Inter|national section writer
Currently working at the University of East Anglia, Gunnar is doing a degree in Environmental Studies while also studying Environmental Journalism. Moving to Norwich a few years ago, he recently stood as a candidate for the Green Party in the General Election and remains active within the party.
(04.08.20) – China Tightens Its Grip on Hong Kong, and Beyond
‘The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.’
Chapter 1, Article 5 of the Hong Kong Basic Law
The recent introduction of the new Security Law in Hong Kong by the Chinese government has sent waves throughout the city, and beyond. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is exactly the type of security legislation it sounds like. The law views subversion of central authority, secession from the mainland and collusion with foreign entities as criminal actions; furthermore, all applications of the law are open to interpretation. In line with communist tradition, the management of non-governmental organisations and media outlets will be stricter. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam gave her blessing to the legislation, and encouraged the international community to accept its legitimacy, but reactions have varied.
(23.11.19) – Fire, Water and Government
The climate emergency is becoming increasingly obvious, with weather events wreaking havoc both near and far. Increasingly uncontrollable and expansive fires continue to burn across many global regions. Heavy rains have brought flooding, endangering small communities. Droughts dry out forests and land, leaving livestock and livelihoods at risk. The demands of human society are taking their toll.
(01.08.19) Climate Change, Disaster and Disease
Between 2013 and 2016, the Ebola virus raged through western Africa, killing over 11,000 people. A lack of preparedness, underfunding for health facilities and the stigmatization of infected individuals led to the spreading and an inability to combat the virus sooner. Nevertheless, it managed to be contained. Now, however, it risks spreading again, this time reappearing in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moving towards Uganda.
Donald Trump’s threats to ‘economically devastate’ Turkey if Kurdish forces are attacked is unlikely to stop an internal war that has been happening for years. Could this be Trump’s red line?
(20.12.18) – And Justice for All?
CW: sexual assault, rape
Crime is a constant in society. The effects seep into many different aspects, from devaluing houses on a street to scaring off tourists from a whole country. While we are accustomed to people getting away with burglaries, assaults and even murders, we are taught to believe that those who commit the gravest crimes will be punished.
(12.11.18) – Voting in the West Will Never be the Same Again
The US midterm elections will just about be complete by now and regardless of the outcome, something fundamental has changed. It’s subtle but significant, obvious but difficult to place. The will of the people (how many times have we heard that) will be followed but it is how the will of the people has been coerced that has changed. In the past, while campaigning has never been a polite business and politicians of all parties seek to undermine their opponents, the ultimate goal has always been the unification of a country, the understanding that whoever wins, the idea is to help the country achieve success and to help individuals thrive. Yet this year, more than most, is seeing the accumulation of toxic politics, which may foreshadow how politics will be carried out in the future.
As the UK government stutters to find ways to deal with the looming end date for Brexit negotiations, the news is awash with alternatives, the prospect of ‘no deal’, leadership challenges and campaigns for a second referendum. While the fight goes on, one problem is becoming increasingly apparent, not just in the UK, but globally; where is the opposition to the creeping right-wing politics that is slowly casting its shadow over the world?
(30.08.18) – Brexit and British Values
Content warning: mentions racism, violence, hate crimes
The Brexit negotiations have long ceased to be about deal making and more about the imposition of values and principles. From the start, British values have been about finding someone to blame, a bogeyman. Islamists, immigrants, bankers, the EU; it really no longer matters who just as long as someone can be put against the wall and publicly and figuratively shot. The problem is that this has become such an intricately entwined aspect of British society that the ability to dispatch from the blame game and actually go about resolving an issue is fast disappearing from the national psyche. It is much better to pile up the bodies and stare admiringly at the perceived resolution of society’s ills. Just below the surface however, simmers a violent and angry determination to enforce British values at all cost, threatening to overtake all sense of decency.
(02.08.18) – Nothing will Stop the Changing Environment
The environment is changing. All across the globe, weather patterns have shifted, resulting in abnormal meteorological behaviour and pushing society towards conditions it is not used to. The UK has just come out of a record-breaking heatwave. Japan declared a national emergency after heatwaves there killed 65 people. Wildfires in Greece left over 70 people dead and in California, over a dozen people are missing as fires spread. Visitors required evacuation from Yosemite National Park and wind threatens to fan flames in Sweden’s forests.
However, should we be surprised by these events?
(05.07.18) – America’s Fading Role in the Middle East
America’s influence in the Middle East is beginning to fray at the edges. This is bad news for both the region and the global community. America has, over the past decade, became something of a pariah in the area. Its foreign policy, already distrusted by enemies and allies alike, has looked increasingly unclear and erratic under the current administration.
While previous Presidents acted with caution and measure, the Trump White House presses on, having found in its new National Security Advisor John Bolton the man who would seemingly give weight to any decision that Donald Trump would be likely to favour, yet is already being rumoured to be behind Trump’s decision to withdraw from the North Korea Summit.
(21.06.18) – Do Protests Make a Difference?
Protests and demonstrations are an important part of democracy. They allow the people the opportunity to express their feelings about the behaviour of the state and its agents. They are a chance to point out society’s ills to those who can do something about it. But do they truly make a difference? Do those who are targeted by the protests feel their impact or are they just able to ignore (or worse) any public displays of anger or upset?
The election of Donald Trump saw mass protests take place across the US. Protests in Gaza have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Every G7 or G20 summit is greeted by demonstrations. In Nicaragua, protests against the government intensified after flippant remarks by the President, Daniel Noriega, and his wife, the Vice-President, demeaned the people. There have been protests in India over the caste system and the Supreme Court, in Tunisia against the cost of living, in Venezuela over the lack of food and medicine, and high inflation rates. The Women’s March globally, protests against abortion laws, the list goes on but the changes do not. Too often nothing seems to change. This is not to say that change should happen purely based on a protest but many protests are about the same thing. So what is the issue?
(15.05.18) – Iran and the Art of the Deal
The US President, Donald Trump, has announced that the US will pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran much to the dismay of all those involved and many other countries around the world. The deal was viewed by Trump as ‘the worst deal ever’, possibly an overstatement since Iran surrendered 97% of its enriched uranium stockpile and limited to installing at a maximum 5,060 centrifuges, making the production of a nuclear weapon impossible. Still, time limits were placed on these and other elements of the deal, meaning that in 15 years, Iran could have begun its nuclear programme again. While the JCPOA can, and should, be viewed as a successful deal, it is another example of not dealing with the root cause of the problem, which is the part Iran plays in propping up terrorist organisations and brutal regimes worldwide.
(26.04.18) – The UK’s Institutional Racism
Institutional racism has, for many years, been the more unpleasant side of societies throughout the world. Black and other minority communities have long been oppressed by predominately white police departments. Crimes within these communities have rarely received the attention that equivalent crimes in white neighbourhoods have. Civil rights marches have been going on for years, social media tracks the violence of police forces, and the alternative media exposes the racist actions of institutions and establishment figures. But has anything really changed? Have we made any progress that truly shows a change in perception? Sadly, it doesn’t seem so.
(29.03.18) – Spain and the Law on Citizen Safety
The Spanish government continues in its relentless pursuit of Catalonians who dared to seek further autonomy and independence. An international warrant was issued from Madrid for the arrest of Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the Catalan separatists, and his recent arrest in Germany has sparked new demonstrations, reigniting the Catalan debate. Puigdemont faces charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds – all of which means he could face the next 25 years in prison.
However, for him to be extradited successfully, German judges need to assess if the charges are punishable under German law. He could be extradited but only to face the charges that are criminal under German law. Five other arrest warrants for other separatist politicians have been issued; some already have been arrested in Spain and sent to prison awaiting trial.
(16.03.18) – Spies, Murder, and Russia
The attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a nerve agent bares all the hallmarks of a Cold War spy novel and the complexity of the smaller and more tightly connected modern-day world. Political balance is needed when addressing and reprimanding those responsible. If Russia is found to be to blame, what happens next? Is it likely that remarkably little will be done or will this be the beginning of a new coalition to stand up to Putin’s Russia?
(02.03.18) – Russia and the Syrian Problem
Content warning: mentions drone attacks, conflict, and terrorism.
While the US President, Donald Trump, has made it clear that the US presence in Syria was to carry out the extermination of Daesh, Russia’s intentions have always been to support their ally, Bashar al-Assad. Last September the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, made a surprise visit to Syria to announce that Russia had succeeded in its mission. While both might be correct, it is Putin who is in a more difficult position and the risk that Russia will be dragged further in has become ever more likely.
The term ‘shithole’ allegedly used by US President Donald Trump to describe Haiti and African countries drew widespread condemnation from a number of world leaders and US domestic politicians. Although no attempt was initially made to denounce the comment, it was only until a while later that the White House denied it happened. Since the source regarding the comment was the only US Democrat in the room with the President and others and those others can’t seem to remember whether or not it was said, we can’t be absolutely certain that it was made. However, the comment represents a bigger issue at hand: the blatant disregard that the current US administration has for developing countries.
(03.10.17) – The Fight for Independence.
“Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.”
(01.10.17) – Bad Buddhism or Bad People?
Content warning: genocide, ethnic cleansing, sexual assault.
Buddhism is often perceived as a religion and philosophy of peace, its proponents kind and gentle souls, epitomised by the charismatic and jovial Dalai Lama. Yet in recent years, stories have broken out regarding the behaviour of Buddhists. A minority within tarnishing the majority it might remain, but the actions of the Myanmar military and the feelings of the population against the Rohingya have cast a shadow across Buddhism.
(06.09.17) – A World in Crisis
Everywhere we turn to some sort of crisis or damage control is taking place. North Korea’s recent testing of a hydrogen bomb, the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Hurricane Harvey devastating parts of Texas, the cholera epidemic and famine in Yemen, the failure of Brexit negotiations, US President Trump’s ever divisive actions, the list goes on. Our global problems are racking up and cracks are starting to appear.
Many of these problems have been long coming, but are now gathering lethal momentum. The world seems to be constantly on edge, waiting with baited breath for the next catastrophe or attack, humanitarian or economical, to happen. New problems are being created or the foundations of future conflicts being laid. What is probably most frustrating is that many are avoidable.
(27.07.17) – The Arctic
Recent events have focused media attention on changes to the environment of Antarctica, brought about by both natural and anthropogenic effects. Yet the Arctic should remain higher on the list of priorities, for challenges it faces are not merely regional, but global.
(18.07.17) – Antarctica: The Canary in the Coal Mine
The calving of a 5,800 square-kilometre section of the Larsen C ice shelf has been recorded. Although it is only half the size of the largest ever recorded iceberg (B15 broke off from Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf in 2000, measuring 11,007 square-kilometres), it nonetheless represents yet another loss of ice – not just in Antarctica, but globally.
(29.06.17) – The Amazon
The Amazon contains just over half of the world’s remaining rainforest. Home to some 390 billion trees, one in ten living plant and animal species and annually absorbing approximately 1.5 gigaton of carbon dioxide, this rainforest is one of the last few significant land carbon sinks. The effects of climate change were demonstrated when the Amazon briefly lost its ability to absorb carbon dioxide during severe droughts in 2005 and 2010.
The Amazon has long been a poster-child for the environmental movement and its importance has never ceased, although other causes have taken some of the coverage and media interest away. The time has come to refocus on the Amazon before the damage becomes irreparable. The consequences of losing it would be globally catastrophic.
(14.03.17) – Is The Government Killing You?
‘For example, what does the billboard say,
Come and play, come and play
Forget about the movement’
Freedom – Rage Against The Machine
The Republican Party’s war on the environment has begun in earnest.
The US Army Corps of Engineers have . The . Republican senators have introduced a bill to disband the Environmental Protection Agency. The using the Congressional Review Act. The . The . Trump has promised to disband the Clean Power Act and the EPA website has removed all pages relating to climate change.
(17.01.17) – A Green Revolution?
The election of Donald Trump and the result of the Brexit referendum have thrown the prospect of a greener future into doubt. Trump’s threat to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and promise to boost the ailing US coal industry overshadow the current surge in renewable energy. The UK government’s decision to sell the Green Investment Bank (GIB) has been attacked amid fears of asset-stripping.
Social media is full of individuals and climate groups recoiling in horror at the potential of such actions pushing back the advancement of environmental progress. Many are counting down the days until Trump’s inauguration and the eradication of environmental regulations that is predicted to follow. Yet is the future really as bleak as many would have us believe?
(20.12.16) – Aleppo: A Tragedy We Won’t Learn From
Content warning: mentions genocide, conflict, death.
“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilisation.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
As Aleppo draws its last few timid breaths, the global community sits back and watches as four years of war, suppression and ignorance engulf an ancient city, certain to go down, alongside the likes of Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur, as an abject failure of Western governments to fight the oppression of human rights and democracy that they have so carefully and vocally pronounced their desire to protect.
(11.11.16) – US Elections: What Went Wrong?
The victory of Donald Trump to become the 45th President of the United States has shocked and dumbfounded many. What does it say about the state of politics when the first female major party presidential candidate – who was, by far, the most technically qualified – is defeated by a man who has never held any political office?
“But if you’re gonna dine with them cannibals, sooner or later, darling, you’re gonna get eaten….”
GMO agriculture regularly grab the headlines, whether it’s talk of ‘frankenfoods’ or the ability to generate larger crop yields. This has taken the focus away from an issue that is becoming increasingly detrimental to global health: the entry of industrial waste into the food cycle and human consumption.
GMOs, while unpopular, have been genetically altered so as to maximise the success rate of production of crops. This will save lives, enabling crops to grow in conditions that would normally tend to push harvests towards failure. The changing of weather patterns have created new wet and dry points, affecting crop cycles and affecting the amount of food available for communities already living close to the edge. But water is becoming an issue. Only about 3% of the world’s water is freshwater and with companies like Nestle being allowed to extract vast quantities from aquifiers for minimal cost, alternatives are being sought be provide enough water for crop irrigation.
(28.10.16) – US Elections: A New State of Politics
Whatever the result of the upcoming US elections, it will be remembered for being a particularly nasty campaign and for raising the shadow of far-right politics in parallel with Europe. The likely, and predicted, winner is Hillary Clinton — although more for being the lesser of two evils rather than a preferable option. The sheer lunacy of Donald Trump’s policies should have Clinton leading by a country mile but this is not the case. So what has happened and what does the future hold for US, and global, politics?
(27.09.16) – The Growing Threat of Violence
Content warning: mentions racism, xenophobia, rape, hate crime, racial abuse, Donald Trump.
Statistics reported by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) showed a 46% spike in hate crimes in the week that followed Brexit. A Polish man, Arkadiusz Jozwik, was killed by a gang of teenagers in Harlow in August. Hours after a march in his memory, two more Polish men were attacked. In September, a pregnant woman, of Middle-Eastern appearance, was racially abused and kicked in the stomach causing her to lose her baby. Across the UK, areas that voted for the Leave campaign have seen increase in reported hate crime. Brexit has left racists and xenophobes feeling morally justified in their actions and beliefs.
Yet Brexit is just a small part of the problem, one that is growing fast, forming a pattern across many countries and something that is already deeply entrenched in our global society.
(14.09.16) – Data-Mining: Still Think You Have Nothing to Hide?
Data is a commodity. It is a digital blueprint of our lives that we leave behind wherever we go on the internet and in life. Many of us consider it to be of little interest. After all, what does it matter where or what we shop for? Who cares about the sites we search for via Google and what pages we like on Facebook? Well, it turns out that our governments and private companies do.
(16.08.16) – Islam: The New Vietnam War Syndrome
“Since the news, little kids haven’t played outside, as if their moms are afraid someone might snatch them out of their yards and send them off to war.”
Kimberly Willis Holt, ‘When Zachary Beaver Came To Town’
In the early hours of 26th July, Satoshi Uematsu drove to a home for the disabled where he had previously worked and stabbed 19 residents to death and injured 26. Shortly before handing himself in, he tweeted “May there be peace in the world…Beautiful Japan!!!!” Once in custody, he said that ‘it is better that disabled people disappear’. Barely a week later and at a rally Donald Trump claimed to have seen video footage of $400 million being transferred to Iran by the US government as well as recounting the time he saw Muslims celebrating the devastation of 9/11. One of these stories received little attention while the other gathered headlines.
(02.08.16) – Dictatorships & Democracy
“Democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Abraham Lincoln
Democracy has long been the banner to which Western leaders rally their troops to fight under. The Brexit referendum is a prime example of extreme democracy, progress for some at the expense of others. The desired outcome for the Leave campaign is for the UK to become a self-governing democracy. Just how much more democratic will the country become?
(19.07.16) – The Cold War, Reheated
The Cold War peaked with the Cuban Missile Crisis and ended with the falling of the Berlin Wall. It left scars across the globe, many of which are still felt today. It tore societies apart. It created a feeling of angst and paranoia in those who lived through it. The lack of trust the West and East held for each other hasn’t really gone nor have the players changed that much. For younger generations, it used to be hard to imagine what a time like that must have been like but as this century progresses, but it’s becoming easier.
(05.07.16) – The Lies We Love to Hear
Content warning: mentions xenophobia
“Then what is the answer? Not to be deluded by dreams
To know that great civilisations have broken down into violence,
and their tyrants come, many times before.”
–Robinson Jeffers, ‘The Answer’
The EU referendum result is the beginning of the UK’s divorce from the mainland. In Austria, the recent election results were declared void and must be re-run, giving the far-right Freedom Party another chance at victory. Marie Le Pen’s National Front in France and Geert Wilders’ Dutch Party for Freedom are exploiting every moment of Brexit to force referendums of their own. It seems we have learnt nothing from the past as we hurtle towards far-right governments, high-unemployment and less financial security. Meanwhile in the US, Donald Trump had to delete a tweet deemed anti-Semitic.
(21.06.16) – We Are What We Vote
Content warning: mentions racism, xenophobia, homophobia, mass shooting, murder
Our world seems to be approaching a turning point. Donald Trump is now, essentially, a nominated US presidential candidate. The chances of the UK leaving the EU are realistic, potentially paving the way for German and French referendums. Resistance to antibiotics is climbing to dangerous levels just as the Zika virus furthers its reach. The damage to the environment continues unabated. A man walked into a nightclub and killed many innocent people, either in the name of religion or because he was, sadly, unable to connect with his sexual identity. There seems to be a sense of things unraveling across the globe.
(11.05.16) – State Media and the Deterioration of Free Speech
Out of the May 5th elections the biggest story was the criticism of the coverage by the BBC and other mainstream media outlets. Particular focus of this was on BBC Question Time and the BBC Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg. This isn’t the first time that Kuenssberg has come under fire and it probably won’t be the last. A petition was doing the rounds demanding an independent review of how biased her actions may have been but has now been taken down. Additionally, the lack of coverage over the alleged Tory fraud in the last General Election has generated a sense of distrust in the BBC, an organisation that states: ‘impartiality lies at the heart of the public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences’.
I joined the Green Party just prior to the last General Election. I’m not sure why it took me so long to do so. Like many people, I spent years on the sidelines watching government after government cultivate a financial system in their favour, allowing their corporate financiers and allies to get away with crimes that the ordinary person on the street would be charged and imprisoned for. I’ve seen inquiries cover up the misdeeds of establishment figures. Like others, I have stood by and listened to the devastation caused by unbalanced political policies and seen the gradual loss of frontline services. I think part of the problem was I didn’t know where to turn. It’s hard to find optimism in the sordid world of politics.
A 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal about human organs for sale showed a glimpse into yet another aspect of human nature, particularly of the wealthy and elite, that demonstrates our willingness to exploit just about anything possible. It talks about how in the West many people need, yet die, as a result of waiting for organ transplants, especially kidneys and livers. Somehow, this leads to the justifying of creating a global organ marketplace with imagined safeguards in place that would prevent exploitation. Never does it seem to occur to the authors that this entire suggestion is exploitative as they end the article with the belief that, despite initial horror at the idea, eventually ‘the sale of organs would grow to be accepted’.
The difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is the thickness of a prison wall.”
Denis Healey, UK Chancellor 1974-79
The leak of over eleven million documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca only really scratches the surface. Like all tax havens, there is a long history of corruption and exploitation to which the tale of Panama is no exception.
(29.03.16) – Renewable Energy and the Real Price of Oil
The realisation that renewable energy is going to be essential for the future is being embraced by more and more countries. With their geothermal and hydropower, Iceland’s electricity supply is 100% renewable energy. Thanks to it’s water projects, the African country of Lesotho has almost 100% renewable electricity. Albania runs on 85% renewable while Paraguay’s Itaipu dam provides 90% of its electricity and 19% of Brazils. By July 2015 Denmark had already produced 116% of its electricity needs and went on to sell its excess over the rest of the year. Infrastructure is being prepared to transform the way countries generate their power and investment is increasing. Renewable energy is becoming more and more accepted. San Jose in Costa Rica and Vancouver in Canada are just a few of the many cities committed to transitioning to 100% renewable energy over the coming decades.
Yet with so much promise for the future, how is it that oil continues to present such a complex issue?
(16.03.16) – Environmental Wars: Killed by the Corporate State
“The army has an assassination list of 18 wanted human rights fighters with my name at the top. I want to live, there are many things I still want to do in this world but I have never once considered giving up fighting for our territory, for a life with dignity because our fight is legitimate. I take lots of care but in the end, in this country where there is total impunity I am vulnerable…when they want to kill me, they will do it.”
Berta Cáceres (2013)
In the early hours of Thursday 3rd March 2016 in La Esperanza, Honduras, an unknown number of assailants broke into the house of environmental and human rights campaigner Berta Cáceres and killed her. The only witness to the crime, Gustavo Castro Soto, a Mexican national, has been denied permission to leave the country with a 30-day immigration alert put in place against him. According to Global Witness, at least 109 people have been killed between 2010 and 2015 in Honduras, all with links to campaigns against a number of projects, including mining, logging and dams.
(01.03.16) – The Fine Art of War
“You must not fight too often with one enemy
or you will teach him all your art of war.”
Last week the European Parliament voted in favour of an EU embargo on selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Although non-binding, it remains nonetheless an interesting attitude taken by a trading block which in 2013 made €36 billion in arms export licenses. The attitude is not without reason however. Saudi Arabia has been involved in a conflict with Houthi rebels in Yemen for over a year resulting in bombings of a number of Medicines Sans Frontier hospitals, the deaths of thousands of civilians and the use of internationally outlawed cluster bombs. This embargo has come late in the day but it is still a positive action.
(25.02.16) – Banning the Boycott of Israeli Goods?
The UK Government’s decision to prevent local authorities and public-sector organisations from boycotting Israeli suppliers has been widely criticised. The British Cabinet Office stated that such boycotts ‘undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarising debate, weakening integration and fuelling anti-Semitism’. In an opening speech to a visiting UK trade delegation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: ‘I want to commend the British government for refusing to discriminate against Israel and Israelis and I commend you for standing up for the one and only true democracy in the Middle East’.
(16.02.16) – The EU: Are We Really In This Together?
‘War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.’ – George Orwell
In the aftermath of acts of terrorism — spotlight grabbing though it might be — politicians reach out, indirectly and through other politicians, to those affected. It demonstrates that perhaps they possess some element of humanity themselves. The media briefly shows the caring actions of the people of those countries and cities devastated, physically and emotionally. Then, once all has been said and done, business returns to normal.
We point and laugh across the pond at the circus that is Donald Trump’s presidential bid. We criticise the depths to which the Republicans stoop to find a scapegoat for America’s problems. Yet what we fail to recognise is that the same process is taking place here — it is simply spread across European governments instead of being conveniently bundled up into one laughable narcissistic crazy-haired package. We try to convince ourselves that not in Europe would we allow such bile and hatred come from one individual and we don’t. But nor do we look at the bigger picture and see that very same bile and hatred come in the form of legislation and government actions.
Ever since Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks and The Guardian’s revelations about state surveillance and data gathering were largely greeted with indifference by the public, governments across the globe have continued to find ways to watch and obtain information about their citizens. Yet increasingly it is the actions taken by these governments in response to healthy criticism and protest and the sinister erosion of human rights that should strike a worrying chord in each and every person.
Were a report ever to come out claiming that the Houses of Parliament or Whitehall were at high risk of being flooded and severely damaged, you could pretty much guarantee that money would be found in a timely fashion to make sure those risks never occurred. So why are so many parts of Britain flooding despite experts providing advice on how to prevent it? Why do governments ignore experts? How often has this occurred and what effect have these decisions had? Have lives been needlessly lost?
(22.12.15) – The Consequences of War
When soldiers go to war, they face a grave peril. On the battlefield they face a danger that most of us back at home have no comprehension of. If we follow the logic of the Government regarding their policy of airstrikes in Syria, it is likely that boots on the ground may very well become part of the military intervention to defeat Daesh. Once again, young men and women will be asked to put their lives on the line for their country and for democracy. Irrespective of your view on a particular military venture, such men and women deserve our respect, but should our government really be sending our armed forces into war yet again, if they aren’t able to uphold their promises to look after them and guarantee their welfare when they come home?
(25.11.15) – The End is Not Nigh: The Revolution is Already Here
“Political action without the support of radical mass movement inevitably becomes hollow.” –Chris Hedges
‘Positivity seems in short supply. Looking at the news and you might think that the end of days is upon us. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Relax. It might just be a glimpse, but there is something on the horizon.
There is no doubt that there are many terrible things happening to the planet and to its people. Yet history has taught us that in times of adversity people come together. It is easy to see how often people go against the wishes of their governments, to act humanely, decently. Just think of the migrant crisis and see how Europe have reacted. Think of the images and stories of citizens giving up their possessions and food and water to help strangers on their gruelling journey. In times of difficulty, humans are capable of great and generous acts. Under the right circumstances we will think nothing of giving away our material goods and food to others in need. If only we could realise that every time is the right circumstance.
The terrorist attacks in Paris have brought back a feeling of despair, that no matter where we live, there is always someone who wants to hurt us. The shaky camera footage of police storming a building, the bangs of smoke grenades, the echoes of gunfire, have sent a shockwave through France, Europe and the world. In the aftermath, a reaction is already beginning and anger will turn on Muslim individuals, communities, businesses and places of worship. Already a petition to “Stop all immigration and close UK borders until ISIS is defeated” is circulating and has got over 383,000 signatures so far. This will not solve anything, nor will blaming Islam.
(10.11.15) – The Reach of Corporate Sponsorship
The exploitation by corporate sponsorship of many different aspects of our lives is so deeply embedded that we barely express any outrage at the sheer audacity and hypocrisy of it all. Yet it is this sponsorship that attempts to deceive us into believing these companies should somehow be part of our lives, that we should embrace them. Integrity and morals are left outside the boardroom, deals are struck, and brands and corporate logos are pushed into our line of vision and within earshot at every opportunity. The sums are vast and are already eclipsing any sense of decency in pursuit of more money.
The problem that we are facing is that those in power adhere to the desires of the corporate sponsors. You just have to look at the TTIP and TISA deals to see how the rights of citizens and any concerns for their health and safety are overridden in favour of advancing corporate globalisation.
(31.10.15) – Emigration: Why Are People Leaving This Island?
If countries were named after the words you first hear when you go there, England would have to be called ‘Damn It’.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aphorisms
As the Conservative government struggles to find its beating heart and resolve the issue of immigration both here and at the root cause, another issue is steadily making its way to the surface – although it is unlikely to garner as much attention as its opposite issue – emigration. At the moment it isn’t so much about the numbers as it about the reasoning: why are so many people eager to abandon the United Kingdom?
(13.10.15) – Human Rights for Sale
“The State shall protect human rights in accordance with the Sharia”
Article 26, The Basic Law of Governance, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia have been let onto the UN Human Rights Council. Who thought this would be a good idea? Well, apparently the UK and US governments do. The US State Department welcomed the news, while the recently exposed deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia leaves us with little doubt over how the government feels about this appointment. David Cameron’s inability to justify the secretive deal in an interview with Jon Snow shows just how hollow any beliefs he proclaims to have in defending human rights are.
(29.09.15) – EU Nationalism and the Refugee Crisis
‘‘Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do, nothing to kill or to die for and no religion too.’ John Lennon
As record numbers of refugees flee wars and conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa seeking some semblance of normality in Europe, an ingrained racism and skewed sense of nationalism is seeping out of the barely healed wound of financial recessions and austerity cuts. As front line services are cut to the bone and the ability to look after our own homeless and vulnerable citizens seems distinctly lacking, the idea of supporting other people from other countries is turning into a poisoned chalice. Original plans to relocate 120,000 refugees have reduced the number to 66,000. Balkan states are erecting fences along their borders but to no avail. Far-right parties who were taking ever bigger numbers of national votes before this crisis began, are now exploiting it to spread hatred and fear. Protest movements in Germany and Austria have formed, and shown aggression and resistance to the influx of refugees, while the UK Independence Party allows hate-mongers like Katie Hopkins to speak at their party conference. Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France’s National Front political party suggested that the Ebola virus would be able to solve Europe’s immigration problem.
(18.09.15) – Our Environment: Staring Into The Abyss
“When the last tree has been cut, when the last river has been poisoned, when the last fish has been caught then we will find out that we can’t eat money.” Anonymous proverb
We look to politicians, policy-makers and leaders of industry for guidance and reassurance that the world we live in is being taken care of, for us to live in now and for future generations to enjoy. We shouldn’t bother. When it comes to the environment it’s hard to know where to turn to and who to trust. Donald Trump once tweeted that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” According to a Greenpeace report, the Koch brothers have invested about $79 million in anti-climate change research and like-minded groups. Last week saw the sale of National Geographic to Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox whose news channel, Fox News, was found in 2013 to be only 72% accurate when reporting on science-related segments.
“Whenever governments adopt a moral tone- as opposed to an ethical one – you know something is wrong.”
John Ralston Saul
MPs and politicians talk about getting people off benefits and out of the welfare culture. Perhaps they should lead by example and get off the gravy train, courtesy of the taxpayer.
Housing Minister Brandon Lewis has claimed around £31,000 in London hotel stays despite owning a home in Essex. Andrew Lansley, MP for South Cambridgeshire, has previously claimed £5950 in London hotel stays despite owning a flat about 1 mile from Parliament. Speaker John Bercow claimed £367 for travelling to Luton – to talk about the MPs expenses scandal. Richard Benyon MP, worth £110 million, received about £120,000 in housing benefits, largely from immigrant tenants in his properties. Yet he stated: “Labour want benefits to go up to more than the earnings of people in work. It isn’t fair and we will not let them bring back their something for nothing culture.” Benyon’s wealth and estate is inherited. Richard Drax MP’s Morden Estate received £13,830 in housing benefits. He announced in Parliament in 2012 that this country is full. His family wealth partly comes from compensation paid to them for the ‘loss’ of slaves after the abolition of the slave trade. Andrew Charalambous, UKIP’s housing spokesman, has pocketed £826,395 in housing benefits, including from immigration, despite UKIP’s stance that foreigners should be prevented from claiming housing benefits. MPs would rather that £32 billion was spent referring the Houses of Parliament than moving out for a few years and lowering the cost substantially. Food and drink is heavily subsidised in the Houses. Christopher Chope’s MP attitude to the restaurant staff at the Houses? “The service was absolutely fantastic because there was three-to-one service – three servants for each person sitting down.” People are seen as assets or liabilities rather than human beings hence Philip Davies’s MP suggestion vulnerable jobseekers, including disabled people, might work for a lower wage.
(19.08.15) – Politicians: No Trust, No Value
“Members of the public would be forgiven for thinking that it is MPs who are lazy and that it is parliament that is failing to provide good value for money.” – Margaret Hodge
We have become desensitised to any wrong-doings of those in the political establishment. We’re used to it, we almost expect it and we certainly aren’t surprised anymore when these revelations hit the papers. Only this time it has reached the top, in former Prime Minister Edward Heath. There is no evidence and nothing to back up these claims so far but when someone in the highest and most powerful position in the land, dead or not, is being ‘looked’ into, it’s hard to feel positive about those who are entrusted with the well-being and future of ourselves and the land.
US President Barack Obama recently gave an impassioned address at the US Coast Guard Academy:
‘I understand climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world, yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.’
As expected, this speech was met with derision from the Republican Party and its media allies, claiming that taking further steps to help resolve the environmental issue could affect the US economy. It’s hard to see what steps Obama is taking to prevent climate catastrophe in light of recent events: the US Department of the Interior has allowed drilling in the Arctic region to go ahead, the Keystone Pipeline still remains a dangerously unresolved issue and land sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Yavapai-Apache Nation is about to be handed over to a mining corporation. While it’s business as usual for government-corporate relations, a growing threat is dismissed as scaremongering.
(21.07.15) – The Great Nature Robbery
“The time has come for all good men to rise above principle.” – Huey Long
In September 1999, the government of Bolivia relinquished control of the water of the city of Cochabamba to a business venture, Aguas del Tunari. Part of the contract required the building of a dam (a long desired vanity project of the city’s mayor, Manfred Reyes Villa) so in order to raise the capital, the price of water was raised by an average of 35%. In blissful ignorance of the workings and realism of Bolivian income and earnings, it was stated that “if people didn’t pay their water bills their water would be turned off.” Massive demonstrations began in early 2000 as the water rates took their toll on families and businesses. The Bolivian government declared a ‘state of siege’ and the demonstrators were met with brute force, warrantless arrests, limited travel and, almost inevitably, the death of protesters and soldiers. It was perhaps the televised recording of the lethal shooting of student Victor Hugo Daze that heralded the end. The business executives were no longer safe and fled the country. The government terminated the contract and demonstrators were released. While hailed as a victory for the people, half of the citizens of Cochabamba remain without water.
(07.07.15) – Are We Falling Behind as a Progressive Culture?
Last week Germany announced that 62 former military bases were to be turned into wildlife sanctuaries. While these sanctuaries aren’t going to make a huge dent in the ever-increasing IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this action is in itself representative of how some countries are taking positive steps where possible. The military bases could have been sold for real estate development. France passed new legislation that all new buildings must have solar panels and/or plants on the roofs, the Dutch government have ordered emissions to be slashed by 25% within 5 years, and in 2014, Switzerland topped the Environmental Performance Index as the world leader in challenging environmental issues. The United Kingdom came 12th, but with the forth-coming expansion at Heathrow, the cutting of subsidies to onshore wind farms and the determination to press forward with fracking, is the UK at risk of dropping further down the index?
(26.06.15) – An Environmental Delusion
‘In our post-election society, the environment is no longer top of the agenda. Austerity, budget cuts, economic instability, and the public’s reactions to these things and others, flood the headlines and social media day after day. As the left continues to fragment after a brief period of unity and the many return to their various causes and movements, the environment continues to degrade. The political party manifestos that promised so much for the world around us lie abandoned in party and movement offices and usually a good few clicks away on the internet.