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The Conservative Cash Carousel and Socialism for the Rich

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/11/2021 - 4:32am in

The Conservative Cash Carousel & Socialism for the Rich

Sam Bright and Peter Jukes analyse what looks to be a new economic and ideological form of Conservatism, far removed from its former free market foundations

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“There is no such thing as public money. There is only taxpayers’ money,” Margaret Thatcher famously remarked at the 1983 Conservative Party Conference. 

Inspired by the founders of modern neo-liberalism, the likes of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, Thatcher’s principle that public spending ‘crowds out’ or diminishes private investment has underpinned Conservative Party ideology for four decades.

“No one can buck the market,” Thatcher would also say, and the idea that the ‘market knows best’ goes back even further – to the 19th Century arguments about the role ‘free trade’ versus protective tariffs over the Corn Law tax. Tariffs to prevent cheaper foreign imports protected British landowners, but caused famine in Ireland – and a split between Conservatives.

Since then, the Conservative Party’s main attack on its left-leaning opponents has been their apparent failure to carefully manage public finances and the dire effects of intervention in the market. Labour governments of the past have overspent, so the narrative went, over-stretching the public purse and risking the nation’s economic health with endless cycles of ‘boom and bust’. Public ownership or tight regulation risked causing inefficiencies by ‘picking winners’. The lack of competition would ultimately lead to a commissar culture of cronies living off the public purse, they said.

Now all is changed, changed utterly, in Boris Johnson’s new Conservative Party. A terrible new ‘socialism for the rich’ has been born, whereby revenues flow from the Government into the bank accounts of Conservative allies and donors, while the party receives a large chunk of the proceeds. 


Keir Starmer has Promised toClean Up British PoliticsCan We Trust Him?
Adam Bienkov

Socialism for the Rich

Consider this: Byline Times and The Citizens have calculated that at least £3 billion in public contracts have been awarded to Conservative donors and associates during the pandemic – with many of these deals awarded in the haste of emergency procurement procedures, without a normal competitive bidding process.

Subsequently, we have shown, these firms (the ones that have filed their annual accounts) have amassed additional profits worth more than £120 million – with £600,000 of this cash flowing into the Conservative Party’s coffers through new party donations. 

This is the Conservative cash carousel: the enrichment of party benefactors through the public purse, enhancing their generosity and eventually bolstering the party’s war chest. 

It’s impossible to know whether the Government actively used the pandemic as a protective screen, justifying the distribution of public money to its political allies. After all, the minutes of the meetings between companies and ministers held at the outset of the pandemic have either mysteriously disappeared, or are being withheld from public view. 

The Government has admitted that it used “informal arrangements” in selecting firms for deals worth hundreds of millions of pounds and that ministers relied on “a very large network of contacts”. We also know that donating to the Conservative Party bequests access to senior ministers, allowing party patrons to develop the relationships that proved to be highly lucrative when procurement rules were eschewed in favour of secretive, backroom deals. 

A March Towards Oligarchy

The pandemic has exposed the Conservative Party’s onward march to oligarchy – a process that, in turn, is infecting British democracy. Boris Johnson successively attempted to stifle a report into Russia’s political influence in the UK – which, when finally released, warned that “[UK] lawyers, accountants, estate agents and PR professionals have played a role, wittingly or unwittingly, in the extension of Russian influence” by providing services to rich Russians with ties to Putin.

Since Johnson came to power in July 2019, £2 million has been donated to the Conservative Party by individuals with Russian links. These donations have been rewarded with access to senior ministers, as democracy is once again flogged to the highest bidder.

This is a facet of Johnson’s leadership, but one that has now seeped into the fabric of the Conservative Party. In his single-minded, narcissistic pursuit of power, the Prime Minister is not afraid of creating casualties – even if the body count includes his own party and the basic tenets of British democracy. 

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Seeing the opportunity to profit from Johnson’s moral deficit, various predators have circled around the Prime Minister – harvesting the spoils as he ploughs a path of destruction. Boris Johnson governs primarily in the interests of Boris Johnson, and those who have propelled his quest for power. The result – sustained by an 80-seat parliamentary majority – is a slide towards authoritarianism and oligarchy, whereby the actions of the state are orientated towards the benefit of one man and his allies. 

But these instincts are not solely confined to Johnson and his cabal. Over the course of the last five years, since the EU Referendum, the Conservative Party has been remade in Johnson’s image. The ‘One Nation’ conservative ideals of Benjamin Disraeli are no longer welcome in a party that preaches the gospel of Brexit purity. In September 2019, Johnson removed the whip from 21 Conservative MPs who dared to defy his elevation of Brexit above democracy, thus purging the party of its moderate flank. The Conservative benches are now populated by the foot-soldiers of Johnson’s personal war, unmoored from morality, well educated in the political benefits of deceit and fabrication. 

A Closed Society

There are two secondary questions: whether the nation cares about this democratic coup, premised on corruption and oligarchy; and, if so, whether the opposition can take advantage. 

On the first question, our polling suggests that people do care – 58% of people surveyed by Omnisis in early November said they believe that Boris Johnson’s Government is corrupt, while only 16% of people disagreed. 

This provides fertile territory for the Labour Party, which has belatedly realised the scale and significance of the cronyism perpetuated by this Government – today announcing new proposals to reform parliamentary systems, to clamp down on ‘sleaze’.

In this regard, Keir Starmer’s party may take some advice from its former leader, Harold Wilson. Attempting to wrest control away from the Conservative Party at the 1964 General Election, for the first time in 13 years, he observed that:

“Over the British people lies the chill frost of Tory leadership. They freeze initiative and petrify imagination. They cling to privilege and power for the few, shutting the gates on the many. Tory society is a closed society, in which birth and wealth have priority, in which the master and the servant, landlord and tenant mentality is predominant. The Tories have proven that they are incapable of mobilising Britain to take advantage of the scientific breakthrough.”

Whether you agree with Wilson’s sentiments or not, it is undoubtedly and increasingly apparent that the country is no longer governed (if it ever was) by good chaps motivated by a commitment to altruistic public service and the prudent management of state finances. Instead, as Wilson says, a “closed society” has been created, which radiates prosperity only to those with wealth and political influence. This presents a danger to Britain, and an opportunity for the opposition. 

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The post The Conservative Cash Carousel and Socialism for the Rich appeared first on Byline Times.

We’re Sleepwalking Into Nuclear War

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/11/2021 - 10:53am in

Tags 

War, China, Russia

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/c315fcbcb103a5eedf2a2ee8bb3ff2b1/href

Every day there’s more propaganda banging the drums of war between nuclear-armed nations a little louder. Western media are churning out reports about Russia preparing to invade Ukraine any minute now and China preparing to invade Taiwan any minute now, saying the response to each is obviously to move a lot of high-powered weaponry to both of those locations, and none of them are questioning whether these allegations are true or whether those responses are wise.

This is so dangerous. This whole two-front nuclear brinkmanship game is so very, very dangerous, and they keep finding ways to make it more dangerous. And hardly anyone notices it, because the news media outlets that people look to to understand the world aren’t telling them it’s dangerous.

The only danger you’re allowed to discuss in mainstream western reporting about Russia and China is their scary aggressive expansionism, like this new Newsweek propaganda piece here. Nowhere are you allowed to question if it’s true, or to even breathe a word about the possibility of detente.

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It’s official empire doctrine that the borders of Russia and China will necessarily keep expanding unless militantly held in place by The Good Guys. It’s taken as a given that those nations are essentially mindless cancers that can only metastasize to other parts of the body unless aggressively treated. At no point is it permissible to ask if perhaps we are heading in a direction that could literally end the world and if that could not be easily avoided by simply working to scale down tensions. At no point is it permissible to question if these nations might be reacting defensively to western aggressions and discuss the possibility of working toward detente.

Australian journalist John Pilger was already sounding alarms about this years ago. This article about the shocking escalations against Russia and China by western powers was written all the way back in 2016, and it’s gotten so much worse than that since then. Yet it’s still taken as a given by Serious News Reporters in the west that Russia and China are these reckless aggressors and the US is responding defensively to their aggressions.

You can tell people who freak out about Russia and China are either acting in bad faith or regurgitating propaganda because they all act like detente is not a thing. They don’t even acknowledge the existence of that concept. Many literally don’t even know the meaning of the word.

At no time does it ever even enter their minds that hey, maybe these nations might be acting defensively to blatantly imbalanced military realities like the one illustrated below, and that the sane thing to do would be to move toward de-escalation.

People think this way because they are programmed to, and they are programmed to think that way because easing off of aggressions rather than escalating them would permit the end of US planetary hegemony and a move into a multipolar world. The empire cannot tolerate such a thing.

It was established after the fall of the Soviet Union that another multipolar world must be avoided at all cost; even if it means imperiling the whole world to maintain supremacy. Easing tensions would mean ceasing to do everything you can to prevent the rise of China as a global superpower. That’s what all the hysterical shrieking about Russia and China has really been about these last few years: manufacturing consent for this aggressive campaign.

If things were permitted to take their natural course, China would rise and the US would officially move into post-primacy and we’d have a proper multipolar world. This has been deemed so undesirable that they’re willing to risk the life of every terrestrial organism to stop it.

There are no checks or balances on this insane agenda. It’s supported by all mainstream parties and all mainstream media outlets. We’re sleepwalking into nuclear war. Nobody’s awake to the danger. Not the public, not the media, and most frighteningly not the empire managers actually driving these agendas.

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2021: Welcome To West Asia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 5:02pm in

Is it now time for the people of West Asia to reclaim the region and its narratives for themselves?

Host, Ross Ashcroft met up with Analyst of West Asian Geopolitics, Sharmine Narwani, and Investigative Journalist and Author, Gareth Porter, to discuss.

The post 2021: Welcome To West Asia appeared first on Renegade Inc.

2021: Welcome To West Asia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 5:02pm in

Is it now time for the people of West Asia to reclaim the region and its narratives for themselves?

Host, Ross Ashcroft met up with Analyst of West Asian Geopolitics, Sharmine Narwani, and Investigative Journalist and Author, Gareth Porter, to discuss.

The post 2021: Welcome To West Asia appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Russia is Stoking an Overlooked Conflict in the Balkans

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 2:33am in

Russia is Stoking An Overlooked Conflict in the Balkans

With all eyes on the Ukraine and Belarus, Moscow is quietly turning its attention to Bosnia-Herzegovina, reports CJ Werleman

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With so much international focus on Russian troop deployments near Ukraine and Belarus’ increasingly provocative actions against the European Union, commentators are starting to ask whether another shooting war on the continent could be about to happen.

Most security analysts believe a Russian invasion of Ukraine is probable but “not imminent,” and that the crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border is challenging but solvable.  However, if we look further southward to the Balkans there is an escalating security crisis that is attracting far less attention.

A report delivered to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) earlier this month warned that the risk of a potential conflict in the Balkans is now “very real”, following recent announcements by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik that Republika Srpska intends to secede from Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). 

The United States has expressed “concern” over Mr. Dodik’s statements, warning that such comments represent a “dangerous path” for BiH and the wider region.

Analysts have also warned that only “aggressive diplomatic action” and/or deployment of NATO forces can save a repeat of the armed conflict that took place between 1992 and 1995, which culminated with the Srebrenica genocide, the mass killing of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys.

It’s the memory of this atrocity that has ignited the current crisis, with Bosnian Serb officials blocking the functioning of state institutions in direct retaliation against a move by the Office of the High Representative (OHR) – an international body responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Dayton peace accords – to ban Srebrenica genocide denialism. They warned that incidents of this have reached out of control levels among Serb nationalists.

“For all that painful history, the same Serbian ultra-nationalist forces have recently amped up their efforts to both deny the reality of the genocide and glorify the violence that contributed to it,” says the commentator Riada Asimovic Akyol. “Serbian nationalist songs about slaughtering Muslims are frequently blasted during the day or night in order to terrorize the sparse population of Bosniak returnees in Srebrenica — the city where more than 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys were massacred in cold blood in July 1995”.

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Dodik, who openly denies the Srebrenica genocide, has not only announced a boycott of BiH institutions, including judicial bodies and police forces in Republika Srpska, but also his intent to dismantle the joint Armed Forces of Bosnia and establish a Bosnian Serb Army.

On November 11, Russia announced it will support the formation of an independent Bosnian Serb state, calling the OHR’s decision to ban Srebrenica genocide denialism as “subjective and unbalanced”.

Majda Ruge, a senior policy fellow with the Wider Europe program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says Dodik’s attacks on the Dayton peace accords is a “perfect outcome” for Russia, leaving behind a “broken US foreign policy legacy, chaos in the EU’s neighbourhood, or, in the best-case scenario, the evolution into a confederation that remains forever unable to adopt any foreign-policy decisions unfavourable to Russia – whether on Crimea, Ukraine, the fulfilment of Bosnia’s NATO aspirations, or any other issues that may come up”.

Russia is becoming entangled in Bosnia-Herzegovina

More troubling still is Russia’s involvement in Bosnia since 2016, when Republika Srpska agreed to host Russian police trainers and intelligence officers, and establish a $4 million training centre near Banja Luka, the defacto capital of Republika Srpska, in order to train Serb forces. Russia often refer to Bosnian Serbs as “little Russians”.

Worryingly, “these additions will put the Serbian police closer on par with Bosnia’s national security forces,” commented Foreign Policy magazine in 2018.

There have also been revelations that Russia delivered 2,500 semi-automatic weapons to Republika Srpska shortly before the opening of the “training centre,” and deployed Vladimir Putin’s paramilitary motorcycle gang the Night Wolves to send a message that “Russia stands behind” Bosnian Serb independence in BiH.

All of this has prompted fears among the Bosnian Muslim population of a rapidly deteriorating security situation.

“The situation in Bosnia is very tense,” a resident of Sarajevo told me recently. “We are afraid of a new war, and we know very well that if the war starts, we Muslims will be the victims again”.

These anxieties are heightened by recent reports that Serbia is on a “shopping spree for weapons,” with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused of working with Russia to destabilize Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo.


Why Does the Anti-Imperial Left So Often End Up Denying Genocide?
CJ Werleman

In September, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti said that Serbia had been trying to “provoke a serious international conflict,” after his Serbian counterpart deployed special police to the border in response to Kosovo requiring drivers with Serbian registration plates to attach temporary plates when entering Kosovo.

Given Serbia is widely blamed for triggering the conflict and genocide that occurred in former Yugoslavia during the mid-1990, and playing a similar game again today, security analysts are urging NATO to redeploy to Bosnia and establish a presence in Sarajevo.

“The strategic town of Brčko in Bosnia’s northeast should be secured, and a NATO presence established there. With minimal resources, NATO could avert Bosnia’s slide into uncertainty and ensure that the Western political and military investment in peace in southeastern Europe is safeguarded,” says Hamza Karčić, an associate professor at the faculty of political science at the University of Sarajevo.

Needless to say, NATO, EU and the US has a solemn duty to prevent another Muslim genocide in the Balkans, because it was their initial hesitancy and inaction that allowed Serb forces to carry out the first genocide in Europe since the Holocaust.

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Erm I Know You’re Busy But Nuclear War Is Getting Increasingly Likely

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/11/2021 - 11:49am in

Tags 

News, China, Russia

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/8b073aac5c23f47a14ddc303e53414ad/href

While mainstream western media has been spending its time concern trolling about a “missing” Chinese tennis player who is not actually missing, hardly any coverage has gone toward NATO’s announcement that if the new German government does not continue to allow US nuclear weapons on its soil those weapons will be relocated to the east of Germany. This would put them closer to Russia’s border, a major provocation of Moscow and yet another step forward in the western empire’s steadily escalating game of nuclear brinkmanship.

“Germany can, of course, decide whether there will be nuclear weapons in (its) country, but the alternative is that we easily end up with nuclear weapons in other countries in Europe, also to the east of Germany,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week.

“Should NATO decide to move U.S. nuclear weapons to Poland, for example, that would likely be seen as a step towards angering Moscow by bringing them closer to the Russian border,” Reuters reports.

Meanwhile the US is considering sending more weapons to Ukraine as tensions mount between Moscow and Kiev, and Vladimir Putin is warning that western powers are ignoring Russia’s red lines which are meant to serve as a deterrent to prevent escalation into full-blown nuclear war. The cold war against China has been continually ramping up as well and appears likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Half of Americans would now reportedly favor going to war against Russia in defense of Ukraine and a majority would now favor going to war with China in defense of Taiwan. These drastic spikes in opinion are not an accident; the consent has been forcefully manufactured by an aggressive propaganda campaign against those two nations. They are not manufacturing that consent for fun; they are doing it for a reason.

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And I just keep tripping on how weird it is that so few people see the US empire’s headlong charge into cold war conflict with two separate nuclear-armed nations as the single most urgent concern of our day. It probably doesn’t even make most people’s top ten. Very few people seem to believe the most pressing threat to humanity might be all those armageddon weapons we’ve been stockpiling and how increasingly irresponsibly our leaders are treating them.

I write about this issue a lot because to me it seems obvious that when you really look at the facts of the matter it’s the most worrying thing of all worrying things in this world. It is entirely possible that climate chaos causing heat spikes and flash freezes which destroy plant life could be the thing which sends us the way of the dinosaur, or it could be the reckless development of weaponized artificial intelligence, but those fates are a bit further down the track. There’s only one threat facing us which could technically wipe us all out tomorrow, and it’s the rapidly increasing likelihood of boring old nuclear holocaust.

I write about it a lot, but it’s never shared particularly well. I could get a lot more traction telling people the most urgent threat of the day is government abuses related to Covid, or white supremacists, or one of the two mainstream political factions which so much energy goes into amplifying the enmity between. But when I write about what I see as the actual greatest threat to our world it’s like yelling into the wind. People don’t want to hear it. My words get swallowed up by a big black hole in the ground and their energy just kind of fizzles.

A big part of it is probably due to the fact that this isn’t something which fits neatly into any of the partisan filters we’ve been trained to view the world through. Detente is no longer an issue promoted by the mainstream parties which present themselves as the “left” end of the spectrum; when aggressions against Russia or China come up it’s usually in an argument over which one we should hate more. Nobody’s self-reinforcing ideological social media echo chamber is going to help them amplify the message that we’re getting way too close to nuclear war; it’s even a back burner issue for most socialists and anti-imperialists.

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Another reason is that people simply aren’t being told about the rising threat of nuclear war with any regularity. Western mass media exist first and foremost to protect and promote the interests of the US-centralized empire, and it’s in that empire’s interests not to have the public too keenly aware of the fact that it is gambling the life of every terrestrial organism on geostrategic agendas of unipolar global domination.

Another part of it is just garden variety psychological compartmentalization from an uncomfortable idea; nobody likes to think of everyone they know and love being vaporized or dying of nuclear radiation.

Another part might be because people simply cannot wrap their heads around the idea of billions of people dying and what that would mean. It’s been pointed out that most people lack an intuitive understanding of how much more a billion is than a million, which is often cited to highlight the extreme difference between a billionaire and a common millionaire. But it also applies to human lives; we can barely wrap our minds around the idea of a million lives having been snuffed out in the Iraq invasion, much less billions perishing in nuclear war.

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Perhaps the biggest part of it, though, is the fact that this threat has been around a long time. I can’t tell you how many older people I’ve had pish-poshing my concerns saying “Bah, I remember doing duck-and-cover drills as a kid! Turned out to be a whole lotta nothing.”

But it was never nothing. We came extremely close to wiping ourselves out multiple times in the cold war between the US and the Soviet Union because nuclear brinkmanship is an inherently unpredictable affair with far too many small moving parts to control, any one of which could set off an apocalyptic chain of events due to something as simple as miscommunication, technical malfunction, or misinterpretation by any of the thousands of individuals involved amid the chaos and confusion of escalating aggressions.

It just doesn’t sit well with people’s understanding of the world that it could all end through the same nuclear armageddon scenario their grandparents used to worry about. If two men were holding guns to each other’s heads it would be experienced as very dangerous at first, but after a while if nobody pulled the trigger the emotional tension would begin to diminish. If years went by and the men got older it would diminish even further. If they got so old they couldn’t hold the guns anymore and had their children take over for them, and then their children’s children years later, the emotional experience of the standoff would be all but forgotten.

But the guns never got any less deadly. And now the grandchildren of those who initiated the standoff are starting to get careless.

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I keep having this scene go through my head where something happens and the nukes start flying and everyone’s surprised, because of all the things they’ve been herded into worrying about the idea that actual nuclear war could happen was nowhere near the forefront of their awareness. And someone looks out the window and sees a mushroom cloud growing on the horizon and says “What?? This is how it all ends? With all those weapons we’ve been deliberately building with the full knowledge that they can end it all?”

I mean, how stupid would we feel for having missed that one?

And now there’s a massive push to weaponize space to stay ahead of Russia and China, opening up a whole new dimension of unpredictable moving parts where things can go cataclysmically wrong. You’d think our place on such a precipice would be drawing us all together, but because we’re so manipulated by such deeply malignant forces, we’re instead more divided than ever.

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‘A Shocking Disregard for Human Life’: The UK Contributes to the Polish-Belarus Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/11/2021 - 10:56pm in

‘A Shocking Disregard for Human Life’The UK Contributes to the Polish-Belarus Crisis

As British troops fly out to aid their Polish allies, the thousands of hungry, cold and frightened people amassed on the Polish-Belarusian border are increasingly pawns in a populist political game

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The European Union (EU) has agreed to impose more sanctions on Belarus as tensions mount at the country’s border with Poland.

Between 5,000 and 20,000 people remain trapped in makeshift encampments in the forest, caught between Belarusian and Polish forces, having already fled the violence in their home countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. At least nine people have been killed. 

Hungry, freezing and afraid, they are pawns in a political chessboard between East and West, Russia and the European Union (EU).

Meanwhile, the UK Government has sent 10 military troops to the Poland/Belarus border, after Poland refused support from the EU Frontex Border Force.The deployment decision demonstrates the closeness between the two nations, both of which are in dispute with the EU. 

Johnson recently spoke to Poland’s Prime Minister Mateus Morawiecki ahead of the COP26 Conference, with the two finding common cause regarding rows with the European Court of Justice. 

Poland has rejected help from the EU’s Frontex in part, analysts argue, because Europe’s often brutal border force is still governed by laws and regulations. Instead, the Government has declared a state of emergency – forbidding Polish citizens from providing material aid to the arriving migrants, arresting journalists, and ordering illegal pushbacks.

It has, however, accepted help from its UK ally. Whitehall sources quoted in the Guardian said it was appropriate to consider helping Poland given that “it is Belarus that is pushing migrants towards the border.”

Human rights groups have criticised the decision to send UK troops to the border. Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director, said in a statement: “sending British soldiers to erect more border fences rather than address the needs of people dying at those borders shows a shocking disregard for both human life and the right of people to seek asylum.”

This, Valdez-Symonds continued, is in keeping with the UK Government’s wider approach to migration. The decision to help push back people seeking asylum, he said “is completely in tune with UK asylum policies and action elsewhere, including at our own borders.”

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Pawns on the Chessboard

In summer 2020, all eyes were on Europe’s “last dictatorship”, as Belarus’ erstwhile leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed to win the nation’s election with 80% of the vote. The results were met with protests that erupted across the country. Opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was forced to flee to neighbouring Lithuania, while her husband was put on trial. Her fellow opposition leader, Veronika Tsepkalo, also left Belarus.

Lukashenko cracked down on the protests with violence and repression. There were allegations of torture, including rape. The third female opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova was jailed, journalists were imprisoned, and a Ryanair flight was diverted to arrest dissident Roman Protasevich – later paraded on state TV confessing to numerous crimes. The head of a Belarusian exiles group, Vitaly Shishov, was found dead in Ukraine. 

Sanctions were duly imposed on the country, which borders the European Union, Russia, and Ukraine. This led to Lukashenko warning Western powers that, “we stopped drugs and migrants. Now you will eat them and catch them yourselves”. Since then, the dictatorship has been prodding people seeking asylum towards the Belarus/Poland border fence. Anyone who tries to turn back is met with violence. 

On one side of the border fence, Lukashenko is sticking two fingers up to the west with the backing of his allies in the Kremlin. The latter is amassing troops on the Russian border with Ukraine, with the Pentagon warning that an invasion could be on the horizon. Lukashenko has already signalled his loyalty by deploying special forces on the Belarus/Ukraine border, staging provocative military exercises and welcoming nuclear-capable Russian bombers into its airspace. The manoeuvres on that second border are crucial to understanding the wider geopolitical consequences of the actions in Poland. 

On the other side of the border fence is Poland and the EU – towards which Russia has taken an increasingly antagonistic and belligerent stance.

No wonder, then, that Morawiecki accused Putin as being the “mastermind” of the border crisis. 

But neither is Poland that popular with the rest of Europe right now, making its UK alliance even more vital. The increasingly authoritarian Government is heavily invested in anti-migrant rhetoric. It has weakened judicial independence and the free press, and has faced criticism for its anti-LGBTIQ and anti-abortion policies. 

That lack of press freedom is evidenced by a ban on Polish media accessing the border, with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs justifying the decision by saying: “it is not the media’s access to a given place that is crucial here, but the message.” Writing in Wyborcza, journalist Roman Imielski explained how the minister was effectively saying “if we admit journalists to the border, they should convey not the truth, but the message that the rulers want”. Where journalists have been present, they have allegedly been attacked by Polish troops.


Could the Migrant Crisis on the Belarusian-Polish Border Lead to a Major War in Europe?
Nikola Mikovic

From Crisis to Coup

For the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), the human suffering on its freezing border could, in fact, be manipulated to turn a humanitarian crisis into a political coup.  

Poland faces an election in 2023 and PiS is slipping behind in the polls. The leadership raced to power on anti-migrant rhetoric in the past and it now hopes the crisis will allow them to appeal to its voters via migration once again. 

Back in 2015, PiS’ leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski warned his supporters that the increasing number of people seeking asylum in Europe would bring “parasites and protozoa”. He also said Poland did “not invite refugees and had the right to say no”. In this recent crisis, Kaczynski has called for a “new law” and said “we must strengthen the military”. The Sejm has also voted through the construction of a border wall. 

Prime Minister Morawiecki spoke of “protecting holy Polish territory” – appealing to Islamophobic as well as anti-migrant sentiment – while Culture Minister Piotr Glinski has promised to “defend Poland against migrants”. No wonder outspoken critic of PiS and former EU Chief Donald Tusk has said the crisis is “political gold” for the authoritarian, far-right party. 

Poland’s troops have matched the warlike rhetoric with aggressive action: using gas and stun grenades, water canons, and tear gas against people huddled on the border, some of whom will have already fled violence in their home countries. 

The right-wing commentator Ryszard Majdzik appeared on Polskie Radio 24 to praise tactics such as illegal pushbacks, saying “the Polish soldier is at the border and has the right to use any means in order not to admit here the scoundrels, terrorists, and others, who want to cross Poland on their way further on to the European Union”. Far-right activist Piotr C. Lisiecki tweeted “we will spend 1.5 billion zlotys on the border wall, because no one has the courage to spend 1.5 zlotys on the border on a 7.62 cartridge. This is the measure of the fall of Europe”. His tweet appeared to endorse shooting people seeking asylum.

Professor Rafal Pankowski, from the anti-racist Never Again Association, told Byline Times how Poland is witnessing “a huge wave of hate speech and dehumanising rhetoric against the refugees in both traditional media and online social media, with crudely Islamophobic undertones and in line with far-right fantasies about a war of civilizations. I am afraid this recent wave of xenophobia further undermines the basic values of humanity which have been seriously undermined in Poland in the last years.”

Trapped between two fronts of armed guards are the women, men and children who are cold, afraid, hungry and desperate for human empathy and kindness. Many of the people pushed by Belarus to the border are survivors of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq – conflicts heavily linked to British political decision-making and military forces. 

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‘Not Remotely a Corrupt Country’: 11 Shocking Sleaze Statistics That Prove Boris Johnson Wrong

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/11/2021 - 11:43pm in

‘Not Remotely a Corrupt Country’11 Shocking Sleaze StatisticsThat Prove Boris Johnson Wrong

Sascha Lavin catalogues the corruption stories that have plagued the Government since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister

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A week-long series of scandals involving MPs and their second jobs has been used as evidence to suggest that an era of sleaze has returned to British politics. However, the current lobbying crisis is by no means the first corruption story to consume this Conservative Government.

Corruption, cronyism and ‘chumocracy’ have become synonymous with Boris Johnson’s premiership, ever since Byline Times and others began tracking the slew of contracts awarded to mates of the Conservative Party in early 2020.

Yet, when asked about these scandals, Johnson told journalists yesterday that the UK is not “remotely a corrupt country”. The Prime Minister added that, “I think what you have got is cases where, sadly, MPs have broken the rules in the past, may be guilty of breaking the rules today. What I want to see is them facing appropriate sanctions”.

Here are 11 of the biggest data-driven stories so far, that show how corruption is entrenched in Westminster – and not just a case of a few bad apples.

£3 billion Conservative-linked COVID contracts

An investigation by Byline Times and The Citizens revealed that, by March 2021, firms with links to Conservative Party donors had been awarded £1 billion in COVID-related contracts and a further £2 billion worth of contracts had been granted to associates of the party.

Staggeringly, some 11.4% of the Government’s total spending on COVID-19 contracts has been directed to firms owned by Conservative friends and donors.

£8.2 million in donations; £881 million in contracts

Our calculations show that, for every £1 donated to the party by the Conservative-linked winners of COVID contracts, an average of £110 was regained from the value of the deals.

In response to this story, Labour’s Rachel Reeves told Byline Times that “the lack of transparency around the Government’s contracting process has badly damaged public trust in procurement”.

£121.7 million increase in profits for Tory contract winners

We have also revealed that 12 firms with links to the Conservative Party, awarded COVID contracts, have recorded an overall 57.1% increase in profits in their latest annual accounts. In total, these firms have increased their profits by comfortably more than £100 million.

These lucky companies have fared better than most small businesses during the pandemic; 61% of small business owners have experienced serious financial concerns over the last 18 months.

COVID contract winners donate £615,000 to Conservatives

The Conservative Party also appears to have benefitted from the prosperity of firms linked to the party. We showed in June that firms awarded £400 million in COVID-19 contracts had subsequently donated more than £600,000 back to Boris Johnson’s party.


The Johnson Scandal is Far Sleazier than‘Cash for Questions’
David Hencke

VIP companies 10 times more likely to win COVID contracts

The spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, found that ministers set up a ‘VIP fast-lane’ early in the pandemic to offer preferential treatment to private sector suppliers with links to politicians and officials. These companies were 10 times more likely to be awarded Government work and, in some cases, due diligence was not carried out before handing out the contracts.

One in 10 suppliers (47 out of 493) channelled through the high-priority lane obtained contracts, compared to less than one in a hundred (104 of 14,892) of those processed through other channels

MPs earn £6 million from second jobs during pandemic

MPs have been raking in additional income from second jobs during the pandemic, while most ordinary people have struggled.

One of the highest earners has been former Prime Minister Theresa May, whose £81,932 annual MP’s salary is small change compared to the £1.9 million she has earned in two years on the speaking circuit.

A quarter of top Conservative donors received a title or peerage

The Byline Intelligence Team and The Citizens revealed in September that a-quarter of Conservative donors who have given more than £100,000 to the party hold a title or an honour.

Additionally, peerages and honours have been granted to 11 of the Conservative Party’s 20 biggest donors since 2010 – those who have donated more than £1.5 million to the party. 

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16 Conservative allies given paid ‘independent’ roles in Government

Matt Hancock’s appointment of university friend, Gina Coladangelo, to a non-executive director role of his department was not a one-off. Non-executive directors are supposed to provide independent oversight of Government departments, but openDemocracy found that 16 people in these positions were found to have close links to the Conservative Party.

Byline Times revealed last December, for example, that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner – also a former Conservative Party vice-chair – had been appointed as a non-executive director of the Department for International Trade. He was appointed alongside Douglas Carswell, a former Conservative MP and a senior figure in the Vote Leave EU Referendum campaign.

Other Government non-executive directors include Ben Goldsmith, Conservative donor and brother of minister Lord Zac Goldsmith; Gisela Stuart, co-chair of the Vote Leave campaign; and Nick Timothy, a former advisor to Theresa May and a Telegraph columnist.

Conservatives received £2 million from donors with Russian links

Since Boris Johnson came to power in July 2019, £2 million has been donated to the Conservative Party by individuals with Russian links, an investigation by Sunday Mirror revealed, adding to fears about Russian influence in UK politics.

The 2020 Intelligence and Security Committee ‘Russia Report’ found that 14 Government ministers had received funding from donors linked to Russia, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak.  

Property developers donated £18m to the Conservatives

In addition, a-quarter of the Conservative Party’s donations have been made by property developers since Johnson became Prime Minister. This marks a sharp increase from his predecessors – previously ranging from 4% to 12%.

Recently, the new housing secretary Michael Gove received a £100,000 donation from a German property developer.

£11.6 billion in contracts awarded to registered lobbying firms 

Almost a-third of companies listed on the Government’s statutory lobbyist register have been awarded public sector contracts since the register’s inception in March 2015, Byline Times and The Citizens have revealed.

Government lobbying has been firmly in the news recently, and not just due to the Paterson scandal. Former Prime Minister David Cameron was found to have lobbied Government ministers and officials on behalf of Greensill Capital – a firm that has since collapsed.

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Facebook and Its Religion of Growth

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/10/2021 - 1:16am in
by Taylor Lange

There was a time when I dreamt of working at Facebook. I was less intrigued by the software development side than with studying the exchange of information and the cultural evolution occurring through online social networks. One of my research interests is how individuals learn to act cooperatively and acquire new preferences. What better place is there to do that than at the largest online social media platform?

Since joining Facebook in 2009, I’ve experienced Facebook’s byzantine construction first hand, from the infinite news feed and pirate speak, to the seemingly 50,000 times they’ve changed the layout of the home screen. The 2.8 billion other users and I have tolerated the seemingly superfluous changes just to keep up with people we only interact with through “likes” and the occasional comment. This habitual use by long-term users has fueled the growth of Facebook’s platform from a website intended to help Ivy League computer geeks meet women to a multi-purpose social media monopoly with a trillion-dollar valuation.

Such growth reflects the ethos driving Facebook. As one employee describes their orientation experience: “We believe in the religion of growth.”  Facebook’s framework provides a fascinating and terrifying example of what happens when unhindered growth is the goal.

Hard-Wired for Social Networking

A “social network” is how we describe a collection of individuals and their connections. As one of the most socially evolved animals on the planet, humans form networks without even thinking about it. Consider some of the networks you’re involved in—friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and family members—who you’re connected to through mutual interests, frequented locations, employers, and most basically your DNA. These networks are not only healthy, but essential for our survival and wellbeing.

Gif of lines being connected by dots to illustrate how social networks form.

Figure 1. Social networks: good at growing.

One would think, then, that a platform designed to foster human connection on a global scale would largely improve social wellbeing. Of course, for many this is arguably the case. Facebook allows users to connect to anyone with internet access through features like Messenger and groups. It has even helped reconnect long-lost family members and friends. Even CASSE has its own Facebook page to stay in touch with steady staters across the globe! The problem with Facebook, then, lies not in social networking itself, but in how the company manipulates networks for the sake of expansion.

The Growth Goal and Execution

Much can be learned about a community and its individuals by studying their connections and how those connections change over time. Facebook has been used as a tool to illustrate this through studies such as how individuals’ preferences in movies, books, and other media evolved over time. By studying the interests of individuals and the interests of their peers in a small university group on Facebook, researchers were able to accurately predict new connections and interests people would likely explore. The key insight is that the more information gathered about a person’s connections, the more accurately one can predict what they might like next. Therefore, adding more individuals to the network and introducing more ways for them to connect augments the information about those already there.

Facebook has mastered the process of capitalizing on this phenomenon. When its user count plateaued around 90 million in 2007, Facebook created a special growth team for the sole purpose of bringing as many people onto the site as possible. The growth team developed the “People You May Know” feature, whereby Facebook makes connection suggestions based on the data compiled on a user, nudging users to increase their connections. Users quickly discovered the eerie nature of the feature, as questionable suggestions appeared and caused many to wonder: What information is Facebook using to make these recommendations and how are they getting that information?

No one knows for sure all the sources Facebook uses to make these suggestions. We do know, however, that for every new person added to the network and every new connection made, Facebook’s software gleans increasingly more information about existing members. Its algorithms then use that information to target you with ads, content, and connection suggestions that you are most likely to engage with to keep you on the site. The more time and engagement you have, the more connections you tend to make. The whole process is a continuous feedback loop designed to continually “maximize the system.”

Facebook’s growth plan worked better than anybody ever imagined, and the algorithm used to learn about people and manipulate content is a genius invention of its top-tier development team. However, like many technologies, the purpose it serves changes with the intent of the user. The algorithm’s main function is to feed content to users based on their “friends” and previous interests, but in the wrong hands, this tool proves deadly.

Mark Zuckerberg Meets Rich Uncle Pennybags

In the company’s quest to grow, it has increasingly diversified the means of connection on its platform, exemplifying what many consider monopolistic behavior. A monopoly occurs when a single seller can set market prices because it faces little to no competition. Monopolies are disastrous for consumers because the lack of competition allows monopolists to restrict market output and artificially increase prices. This reduces consumer surplus and economic welfare, which is why monopolies have been illegal in the USA since the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

Graffiti of the monopoly man, Rich Uncle Pennybags

Rich Uncle Pennybags, known to many as “the Monopoly man.” (Image: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, Credit: Sean Davis)

If a service like Facebook is free, can it really have a monopoly? The answer is yes, and the consequences go far beyond price gouging.

Facebook’s monopolistic behavior first began with its billion-dollar acquisition of Instagram in 2012, when executives identified the rival platform as a threat. Instagram, at the time, only allowed image sharing with followers, who could then like and comment. Facebook also had these capabilities, making the two platforms natural competitors. By integrating Instagram with Facebook’s network, Facebook acquired the portion of Instagram’s userbase that wasn’t on Facebook and captured the competition’s advertising revenue. Instagram now brings in $20 billion annually in advertising for Facebook, about a third of Facebook’s revenue.

Facebook’s next competitor purchase was the international messaging platform WhatsApp in 2014 for $19 billion. WhatsApp provided a secure, highly encrypted means of communication from anywhere in the world with internet access, an indispensable service in today’s global ecosystem. Facebook had its own messaging service that, by 2013, was outcompeted by WhatsApp in Europe and elsewhere, making the acquisition a no-brainer. The merge offered Facebook hundreds of millions of new users along with a well-developed, multi-functional messaging infrastructure that could even be used to transfer money. WhatsApp solidified Facebook’s growth into a multiplatform conglomerate with an astounding amount of power—and responsibility.

At this point it’s fair to say that Facebook is a monopoly. They have no direct competitors in the sense that no other social media company provides as many services as they do. As a result, individuals who rely on Facebook services, such as messaging and news, are vulnerable if Facebook should fail. A prime example of this occurred on October 4th, when Facebook experienced a service outage that lasted almost 6 hours. With Facebook servers down for much of the day, all Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp users were without access to messaging, content, or news with no viable alternative. This is devastating for the billions of individuals who rely on these services worldwide for a myriad of communication needs.

However, the consequences of Facebook’s monopolistic growth go beyond power outages. The platform has grown so large that it is unable to properly moderate and filter misinformation, leading to the deaths of millions across the globe.

A Lesson from Uncle Ben

If Facebook’s monopolizing and ethically questionable information gathering don’t call to mind the mantra, “with great power comes great responsibility,” then you either haven’t seen Spider-Man or you might be an authoritarian. This nugget of wisdom from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben applies to all entities that wield immeasurable power, from the U.S. government to the billionaires it has helped create, Zuckerberg included. With Facebook’s tremendous growth came tremendous power, and consequentially great responsibility.

But Facebook has historically adopted a laissez-faire approach to this responsibility, particularly when it comes to how it handles spreading disinformation on its platform. Take, for example, how Facebook facilitated cases of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and attacks on parliamentary elections throughout Europe. Though the company denies any role in the January 6th insurrection of the U.S. Capitol, its own internal reports reveal that a small, coordinated effort of super-sharing individuals caused many individuals to storm the U.S. Capitol, many with the intent to capture and kill elected representatives.

Former Facebook employees continue to expose the company’s poor handling of dangerous situations, particularly in developing countries. After removing thousands of inauthentic, propagandist accounts pushing the authoritarian Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras and devoting her spare time to combating misinformation accounts in various countries (including the UK and Australia), former data scientist Sophie Zhang was fired from Facebook for devoting too much time to policing civic engagement. The most recent whistleblower, Frances Haugen, claimed that Facebook phased out efforts to combat disinformation, with potentially deadly consequences.

In Myanmar, Buddhist citizens and the military engaged in a genocidal campaign of the Muslim Rohingya minority from 2016 to 2017 that claimed almost 750,000 lives. Throughout the campaign, fake news, hate speech, and other misinformation spread across Facebook, especially in Myanmar where 38 percent of citizens get their news through the site. Not only did it take two years for many of the accounts to be removed, Facebook also refused to share both user data and the measures it took to address the problem with international investigators. If one genocide wasn’t enough, Facebook seems to be repeating history with the situation in Ethiopia where murderous riots inspired by ethnic hate speech on Facebook have already claimed the lives of over 80 minority citizens.

Facebook is a case study in how the obsession with growth—whether of a nation or a social media monopoly—has dire implications for national security and international stability.

Channeling Taft and Roosevelt: Break Them Up

Mark Zuckerberg presenting Facebook's rapid growth on stage.

Mark Zuckerberg preaching the religion of growth. (Image: CC BY-NC 2.0, Credit: Niall Kennedy )

Katherine Losse, Mark Zuckerberg’s one-time speech writer, best summarizes Facebook’s growth mindset in her memoir when she says, “Scaling and growth are everything; individuals and their experiences are secondary to what is necessary to maximize the system.” The company’s religion of growth has been so successful that it has engulfed competitors and grown beyond its means to monitor and control the content spreading across its network (even if it wanted to). Though Facebook has successfully connected people around the globe and circulated some important information throughout the pandemic, the toll it has taken on democracy has exceeded its advantages. Its sheer size threatens not only the USA, but the world as well.

Anti-trust legislation was the solution to adverse conditions arising from trusts like Standard Oil and U.S. Steel. These companies drove competitors out of business by temporarily cutting prices below cost, which ultimately concentrated wealth into the hands of a few who wielded this wealth to influence American politics in their favor. Thankfully, presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft brought the hammer of justice down on the heads of John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan, successfully breaking them up. Now Biden’s justice department is poised to do the same to Facebook.

Without proper oversight or the ability for users to readily disengage, Facebook will continue to expand beyond its limits of control. If the past is any indication, there is bound to be more bloodshed. Let’s hope Uncle Sam is still big enough to keep the peace.

Taylor Lange, CASSE's Ecological EconomistTaylor Lange is CASSE’s Ecological Economist, and Ph.D. candidate in Ecology and Environmental Science at the University of Maine.

The post Facebook and Its Religion of Growth appeared first on Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

US Officials Can Guard Against Havana Syndrome With This Innovative Home Solution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/10/2021 - 12:01am in

As the dire threat of Havana Syndrome gains increasingly widespread acknowledgement, the US government employees who’ve been finding themselves targeted by these attacks are desperate for a way to protect themselves from this electromagnetic menace.

Luckily, scientists at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Agency have devised an innovative new solution to this peril which anyone who feels they may be in danger of Kremlin microwave beams can implement using a common and inexpensive household product.

Here is a step-by-step breakdown of the simple prophylactic measure that experts are recommending for US diplomats, CIA operatives, government officials, wealthy media pundits, and anyone else who fears they may fall victim to GRU ray gun attacks:

First, you will need a roll of standard aluminum foil.

Second, lay out an arm span’s length of the foil. Don’t be stingy; your neurological wellbeing may depend on it.

Next, fold it in half. Doubling the layers adds extra protection from Kremlin radiation blasters.

Gather the foil around your head, careful to leave no vulnerable part of the cranium exposed.

Now pack down the foil over your skull. Be thorough now; you don’t want to let Russian brain phasers turn you into an idiot.

Manually adding two antennae helps your foil helmet deflect pulsed microwaves.

And there you have it. Not today, Ivan! You’ll have to try your dastardly Kremlin mind tricks on somebody less clever.

Experts highly recommend all western government officials make use of a Havana Syndrome deflector helmet for the foreseeable future, as well as all intelligence operatives, all major media figures, and anyone who just generally feels as though Russians pose a major threat to their way of life. It should be worn 24 hours a day, even when sleeping and bathing, because those lapses in cranial security are precisely when they’ll get you.

Scientists are now reportedly seeing promising research which suggests that Havana Syndrome rays can also be deflected by a rainbow-colored wig supplemented by white face makeup and a red ball on the nose.

So it turns out we here in the free world are a step or two ahead of the Kremlin. Nice try, Mister Putin. You’ve got to wake up pretty early in the morning to make fools out of us.

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