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Wednesday, 13 June


Professor Rafael Bengoa too many health services are based around buildings rather than being centred on what people and communities need Slugger O'Toole

Professor Rafael Bengoa the health reform specialist and the author of the Bengoa Report is back in town today to deliver a lecture at Queens. To mark his visit he has written the following article.

Im delighted to be back in Northern Ireland today, catching up with old friends and finding out at first-hand about the latest developments in health and social care.

It is always an inspiration to see for myself the commitment and expertise of staff and the widespread determination to make things better.

There is no doubt that the system is struggling, as demand for services keeps rising and budgets are squeezed.

However, there are grounds for confidence too, not least because we know what needs to be done to ensure a stable and successful future.

Thats the main theme of my visit today helping to celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS and focusing on what is required and being done to help it endure and prosper.

The central problems being faced at present should not come as a surprise. We warned in our October 2016 report about the burning platform that the current outdated system will increasingly be unable to cope as pressures and challenges intensify. Inevitably, demand will continue to increase sharply as people live longer lives.

At present, too many services are based around buildings rather than being centred on what people and communities need.

Much more care needs to be delivered in primary care settings, close to or in peoples homes. Thats the essence of transformation. I keep in close contact with Northern Ireland and I know there are some less than positive voices on the prospects for serious health reform.

I realise too that this viewpoint is connected to the political situation and the collapse of the devolved institutions not long after our report was published.

But I want to say that you dont have to give in to pessimism.

Always remember that the situation facing health and social care in Northern Ireland is far from unique. Citizens and policy makers across much of the developed world are grappling with the exact same fundamental issues.

Significantly longer life expectancy the demographic revolution is changing the face of society, often in very positive ways. It means health and social services have to change and that applies across different funding models.

In my own country, I sometimes worry that we are in collective denial about the enormous challenges in front of our eyes.

Working in the medium to long term is not always our strength in Spain. We are champions of short-term reaction. In the case of the demographic challenge and sustainability, the short term will not work for the...


Should Queens University break its link with The Presbyterian Union Theological College? Slugger O'Toole

There has been a public backlash against the perceived anti-LGBTQ policies of the Presbyterian Church. Many people have left the church over it, and many more are considering their position. The writer Tony Macaulay and his wife Leslie have left the church after more than 50 years of membership, and decades of inspiring service. Tony was a youth worker for the Presbyterian Church on a violent interface during some of the most dangerous years of the Troubles. Their daughter is gay, and they have taken a principled position to stand by her side.

Now you can argue it is up to the church to have whatever rules they like. But the Presbyterian Churchs decision to exclude openly gay couples from full communion and their children from baptism could have wider implications for their relationships with the rest of society.

One relationship that is especially important for the Presbyterian Church is with Queens University. The Presbyterian Church trains its ministers at Union Theological College. But Union does more than that. All undergraduate degree courses in Theology at Queens are taught at Union. In light of what looks like an official policy of discrimination against LGBTQ people, should Queens now break its links with Union Theological College?

I am a proud graduate of Queens and I am uncomfortable with the university continuing its links with the Presbyterian Church. I suspect I am not the only one.

Not only is there a moral issue at stake but I suspect there is a legal one as well. Queens has a very precise Equality & Diversity Policy that states:

2.1 The University values and promotes equality and diversity and will seek to ensure that it treats all individuals fairly and with dignity and respect. It is opposed to all forms of unlawful and unfair discrimination.

2.2 The University seeks to provide equality to all, irrespective of gender, including gender re-assignment; marital or civil partnership status; having or not having dependants; religious belief or political opinion; race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins, including Irish Travellers); disability; sexual orientation and age.

The Presbyterian Church may say that it will not prevent LGBTQ Queens undergraduates from studying Theology. But if an LGBTQ Queens student is studying at Union is this a safe and tolerant environment for them? Will they be treated with dignity and respect?

Union has links to Queens going ba...


The hard-right Daily Express propaganda rag is openly intimidating British MPs AAV

In November 2017 Theresa May's Tories and their bigoted DUP enablers forced a shambolic hard-right anti-democratic power grab called the EU Withdrawal Bill through the House of Commons.

The opposition parties attempted to make several amendments to limit this outrageous Tory power grab, but without the support of the vocal Tory so-called "mutineers" (who all, despite all of their fine words, actually voted in favour of it) they simply didn't have the numbers to constrain Theresa May's dictatorial and anti-democratic ambitions, so the bill scraped through to the next stage.



Contemporary Ukrainian culture is far less contemporary than one hundred years ago openDemocracy

As a recent cultural festival in Kyiv shows, generating new languages of internationalism is more important than ever before. RU

Vasyl Cherepanyn. Photo: Olga Ivaschenko.Kyivs Visual Culture Research Center recently hosted The Kyiv International, a biennial comprised of lectures by leading critics and cultural figures. I spoke to Vasyl Cherepanyn, one of the co-organisers of the Biennale, about the programme, Ukrainian modernism and the emergence of new walls in Europe metaphorical and all too real.

This isn't the first Kyiv Biennale organised by the Visual Culture Research Centre (VCRC). How did your work as organiser of the Biennale begin?

We took up this idea three years ago, when it had already been initiated by someone else, but not us. The first Kyiv Kyiv Biennial Arsenale 2012 was held as part of the European Football Championship. As an institution, we participated in it with our own parallel programme. The next Kyiv Biennial was at first postponed because of Maidan, and then later it was cancelled altogether because of the decision of the then-Directorate of the Mystetskyi Arsenal. We had previously worked with Hedwig Saxsenhuber and Georg Schllhammer, the former curators, so we decided to take over the organisation of the School of Kyiv in 2015, completely changing its logic and structure.

Our goal was to visualise, via artistic and educational means, what was absent in Ukraines political sphere after Maidan

At that time, our goal was to visualise, via artistic and educational means, what was absent in Ukraines political sphere after Maidan. We wanted to work through the experience of revolution, and this was where the School of Kyiv fulfilled its role. We used various discussion platforms: institutions inherited from the Soviet...

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Tuesday, 12 June


The tribunal concludes that it could reasonably infer unlawful political discrimination Slugger O'Toole

The Irish News reports  that former Sinn Fin MLA Phil Flanagan has won a fair employment case against Citizens Advice Armagh and has been awarded 5,500.

It arose in relation to an application Mr Flanagan made for the role of manager at the Citizens Advice Armagh.

The Irish News states that :

A female candidate was appointed to the role, even though she had failed to meet the initial shortlisting criteria.

Mr Flanagan launched a case against the charity, claiming he had been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of his political beliefs.

In its conclusion to a lengthy 41 page report the Tribunal said :

The tribunal concludes that it could reasonably infer unlawful political discrimination on the ground of the claimants nationalist/republican opinion. 

This is not a case of a small charitable organisation making a mess of an appointments process and owing up to procedural errors.  The respondent actively lied about its position and about why the claimant had not been appointed. 

The argument that this had simply been a benign and amateurish exercise was only advanced in final submissions and not at any stage before that point.

The burden of proof has passed to the respondent.  If it is to discharge that burden of proof, it must do so by providing an adequate explanation which is supported by cogent evidence.

This might have been an easier task for the respondent if it had put forward a consistent and believable explanation from the start of the process.  

In final submissions, the respondent invited the tribunal conclude that it had made a mess of the interview process; it had all been an innocent and well-meaning exercise which had gone horribly wrong.  That explanation is simply not credible.

The panel marking had been clear.  The interview matrix document had been clear.  The claimant had received the highest marks and should have been appointed.

The decision in this case is particularly damaging as Citizens Advice provides advice to members of the public in relation to both employment and discrimination.

At the time of writing though there does not appear to have been any statement in response to the case or public comment from Citizens Advice.


The trial continues: Askold Kurov on his visit to Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov openDemocracy

Russian documentarian Askold Kurov recently visited filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is on hunger strike in Russia. I spoke to him about the role of documentary today, activism and conditions in Russia's Far North. RU

Askold Kurov. Source: Cinema Lira. The last time I met Russian documentary filmmaker Askold Kurov, he was still filming his documentary The Trial. In 2015, Kurov was a constant observer of the show trial of two Crimean residents filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and anti-fascist Alexander Kolchenko who were sentenced on terrorism charges to 20 and 10-year sentences respectively. The Trial, which follows Sentsovs case in depth, was first shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017, and screenings have since turned into public events in support of releasing the Ukrainian filmmaker and other political prisoners. Indeed, filmmakers from across the world have called for his release.

On 4 June, Kurov met Sentsov in prison at Labytnangi in Russias Yamal-Nenets region, where Sentsov has declared a hunger strike in support of releasing all Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia. Sentsovs hunger strike has led to a whole series of actions across the world. Sentsov recently wrote a letter to G7 leaders with a request to do something to change the fate of Ukrainian political prisoners.

Kurov and I met a few days later in Kyiv to talk about his mission, activism, the trip to Labytnangi and The Trial.

Why are you in Kyiv? Have you come on some sort of mission?

Yes, I have a mission. I was in Labytnangi prison on Monday, I met Oleg Sentsov. And so Maria Tomak, a Kyiv rights defender, invited me here to attend a closed meeting with representatives from embassies of G7 states....


The media who cried wolf: how Eurasias autocracies use media for crisis management openDemocracy

Eurasian governments use of journalism for crisis agenda management erodes trust in media.

Kemerovo's Winter Cherry shopping centre, which caught fire on 25 March, killing 64 people. Photo: Kommersant Photo Agency/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.When the Winter Cherry Shopping Mall in Kemerovo, Russia caught on fire on 25 March 2018, Russias citizens found themselves glued to their televisions anxious for updates.

With 60 dead, among them 41 children, the fire was classified as the second largest in Russia in recent years. However, what the Russian public saw on television wasnt so much news updates about the conditions of the victims or condolences from president Vladimir Putin, or accounts of a thorough investigation into what caused the tragedy. Instead, anchormen and women, their suits pressed, their most serious masks on and hair conservatively styled, dove into demagogic tirades, highlighting the importance of national unity at a time of crisis and in the face of an ephemeral enemy. It doesnt necessarily have to be an external enemy, says Russian journalist Alexandrina Elagina, speaking in the aftermath of the tragedy in Kemerovo. These could be terrorists, or western partners, or enemies of the people and the fifth column. This is where the shenanigans begin, she adds, speaking of the punishment of the low-level officials that usually comes next, while top-tier management is left intact.

But Russias state and pro-government media, the principle news sources available to Russian citizens across the entire country, continued their deceitful harangue on why this fire was an attack on president Putin and why the people should unite with the government against western threats, instead of questioning the authorities and expressing discontent over the handling of this crisis.

That the media take cues from state authorities in the immediate aftermath of a serious event or a disaster is nothing new. As Maria Tomak of the Media Initiative for Human Rights...


The Preston Model and the modern politics of municipal socialism openDemocracy

Efforts underway in Preston, Lancashire could herald a return of the politics and strategies of municipal socialism as part of a much-needed transformation of the UKs political economy.

There is no telling when the next UK general election will come, and when the Corbyn Project could accede to national political power in what R.H. Tawney once called the oldest and toughest plutocracy in the world. But there is still plenty of work to be done in the meantime. While there were some advances in last months local elections, the mixed results underscore the difficulty of mobilisation around a stale and sterile managerialist model of local government, as embodied in all too many Labour councils. Austerity at the national level may have been eased, at least rhetorically, but a fiscal crisis of the local state still rages. Since 2010, government funding to local authority budgets has been slashed by 49.1 per cent, with more pain still to come; by 2020, cuts in central government funding are forecast to reach 56.3 per cent. Although plans for all councils to receive 100 per cent rates retention by 2019/2020 have been placed on ice, cuts premised on this change continue unabated. Almost half of all councils are set to lose all central government funding by 2019/2020, with a yawning 5.8bn funding gap opening up by the end of the decade. Even with the best will in the worldclearly lacking in places like Haringey, where until recently a ghoulish Blairite zombie local government politics still walked at nightthis has not been a promising context in which to build political support for and project out a Corbyn-inflected new economics. But difficulty need not be impossibilityas can be seen in the path taken by the flagship Labour council of Preston in Lancashire. In a few short years Preston has gone from being one of the most deprived parts of the country to a model of radical innovation in local government through its embrace of community wealth building as a modern reinvention of the longstanding political tradition of municipal socialism. Community wealth building is a local economic development strat...


Arron Banks and the missing 11m for Brexit openDemocracy

His pro-Leave lobby groups raised nearly 12m but claim they spent less than 1m during the official Brexit campaign. So where did the rest go? Andy Wigmore says he has "no idea"

Arron Banks. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Nearly 11 million of donations to major Brexit campaign groups funded by Arron Banks has not been accounted for publicly, according to new analysis from openDemocracy.

British election laws are supposed to provide transparency on how campaign groups spend their money during elections and referendums. However, Grassroots Out and Leave.EU the two main groups funded primarily by the self-styled bad boy of Brexit Arron Banks have not disclosed what happened to 10.8 million of the money they received.

In total, the two groups declared that they were given 11.7 million in the first half of 2016 with Mr Banks the main donor to both, including making loans worth 6m to Leave.EU. Yet referendum rules only required them to disclose how they spent money during the ten weeks between 15th April 2016 until the day of the vote on 23rd June. In that controlled period, strict spending limits apply: each group was only legally allowed to spend up to 700,000.

From 9th March until polling day, Leave.EU received donations and...


It comes with the job: how brands share responsibility for mass faintings in Cambodian garment factories openDemocracy

The people making clothes for export in Cambodia are fainting at their posts. Why?

A garment factory in Cambodia. ILO in Asia and the Pacific/Flickr. CC (by-nc-nd)

On 28 May, once again, a factory in Cambodia was the scene of a now sadly familiar episode: more than 100 workers the majority women fainted at the Starite Company in Kandal province. The Chinese-owned facility, which has been operating for less than a year, employs about 1000 workers and produces bags for the U&O brand.

Incidents of mass fainting in factories have been alarmingly frequent in Cambodias economically vital apparel and footwear industry in recent years. In 2017, the Cambodian National Social Security Fund reported that some 1,603 workers had fainted while working. Other widespread incidents of mass fainting in export factories occurred in 2011, 2012 and from 2014 to 2016. The sector, which employs over 700,000 workers, 90% of whom are women, is the countrys number one export industry. Major apparel and footwear brands from Europe and the US source their products from Cambodian suppliers, largely motivated by the low cost of labour.

Factory owners have tended to attribute the mass faintings to external causes, including chemical fumes from pesticides on nearby farms. One such incident that occurred at the Hung Wah Cambodia Garment Manufacturing factory in Phnom Penh in 2011, in which 236 workers fainted, was attributed by provincial police to chemicals used to prevent cockroaches from eating garments. In other past incidents, factory managers have characterised fainting as mass hysteria, suggesting that panic grips the other workers when one worker falls ill. On other occasions, the faintings have been flat out denied. After 100 workers at a garment factory prod...


Jaguar Land Rover discover Slovakia

By Russell Bruce

The problem with British branding is brands, even those much associated with Britain, are moveable. British today gone tomorrow. The car industry has long flagged up its concern about future access to EU markets, concerns over essential imported parts supplies, an unknown future customs regime and negotiations with the EU in perpetual disarray.

So this afternoon Jaguar Land Rover announced production of its Discovery model is moving entirely to Slovakia, a country of Scotlands size, with a population of 5.4 million whose future in the EU is assured.

The EU have just dropped Mays backstop into the Irish Sea. She does not even have her ministers as a backstop to her premiership. Plenty carrying knives ready to pounce on May and fellow cabinet ministers with whom they violently disagree. Its a quaint way to run a government Britannia marginalised in Ruritanian offshore ignominy, sinking slowly below those waves others now command.

For months the car industry has been trotting along to Downing street to hear platitudes from May. Clearly they have decided they can wait no longer. Jaguar Land Rover has a business to run and all they see is a UK government incapable of reaching any coherent plan for a future beyond Brexit, negotiating with itself rather than Europe.

The Brits have lost the place big time.

G7 square up to Trump

This amazing image, released by the German Federal Government, has gone viral in the last few days. Trump cornered and getting a few home truths from Mrs Merkel, backed by other members of the G7. The guy with the soup strainer moustache is John Bolton, Trumps National Security Adviser, a strident neo-conservative hawk and Bush presidency legacy who devised the weapons of mass destruction fiction that led to the Iraq war. His face is a picture. He cannot believe the G7 would have the audacity to corner a US president. Welcome to the new world Mr Bolton. The US is not as great as you thought it was.

Trump corned at G7

The EU is a larger economic entity than the US. Something that might just be seeping into the minds of some UK ministers who thought they could pick off EU member states one by one to get a special deal over Brexit. The sun sets slowly on delusion and a small EU member state has just pinched production of Land Rover Discoveries from a UK that thought it could survive in a global world it...



[Democracy: a situation in which everyone is treated equally. A process: ...relating to or available to the broad masses of the people. Websters Dictionary]

Democracy under Capitalism.

Much play is made by the political class (and many other pro-capitalists) concerning the so-called merits of western democratic practices. It is often trumpeted by its advocates as the best system possible. Others, more sceptical, view it as the least worse form of governance for modern societies. The result has been, that the concept and practice of bourgeois democracy has been treated almost like any other capitalist commodity and therefore marketed and exported to punters around the world. However, even in the European heartlands, where bourgeois democracy has been most developed, many millions of citizens are not exactly enthralled by its functioning. Millions now view it with suspicion and contempt and do not bother to participate in its restricted activities. This negative reaction is also a phenomena that has appeared wherever else it has been adopted. Such a negative response is not really surprising and it is not due to apathy a frequent ill-considered rationalisation for any obvious lack of interest.

In fact many people throughout the world have actually seen through its paper thin relationship to direct democracy and have rejected it. More and more people are coming to the conclusion that, even when operating at its best, this form of democracy is not really meant to be inclusive. Indeed, examined closely, bourgeois democracy is essentially a means of excluding the majority from effective engagement with, and control of, issues that deeply effect their lives. In this regard, modern (ie bourgeois) democracy is a direct, albeit modified, descendent of the forms developed in ancient Greece. Formal political discussion, debate and decision by was initiated, and perfected by elites in the ancient discriminatory political arena known as the Greek Polis. By that period of history, any direct democracy of previous egalitarian modes of production had been completely destroyed, along with the essential rights of women and other non-Greek men both of whom could therefore be (and were) captured and treated as slaves.

So the important point to recognise and stress is that modern bourgeois democracy is not democracy in the abstract, as the above quoted part of Websters definition implies, but a particular form of restricted democracy. One which is designed to allow bourgeois elites to govern in their own interests. It was adopted by the bourgeoisie and altered with regard to who was allowed to vote on important issues and who (in elections), one was allowed to vote for...


Sustainability and political opportunity: the invisible common ground in the Italian problem openDemocracy

The problems of migration, unemployment and economic stagnation should be treated together as part of a single problem, which can only be usefully framed in terms of sustainability.

Riace, Calabria. Rural reception centre. Marc Brightman. All rights reserved.The formation of a populist government in Italy is causing disarray among policymakers and policy advisors working in a framework that has not assimilated advances in interdisciplinary sustainability science.

Their discussions are dominated by the prospect of a clash of interests between Italys agenda, dominated by unemployment and irregular migration, and the lack of political will among northern countries to bend budgetary rules or accept more refugees and asylum seekers.

They are missing an opportunity to exploit the common ground of sustainability to agree on reforms for Italy and the other member states in a way that could even provide the foundations for a renewal of the European project in line with ecological goals.

Just stop worrying about migration?

On May 6 I attended a roundtable event on the political crisis in Italy and the Eurozone at the European University Institute. Four prominent experts in the field of European policy, and especially economic policy, presented their thoughts: Stefano Bartolini, Henrik Enderlein, Ramon Marimon, and Jean Pisani-Ferry. They agreed on a fair diagnosis of the immediate problem that the new Italian government represents for Italy and for its relationship with the rest of the EU: it is an expression of popular discontent with two decades of economic stagnation and high unemployment, and its flagship programmes of tax cuts and handouts pose an unprecedented challenge to the European project because they are impossible to fund without borrowing beyond the limits allowed by EU fiscal rules.

What is more, it is now politically impossible to force through the further austerity measures that would be required to address Italys national debt problem, which is hampering growth.

One by one, each panelist openly confessed to having very little idea of how to address the problem. Henrik End...


Would the DUP be any happier with a backstop, staying in the single market? Slugger O'Toole

So its October then. The UK will fail to present its withdrawal plan to the EU summit at the end of the month and its backstop, handed in only after a cabinet crisis was averted on Thursday, would still lead to a hard border in Ireland. Lurking in the background may still be the option of some differentiation in NIs status from GB. Such is the peculiar course of these negotiations, that the EU is mildly encouraged by the state of play. This is reflected by sources in the Irish government as reported by Irish Times political editor Pat Leahy.

Officials in Dublin pointed out the obvious holes in the British document its silent on the single market, silent on regulatory alignment, silent on the role of the European Court of Justice, and there is little detail on how the British proposals for remaining in the customs union but still agreeing trade deals with third countries would actually work.

But actually there were some pluses for Dublin in the document. The prospect of long-term customs union membership, or at least equivalence, doesnt just solve Dublins North-South problem, but also its East-West one.

Crucially, the time limit to the backstop in the document, much heralded by the British media, is actually aspirational. The backstop only ends in 2021 if theres something better in place.

Theres plenty of scepticism about the document in Dublin and Brussels. But at the same time, officials were keen to acknowledge that it represents progress, and a willingness to engage.

The Guardian reports

Today the commission has published a slideshow presentation (pdf)highlighting objections to the UK plan. It repeats the points made by Barnier on Friday, but also goes further. Technically it might not amount to an absolute rejection, but it is almost as good as.

UK Brexit backstop plan as published would lead still lead to hard border in Ireland, says the European commission.

It is worth stressing as published because the document published by the government on Friday said explicitly that it was just a proposal for the customs element of the backstop. But a backstop would have to cover regulatory alignment too. According to reports, one idea is for the final element of the backstop plan to involve Northern Ireland staying in regulatory alignment with the single market, but not the rest of the UK.

Bloomberg r...


National framework for a successful, inclusive Scotland

By Dorothy Bruce

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today launched  the new framework for building a more successful and inclusive Scotland, and the way in which progress towards it can be measured.

The new National Performance Framework (NPF) includes 11 National Outcomes that set out the kind of country we want to be, and 81 National Indicators that will be used to track and measure progress towards achieving them. And for the first time National Outcomes are also specifically aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Under the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, Scottish Ministers have a duty to consult on, develop and publish a new set of National Outcomes for Scotland and to review them at least every five years.

The Framework was developed in collaboration with other parties with input from a wide range of bodies and individuals, including public and private sectors, voluntary organisations, businesses and communities.

Matching economic growth to quality of life

The Scottish Government wants Scotland to be the best  place possible to live, work, grow up and study in, said the First Minister who went on to say the Scottish Government recognised the huge importance of economic growth, but that growth had to be matched by improvements in the environment, in peoples quality of life, in opportunities available to people and public services they have access to.

The new NPF belongs to all of Scotland and together we can fulfil the promise contained in it, said the First Minister.

COSLA President Councillor Alison Evison said the new Framework provides opportunities for both democratically elected spheres of government in Scotland to work toward the outcomes through stronger and more meaningful partnership working. She said, I think the NPF sets out the destination we all want Scotland to reach and I am delighted to put COSLAs name to it as a joint signatory.

While you are here ...


The Tories can't blame anyone else for the High Street apocalypse they're created AAV

After the department store House of Fraser's announced that they're shutting down half of their outlets a load of Tory apologists suddenly began astroturfing the Internet to posit the most absurd excuses for it.

One of the most common excuses was that department stores like House of Fraser simply can't compete with online retailers like Amazon and Ebay.

The obvious flaw in this line of defence is that there's nothing more inherently efficient about online retailers, especially given the extra transportation overheads of running millions of deliveries to customer's houses, often several separate deliveries per order!

Of course online retailers are often cheaper than high street stores, but the price difference has little to do with inherent efficiency, and a lot more to do with the fact that they've been getting away with paying almost zero tax on their British profits for the last decade.

This taxation disparity is a problem that is attributable to the Tory government that has not only failed to rectify the problem in their 8 years in power, but has also repeatedly intervened to obstruct international efforts to clamp down on the worst tax-dodgers of all.

Another factor that critically undermines this "natural consequence of online retailing" argument is the subsequent total collapse of Poundworld just a few days later.

It's easily possible to argue that people are more likely to buy their kitchenware, clothing,...


Hostile environment: border guard and border guardee openDemocracy

Border checks are no longer one-off encounters but a myriad of micro-encounters. They have penetrated the everyday, mundane interactions in peoples daily lives and imposed new meaning on them.

lead Hospital and housing administrators, 2013. Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.Theresa Mays hostile environment policy is under scrutiny. The government is doing all it can to contain the Windrush scandal from spilling over into a broader criticism of the last decade of UK immigration policies (but, in fairness, some elements date back to the Labour government). Various affected groups and advocates, on the contrary, are vociferously  arguing that far from an exception, a distortion or a bureaucratic error all explanations offered by governments supporters the treatment of the Windrush generation is instead the tip of the iceberg, and the iceberg is the policy-driven hostile environment built under Theresa Mays tenure of the Home Office. Admitting defeat on her flagship policy, the one that arguably made her a darling of the likes of The Sun and Daily Mail, would land a major, perhaps even fatal, blow to her premiership. 

One tenet of the hostile environment is that it operates diffusely, co-opting public service providers, landlords, employers and even private residents in the job of immigration enforcement. Border checks are no longer one-off encounters between border guards and immigrants confined to the geographical borders of states, but are routinely repeated in a myriad of micro-encounters. They have penetrated the everyday, mundane interactions in peoples daily lives and imposed new meaning on them. Pregnant women avoiding interactions with their GPs or cutting short their stay in hospital after delivery for fear of being reported to the Home Office for their immigration status is but one example.

The proliferation of internal borders came in stages, one little step at the time, and often changes were initially challenged but then they came back, slightly repackaged, and they slipped in unchecked. The...

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Monday, 11 June


The Tories are actually trying to spin their anti-Muslim bigotry scandal as a vote winner! AAV

After the Muslim Council of Britain and several senior Conservatives demanded an investigation into anti-Muslim prejudice in the Tory party, many on the left have been quick to point out the tiny flicker of mainstream media coverage on the issue in relation to the massive Labour anti-Semitism furore before the local elections.

The discrepancy in coverage is obvious, but it should come as no surprise at all given the relentless pro-Tory anti-Corbyn bias that not only dominates the print media, but also thrives on the supposedly neutral BBC too.

The allegations of widespread Islamophobia in the Tory ranks and specific accusations of anti-Muslim discrimination against Michael Gove and the Tory leadership should surely be getting more media coverage, but the reason these stories aren't getting much traction are obvious.

Of course mainstream media journalists don't want to scrutinise Tory Islamophobia to the same extent they attacked Labour over allegations of anti-Semitism. Firstly such scrutiny would run entirely counter to the mainstream media groupthink objective of protecting the neoliberal status quo by working to oust Jeremy Corbyn, and secondly "the Tory party is over-run with bigots" is really more of a common sense assertion rather than a groundbreaking news story anyway, isn't it? 

For m...


Processions Belfast Pro-Choice Groups Bring Political Energy to a Commemorative Art Project Slugger O'Toole

As the participants for the Belfast event of the UK-wide art project Processions gathered at Titanic Slipway yesterday, it was clear that something exciting was happening. Thousands of women were mingling, hugging, photographing each others banners, even dancing a little in an atmosphere of celebration and fun.

Processions is a living sculpture artwork, that celebrated one hundred years of votes for women. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave the first British women the right to vote and stand for public office. To mark this achievement, Processions was an opportunity for women and girls in Belfast, Cardiff Edinburgh and London to be part of a living portrait of women in the 21st century.

Artichoke, the creative team behind the large scale events, had been working hard for months ensuring that womens groups on the ground were extremely involved. They had been able to fund an extensive range of workshops in community organisations and womens centres, allowing them to commission artists to support the creative process as women made banners expressing what inspires them about the legacy of the suffrage movement.

This aspect of the project was essential to its success, as the march itself became a showcase event that women felt invested in and proud of. As someone who works to increase awareness of gender inequality and the feminist struggles to address it, I am delighted that the project engaged women and their daughters and grand-daughters on this kind of scale. I know many of the women who sat together in the workshops researching, discussing womens rights, ranting, arguing, stitching, painting, supporting and encouraging have come away from this whole project with a new way of understanding themselves and the gendered world we live in. Some of them will have even developed the spark for activism themselves.

On the day itself, the turnout was huge and diverse. Stalwarts of the local womens rights movement like Monica McWilliams, Avila Kilmurray and Lynda Walker marched; a reminder to the younger women of the legacy of hard work that has gone on in this place over many years. Girlguiding Ulster led the younger contingent with their banner stating A womans place is wherever she wants it to be.

Rural womens groups came out to showcase their work such as incredible quilt style banner made by the S.E.W. project (Sewing to Empower) based in Cookstown and supported by the Rural Community Network. There were also urban based groups like Greater North Belfast Womens Network who worked with National Museums Northern Ireland to produce a beautiful, defiant depiction of a Belfast woman with the Maya Angelou quote Still, like air, I rise.

The most prominent banner from Derry bore the playful s...


How did Northern Ireland lawmakers carve out an anti-abortion ghetto within the UK? openDemocracy

Northern Ireland remains a blind spot for equality for women and members of the LGBTIQ community. Will Irelands abortion referendum change this?

Amnesty International campaigners outside the Supreme Court. Photo: Lara Whyte.More than two weeks have passed since Irelands historic abortion referendum was won by a groundswell of grassroots feminist activism. A large majority (66.4%) voted to repeal the countrys eighth constitutional amendment, opening the door to proposed legislation to allow abortions up to 12 weeks.

Huge numbers of repeal campaigners and voters were young women with a staggering 94% increase in the turnout of women aged 18-24, compared to the 2016 general election. The result reflected a frank rejection of decades of misogyny and the suffocating grip of church and state on womens rights.

Though my heart burst with solidarity with my southern sisters, as a Northern Irish woman, whose rights are ignored by both my own (non-existent) devolved government and Westminster, I was left feeling dejected and a little numb.

New abortion legislation is expected in Ireland before the end of the year. Apart from Malta (where there is a total ban on abortion) Northern Ireland will have the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Though these restrictions dont stop abortions, they just force women to travel for healthcare.

Last week, the UK Supreme Court dismissed an appeal on Northern Irelands abortion law on a technicality, ruling that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission did not have the required standing to bring the case as it was not claiming to have been a victim of the law itself.

The courts judgement did acknowledge, however, that Northern Ireland is in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, by denying women abortions in cases of fatal fetal abnorma...


Sanctions dont help the Venezuelan people openDemocracy

The endless string of sanctions imposed on Venezuela first by the US and later followed by the EU and Canada, is generating irreversible consequences. Espaol

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro. March 6, 2017. Xinhua/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved

The financial blockade imposed on the Latin American nation is achieving its principle objective: to isolate Venezuela. However, the sanctions are also gradually creating open wounds within Venezuelan society. Wounds that are increasingly deeper that cant be repaired so easily.

Although the administration of Donald Trump wants to believe that these measures are the best option for the Venezuelan people, reality proves the contrary. Economic sanctions do nothing other than endanger those who have the least in society.

The US with the EU as its sidekick, has already warned that they continue considering the implementation of additional measures to be taken against Venezuela.

Sanctions not only affect their objective, which in this case is the Maduro government, but also businesses and exporters who face new difficulties when trying to access international markets. And as a consequence, the people are also punished. 

Allegedly, all sanctions imposed until now have not achieved what they sought out to, or perhaps, theyre still unaware of what they wish to achieve through the use of these measures.

What remains clear is this: they every intention of continuing to meddle in Venezuelan affairs. Under the auspices of wanting to help the Venezuelan people, the US is nourishing need and suffering in order to feed their own geopolitical needs, a strategy which comes so naturally to them.

The discourse of the US president is clear: sanctions against Venezuela are the perfect tool to debilitate the Maduro government and to force it out of power.

But in practice, its efficiency is not so evident. Criticisms of US sanctions against Venezuela are nothing new, nor are they exclusive to the situation in this country alone. These measures repres...


For legal abortion and an inclusive democracy openDemocracy

Florencia Minici is a member of the collective Ni Una Menos and co-director of Latfem Noticias. In May she spoke in congress, in favour of the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy law. Here is her full speech. Espaol

Florencia Minici. Source: Cosecha Roja. All rights reserved.

First of all, I would like to ask my colleagues with whom we built the space Ni Una Menos in 2015, founded upon massive presence in our streets, in universities, in public squares, in offices, in bedrooms, in politics, in culture, to accompany me throughout this brief exposition, as we witness a turning point in the history of the fight for human rights in our country. 

I ask for deputies to look carefully at this image from 2015. Im not offering the leftovers of a body whose life and vitality can be debated ad infinitum, nor the traces of a personal biography.

I want to propose a form of political thought from another body, the body of collective occupations in the streets through the feminist strike, mobilisations and the feminist assembly.

It seems at this point paradoxical that we are invited to make up part of the agenda of the G20 but were denied the right to decide if we wish to continue with a pregnancy or not.

We feminists dont come to Parliament to ask that you make history, which would imply superiority of the deliberation over the popular, plural and assembly based deliberation already occurring on the streets of Argentina.

The state doesnt make history with capital letters in the grandiose way that history is told in Billiken* magazine: history is a flow of advancements, setbacks, repetitions and returns, conquests and defeats, that are constructed by the people, constructed by us all. 

Gather together this popular feminist eruption in Argentine and Latin American society, see this image, and dont underestimate or believe that youre...


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Iftar with Anwar Ibrahim Jonathan Fryer

Anwar Ibrahim and Abdullah FaliqLast night at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel there was a particularly joyful Iftar dinner in honour of Malaysian politician Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was released from prison last month after a decade of incarceration, most of it in solitary confinement. As the charges against him were widely seen as fabricated, one might expect him to feel aggrieved against the man who wanted him out of the way, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, but in a dignified speech before breaking the days Ramadan fast he said that one had to learn to forgive and forget. Only Dr Ibrahims wife and children were allowed to visit him in jail, but he was able to read voraciously, not only political and economic volumes but also religious texts (Islamic and others) and the complete works of William Shakespeare the latter six times. Two themes were central to Anwar Ibrahims remarks last night: inclusivity and good governance. Malaysia has Islam as its official religion, though only slightly over 60 per cent of the total population are Muslims, and he argued that it is important that other groups including Buddhists, Hindus and Christians, as well as the animists of Sabah and Sarawak, should feel they are citizen...


The Opioids of the People Slugger O'Toole

The United States government has launched a new anti-opioid campaign featuring true stories of people so desperate that they inflicted gruesome injuries on themselves to get another prescription.

Such stories have already been more effectively told in poetry. The epidemics most searing skald is William Brewer, a son of Oceana, West Virginia, a post-industrial town so gripped by addiction that it is nicknamed Oxyana.

We were so hungry; Toms hand
on the table looked like warm bread.
I crushed it with a hammer
then walked him to the ER to score pills.

The United States has now experienced its second consecutive year of declining life expectancy. A significant part of the change is driven by what have been called deaths of despair among middle aged White people: as well as drugs, alcohol and suicide are also spiralling. Death rates among White Americans aged 45-54 increased by 0.5% per year between 1999 and 2013, and there is no sign the trend has reversed since. While the death of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain this week has brought fresh awareness of suicide, rates have been rising for years, especially among middle-aged men, and are now 25% higher than they were at the turn of the millennium.

The suicide rate has spiked most sharply in a belt of states across the northern tier from Pennsylvania to Idaho, but the increase in overall middle-aged mortality is more widely spread, with hotspots along the West Coast, swathes of the South, and the Midwestern rustbelt, regions that otherwise have little in common.

Such a turn to self-destruction is not unprecedented in recent times. In the years immediately before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of the countries that made it up saw a staggering decline in life expectancy dwarfing what has been seen so far in the USA. Particularly at risk were the same type of people: middle-aged working-class men from the ethnic majority.

Many simply drank themselves to death. Alcoholism in Russia was hardly a problem that suddenly emerged in the 1980s. But some concatenation of factors occurred in those years that made hundreds of thousands of people simply seek oblivion. Suicide rates also reached historically high levels.

Where once was faith,
there are sirens: red lights spinning
door to door, a record twenty-four
in one day, all the bodies
at the morgue filled with light.

Whatever its brutalities, for much of its existence, the USSR provided its people w...


The future of trade unions openDemocracy

Unless democracy is reinstated as the movements guiding principle, organized labor will fail in any form.

Fight for 15 PA, SEIU 32BJ, and other unions representing fast food workers, home care workers, airport and retail workers rallied and marched around a South Philly McDonald's on Labor Day, 2017. Credit: Flickr/Joe Piette. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

British and American unions live in contradictory times. Scarred by 40 years of demoralisation and decline and with a tumbling membership, stringent legal restrictions on their work and fading political influence, they may also now stand on the cusp of a revival.

A wave of recent battles on both sides of the Atlantic, notably the ongoing teachers strikes in the US and an unprecedented 14-day strike by British university staff, might anticipate a coming upsurge in trade union action. Smug corporate types like to dismiss unions as industrial dinosaurs, killing time as they wait for the comet to land and finally bring about their extinction. We might yet get to see the smirks wiped from their faces.

The sharpest edge of this contradiction involves workers at the bottom of the occupational pyramid: the least-skilled, lowest-paid, largely female, migrant and non-white precarious layer of the workforce who British and American unions have historically struggled to organize. In the past several decades they have seldom tried.

The failure of unions to organize precarious workers has gone hand in hand with a failure of internal democracy. Falling membership in the past 40 years stems in part from union leaders not doing enough to draw on the talents and abilities of their members. An active membership, with real space to debate and change what their union does, is essential if unions are to organise precarious workers and bring about their own revival.

Different traditions within the British and American unions have addressed these questions in their own distinct ways. Each has their own take on what unions should and shouldnt do, and each has their own approach to organizing precarious workers and fostering democracy within the labor movement. As unions teeter between revival and further decline, its worth thinking about what these traditions are, where they come from, and which we should support in the years ahead.   

The first of these t...


Dont panic oh no!

By Molly Pollock

The food was excellent, the Burgundy flowed, liqueurs were served, conviviality reigned. Boriss mouth loosened. And somewhere in the room a recording device, probably a mobile phone, was switched on.

Boris was speaking at a dinner, a private gathering of about twenty Tories, members of Conservative Way Forward a Thatcherite campaign group at the Institute of Directors in London. For an hour he punched the air, thumped the table and ruffled his washing mop of hair with his hands. Boris was in his element.

It took little time for the hand that had enabled the recording to pass it to Buzzfeed who promptly published a report of it. It then flew around social media and appeared on other news media websites. Boris had spoken. Boris had, to this private gathering, spoken his real, unvarnished thoughts.

Worrying madness

It comes as no surprise to many that he venerates Trump, increasingly admires him and believes theres method in his worrying madness. Boriss admiration even led him to suggest The Donald would be ideal to negotiate Brexit. He likes the thought hed go in bloody hard, although acknowledging things wouldnt go smoothly and there would inevitably be a few breakdowns, chaos even, causing a belief that hed gone mad (dont we already think that!). But Boris was intrigued by the thought, musing that Trumps intervention might see Brexiters plans actually come to fruition rather than Mays wishy-washy compromise.

The risk was grave, he averred, that Brexiteers risked getting not the deal they hoped for, but a cobbled-together compromise far worse, without the freedom to trade widely, instead being locked in orbit around the EU. Hence, no doubt, his wish that Trump the action man could take charge. The government, so feart of short-term economic disruption, risks tossing away the opportunities Brexiters believe in, he avers, leaving the meagre, damaging EU offer.

Concerns about disruption at borders were ridiculed, and as for the border...


Peter Robinson was talking about much more than a border poll. The Assembly must become boycott proof Slugger O'Toole

It was Peter Robinson pulling the pin out of the grenade and proposing  generational border polls that attracted most attention. But he had a good deal more to say at Queens that was  more important or at least more urgent.  He kept it lofty, generalised and above all brief, to avoid getting drawn into detail or appearing to lecture his successors. But his meaning is pretty clear .

While he had to say he was optimistic about the future, he felt that now might be make or break time for the Assembly.  Although it had a fair run since St Andrews it always seemed to him impermanent and  obviously  vulnerable. Now he is looking for permanence and stability. That is what future negotiations should be about, rather than keep trying to apply sticking plaster, like the abortive draft agreement with Sinn Fein. Interestingly,  he does not assume that Sinn Fein are strategic wreckers.

I firmly believe that seeking to find agreement based on the issues contained in the published working draft alone will just not work. When, as is here and now the case, progress is gridlocked, and parties have taken and publicly cemented themselves into fixed positions, the likelihood of a deal within the confines of that existing agenda would be virtually impossible.

I believe there are strong reasons to go beyond balancing the party wish lists and confront more fundamental issues.

I return to the subject of negotiating a broader deal, I can almost hear the deep intake of breath in some quarters. If agreement cannot be reached on the present agenda or even by carefully adding some balance to it, surely, some will say, it will never be achieved if it is stuffed with unresolved issues from past talks.

Let me make something clear. I am not talking about every party pushing its own agenda, obsession, or hobby-horse. I am talking about those matters that impact upon the smooth operation, permanence, continuity and stability of the institutions. I say this because I feel sure a new Assembly tripping over the debris of unresolved, critical problems will collapse and because I believe another collapse would be fatal for devolution and harmful to the future of Northern Ireland. Each collapse drains public confidence and I am not convinced the Assembly could survive a further one.

So he  returns to what defeated him as First Minister, Assembly reform.

Some of the existing arrangements almost invite disruption. The facility for a leading party to terminate the Assemblys term duration either for electoral advantage, or at the height of a political storm, inevitably upsets the existence of arrangements that have been slowly and painfully built up and which cannot be easily replaced. That such a weapon of dissolution exists, and can be unilaterally deployed, places pressure on par...

Sunday, 10 June


CIA whistleblower: ''No regrets. I would do it all again'' openDemocracy

Whistleblower John Kyriakou explains why he and fellow-whistlebower Thomas Drake are committed to alerting their fellow Americans to a dangerous surveillance and war system designed to monitor their every activity. 31-muinute video Interview.

John Kyriakou, 2018. Yorgos Boskos. All rights reserved.Three years after he was released from prison, former CIA officer John Kiriakou again denounces the torture programme as illegal and unethical which he had exposed back in 2007. Kiriakou explains why he feels no regrets about his decision to blow the whistle, although it came at a high price for him as for NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake: he would do it all over again.

Kiriakou recollects the CIA's new director, Gina Haspel, overseeing torture sessions in a secret prison overseas. When the programme was finally exposed, Haspel personally ordered to destroy videotapes of CIA torture, Kiriakou says.

On Donald Trump, Kiriakou believes his personal instability to be dangerous. There is an anti-Russian hysteria in Washington, it's unlike anything I have seen before in my life. That's why I fear for the country, Kiriakou states.

John Kiriakou describes three major techniques that the CIA used: waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and ''cold cell'', which led to the death of two prisoners. He believes that those techniques were crimes against humanity.

The former CIA Officer was six years old when Daniel Ellsberg went public with the Pentagon Papers, and still remembers what a hero he was in his house and the contribution that he made to American political culture. A few days before Kiriakou went to prison, Ellsberg told him you are on the right side of history. As Kiriakou admitted, Ellsberg was a real inspiration for me.

Emphasizing that the United States has been in war for seventeen consecutive years, Kiriakou states that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton never saw a war that they did not want to jump into with both feet...

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