitive information requested by the public under the Freedom of Information Act. A new report on the “clearing house,” a little-known unit that sits at the heart of government, discloses how it seeks to control the release of potentially embarrassing information. The unit requires Whitehall departments to send it requests that are deemed to be potentially sensitive or too expensive to answer. The unit routinely instructs departments to submit to it drafts of proposed responses so that they can be vetted. The requests, which are understood to total about 50 a day, have often originated from journalists seeking to hold ministers to account, campaigners challenging government policy and academics. On Tuesday, the openDemocracy website called the unit “Orwellian” in a report which accuses ministers of hindering the disclosure of information in “disturbing” ways. Introduced in 2005 to open up the workings of official bodies, the Freedom of Information Act allows the public to submit requests for specific pieces of information to government organisations which are then required to decide whether to release it. In its analysis, openDemocracy says central government departments are granting fewer requests than ever before. It says that the Cabinet Office, which is in charge of freedom of information policy, has one of the worst records on access to information. The Cabinet Office, and other public bodies, often cynically fail to respond to requests from the public in any way, according to openDemocracy. Whitehall departments are required to send to the clearing house requests that seek information about subjects deemed to be “sensitive.” It is unclear what constitutes a “sensitive” subject. The unit also asks to see requests that have been submitted to multiple departments but are asking for the same information from each. The Cabinet Office has said this allows the government to monitor requests that may cost too much public money to answer, as permitted under the act. Each day, the clearing house circulates advice on how to answer these requests to Whitehall departments. Whitehall sources confirm that these requests have been submitted by journalists from the Guardian, the BBC, the Times, the Mirror, the Sun and the Daily Telegraph. Other requests have been submitted by campaigners such as Privacy International, which opposes government surveillance. Routinely, the unit tells Whitehall departments “we would like to see drafts” or “send draft responses to clearing house.” The Cabinet Office, which is responsible for running the prime minister’s office and supporting his cabinet, has said individual departments can ultimately decide what information to disclose. David Davis, the former Conservative minister, said:

The whole purpose of the Freedom of Information Act was to increase transparency and accountability of government. This clearing house is certainly against the spirit of that act – and probably the letter, too. Ministers should explain to the House of Commons precisely why they continue with this set-up in view of the fact that it is contradictory to the whole purpose of freedom of information.

In a statement, the Cabinet Office said:

The Cabinet Office plays an important role through the FOI Clearing House of ensuring there is a standard approach across government in the way we consider and respond to requests. The government is committed to its transparency agenda, routinely discloses information beyond its obligations under the FOI Act, and is releasing more proactive publications than before. With increasing transparency, we receive increasingly more complex requests under freedom of information. We must balance the public need to make information available with our duty to protect sensitive information and ensure national security.

UK government blacklisted journalists over freedom of information requests
Ian Cobain, Middle East Eye, Nov 24 2020

The UK government has created a potentially unlawful “blacklist” of the names of people seeking information under the country’s Freedom of Information Act, two investigative journalists have discovered. The names of charity workers, campaigners and journalists have been entered on the list without their knowledge, in an apparent breach of the UK’s privacy laws. Journalists working for the AP, BBC, Guardian and other news organisations are known to have been placed on the list along with people working for Friends of the Earth, Privacy International and other NGOs. It is thought that none of them have been informed. The discovery of the blacklist comes at a time when the British government is mounting efforts to stem the release of information under the act. A recent survey conducted by the UK’s National Union of Journalists found that its members now believe the government’s increasing disregard of transparency laws is a greater impediment to their work than the UK’s notoriously stringent libel laws. British government departments are granting fewer and refusing more Freedom of Information Act requests than at any time in the law’s 15-year history.

The blacklist was discovered by Jenna Corderoy and Peter Geoghegan, two journalists with the openDemocracy website. It is maintained within a unit known as the Clearing House, located within the Cabinet Office, the department that supports the prime minister and co-ordinates the work of government. The Cabinet Office initially refused to disclose the list, but the Information Commissioner’s Office, which oversees the implementation of the act, ordered it to do so. It includes applicants’ names, which were redacted before the list was handed over, along with the names of their employers, and details of their work. It is still refusing to disclose documentation relating to the list, including advice that it offers to other British government departments. It is planning to appeal to the courts against the Information Commissioner’s ruling that more details of the Clearing House operations should be made public. Requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act are supposed to be “applicant blind,” with government departments not discriminating for or against individuals who make them. The court that hears the Cabinet Office’s appeal may also rule on the legality of the Clearing House operations, with some privacy law experts believing it may be declared unlawful. Jon Baines, a data protection advisor at London law firm Mishcon de Reya said:

I am far from assured that the operation of the Clearing House complies with data protection law. It appears to use a round robin list by which FOI requesters’ names are circulated around all government departments. Requesters would not normally have a reasonable expectation that their details would be so widely disclosed, and in most cases it does not appear that they are informed that this will happen. Moreover, I suspect that most requesters would object to the breadth of this disclosure. Data protection law requires, as a basic principle, that personal data be processed fairly and in a transparent manner. On the evidence that I have seen, I do not feel that the Clearing House meets these requirements.

Gavin Freeguard, head of data and transparency at the Institute for Government, said:

With delayed responses, more requests being rejected than ever before and these reports of a Clearing House it feels like we’re having to fight for the right to information all over again. And all this at a time when it’s vital for politicians, the press and the public to be able to scrutinise government.

A number of British politicians also expressed alarm at the discovery of the Clearing House. David Davis, a Conservative former cabinet minister, said:

The whole purpose of the Freedom of Information Act was to increase transparency and accountability of government. To that explicit end, all requests are legally required to be treated independent of who the applicant is. This Clearing House is certainly against the spirit of that act, and probably the letter too. Ministers should explain to the House of Commons precisely why they continue with this set-up in view of the fact that it is contradictory to the whole purpose of freedom of information.

Helen Hayes, shadow Cabinet Office minister with the opposition Labour party, said:

This is extremely troubling. If the Cabinet Office is interfering in FOI requests and seeking to work around the requirements of the Act by blacklisting journalists, it is a grave threat to our values and transparency in our democracy.

The government minister heading the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove, has a history of attempting to undermine the effectiveness of the UK’s Freedom of Information Act. In 2010, while education secretary, he was discovered to be sending emails through an account in the name of his wife. His advisors called this the “Mrs Blurt account.” Gove’s officials at the education department systematically destroyed correspondence, and his closest political advisor, Dominic Cummings, told colleagues that he would answer only those emails that came from personal accounts. The Information Commissioner concluded that the department should be subject to special monitoring to ensure that it complied with the law.

UK government running ‘Orwellian’ unit to block release of ‘sensitive’ information
Peter Geoghegan, Jenna Corderoy, Open Democracy, Nov 23 2020

The British government has been accused of running an ‘Orwellian’ unit in Michael Gove’s office that instructs Whitehall departments on how to respond to Freedom of Information requests and shares personal information about journalists, openDemocracy can reveal today. Experts warn that the practice could be breaking the law, and openDemocracy is now working with the law firm Leigh Day on a legal bid to force Gove’s Cabinet Office to reveal full details of how its secretive ‘Clearing House’ unit operates. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are supposed to be ‘applicant-blind’: meaning who makes the request should not matter. But it now emerges that government departments and non-departmental public bodies have been referring ‘sensitive’ FOI requests from journalists and researchers to the Clearing House in Gove’s department in a move described by a shadow cabinet minister as “blacklisting.”

This secretive FOI unit gives advice to other departments “to protect sensitive information,” and collates lists of journalists with details about their work. These lists have included journalists from openDemocracy, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC and many more, as well as researchers from Privacy International and Big Brother Watch and elsewhere. The unit has also signed off on FOI responses from other Whitehall departments, effectively centralising control within Gove’s office over what information is released to the public. Conservative MP David Davis called on government ministers to “explain to the House of Commons precisely why they continue” with a Clearing House operation that is “certainly against the spirit of that Act, and probably the letter too.” Labour shadow Cabinet Office minister Helen Hayes said:

This is extremely troubling. If the cabinet office is interfering in FOI requests and seeking to work around the requirements of the Act by blacklisting journalists, it is a grave threat to our values and transparency in our democracy.

Details of the Clearing House are revealed in a new report on Freedom of Information published today by openDemocracy. ‘Art of Darkness’ finds that the UK government has granted fewer and rejected more FOI requests than ever before, with standards falling particularly sharply in the most important Whitehall departments.

The Clearing House circulates a daily list of FOI requests to up to 70 departments and public bodies that contains details of all requests that it is advising on. This list covers FOI requests about “sensitive subjects” as well as ‘round robin’ requests made to multiple government departments.

Press freedom campaigners have sharply criticised the Clearing House operation and have called for full transparency. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

The existence of this clearing house in the Cabinet Office is positively Orwellian. It poses serious questions about the government’s approach to access to information, its attitude to the public’s right to know and the collation of journalists’ personal information.

Jon Baines, a data protection expert at the law firm Mischon de Reya and chair of the National Association of Data Protection Officers, said:

I am far from assured that the operation of the Clearing House complies with data protection law. Data protection law requires, as a basic principle, that personal data be processed fairly and in a transparent manner. On the evidence that I have seen, I do not feel that the Clearing House meets these requirements.

The new report published by openDemocracy paints a disturbing picture of the state of Freedom of Information in Britain. In 2019, central UK government departments granted fewer and rejected more FOI requests than ever before. In the last five years, the Cabinet Office, as well as the Treasury, Foreign Office and Home Office, have all withheld more requests than they granted, according to the report. The Cabinet Office, which is the government department responsible for Freedom of Information policy, has one of the worst records on access to information. Last year, Michael Gove’s department was the branch of Whitehall most likely to have its decisions referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which regulates information rights in the UK.

New analysis by openDemocracy also shows that some public bodies are cynically undermining requests for information by failing to respond to requests in any way – a tactic described in openDemocracy’s report as ‘stonewalling’. Decision Notices, which are issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about stonewalling, have increased by 70% in the last five years. Again, the Cabinet Office is a repeat offender. The study reveals that the ICO fully or partially upheld complaints about mishandled requests in 48% of its Decision Notices last year: the highest proportion in five years. Yet the ICO’s capacity to investigate complaints and enforce the Act is diminishing. The regulator has seen its budget cut by 41 per cent over the last decade, while its complaint caseload has increased by 46 per cent in the same period. The ICO’s enforcement may also be hampered by its governance structure, under which it is accountable on FOI to the Cabinet Office. Michael Gove’s department also is involved in setting the ICO’s annual budget. Responding to openDemocracy’s questions about the Clearing House, a government spokesperson said:

The Cabinet Office plays an important role through the FOI Clearing House of ensuring there is a standard approach across government in the way we consider and respond to requests. With increasing transparency, we receive increasingly more complex requests under Freedom of Information. We must balance the public need to make information available with our duty to protect sensitive information and ensure national security.

openDemocracy has had first hand experience of how the Clearing House slows down or obstructs FOI requests, and profiles journalists, on a number of different occasions. In Feb 2020, openDemocracy journalist Jenna Corderoy sent an FOI request to the Ministry of Defence about meetings with short-lived special advisor Andrew Sabisky. The MoD subsequently complained internally:

Due to the time spent in getting an approval from Clearing House, the FOI requestor has put in a complaint to the ICO.

The MoD refused the Sabisky request after 196 days, which is more than six times the normal limit for responding to an FOI request. Separately, when Corderoy sent a Freedom of Information request to the Attorney General’s Office, staff at the office wrote in internal emails:

Just flagging that Jenna Corderoy is a journalist … once the response is confirmed, I’ll just need [redacted] to sign off on this before it goes out, since Jenna Corderoy is a reporter for openDemocracy.

Today’s findings on the operation of the Clearing House add to mounting questions about the British government’s approach to transparency and press freedom. Earlier this year, Number 10 was heavily criticised after it barred openDemocracy from COVID press briefings. The Ministry of Defence was also subsequently accused of ‘blacklisting’ DeclassifiedUK after the department refused to provide comment to the investigative website. Edin Omanovic, advocacy director at Privacy International saidL

The point of Freedom of Information is to access information from individual authorities themselves, not from a centralised body within the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office should not be interfering.

Silke Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said:

We’re appalled that such important information rights have been so disrespected by the government. The centralisation of difficult FOIs, the secrecy of this list and the fact that our names have been circulated around Whitehall is seriously chilling. This is a shameful reflection on the government’s attitude towards transparency.

openDemocracy first asked for copies of the Clearing House lists back in 2018. The Cabinet Office refused this Freedom of Information request but, 23 months later, in July 2020 the ICO finally decided that the lists, including the advice that the Cabinet Office provides on dealing with FOI requests, should be disclosed to the public. While the Cabinet Office eventually disclosed some material from the Clearing House list, it is keeping its advice to departments secret and is appealing against the ICO’s decision. openDemocracy, represented by the law firm Leigh Day, will now be submitting evidence to an information tribunal hearing to determine whether this information about the Clearing House should be made public. According to ICO guidance, a public authority can only look up a requester’s identity if the request is repeated, potentially a vexatious request, or whether the cost of two or more requests made by the requester can be aggregated under FOI.

The ICO has been aware of the Clearing House’s existence for some time. In 2005, the Clearing House’s annual budget was reported to be £700k. The Clearing House was initially housed within the then Dept for Constitutional Affairs then later moved to the Ministry of Justice. In 2015, when the Cabinet Office took responsibility for freedom of information policy, the department also took over the Clearing House, despite concerns about its operation. The Cabinet Office has previously advertised roles to work in the Cabinet Office’s Clearing House. Specific responsibilities listed for the positions included “creating a weekly FOI tracker of new cases and releases” and “forwarding drafts for clearance, reverting to departments with advice and negotiating redrafted responses.” But openDemocracy’s findings and the upcoming tribunal case have highlighted fresh and pressing concerns, including among rights advocates who campaigned for the initial, groundbreaking Freedom of Information legislation more than 15 years ago. The Campaign for Freedom of Information’s Katherine Gundersen has said:

It’s time the clearing house was subjected to proper scrutiny.

Meanwhile Gavin Freeguard, head of data and transparency at the Institute for Government, said that, 15 years after the Freedom of Information act came into effect, it was not right that the public was still having to fight to access information. Freeguard said:

With delayed responses, more requests being rejected than ever before and these reports of a Clearing House it feels like we’re having to fight for the right to information all over again. And all this at a time when it’s vital for politicians, the press and the public to be able to scrutinise government.

The Cabinet Office organises quarterly engagement meetings and biannual information rights forums with other government departments. openDemocracy sent an FOI requesting materials from these meetings and forums, but the request was denied.

nazi europe

Austrian crackdown on Palestinian NGOs signals slide into tyranny
Anas Altikriti, Middle East Eye, Nov 24 2020

When hundreds of Austrian security and police personnel swooped on 70 addresses in Vienna at dawn on Nov 9, leaving dozens of Austrian Muslim families terrorised, shocked and distraught, the initial assumption was that it was in response to an armed attack a week earlier which left four dead and 20 injured in central Vienna. However, eyebrows were raised when Interior Minister Karl Nehammer denied this, stating that these raids, the largest and most extensive of their sort, had absolutely nothing to do with the Islamic State group-affiliated gunman of a week before. Indeed, the minister went on to clarify that the targeted homes and offices were of individuals and organisations allegedly linked to Palestinian movement Hamas and/or the Muslim Brotherhood. It is notable that several human rights organisations and activists across Europe, including the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties, condemned this operation as having violated the human rights of those targeted.

It is intriguing that this operation, one of the largest in Europe at the time, was unrelated to the attack that preceded it and was wholly political in nature. It came as the country was dealing with the aftermath and fall-out of a major terrorist attack, in which it was revealed that the Islamic State-supporting assailant was known to the authorities and had also been known to have recently met associates in Germany, who were themselves being monitored by German authorities. Further, the fact that numerous human rights violations were committed, including the manner in which residents with young children were raided at an impossible hour, with families seeing their possessions, including mobile phone, electronic devices and cash, confiscated without explanation, as well as the failure to officially charge any of those arrested, mirrors the practices of oppressive and dictatorial regimes in Third World countries. Among those who saw heavily armed anti-terrorist personnel break through their front door at 5am on Nov 9 was a 76-year-old widow who lives alone and whose late husband worked for the UN. This pensioner was detained and interrogated for hours, and remains traumatised by the events of that day.

Whether this, along with recent French official statements, indicates a systemic regression in democracy and freedoms, which accompanies the rise of far right and populist politicians throughout Europe, remains to be seen, but must be a source of extreme concern nonetheless. Moreover, at a time when Austrian people were expecting some sort of disclosure as to how the attack that took place on Nov 2 was allowed to happen, the sudden move against dozens of long-standing law-abiding Austrian Muslim organisations and individuals under the guise that they somehow pose a threat to Austrian values, is problematic as well as highly questionable. It is unclear whether the government was attempting to distract from its security failure by creating a side show of such magnitude, or if it relented to financial pressure from authoritarian regimes in the UAE and Saudi Arabia that have declared war against democratic actors whom they see as a real threat to their grip on power. A third explanation seems to relate to the Austrian government’s commitmentto Trump’s forceful push for the “deal of the century,” which requires the rapid removal of all impediments, including the numerous pro-Palestinian NGOs that operate throughout Europe and the West.

After all, if there was a common thread between all of those targeted, it was that they all campaigned for, or worked for Palestinian causes. Although law-abiding, tax-paying and transparent, the tolerance for pro-Palestinian sentiment is becoming less and less throughout Europe and correlates with how European governments are embracing far-right ideas. A favoured turn of phrase is that anyone who expresses support for the rights of Palestinians or works to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian refugees, or provides clothing for Palestinian orphans, must be pro-Hamas and subsequently seen as suspect. Besides violating the basic rights and freedoms of citizens, it is also highly dangerous, as it could potentially be exploited by extremists on all sides. Since none of those targeted had committed a crime, what could possibly justify this iron-fisted approach and this crackdown on legal entities carrying out humanitarian work of all sorts? Why close down personal and business bank accounts of innocent citizens at a time when families are under immense financial stress and pressure due to Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns?

It must be said that a serious threat to stability within Europe and its economic, social and political prosperity is its politicians’ inclination to behave as ideologues, activists or salespersons. While calling on Austrian authorities to address the damage done to dozens of families, to return the possessions confiscated from the households and offices raided and to restore the bank accounts closed, it is crucial that this kind of incident never happens again anywhere in Europe. For true stability, the scourge of extremism, all forms of extremism, must be overcome. To misdirect the struggle against the likes of Islamic State and far-right neo-Nazis, which all of society is united behind, to another struggle targeting peaceful elements that hold certain political views or carry out humanitarian and charitable work, is to divide society, and to hand an easy victory to extremists and terrorists. To emulate dictatorships by regressing into tyranny, fascism, authoritarianism and oppression against our own citizens entails an even greater and far more substantial defeat.

France’s interior minister launches probe after ‘shocking images’ of police clearing migrant camp, Nov 24 2020 11:39

France is investigating images showing police dismantling a 450-strong migrant camp in central Paris, clashing with demonstrators, attacking journalists and using batons and tear gas against the crowd.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has announced an investigation after ‘shocking’ images circulated on social media of violent clashes, as police broke up a migrant camp in a central Paris square.

I have just demanded a detailed report on the reality of the facts from the prefect of police by midday tomorrow. I will take decisions as soon as I receive it.

Police were sent in to disperse the gathering after charity Utopia 56 asked 450 refugees to set up tents in the square to protest the forced dismantling of a migrant camp several days earlier in Saint Denis, a suburb of the capital. Footage showed police attacking reporter Remy Buisine, who works for French news site Brut, while he was trying to cover the clashes. Buisine claims the same police officer targeted him three times despite his having shown a press pass. After the incident, Brut stated that it would be demanding explanations from the police prefecture and the Ministry of the Interior. Before he was targeted, Buisine had posted videos on Twitter of police charging towards other reporters, threatening to arrest him and detaining a photographer for being in attendance during the skirmishes.

When the Saint-Denis camp was cleared on Nov 17, authorities said that migrants would be moved to reception centers and given shelter. Utopia 56 claims that, instead, the government has forced the individuals who’d been living in the camp to sleep rough on the streets in and around Paris. In order to address the situation, the charity has called on local authorities to immediately provide 1,000 places in shelters and to establish a permanent system for safely registering migrants. Ian Brossat, the Deputy Paris Mayor responsible for housing, condemned the actions of police as crazy, pathetic harassment and asserted that the state has to work to find housing for homeless individuals in the country. Despite the criticism, the police prefecture has defended the actions of its officers, arguing that the gathering of migrants in these camps is unacceptable and any illegal occupation will be immediately dispersed.

big data & small minds make a very nasty combination

Will the Technocratic Coup Succeed?
Alastair Crooke, Strategic Culture, Nov 23 2020

Fed Chair Powell said recently:

We’re not going back to the same economy. We’re recovering, but to a different economy, and it will be one that is more leveraged to technology, and I worry that it’s going to make it even more difficult than it was, for many workers.

Klaus Schwab, the Davos chairman, was more blunt:

Nothing will ever return to the ‘broken’ sense of normalcy that prevailed. We will be surprised by both the rapidity and unexpected nature of these changes, as they conflate with each other, they will provoke cascading effects and unforeseen outcomes.

Schwab makes it clear that the western élite will not allow life to return to normal, suggesting that rolling lockdowns and other restrictions may become permanent. ‘Recovering to a different economy’? Well, actually the creeping ‘coup’ has been residing in plain view for quite a while. The changes have been less noticed, partly because western élites have stuck fast to the free-market narrative, whilst incrementally shifting over the decades to an oligarchical economy blossoming alongside the free-market economy. Yet it has been an important metamorphosis, for it has laid the groundwork for a more fundamental fusion of interests of business oligarchy and government. This fusion used to be called the ‘administrative state’ and was widely practiced in 19th Century Europe. If we want to understand the roots to this ‘quiet coup,’ we need to return to the ethos that emerged from WW2. It was ‘never again’ in terms of that terrible wartime bloodshed, and it encapsulated the notion that the spilt blood should be somehow ‘redeemed’ by moving to fairer, more equitable societies. These latter sentiments turned activist, culminating in the 1960s, an occurrence that frightened US business élites. The élites moved their ‘counter-revolution.’ They lobbied; they lobbied hard, evolving their lobbying enterprise into an ‘industrial scale’ enterprise, employing ‘brigades’ of lawyers and encompassing big money. And now, trillions of dollars are at stake: K Street (the lobbying HQ in Washington) is where the legislative ‘sausage’ is actually assembled, and not the US Congress. It is external to Congress, to whom it is ‘sold’ in a mutually beneficial exchange. Gradually, one segment of the erstwhile radical Boomers quietly folded themselves into the new Big Corporate ethos, whilst another part entered into politics, eventually going on to become the nation’s political leaders. It is not hard to see how a common zeitgeist might emerge. It is half-heartedly woke, big corporate in outlook, and committed to the notion of élite ‘scientifically administered’ rule.

The point here is that there was never anything inevitable to this American-led ‘quiet’ oligarchic take-over. It was never immutable. It happened in America, as it had ‘happened’ earlier in 19th Century Europe. The Boomer radicals never were true ‘revolutionaries,’ and the oligarchs took advantage of their reticence. The Boomer influx into the corporate and business world, however, did lay firstly, that key incremental shift towards a fusion of big business to government. Secondly, that fusion is now being consolidated through the programmes of pandemic monetary relief concentrated in the corporate sector. And the third step, today’s US Tech war with China, is both further entrenching Silicon Valley and the corporate oligarchy, as well as opening the prospect to a bigger power-grab that is intended to entrench a small Techno-élite at the head of a global administration and in command of global digital money and assets. This is the Re-Set; it aims to forge the new global order to its advantage. And so, back to Jerome Powell’s warning of a ‘recovery’ to “a different economy.” It does have a whiff of inevitability to it; that is to say, Powell is presenting the fact that the Fed is now ‘painted into a corner,’ whereas Schwab’s hyping of a ‘welcome paradigm shift,’ by contrast, is different. It is an exceptionalist ideology, with nothing inherently inevitable about it. The two should not be confused. But whether Powell likes it or not, in the Coronavirus ‘new normal,’ the free market segment of the West’s economy is indeed being systematically destroyed, at the same time that the major portion of stimulus is being channelled to the largest of large multinational corporations, and to systemically important Banks. It will indeed be a different economy. This fusion of government to big business has been reinforced during the pandemic, and that plainly helps facilitate those hoping for a fundamental re-set of the global order. The Tech war is the cherry on the cake, if Silicon Valley succeeds in its bid for Tech hegemony, these US Tech giants will be global political players. They are near that already now.

Will the Technocratic coup succeed? Or, will the ideology, the oligarchic vision behind it, simply descend into a zero sum game of big power Tech rivalry on a par with 19th Century great power rivalries? Let us recall that those rivalries did not end well. As things presently stand, Tech rivalry between US and China, on account of the fundamental difference between Tech rivalry and ordinary commercial competition, makes a clash quite possible. What then is this inherent quality to Tech that differentiates it from ordinary commerce, and exacerbates the risk of 19th Century style warring? It is this: Not so long ago, the digital economy was thought to soar above conventional geo-politics. The global Internet, aspiring to be free and open, was seen as a general-purpose technology, as revolutionary and as fungible as the internal combustion engine, and a good in the sense of ‘public commons.’ This halcyon chimaera about Tech lingers on amongst the public, even as elements of Tech have assumed the darker function of surveilling, and disciplining society on behalf of ‘big brother.’ Fast forward to today: Data is the new ‘oil,’ and has become the strategic commodity that governments are fighting over, trying to protect, defend and even hoard, to the exclusion of others. Every state now feels obligated have its national ‘AI strategy’ in order to ‘refine’ this new crude and to profit from it. If big powers used to fight over oil, today they wrangle (more disceetly perhaps) over data. Taiwan may simply be a pretext, behind which lurks American ambitions to dominate the norms and standards for the next decades.

The optimism spurred by the original internet as a global ‘good’ thus has receded in favor of a rivalrous clash for Technological hegemony – a clash that might easily one day turn ‘hot’. One might have assumed that the next generation of digital technology would continue the Internet pattern as ‘win-win’ for everyone, but it didn’t. Machine learning is different. Machine learning broadly refers to ‘modelling’ that is not pre-programmed, as in having instructions (code) that the computer then executes, but which instead uses a set of AI learning-models which enable the computers themselves to extract patterns from large data sets, and evolve their own algorithms (decision rules). These new algorithms that the machine evolves then are run against new data, problems and questions (which can be highly profitable, such as in Cloud analytics). These algorithms indeed are useful tools and have their positive aspects. They are not particularly new, and machines are not particularly good at learning. They do not approximate human psyche (nor can they) and models that work well in the laboratory often fail in real life. But in particular areas, where there are good data sets, they can be transformative, in medicine, physics, energy exploration, defence etc.

And this is where the dynamics of geopolitical rivalry comes to the fore. It is because big data and advanced machine learning systems lashed together constitute a positive feedback loop, where better data feeds better analytics, which in turn, feeds bigger potential returns from other, separate data sets. It has, in short, an accumulative dynamic: more profit brings forth more political heft, which brings forth more profit, etc. And leaders and laggards in this ‘competition’ usually will be states. It is precisely this, the hunt for a positive feedback loop and fear of falling behind, that can pull the globe apart if we let it. And it is this feedback characteristic in analytics that makes Big Tech rivalry different from normal commercial competition. Data and lightning-fast analytics ultimately will determine military primacy, as well as Tech standards’ leadership. Big Tech companies therefore draw the intense interest of governments, not simply as regulators, but as principal users, funders, and sometimes owners of technology. Hence the oligarchic fusion has a built-in intensifier, in this optic – the fusion of oligarchy and governance interests tightens. Yet hot rivalry over data and algorithms analytis is not pre-ordained. Again, the point is that the present resort to Tech war reflects precisely a particular way-of-thinking: an ideology. Recently, China’s Global Times published a piece by Xue Li, a director at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which makes exactly this point:

Based on Christian monotheism, the spirit of Roman law and Greek formal logic, Western civilization largely views problems and world order from the perspective of binary opposition. Therefore, they prefer forming alliances in diplomacy so as to restrain and even assimilate allies through mandatory mechanisms. This allows them to confront and even defeat the non-allies. At the same time, they firmly believe that every country must have a similar diplomatic philosophy, so it is necessary to encircle and even disintegrate emerging powers. They not only try to equate the history of Christian expansion with the universal history of humanity, but also view the diplomatic concept of the Christian civilization over past 500 years as the world’s universal diplomatic philosophy. They do not realize that 500 years is a relatively short period in the history of human civilization, and that different civilizations have different views on diplomacy world order.

Xue is right. The Tech narrative is being inflated and weaponised both to serve the western binary, adverserial mindset, but secondly too, to advance the notion of the scientifically administered, progressive state, representing the political essence of modernity, to which Europe has hewed since Napoleonic times. It is, as Xue points out, a particularly parochial (and dangerous) view.

China does not have allies, but has friends with partnership diplomacy
Xue Li, Global Times, Nov 8 2020

The WSJ published an article earlier this month entitled “China’s Risky Bet on a Lonely Return to Greatness,” suggesting China has no friends. China does not have allies indeed, but it doesn’t lack of friends. This is not only because of China’s historical tradition and the current international environment, but also because of China’s own choices. Based on Christian monotheism, the spirit of Roman law and Greek formal logic, Western civilization largely views problems and world order from the perspective of binary opposition. Therefore, they prefer forming alliances in diplomacy so as to restrain and even assimilate allies through mandatory mechanisms. This allows them to confront and even defeat the non-allies. At the same time, they firmly believe that every country must have a similar diplomatic philosophy, so it is necessary to encircle and even disintegrate emerging powers. They not only try to equate the history of Christian expansion since the maritime exploration during the age of discovery with the universal history of humanity, but also view the diplomatic concept of the Christian civilization over past 500 years as the world’s universal diplomatic philosophy. They do not realize that 500 years is a relatively short period in the history of human civilization, and that different civilizations have different views on diplomacy world order.

During the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), Taoism and Confucianism are the main concepts on which Chinese civilization is used to view issues, advocating the construction of an order through rule of ritual. Therefore, China has few diplomatic alliances, and it advocates that countries should adjust their ties according to specific situations. In diplomatic operations, China emphasizes that a country should believe in the charm of their own values and civilization, rather than forcefully imposing their own values and systems onto others. In the past 500 years, some European countries became global empires through colonial expansion by means of force. The US has become a superpower after the end of the two world wars through building alliance systems. With the changing times and the emergence of nuclear weapons, it’s impossible for China to copy the emergence of European countries or the approaches of the US. One feasible option to realize the rejuvenation of Chinese civilization would be to expand its overseas interests in a way that is acceptable to the host country, whether with general policies, economics, and culture.

In modern times, China once allied itself with other countries. Those alliances were not systematic and continuous, and the outcomes were not ideal enough. China thus gave up diplomatic alliances, and carried out its non-aligned diplomacy in 1960s and 1970s, independent foreign policy of peace in 1980s, and partnership diplomacy since 1990s. Chinese civilization is a kind of regional civilization. Although it has global influence in some aspects, it lacks the gene of global expansion of monotheistic civilizations. Perhaps because of the reasons mentioned above, Chinese leaders have repeatedly stressed that China has no intent to replace any other country in the world. But Western countries will take a long time to accept this. Partnership diplomacy meets the needs of the contemporary world. On the road of rejuvenation, China firmly believes that partnership diplomacy is a better and more suitable choice for itself than alliance diplomacy. So far, 112 countries and international organizations have established partnerships with China. This number will undoubtedly continue to increase. Partnership diplomacy has become a prominent feature of China’s diplomacy.

After the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed in 2013, China’s diplomacy has changed from maintaining a low profile to becoming more proactive in global affairs. But the policy of “partnership rather than alliance” has not changed, and it is unlikely to change in the future. The indisputable fact is that the system of alliance diplomacy preferred by Western countries is the choice of a few countries in the world, and most countries choose non-aligned diplomacy. Besides, the vast majority of them are developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The world has entered a long period of competition and cooperation among civilizations. It is necessary for the West to think outside the box instead of seeing the world from the perspective of Christian civilization, and learn to put itself into China’s position. Only in this way can the West truly understand the Chinese civilization and contemporary China, and base the relationship between China and the West on an accurate judgment and a relatively solid foundation so as to reduce misunderstandings and conflicts, and increase cooperation and mutual benefits.