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Thursday, 16 August


Research the revenge: what were getting wrong about Russia Today openDemocracy

Data-mining and analysis will not reveal what makes Russian propaganda tick.


(c) Jaap Arriens/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.I personally know many people who work at RT, and I have known some of them for over 20 years. When we first met in the stormy 1990s, some of them, like myself, were working for foreign TV bureaus in Moscow, others for independent radio. All those aspiring young people were enthusiastic, cosmopolitan, spoke a number of languages and loved bourgeois traits (which, yes, includes golf).

These boys and girls eventually hit western medias glass ceiling. In the early 2000s, the big TV and news media bureaus in Moscow were curtailed either due to economic constraints or decreasing interest in Russia. Very few of the capable producers, field reporters and editors continued their careers at the BBC, Australias ABC News, German public service broadcaster ZDF or Reuters. Western media, once enchanted with perestroika and glasnost, and later the seismic events of the Yeltsin era, trained and taught this local staff, myself included. In the 2000-2004 period, most of these people lost their comfortable jobs, failed to qualify for transfers to other countries or find places for themselves at the Moscow offices of other foreign media outlets.

A decade later, most of them were working for Russian state television and other state media such as the newly born Russia Today. Today, they are the bosses and leaders of this TV channel, which is now regarded as a major threat to western democracy.

It is well known that Margarita Simonyan, RTs editor-in-chief, developed some sort of hostility to the USA after a FLEX exchange she attended at the age of 15. A girl from the bustling seaside resort of Sochi found herself in Bristol, New Hampshire (population 1,688 in 2010) not exactly the centre of the universe. Imagine someone who grew up at the seaside of Miami beach being diverted to an obscure depopulated village in Karelia, northwest Russia? You may fall in love with lakes and rocks, even with the nice cumbersome people who live there, but youll never sympathise with the country which sent you to the middle of nowher...


Dealing with bigotry accusations Tory style: Purge your accusers! AAV

In 2016 Zac Goldsmith ran a despicable anti-Muslim fearmongering operation during his campaign to become Mayor of London. This campaign included several high profile Tories hiding behind parliamentary privilege to smear an innocent man as a terrorism supporter, and culminated in an absolutely despicable BNP-style propaganda piece designed to associate his Muslim rival Sadiq Khan with the 5/5 London terrorist attacks.

This bigoted Tory anti-Muslim campaign went right to the top of the Tory party, and it's being cited as one of many examples in calls for an inquiry into Tory anti-Muslim bigotry.

One of the leading figures calling for an investigation into Tory anti-Muslim bigotry is the Tory peer Mohamed Sheikh.

It hardly seems like a coincidence that Zac...

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Wednesday, 15 August


Important message about Newsnet

Due to a problem with Newsnets current hosting, we are having to move the site at short notice. Access to Newsnet may be intermittent for the next 48 hours or so, but we are working to move the site to a new host as soon as possible.

We apologise for the inconvenience, and we hope to see you in our new home very shortly.

Best wishes,

The Newsnet Team

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How to break the impasse on Labours anti-semitism mess openDemocracy

Labour should adopt the IHRA code, with the Home Affairs Select Committees caveats

Chuka Umunna MP, who was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee when it published its report into antisemitism.

Labour and anti-Semitism. Its an almighty mess. As each summertime day goes by another fateful twist: a long-forgotten speaking engagement, a mislaid wreath-laying. Each episode greeted by an avalanche of  criticism and never mind the rights, wrongs and facts of the matter. The summer silly season may have provided a mediated amplification, but this is still a mess of considerable proportions. And whatever our stake in it, its a mess showing no signs of going away, which is surely what the vast majority of Labour members simply, if sometimes wrongly, want to happen.

Entrenchment by both sides has produced an impasse. This does nobody any good, most importantly of all for the serious and legitimate cause: opposing antisemitism a cause helped neither by overblown claims that a Jeremy Corbyn Labour government poses an existential threat to Jewish life in this country nor by campaigners claiming that this is simply another coup against the Corbyn Labour leadership.

But politics isnt defined by principle it is given meaning by change made possible by compromise. Knowing how to give, and take, without losing our sense of purpose is the art of politics. Anything else leaves us on the sidelines while the rest of the world moves on, without us. This is what both sides in this most intractable o...


Subversive Magic and Libraries Presentation All that is Solid for Glenn Rikowski

Ruth Rikowski
Framlingham Castle



Ruth Rikowski, London South Bank University & Series Editor for the Chandos Information Professional Series

This is Ruth Rikowskis presentation at the recent International Conference on Critical Education VIII, held at the University of East London, 25 28 July 2018.

The Presentation PowerPoint can be viewed at:




A Magical Marxism as writers such as Andy Merrifield and Derek Ford have noted can illuminate the future whilst helping to shatter the shackles of the past. Shining this light on libraries and education in contemporary capitalism allows us to glimpse the subversive magic which, on the one hand is dreaded by representatives of capital, and on the other generates hope for humankind. A brief autobiographical account of how libraries ho...


Jeremy Corbyn should demand an apology from Chris Grayling over his defamatory comments AAV

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme the Tory government minister Chris Grayling told an absolute whopper of a lie about Jeremy Corbyn. Unsurprisingly the Today programme presenters didn't think to call Grayling out on his lie, they just left it there, further rotting away the BBC's own shockingly degraded reputation, as well as his.

The lie Grayling resorted to was a claim that "Jeremy Corbyn attended the funeral of terrorists" in Tunisia.

Here are the actual facts:
  • At the invitation of the Tunisian Prime Minister in 2014, Jeremy Corbyn attended a remembrance ceremony for the victims of an Israeli terrorist atrocity (the 1985 bombing of the Palestinian government in exile in Tunis that was even condemned by Margaret Thatcher at the time).
  • The event was not a "funeral" in any way shape or form because nobody was buried there on the day Corbyn visited.
  • There is no evidence that the Black September members who were buried in the graveyard in 1992 were "terrorists" or Munich "plotters" as alleged in the shockingly dishonest Daily Mail front page that kicked off this latest anti-Corbyn smear campaign. 
  • ...


The case of the Sarost 5: black holes of responsibility in the central Mediterranean openDemocracy

It is only too likely that parties who face higher risks of being criminalised or who mimic the attitudes of the more powerful, will find it much easier to disregard their obligations in future too.  

lead Boat with about 120 migrants on board coming from Tunisia, that arrived on the coasts of Sicily in March, 2012. Cremaschi/ Associated Press. All rights reserved.

For nearly three weeks 40 people were kept from disembarking in a safe port. They were stationed a few miles off the coast of Tunisia, in front of Zarzis. I have been in constant contact with members of the crew of the Sarost 5 a supply vessel for the Miskar oil rig off the Tunisian coast and people amongst the rescued, over recent weeks.

The stories told by the migrants are horrific: there are testimonies of torture, horrendous prison conditions and forced labour in Libya, and of 5 days spent drifting on sea, before the rescue took place. For three weeks they were forced to wait on a vessel unfit for so many people whilst negotiations supposedly took place between the EU and the Tunisian state. Despite international human rights law, and obligations under maritime law to rescue people in distress at sea, no state was willing to take them in. They were left in a vacuum of responsibility.

Beyond the legal argument, this case illustrates the politicisation of the responsibility for allocating a port of safety (POS) in the past months in the central Med. To be brought to safety, it is no longer enough to endure the crossing in a flimsy dingy beyond Libyan territorial waters and hope to be rescued by a bigger vessel. Now, people can either be legally pushed back to Libya if the MRCC in Rome calls the JRCC in Tripoli and the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) manages to conduct the rescue. Or, as in this recent development, people have to endure being at sea for another 2 weeks, left in the dark as to when, where and if they will be allowed to disembark. People have to endure being at sea for another 2 weeks, left in the dark as to when, where and if they will be allowed to disembark. 

This short piece attempts to show how recent developments in the contested space...


Do you agree?: What #MeToo can teach us about digital consent openDemocracy

The conversation around sexual consent could radically change the way we think of consent online.

It started in the beginning of April. It was late at night, and I was swiping mostly left on the famous dating app Binder. One guy sent a message inviting me to experience his enormous talent. Rolling my eyes to yet another tempting offer, I unmatched him. Bored and tired from these original solicitations, I decided to watch another Chelsea Handler comedy special online and go to sleep.

In the morning, when I opened Facebook I saw a new message from a person I didnt recognise. Hi hotstuff, did u see what I sent you yesterday? Im free toni8, lets meet! And heres a preview pic to help ur imagination ;). Gross! Oh god I havent even have my coffee yet, how the hell did this guy find my personal Facebook account? Then I remembered, that for some reason, we have mutual friends. He must have searched my name and found me. I blocked and deleted the talented guy, thinking this is surely a one time thing. But it wasnt, it was only the beginning. Suddenly, I started receiving messages from other guys: hey, remember we dated that one time a decade ago? Let's stay in touch, heres a pic in case you forgot ;)". An hour later: "hey, remember we talked a couple of years ago in a pub? Let's hang out, k?". Pissed off and annoyed I decided to close my Facebook account, I might not remember anyones birthday anymore, but I cant handle this shit. But then the next hour, I received a message in my Gmail inbox. Then another message on Twitter and WhatsApp. They just kept coming, like zombies haunting me ghosting was no longer a thing, apparently. Guys who I swiped right and left on, dated or even just talked to once in the past found all my online accounts, even my Hotmail. THATS IT! I am deleting all my accounts!!! Im going offline, they cant find me here!. Disconnected from everything, I sat in my living room and felt relieved. No more intrusions, I thought with a smile. And just when I was enjoying the silence, I heard a knock on the door...

Even if dont participate in the wond...


Could the skills system hold the answer to Northern Irelands productivity problem? Slugger O'Toole

In Northern Ireland were well-used to hearing bad economic news. What sits underneath much of this comes down to productivity the value of what we produce by every hour of work.

In fact, productivity here is almost a fifth lower than the UK average, and whilst the UKs productivity rates are lower than some of our key competitors, which in itself is a significant structural problem, in Northern Ireland we have some of the very worst productivity rates in Europe.

This is concerning because productivity is a crucial ingredient in increasing living standards and underpinning economic growth, so when productivity stalls across the UK, pay rates, prosperity and growth are affected too.

With automation and technological change likely to sweep across the economy in the coming years, and with Brexit looming large, finding new ways to boost productivity will be crucial to our economic future.

At the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), we believe that what we call the skills system secondary schools, colleges, apprenticeships and universities should be at the heart of improving productivity in Northern Ireland, and in doing so deliver increased living standards and help tackle inequalities.

However, current Northern Ireland Skills Barometer research shows that many people have the wrong or inappropriate skills to meet the workforce needs of the economy. Were producing lots of graduates, and thats a good thing, but not always meeting the skills needs of businesses.

Equally, were letting many down, as too many people in Northern Ireland have no qualifications and we have too little provision available for people to reskill or upskill throughout their careers.

Even where we have skilled workers, theres evidence were not using those skills very well in our economy. Instead, we have what amounts to a worrying stand-off in the Northern Ireland economy, whereby too often employees dont seek improvements in their skills because they believe that they will not be well-used by their employer.

Equally, employers have too often avoided investing in the skills of their wo...


Tackling the trolls: how women are fighting back against online bullies openDemocracy

Refusing to be silent, women are leading research, campaigns and new strategies to stop trolls and create safer online spaces.

Some of the abuse the author received on Facebook in 2012. Image: screenshot.Back in 2012, I went to the police to report an incident of online harassment. A man had called me an obscene name, threatened to find out where I lived in order to post my details on 4Chan, and wrote she must pay!!. He accepted a caution.

This wasnt my first incident of online abuse.

There was the rising academic and popular environmentalist who commented on everything I wrote, in a way that amounted to sustained harassment. When I wrote a piece on abortion rights, he called me a fucking baby killer.

In recent years, Ive been told to drink floor polish and that I need to be raped. Ive been repeatedly called a bitch and a cunt. People have responded to my articles with images of dead babies. Last month, I was told to shut my libtard cock-holster.

Feminist activists have received endless abuse leaving some with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms. I know of women who have received bomb threats; friends who have had their faces Photoshopped onto obscene images.

When I wrote a piece on abortion rights, he called me a fucking baby killer.

Women, however, are refusing to be silent, striking back against online abuse and taking action to tackle the trolls. From governments to...


Why there needs to be checks on mainstream economics openDemocracy

Pluralist economics can make the mainstream profession more aware of its significant blind spots.

This summer I attended a behavioural science school at the University of Warwick. Among the speakers was the economist Paul Frijtas, who said something that sparked my attention: Individually economic ideas can be fantastically idiotic, but as a whole they provide the bureaucracy with a framework for thinking about the right things, communicating and looking at the data. This is quite a disarming rejoinder for us critics of mainstream economics, in that it already concedes most of the substantive points we might make about unrealistic assumptions, limited methodology and empirical issues (many of which Frijtas himself did not shy away from making for the duration of the School). Instead it throws up a different challenge: are any of our alternatives feasible, practical and comprehensive enough to provide a general framework for thinking about economic problems? We may call for adopting a variety of perspectives pluralism but I am increasingly of the view that none of them can suffice in this regard.

Pluralism as a check

Any call for utilising pluralist economics needs to be clear on exactly how it would be put into action. Like it or not, the mainstream has a wide range of tools ready for use in situations: from business cycle management to competition regulation; from environmental protection to health policy; and for estimating the effects of both early education and criminal rehabilitation programs. Although there are many schools of economics which would ideally be incorporated into the pluralists toolkit, none of them are sophisticated enough to replace mainstream economics entirely. Schools such as feminist, behavioural and ecological economics are non-starters because they are designed to highlight specific (and important) features of the world which the mainstream has historically missed, rather than to present a full alternative vision of economics. There are several approaches which are more general, including the well-established schools of Austrian, Marxist, and post-Keynesian economics. But it would be difficult to persuade institutions which utilise economics to embrace the former two for the simple reason that they usually object to the existence of these institutions altogether. Many Austrians would like to get rid of all governmental functions but the ones that facilitate basic market operations, which is not helpful for an economist working in the Government Economic Service (GES) or Bank of England (BoE). Marxists would go one step...


UK Labour supports a United Nations Emergency Peace Service openDemocracy

Whats radical one year may be accepted the next.

Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address, 1961. Wikicommons screengrab. Some rights reserved.

 We the people share a problem one thats defied solution since the United Nations was founded how to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war? The worst wars may be elsewhere for now, but they are not going away.

Over the past decade, the incidence of armed conflict tripled. Last year, UN officials warned of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. Then, the world also simply watched as nearly a million Rohingya people were ethnically cleansed from Myanmar. Now, sixty-nine million people are desperately fleeing war, violence and persecution. In June, the International Crisis Group reported deteriorated situations in: Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Somalia, Somaliland, Mali, Niger, Taiwan Strait, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Israel/Palestine, Syria, Iran and Yemen. More recently, the Global Peace Index 2018 estimated the annual cost of war and violent conflict at a staggering $14.7 trillion (US). Even children recognise thats unsustainable.

UN peace operations definitely help, but theyre now relegated to post-conflict stabilization putting a lid on a crisis once the fighting slows to allow the start of a peace process. For every operation, the UN faces an arduous process of renting the highly-valued resources of its member states, negotiating around their terms and accepting their conditions.  Instead of UN rapid deployment to prevent worse, routine delays allow worse. Now, it usually takes six-to-twelve months to deploy. As a result, conflicts tend to escalate and spread, setting back the prospects for development and disarmament for decades. Then, they also require larger, longer UN operations at far higher...


The great Greek wildfires openDemocracy

With incentives for property speculators being as high as ever and budgets shrunk to a bare minimum, the Greek fire brigade might not have faced its hardest test yet.

lead lead Greek PM Alexis Tsipras pledges demolition of 3,200 illegal constructions in Attica region in wake of deadly wildfires, Lavrio, Aug. 7, 2018. Marios Lolos/Press Association. All rights reserved.

Like the Grenfell Tower fire that shook London in 2017, the Greek wildfires of 2018 cost the lives of dozens of people. This too is a story of austerity cuts prioritised over human safety. Unlike, the 2017 fire that shook London, the Greek wildfires were fuelled by a property speculation raging out of control.

Dozens of people died in heart-breaking circumstances. In one case 26 people including children were trying to head to the sea, escaping the raging fires. They were able to come close to the shore, only to find the only access to the beach, down a cliff, was blocked by the fence of a private property. There shouldnt be private property there, in a forested area, a few metres from the shore. But firemen found that the 26 perished embracing each other.

The Athens fire made international headlines, as one of the most extreme manifestations of the changing climate and the unusually high temperatures that are observed across the Mediterranean this summer. In Greece the debate has shifted towards the governments poor management of the crisis. All existing evidence is pointing towards a gross mismanagement of the fire by the Syriza government. Like their conservative predecessors in the New Democracy party who badly managed the wildfires of 2007, which also resulted in several dead, Syrizas cabinet seems to have wildly underestimated the extent of the catastrophe.

The exact conditions that led to fire consuming a good part of eastern Attica and the deaths of so many have not yet been established. Investigations, however, have established that the fire started as a result of...


Less talking over the heads of Unionism, more recognising the political game has changed in Northern Ireland Slugger O'Toole

I read with interest Micks piece earlier today on Unionist experiences and perspectives in the recent border poll debate and felt the need to offer a different view.

When one of my political heroes, then Taoiseach Sean Lemass addressed the Oxford Union in late 1959 on the topic of Irish Unity he said his concern wasnt about dwelling on the past, but rather it was about looking to the future. That is something that has always motivated me in this debate. I cannot change what happened in the past, none of us can, but we can act to shape events in the present and the future.

Micks piece charts the isolation of Unionism. Some of it is very valid in terms of being isolated on the island of Ireland. But we have to remember a few basics on this debate. This place apart narrative is something that political Unionism not only supports but helped implement. Who was it that created Stormont? Who was it that for the past century has resisted any attempt from the local government franchise to marriage equality to bring British standards to Northern Ireland? The answer, the leadership of Unionism. If people are talking over their heads, its because as Arlene Fosters performance at the Pink News event demonstrated, talking directly to some parts of the leadership doesnt seem to yield any substantive results.

But back to the wider border poll debate. Until 2016, many Nationalists (myself included) argued that now was not the time to have this debate and that it was in our strategic interests to make Northern Ireland work. That meant engaging and making the most of devolution. Shifting the political debate away from Westminster and demonstrating that it was local policy-makers who mattered was the right priority for Nationalism.

Then the EU referendum happened and as Colum Eastwood rightly said the results of that vote made Nationalism a restless people once again. They are not alone. Various sections of our community who are fed up of the failures of the previous Stormont administrations are also restless for change.

The border poll debate was not something that many Nationalists sought, it has actually been brought to us by those who argued to leave the EU. Whilst we may not have wanted to be in this situation, it would be a supreme act of folly to not recognise that things have changed.

We face a Northern Ireland following the rest of the UK out of the EU, in comparison we have the South of Ireland with the fastest growing economy in the EU and a rapid pace of social change. Never before since partition have both existed at once.

Northern Ireland has also changed. We have a vibrant others category of voters with Alliance and the Green Party firmly on the political map. These voters are also weighing up their options. We are a province of minorities, no one section can control the political debate or our direction.

The old certainties that we have had since 1921 are go...


Soldiers of a Different God **** Jonathan Fryer

Soldiers of a Different GodWhile considerable attention has been paid by the media to jihadi groups and terrorist attacks of various kinds, the spotlight has not been shone so brightly on the counter-jihad movement. That is the term Brussels-based writer Christopher Othen gives to the motley collection of political activists, commentators and miscellaneous Islamophobes who are the subject of his book, Soldiers of a Different God (Amberley, 18.99). The sub-title on the cover offers the promise that the book will explain how the counter-jihad movement created mayhem, murder and the Trump presidency, but in fact the narrative thread is not as assertive as that. Indeed, at the very end, the author tentatively opines: Decide whether Islam is an existential threat to Western liberal democracy or a slandered religion of peace that just wants to co-exist. Even Houllebecq the mage on the cover of Charlie Hebdo might find that kind of prediction beyond his powers.

The French novelist Michel Houllebecq is just one phenomenally successful literary figure whose contribution to the counter-jihad movement is considered. Far more significant in many ways is Oriana Fallaci, who raised herself from her sickbed to write La Rabbia e lOrgoglio, which, Othen writes, spewed rage and venom like an out-of-control firehose. Othens rhetoric is a fier...


Who can we trust? openDemocracy

How can we cultivate a healthy skepticism of our institutions even as we rely on them for information, knowledge, and crucially, protection from aspiring autocrats?

MRC billboard, Charlotte 2016. Emolchan1 via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 4.0.

At some point since the US presidential election on November 8 2016 youve probably been told that our institutions are in crisis. The media is menaced by Twitter mobs taking their cues from the White House. Academics are ignored even more than usual. The intelligence community is subjected to deep state conspiracy theories. Scientists are treated with mindless suspicion. What brought us to this point?

For many people the answer is obvious: Donald Trump. But there are two big problems with this view: firstly, the idea that we cant trust those with polished credentials and college degrees isnt new, nor has it been confined to the Pizzagate wing of the far-right. In fact, it has deep roots on the left.

Moreoverand perhaps more disturbinglythe whirling diatribes of Trump and his supporters do actually hint at some truths. We dont have to wear Make America Great Again hats to realize that the media is often corrupt, that the FBI is not a dispassionate guardian of the US constitution, and that scientists can be wrong or misleading.

This speaks to the core of the challenge we face: how can we cultivate a healthy skepticism of our institutions even as we rely on them for information, knowledge, and crucially, protection from aspiring autocrats? Who can we trust?

Throughout American history these questions have been particularly difficult for the left. On the one hand, there is the legacy of progressives emerging at the beginning of the 20th Century: men (and they were mostly men) whose gospel was science, rationality and enlightened political leadership.

In his days as a political scientist, Woodrow Wilson was a leading figure in this movement, blending reformism with elitism in his call for the United States to embrace more elements of the British constitution. With fewer restrictions on party leaders and less rigid checks and balances, he argued, Britain had become much better at e...


Where are the safe spaces for our young trans and non-binary people? Slugger O'Toole

Brian Smyth (Green Party rep. for Lisnasharragh)

International Youth Day was Sunday 12 August and the theme this year is, Safe spaces for youth. There seems to be an International Day for everything, but as a Youth Worker, I believe its important to use these opportunities to tune into the issues that affect young people growing up, particularly those disadvantaged by poverty and inequality.

The notion of safe spaces got me thinking about my safe spaces growing up. It made me think about how segregated and unsafe our city was. Safe spaces came behind the dividing lines that zig zagged across Belfast. My mates and myself knew the safe spaces like the back of our hands and knew exactly where we should and should not venture into. Not knowing your safe spaces meant a guaranteed beating at best, serious injury or death at worst.

Thankfully society has moved on and although Belfast remains a divided city there has been a widening of the shared spaces that young people can use together. The City Centre has become a safer place that we all use when we need to once a no go for a night out and heavily militarised for Saturday shoppers, City Centre bars, restaurants and retail now thrive and the space isnt owned or dominated by any single section of our society.

But what about if you are growing up in Northern Ireland today as a trans & non-binary young person? Where are your safe spaces and is Northern Ireland a safe where you feel proud of your identity and are treated as an equal?

Probably not because the reality is that there are large parts of our society which are inaccessible or hostile to trans & non-binary young people. Its 2018 and here in Northern Ireland weve managed to replace overt sectarianism with overt transphobia.

Even our schools are very often hostile and unsafe spaces for trans & non-binary young people. Single sex schools are common in Northern Ireland along with boys and girls toilets, boy and girls changing rooms and boys and girls school uniforms the norm.

No wonder so many trans and non-binary young people have very difficult experiences in our school system, with poor educational attainment and life chances as a result.

Help and support does exist, with Gender Jam NI leading the way locally. Im very proud to say that Ellen Murray from Gender Jam NI stood for the Green Party as the first trans candidate for either part of this island.

There is so much we can do on a policy level to create safe spaces for trans and non-binary children. I delighted to work with visionary and pioneering organisations like Gender Jam to make that happen.

However, Gender Jam NI is woefully funded. So, Im happy to give them a major plug and promote their excellent support services.

I attended a few events as part of Pride Week this year. Including Alternative Queer Ulster where I had my eyes opened to the issues faced by queer people at...


New President, the extreme right and popular resistance in Colombia openDemocracy

The outcome of the Colombian presidential elections will have dire political consequences, visible even before the new president took office last August 7. Espaol

Casa de Nario, Bogot, Colombia. Wikimedia Commons. All Rights Reserved.

On June 17th, presidential elections for the period 2018-2022 were held in Colombia. The extreme right-wing candidate Ivan Duque, supported by former president Alvaro Uribe, obtained 10,373,080 votes (equivalent to 53,98%).

In this second round, Duque ran against the Human Colombia proposal, represented by Gustavo Petro, who won the support of 8,034,189 voters (41,81%) expecting a transformation in the way in which the country has been ruled until now.

This election will have consequences in different areas, which were already becoming apparent before the new president officially took power on August 7th.

In the first place, the worrying trend towards growing numbers of assassinations of social leaders and territorial defenders has shot up exponentially. This growth trend began in 2016, after the cease fire and the signing of the Havana Agreement between the Colombian government and the former Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC, by its acronym in Spanish; now known as the political party Common Alternative Force).

In July 2018, seven peasants were assassinated in the village of Argelia, Cauca, a region where peasant and ethnic (indigenous and afro-descendant) movements have organized to defend their territories from foreign investments and against armed conflict. Between January and June 2018, 123 activists were assassinated in Colombia.

In relation to the peace process with the FARC, the elected president has made public his intention to substantially reform some elements of the agreement, mainly those related to the Special Jurisd...


Latin America is the deadliest region for environmental activists openDemocracy

More land and environmental activists were killed in Latin America last year than anywhere else in the world, according to a new report by watchdog group Global Witness. Espaol

Protest against the murder of Berta Caceres, environmental activist from Honduras in 2016. Wikimedia Commons. All Rights Reserved.

A total of some 207 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2017, according to Global Witnesss new report. Nearly 60% of those killings took place in Latin America, making it the deadliest year on record for this community. The report underscores how shifting organized crime dynamics put environmental defenders at greater risk. 

Brazil recorded the largest number of killings in the region with 57, while Colombia and Mexico recorded the next highest with 24 and 15, respectively, according to the report. Mexico and Peru saw marked increases in killings between 2016 and 2017 as their number jumped 400% in Mexico, and 300% in Peru.

There was also a significant decrease in the number of land defenders killed in Honduras, down from 14 in 2016 to 5 in 2017, although the report stressed that the repression of civil society there is worse than ever.

According to the Global Witness report, the agribusiness industry is one of the main sectors driving attacks against land defenders, in addition to mining and extractive industries and logging. 

According to the Global Witness report, the agribusiness industry is one of the main sectors driving attacks against land defenders, in addition to mining and extractive industries and logging. Criminal gangs are often found to be the suspected perpetrators, followed by soldiers, police and paramilitary forces.

In addition, the report finds that there are a number of factors accentuating and perpetuating the risks that land def...


Exclusive: Scotland Remain polling data analysed

By Russell Bruce

Newsnet has obtained the dataset behind Sundays story in the Observer on the shift in support in 112 UK constituencies from Leave to Remain. We wanted to see the detail of the changes in Scotland, even although Scotland supported Remain convincingly in 2016. The big changes have apparently taken place place in the North of England and Wales where support for leaving the EU in Labour supporting constituencies has dropped heavily in recent weeks according to Focaldatas analysis.

The study was commissioned by Best for Britain and Hope over Hate. YouGov polls in June and July, carried out before and after the Chequers plan was cobbled together somewhat loosely were fed through a methodology YouGov had used to correctly predict the result of the 2017 general election.

Researchers at the Focaldata consumer analytics company compiled the breakdown by modelling the two YouGov polls using Multilevel Regression and Poststratification (MRP) analysis based on YouGov polling of a total of 15,000 people in June and July, before and after the Chequers deal. (28th June 6th July and 26th 31st July)

Focaldata claim MRP is a statistical technique that delivers more accurate and granular estimates of public opinion than traditional methods at market research agencies. It does this by combining raw polling data with more information, in this case detailed constituency-level population information from the Census. The more information the more accurate estimates, as weighting more variables provides greater local accuracy.

But enough of the fancy acronyms

What we want to see is what movement appears to have taken place in Scotland and that, as we discovered is very interesting, having input the data into our own tables to see the potential implications for each Scottish Westminster constituency.

2017 was when the SNP did not just lose 20 of the UK seats it had won in 2015 but lost long held seats and big names.

The results of the 2016 EU referendum in Scotland were issued at local authority area level and all LAs voted Remain. One constituency actually voted Leave Banff and Buchan. The Leave vote was high in North-East fishing constituencies, although Banff and Buchan was the only constituency to actually vote Leave (54% to 46%). And they have second thoughts now according to this analysis with Remain on 51.2% and Leave on 48.8%, a 5.2% shift.

Scottish Tories abandon future with Europe

All Scottish parties campaigned for Remain in 2016 including the Tories whose leader was then quite passionate for Remain. Changed days. Whatever happened to her apart from getting pregnant?


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Tuesday, 14 August


Talking over the heads of unionists has been tried and found wanting for nearly a hundred years Slugger O'Toole

Speculating about a border poll when no one is attending to business in the here and now is a bit like eating your packed lunch at 9.30. It leaves you nothing to eat at lunchtime.

It may be helpful for a talented (and in my experience, diligent) economist like Paul Gosling to point out that with the right deal Northern Ireland could be economically better off in a united Ireland.

But it is quite another thing to create the conditions where such an outcome is possible. Thus far, most focus has been on the past, whilst talking up a dream future that may never happen.

Giving the illusion of UI coming round the corner puts off some of the very stretching decisions in the here and now that might eventually allow the two parts of the island to align sufficiently to get it anywhere near the Overton Window.

The result is an easy dispatch to the boundary of Goslings hypothetical scenario for the DUPs Simon Hamilton:

the report does not dwell too long on its view that 50,000 public sector workers in Northern Ireland would have to be made redundant. However even in this area it expects the United Kingdom Exchequer to bear all the costs, he said.

All these highlight the lack of substance behind many of those who claim a united-Ireland is some kind of inevitability. We cannot be complacent however and must continue putting forward a positive case for the Union.

Whilst post Agreement Nationalism has been keen on outlining ideal endgame scenarios, it has been tardy in mapping out and meeting the challenge of the near term material blocks to unity, many of which are highly emotionally charged.

Eoghan Harris recently put a hammer to head of the nail recently when he highlighted the need for empathy first and foremost particular in respect of the mixed reaction Peter Robinson got for his recent speech in Glenties:

The best help we can give Robinson is to empathise with unionist fears and do our best by difficult deeds or good authority words, to show they can trust us.

Empathising means trying to enter the mind of a Protestant family isolated on its farm in West Cork in 1921, or Fermanagh in 1981.

Multiply that by a million and you get a glimpse of what might be going on in the mind of the Protestant minority on the island.

Why should...


Feminism is cancer: the angry backlash against our reporting on the mens rights movement openDemocracy

50.50's recent dispatch on this movement received hundreds of comments and messages on social media. We read them so you dont have to.

Screenshot of tweet from @JuliusConrad88. Photo: Nandini Archer.Mens rights activists (MRAs) met in London last month at one of the largest gatherings of anti-feminists in the world. 50.50s dispatch from the conference aroused an angry backlash, as MRAs mobilised their supporters to try to discredit our report and drown out any positive response to it.

They left hundreds of comments under the article and on social media which run from the misguided but sincere, through foolish and provocative to misleading, abusive, and hateful. They show what were up against, and reflect the abuse that women journalists so often face online.

In this case, conference organisers emailed participants to encourage them to attack the dispatch. Many apparently obliged.

We read their comments, so you dont have to. If youre sick of hateful vitriol, take this as a content warning.

An unfiltered window into this angry, anti-feminist backlash.

Countless commenters have left vehemently and explicitly anti-feminist messages, calling us rabid feminists, crazy feminists and feminist bullies.

Several comments were deleted by openDemocracys moderators because they made personal attacks on the articles author, against our guidelines for commenters on the website.  

One of these deleted comments asked, about our reporter: Am I the only one who thought: something have to be done to keep such monster and her ilks away from male children and boys?

Another deleted comment said: Why do you hate baby males, Lara? Baby males are innocent and weak, baby males can't beat you, Lara.

Yet another was left by Paul Elam, founder of the US Voice for Men movement who...


Why was this vile extreme-right hatemonger given airtime on the BBC? AAV

When the extreme-right hate-monger Jonathan Jennings was jailed the BBC ran a short piece on their website about his 16 month sentence for multiple offences between March and August 2017, which included extreme anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic abuse and a threat to kill Jeremy Corbyn.

One thing the BBC somehow 'forgot' to mention in their article was that this extreme-right fanatic was selected by BBC Question Time producers as one of the select few to be awarded a question on live TV in November 2017 (after the abusive messages and death threats he was jailed for).

By November 2017 Jennings' online abuse had already been well documented and reported to the police, but the BBC somehow managed to pick him out of an entire crowd as one of the lucky ones to be given a question.

It beggars belief that the BBC somehow managed to pick one of the most vile extreme-right fanatics in the UK to be be given a questi...


Is Labours economic policy really neoliberal? openDemocracy

Acknowledging the risk of capital flight and currency devaluation is not neoliberal it is the only responsible path. 


Supporters of Jeremy Corbyns Labour Party have become used to diatribes on social media which predict that its policies will lead Britains economy into a Venezuela type scenario, with a collapse in the currency and hyperinflation. However, readers of three recent blogs by Richard Murphy on his Tax Research website may be surprised to learn that Labour is supposedly trapped in what Murphy describes as deeply neoliberal and profoundly conventional thinking.Supporters of Jeremy Corbyns Labour Party have become used to diatribes on social media which predict that its policies will lead Britains economy into a Venezuela type scenario, with a collapse in the currency and hyperinflation. However, readers of three recent blogs by Richard Murphy on his Tax Research website may be surprised to learn that Labour is supposedly trapped in what Murphy describes as deeply neoliberal and profoundly conventional thinking. They might also be puzzled to discover that this denunciation was provoked not by a new policy statement from John McDonnell, but by a two-sentence comment on someones Facebook page by James Meadway, McDonnells chief economic adviser, on whats known as modern monetary theory (or MMT). According to Meadway: MMT is just plain old bad economics, unfortunately, and a regression of left economic thinking. An economy with its own currency may never run out of money but that money can become entirely worthless In his first response Murphy produced a series of what he claimed to be entirely fair extrapolations from those two sentences alone. These concluded with the rather unfair claims that Meadway believes that achieving full employment and growth will leave the currency valueless; that under a Labour government austerity will remain in place; and even that we can expect Labour to deliver more Tory economic policy. Murphy has a well-deserved reputation as a leading figure in the tax justice movement who, as a trained accountant, has expertly dissected the tax avoidance practices of multinational companies and the failures of successive British governments to crack down on them. He is also a vigorous advocate of MMT, which explains why he was so annoyed by Meadways somewhat dismissive Facebook comment. Sadly, however, he now seems to have descended into quite seriously misrepresenting Labours policy position, and this has much wider implications. One curious aspect to this is that Murphys onslaught is almost entirely focused on just one strand of Labours current econom...


The NHS deal is not an acceptable settlement openDemocracy

GMB, the only union to vote against the government's NHS pay deal, pledge to continue fighting it.

Junior doctors protest contract changes in 2015. Junior doctors protest contract changes in 2015. Image: Rohin Francis (CC BY 2.0) Since our members overwhelmingly rejected Jeremy Hunts dodgy three year NHS pay deal earlier this year, we have been consulting them on the next steps.

During the past few weeks, members have used the ballot process to tell reps on the ground about their huge disappointment at this pay deal and how let down they feel by it.

After nearly a decade of wage freezes and caps that have seen our dedicated NHS and ambulance workers pay pinched and left them thousands of pounds out of pocket, a below inflation wage increase for some of the longest-serving, most dedicated staff in the health service is not good enough. Our members deserve far more than a real terms pay cut. 

We have said all along that we could not in good conscience recommend Jeremy Hunts offer to our members. And so we didnt. 

GMB was the only union of 14 health service representative bodies to have rejected Jeremy Hunts offer for what it was, and our ability to take industrial action this year alone has been limited accordingly. That, coupled with the governments anti-trade union legislation which makes it extremely difficult to meet legal thresholds for a formal industrial action ballot, are why we are unable to trigger a formal industrial action vote over NHS pay this year. 

Our members deserve far more than a real terms pay cut 

The message from GMB members has been loud and clear throughout our consultation we must continue to campaign for more funding for NHS pay. This three year deal is not an acceptable settlement for us.

A joint meeting between GMB National NHS and Ambulance Service reps and officers has overwhelmingly agreed that although we are not in a posit...


External Association and the Brexit Dilemma Slugger O'Toole

The Brexit negotiations have been plagued with political point scoring and little real progress since the onset. There is a whirlwind of media noise surrounding any development when in reality the only concrete thing to emerge recently is the Chequers deal.

This serves to embed the perception that Brexit is an intractable enigma, a foreign and absurd entity the likes of which we have not seen before. In reality, this kind of complex negotiation that fundamentally seeks to secure bi-lateral relationships between nation-states is neither novel nor rare. One does not have to look very far from the UK to find examples of this.

Let us look specifically at Autumn, 1921. A team of negotiators consisting of Irish republicans including: Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, and Gavan Duffy arrive in London to negotiate a treaty to determine Irelands future relationship with Britain and her Empire. This was the result of a prolonged and bloody conflict, a conflict in which many believed Irish republican mythos became reality, where Irish guerrillas justly fought a ruthless British invader.

The ensuing negotiations were complex with future relationships between the two nations uncertain whilst competing demands emerged over issues such as autonomy and head of state. The similarities with the Brexit negotiations stems from this inability to find a position that satisfied those seeking to keep a close relationship with Britain and those that wanted to cut ties entirely to carve a truly independent path. The comparison is tenuous, but if any insight can be gained there is value in the discussion.

The Anglo-Irish negotiations necessitated hard-nosed negotiation and creative thinking from British and Irish negotiators. Eamonn De Valeras thinking in particular could be of considerable value. These days there may seem to be little to agree with Eamonn De Valera (Dev) about. He was a titan of Irish politics during the 20th century, with a political career spanning over half a century, from 1917 to 1973, holding both posts of Taoiseach and President. Today he appears as an out-dated figure of conservative Catholic Ireland with his ideological focus on creating an idyllically rural, Gaelic, Catholic Ireland especially archaic. Some have gone as far to compare him to an Irish Franco. Contrary to this narrow view of De Valera, he is a complex and intelligent figure that likely has greater relevance than generally touted.

De Valera was most likely the best negotiator Ireland had during these negotiations. Lloyd George remarked that negotiating with Dev was like picking up mercury with a fork which Dev wittily responded stating that the Prime Minister should try a spoon. Whether this was mere flattery, De Valera understood the intricate situation at hand. Specifically, that two camps existed that needed appeasing: hard-line republicans and the British government.

De Valera found himself in a position in which he aspired...


Neoliberalism is to blame for the state of modern Britain AAV

How did Britain come to be in such a mess?

It should be clear to anyone that the looming threat of a catastrophic "no deal" Tory strop out of the European Union didn't just happen in isolation, and that there are numerous factors at play.

Probably the biggest factor of all is the Westminster political establishment's ideological obsession with hard-right neoliberal dogma.

Ever since 1979 neoliberalism has ruled the roost in Westminster. The only period in the last four decades where it's not been Tories pushing hard-right, pro-privatisation, anti-worker, social housing wrecking, bank deregulating neoliberal dogma was 1997-2010 when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown pushed the same ideological madness, but with doses of welfare economics and public service investment to soften the consequences of their adherence to Thatcherite economic dogma.

While policies like tax credits, the minimum wage, and investment in the NHS were admittedly far better than anything you'd expect from a Tory government, New Labour's refusal to reverse the worst aspects of neoliberal dogma meant they were absolutely complicit in the ensuing disaster, which came about when the private banks collapsed under the weight of their gambling debts in the 2007-08 financial sector insolvency crisis (you know, the crisis we still haven't recovered from).

Instead of allowing the reckless and insolvent banks to go under and be replaced in the marketplace by less reckless institutions (as neoliberal economic theory suggests), the British state decided to institute the biggest state bailout in history.

In an unprecedented display of crony capitalism the government pumped hundreds of billions into the financial sector directly while the Bank of England began magicking money out of nowhere via quantitative easing in order to artificially prop up the value of assets held mainly by the mega-rich.


Monday, 13 August


Can the Corbynite left make peace with Zionism? openDemocracy

How does the current Labour antisemitism debate relate to potential states in the Middle East?

Palestinians being expelled from Ramla in July 1948. Image, wikimedia.

At the bitter heart of the antisemitism saga tearing Labour apart is a question over the legitimacy of Israel.

Within the crowded section of the Venn diagram where the Labour left and Palestine solidarity overlap, there is widespread and steadfast refusal to accept the events of 1948. The brutal expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians, the razing of hundreds of towns and villages, and the massacres of Deir Yassin and Lydda remain unpardonable sins that must be redressed. From this perspective, the solution is obvious: a reversal of Zionism, the unmaking of the Jewish state as it is presently constituted, and the return of refugees languishing in the camps of Beirut and Amman, still holding their keys to lost homes across the length and breadth of Mandatory Palestine, in accordance with UN resolution 194.  

The moral and legal case for the rights of refugees, and the people that remained to suffer slow erasure and systematic subjugation, is watertight. Palestinians were victims of historic injustice as surely as were the Native Americans and Aborigines of Australia. No just solution to the conflict could exclude their claims for liberation and restitution. But their supporters may have to think a little harder about what rigid opposition to Zionism means to Jewish people, and whether efforts to keep fighting the war of 1948 are politically useful for Palestinians.

Zionism is a term that is loose enough to allow for any number of interpretations, serving as a Rorschach Test for beholders to project their values upon. The common basis is a belief in the right of Jews to a home in the Promised Land but the form and nature of that home is fiercely contested.

The dominant form of Zionism today is that of the Iron Wall doctrine theorised by Zeev Jabotinsky and practiced by Likud, based on the use of military might to secure a position of unassailable strength for the Jewish population from which to dictate t...


The Backlash podcast episode 4: the men's rights movement openDemocracy

50.50 attended an international gathering of men's rights activists in London and spoke to some of the men, and women, involved in this movement.

Assembled delegates at the Mens Rights Conference in the Londons Excel Centre. Picture credit: Justice for Men and Boys.For our fourth episode of The Backlash podcast, we went inside one of the worlds largest gatherings of mens rights activists (MRAs) in London, and spoke to some of the men, and women, involved in this anti-feminist movement.

We hear from Alastair (who didn't give us his surname) from the UK fringe political party Justice for Men and Boys which organised the conference. We also speak to Karen Straughan, a revered figure within the MRA movement and the most famous anti-feminist in the world.

Lara Whyte (LW): Hello and welcome to The Backlash: a podcast series tracking threats against womens and LGBT rights, brought to you by 50.50, the gender and sexuality section of openDemocracy. Im Lara Whyte and I am your host.

In July, 50.50 spent a weekend attending the International Conference on Mens Issues in London, where mens rights activists from 24 different countries gathered to discuss the evils of feminism and what can be done about it.

Concepts like mansplaining, manspreading, rape culture on campuses were all used as examples of how feminism and womens rights have supposedly 'gone too far'.

When we talk about the backlash against feminism or womens rights, mens rights activists or MRAs, as they call themselves are a movement that we think needs serious and critical attention.

I wrote a dispatch on the conference for 50.50 and promptly received torrents of abuse as the conference organiser emailed all attendees urging them to troll me in the comments section of our website.

There has been some extreme cherry-picking of the art...

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