marina tries hard to be funny about him

Like a Thames whale, Boris Johnson has got stranded at Westminster
Marina Hyde, Groan, Sep 22 2020

PM Boris Johnson. Photo: Neil Hall/EPA

How poignant to read at the weekend that Boris Johnson, the latest Thames whale, “is more determined than ever not to be a one-term prime minister”. Well if that’s all that’s bothering him, let us offer words of reassurance. Specifically: don’t worry. There’s no way you’re going to be a one-term prime minister. Making it to next summer would be an achievable target weight, at which point a shockingly youthful portrait of Johnson will be added to the Downing Street stairway, while the full attic version we can now see can be returned to the wild to … write lucrative newspaper columns about what the next government should be doing? We’ll come to the emerging holes in that plan later.

Alas, these are overly testing times for this prime minister, who we already know is too afraid to do the job without his emotional support psycho, Dominic Cummings. As a fable about being careful about what you wish for, the Johnson story could scarcely be more on the nose. In many ways the only way to make the point more clearly would be to strap Johnson in and force him to be prime minister for the rest of his life. Even now, watching him do the job has the air of a deliberate and grotesque psychological humiliation, like shaving the Honey Monster and forcing him to play Hamlet night after night. Indeed, given Johnson’s increasingly well-publicised tendency towards self-pity, he may yet class “being made prime minister” as a form of bullying inflicted on him by the British people, who cruelly elected him to do whatever THIS is, when he thought it would just be making slow-motion videos of him walking through Downing Street like an absolute legend.

Today, British people were invited to enjoy the spectacle of Johnson shutting pubs, for an hour, and the irony of being hectored that they are “in the last chance saloon” by the very people who herded them back to the saloon and bought them half-price lunches there. Three weeks ago, unnamed government ministers were trying to put the frighteners on anyone wary of returning to their offices, pointedly telling the Daily Telegraph that those working from home could be “vulnerable” to being sacked. Does this include Johnson, who famously works from his own home in Westminster’s Downing Street? This home is, by all the accounts we have been forced to endure recently, a ghastly little hovel, and his job a series of degradations and privations. The Times on Saturday catalogued the baroque indignities visited upon Johnson’s personage therein, ranging from the impossibility of managing on a salary of £150k, to not being sure he could afford a nanny, to having to pay for his own food at Chequers, and to Downing Street being “not a nice place to live … even if he and Carrie want to go into the rose garden they have to go through the office.”

Anyway, on and on it went. But in summary: oh dear. A hundred and fifty grand not enough, you say? Got to pay for his own food, you say? No nanny yet, you say? Got to walk through a something to get to a rose garden, you say? Yes, yes, I’m writing it ALL down, on my list of things I have time to give a 20th of a toss about in the year 3048. As it happens, it has always seemed bizarre to me that UK prime ministers don’t have a bigger staff at Downing Street, in the manner of every other leader in the world. Whatever you think about whoever’s in power at any time, it can’t be the best use of their energies to be spending time having to think about what to make for supper. That said, Johnson is arguably the rare exception to this – it may well be more profitable to the nation to have him struggling to work out the oven instructions than doing any of what he seems to think is actual governing. Either way, it’s irrelevant in the circumstances. Having read all the briefings, you have to marvel at the sheer WTF-ery of having a “friend” like this. Johnson has always preferred mistresses to mates, but the only reasonable explanation was that this “friend” was Rishi Sunak. If not, what on earth were they thinking, this person who judges that, in the middle of a punishing pandemic that can only lead to mass unemployment and further deaths, it’s in any way helpful to inform the newspapers that the prime minister can’t get by on £150? Read the room, guys! What is this? The launch of the Bung a Bob for Big Boz campaign?

For many of his disappointed long-time supporters, the fabled Johnsonian ability to read a room is what has vanished. Whatever happened to Boris? people keep asking. In fact, nothing happened to him. I hate to disparage the wellness and self-help sectors, but people don’t change, they just become more exaggerated versions of themselves one way or the other. The whale’s fine in the North Sea or maybe the London mayor’s office; if he makes it all the way up river to Westminster, it’s going to end with a tugboat and a tarpaulin. Even if some people did enjoy the spectacle and novelty for a few days. Or to put it another way, this alternate timeline, the one where Falstaff becomes king instead of Henry, doesn’t really work. It might SOUND like an interesting counter-factual. But hand on heart, I have to prefer the Shakespeare version. It’s very sad, of course, when Prince Hal has to reject the old light entertainment sidekick, but I think ultimately we all understand: that’s showbiz. By the time of The Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff, though still so short of money that he has only two servants, neither of which is a nanny, is performing work he is far more suited to. Namely, trying to shag two married women with as little effort as possible, being hidden in smelly laundry baskets, getting his arse justifiably handed to him in public, and ending up having a laugh about it all. This is a much better biographical arc than the one we’re stuck with: when this character type has to boss Agincourt/a deadly pandemic and its hideous economic fallout.

As for whether Johnson himself will be able to move from history back to comedy, that in itself increasingly feels like something that only happens in fiction. He won’t be short of money, of course, no ex-prime minister is, but that has never really been the thing he seems to have thought would fill his inner void. Far from sealing that chasm, the job he always wanted seems only to be making it deeper, in fact, there is no longer a bottom to it. And surely part of Johnson’s widely briefed gloom is the realisation that even his plan for a prime ministerial afterlife has developed fatal flaws. Pontificating on what he’d do if he were in charge, well, even Telegraph readers will have been more than sated by having to live through the period when he was.

Johnson’s bogus agenda for combating the escalating pandemic will cost tens of thousands of lives in UK
Chris Marsden, WSWS, Sep 23 2020

PM Johnson’s raft of measures to supposedly combat the escalating resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic will do nothing of the sort. The real aim animating the list of partial, sometimes contradictory, and always ineffectual measures is to prevent a second lockdown and protect the profits of the major corporations and banks, no matter how great the cost in human lives. After Johnson’s health advisers announced Monday that there would be 50k cases a day by mid-October and 200 deaths a day by November without government action, Johnson’s list of measures reads like a cruel joke. His description of a “perilous turning point,” with daily coronavirus infections almost four times higher than a month ago, and the “R” rate for reinfection above 1 everywhere, is to be met with the maximum “rule of six” on personal gatherings, inside and out, restrictions on pub opening hours to 10 pm and table-service only, a maximum 15 people at wedding celebrations, but 30 at funerals (!), a ban on indoor team sports such as 5-a-side football, and similar palliatives. Plans to trial limited live audiences next month have been shelved and fines for individual breaches to the rules doubled to £200, and of £10k and possible closure for businesses found to be not “COVID-secure.” Masks will become mandatory for retail and hospitality staff and for passengers in taxis. In “a shift in emphasis,” those office workers who can work from home should do so. But everyone else must get in their cars, onto buses, trams and trains and continue to work in offices, factories, distribution and retail outlets. Children, teenagers and young adults must all go to school, colleges and universities, and take their place in crowded classes, lecture halls and dorms with no social distancing and poor ventilation that will guarantee the continued explosive spread of the virus. The restrictions may be in place for “perhaps six months,” Johnson warned, before reassuring MPs:

This is by no means a return to the full lockdown in March, we are not issuing instructions to stay at home.

This was a “delicate balance” between limiting infections and not damaging the economy, he said. Similar measures have been adopted in Scotland and Wales. The cost of this to the working class will be devastating. Arguments against lockdown prefaced on warnings of its economic cost are made cynically by a government that is intent on handing all society’s wealth over to big business and the super-rich, continuing to slash jobs, wages, benefits and essential services in the process. Johnson has made no mention of extending the jobs furlough scheme or reinstating the ban on evictions during lockdown. He and his government could not care less. Neither do those citing such concerns, including various trade union leaders, ever call for the expropriation of corporate wealth or running the economy in the interests of working people rather than the super-rich. What they invariably do is to minimise the extent of the death toll that is now threatened. The UK yesterday recorded 4,926 new coronavirus cases, the highest total since early in May, confirming a pattern of at least a weekly doubling. And contrary to government claims, the real extent of testing is not massively greater than it was then and will not be in future. Johnson has promised a £100b national testing programme, but his recently appointed head of testing, ‘Baroness’ Dido Harding, yesterday suggested that tests will likely no longer be available on the NHS and would have to be purchased privately by those who need them. Moreover, in his televised broadcast last night, Johnson only spoke of his mass testing programme being operational in the spring, saying:

That’s the dream!

All claims that the demographic shift in infections to the young would mean fewer deaths are already being disproved. Another 37 deaths were recorded yesterday, taking the official total to 41,825 but the more realistic estimate of total deaths to 57,636. Daily hospital admissions have more than doubled since the beginning of the month to 237. And an explosion of the pandemic in winter of the extent suggested, during the flu season, will increase the death rate per infection way beyond that recorded in the spring. Fundamental democratic rights are also under growing threat. Johnson intends to meet the explosive social anger this will generate with state repression. During his speech, he promised:

We will provide the police and local authorities with the extra funding they need, a greater police presence on our streets, and the option to draw on military support where required to free up the police.

There is no opposition to any of this coming from the Labour Party and the trade unions. Labour leader ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer said in Parliament that he backed Johnson’s plans, criticising the government only for its failures on testing and lack of leadership, without specifying any alternative other than a call for a more “targeted” jobs furlough scheme as demanded by business and industry groups. Earlier Starmer had delivered a keynote speech to the online Labour Party Congress so right-wing that it could have been written as a deliberate satire. Monotonous and mind-numbing references to “my country” that “has given me so much,” above all becoming the DPP and having “the privilege of leading the CPS,” to “our country,” Britain as the “best country,” “world-beating,” “the country I love,” and “this UK,” were reinforced with pledges to safeguard the “national interest,” “the security of our nation” and “national security.” This was interspersed with constant references to “family” (Starmer apparently came from a loving one and was lucky enough to have one himself), to “family values” that “mean the world to me” and his insistence that “family really does come first. Always.” He then closed his speech by reassuring “those people in Doncaster and Deeside, in Glasgow and Grimsby, in Stoke and in Stevenage” that “We love this country as you do … That, in the end, is why I do this … To make a difference to my country.”

Between these nauseating bouts of jingoism, Starmer repeated his pledge that “Labour will act in the national interest” and as “a constructive opposition.” Stressing that “We need a national effort to prevent a national lockdown,” he offered himself as a more serious leader capable of preventing one. Starmer stressed that the policies on which Labour will fight the next election in 2024 “won’t sound like anything you’ve heard before,” that “the debate between Leave and Remain is over” and promised to work “hand-in-hand” with the private sector and trade unions. For their part, the trade unions have already worked hand-in-glove with Johnson throughout the pandemic and are fully behind Starmer’s “Tory Party Mark II” agenda of collusion with the employers against the working class, having provided 96% of all Labour’s funding since he became leader in April. The only means of combating the escalating danger from the pandemic and defeating all efforts to destroy jobs, wages and livelihoods is through the independent political mobilisation of the working class. What is needed now is the construction of rank-and-file safety and action committees, to organise a fightback in opposition to the pro-company unions, and the building of the SEP to break the suffocating grip of the Labour Party once and for all.

Assange faces “very high risk of suicide,” medical expert tells court
Thomas Scripps, Laura Tiernan, WSWS, Sep 23 2020

Medical evidence was produced in Julian Assange’s extradition hearing yesterday detailing the terrible harm done to the heroic journalist by a decade of state-orchestrated persecution. The day was given over to the examination of Professor Michael Kopelman who testified to Assange’s mental health. Kopelman is a psychiatrist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychiatry at Kings College London. He has given expert evidence in multiple extradition cases on behalf of both the defence and the prosecution. In assessing Assange, he conducted seventeen visits in 2019 and additional visits in 2020, constructed a “full family history” and a “full personal psychiatric history,” and carried out “interviews with his family and lifelong friends.” His findings constitute a clear bar to Assange’s extradition to the US. Under Section 91 of the UK Extradition Act (2003), extradition is prohibited if “the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him.” Under Section 87, extradition is prohibited if it is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 3 of the ECHR states:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Medical evidence speaking to these bars has played a critical role in previous US-UK extradition hearings, for example in the case of Lauri Love. The risk of notoriously poor conditions in US prisons exacerbating mental illness is an important factor. Assange’s case meets these criteria. The details in today’s WSWS coverage are being reported consistent with the “sensitivity” called for by defence lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC, on behalf of his client. Nonetheless they make overwhelmingly clear the “unjust and oppressive” treatment to which Assange has already been subjected. Assange, Kopelman told the court, has experienced periods of serious mental illness in his earlier life. Since being confined to the Ecuadorian Embassy and then Belmarsh maximum security prison, these issues have resurfaced and worsened. Assange has suffered symptoms of severe and recurrent depression. Those symptoms have included “loss of sleep, loss of weight, a sense of pre-occupation and helplessness” and auditory hallucinations which Kopelman summarised as “derogatory and persecutory.” They have also included “suicidal preoccupations.” Kopelman told the court:

There are an abundance of known risk factors in Mr Assange’s case. He has made various plans and undergone various preparations. There is a very high risk of suicide.

These symptoms and risks, Kopelman explained, are exacerbated by an anxiety disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and by a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. Kopelman cited a paper by world-leading autism expert Dr Simon Baron-Cohen which found that the lifetime experience of suicidal thoughts in those with Asperger’s “was more than nine times higher than in the general population in England.” Explaining the impact of the US government’s persecution, Kopelman said:

The risk of suicide arises out of the clinical factors of depression and the other diagnoses, but it is the imminence of extradition and/or an actual extradition that will trigger the attempt, in my opinion.

If Assange were to be incarcerated in the US and segregated from other prisoners, Kopelman gave his opinion that the WikiLeaks founder would “deteriorate substantially” and see an “exacerbation” of his “suicidal ideas.” This would “amount to psychological harm and severe psychological suffering.” Kopelman’s evidence confirms the warnings made since Nov 2019 by Doctors for Assange, representing hundreds of medical professionals from around the world, that Assange is suffering “psychological torture” and “could die in prison.” It underlines in distressing detail UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer’s comment regarding Assange’s treatment:

Psychological torture is not torture-lite. Psychological torture aims to wreck and destroy the person’s personality and identity… to make them break.His appearance is wholly inconsistent with someone who is severely or moderately-severely depressed and with psychotic symptoms.

Kopelman replied:

Could we go back a step? Having seen Assange between May 30 and Dec 2019, I thought he was severely depressed, suicidal and was experiencing hallucinations.

Lewis interjected:

He’s much better now then?

Kopelman continued:

I have said that in February and March 2020 he had moderately severe depression.

Moreover, three eminent psychiatrists who had visited Assange since Sep 2019, Professor Paul Mullin, Dr Quinton Deeley and Professor Seena Fazel, had diagnosed Assange with severe and currently moderate-severe depression. Responding to Lewis’s argument that Assange appeared “fully aware of what was going on in court,” Kopelman said:

Could I say as a professor of neuropsychiatry that I cannot evaluate his mental and cognitive state from what’s in here.

While Assange had interjected at various points during the hearing, said Kopelman, “that doesn’t mean that his cognitive state is normal.” Lewis challenged Kopelman’s opinion that Assange was at high risk from suicide if he were imprisoned in the US, asking:

If the medical care in the United States of America is sufficient, then the risks you have opined about are greatly reduced if not eliminated?

Kopelman cited reports from the US DoJ Inspector General in 2017, the Commission on Constitutional Rights in 2017, and the Marshall Project in 2018, adding:

There are many people who say that care is very much sub-optimal, there is a lack of staffing, there are misdiagnoses and a lack of treatment facilities.

Lewis’s reply captures the tone of the cross-examination:

So, you’re now an expert on America’s prisons?

During re-examination by Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence, Kopelman said his evaluation of suicide risk was based on the impact of extradition and did not rely on the conditions of detention. He said:

The depression, mixing with his anxiety and agitation, predisposes him strongly… If extradition were to be imminent or were to happen, that would be the trigger to a suicide attempt.

Fitzgerald asked whether the conditions of isolation in US detention, predicted by many observers, would exacerbate the risk of suicide, with Kopelman replying:

It certainly would. I have seen him in just relative isolation in Belmarsh—that was when he deteriorated… I think it was Mr Sickler who says that the isolation he would experience in North America would be far worse than anything he has experienced in the Embassy or in Belmarsh.

Kopelman explained that previous extradition cases, such as Lauri Love’s, had heard similar assurances that US prisons were safe. He said:

The last case I spoke in, we were being reassured… about conditions in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre. I gave evidence on about Jul 25 and about Aug 25, that was when Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself. So, it just showed that those reassurances were not terribly assuring.

Chelsea Manning had attempted suicide in the very detention centre that Assange would be held, Fitzgerald noted, with Kopelman replying:

And that is something that Julian Assange is very aware of. It’s something that concerns him a lot … He said to me, ‘If Chelsea Manning did this just a few days before a potential release on bail, it just shows how awful the conditions must be.’

The hearing continues today.

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