Media 67: mainstream media highlight bank’s decision to close RT, but not the retraction

natwestThe BBC recently reported that NatWest – part of the RBS group – wrote to RT’s London office saying: “We have recently undertaken a review of your banking arrangements with us and reached the conclusion that we will no longer provide these facilities.”

A letter posted online by the channel warns that banking facilities will be “cancelled and closed” on 12 December. RBS Group was reported to have said that the decision to suspend banking services to RT was final and not up for discussion:

“We assure you that we have only reached this decision after careful consideration, however our decision is final and we are not prepared to enter into any discussion in relation to it.” No reason was given.

RT, which is run by the Russian government, has – like British state radio – previously been accused of biased reporting


RT used Twitter to announce that its British bank account was being closed, adding sarcastically: “Praise be to freedom of speech!”

The Times has reported that RBS withdrew its planned action after Moscow claimed it would freeze the BBC’s finances in Russia and report Britain to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, for breaching commitments to freedom of speech.

The Russian embassy said: “We are concerned over the said decision and the pressure exercised against Russian news outlets in UK. That is an outrage.” It added: “The Russian side will request explanations, including as regards UK’s compliance with OSCE and other norms guaranteeing freedom of speech.”

NatWest – more than 70% owned by the taxpayer – has now withdrawn its planned action and sources at the Treasury have distanced themselves from the bank’s decision.




Destructive political strategy: the west needs the antagonism of Russia to glue the fractious alliance together – and bolster the arms trade

In the FT, Professor Robert H. Wade comments on a reference in an article by Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former US permanent representative to NATO


Daalder argues that Russian president Vladimir Putin “needs the antagonism of the west to protect his standing at home”, and therefore acts as the unprovoked aggressor in order both to generate that antagonism and to expand the boundaries of Russia’s territorial control. Daalder therefore advocates that the west must strengthen the western alliance’s military forces around Russia (“The best answer to Russian aggression is containment”).

Wade questions his statement that “the core of our strength is western unity”: “In fact, western unity is fragile”. As Mr Putin needs the antagonism of the west to protect his standing at home, so the west needs the antagonism of Russia (helped by China) to glue the fractious alliance together.

Intelligence of the ‘dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq’

The western exaggeration of the Russian government’s role in the civil war in Ukraine is cited by Wade and we are informed that eight retired US intelligence analysts wrote a letter to German chancellor Angela Merkel in August 2014 warning her that the intelligence supporting the accusation of a major Russian invasion of Ukraine “seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the US-led attack on Iraq”.

Actions of the kind endorsed by Mr Daalder help to provoke the needed antagonism

Western voters and taxpayers should be wary of western governments exaggerated portrayal of Russia as the unprovoked aggressor and themselves as innocent defenders, which serves to fortify the fragile western alliance.

He adds that it also satisfies the arms industry, for which weapons systems against threatening states are much more profitable than those against terrorists . . . If the aim is genuinely to curb Russian aggression, western states and NATO have to be less aggressive towards Russia.




Air pollution: how many will die before government enforces the law?


 Causing illness, premature death – and now car accidents? 

A study by Public Health England has warned that outdoor air pollution is responsible for an estimated 520 deaths a year in Birmingham alone (Birmingham Mail).

Nationwide it is contributing to about 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The Financial Times reports findings that air pollution is bad for the lungs but new research in Britain now suggests it is also causing more car accidents.

In one area covering west London, as many as four extra traffic accidents a day could be triggered by a spike in dirty air levels, according to a working paper which may be read here. Research by the author, Lutz Sager, an environmental economist who works in the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, suggests that even a small rise in the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide — just 1 microgramme per cubic metre — is enough to increase the average number of accidents each day by 2%, with cities suffering the biggest effects.

One area with some of the highest levels of pollution, covering west London, has an average of 86 car accidents a day. Mr Sager said his research showed that a 30% rise in nitrogen dioxide from average levels led to another four accidents a day. He cites research showing that students do worse on tests when there are higher amounts of air pollution in the room. He suspects that such students and also drivers in highly polluted areas “feel more tired or are less focused, or have a slower reaction time.”

A 1999 European Union directive set legal limits for nitrogen dioxide levels, which came into force in 2010. Six years later, these limits are still being exceeded in many places across Europe. Europe’s cities have some of the highest NO2levels in the world, because a much higher proportion of cars run on diesel than in most other countries.

The British government has not acted on rulings by the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice

In the UK, 37 out of 43 zones breach the limits. The European Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that national courts can and should ensure that governments act to get air pollution below legal limits “as soon as possible”. The case then went back to the UK’s Supreme Court, which in April 2015 ordered the UK’s environment minister to take “immediate action” by preparing and consulting the public on an air quality action plan in the shortest possible time. Despite this ruling, the New Scientist reports that the British government proposals published in December did not envisage compliance in the worst affected areas until 2025.

In a case which began this week, a group of lawyers from ClientEarth is asking the High Court to order ministers to produce a better plan for improving air quality. The case concerns levels of nitrogen dioxide, an invisible gas produced mainly by road traffic; high levels of nitrogen dioxide shorten lives by increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disorders.




People from these countries visited the site this week


Wind of change? Witney by-election: congratulations to CTE and UNA

As Conservatives canvas vigorously in Witney, hustings were held at the High Street Methodist Church; but only candidates for the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party were invited.

Later, at Charlbury Memorial Hall, Churches Together in Charlbury and the West Oxfordshire branch of the United Nations Association organised a second hustings, inviting all the candidates standing in the by-election on October 20.

witney-nhapThey included independents and other parties such as the National Health Action Party, represented by Dr Helen Salisbury (right), an Oxford GP & lecturer at Oxford University medical school, who fears that the current government is in the process of breaking up the NHS, inviting private providers to take over more and more services.

witney-sandersNo picture including all candidates was found online; those who attended were independent David Bishop, who campaigns for better rural bus services, Robert Courts for the Conservatives, Duncan Enright for Labour, Liz Leffman for the Liberal Democrats, Larry Sanders for the Green Party (left), independent Daniel Skidmore, and Nicholas Ward, an independent candidate against the HS2 rail link.

16 questions were submitted by members of the 200-strong audience on Brexit but once candidates had explained their positions people asked for new topics to be discussed and the effects of climate change were next on the agenda. 

Key topics were:

  • cuts to local NHS services,
  • housing shortages
  • the shrinking reach of rural bus services (one village with 800 homes has no regular public transport)
  • grammar schools
  • the refugee crisis
  • housing levels in West Oxfordshire
  • traffic levels on the A40
  • Brexit,
  • climate change
  • affordable housing

Wind of change?

Martin Chapman, owner of a local grocery store-cum-restaurant, a long-standing Conservative voter and admirer of David Cameron, may have been speaking for many when he said: “I won’t be supporting the Conservative candidate. We are heading for a hard Brexit and we’ve had announcements like grammar schools with which I am really disappointed. It all seems to be going wrong. I’m backing the Lib Dems because we want politicians to work together for the best solution for the country. The decisions made in the coming months will have such a profound impact for a long time to come.”

Both Labour and Lib-Dem candidates are reported to have made a good impression – the outcome of this by-election may not be a foregone conclusion.




Financial Times – and IFIs – recognise the passing of globalisation

A triple blow from unlikely sources: Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, have all decried a system they claimed had neglected the security of its weakest members.

izabella-kaminskaEarlier this month Izabella Kaminska referred to UBS’ ‘big note’ reviewing the passing of globalisation. According to UBS strategists Bhanu Baweja, Manik Narain and Maximillian Lin, the elasticity of trade to GDP — a measure of wealth creating globalisation – has fallen near to the weak average of the 1970s and early 1980s – and is well below the second and third waves of globalisation.

She comments that as labour costs go up in emerging markets — and as western consumers become more conscious of what constitutes fair and unfair trade — we should not really be surprised that global supply chains are shrinking, and that:

“Shipping stuff half way across the world simply doesn’t make half as much sense if the pay-off from cheap labour or favourable currency effects doesn’t compensate for the shipping costs (or increasingly, the carbon footprint either)”. The downturn in global trade was detailed on this site in July.


Longer and more complicated supply chains require a far more complex and extended route to market — including far more expenditure on transport and energy — than they would require if they were sourced more locally.

UBS notes that global value chains have become shorter as some countries have on-shored (or reshored) production because bringing production closer to home often serves end customers better and there are now higher unit labour costs in Asia. (See the work of Professor David Bailey and references on the WM Producers website).

In February Izabella also noted that reversing the off-shoring trend is likely to reduce demand for mobile international capital. UBS reports that global cross border capital flows are already decelerating significantly.

guy-standingAnd today the FT reviews a book by Guy Standing, a professor at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies: The Corruption of Capitalism, noting that many of the author’s ideas for fixing the system — such as a universal basic income, where all citizens receive regular payments from the state whether or not they work — are receiving more attention from the mainstream.

Is localisation part of the the answer: Search the Localise West Midlands site – especially see the work on Mainstreaming Community Economic Development.




The largest political party in Europe: strengthened by establishment opposition?


 Welcomed by socialist leaders in Brussels


Discovered via the Brummie: the Plastic Hippo’s list of agents who wish the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn to be seen as unelectable:

  • the five right-wing billionaires who own the printed press,
  • the small group of anonymous Tory strategists running the country,
  • the state broadcaster flirting dangerously close to charter compliance
  • and about 170 Labour MPs worried about future employment

plastic-hippoHippo presents evidence from two separate academic reports which have concluded that UK news outlets are blatantly biased against Jeremy Corbyn:

A study by the London School of Economics found that three quarters of newspapers either ignore or distort Corbyn`s views and comments and act as an aggressive “attack dog” rather than a critical “watchdog”.

A second study by Birkbeck University and the Media Reform Coalition found “clear and consistent bias” against Corbyn in both broadcast and online news feeds with his opponents being allowed double the coverage than his supporters.

The study described a “strong tendency” within the BBC for its reporters to use pejorative language to describe Corbyn and his chums with words such as hostile, hard core, left-wing, radical, revolutionary and Marxist.

Hippo adds: “With my very own ears I heard a senior BBC radio correspondent describe the Labour leadership election as “a battle between Marxists and moderates”. And the strange conclusion is:

“After a year of astonishing negativity, utterly preposterous smears, brutal personal attacks, nasty digs, front bench resignations and a vote of no confidence from Labour MPs who accuse unelectable Corbyn of disloyalty and fracturing the party, the bloke was re-elected as party leader increasing his share of the vote to 61.6 %.

“Unelectable? maybe not if the electorate actually has a full rather than half a brain”.

Read the Plastic Hippo’s article here:




It’s good to be able to say “Hats off to DEFRA”!

. . . if they continue to ‘reboot’ farm policy in favour of small family farms

“Not only do small family farms (defined as covering less than 250 acres and requiring the labour of one or two people) employ more people per acre and provide a wider variety of locally produced food than larger farms, but there is increasing evidence that they are less damaging to the environment.”

private-eye-logoThis passage in the latest Private Eye (1429) mentioned research findings published in a new state funded study carried out in the Netherlands and an online search added detail from the FT.

lidwien_smitDr Lidwien Smit, an environmental epidemiologist at Utrecht University, found that the biggest contribution to deaths linked with air pollution in Europe comes from agriculture, as risky to breathe as that in a traffic congested city.

She recommends that intensive farms in particular should be subjected to the same strict pollution rules as other industries. 

In September, the study was presented to the European Respiratory Society’s international congress in London. Professor Stephen Holgate, the society’s science council chair said that the findings underline the need for governments to take tougher action on farm pollution: “It raises a very important issue; there needs to be much better monitoring of intensive farming’s pollution plumes that spread out across the neighbourhood”.


Private Eye reports that DEFRA is to use part of a £16m EU emergency dairy aid fund to help farmers ‘hit’ by very low milk prices to encourage grass-based farming systems.

The NFU, whose ‘lobby’ is often said to be dominated by large farmers that pay the biggest subscriptions) has, however, made ‘counter proposals’.

defra-logoThe farmer who writes for Private Eye, hopes – as we do – that DEFRA will ‘stick to its guns’ and also that all the UK’s regional governments and national assemblies will go on to make discrimination in favour of small-scale family farms central to farm policy in post-Brexit Britain.

First published on another site:




Russia? Boris, Andrew: our government continues to aid or participate in killing civilians & suspects in several countries

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said that Russia is in danger of becoming a “pariah nation” if it continues to bomb civilian targets in Syria – is he absent -minded or hypocritical?

As Steve Schofield summarises, “Through invasion by ground forces and through air-strikes involving missiles and drones, the US/UK military axis has been responsible for the collapse of societies that has left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead or injured and millions more as refugees.


For years we have assaulted other countries, ruining infrastructure and killing civilians as well as untried suspects; a few examples:

  • The FT in 2013 highlighted a report by Amnesty International which concluded that at least 19 civilians in North Waziristan had been killed by just two drone attacks. In July 18 casual labourers, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed near the Afghan border.
  • The Bureau of Investigation’s 2014 report: America’s drone war has secretly escalated; it noted that it took President Obama three years to publicly refer to his use of drones.
  • In this period Bureau records show drones reportedly killed at least 236 civilians – including 61 children. And according to a leaked CIA record of drone strikes, seen by the McClatchy news agency, the US often did not know who it was killing. In the year after September 2010 at least 265 of up to 482 people killed by drones ‘were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists’.
  • Agence France Presse reported from Afghanistan: Afghan officials said that a NATO airstrike Friday killed five civilians and wounded six others. District governor Mohammad Amin said, “At around 3:30 a.m., U.S. forces conducted an airstrike in Aab Josh village of Baraki Barak district. The airstrike hit a residential house killing five and wounding six civilians”. Niaz Mohammad Amiri, Logar province’s acting governor, added, “U.S. forces were chasing down Taliban militants, but mistakenly bombarded a house. As a result, civilians were victims of the attack”.
  • Edward Luce in the FT pointed out that there is no treaty governing the use of military drones as for the use of nuclear weapons. We summarised his article with added links to Rand Corporation and Stimson Centre.
  • For almost ten years the Central Intelligence Agency has been able to strike targets with impunity. At the moment, Barack Obama orders drone assassinations without having to admit it, or explain himself to anyone. Hundreds of militants have been killed in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere. But hundreds more civilians, perhaps thousands, have also been accidentally killed.
  • Josie Ensor’s report from Istanbul says that a US air strike killed nearly 60 civilians, including children, in Syria after the coalition mistook them for Islamic State fighters. Some eight families were hit as they tried to flee in one of the single deadliest strikes on civilians by the alliance since the start of its operations in the war-torn country.
  • A Saudi-led coalition air strike hit a hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres in northern Yemen, killing at least 11 people and wounding 19, the aid group said. And who is in the coalition? US and Britain have been deploying their military personnel in the command and control centre responsible for Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, having access to lists of targets.
  • The global charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) told Reuters news agency that more than 40 civilians, including an eight-year-old in critical condition, were admitted to Abs Hospital after an air strike in the Mustaba district, a region largely controlled by the Iran-allied Houthi militia.

stwc-logoStuart Richardson, Secretary of the Birmingham branch, offers the sanest contribution from Stop the War Coalition (StWC). StWC is opposing the calls for the implementation of “No-Fly Zones” – after the Libyan disaster – and calls for the bombing of the Assad regime by the RAF and allied air forces. It argues that the only solution is the withdrawal of Russia, US, UK and France leaving the Syrian people to determine their own future.




Politics in flux – regroup?

globalisation-imagesIn July Peter Hitchens wrote: Globalisation hasn’t worked but our elite have not yet been held to account”. As he said, the EU referendum result was a heartfelt protest, but is Brexit likely to enhance the lives of those who made that protest? He continued:

“There is nothing good (or conservative) about low wages, insecure jobs and a mad housing market which offers nothing but cramped rooms and high rents to young families just when they need space, proper houses with gardens, and security”.

But people are re-engaging with politics

Hundreds of thousands have joined Labour. Tens of thousands have joined the SNP, Greens, Tories and, since the EU referendum, the Lib Dems – and this, in an age when we have been told that people no longer want to get involved in politics. The growing adherence to Sanders, Corbyn, the SNP and radical parties in Greece, Spain, Italy and Iceland suggest that the existing order is being challenged and new hope is emerging.

In a different article Hitchens said: “If (like me) you have attended any of Mr Corbyn’s overflowing campaign meetings, you will have seen the hunger – among the under-30s and the over-50s especially – for principled, grown-up politics instead of public relations pap. Millions are weary of being smarmed and lied to by people who actually are not that competent or impressive, and who have been picked because they look good on TV rather than because they have ideas or character”.

Is it just a matter of time before parties regroup?

Some Conservative and Labour voters are moving to UKIP, some to the Liberal Democrats – and others are listening to calls for a cross-party progressive alliance.


In July there was a “Post-Brexit Alliance” meeting with speakers including the Liberal Democrat’s Vince Cable, the SNP’s Tommy Sheppard, Labour MP Clive Lewis, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Amina Gichinga from Take Back the City and the Guardian’s John Harris. This month, a statement calling for progressive parties to work together for electoral reform was published; it is signed by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Leanne Wood, Leader of Plaid Cymru, Steven Agnew, Leader of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, Patrick Harvie, Co-convener of the Scottish Green Party and Alice Hooker-Stroud, Leader of the Wales Green Party.

‘Principled, grown-up politics’ indeed.