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“Mr Speaker. Today is the day when Britain steps back from the brink. When we confront the bills from a decade of debt.”[1]

  These were the words of George Osbourne yesterday, before he announced what are reported to be the largest cuts in a generation. Amongst the £81bn to be cut from public spending over the next six years are £7bn extra from welfare payments, 19% in average cuts from departments and the abolishment of nearly 200 quangos. 192 of these public bodies will be axed, whilst 118 more will be merged in a move which the government defends as improving accountability and cutting costs. Some of those facing extinction include the UK Film Council, the Audit Commission and Regional Development Agencies.[2]

  The Audit Commission’s role in improving accountability would appear to be negligible in the view of the government. Those bodies and departments which have remained untouched presumably play a sufficiently strong role in achieving this goal. One such organisation is the Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD) which helps exporters of UK goods and services to win business overseas by providing guarantees, insurance and reinsurance. A major client of this department has been the arms industry which consumed between 30-50% of its budget in the early years of the decade.[3] In one year BAE alone accounted for 42% of the ECGD budget.[4]

  The scheme is defended by the government as a vital support to British industry and British jobs. Despite employing merely 65,000 in 2006, the combined subsidies allotted to the arms industry through the ECGD, R&D and trade mission support totalled £852million a year.[5] This is equivalent to a subsidy of £13,000 per employee per year. When compared to an annual salary on Job Seeker’s Allowance of £2696.2 this appears an incredibly inefficient means of providing for workers, ignoring of course the huge profits which these companies make. Not only this, but the department was recently implicated in a court case which revealed that ECGD funds had been used to underwrite contracts obtained by bribery.[6] No cuts or reforms have been proposed for this department.

  Another body escaping the “fair” allocation of cuts is UK Trade and Investment, and its sub-division of the Defence and Security Organisation. This body is the repackaged entity for the former Defence Export Service Organisation (DESO). Set up by Dennis Healey in 1966, the organisation promoted foreign arms sales abroad and was headed by seconded executives from private defence companies. Mr Healey defended its creation to Parliament, espousing that:

“while the Government attach[es] the highest importance to making progress in the field of arms control and disarmament, we must also take what practical steps we can to ensure that this country does not fail to secure its rightful share of this valuable commercial market.”

  This aim was not forgotten, and DESO continued to play a prominent role well into this decade. It employed almost 500 staff, with around 400 in London and a further 100 based in offices across 17 countries worldwide. DESO also worked closely with military attachés in at least 80 British Embassies. It was not until 2007 when demands by the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens as well as 30 NGO’s  with a signed statement led to the organisation’s closure by Gordon Brown. [7]

  Far from the end however, DESO’s work has continued to flourish within UK Trade and Investment. The body boasts services to its clients including facilities for events and exhibitions, market analysis and opportunities to take advantage of some of the MOD’s “long-term partnerships” in overseas markets.[8] Indeed DSO continues to employ more civil servants than all the other sectors of UK Trade and Investment combined. This seems only “fair” for an industry which employs less than 0.5% of the UK work force, and at a time when other British industry such as Vestas is moving overseas. Of course these overseas deals can only take place under licence by the UK Government. These have been granted so far to 13 out of the 20 worst offending states on human rights records. [9]

  With its unrivalled assistance to private arms companies it is no wonder that the UK continues to play a leading role in global trade. One might question whether the services, expertise and taxpayer funds which are disproportionately allotted to this industry could have been used to secure the development of an IT or Green energy base within these shores. It seems that the international community has decided though. UK Trade and Investment recently won an international award for Best Trade Promotion Agency.[10]

  The Department is not ready to rest on its laurels as others around it face cuts and abolishment however. This summer it published a report identifying new opportunities for British companies in Iraqi Kurdistan, describing the region as, “a gateway for British companies looking to establish a foothold in Iraq.”[11] With the intelligence gathered from almost 8 years of occupation it is likely that UK Trade and Investment will be well placed to give British industry the edge in this “new market”.

Chris Bowles

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A World Bank arbitration panel has ruled in favour of Canadian mining company Pacific Rim in determining that a controversial lawsuit, which the corporation filed against the government of El Salvador after the latter indefinitely suspended the exploitation of a gold mine close to the nation’s capital, may proceed. Preliminary Objections to Pacific Rim’s case had been filed by the Salvadorian government in January, alleging that the lawsuit was erroneous and without legal foundation.

El Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, had halted exploration at the El Dorado mine site, located around 40 miles from San Salvador, citing the potential for environmental and social damage. In June, Funes had affirmed that, “El Salvador and my government are not going to support, nor authorise, any mining exploration or exploitation which puts the country’s health at risk and which further deteriorates our environment”[1], however the panel’s ruling puts this position in serious jeopardy.

The case, brought by Pacific Rim subsidy Pac Rim Cayman, has been shrouded in controversy since it was filed in April of 2009, with the government of El Salvador maintaining from the outset that there is no legal basis for arbitration on behalf of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s dispute resolution panel. Upon filing the case, Pacific Rim announced that it would be seeking, “award of damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars from the government for its multiple breaches of international and Salvadoran law”[2], and the figure currently being demanded by the Canadian company is $77 million. An estimated 30% of El Salvador’s 6 million people live below the poverty line, and the country’s illiteracy rate currently stands at around 20%.[3]

Pacific Rim has pursued its claim under the terms of the 2005 Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), to which the United States, the Dominican Republic and five Central American nations, including El Salvador, are signatories. The company’s Pac Rim Cayman subsidiary had been registered in the Cayman Islands, but relocated to the U.S. state of Nevada in 2007 – some three years after a rift had begun to emerge between Pacific Rim and the government of El Salvador.  CAFTA has no jurisdiction in either Canada, where Pacific Rim is registered, or in the Cayman Islands, but Pac Rim Cayman’s registration in Nevada has allowed it to use the terms of the free trade agreement to bring legal proceedings against El Salvador.

The Salvadorian government presented ICSID with a six-page document outlining what it describes as flagrant violations of World Bank policy last week, after the panel had determined that the case would be allowed to proceed in spite of vociferous objections. The government also charges that Pacific Rim is acting in violation of the 1996 El Salvador Mines Law, which stipulates certain prerequisites for the granting of mining concessions in the country.[4]

Pacific Rim’s President and CEO, Tom Shrake, said that the company was “very pleased” with ICSID’s decision to allow the case to proceed. “This is a positive and crucial step in the CAFTA process for Pac Rim. We are, however, reticent to celebrate as we believe a more productive outcome is possible for both the Salvadoran people and foreign investors. With this phase of the arbitration now completed, we hope to resume a mutually beneficial dialogue with the Government of El Salvador to resolve the impasse on the El Dorado project”, he added.[5]

The Salvadorian National Committee against Mining (Mesa Nacional frente a la Minería), however, decried the ICSID ruling, saying that it sets a “terrible precedent” in terms of national sovereignty and the right of a country “to reject projects that are environmentally or socially unfeasible”.[6] The committee has called on Funes’ government to join forces with groups opposed to the World Bank’s ruling, with activist Manuel Fuentes saying that by allying with such organisations the government can “strengthen its defensive strategy”.

Furthermore, there have been calls from activists in El Salvador for the government to pass legislation prohibiting outright the mining of metals in the country, to withdraw from the Central American Free Trade Agreement with immediate effect, and to rule out the possibility of signing bilateral trade accords with Canada.

Neoliberal ‘free trade’ agreements such as CAFTA and its counterpart NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement, which encompasses Canada, Mexico and the United States – have come under intensifying scrutiny in recent years, as many have pointed out that they actively erode national sovereignty and pit member states’ economies against one another in what has been dubbed the “race to the bottom” by some economists.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul remarked of CAFTA in 2005 that, “It is absurd to believe that CAFTA and other trade agreements do not diminish American sovereignty.  When we grant quasi-governmental international bodies the power to make decisions about American trade rules, we lose sovereignty plain and simple… Like the UN, NAFTA, and the WTO, it represents another stone in the foundation of a global government system.  Most Americans already understand they are governed by largely unaccountable forces in Washington, yet now they face having their domestic laws influenced by bureaucrats in Brussels, Zurich, or Mexico City.”[7]

Former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz has also voiced opposition to NAFTA and CAFTA, observing that these agreements have had a detrimental effect on domestic agriculture in signatory states, whose markets have been flooded with cheap produce imported from the United States. In many cases, heavy subsidies offered to U.S. farmers by the federal government mean that U.S.-grown crops are able to undercut domestic produce with disastrous results for those who depend on farming to make a living. The result has been increasing rural poverty in countries such as Mexico, simultaneously fuelling migration from the countryside to the city and immigration from Latin America into the United States.

Speaking about the effects of the NAFTA agreement on Mexico, Stiglitz observes that, “NAFTA, ten years later, did not, I think, produce the benefits that Mexico had hoped for. A fairer agreement could have, but that’s not what they got. One of the key aspects of this was agriculture. The price of corn fell by half. The poorest people in Mexico are corn farmers. So you increased the poverty among the poorest groups in the country. It helps their urban workers, who buy food, but it hurts the some of the poorest. So you have seen this change in the pattern of inequality within Mexico.”[8]

In 1993, then-Vice President-elect Al Gore took part in a televised debate with independent presidential candidate Ross Perot, a passionate opponent of NAFTA, on a special edition of Larry King Live on CNN. It was during this debate that Gore uttered the now infamous line, “this is a good deal for our country”[9].

A 2003 report into the effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy, however, contradicts Mr. Gore in the strongest possible terms. Robert E. Scott’s report, The high price of ‘free’ trade, notes that in the first ten years following the 1993 inception of NAFTA, over 870,000 jobs were lost from the United States, mostly “high-wage positions in manufacturing industries”[10]. In addition, NAFTA “contributed to rising income inequality, suppressed real wages for production workers, weakened workers’ collective bargaining powers and ability to organize unions, and reduced fringe benefits”.

Scott’s damning report observes that, “no protections were contained in the core of the agreement to maintain labor or environmental standards”, and that NAFTA, “tilted the economic playing field in favor of investors, and against workers and the environment, resulting in a hemispheric “race to the bottom” in wages and environmental quality”.

The report goes on to state that advocates of NAFTA, such as Al Gore and former President George W. Bush, “misrepresent the real effects of trade on the U.S. economy: trade both creates and destroys jobs. Increases in U.S. exports tend to create jobs in this country, but increases in imports tend to reduce jobs because the imports displace goods that otherwise would have been made in the United States by domestic workers.”

The result of nearly two decades of unchecked neoliberal economic policy has been a sharp decline in real wages and living standards in the United States, spurred on by the near-total obliteration of the country’s manufacturing sector as companies seek to maximise profit margins by moving their factories south of the border where land and labour are considerably cheaper. With support for such policies unsurprisingly strong among Washington D.C.’s political elite, this trend shows no sign of relenting in the foreseeable future.


[1] Pacific Rim expresa su satisfacción por victoria en tribunal internacional, http://noticias.terra.es/2010/economia/0804/actualidad/pacific-rim-expresa-su-satisfaccion-por-victoria-en-tribunal-internacional.aspx

[2] Arbitration panel favors Canada miner in dispute with El Salvador, http://www.laprensasa.com/2.0/3/309/796002/America-in-English/Arbitration-panel-favors-Canada-miner-in-dispute-with-El-Salvador.html

[3] The CIA World Factbook – El Salvador, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/es.html

[4] El Salvador busca frenar demanda de Pacific Rim, http://www.elsalvador.com/mwedh/nota/nota_completa.asp?idCat=6374&idArt=5040098

[5] Pac Rim Cayman LLC – ICSID Tribunal Rejects Government of El Salvador’s Preliminary Objection, http://www.allbusiness.com/legal/trial-procedure-decisions-rulings/14892156-1.html

[6] Ambientalistas consideran un “precedente nefasto” la decisión contra El Salvador, http://es.noticias.yahoo.com/9/20100811/tsc-ambientalistas-consideran-un-precede-23e7ce8.html

[7] CAFTA: More Bureaucracy, Less Free Trade, http://www.house.gov/paul/tst/tst2005/tst060605.htm

[8] Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development, http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/5339.html

[9] NAFTA: Ross Perot and Al Gore Debate 1993, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhwhMXOxHTg

[10] The high price of ‘free’ trade – NAFTA’s failure has cost the United States jobs across the nation, http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/briefingpapers_bp147/

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The citizens in Aldhous Huxley’s Brave New World were encouraged by their government to take the sadness-erasing drug Soma to ease the fulfillment of their lives in a superficial society. In his later lectures he predicted that our future society would mimic that of his fictional novel in its use of scientific methods for population management. A recent psychological study with the element, Lithium, now appears to perhaps bring Huxley’s vision one step closer.

The report by researchers in Japan appears to confirm that low levels of Lithium in drinking water may lead to lower levels of suicide in a consuming population. The study, carried out by a team from the universities of Oita and Hiroshima in the prefecture of Oita has recently been published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.[1]  In areas where the levels of the element were highest, the risk of suicide appeared to be significantly reduced.

Lithium has been associated with mental health for many years, used in high levels to promote mood stabilisation for individuals suffering from Bipolar disorder. The levels of the element used in the Japanese trials however, varied between 0.7 and 59 milograms; hundreds of times lower than traditionally used in a clinical context.[2] At these levels, scientists claim that the drug would seem to be too diluted to offer any medicinal benefit.

However, they point to a previous trial which demonstrated that people suffering from Bipolar who did not respond to Lithium emotionally, were still less likely to attempt suicide. Scientists believe that although the levels of the element remain low, over time they may accumulate in the body and produce a diagnosable result.

An earlier study conducted in the United States also suggested the beneficial mood altering effects of Lithium. This research, carried out in 27 Texas counties between 1978-1987 found that not only were levels of suicide reduced with Lithium treatment, but other socially undesirable patterns also fell.[3] At levels between 70-170 milograms there was a direct inverse correlation with incidences of rape, robbery and burglary.

The element also appears to have produced an effect in drug addictions, especially with harder drugs. Arrests for possession of Opium and Cocaine raw substances and derivatives fell significantly in the study.  Subject to further controlled evaluation the report makes the following recommendation:

“increasing the human lithium intakes by supplementation, or the lithiation of drinking water is suggested as a possible means of crime, suicide, and drug-dependency reduction at the individual and community level.”[4]

Experts interviewed in connection with the Oita research have given similar statements, citing the results as evidence of the need for further clinical trials prior to possible drinking water lithiation. Although further research and debate is necessary, ‘the eventual benefits for community mental health may be considerable.’[5]

American psychiatrist Peter Kramer, who is best known for his work Listening to Prozac, raised the possibility of public health authorities supplementing water supplies at a conference in Germany earlier this year. He argues that this study may mark the onset of a ‘public health revolution’ in which pharmaceuticals may be added to water supplies in order to further the ‘common good’.

He has been joined in his recommendations by Dr. Archelle Georgiou, a recognized American physician, who argues that the success of the Fluoride experiment should make further fortification attempts more acceptable.[6]

This well publicised effort with Fluoride first began in Grand Rapids, Michigan on 25th January 1945, when H. Trendley Dean launched the campaign to fortify the drinking supply. Advocates point to reductions in tooth decay and improved oral health which have since reduced public health costs in the long term. The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has since described this program as, “one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century.”[7]

This program though, has not been without its critics, both from medical and ethical standpoints. Mainstream physicians have questioned the possible toxicity of prolonged exposure to Fluoride in the body. Political activists have also raised their criticisms at a policy they regard as “un-democratic”, since it removes public choice from the equation.[8]

The bioethicist and medical historian, Jacob Appel, dispels these claims, arguing that the availability of bottled water means that those opposed to the policy can seek non-fortified alternatives. “There is nothing unreasonable about placing the burden not to drink,” he asserts, “on the resistant minority.”[9]

 The opportunities to beneficially impact the public health of the populace with this method outweigh the protests of those few on the margins.

Appel claims that any changes to public health policy should be democratic and consultative. It appears however, that the extent of the democratic debate he calls for is that, “the public ought to be informed which pharmaceuticals have been added to the water and should choose what to imbibe accordingly.” The public are hence accorded the generous right to make their informed choice after policy has been made, and presumably after they have also paid their water bill.

Like Kramer and Georgiou, Appel sees this current study as pointing to a future in which the common water supply can be harnessed to deliver health altering treatments at a low cost. Regardless of whether Lithium is eventually adopted there are other therapies on the horizon which may be just as influential. Statins, which reduce cholesterol and increase life-expectancy in otherwise healthy individuals, may be a possibility. If a chemical can be isolated which successfully blocks pleasure pathways involved in the use of narcotics, this might be an opportunity to deter addictions.

When considering the risks of hypothyroidism, nephrotoxicity and weight gain with Lithium, and those of muscle breakdown with Statins, such advocates suggest that the “risks should be minimised”, or that susceptible individuals should be identified in advance.[10] In the rush to implement these nationwide technological ‘wonder therapies’ however, it is unclear whether these loose controls will be implemented stringently enough to avoid these or other unknown adverse side effects. Whether the supplemented medication is known as Soma or not though, it seems likely that it will not be long before behaviour altering drugs can be administered nationwide.

Chris Bowles 


[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8025454.stm 

[2] http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/05/lithium-in-drinking-water-has.html 

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1699579 

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1699579

[5] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8025454.stm 

[6] http://thedailybite.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/neoconservative-think-tank-considers-adding-lithium-to-public-water-supply-to-control-crime-using-suicide-reduction-as-excuse/

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jacob-m-appel/beyond-fluoride-pharmaceu_b_398874.html

[8] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8025454.stm

[9] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jacob-m-appel/beyond-fluoride-pharmaceu_b_398874.html

[10]http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jacob-m-appel/beyond-fluoride-pharmaceu_b_398874.html

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At the sum of £5000 a day, Stephen Byers’ “cab for hire” is one that few of the electorate would be able to afford. Yet the services which he claimed to have provided to various corporate clients may have serious implications for the taxpayer.

The lobbying revelations of Mr Byers, exposed by Channel 4 and The Sunday Times in a ‘Dispatches’ documentary, were added to  by others from both sides of the House, including former health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, and former defence minister, Geoff Hoon.[1] Over the past 2 months the joint investigation secretly interviewed a total of nine MPs, including four former cabinet ministers.

“It’s a great time if there’s an issue where your clients actually want to get a regulation changed or some law amended.” – Stephen Byers

“If you’ve got a client who needs a particular regulation removed, then we can often package that up [for a minister],” – Patricia Hewitt

“I’m yours” – Geoff Hoon[2]

It is 16 years since Mohamed al-Fayed unleashed a political furore claiming that you can, “hire an MP the way you hire a London taxi”, yet despite New Labour’s claims to clean up after the sleazy legacy of Major’s government, the scandals have continued. In a telling resurrection of the Harrods proprietor’s claim, Stephen Byers has brought ministerial scandal once again into the public eye, though this time it is not “cash for questions” but instead, “cash for laws”.[3]

The boldest of the MP’s interviewed in the documentary, Byers was candid about his willingness to use his political affiliations to bring monetary and regulatory gain for his prospective clients. The North Tyneside MP claimed as his “trump card”, to have the ear of the business secretary Lord Mandelson, using this influence on one particular occasion to assist the blocking of food labelling regulation. The regulation, proposed by Hilary Benn from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, reportedly worried the corporate and legal affairs chief at Tesco, Lucy Neville-Rolfe.

Using his friendship with Mandelson, Byers chose a circuitous though effective route for his client:

“So you ring Peter Mandelson and say, ‘Peter, did you know what Hilary Benn’s about to do? … He’s going to introduce a regulation which is going to have this huge nightmare in every supermarket’.”

As a result, Byers claims, “Peter got it delayed and then got it amended.”

He boasted of further success in his alleged relationship with the ailing transport provider, National Express. With rail franchises totaling £1.4 billion, the group had entered negotiations with the government to discontinue their East Coast Mainline service, opening themselves to a potential penalty. To avoid this, they reportedly contacted Byers:

“So between you and I, I then spoke to Andrew Adonis, the transport secretary, and said, ‘Andrew, look, they’ve got a huge problem. Is there a way out of this?’ And then we, we sort of worked together — basically, the way he was comfortable doing it and you have to keep this very confidential yourself.”

“He [Adonis] said we shouldn’t be involved in the detailed negotiation between his civil servants and National Express but we can give them a broad steer. So we basically got to a situation where we agreed with Andrew he would publicly be very critical of National Express and talk about, ‘I’m going to strip you of the franchise’ and be very gung-ho.

“And we said we will live with that and we won’t challenge you in the court, provided you then let us out by December, by the end of the year, and we can keep the other two franchises for a little longer. So, and that’s what we managed to do.”

This deal, which has left the franchise in the hands of the taxpayer without charging a penalty, may have cost the Exchequer hundreds of millions of pounds. It will also directly affect his North Tyneside constituency, through which the line runs.

Byers considers his influential contacts to be not only amongst present ministers, but also those whose time in the House has come to a close. Tony Blair in particular, is a figure whom Byers held up as an asset to potential clients. His ability to arrange meetings with the former Prime Minister was an advantage which he made clear to his interviewers.

Tony Blair himself has not been immune to the attention attracted by business interests since leaving office. Less than a week before the present scandal involving MP’s, Blair’s deal with the South Korean firm, UI Energy Corporation, made its way into the press after he sought to keep its details private. After 20 months of secrecy, the advisory committee on business appointments chose to overrule Blair’s arguments of “market sensitivities” and disclose his involvement. Despite coinciding with the Korean firm’s strike of oil in a controversial deal with autonomous Kurdistan, both parties deny the deal was connected with Iraq. The details of the deal remain private.[4]

Byers contacted the undercover lobbyist the day after the interview to withdraw all his statements, his denials have since been added to by representatives of both Tesco and National Express. A close source to the Chief Executive at the time at National Express has come forward to assert that Byers’ original version of events was though, “pretty accurate”.[5]

The political actors in these recent scandals have disproportionately been drawn from the Labour party. Many have voiced their criticisms, as the party that entered office on the promise of cleaning up the politics of the previous two decades, has itself become embroiled in similar indignities. The safeguards to prevent lobbyists conflicting with democratic interests have changed little since the previous government, and in some ways have even relaxed.

There are no rules to prevent former MP’s from lobbying, and former ministers merely have to consult an advisory committee within two years of leaving office. As one critic notes of this committee:

“Its members are a representative sample of British society: three lords and three knights, all white, all male, all educated at Oxford or Cambridge, all over 70. These young firebrands never stop anyone from taking up a post in business.”[6]

The new ministerial code of 2007 then dropped the requirement that meetings between ministers and lobbyists should even be recorded.

Not only has Labour failed to move far from the legacy of the Conservatives, but they have also failed their other promise to create a more representative democracy. As such, the public are left with a choice between two political groups which have increasingly narrowed the gap between themselves. Having lost the sense of Obama-like change which 1997 appeared to herald, the public is left with few available avenues to stem the tide of corporatism. As government enlarges, and becomes more accountable, companies quickly learn that the most effective way to achieve a competitive advantage is to seek parliamentary privilege rather than market efficiency.[7]

The significant bias towards the Labour side of the House in these recent developments has drawn understandable criticism from the opposition, with Cameron calling for swift and thorough investigations of those concerned.[8] Cameron, in oracle like prophecy, warned of these impending events in early February, describing it as, “the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

In his speech he asserted that his government would seek to end this pattern of “crony capitalism” and corporatism, and place greater safeguards to ensure that business relations with MPs and ministers are conducted within the framework of representative democracy. This would include, among other measures, a mandatory register of lobbyists, to ensure public awareness of the extent to which national policies are influenced by commercial forces.

This relocation of power would come in a dual form. In an echo of Blair’s promises to open politics a decade ago, Cameron has also proposed granting greater involvement to the population throughout a parliamentary term. This would involve measures to allow petitions to contribute to legislative process (100,000 signatures for debate, 1 million to table a Bill), together with a new Public Reading Stage of Bills.

Doubts as to whether Cameron will be any more able to live up to his pre-election promises than was Blair, may be heightened by the significant audiences which he has already gifted to members of the business community. Interested groups are made ‘donors’ to the party, benefitting from private audiences with the prospective Prime Minister in which they can raise their interests and concerns, presumably for his future action.[9]

The most significant factor in our “broken society” remains the narrow gap between our two political actors and their unwillingness to divulge power. Both sides have found that promises of “change” are easy to make, it falls to the public to witness how easily they can be forgotten.

Chris Bowles


[1] Byers refers himself to watchdog over lobbying row

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/byers-refers-himself-to-watchdog-over-lobbying-row-1925189.html

[2] Insight: Stephen Byers ‘I’m like a cab for hire – at up to £5,000 a day’

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7069795.ece

[3] This lobbying scandal confirms it. The dying days of Labour are upon us http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/27/house-lords-scandal

[4] Tony Blair got cash for deal with South Korean oil firm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/17/tony-blair-cash-south-korea-oil

[5]Insight: Stephen Byers ‘I’m like a cab for hire – at up to £5,000 a day’

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article7069795.ece

[6] This lobbying scandal confirms it. The dying days of Labour are upon us

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jan/27/house-lords-scandal

[7] Stephen Byers Lobbying Scandal: How Corporatism Works

http://blogs.wsj.com/iainmartin/2010/03/21/stephen-byers-lobbying-scandal-how-corporatism-works-part-94/

[8] Byers refers himself to watchdog over lobbying row

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/byers-refers-himself-to-watchdog-over-lobbying-row-1925189.html

[9]Cameron’s Money Men

http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/dispatches/camerons+money+men/2471062

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. on Tuesday evening that the call from the international community for Israel to temporarily freeze settlement construction in territory it has been illegally occupying since 1967 was an “illogical and unreasonable demand”.[1] Netanyahu’s comments came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called on the Zionist state to make “difficult but necessary choices”, a reference to Israeli plans to construct around 1,600 new homes in illegally occupied East Jerusalem which were announced during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to the country.

Clinton used her appearance at AIPAC to underscore her “rock solid” dedication to “Israel’s security”, saying that this is “more than a policy position for me. It is a personal commitment that will never waver”. She went on to say, however, that Israel’s continuing settlement expansion “undermines mutual trust” between the two nations.[2] Such tame chastisement came less than 24 hours after Netanyahu had told his cabinet that, “As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv”.

According to international law, however, there is a clear distinction. Israel has resisted repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions to withdraw from all territory it occupied in 1967, and has continuously expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have more than doubled in size since the failed Oslo peace accords of 1993. The total number of inhabitants of Jewish-only settlements in illegally occupied territory currently stands at over 650,000.

Despite the fact that the construction of settlements in territory acquired by war is roundly condemned by the international community and the practice is forbidden by international law, the BBC insists on including the concession that “Israel disputes this” whenever settlements’ legal status is mentioned, further clouding the issue and giving the illusion of legitimate contention where there is none.

Aside from their outright illegality, settlements are routinely constructed in strategic areas which give their inhabitants preferential access to scarce supplies of water and arable land to the detriment of the impoverished Palestinian communities who live on their margins. A network of roads and highways administered by Israel cuts through the West Bank, in many cases isolating Palestinian villages from one another and making travel between towns just a few miles apart unfeasible.

Settlements in East Jerusalem have been constructed so as to “ring-fence” the portion of the city under illegitimate occupation, with Israel claiming the whole of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible” capital. The location of such settlements makes any transfer of sovereignty over East Jerusalem to a Palestinian government under a future peace deal practically impossible should the current inhabitants be allowed to remain where they are. The dominant forces within the international community have steadfastly refused to take collective action against Israel’s repeated and flagrant violations of internationally accepted practice in refusing to withdraw from territory it acquired following the 1967 war, and have thus undermined any genuine prospect of peace between the two sides.

British arms sales to Israel skyrocketed under Tony Blair’s stewardship and currently stand at their highest ever level. The prospect of a potential future Conservative government bringing pressure to bear on the Zionist state looks remote to say the least: a Channel 4 programme entitled Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, screened in late 2009, found that roughly 80% of Tory MPs are members of Conservative Friends for Israel. The United States currently sends Israel, a nation with a population of just over 7 million, around US$3 billion in foreign aid annually, more than to any other single country and more than to every country in Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

Speaking at AIPAC on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that illegal settlements in East Jerusalem were an “inextricable” part of Israel and would remain so under any subsequent peace deal. Incredibly, he went on to state that their construction, “in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.”[3] President Barack Obama appeared to agree with Netanyahu’s position in September of 2009, when he dropped an official demand for Israel to cease illegal settlement construction.[4] Even more bizarrely, this humiliating capitulation was reported by CNN as if it were a major step in bringing the two sides together.

Quite how Obama and the United States manage to retain any credibility whatsoever as neutral peace brokers in this conflict is a testament to the power of the mainstream media upon which the majority of Americans and Britons rely for information about world affairs. Obama, who had won glowing praise from the Israeli press for a now infamous performance at AIPAC prior to his victory at the polls in late 2008, effectively extinguished any faint hopes of positive action from Washington on the matter when he appointed former IDF volunteer Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff shortly after being elected. Emanuel is widely acknowledged to be one of the most potent figures in Obama’s administration, and it is against this backdrop that any call by the United States’ government for peace talks to resume can be discarded as fading rhetoric.

Clinton at AIPAC: Iran threatened once again

Speaking on behalf of the planet’s foremost nuclear power, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the latest contribution to the burgeoning collection of threats targeted at Iran by political figures from the United States and Israel, calling for “sanctions that bite” against the Persian nation and stating that the United States is “determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons”. Clinton was greeted by applause from the 7,500-strong audience, comprised of members of arguably Washington’s most powerful political lobby representing the interests of a foreign nation, no less than 25 times during Monday’s speech. She called Iran’s mythical quest to procure nuclear weaponry “unacceptable to the United States, unacceptable to Israel and unacceptable to the region and the international community”.

Russia and China have hitherto resisted proceeding with sanctions against Iran, while the U.S. began a programme of sanctions during the presidency of Secretary Clinton’s husband Bill which were dutifully extended by President Obama shortly after the latter took office early in 2009.

The double standard underpinning the frequently recited mantra that Iran is not entitled to obtain nuclear armaments and should be considered a pariah if it wishes to do so is palpable: not only does the U.S. have the world’s most formidable nuclear arsenal; it stands apart from the other members of the coveted nuclear club, having used such weapons to devastating effect against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In addition, Israel is believed to have several hundred nuclear warheads and senior Israeli politicians have been repeatedly threatening military action against Iran in recent years. Israel allowed “cursory inspections” of its nuclear facilities once a year between 1962 and 1969, going to great lengths to conceal underground areas of its sites which contained incriminating evidence of the country’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.[5]

When covertly taken photographs and information regarding Israel’s secret nuclear weapons facilities were released to The Sunday Times in October 1986, Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was kidnapped in Rome before being flown to Israel where he served years in prison, spending longer in solitary confinement than any known prisoner in modern history. Iran, meanwhile, denies categorically that it is seeking to enrich uranium for the purpose of weapon development and maintains that its intentions are purely peaceful.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Benjamin Netanyahu says Mid-East talks face new delay, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8583589.stm

[2] Hillary Clinton warns Israel faces ‘difficult’ choices, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8579766.stm

[3] Netanyahu reaffirms ‘right to build’ in Jerusalem, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8582190.stm

[4] Obama drops demand that Israel freeze settlements, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/09/22/us.mideast/index.html

[5] Israel’s Nuclear Weapons, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/cpc-pubs/farr.htm

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The acceleration of the war in Afghanistan by the new administration is well publicised, representing a greater surge in the war against terrorism, with the use of unmanned drones playing an increasing role. What is slightly less known is the use of these technologies in neighbouring Pakistan.

The first Predator was rushed to Afghanistan just four days after September 11th 2001 as part of the U.S.’s remarkably rapid mobilisation. Since then unmanned aircraft have become integral to U.S. efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now increasingly, in Pakistan. Military claims of greater accuracy and technological superiority, together with likely benefits in reducing military casualties, have resulted in drones gradually replacing F-16’s over the battlefield.

The Air Force is currently spending $3 billion a year in procurement and operation of the aircraft, and now holds more than 7000 units in its arsenal.[1] The most commonly used drones are the Predator and the Reaper; both equipped with hellfire missiles and manufactured by General Atomics.[2] Operated from ground bases in either Afghanistan or the United States, pilots have access to multiple computer screens displaying live video feeds, high definition cameras and various other logistical intelligence. These capabilities, according to military analysts, allow pilots to be a lot more accurate in their strikes and reduce civilian casualties.  This claim may possibly explain why the Obama administration has carried out more attacks with the technology in its first ten months than the previous administration did in its last three years.

Since the first U.S. invasion force landed in Afghanistan in late 2001, insurgent forces have sought shelter in the bordering state of Pakistan, particularly in the inaccessible regions of North Waziristan.[3] The issue of preventing raids and attacks from outside the field of war has understandably been a difficult one for coalition forces. Without a remit for war against the Pakistani state, justifying ground force troop deployment has been impossible. Instead, the United States has been forced to use its relations with the government to ensure that the Pakistani military exerts pressure against Al-Qaeda strongholds. This method has had at best, mixed success.

The U.S. therefore simultaneously launched its own covert offensive against Al-Qaeda suspects in Pakistan using drones. The avoidance of ground troops in this programme enables greater detachment from issues of legality, as well as allowing the United States to fluidly adjust the pace of its campaign. Success on this new front has been praised by news outlets for killing scores of militants over the last few months, including 12 in a single attack recently on what was once a religious school. The total estimated death toll runs as high as 700 for this campaign in Pakistan, with many questioning the proportion of these which are connected to Al-Qaeda.

Whilst the government in Pakistan has been co-operating to a certain degree with the United States, the reactions of its citizens has made the relationship difficult. As attacks under the Obama administration have increased, the Pakistani government has increased its demands, both public and private, to the Americans. A surge in attacks at the start of this year lead to public Pakistani pressure for its own drone force to defend against militant incursions.[4] [5] Privately, certain analysts argue that the U.S. has been able to maintain its campaign by adding to its list of suspects, enemies of the Pakistani government.[6]

The inability to confirm such assertions is maintained by the fact that the Pakistan drone offensive is not directed by the U.S. Air Force, but instead by the C.I.A. . As such, the list of suspect targets is confidential, together with the terms of what constitutes a militant target. As the government has also justified its use of force in this region as the only direct method of tackling the militancy, some might also ask where they are gaining the intelligence on which to base their attacks, if not from ground sources.

The attacks are justified under the legal framework of the Bush Administration, which sidestepped the U.S. ban on assassinations. Instead, terrorism was re-classified from a crime, to an extension of war, enabling forces to retaliate to attacks anywhere as a new front in their war on terror.

The C.I.A.’s lack of experience in direct military offensives, together with the ease with which these new aircraft can be piloted, has led to significant outsourcing within their campaign. Some of the practical operations have been assumed by civilian contractors, raising significant questions of legality in the assassinations of foreign nationals.

The drone war in Pakistan certainly represents a novel development in the field of warfare, it remains to be seen whether the costs of subduing suspected militancy outweigh the ‘complications’ of civilian casualties.

Chris Bowles


[1] Drone pilots have a front-row seat on war, from half a world away

http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-fg-drone-crews21-2010feb21,0,5789185,full.story

[2] U.S. drone crashes over Pakistan

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/01/us-drone-goes-down-over-pakistan-again/

[3] U.S. Unleashes Unprecedented Number of Drone Attacks in Pakistan

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,293,583001,00.html

[4] Zardari asks US to transfer drone technology to Pakistan

http://news.rediff.com/report/2010/jan/08/zardari-asks-us-to-give-drones-to-pak-forces.htm

[5] U.S. to supply Pakistan 12 drones

http://www.thehindu.com/2010/01/23/stories/2010012359791000.htm

[6] Jane Mayer on Predator Drones and Pakistan

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2009/10/jane-mayer-predators-drones-pakistan.html

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The Dalai Lama this week expressed concern that there was little likelihood of improvement for the Tibetan cause, despite relaxing his demands in recent years. Facing huge crowds in Dharamsala on 10th March after a series of protests and demonstrations, he gave his annual commemoration speech, marking the 51st anniversary since the failed Tibetan revolt. The date is also the 2nd anniversary of the 2008 riots in which dozens were killed by Chinese security, in the largest scale protests against the regime in 50 years.

The Tibetan spiritual leader reiterated his position that he does not intend to assume a political role if his country achieves autonomy or independence, the same being said for the government in exile. [1]

Despite links and meetings with numerous foreign political figures, most notable recently both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, sufficient diplomatic and popular pressure has yet to develop. He decried the security situation in the country which he claims treats Tibetans as second class citizens and is trying to annihilate Buddhism:

“They are putting the monks and nuns in prison-like conditions, depriving them the opportunity to study and practice in peace. These conditions make the monasteries function more like museums and are intended to deliberately annihilate Buddhism.” [2]

China continues to denounce the Dalai Lama’s position as the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, prohibiting his adoration and labeling him as merely a “political monk”. They contend that the existence of a constitution for the Tibetan “government-in-exile” undermines the movement’s claims that it is not seeking independence. Officials describe the Tibetan region as “an inalienable part of China” which has benefitted both socially and economically from its integration over the last 50 years.[3]

China first invaded Tibet in 1950 and, following a failed uprising in March 1959, the Dalai Lama and tens of thousands of Tibetans fled into exile in India. During the years of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, there followed a characteristic policy of assimilation and “patriotic re-education”.[4] The Tibetan language, culture and history were replaced in both education, and official society, by those of China. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were also encouraged to settle throughout the plateau, resulting in ethnic majorities in certain regions, most notably Lhasa.[5] The latter policy inevitably assisted in the operation of the former, as China has been surprisingly successful in permeating its “history” of shared culture and unity.

Tibetans’ dogged loyalty to their own past has led to fierce repression over the last 50 years in which an estimated 90% of their cultural heritage has been destroyed. Following the 2008 protests, in anticipation of the Beijing Olympics, the security situation has been further tightened.

Apart from exceptions for visits of foreign journalists, military patrols are a regular feature of Lhasa’s streets.[6] Tibetan visitors to the capital are also required to provide three pieces of documentary evidence to avoid detention. These include: their identity card, a temporary residence permit and a letter of introduction allowing them to be in Lhasa.[7] Ethnic Han Chinese are not stopped for these checks.

China argues that it introduced democratic reforms in 1959 which have brought great social and economic progress for ordinary Tibetans, and that current security in the region is merely intended to ensure peace. [8]

China has invested some 154 billion yuan ($21 billion) in the territory over the last decade on infrastructure and various other development projects. They appreciate that the large-scale nature of many of their previous initiatives has done little to win over the minds of ordinary Tibetans. In recent years they have therefore changed their approach, focusing on local communities and encouraging tourism and small-scale industry. Although many remain skeptical, the process appears to be bearing fruit, as posters of Mao Zedong and President Hu Jintao have begun to appear on walls.[9]

Amongst the exile community, an awareness of the superiority of China has affected both official policy and individual interpretations. The Dalai Lama has switched his stance from full independence to greater rights and autonomy for Tibetans within the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Exiles, who tend to follow the path of their spiritual leader, concede the advantages of a harmonious relationship with their neighbor.

This shift in demands following the defeats of 2008 may mark an end of hope for the Tibetan cause. Relations will probably normalise over time, but with Tibetan culture likely further subsumed within that of China. The examples from the UK in this regard are particularly poignant.

The successful conquest of the neighbouring states of England saw Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and Ireland all become integral parts of a greater Kingdom. Local culture and language was repressed and often prohibited, mass migrations were encouraged to dilute indigenous populations and the histories of the regions were suitably altered. Although Ireland eventually broke away, the others have remained, as they understand the impracticality of attempting to stand in the world without their richer neighbour. Relations are now normalised and, having made sacrifices to become anglicised, the possibilities of separation seem remote. [10] [11] [12] [13]

The history of the “United Kingdom” bears an interesting template perhaps for the future of Tibet as a state.

Chris Bowles


[1] http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/himachalpradesh/Dalai-Lama-says-he-will-not-take-political-position-in-Tibet/Article1-517342.aspx

[2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8559393.stm

[3] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Foreign-leaders-using-Tibet-to-interfere-in-Chinas-affairs-Li-Zhaoxing/articleshow/5641009.cms

[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8559393.stm

[5] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[6] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[7] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7056345.ece

[8] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/china/Foreign-leaders-using-Tibet-to-interfere-in-Chinas-affairs-Li-Zhaoxing/articleshow/5641009.cms

[9] http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gAgLW1Q5BMtRmUR8gpyEluu4CgLQD9EADQM80

[10] http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3972485.ece

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welsh_nationalism

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_language

[13] http://www.theclearances.org/clearances/main.php

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