Category Archives: Conflict of interest
Sanctions “designed to throttle the economy and force Mr Maduro from power” (Stott, FT)) have been imposed on Venezuela by the US and several allies have been pressed to observe them, with varying responses.
Britain has supported this action, damaging many sectors of the Venezuelan economy. Due to sanctions on the import of spare parts, oil production, the mainstay of its economy, has crashed to levels not seen since the 1940s.
Venezuela’s central bank now seeks access to $1bn of Venezuelan gold ‘safely’ deposited with the Bank of England.
In May, Reuters reported that Venezuela reached an agreement with the U.N. Development Programme to sell part of the gold and lodge it with UNDP which would buy healthcare, food and medicine to combat the coronavirus in Venezuela.
Despite this, Michael Stott reported yesterday that the Britain’s ‘independent judiciary’ has refused the Venezuelan government access to its gold.
Though ‘recognised’ by many US allies, Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó (right) and his party have lost much of the earlier public support gained by stirring rhetoric at countrywide rallies and a June FT article noted that its reputation had been “stained by financial scandals and a failed armed incursion from Colombia”.
Reuters reported in June that the court had been asked by the Bank of England to determine who the British government recognises as Venezuela’s president
In the High Court, Judge Nigel Teare stated that it was indeed the British government’s prerogative to decide who was Venezuela’s legitimate head of state.
He ruled that opposition leader Juan Guaidó had been “unequivocally” recognised as Venezuela’s president by the UK even though Britain has continued to maintain full diplomatic relations with Mr Maduro’s government after recognising Guaidó
Stott points to the fact that the Maduro-appointed envoy, Rocío Maneiro, serves as the Venezuelan ambassador to London as proof of the UK’s recognition of the Maduro government. The UK also maintains an ambassador and full embassy presence in Caracas.
The Venezuelan central bank’s legal team argued that this proved the UK had in reality continued to recognise the Maduro government and therefore Mr Guaidó had no legal backing for his claim to be president.
Sarosh Zaiwalla (left), senior partner at Zaiwalla & Co, representing Venezuela’s central bank, said it was very rare “for an English commercial court to be told that it can only decide a question in the way that the government says it must”.
The Banco Central de Venezuela will be seeking leave of the court to appeal this judgment, which entirely ignores the reality of the situation on the ground; as Zaiwalla points out: Mr Maduro’s government is “in complete control of Venezuela and its administrative institutions and only it can ensure the distribution of the humanitarian relief and medical supplies needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic”.
Paraphrasing George Monbiot’s Rings of Power essay: personnel employed by opaquely-funded thinktanks, that formulate and test the policies later adopted by government, circulate in and out of the offices of the UK Prime Minister and US President. Their output is published or reviewed in the print media, most of which is owned by billionaires or multi-millionaires living offshore.
Michèle Flournoy, a former US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and the co-founder of WestExec Advisors, described as ‘a diverse group of senior national security professionals with recent experience at the highest levels of the U.S. government’, has today published an article in the Financial Times.
It is – ostensibly – about the recent India/China confrontation, but is actually another move in what Robert Armstrong calls the US-China fight.
This cartoon replaces WestExec’s patronising cartoon of PM Modi and President Xi battling with stone-age clubs. It is taken from Jonathan Power’s FT article earlier this month:
Fanning the flames: “In principle, it is a moment that demands US leadership to convene and mobilise the region’s democracies”
Embedded in the article are Ms Flournoy’s references to China’s rising military expenditures, its growing assertiveness, coercive measures to enforce excessive maritime claims, expansive global infrastructure development strategy, modernised armed forces and multibillion-dollar state-directed campaign to develop (and steal) key emerging technologies. She adds:
“Its vessels have collided with foreign ships in the South China Sea (Ed, in 2014). Japan protests that its vessels re being harassed in the East China Sea. Chinese aircraft have encroached upon Taiwan, and Beijing has promulgated a new national security law for Hong Kong that seriously erodes its liberties”.
She then calls for deeper security co-operation among like-minded states, naming Japan, the US, India and Australia, urging these ‘major democracies’ and other countries who are anxious about Chinese intentions and capabilities, to treat China’s border clash with India as a clarion call and take steps to protect their common interests and values. If they do not, she continues, China will continue pushing boundaries, posing unacceptable risks to international order, ending: “In practice, however, that may have to wait for a new occupant in the White House”.
Another voice says: ‘The attack on China should stop’
Jonathan Power writes:
“The world is supposed to be pulling together to defeat the Coronavirus and to some extent it is. Earlier on Russia sent special equipment to the US and recently the US has sent some to Russia. China has aided Italy and Africa with doctors and equipment. Tiny Cuba, with its deep pool of doctors, has also helped Africa (detail here). Around the world there is a sense of “we are all in this together” and that this is a bigger problem than the ones the world has faced since World War 2.”
But President Donald Trump has suggested Chinese culpability for spreading the COVID-19, calling the virus “a Chinese virus” – and some Chinese senior officials publicly retorted.
Powers forecasts that the Coronavirus debate over who is right and who is wrong could become a watershed moment in the relationship between the US and China.
The World Health Organization has brought all the world’s countries together to discuss how to go forward now and – as Power continues – Trump’s representatives needed to say “Let’s sit down and with our best scientists discuss not who is to blame but how such diseases can be forestalled”. That is likely to bring a better result.
Power adds that despite Trump’s good-humoured meetings with Xi, “this antagonism is not a new development. There were three rounds of tariffs in 2018, and a fourth one in September last year. The most recent round targeted Chinese imports, from meat to musical instruments, with a 15% duty. He has refused to negotiate an extension of the nuclear weapons reduction agreement with Russia unless China (a relatively small nuclear power) is brought into the deal”.
Though both countries have an extreme superiority complex and think they are exceptional, unlike China, Power notes, the US has sought to prevent the emergence of a peer competitor, whether Western Europe, Russia or China, that could challenge its military dominance.
Fareed Zakaria in Foreign Affairs agrees: “Today’s China is a remarkably responsible nation on the geopolitical and military front. Beijing is now the second-largest funder of the United Nations and its peacekeeping work. It has deployed 2,500 peacekeepers, more than all the other permanent members of the Security Council combined.
It has not gone to war since 1979. It has not used lethal military force abroad since 1988. Nor has it funded or supported proxies or armed insurgents anywhere in the world since the early 1980s. That record of non-intervention is unique among the world’s great powers”. Powers comments: “For its part, the US has attempted regime change around the world 72 times”.
If Michèle Flournoy were to study the writings of Zakaria and Power, heeding the 16th century advice from Thomas Cranmer, to “read mark, learn and inwardly digest” – she might change course.
George Monbiot describes Britain’s claims to being a functioning democracy as ‘only skin deep’ and explains what he means in a Guardian article:
“Our political system has the outward appearance of democracy, but it is largely controlled by undemocratic forces. We find ourselves on the wrong side of the portcullis, watching helplessly as crucial decisions are taken about us, without us”.
Until the illness of minister Alok Sharma prompted a lightning u-turn, many were feeling uneasy about this week’s parliamentary decision to deny self-isolating MPs the ability to vote remotely, as others queued inside and outside the building, but they could see no effective way of bringing about positive change.
To those who argue that democracy functions well, as all adults have the power to vote, Monbiot explains that established power in this country is surrounded by a series of formal and informal defensive rings, briefly described below.
POLITICAL FUNDING for the Conservative party comes mostly from a small number of very rich people. Just five hedge fund managers have given it £18m over the past 10 years. The Leader’s Group* – an elite Tory dining club – grants big donors special access to the prime minister and his frontbenchers in return for their money. Monbiot’s response: “This corrupts our politics, replacing democracy with plutocracy”.
THE STRUCTURE AND SYMBOLISM OF PARLIAMENT, its rituals and procedures favour former public schoolboys, educated in a similar environment. Even its official emblem tells us we are shut out. It’s a portcullis: the means by which people are excluded from the fortress of power. Boris Johnson is described by Monbiot as being, in effect, a monarch with a five-year term and a council of advisers.
THE HOUSE OF LORDS has some seats reserved for hereditary aristocrats, some for bishops and the rest are grace and favour appointments, keeping power within existing circles. Many are granted to major political donors, reinforcing the power of money.
THE PRINT MEDIA are informal rings of power most being owned by billionaires or multimillionaires living offshore.
Monbiot points out that the UK is a democracy only in the weakest and shallowest sense: even when public trust and consent collapse, there are no effective channels through which the decisions government makes can be affected, ending:
“If there’s one thing the coronavirus fiascos show, it’s the need for radical change”.
On January 8th, prime minister Boris Johnson told European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen that Britain would insist on “maintaining control of UK fishing waters” after it leaves the EU.
During his first meeting with Ms von der Leyen, the prime minister laid down his terms, insisting that any trade deal with the EU must be complete by the end of 2020 and that Britain would “not align” with the bloc’s rules.
An EU condition for future trade & financial services deals is access to the UK’s fish-rich waters
In January, Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar warned of a fish-for-financial-services Brexit clash on the 27th, suggesting that the City of London could lose access to European markets unless the UK opens up its coastal waters to EU boats. Britain has long suspected that Brussels would demand continued EU access to the UK’s fish-rich waters as a condition of a future trade deal, with an explicit link being drawn to an agreement on financial services.
Alex Barker notes that French, Dutch, Belgian, Swedish and Danish fishing fleets are highly dependent on operating in UK waters, and abruptly losing access would potentially deal a devastating shock to many coastal communities. In what he describes as “an admission of the bloc’s vulnerable position over the politically sensitive industry”, Brussels has recognised that EU member states may need to negotiate country-by-country fishing deals to access to UK waters if there is a no-deal Brexit.
In March, the first round of negotiations on the EU’s future relationship with the UK in Brussels took place. Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said the meetings highlighted areas of “very serious divergence”:
- the role of the European Court of Justice,
- Britain’s determination not to align with EU rules and standards,
- and Britain’s insistence that fishing rights to its waters must be decided by annual negotiations with the EU (Norway-style model).
The BBC reports that in the latest round of UK-EU trade talks this week, there were detailed discussions on access to UK fishing waters and other top EU priorities this week. The UK’s negotiator David Frost said a far-reaching free trade agreement could be agreed before the end of the year “without major difficulties”, but it was being held up by the EU’s desire to “bind” the UK to its laws and seek unfair access to fishing waters.
Boris Johnson ruled out any agreement that guarantees EU fishermen’s long-term access to British waters and also rejected EU demands for a binding “level playing field” of labour market, environmental and competition standards that would draw heavily on European law.
Mr Barnier stated clearly that the EU will never agree a trade deal with Britain unless access to UK fishing waters and the level playing field arrangements are settled to the bloc’s satisfaction.
Robin Healey foresees that French labour unions ‘in solidarity, no doubt, with their fishermen confrères, the French port, customs, immigration, dock and railway workers’, could paralyse all Calais-Dover transport facilities and no commercial or private traffic could move in either direction.
In its detailed account the FT’s George Parker explains that the 26-mile Dover-Calais route (above) is a commercial and physical chokepoint for the UK. No other cross-Channel route can match its two-way traffic capacity; Dover’s roll-on roll-off ferries handle about 10,000 trucks on a busy day, many carrying perishable goods.
Barker suggests the development of east coast ports for greater “roll-on, roll-off” ferry traffic in the event of disruption in France. This would allow Britain to carry out more trade with Belgium or the Netherlands. Business Live reports that a new daily service from Calais to Tilbury, is saving up to 75 road miles each day compared with the Calais-Dover crossing, using less fuel and landing goods on London’s ‘doorstep’.
As strikes by French fishermen have previously blocked Calais, Parker warns that Mr Johnson’s ‘hardball negotiating tactics’ on fishing quotas in post-Brexit trade talks risk triggering another protest – and as Healey says “the UK will be truly cut off, not the Continent”.
Which side will blink first? The UK faces disruption of supplies, but as a bloc, EU countries sell more goods to the UK than vice-versa, so would seem to have more to lose in financial terms.
Covid-19 provides an opportunity to re-imagine a New Normal — where agriculture becomes economically viable and sustainable, where farming is not stifled to prepare a workforce for industry, where agriculture becomes the pivot of the economy providing the rightful income into the hands of farmers.
This will only be possible if alongside public health and education, revival of agriculture receives priority in policy planning.
A regenerating agriculture alone has the ability to reboot the economy, protect nature, bring back birds and butterflies, and save the planet from the catastrophic effects of climate change that awaits us.
Reversing the policy direction of the past four decades, as the Financial Times has said, is an urgent necessity. It requires:
- bold decision-making along with the courage to redraw a new development pathway.
- immense political backing to thwart the lobbying pressure from the market players, both in the media as well as academia.
- an exceptional ability to challenge dominant economic thinking,
- and disbanding the model of economic growth which has relied solely on wealth creation, sucking income from the bottom to the top.
But to expect the present dispensation of mainline economists to make an attempt towards an everlasting change – so as to prepare for a new normal — is perhaps asking for the impossible.
There is, however, no dearth of saner voices. It is time to find them and acknowledge their role. After all, as Vera Alves rightly said, it is the normal that we don’t want to return to. #
Some shortening of global supply chains is inevitable . . . the pandemic has exposed just how far even the richest nations are from strategic self-sufficiency (associate editor, FT).
Certain vested interests are increasingly un-nerved by the Government’s acknowledgement of the crucial role played by food producers
As the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) notes: post-COVID-19, politicians have learnt to celebrate ‘more than four million hidden heroes’ who work in Britain’s farm‑to-fork supply chain (but not yet to insist that they receive a fair price for their heroism, we add). There is a growing recognition in political circles that food security requires a return to post-war levels of production.
Processors, export/importers and commodity speculators call to arms . . .
The FDF said – in a letter co-signed by 30 trade bodies this week – that ministers must fight to keep goods moving around the world after the pandemic has shown how essential global supply chains are for feeding consumers. On 18th March it launched a survey (above), hoping to gain support for its cause.
In a Telegraph article FDF warns that long supply chains must continue, stressing that ‘free trade’ is critical to economic recovery – aka their profits?
They write: “The British food and drink industry is an international success story. The country exports more than £23 billion worth of high-quality products each year”. This ‘success’ depends on exporting British produce and importing not only tropical fruits but beef, lamb and apples, easily available here – see The Great Food Swap, Lucas, (research: Hines, Hurd, Jones). And who profits from this polluting activity? Certainly not the average British farmer.
The alternative: more local, accountable and inclusive
As huge numbers of small suppliers are currently left stranded by the closure of local cafes, hotels and restaurants and vulnerable households can’t even get onto the telephone or internet queues for supermarket deliveries, Alan Simpson (right) – in a recent paper – notes that we grow only half of our own food needs.
“Internationally, buffer stocks of food are getting caught up in siege mentalities. Domestic needs will come before international trade . . . It won’t stop there. Floods and drought across Europe and beyond will cause mayhem with global food supply . . . food security is not going to be delivered by any compact between government, the army and the big supermarkets. The alternative needs to be more local, accountable and inclusive”.
William Sitwell’s (British) sheep farmer friend seethed
“Freezing lamb, putting it on a ship and sending it on a 12,000-mile journey to a country that produces the best lamb in the world is simply ridiculous . . . Supermarkets would retort that they stock the best cuts, when in season – which suggests there is not enough British lamb currently available”.
Not so, Sitwell points out: “Breeds such as the Dorset, for example, can lamb in November, but a lack of grass in winter makes the meat more expensive as farmers have to pay for feed”. Supermarkets have failed to invest in farmers rearing these types of animals in favour of cheaper meat from, say, New Zealand, causing a vicious circle: less British lamb available, so demand remains low and prices stay high.
Arch-exponent Helena Norberg-Hodge (left) addresses the issue of local, accountable food production and distribution in the latest episode of Russell Brand’s podcast, ‘Under the Skin’
Pre-COVID-19, Pantheon Economics recorded that world trade had already fallen “sharply,” dropping 1.4% in the year to June 2019 (text & photo: Business Insider). Arjun Kapur, New York Investment strategist, asserts in a letter to the FT’s editor that “2020 will go down as the year of ‘deglobalisation’ “.
He suggests, “Company leaders and world leaders would be wise to ditch their reliance on vulnerable supply chains in favour of more resilient, self-sufficient means of delivering health, economic, and business outcomes for their constituents and shareholders. The ship of globalisation is sailing away”.
COVID-19 bulletin 10: does the military’s welcome assistance outweigh the effects of government funding choices & foreign policy?
The Ministry of Defence has set up a “COVID Support Force”, a 20,000-strong group of military personnel who are on standby (Helen Warrell, FT).
Armed forces personnel and NHS staff aboard a large Chinook helicopter
Commander Chris Knowles said the team has had experience of moving contagious patients since its deployment to the Ebola crisis in west Africa. Further military airlift teams will be based at Kinloss Barracks in Moray, Scotland; Odiham in Hampshire; Yeovilton in Somerset; and Leeming, in North Yorkshire.
The Guardian reports that key military officials will help to ensure that food and medicines reach vulnerable people isolated at home during the coronavirus crisis.
The Ministry of Defence has sent a team to support the Cabinet Office in tackling online misinformation – part of COVID Support Force effort in bolstering the UK’s coronavirus defences. It will help to identify and tackle fake online news about the pandemic and set its sights on an increasing number of fraudulent phishing scams.
Military engineers and logistics experts have helped to design nine field hospitals, while other members of the armed forces have delivered oxygen and personal protective equipment to health facilities.
The British Army helped to set up a new temporary hospital at a site in Birmingham’s national Exhibition Centre, another NHS Nightingale Hospital based at the ExCel Centre and a hospital at Manchester Central Convention Complex, formerly known as the GMEX. It is also helping to convert Glasgow’s SEC Centre into a temporary NHS hospital and more details about the army’s work maybe read on the ForcesNet website.
But many sources are protesting about ongoing financial support for the arms industry and ‘questionable’ military action at this time
They echo the words of Dr Ian Davis, a trustee of a charity, Maternal and Childhealth Advocacy International and director of NATOWatch in 2014: “At a time when questionable missions are being contemplated to address threats from the so-called Islamic State in the Middle East, NATO boots on the ground to fight infectious disease seems like a more urgent and appropriate response for a military-political alliance”. In 2020 he writes a measured account of NATO’s ‘absolute maximum’ contribution at this time.
Support going to the defence industry is deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 crisis
George Monbiot reports that a month ago, just as the coronavirus began racing across the UK, the government announced that it had raised military spending by £2 billion to £41.5 billion. Our military force, it claimed, is “the tip of the spear for a resurgent Global Britain”.
UK, USA and France are continuing to give logistical and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia, which is using British weaponry to bomb schools, markets and hospitals in Yemen already suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and which has now had its first COVID case.
Mark Shapiro, who now lives in California, drew attention to a scathing article by Sarah Lazare (left). It was published in a site founded by author and historian James Weinstein in order to “identify and clarify the struggles against corporate power now multiplying in American society.”
Sarah records that military officials, with the help of Congress and defense industry lobbying groups, have fought to ensure that tanker and missile manufacturing sites remain open. Though workers will be at risk of infection, the profits CEOs and shareholders will be maintained. Her summary: the U.S. weapons industry is being kept afloat at a time when healthcare systems, and millions of ordinary Americans, are sinking.
She adds that this is further evidence of her country’s ‘militaristic bent’ and the political muscle of the companies that profit from the arms industry. This is also the case in Britain. Assistance to arms companies is depriving this and most other countries of the healthcare and social spending needed to reduce and address routine illness and disease, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with epidemics and pandemics such as COVID-19.
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Britain has been providing arms with which its allies continue to bomb the people of Yemen for the fifth year, in contravention of a Court of Appeal ruling. This stated that it is unlawful to have licensed the sale of British-made arms to the Saudi regime without assessing whether their use in Yemen breaches international humanitarian law.
The United Nations has described the effect of this five-year air onslaught, leading to many thousands of Yemeni deaths, as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”.
Peter Lazenby reports the words of Andrew Smith (Campaign Against Arms Trade – CAAT): “It is a crisis that has been enabled by the political and military support that the UK and other arms-dealing governments have given the Saudi regime and its coalition partners”.
Yemen’s healthcare system is already in crisis, with many damaged and destroyed hospitals and a weak healthcare system, already struggling with cholera and malnutrition. The Red Cross reports that medical supplies, drinking water and sanitation are scarce.
Ahmed Aidarous, 36, a resident of the southwestern city of Taiz, who survived dengue fever, expresses the general fear to MiddleEastEye: “In Yemen, there are some diseases like dengue fever and cholera but we know their reasons and we can be treated for them. I heard from media that coronavirus spreads through the air and we cannot protect ourselves from it.”
Two days after his 23 March appeal to warring parties across the globe for an immediate ceasefire, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on those fighting in Yemen to end hostilities and ramp up efforts to counter a potential outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The FT reports that, in response on Wednesday, the Houthi movement and the exiled Saudi-supported government agreed to an immediate end to hostilities.