US admiral advocates war footing against China

By James Cogan
20 February 2018

The US Congress House Armed Services Committee (HASC) dedicated two days of hearings last Thursday and Friday to “security challenges” and “strategic competition” with China in the “Indo-Asia-Pacific region.” The hearing took place in the wake of the publication by the Pentagon of its new National Defense Strategy, which labelled China and Russia as the primary threats to US security and insisted on the need to “prioritise preparedness for war.”

The sole witness at the February 14 hearing was Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of US Pacific Command (USPACOM), who was nominated just days before by President Donald Trump to fill the vacant post of US ambassador to Australia. Harris and his headquarters submitted a 20,500-word statement to the committee and he fielded questions for over two hours.

The admiral portrayed the US military, with its $1.4 trillion two-year budget, 1.3 million active personnel, 11 aircraft carrier battlegroups and arsenal of over 4,000 ground, air and sea-launched nuclear weapons, as under-resourced, under-manned and in the danger of being overtaken by military rivals. He complained that it did not have enough forward-deployed munitions and logistics, while bases and infrastructure on the US West Coast were run-down. He bitterly condemned the minor limits on increased military spending that were imposed by Congress via budget sequestration in 2013—which were lifted in the latest budget.

Repeating a line that appears regularly in his speeches, Harris’s statement asserted: “If USPACOM has to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery, and the artillery of all of our allies. I have said during my last two appearances before this Committee, that sequestration could reduce us to wielding a butter knife in this fight. This is unacceptable. We must not let that happen.…

“China has developed and fielded capability and capacity to challenge our regional maritime dominance. I need increased lethality, specifically ships and aircraft equipped with faster and more survivable weapons systems. Longer range offensive weapons on every platform are an imperative.”

Harris accused China, as he has before, of seeking to militarise the South China Sea and turn islets and reefs into “forward military posts” against the US Navy. The US, he indicated, should never accept a challenge to its ability to deploy military forces directly off China’s coast.

Harris presented a vision of the world in which US economic and strategic interests are under siege from not only a rising China, but Russia, “rogue states” such as North Korea, international terrorism, transnational crime, and even piracy and natural disasters.

The US military, he asserted, “remains the most powerful in the world, but our relative advantage and ability to counter these threats have declined. For USPACOM to continue to underpin US diplomatic efforts and deter future conflict against peer competitors, rogue states, and transnational threats, the joint force must maintain a clear ability to fight and win when called upon to do so.”

Harris’s witness statement left no doubt that he believes military spending must be ramped up by hundreds of billions of dollars. His wish list for new hardware ranged from missile defense systems, dozens more ships and submarines, more fifth generation fighters, through to more lethal cluster bombs.

The United States, Harris argued to the HASC, needs to go on a war footing, with every aspect of economic and social life subordinated to the armed forces. His perspective would require even more savage cutbacks to social spending. It is incompatible with even the façade of democracy that now exists.

And not only in the US. Harris indicated that all the key US allies in Asia—specifically Japan, South Korea and Australia, as well as the Philippines and Thailand—must likewise boost war preparations. He proposed that the US seek greater military involvement by France and the United Kingdom in operations targeting Chinese influence. He named Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and the Pacific Island states as all potential participants in the US “camp.”

Above all, however, he stressed the burgeoning strategic ties between the US and India. It had the “potential to be the most consequential bilateral relationship of the 21st century,” due to India’s “growing influence and expanding military.”

Questioned about the possibility of war, Harris stated: “At the end of the day the ability to wage war is important, or you become a paper tiger. I’m hopeful that it won’t come to a conflict with China, but we all must be prepared for that if it should come to that.”

In a second hearing on February 15, Aaron Friedberg from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and Ely Ratner from the Council on Foreign Relations made sweeping accusations of Chinese “interference” in US politics and society so as to demonise Beijing as the US prepares for war.

Friedberg testified: “China is now using a combination of its rapidly growing military, economic and political or information warfare capabilities to try to weaken the US position in Asia with the aim of displacing it as the preponderant regional power.” He called for action against Chinese “political warfare” within the US, including purported efforts to develop relations with universities and academics, politicians, former government official and Hollywood studios. Chinese students and migrants were accused of being used “to support Beijing’s aims.”

Ratner, in his statement, declared: “Beijing is working overseas—including in the United States—to undermine academic freedom, censor foreign media, restrict the free flow of information, and curb civil society. Beijing is also promoting its own state-led model of development in explicit contrast to liberal democracy.”

The US had to “prioritise defense resources for the China challenge.” To do so, Ratner advocated abandoning costly US operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, avoiding so-called “wars of choice” with North Korea and Iran, and massively boosting military forces in Asia. He called for concerted action by the US, Japan and other countries to undermine Chinese investment and development plans in Eurasia as part of its “One Belt, One Road” strategy.

Ratner concluded by calling for action to “root out Chinese Communist Party influence operations in the US.”

Painting a truly bizarre portrait of the US, he alleged: “As a result of various forms of Chinese espionage and coercion, American schools and universities are avoiding topics Beijing deems sensitive, students in the United States are intimidated from speaking freely, US media outlets and scholars are self-censoring, US companies are curbing their speech to placate China, and millions of Americans are subject to veiled Chinese propaganda through Communist Party-run online, television, print, and radio media.”

Such rhetoric, with all its xenophobic overtones, has one motive: to ideologically justify the war preparations advocated by Harris and anti-China hawks throughout the corporate, political military and intelligence establishment.

Campaigns against purported Chinese interference and influence are well underway in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian parliament is currently considering draconian legislation that would criminalise political opposition to the militarist stance of the US and its allies and a range of commercial activities with so-called “overseas organisations.”

While American politics has been largely consumed by the accusations of Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election, the HASC hearings are another sign that efforts are being made to shift the focus onto China.

The author recommends:

Australian government unveils draconian “foreign interference” bills—Three-part series
[31 January 2018]

CIA director brands China “as big a threat to the US” as Russia
[1 February 2018]

Noteworthy – From the comments section:

After 1945 the US adopted a “permanent war economy” and “Cold War” to sustain it in order to prevent a decline of profits for business and mass unemployment after government spending on war goods ceased.
Any attempt to civilianise the economy away from military spending meets resistance. In February 1984 Ronald Reagan announced to reporters that “globalisation” was now the US policy, and set in motion a programme of deficit budget spending (military spending) on Star Wars and an arms race that has bankrupted the USA. In 1987 the US government owed about $3 Trillion (40% of GDP) today it owes $21 Trillion (over 100% of GDP). For the US government to try and implement Admiral Harris’s military expansion plan it would have to find novel ways to come up with the money to get businesses to go along with the plan and produce goods receiving in return what is little more than confetti (the US dollar)as money.



What’s so sad to me is that DEMOCRATS buy into this now! Its as if our nation has been taken over by an alien force…and it has….Citizens V United is that alien force…it comes to our elected officals in the dead of night via bank wire transfers, campiagn contributions, promises of lucrative consulting and lobbying jobs after your run in Congress or 75 million dollar biok deals and millions in speech fees if you are a former POTUS…… in amounts heretofore unimaginable and anti corruption laws to soft that by any other nations standards save the Monarchs our politicians would be in prison for things allowed to happen here. ..from the sicekening revolving doors at the upper echelons of various executive branches such as EPA, FDA, LABOR, DOT, where those we regulate regularly hire those that regulate them…and back and forth they go as needed often with substantial severance package from the private sector and postions promised after they ‘finish’ in US gov…from military leaders who cry for more more more for war war war….our nation is in peril…so much so that i wonder if anybody else feels like i do….that we may need the help of the UN to take back control from the corrupt leadership as they endanger not just Americans but the entire planet….



Thank you James,
for this timely expose of a profit crazed US ruling class that is determined to justify using its obscene wealth generating military industrial complex to plunge humanity into perversely manufactured war(s) between nuclear armed nation states. What would a better informed Australian population make of a foreign diplomat who tells us these kind of stories? – ‘Repeating a line that appears regularly in his speeches, Harris’s statement asserted: “If USPACOM has to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery, and the artillery of all of our allies…” Do we Australians really want to be among the so called ‘allies’ of this insane, warmongering, backward nation state?


“Yanks to the rescue”: Time’s not-so secret story of how Americans helped Yeltsin win 1996 presidential election

Imagine Izvestia ran a headline in January 2018 titled “Rescuing Donald”, in which it proudly boasted that a group of crack Russian election-fixers had been sent over to Washington to make sure Trump beat Hillary. Does anyone imagine it would stop short of impeachment for Trump and maybe even hot war with Russia? Yet 22 years ago Time magazine ran just such a feature on how four Americans and an ex-pat Russian had managed the 1996 Russian presidential election to ensure a win for Boris Yeltsin. And apparently that was something to openly boast about.

On July 15 1996 Time magazine ran a screaming front page that read “Yanks to the Rescue – the secret story of how American advisers helped Yeltsin win.”

The exclusive feature inside left little room for doubt. It was headlined in red “Rescuing Boris” and the caption on the header photo of a smiling Yeltsin was:

The secret story of how four US advisors used polls, focus groups, negative ads and all the other techniques of American campaigning to help Boris Yeltsin win

while the standfirst continued the exultant theme (our emphasis):

“In the end the Russian people chose – and chose decisively – to reject the past. Voting in the final round of the presidential election last week, they preferred Boris Yeltsin to his communist rival Gennadi Zyuganov by a margin of 13 percentage points. He is far from the ideal democrat or reformer, and his lieutenants Victor Chenomyrdin and Alexander Lebed are already squabbling over power, but Yeltsin is arguably the best hope Russia has for moving toward pluralism and an open economy. By re-electing him, the Russians defied predictions that they might willingly resubmit themselves to communist rule.

The outcome was by no means inevitable. Last winter Yeltsin’s approval ratings were in the single digits. There are many reasons for his change in fortune, but a crucial one has remained a secret. For four months, a group of American political consultants clandestinely participated in guiding Yeltsin’s campaign, here is the inside story of how these advisors helped Yeltsin achieves the victory that would keep reform in Russia alive.

The article went on to explain that Yeltsin was deeply unpopular at that time in Russia, polling no more than 8% and widely blamed for the rise of the gangster oligarchs, the collapse of infrastructure and the looting of Russia’s once state-owned natural resources. The Communists were resurgent, taking a lot of new seats in the elections to the Duma in the winter of ’95-6. The Communist presidential candidate, Gennadi Zyuganov, was poised to ride this wave. If left to their own devices, Time says, the Russians could easily have voted a Red back into the Kremlin.

Obviously this could not be permitted to happen.

Time tells us America needed to keep the Communists out because of the need to maintain Russia on track with “reform.” But from our vantage point we now know that “reform” didn’t mean political reform. In fact the US was more than happy to ignore Yeltsin’s numerous unconstitutional incursions for as long as he was doing their bidding.

What Time means by “reform” is the vastly illegal and ethically barbarous looting of the Russian state and its people that was then being systematically perpetrated by the US, its financial institutions and its own gangster capitalists. A Communist, or even a moderate nationalist, could be a disaster for this lucrative open conduit of virtually free raw materials and knock-down block shares in oil and gas production (and that’s not even getting into the questions of PNAC and the neocon drive to see Russia perennially divided and weakened, if not actually partitioned).

For all these reasons, broadly encompassed under the weasel word “reform”, the US did not want anyone but Yeltsin in the Kremlin in 1996. So, says Time, the Yanks decided to step in and fix things.

They sent over a team of five election-managers and image-makers to try to turn Yeltsin’s fortunes around. The men were old hands at this business. Richard Dresner had helped Bill Clinton get elected as governor or Arkansas. George Gorton was a “longtime strategist” for California governor Pete Wilson. Joe Shumate was a “polling expert” and another of Bill Clinton’s election team. Steven More was a PR specialist. Felix Braynin was a Russian ex-patriot who didn’t trust Communists.

They knew from the off their job wasn’t going to be easy. Because for the Russian people Boris Nikolayevich was one step up from poison. 60% of the population thought Yeltsin was corrupt. 65% thought he had wrecked the economy. In 1996 Stalin was getting more positive approval ratings than Yeltsin. An “early memo” from the group dated March 2 and cited by Time says:

Voters don’t approve of the job Yeltsin is doing, don’t think things will ever get any better and prefer the Communists’ approach.

They were similarly frank about the solution:

There exists only one very simple strategy for winning: first, becoming the only alternative to the Communists; and the second, making the people see that the Communists must be stopped at all costs.”

So, the five Americans got to work trying to secure the Russian election for their candidate of choice. They ran ad campaigns to promote the (bogus) idea of Yeltsin’s popularity. They ran other ads denigrating the opposition. They fixed his suits and sprayed his hair.

They Americanised the process as much as they could – but not as much as they wanted to. A plan they conceived of Yeltsin entering a conference hall “through a boisterous crowd that would mob him” and delivering a short 15-minute speech “that television viewers might actually sit through” was rejected out of hand. Yeltsin decided instead to enter the hall in the normal Russian way to polite claps from men in suits, and he delivered an hour-long speech that probably made his American handlers groan in despair.

They made sure this rebellion wouldn’t happen again by using a “perception analyser” to show Yeltsin’s handlers what a turn-off his performance had been. From then on the Yanks seem to have had things their way, or so Time implies. They proceeded to look into the Russian people’s deepest fears and see how they could be used advantageously:

Having helped establish the campaign’s major theme, the Americans then set out to modify it. The Americans used their focus group co-ordinator, Alexei Levinson, to determine what exactly Russians most feared about the Communists. Long lines, scarce food and re-nationalisation of property were frequently cited, but mostly people worried about civil war.

Fear was the key. And Russia in the 1990s was a fearful place. All they had to do was convince enough people the Communists were more frightening than the gangsters currently running the show.

‘Stick with Yeltsin and at least you’ll have calm’ – that was the line we wanted to convey

And it worked. Or something did. Whether by dint of hairspray, focus groups, fear porn or something else undeclared, Yeltsin leapt from 2-8% popular support to 54.4% by the end of the campaign.

And he won. And Russia was saved.

Well, it was saved for the United States, its financial institutions and gangster capitalists anyway. But that’s another story.

You can download the entire article as a PDF here. You need to read it all to get the full flavour. And just to show how proud America was of interfering in this election, there was even a Hollywood movie made about it in 2003 called Spinning Boris.

[UPDATE: have now watched that film – it adds mind-blowing levels of racism and racial stereotyping to the mix to complement the laugh-along celebration of defrauding a sovereign nation and its people. Enjoy]

After you have taken a look at all this, consider the following question:

What’s worse?

1) The triumphal bragging about manipulating the election to make sure their man became president in order to continue defrauding and dispossessing and even starving ordinary Russian people, or

2) The insane hypocrisy of – 22 years later – indicting 13 Russians for doing at worst a fragment and shadow of this colossal crime?

History will have a tough time deciding won’t it.

Will extinction event No.6 be man made?

Most of us accept that human activity has brought us to the eve of destruction. Which kind of bothers us, on and off, especially those with kids. So let me ask: do you think we can pull back from the brink without getting rid of capitalism? I know folk who think precisely that but my problem is that the moment they open their mouths, or I read their writings,1 it’s clear they don’t know what they’re talking about.

I mean this quite literally. That song comes to mind: my hat it has three corners/three corners has my hat/if it had not three corners/it would not be my hat. How about “if capitalism is not free to place the pursuit of highest profits over everything else, then it ain’t capitalism”? Not as catchy, I grant you, but it does capture the nature of the beast.

So how did we get here? Given our difficulty as individuals with thinking beyond when we can draw our pension, or pay off our mortgage, this timeline might help with perspective:

  • 4.7 billion years ago – planet earth is formed.
  • 3.8 billion years ago – single cell life emerges.
  • 2.15 billion years ago – photosynthesis, hence oxygen.
  • 900 million years ago – multicellular life.
  • 530 million years ago – first vertebrates.
  • 445 million years ago – first mass extinction event: End-Ordoviciansevere ice age drops sea levels 100 metres to wipe out 60-70% of species.
  • 360 million years ago – second mass extinction event: Late Devonian; prolonged climate change kills 70% of species.
  • 252 million years ago – third mass extinction event: End-Permianvolcanic activity in Siberia causes global warming, with loss of 90% of species.
  • 210 million years ago – early dinosaurs.
  • 201 million years ago – fourth mass extinction event: Triassic-Jurassic; volcanic eruptions take out 75% of species.
  • 140 million years ago – first mammals.
  • 66 million years ago – fifth mass extinction event: End-Cretacious; a giant asteroid hits Mexico to shift tectonic plates and trigger volcanic activity across the globe, with loss of 75% of species.
  • 6 million years ago – hominids evolve, common ancestors to us and other great apes.
  • 150,000 years ago – we, homo sapiens sapiens, appear.
  • 10,000 years ago – the first neolithic revolutions begin.

The neolithic age turned us from hunter-gatherers to farmers, generating surplus wealth on a reliable as opposed to merely windfall basis. One far reaching consequence was that exchange was no longer incidental but routine, with some wealth produced for the sole purpose of trade, which in turn engendered writing. A second was the division and subdivision of labour, a third the rise of class societies as defined by a minority’s monopoly ownership of some essential of wealth creation. In slave economies this was human labour; under Eurasian feudalism, land or irrigation.

For all their injustices, these forms of organising social relations to meet our material needs had two things going for them. They advanced human productive capacity, and operated in relative harmony with the natural environment. This is in stark contrast to the meteoric rise of industrial capitalism, beginning in mid eighteenth century Britain and soaring to global dominance in the space of two centuries. That too advanced our productive capacity, and at breakneck speed, but at cost of an unprecedented problem, overproduction, right out of Alice in Wonderland2 – and of wars no longer fought purely for land and resources, but also to corner markets.

At cost too of terminating that harmony with nature by delivering the wherewithal – and, even more significant, the incentive – to extract her resources faster than she can replenish them and heal her wounds.

Roughly one third of the CO2 humans have so far pumped into the air has been absorbed by the oceans. This comes to a stunning 150 billion tons [but] .. it’s not only the scale of the transfer but also the speed that’s significant… It makes a big deal to marine chemistry whether carbon dioxide is added over the course of a million years or a hundred … Elizabeth Kolbert, cited below.

One driver of capital’s constant need for growth is obvious: profits depend on selling more and more stuff to those who can afford it, and whose spiritual alienation – with labour-power now itself a commodity – keeps us hooked on the five minute highs of retail therapy. Another yields its secret to dialectical enquiry. I refer to the most terminal of capitalism’s many contradictions, a self engendered tendency – offset by wars for new markets, by monetising every sphere of human experience, and by ‘adjustment’ crises of growing frequency and severity – for the rate of profit to fall.3

But be the causes hidden or in plain view, everything that most of us need or hold dear – peace, health, social justice, the rule of law and even capitalism’s much vaunted ‘individual freedom’ – must give way to the requirement of maintaining profits through relentless growth. Moreover, as is now obvious to all with eyes to see, that requirement also overrides the need to pull back from environmental catastrophe. For this reason above the many others, we might fairly speak of capitalism as a system run by and for the morally insane.

I mean this impersonally. It’s not useful to demonise capitalism’s ruling class in ways ultimately metaphysical. An inescapable feature of capitalism is that it is inhuman not because its rulers and principal beneficiaries are evil, but because it is beyond human control. Capitalism’s ruling class, defined by its monopoly ownership of the investment sums (and land) needed for wealth creation, cannot take the measure most essential to averting environmental catastrophe when that measure, replacing production for profit with production for human need, would negate its existence as a ruling class. Hence the claim I began with: that pulling back from environmental calamity is incompatible with the continuing existence of capitalism.

What’s that you say, communist propaganda?

If ‘propaganda’ can’t be refuted using legitimate debate methods, then what you are calling propaganda looks an awful lot like truth. Caitlin Johnson.

It was with these thoughts that I came upon this biting review by Roger Annis on his blogsite, A Socialist in Canada. With his permission I’m replicating it here in full …

* * *

Has the world entered a sixth, great extinction era? If not, could capitalism soon take us there?

It’s a difficult hypothesis to ponder, considering what is at stake, the emergency response that is required if we determine that the threat is real, and the fact that anthropogenic disruptions could be entirely to blame. The fact that such a potential scenario occupies scientific attention lends a great urgency to examining it.

The prevailing philosophical methodology of capitalism is a static one. It downplays or ignores the dialectical interplay of biological, geological and human social forces at work on the planet. This, in turn, encourages the false idea that a world of catastrophic decline and disappearance of many if not most biological species need not spell the end of the dominant species, humans. That is folly. Humankind’s fate has always been tightly bound to that of the other species with which we share the Earth. The dialectical interplay and dependence among us all cannot be broken or dismissed.

The Ends Of The World does not shy away from making troubling warnings that humankind’s fate may rest in how seriously we examine the looming threat of a sixth, great extinction and what we, the human race, intend to do about it.


The first of the Big Five extinctions occurred 445 million years ago. The last one was 66 million years ago—the one that killed off the dinosaurs. Here are the five mass extinctions that have taken place during Earth’s history:

  • End-Ordovician, 445 million years ago. A severe ice age led to sea level falling by 100 meters, wiping out 60-70% of all species which were prominently ocean dwellers at the time. Soon after, the ice melted leaving the oceans starved of oxygen.
  • Late Devonian, c 360 million years ago. A messy, prolonged climate change event, hitting life in shallow seas very hard, killing 70 per cent of species including almost all corals.
  • End-Permian (Permian-Triassic), c 250 million years ago. Some 90 per cent of species perished, strongly linked to massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia that caused a savage episode of global warming. (Essay by Peter Brannen on the End-Permian, July 2017.)
  • Triassic-Jurassic, 201 million years ago. Three-quarters of species were lost, again most likely due to another huge outburst of volcanism.
  • End-Cretaceous (Cretaceous-Tertiary), 65 million years ago. A giant asteroid struck today’s Mexico, likely causing volcanic eruptions in other parts of the globe.[2]

This chart of the geologic time scale further displays Earth’s history.

What caused the five mass extinctions? The Ends Of The World lists four large culprits:

  • Continent-scale volcanism, caused by the movements of the Earth’s surface plates.
  • Dramatic changes to the climate and the oceans driven by the forces of geology, including periodic, massive volcanic eruptions as mentioned above.
  • Changes to the planet’s environment caused by the actions of biological species as they evolved. “In the geological past, seemingly small innovations have reorganized the planet’s chemistry, hurling it into drastic phase changes.”
  • In the case of one extinction–the End-Cretaceous–a massive asteroid impact.

Is the rate of species extinction today anywhere near comparable to the past five events? If not, could anthropogenic damage to the thin, surface wrapping of Earth’s biosphere nevertheless bring us to a sixth extinction event?

Brannen answers no, and yes. He surveys the scientific literature on the subject and talks to a great many paleontologists and other scientists. Listed in the appendix below are one article and three scientific papers presenting contrasting views of whether a sixth extinction is underway. Brannen concurs with those scientists who argue that while the ‘background’ rate of species extinction has indeed accelerated since the advent of human industrial society a few centuries ago, the extinction rate is not yet comparable to those of the Big Five. But Brannen’s overall conclusion is nonetheless extremely dire. He writes:

… The terrifying reality of ocean acidification has only fully dawned on the scientific community in the last decade or so. Even more so than global warming, ocean acidification is what people who understand the fossil record, and who think about the future of the oceans, are most distressed by.

… Considering how much we’ve already done to dismantle coral reefs, and projecting these trends forward into anything resembling geological time, it becomes clear why it’s not unreasonable to compare what is going on today with the worst disasters in Earth’s history.

… Undoubtedly, there are some obvious, unsettling parallels between the Triassic end-times [Triassic extinction, 201 million years ago] and the current day—when, barring aggressive climate action, temperatures on the planet are expected to jump as much as six degrees, if not by the end of this century then sometime during the next, with the oceans acidifying not on the scale of thousands of years but within decades.[3]

In a concluding chapter of his book, Brannen examines the current political climate in which most capitalist governments pledged at the world climate summit meeting in Paris in 2015 to limit global warming to 1.5 to two degrees Celsius by the year 2100. He observes:

… Many of us share some dim apprehension that the world is flying out of control, that the center cannot hold. Raging wildfires, once-in-1,000-year storms and lethal heat waves have become fixtures of the evening news—all this after the planet has warmed by less than one degree [Celsius) above pre-industrial temperatures. But here’s where it gets really scary.

If humanity burns through all its fossil fuel reserve, there is the potential to warm the planet by as much as 18 degrees Celsius and raise sea levels by hundreds of feet. This is a warming spike of an even greater magnitude than that so far measured for the End-Permian mass extinction.

… The last time it was four degrees warmer, there was no ice at the poles and sea level was 260 feet higher than today.

The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert

The discussion of a sixth extinction came into the literary mainstream in 2014 following the publication of The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert.[4] The author won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general, non-fiction writing. Her book details the past as well as present disappearances (or threats of same) of 13 iconic species and presents the opinions of many scientists who are studying extinctions. The scientists offer explanations as to why past extinctions happened and are happening today, and what this may signal for the fate of humankind. Kolbert writes:

It’s pretty clear that times of high carbon dioxide—especially times when carbon dioxide levels rapidly rose—coincided with the mass extinctions,” writes University of Washington paleontologist and End-Permian mass extinction expert Peter Ward.

Here is the driver of extinction…

Kolbert discusses the troubling phenomenon of the lightning pace of present-day, anthropogenic change. Whereas in the past, changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere and oceans causing disruptive climate change took place over tens and hundreds of thousands of years, today’s changes are being induced by human activity in time scales of tens or hundreds of years–a few thousands of years at the outermost. In geological time, this is nothing. She writes:

Roughly one third of the CO2 that humans have so far pumped into the air has been absorbed by the oceans. This comes to a stunning 150 billion tons. As with most aspects of the Anthropogenic, though, it’s not only the scale of the transfer but also the speed that’s significant… It makes a big deal to marine chemistry whether carbon dioxide is added over the course of a million years or a hundred [years]…

If we were adding CO2 to the air more slowly, geophysical processes, like the weathering of rock, would come into play to counteract acidification. As it is, things are moving too fast for such slow-acting forces to keep up. As Rachel Carson once observed, referring to a very different but at the same time profoundly similar problem, “Time is the essential ingredient, but in the modern world there is no time.”

Brannen addresses this same danger:

Warm times aren’t necessarily a bad thing… But when climate change or ocean chemistry changes have been sudden, the result has been devastating for life…

And further:

We’re not just warming, we’re not just pollution, we’re not just over-exploitation: we’re piling it all on simultaneously,” paleontologist David Jablonski of the University of Chicago told Brannen p 263. “That’s why it’s really inaccurate to argue that because there’s been warming in the past that doesn’t count now–because it’s part of the perfect storm. I think that all mass extinctions work that way… lots of things go wrong.

Can species adapt to rapidly rising temperatures? The evidence suggests not. Kolbert writes:

It’s quite possible that by the end of this century, CO2 levels could reach a level not seen since the Antarctic palms of the Eocene some 50 million years ago. Whether species still posses the features that allowed their ancestors to thrive in that ancient, warmer world is, at this point, impossible to say.

A needed but overlooked or ignored discussion

Considering how dire are the potential consequences of a new, sixth extinction for human civilization (nothing less than its self-destruction!), it is surprising how little the subject has entered into the political and environmental mainstream. Three large reasons for this seem to stand out.

The big one lies in the vested interests and insatiable expansion dynamic of the capitalist economic order. For more than a century, following the emergence of a science of anthropogenic climate change [5], science has known of the damaging ecological consequences of human industrial and agricultural pursuits. But capitalist greed as well as the politics which accompany the ruthless dynamic of the capitalist order have blocked official recognition of the dangers.

Only in the past two decades have capitalist governments been forced to accept the science of anthropogenic global warming. Yet even here, the recognition is only in word, not in deed. Incredibly, in the year 2017, the world’s largest government has reverted to outright denial of anthropogenic global warming.

The dominant, capitalist classes of the world are unmoved and uncaring of all the destruction their economic system is causing. Mainstream politics has merely moved from denial of global warming to deflect and delay. Nary a single, large capitalist government in the world strays from the practice of deflect and delay.

The second big reason for inaction is the poor state of scientific education in the world’s populations. Education systems under capitalism deliberately downplay the ‘awkward’ subject of Earth’s history and humankind’s heretofore very small place within that. Humans are taught to think first and foremost of self-interest. Our learned time scales are limited to the duration of home mortgages, the time until retirement age is reached, or the lifespans of grandchildren. Of course, many of us do our best to expand such limited time frames through formal education and life experience, especially what we may learn through the course of political advocacy. But the relative weakness of popular, scientific awareness inclines people to political passivity and pessimism. Societal and scientific challenges are considered ‘too big, too complicated’ for ordinary mortals to tackle.

Finally, a vibrant and cutting-edge political left could make essential contributions to the necessary fight for scientific literacy and consequent social and economic action. But the global left has been in decline for decades [6] and this decline has not been reversed by the global warming emergency coming to widespread public attention beginning some 25 years ago. The global left (Marxist, anarchist, liberal) should be making significant theoretical and practical contributions to the science of political economy in light of the global warming emergency. It is doing so only partially, and entirely inadequately. [7]

Business as usual in the environmental movement

The mainstream, liberal environmental movement has its own variant of ‘deflect and delay’. It is resigned to the 1.5 degree temperature rise of the 2015 United Nations climate agreement in Paris (ratified by a follow-up UN conference in Bonn, Germany one year later). It looks away uncomfortably from the fact that the 1.5-to-2 degree rise to which the UN is resigned will already bring catastrophic disruption to human society while ‘feedback loops’ risk average global temperature rises that will blow past two degrees.

Oh sure, there is recognition by liberal environmentalists of the dire predicament into which the prevailing conditions of industrial and agricultural production are dragging humanity. But where is the recognition that the world has already entered an emergency state of affairs requiring a series of emergency measures, beginning with a rapid winding down of all the plunder and excess characteristic of capitalism? Where is the recognition that the relentless expansion drive of capitalism is continuing to fuel limitless natural resource plunder and production of commodities for sale and consumption?

Such questions are not yet at the center of attention of the environmental movement, leave alone broader society. Instead, we hear positive scenarios that switching from fossil fuels to alternative energies, making lifestyle changes such as driving electric automobiles or taking public transport, and stopping this or that fossil fuel project through divestment or direct action will place the world on a safer track. Yes, struggles for short-term relief are important insofar as they educate people and provide relief from the grotesque excesses of capitalism. But they won’t stop the capitalist juggernaut unless they are connected to strategies for much deeper change.

Peter Brannen calls the 2015 conference in Paris a “catastrophic failure”. He writes:

There are no binding commitments, and countries’ adherence to the agreement is voluntary. Though the signatory countries announced their intent to aim for 1.5 degrees of warming, the agreement itself sheepishly acknowledges that if every country met their optimistic emissions pledges, the planet would still easily sail past two degrees.

Brannen cites University of Chicago geophysicist David Archer: “I have a feeling that by the time we get close to two degrees Celsius, we’ll think it’s pretty insane we ever thought that was a target to shoot for.”

Brannen goes on to cite Columbia University economist Scott Barrett’s view of the Paris agreement:

The only way the voluntary contributions pledged so far could achieve the collective two-degree goal is if a miracle occurs around 2030, some technological breakthrough forcing global emissions to plummet. Even then, the chances of staying within the two-degree goal are no better than 50-50.

The rest of Brennan’s survey of a post two-degree warmer world is, well, rather grim. There is no switch to flick whereby warming stops at two degrees. No, warming (rising greenhouse gas emissions) begets more warming. Even if emissions are cut radically, feedback loops risk taking on a life of their own.

One of the insights gained from a 433 million-year perspective on Earth’s past and future is that of the relative insignificance of the time scale in which humans have inhabited the planet. Homo sapiens have only been around for some 160,000 years. Even our hominid ancestors from whom modern humans evolved take us back a ‘mere’ six million years. That’s not so old compared to the 600 million or so years since the first multi-celled creatures evolved or the 65 million years since the fifth and last of the great extinctions. There is no fatalism or resignation in Brennan’s book. After all, were we truly to find ourselves in a sixth extinction, there would be nothing left to do but prolong as long as possible our inevitable disappearance. No, his book is a call to action, even if prescriptions of what to do are left unanswered.

Emergency situation cries out for emergency responses

If the world is in such a dire state as to place the danger of a sixth extinction on the agenda of scientific debate, where is the political recognition of the emergency? Where are the proposals for emergency responses that are called for?

John Bellamy Foster sketches elements of the radical political program which the planetary situation demands in an article in the November 2017 Monthly Review. He writes:

… But to [provide all people with the ability to develop their full potential], we will need to break with “business as usual,” that is, with the current logic of capital, and introduce an entirely different logic, aimed at the creation of a fundamentally different social metabolic system of reproduction. To overcome centuries of alienation of nature and human labor, including the treatment of the global environment and most people—divided by class, gender, race, and ethnicity—as mere objects of conquest, expropriation, and exploitation, will require nothing less than a long ecological revolution

In a late-December 2017 interview with the Venezuelan state-funded TeleSur news network, he returns to a similar theme:

… Confronted with the effects of climate change, ecological socialism – with its emphasis on communal relations and adaptation to the environment – is far superior to neoliberalism’s empty insistence on “resilience.”

However true and important these assertions, they rest in the realm of generalities, revealing a certain ‘spinning of wheels’ by leading ecosocialist (Marxian) thinkers. We find little by way of ‘what to do’ in the here and now. What are the immediate and longer-term changes in societal organization and production and consumption patterns required of human society in the face of the global warming emergency? What is the role of governments in the great societal transformations that are needed? What are the social and political alliances within and between classes that are possible and necessary in order to win governments that can place human society on a path toward ecological and societal salvation?

This is my third recent article on the politics of the global warming emergency. The second of these articles was published nearly one month ago, drawing attention to the writings of Jason Hickel, an advocate of ‘degrowth’. He defines degrowth as a “shift to a different kind of economy altogether – one that supports and promotes the commons, and focuses on improving human well-being rather than only on improving monetary incomes.”

My article one month before that commented on the call by Guardian writer and ideologue George Monbiot that ‘everything must go’. I wrote:

‘Everything must go’ is the headline of the latest column by the liberal Guardian

columnist George Monbiot. It’s a stark statement that should henceforth be the theme of all serious discussion of the global warming emergency. All the waste, excess and plunder of the capitalist economic order ‘must go’. To be replaced by a planned, social economy in which humans live in harmony with the planet’s finite resources and the species with which we co-habit.

I have been writing along these lines for several years now. I have argued that it is imperative for human society to carry out a radical contraction of all the ‘productivist’ plunder, excess and waste which characterizes capitalist society. While I share the general, socialist outlook of the ‘ecosocialist’ movement—that is, the imperative of creating a planned economy which prioritizes human development and seeks harmony with our natural surroundings—I hold to the Marxist view that the exploited classes and peoples of capitalist society (workers, peasants and farmers, First Nations people, the marginalized and unemployed) are the motor force of social change. Their ascendance to a leading role in society issues naturally from their relative lack of material stake in society as it exists and the commonality of interest created by the class struggle against the wealthy property owners. This is especially the case with the billions of people residing in the Global South who, to paraphrase Karl Marx, have ‘nothing to lose but their chains’.

To achieve lasting change—and here we arrive at the core of Marxist political thought—the exploited classes must fight for an independent role in the political realm. They need political parties and social organizations to represent their distinct class interests, the goal being to win political power and use that lever to lead social transformation (salvation). Working class governments must aim to win the widest possible support from all classes and social groups in society. This old idea (for Marxism) takes on a new urgency. The scale of the global warming emergency obliges humans to engage politically and achieve the broadest social and political coalitions that history has ever known.

Sketching a path forward

In past articles, I have sketched out some of the large objectives which human society must set for itself in the short term in order to mitigate the worst of what is already descending upon us. Let me restate those and add a few new ones:

  • Human society is in the grip of a social and ecological emergencydue to global warming. The salvation of human society is at stake. A new, alternative path of human development is needed which aims for social equity and harmony with the natural world–in other worlds, an entirely new moral plane. Radical thinkers must fight to win such recognition in broad society and win corresponding political and social measures in response.
  • Emergency responses must begin with allocating vast resources from the wealthy classes and countries of the world to assist those who are being hit the hardest by the onset of climate change–the billions of poor people in the countries of the Global South.
  • A winding down is needed from the frenetic and endless production of commodities for sale irrespective of their contribution to human development. In its place, economic production will be geared to meeting social needs. Massive reduction in all the plunder, waste and excess of capitalist, consumerist society is needed.
  • A new, ecological economy will aim to limit its consumption of natural resources and its production of material goods. It will prioritize the essential elements of human survival and development: shelter, education, culture, health care, applied science and food and energy production.
  • Among the shifts this will require are total changes in how cities are planned. The automobile must be curtailed to all but essential transport. Food production must be localized to the maximum extent possible. The production of energy, too, must be localized (and greatly reduced from today’s gluttonous levels).
  • A planned and socially-agreed reduction of human population levels is needed. Along with this will be a pullback by humans from vast areas of the planet in order to provide living space for the other species with which we share the planet and which face extinction if we do not act.
  • Needless to say, armaments and warfare must be eliminated.
  • Social inequity will be reduced equalized so there will no longer be rich and poor people and all will be given opportunity for personal and social development.

All of this requires the full participation and leadership of the working class, in all of its diversity–workers in the factories, offices and technology industries; farmers and peasants; Indigenous peoples; youth, women and the racially oppressed. This presupposes a vast expansion of workplace and societal democracy.


[1] The Ends Of The World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans And Our Quest To Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions, published by HarperCollins, 322 pp, ISBN 9780062364807. Here are two reviews of the book: by David Wineberg, published in the San Francisco Review of Books, June 3, 2017; by Emmet Martin Penney, published in Paste Magazine, June 14, 2017

[2] A growing school of scientific opinion argues that the impact of that asteroid strike (forming the huge Chicxulub crater in Mexico) could not have sparked the End-Cretaceous extinction by itself, that it also triggered enormous volcanic eruptions in other parts of the globe, most notably at the Deccan Traps geological formation in today’s northern India.

[3] Climate change writer Dahr Jamail provides the latest news of the loading of carbon into the world’s oceans and their consequent temperature rises in his latest, monthly column in Truthout.org2017 was the warmest year on record for oceansby Dahr Jamail,, Jan 18, 2018.

[4] Here are two reviews of Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth ExtinctionHow to Destroy Species, Including Usby Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Review of Books, issue of March 20, 2014;  What killed the Neanderthals?by Luke Mitchell, London Review of Books, issue of May 8, 2014

[5] See John Bellamy Foster’s June 2015 essay, ‘Late Soviet Ecology and the Planetary Crisis‘. Foster and his fellow Marxist writers Paul Burkett and Kohei Saito have pioneered the renewal of the concept of the metabolic rift pioneered by Karl Marx. See Foster’s December 2013 essay, ‘Marx and the Rift in the Universal Metabolism of Nature‘.

[6] See this essay by Roger Annis: Reflections on the Russian Revolution of 1917, September 2017

[7] See these two essays by Roger Annis: ‘Everything must go’ writes environmental writer George MonbiotNov 27, 2017;  Jason Hickel: ‘Degrowth promotes the commons and focuses on improving human well-being’, Dec 27, 2017

Roger Annis publishes his writings on his website ‘A Socialist In Canada’, along with selections of writings by others. His extensive writings on the global warming emergency can be found in the ‘Environment’ category on the website; the most noteworthy of those are listed in the ‘Featured articles’ page on the home page. See also the ‘Ecology newsroll’ on the home page, which commenced January 2018. He can be reached at


Here is a selection of contrasting views of whether a sixth extinction is underway:


Earth is not in the midst of a sixth mass extinctionby Peter Brannen, The Atlantic, June 13, 2017

… [Smithsonian paleontologist Doug] Erwin’s other point, that the magnitude of the Big Five mass extinctions in Earth’s past dwarfs humanity’s destruction thus far, is a subtle one. He’s not trying to downplay the tremendous destruction wrought by humans, but reminding us that claims about mass extinctions are inevitably claims about paleontology and the fossil record…

Yes:  (three scientific papers)

The history of the Earth system is a story of change. Some changes are gradual and benign, but others, especially those associated with catastrophic mass extinction, are relatively abrupt and destructive. What sets one group apart from the other? Here, I hypothesize that perturbations of Earth’s carbon cycle lead to mass extinction if they exceed either a critical rate at long time scales or a critical size at short time scales. By analyzing 31 carbon isotopic events during the past 542 million years, I identify the critical rate with a limit imposed by mass conservation. Identification of the crossover time scale separating fast from slow events then yields the critical size. The modern critical size for the marine carbon cycle is roughly similar to the mass of carbon that human activities will likely have added to the oceans by the year 2100.

Related news article:  Mathematics predicts a sixth mass extinctionbJennifer Chu, published by MIT News Office, Sept 20, 2017

The population extinction pulse we describe here shows, from a quantitative viewpoint, that Earth’s sixth mass extinction is more severe than perceived when looking exclusively at species extinctions. Therefore, humanity needs to address anthropogenic population extirpation and decimation immediately. That conclusion is based on analyses of the numbers and degrees of range contraction (indicative of population shrinkage and/or population extinctions according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature) using a sample of 27,600 vertebrate species, and on a more detailed analysis documenting the population extinctions between 1900 and 2015 in 177 mammal species. We find that the rate of population loss in terrestrial vertebrates is extremely high—even in “species of low concern.” In our sample, comprising nearly half of known vertebrate species, 32% (8,851/27,600) are decreasing; that is, they have decreased in population size and range. In the 177 mammals for which we have detailed data, all have lost 30% or more of their geographic ranges and more than 40% of the species have experienced severe population declines (>80% range shrinkage). Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations, which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.

Related news articleEarth’s sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warnby Damian Carrington, environment editor, The Guardian, July 10, 2017

The oft-repeated claim that Earth’s biota is entering a sixth “mass extinction” depends on clearly demonstrating that current extinction rates are far above the “background” rates prevailing between the five previous mass extinctions. Earlier estimates of extinction rates have been criticized for using assumptions that might overestimate the severity of the extinction crisis. We assess, using extremely conservative assumptions, whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. First, we use a recent estimate of a background rate of 2 mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years (that is, 2 E/MSY), which is twice as high as widely used previous estimates. We then compare this rate with the current rate of mammal and vertebrate extinctions. The latter is conservatively low because listing a species as extinct requires meeting stringent criteria. Even under our assumptions, which would tend to minimize evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 100 times higher than the background rate. Under the 2 E/MSY background rate, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken, depending on the vertebrate taxon, between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear. These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way. Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

John Bellamy Foster writes on degrowth

John Bellamy Foster wrote an essay on degrowth in 2011 which critiqued those who detach capitalist growth and capitalist accumulation, and therefore confuse matters. His essay defends degrowth but says the problem must be located in capitalism’s expansion (accumulation) imperative:

What is needed is a “co-revolutionary movement,” to adopt David Harvey’s pregnant term, that will bring together the traditional working-class critique of capital, the critique of imperialism, the critiques of patriarchy and racism, and the critique of ecologically destructive growth (along with their respective mass movements)…

In a 2015 essay by Foster, he explains:

… The rub here of course is that a faster “fast track” to a zero carbon world economy than the one [Johan Rockström] proposes could not be driven entirely by new technology and the shift to alternative energy, i.e., ecological modernization, but would need to place greater emphasis on conservation, lifestyle change, the rapid shift to a steady-state economy (degrowth), and the massive reduction of waste. In fact, it would raise the question of social relations. Put in a nutshell, even a two-track strategy would require quite radical changes in the direction of world sustainability in the first track, if were to have a reasonable hope of success…

* * *

  1. See for instance Sir Jonathan Porritt’s Capitalism As If The Planet Matters. Published in 2007, before the fall of Lehman Bros and all that followed, it signally fails to offer any rigorous definition of capitalism, far less question the nature and origins of profit.
  2. As with many a ‘paradox’, this is easily cleared up. Since the goal of production under capitalism is not usable wealth – that is merely a means to the end of profit generation – overproduction does not signify the creation of more wealth than can be consumed, but of more wealth than can be sold profitably.
  3. That tendency, a consequence of what marxists call the law of value, is to be set out in a forthcoming post. For now it suffices that it is the key driver, denied by ‘value chain’ economists in ways increasingly far fetched, of the outsourcing by the global north of manufacturing to low wage economies in the south.

The New Israeli Is Frankenstein’s Monster.

We have created a new creature. We are the creature that pushed aside Frankenstein, smashed the gate and left the laboratory to wreak havoc in the neighborhood

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay are right. We’ve forgotten how to be Jewish. We are Israeli first and only slightly Jewish. Our Israeliness is arrogant, impatient and violent, a blend of the fanaticism of MK Bezalel Smotrich and the aggressiveness of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Our Judaism is not that of pre-Holocaust Europe or pre-state North Africa. As Jews we wrote, studied and taught; as Israelis we conquered, expelled and abused. I’m proud of Judaism and ashamed of Israeliness.

Why are we like this? This is what we learned from the Holocaust. Our Holocaust lesson is that cruelty pays off and that racism is rewarded. That’s the lesson of our fake Judaism. That is not the Judaism from which we came, neither in the West nor in the East. After the Holocaust, Jews helped the blacks in South Africa and fought racism in the United States. Here we deport people.

When you destroy, you forget. We’ve forgotten what is to be Jewish, but no matter what we made sure we had God. Our God is a hostage. Our God sits before the camera and reads what the kidnappers dictate. In his name we expropriate land and deport refugees. In his name the land is ours, forever.

This is not the God of Einstein and Freud. It is the God of Shlomo Aviner of Beit El and Arye Dery of Har Nof, who is subject to coalition discipline, who measures skirt lengths and closes stores on Shabbat; a God who prefers to pay idlers in yeshivas and deport work migrants who support themselves and don’t ask for favours.

The Judaism that holds God hostage is a good “closer”: state funds in return for support for the settlements, canceling the draft in return for ignoring corruption. It’s Judaism for rent to the highest bidder, the Judaism of the Sicarii, a Judaism that will lead to civil war.

We’ve forgotten how to be Jewish, but there are Jews who remember. We are the vultures who hover above them, pouncing on every anti-Semitic incident. Anti-Semitism hurts Jews there, but serves us here. It justifies our Judaism. We build on it. We count every hate crime. We hope anti-Semitism will prove to the Jews that the era of the old Judaism has passed, and it’s time for a new Torah, that of Dery. We need suffering Jews. Why suffer in Paris? Come suffer with us here.

What kind of Jews are we? Have we not eyes, hands, senses, affections, passions? Do we not cry at movies? Does the immigration police officer not have a heart? Does the pilot who bombs Gaza not have children? Does the cry of a small child not pierce their hearts? Of course it does, and still we deport, bomb and imprison. How do we do this with such a big heart?

Judaism would not do this, but Israeli Judaism does. Israeliness is an insular religion that flaunts being “a people that stands alone” like a badge of honor. A Judaism that fights its children’s leaving, that annuls everyone else. Secular people are a nuisance, the Arabs are drugged cockroaches and the refugees are a cancer. It’s easier to trample on others when the refugee is cancer and the disabled person is an exploiter, the Arab inferior and the poor man lazy.

It’s not Jews who expel, oppress and abuse, it’s Israelis. Judaism is not to blame, Israeli Judaism is. We are the Israelis, and this is our Judaism.

Why “we?” We don’t expel or bomb; we demonstrate, protest and write. But it will not clear our conscience. What will we tell our children and grandchildren, that it wasn’t in our name? We are partners. So long as we obey undemocratic laws that were passed democratically, we are partners. It won’t help to turn our backs. It’s all in our name, and how.

Government quietly scraps plans to introduce softer approach to benefit sanctions

Image result for welfare sanctions

Last Octoberthe Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) agreed to trial a less aggressive approach to sanctions, which included the issuing of warnings instead of immediate benefit sanctions when a claimant breaches the conditions imposed on them for the first time. Iain Duncan Smith had proposed the idea in response to sustained criticism that sanctions are often applied unfairly, that they ultimately cause severe hardship, they are a barrier to employment rather than providing an incentive for work, and are costing more to administer than they actually save.

Last year, David Gauke admitted at the Conservative’s annual conference that the system of benefit sanctions often fails to work and can cause harm. He said he would to try to find a way to make the sanctions system less damaging to people, particularly those with mental health conditions. The announcement of the trial soon afterwards seemed to demonstrate the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) commitment to learning from feedback and using evidence to make positive changes.

However, the Department’s commitment to the trial is now being called into question, following Esther McVey’s appointment as Gauke’s successor.

Some of the widely criticised sanction decisions include people being sanctioned for missing jobcentre appointments because they are ill, or had to attend a job interview, or people sanctioned for not looking for work because they had already secured a job due to start in a week’s time. In one case, a man with heart problems was sanctioned because he had a heart attack during a disability benefits assessment and so failed to complete the assessment.

Welfare was originally designed to safeguard people experiencing hardship from absolute poverty. Now the Government uses sanctions to create hardship as a punishment for non-compliance with rigid conditionality criteria that doesn’t permit mitigation for someone experiencing a heart attack, or for someone being late for a meeting with a job coach.

Last March, the Work and Pensions Committee called for an independent inquiry into the way that sanctions operated, for the second time in a year. The committee report at the time had warned that the sanctions regime appeared to be “purely punitive”.

In August 2015, the DWP was caught making up quotes from supposed “benefit claimants” saying that sanctions had actually helped them. The Department later admitted the quotes were fabricated and withdrew the leaflet, claiming they were for “illustrative purposes only”.

This deceit came to light because of a response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from Welfare Weekly which led the DWP to withdraw the leaflet featuring fictional case studies. It’s particularly damning that the Department can present no real cases studies that support the use of sanctions and their claims that they are effective and necessary.

Sanctioning a claimant who is single and without dependants can often have implications for other family members, causing hardship for others – for example younger siblings of JSA claimants who are living in their parental home. It is under-acknowledged that when a claimant is sanctioned, the loss of benefits may affect low-income families rather than individuals alone.

It was hoped that the change proposed by Duncan Smith and Gauke would soften some of the severe hardship caused by sanctions. Although Conservative ministers have claimed that sanctions ensure that people are compliant in their commitment to look for work, in practice a very high proportion of benefit sanctions challenged at independent appeal are overturned, because they have been unfairly or unreasonably applied. In 2014 the DWP released figures which showed that 58 per cent of people seeking to overturn sanctions were successful – up from 20 per cent before 2010.

The introduction of less aggressive sanctions – which involves a system of warnings and a period of dialogue between claimant and the DWP to ascertain reasons for possible breaches to the claimant commitment, exploring possible mitigating circumstances – was also one of five recommendations made in last February’s report by the public accounts committee (PAC) on benefits sanctions, all of which have been accepted by ministers, according to a document sent by the Treasury to the committee earlier this month.

Concerns expressed in the report are that benefit sanctions affect a large number of people, leading to hardship and undermining efforts to find work. Around a quarter of people on Jobseeker’s Allowance between 2010 and 2015 had at least one sanction imposed on them. Suspending people’s benefit payments can lead to rent arrears and homelessness. The consequences of sanctions on people can be serious so they should be used “very carefully”. However, sanctions are imposed for “honest mistakes”. Citizens Advice (CAB) highlighted the need for flexibility for people who are trying their best.

Other concerns stated in the report are that sanctions are imposed inconsistently on claimants by different jobcentres and providers, the Department does not understand the wider effects of sanctions and the Department’s data systems are not good enough to provide routine understanding of what effect sanctions have on claimants’ employment prospects.  In other words, it’s a policy applied without adequate justification or evidence of its efficacy.

This echoes much of what the National Audit Office (NAO) said in their report on benefit sanctions in 2016. Their report, which has also been cited as a source by the PAC, said the DWP is not doing enough to find out how sanctions affect people on benefits, and concluded that it is likely that management focus and local work coach discretion have had a substantial influence on whether or not people are sanctioned.

The NAO report recommended that the DWP carries out a wide-ranging review of benefit sanctions, particularly as it introduces further changes to labour market support such as Universal Credit. The NAO found that the previous government increased the scope and severity of sanctions in 2012 and recognised that these changes would affect claimants’ behaviour in ways that were “difficult to predict.”

Benefits ensure that people are able to meet their basic needs. Welfare covers the costs of food, fuel and shelter. It’s a safeguard to prevent absolute poverty. That was its original purpose when it was introduced. It is difficult to imagine how removing the means that people have of meeting their basic survival needs can possibly motivate them to find work. Comprehensive historical research shows that when people cannot meet their basic biological needs, their pressing cognitive priority is simply survival. In other words, when people are hungry and facing destitution, addressing those fundamental needs becomes a significant barrier to addressing their psychosocial needs such as seeking employment.

Welfare rights advisers on the rightsnet online forum, and from Buckinghamshire Disability Service have voiced their concerns that the DWP has decided not to carry out the less aggressive sanctions warning trial after all, because of “competing priorities in the Parliamentary timetable”. This government decision was included on page 139 of the latest Treasury Minutes Progress Report, published last month, which describes progress on implementing those PAC recommendations that have been accepted by the government. There was no public announcement of the governments’ intentions.

The progress report is dated 25 January, nonetheless, a DWP spokeswoman has insisted that the decision to abandon the sanctions trial had been taken before the appointment of Esther McVey as the new work and pensions secretary on 8 January.

She said: “The decision not to undertake a trial was taken at the end of 2017 – before Esther McVey took up her position as secretary of state.

“As you have read, introducing the trial through legislative change cannot be secured within a reasonable timescale.

But we are keeping the spirit of the recommendation in mind in our thinking around future sanctions policy.

“To keep the sanctions system clear, fair and effective we keep the policies and processes under continuous review.”

The decision last October to trial handing out warnings prior to implementing sanctions was welcomed by many campaigners, disabled activists, academics and anti-austerity protesters.

It had come only weeks after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD) published their inquiry report, which found that the UK government’s welfare reforms “systematically” violate the rights of disabled persons..

The UN committee recommeded that the government reviewed “the conditionality and sanction regimes” linked to employment and support allowance (ESA), the out-of-work disability benefit, and “tackle the negative consequences on the mental health and situation” of disabled people.

Gauke had previously acknowledged that sanctions cause harm, and had voiced a commitment to amend the severity of welfare sanctions. The change in direction by the Government is thought by some campaigners to be directly linked to the return of Esther McVey as a Department for Work and Pensions minister.

A PAC spokesperson said: “The committee has not yet considered its course of action.”

However, sanctions are not compatible with our human rights framework or democracy: “A legal right to a basic income necessary to live with dignity is rooted in inalienable human rights. These rights should be properly enshrined in UK constitutional laws and systems of governance. Currently the poorest 10% of families (about 6 million people) live on £40 per week after tax. It is utterly unacceptable to further reduce this tiny income to zero for any reason. As it stands [welfare] conditionality has opened the door to injustice and cruelty“ (Dr Simon Duffy, Centre for Welfare Reform, 2010).



Benefit Sanctions Can’t Possibly ‘Incentivise’ People To Work – And Here’s Why

Benefit Sanctions Lead To Hunger, Debt And Destitution, Report Says

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

Collection of short videos and photos from Madaya seeing tunnels terrorists used to move safely underground.  


Seeing a SANA news update on the discovery of more terrorist tunnels in Syria reminded me to post my collection of short videos and photos from Madaya and al-Tall from June 2017, seeing tunnels terrorists used to move safely underground.
What corporate media told us about Madaya was that the Syrian government was starving civilians. Little to no mention of Ahrar al-Sham, al-Qaeda in Syria and other terrorist factions hoarding the food that entered via many food aid deliveries. In my article following my June 2017 visit to Madaya and al-Waer, I detailed this, as well as the terrorists’ prisons used to try civilians, seeing one their bomb factories–above which was a storage room with their hoarded aid–and the words of civilians saying that the sole reason they had starved was the terrorists’ presence and stealing of food.
MSM and their shills will speak of last doctors, last hospitals, Bana al-Abed (hoax) take 2, and more predictable and transparent war propaganda, but they won’t speak of the actions of their ‘rebels’, which include putting civilians in cages and using as human shields, and incessantly mortaring and shelling Damascus civilian areas, on a near-daily basis, nor of the civilian victims of these attacks, much as the corporate media obfuscated on the ~11,000 civilian victims of such attacks in Aleppo.
But those honestly following Syria know that the liberation of Ghouta will mean a return of peace to its residents and those of areas targeted by terrorists occupying the district.
Related videos on this public post.



Published on Feb 14, 2018, Eva K Bartlett

Elijah Magnier is the chief international correspondent at Al Rai and a political and terrorism/counterterrorism analyst, with over 32 years’ experience, including covering Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya & more.

Electoral Influence By The US In The Interests Of Democracy.

Democracy: Government by the people.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey: “US meddles in foreign elections – but only for a very good cause”

“I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

Henri Kissinger — US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford

“We had bags of money that we delivered to selected politicians, to defray their political expenses, their campaign expenses, for posters, for pamphlets.”

CIA Officer F. Mark Wyatt

“If the Chinese indeed tried to influence the election here…   The United States is only getting a taste of its own medicine.”

Peter Kornbluh — Director of the National Security Archive

Former CIA Director Agency James Woolsey told Fox News political commentator Laura Anne Ingraham that the United States interferes in other countries elections, but “only for a very good cause” and always “in the interests of democracy.” Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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When asked by Laura Ingraham on her Fox News show on Friday night whether the U.S. interferes in other countries’ elections, former CIA Director James Woolsey said:

“Oh, probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over.”

“Well, only for a very good cause, in the interests of democracy.”

The Russia Embassy in London posted the following tweet in reply:

American lawmakers have expressed deep outrage that a foreign government would seek to influence a U.S. election.

The U.S. intelligence community reached the conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment charges that the Russian influence operation began in 2014.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Sergey Lavrov — the Foreign Minister of Russia — once more denied the charges as absurd.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Russia indeed tried to influence the election, many will argue that “The United States is only getting a taste of its own medicine,” as Peter Kornbluh — the Director of the National Security Archive — once said.

CIA Interference in Foreign Elections

Dov Levin, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie-Mellon University, found that the U.S. attempted to influence the elections of foreign countries as many as 81 times between 1946 and 2000.

Levin’s figures do not include military coups or regime change attempts following the election of a candidate the U.S. opposed, such as when the CIA helped overthrow Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, in 1953.

By Levin’s count, Russia attempted to interfere in other countries’ elections 36 times between the end of World War II and the end of the 20th century.

Even after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the U.S. continued its interventions abroad, including elections in Israel, former Czechoslovakia, and even Russia in 1996, Levin found.

Since 2000, the U.S. has attempted to sway elections in Ukraine, Kenya, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, among others.

Perhaps, American lawmakers should pay more attention to Justin Timberlake: “What Goes Around… Comes Around…   Comes all the way back around.”

CIA messing around with other nations elections?


Ex-CIA director: US meddles in foreign elections for a ‘very good cause’ — The Hill