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Dr. Binoy Kampmark, is a Journalist & News Reporter of World Events for Global News Aruba. He is a Senior Lecturer at the worlds top 1 % best world's colleges RMIT University in Australia the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, teaching within the Bachelor of Social Science (Legal and Dispute Studies) program. He  holds a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He also holds a Masters degree in history and honors degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Queensland.  His field of expertise as an academic are: Institution of war, diplomacy, international relations, 20th century history, terrorism, and international law. Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. 

The views of this news report are only of Dr Binoy Kampmark and not those of Global News Aruba and its associates or the Editor in Chief, read our disclaimer and contact the News Reporter Dr. Binoy Kampmark for any questions on any articles on his page herein.  Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: [email protected][email protected]


'Walkout in Hanoi: The Second Trump-Kim Summit'

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba

( image courtesy of 6ABC News )


“Sometimes you have to walk and this was one of those times.”  That was US President Donald Trump’s remark about something he has been doing a lot of lately: walking away from agreements or understandings in the hope of reaching the ultimate deal.  North Korea’s Kim Jong-un had been pressing his advantage in Hanoi with an attempt to convince Trump that sanctions needed to be eased. He ended up seeing the back of Trump after the appropriate handshakes.


The loose drama at such events is often hard to detach from the firmly rooted substance.  Trump’s relationship with the accurate is tenuous and free flowing, so we have little to go on.  Ahead of the meeting, the White House was busy sending various signals designed to baffle and confuse friend and foe alike.  The president was keen to praise the “special relationship” with Kim, the sort of term reserved for gatherings such as those between the UK and US.   

At the end of January, Stephen Biegun, designated special representative for North Korea in the US State Department, suggested that Pyongyang had made a commitment in pre-summit talks to eliminate uranium and plutonium enrichment facilities for a price.  His mood seemed to jar with the more bellicose stance taken by national security adviser and pro-bombing enthusiast John R. Bolton and fellow belligerent companion and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In carefully chosen words, the representative noted how,

“Chairman Kim qualified next steps on North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities upon the United States taking corresponding measures.” 

Biegun was optimistic at the time, drawing upon themes of flexibility and novelty.

“Neither leader is constrained by traditional expectations that might doom their teams to try the exact same approach as in the past, with no expectation of anything but the same failed outcome.”

The president’s preliminary chats over dinner with Kim prior to the formal summit did not give much away. 

“Great meetings and dinner tonight in Vietnam with Kim Jong Un of North Korea,” he tweeted.  “Very good dialogue. Resuming tomorrow!” 

Those aching for detail were left disappointed.  By breakfast the next day, things had cooled.  Cancellations of a working lunch followed.

The smoke has yet to clear, and may be hovering for some time yet.  But Trump was impressed by Kim’s offer to dismantle the enrichment facility at Yongbyon in its entirety (though it is clear that the totality of the DPRK’s capacity goes beyond it).  The discussion and proposed transaction list seemed somewhat threadbare; a total lift of sanctions for Yongbyon’s dismantling?  According to Trump,

“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”

The response was not long in coming.  Ri Yong-ho, North Korea’s foreign minister, suggested another version, somewhat more nuanced, less absolute: that only some sanctions be lifted in exchange for the permanent and complete dismantling of the main facility, verified by US experts.

“Given the current level of trust between North Korea and the United States, this was the maximum step for denuclearization we could offer.”

Prior to the summit, there was a transfixed terror that Trump was going to give all earthly concessions, and a good number of goods on gold platter, to the North Korean leader.  A bemused Trump simply deemed it “false reporting” on his “intentions with respect to North Korea.”  Both parties would “try very hard to work something out on Denuclearization & then making North Korea an Economic Powerhouse.” 

This was far from the case.  As Joel S. Wit and Jenny Town note with some accuracy, 

“It’s ironic that while most pundits and the media kept up a steady drumbeat that he was going to give away the store, he did just the opposite, holding out for a better deal.”

The issues at stake here on the Korean Peninsula seem monumental, but when seen together, constitute the pieces of a jigsaw.  Any comprehensive talks will have to address these, and this summit was evidently not going to do that.  To only see one or two pieces in isolation (abductees, for instance, or the issue of exclusive, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation) is to ignore the numbers of steps in the entire affair. 

Trust needs to be restored, a peace treaty neutering the war status of the Peninsula signed, undertakings against the use of force and hostile intent made with heft, and ultimately, an understanding that the parties at the negotiating table aren’t going to bump you off.  Pyongyang is being asked to relinquish its highest grade insurance in the face of a superpower which has shown more than an unhealthy tendency to inflict regime changes with catastrophic consequences.  Brinkmanship and theories of managed lunacy in the diplomatic realm will only get you to a point. 

With Trump being advised by the likes of the gun slinging Bolton (known in North Korean circles as the paternal inspiration for Pyongyang’s nuclear program) and Kim ever mindful about the vulnerabilities of his regime, more walkouts are bound to happen.  As Jeffrey Lewis rightly noted, the old guard (Bolton and company) represent “the cold wind” and “pretty much the rest of the government bureaucracy.”  The warmth of reform in securing peace on the Korean Peninsula, spurred on by the fanning of South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and the likes of Biegun, act as counters.  This walkout, at least, means that each can live to talk another day, though it will keep their respective public relations teams busy. 

As matters stand, there will be no resumption of North Korean ballistic and nuclear testing, and a promise for more negotiations.  The chatter will continue, and channels will remain open.  As for Trump itself,

“This wasn’t a walkaway like you get up and walk out.  No, this was very friendly. We shook hands.”   

Glorious Bitchery: Yorgos Lanthimos and “The Favourite”

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba


Yorgos Lanthimos likes his subjects deranged and troubled.  He likes seeing queens in the slap, servants in the lurch, and women in mud.  But that is just one side. The Favourite is a film of exotic, exorbitant bitchery, filmed with aesthetic relish.  It has been dubbed by Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian “punk Restoration romp”.  It is women seeking to main, kill and attain positions at court.  And he, for the most part, pulls it off.  The subject matter was promising, given the lack of gravitas Queen Anne exerts in the history books.  The result is a portrait of women in power, in a fashion.

The film purports to be based on Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and her competitions with fallen cousin Abigail, Baroness Masham (Emma Stone), for the queen’s favours.  The battle, shaped by the fine script from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, is untidy, baroque, poisonous and desperate, with Queen Anne played to supreme dysfunction by Olivia Colman. (It was a role that netted an Academy Award.)  This monarch is broken by her position and life, discouraged from thinking with independence, manipulated by courtiers, even bullied, by members of Parliament.  Her sense of helplessness is further accentuated by her need to be ferried about in a sedan chair or wheelchair.  When she does walk, she does so with pain and difficulty.

The court, with its functions of power, its hypocrisies of appearance, is grotesque, as it always has been.  Queen Anne herself layers it with her own contributions.  She has seventeen rabbits, each a reminder of her lost children, a picture of antenatal grief.  She has a fondness for racing lobsters and ducks.  She is perennially vulnerable.  She throws tantrums.  She overeats in depressive fits. 

What is delightful is the merciless portrayal of bitch land.  Lady Marlborough is delicious and atrocious, a true bitch of valour for queen but mostly country, married to Lord Marlborough, hero against the French during the War of the Spanish Succession. She comes across as determined to keep her monarch happy in the bedroom but compliant in acceding to higher taxation, favouring her preferred political faction, the Whigs.  After Anne’s accession to the throne in 1702, the Duchess managed to occupy virtually every grand post in the household: Groom of the Stole, Mistress of the Robes, Keeper of the Privy Purse and Ranger of the Windsor Great Park.  As Lady of the Bedchamber, she also had charge of what was fed to the queen, and all that it entailed.

She has ensured, at least till cousin Abigail’s arrival, that this universe will be kept in place, the monarch satiated and babied when required.  The Duchess will fuck the Queen (the queerness of sexual manipulation converges with that of the mother-child) but also do what is right by her country.

Necessarily cold when required, Weisz’s Lady Marlborough, a girlhood friend of Anne, is suitably exercised in her role before the prying and mutilating advances of Abigail.  Abigail woos the queen with her knowledge of medicinal herbs, assisting her in one of her attacks of gout.  It is a short way from herbal wooing to the bed chamber and becoming Keeper of the Privy Purse.  Sarah, in turn, resorts to blackmail over years of intimate correspondence. Favourites can be displaced.

There are scenes that are worth remembering.  The optical tightness of the shots and distortive efforts of cinematographer Robbie Ryan leave their mark.  In the kitchen, the viewer is left somewhat disoriented; the spits rotating, the staff milling about, the food arranged.  The generous use of shots in corridors illuminated by candle light serves this broody effect as well, along which the queen is moved by her respective admirers.  Outside, there are waterlogged fields, country riding, mud and manure.

There are also acts of splitting violence and spontaneous exploitation in the scheming.  Statements abound, such as, “Would you like a bite of my new maid before you leave?”  This was also an age of abuse, rape and viciousness.  Blood flows readily – the shooting, of which the Duchess is an expert, serves as a good meeting point for teacher Sarah and future usurping pupil, Abigail.

Amidst the court intrigue come arrangements.  Abigail is asked by the Tory leader of the opposition, Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult) to conduct surveillance and gain access to the queen when he can.  She complies, if only because her self-interest converges with his.  She otherwise makes it clear that she is on the lookout for only one person. 

How rich is Lanthimos in depicting this, refusing to lecture, or hector his audience; what interests are the struggles of three women in power.  Watch this, and be enthralled.  As for the fact checking monsters who come out in droves at the release of any period drama, hoping to spot historical howlers and cross-check the history books, Lanthimos has the ideal answer.  “Some of the things in the film,” he says with contentment, “are accurate and a lot aren’t.” 


Militarised Conservation: “Paramilitary Rangers” and the World Wild Life Fund (WWF)

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba


Think charity, think vulnerability and its endless well of opportunistic exploitation.  Over the years, international charity organisations have been found with employees keen to take advantage of their station.  That advantage has been sexual, financial and, in the case of allegations being made about the World Wild Life Fund for Nature, in the nature of inflicting torture on those accused of poaching.

BuzzFeed, via reporters Tom Warren and Katie J.M. Baker, began the fuss with an investigative reportclaiming instances of torture and gross violence on the part of rangers assisted by the charity to combat poaching.  It starts with a description of a dying man’s last days, one Shikharam Chaudhary, a farmer who was brutally beaten and tortured by forest rangers patrolling Chitwan National Park in Nepal.  Shikharam, it seems, had been singled out for burying a rhinoceros horn in his backyard.  The horn proved elusive, but not the unfortunate farmer, who was detained in prison. After nine days, he was dead.

Three park officials including the chief warden were subsequently charged with murder.  WWF found itself in a spot, given its long standing role in sponsoring operations by the Chitwan forest rangers.  As the BuzzFeed report goes on to note,

“WWF’s staff on the ground in Nepal leaped into action – not to demand justice, but to lobby for the charges to disappear. When the Nepalese government dropped the case months later, the charity declared its victory in the fight against poaching. Then WWF Nepal continued to work closely with the rangers and fund the park as if nothing had happened.”

The report does not hold back, insisting that the alleged murder of the unfortunate Shikharam in 2006 was no aberration. 

“It was part of a pattern that persists to this day.  In national parks across Asia and Africa, the beloved non-profit with the cuddly panda logo funds, equips, and works directly with paramilitary forces that have been accused of beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and murdering scores of people.”

The poach wars are a savage business, throwing up confected images of heroes and villains.  They do not merely involve the actions of protecting animals, but military-styled engagements where fatalities are not uncommon.  Anti-poaching has become a mission heralded by the romantically inclined as indispensable, its agents to be celebrated.  Desperate local conditions are conveniently scrubbed out in any descriptions: there are only the noble rangers battling animal murderers. 

The Akashinga, for instance, are an anti-poaching enterprise of 39 women operating in Zimbabwe who featured with high praise in a report from the ABC in October last year.  Who are the victims, apart from the animals they protect?  There is little doubt in the minds of the reporters: the women themselves, victims of assault, many single mothers from Nyamakate.  Laud them, respect their mission.

It is clear is that these women are feted warriors, armed and given appropriate training.  They “undergo military-style training in unarmed combat, camouflage and concealment, search and arrest, as well as leadership and conservation ethics.”  Their source of encouragement and support is Damien Mander, formerly a military sniper and founder of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.  

Mander’s own laundry list for being a “good anti-poaching ranger”, as featured in an interview to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre in 2015, is unvarnished: “A passion for nature, strong paramilitary base, and ability and willingness to work in hostile environments for extended periods of time as part of a team.”

The line between the mission of charity and its mutation into one of abuse is tooth fine.  In February 2018, The Times, assisted by information supplied by whistleblowers, sprung the lid off Oxfam GB workers in Haiti, suggesting that charity workers had received sexual favours for payment in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.  (Nothing like a crisis that breeds opportunity.)  It was duly revealed that the organisation had done its level best to conceal the fact.  The UK International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt’s statement to Parliament in February took most issue with the latter.  “In such circumstances we must be able to trust organisations not only to do all they can to prevent harm, but to report and follow up incidents of wrongdoing when they do occur.”

In the course of its conduct, Oxfam did not, according to Mordaunt, furnish the Charity Commission with a report on the incidents.  Nor did the donors receive one.  The prosecting authorities were also left in the dark on the subject.

Defences have been mounted by those working in the aid sector.  Mike Aaronson, writing in August last year, pleaded the case that aid organisations were being unduly singled out, the scape goats of moral outrage and privileged ethics. 

“Aid organisations carry a lot of risk, operating in chaotic and stressful environments where in trying to do good they can end up doing harm.” 

In condemning them, it was easy to ignore the fact that they had “done most to address the issue”.

The WWF situation, which has moved the matter into the dimension of animal protection and conservation, has hallmarks that are similarly problematic with the humanitarian sector in general.  And the reaction of the organisation has also been fairly typical, laden with weasel-worded aspirations. 

“At the heart of WWF’s work are places and people who live with them,” an organisation spokesman for WWF UK asserted in response to the allegations.  “Respect for human rights is at the core of our mission.”  There were “stringent policies” in place to safeguard “the rights and wellbeing of indigenous people and local communities in the places we work.”

Students of the broad field of humanitarian ventures suggest four instances where militarisation takes place.  Charities and relief organisations have become proxy extensions in armed conflict (consider Nicaragua and Afghanistan during the 1980s); creatures of embedment (the Red Cross in the World Wars); agents of “self-defence” – consider the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem in the twelfth century; and engaged in direct conflict (the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War).

The WWF case suggests a direct connection between the mission of a charitable organisation and its captivation by a dangerous militancy.  It has become a sponsor, and concealer, of vigilante action, obviously unabashed in cracking a few skulls in the name of shielding protected species.  Along came the networks of informants, surveillance and exploiting local issues.  No longer can this be regarded a matter of altruistic engagement in the name of animal conservation; it is a full-fledged sponsorship of a paramilitary operation with all the incidental nastiness such an effort entails.

*


British Labour’s Fractious Jaunt: The Politics of the Independent Group

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba


They could not hold on.  A small – and in the scheme of things negligible group – split from the British Labour mothership last month in an effort to salvage some self-described form of credibility.  In truth, they were the original sceptics of Jeremy Corbyn, the pro-New Labour grouping indifferent, even disbelieving, about the predations made by Tony Blair during his reign. Thinking that he would remain on both backbench and in museum, a historical relic of Labour values supposedly done away with under Blair’s rule of spinning and cunning, some even put Corbyn up for the Labour leadership. As things transpired, the tired technocrats, focus groupies, and a range of other associates of Tone’s worldview were given a rude shock with the ascendancy of Corbyn and Momentum.

The split, comprising Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger, Ann Coffey, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith and Gavin Shuker, should have happened sooner.  But times are good to make shallow decisions short on policy but noisy with neglected values.  Britain remains chaotically disposed and unruly; its Prime Minister remains desperate and hoping for an extension on negotiations regarding an exit from the European Union. Papers associated with the left of British politics were chewing over the decision to form a new grouping.  The resignations, claimed the Guardian, “are a mistake, but they are also a warning.  Like it or not, and a few on all wings have always disliked it, the Labour party is not a centralist party.”

Chris Leslie used the familiar themes of hostage taking that have come to symbolise the divide in Britain’s left.  “The Labour Party we joined, what we campaigned for and believed in is no longer today’s Labour Party… it has now been hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left.”  Labour had betrayed Europe and enabled, according to Leslie, the conditions for May’s Brexit to take place.   The “public” had been denied “a final say”.  (Matters of the public are relative: the public did have a say in 2016, but a narrative that is digging its way into the books is that it was illegitimate, stolen, an act of grand and cruel deception, ergo invalid.)

Berger felt “embarrassed” at her party, claiming that its values of equality had been “undermined and attacked.”  For her, the movement had mutated, fed by “a culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation.”

The Independent Group, as they have termed themselves, have also been swelled by three Tory recruits, a point which made the Financial Times exaggerate its significance (no less than “the fifth largest bloc in the House of Commons”!).  In a sense, they were merely peelers from the periphery, and fairly flip-floppy on that score.  All have now reached the conclusion that Brexit is a bad idea, wish for a second referendum to reverse the rot and loathe the Eurosceptic grouping within their party.  Amongst the three, though, are curious streaks of variation.  Sarah Wollaston had embraced the Eurosceptic stance but felt troubled by the claim from Brexit campaigners that leaving the EU would result in £350m being put into the National Health Service.  Heidi Allen, by way of contrast, was always a Remain supporter.

The language of departure, and of being left behind, is standard political fare.  Anna Soubry spoke about not leaving the Conservative Party; it was her party, rather, that had left her.  And so Tom Crewe reminds us in the London Review of Books of Joseph Chamberlain when he founded the Liberal Unionist Party in an act of defection in 1886: “We are liberals and unchanged, even though our leader has deserted us.”  The issue then for the Liberals was Home Rule for Ireland; the Liberal Unionists went on to get 77 MPs elected.

If Labour does succumb to a cathartic slaughter, these are things best done in collective drubbings.  There is not yet the feeling that this could be another “Gang of Four” moment that led to the formation of the SDP in the 1981, along with the gathering of 35 MPs into its ranks.

And Corbyn’s popularity remains undervalued and hard to estimate in any polling performance, even if he has not acted, in decisive terms, as a fully engaged and constructive opposition leader.  Like other political phenomena who have managed to burst through the conventional tedium of statistical prediction and dull projection, he not only survived but came through mightily at the last general election.  This served to show the sheer divisions present in British politics.  The Independent Group, as has been pointed out by Rod Liddle, cannot merely survive on anti-Corbyn mania.  At some point, it will have to come through with a few ideas to hang on a hook or two.

Anti-party parties eventually have that perennial habit of becoming another political movement that will either sink, float or be absorbed.  In this case, the obvious disruption to the Independent Group will come from Vince Cable’s Liberal Democrats, who are currently polling at 7 percent.  The question to ask in 2019, poses Crew, “is not whether a ‘centre’ exists but whether political circumstances have once again made ‘centrism’ a viable political strategy.”

The views of this news report are only of Dr Binoy Kampmark and not those of Global News Aruba and its associates or the Editor in Chief, read our disclaimer and contact the News Reporter Dr. Binoy Kampmark for any questions on any articles on his page herein. 

Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: [email protected][email protected]

America’s “Wilderness Areas” and “Animal Kingdoms”: The Showbiz of Wildlife Conservation

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba

The world of conservation has thrown up various voices of tenacity.  There was Aldo Leopold, a vital figure behind establishing the first wilderness area of the United States when he convinced the Forest Service to protect some five hundred thousand acres of New Mexico’s Gila National Forest.  There was Robert Marshall, the founder of The Wilderness Society.  There was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), a solidly aimed blow at the use of DDT and its environmental effects.

Then there are the savvy showmen, the exploiters few short of a scruple, and manipulators keen on lining pockets.  The animal kingdom, for such types, is entertainment, much in the way that the automobile world is there for a figure such as Jeremy Clarkson.  Awareness of the existence of animals – their importance, their relevance – is drummed up by means of display and provocation.  The more dangerous, in a sense, the better, for here, human kind can be shown to be jousting with crocodile, sting ray and lion.  Humankind can return to savage roots, confronting other species in gladiatorial encounters with film crew and an extensive promotion strategy.  This is bullfighting, with a conservationist twist. 

Such a figure was Steve Irwin, who made his way from Australia to the US, assisted by the solid contacts of his American wife Terri Raines, to build a name in the animal show business.  He became – and here the language is instructive – the self-styled Crocodile Hunter, audacious, brash and vulgar in his animal chase.  He established Australia Zoo, which sports a vision of being “the biggest and best wildlife conservation facility in the entire world, and” (note the entertainment gong here) “there is no other zoo like Australia zoo!”  The emphasis here is also vital: zoos vary in history in terms of what they have done for conservation, turning species as much into museum species for spectacle as any act of preservation.

Irwin teased out the voyeur in the spectator: would he be added to the crocodile’s next meal?  Or, even more daringly, would he add his baby to it?  Punters, take your pick, and wait for the outcome – you know you are in store for something grand and grisly.  

This assertion is not far-fetched; in 2004, the showman introduced his one-month old son in what was promoted as “Bob’s Croc Feeding Debut” to a crocodile at feeding time, real fun for the family. While apologising for his actions in the face of strident protest, Irwin’s rather particular view on animal advertising came through.  He had, for one, been professional in keeping “a safe working distance with that crocodile when that took place”.  He would also have been “a bad parent if I didn’t teach my children to be crocodile savvy because they live here – they live in crocodile territory.”  Responsible, indeed. 

His unique interpretation of safe working distance was again at play when he met his death on the Great Barrier Reef near Port Douglas in the course of making an instalment in September 2006 for the series Ocean’s Deadliest.  The ingredients were all there: identifying a species that could kill rather than anything cuddly or cute; chasing a choice sample of that species; recording, for camera, its behaviour, using whatever means necessary. In the process, the barb of a stingray pierced his heart.  Marine biologists and zoologists make it clear that “they are not aggressive, reacting only when stepped on or improperly handled.”  The throngs of grieving supporters were revealing about how sapping the cult of celebrity can be.  Critics were few and far between.

One was fellow Australian, herself a superstar of sorts, Germaine Greer.  Greer reproached Irwin for not having “a healthy respect for stingrays, which are actually commoner, and bigger, in southern waters than they are near Port Douglas.”  Irwin never seemed to comprehend the vital fact “that animals needs space.”  No habitat was sacred to Irwin’s celebrity predations; creatures “he brandished at the camera” were distressed.  Left in such vulnerable situations, their options were limited: succumb or strike.

Irwin, whose birthday was commemorated by Google in one their “doodles” on Friday, did enough to drive the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to a state of sheer consternation.  Google described the doodle as a celebration of “the legendary Australian wildlife advocate & TV personality whose bravery & passion opened the eyes of millions to the wonders of wildlife.” 

PETA begged to differ.  Irwin, the organisation tweeted, “was killed while harassing a ray; he dangled his baby while feeding a crocodile and wrestled wild animals who were minding their own business.” The doodle sent “a dangerous, fawning message Wild animals are entitled to be left alone in their natural habitats.”

The organisation also reiterated that Irwin was distinctly off message in terms of conservation.  “A real wildlife expert & someone who respects animals for the individuals they are leaves animals to their own business in their natural homes.”

This did not sit well in the Twattersphere and other social media outlets where outrage, not debate, characterise arguments.  Unsurprisingly, Irwin’s methods are irrelevant to the persona of challenging, sporting buffoon.  He entertained, and did so well; that was what counted.  His cheer squad ranged across the fields of entertainment and sport, fitting given the same fold he came from.  Baseball writer Dan Clark scolded PETA for not accepting the premise that Irwin had “saved the lives of countless of animals in his sanctuaries”, “loved animals and cared for them greatly.”  Love, and shoddy pedagogy, are clearly variable things.

Irwin had even won over certain wildlife conservationists such as Anneka Svenska, who claimed on BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat that he “has inspired the next generation of conservationists.”  Even she had to admit that “now it wouldn’t be looked at as so good to touch the animals like he used to.”

The problem with the Irwin legacy is how consequences are divorced from actions.  Certain actions, be it the business model of display and torment, and the encouragement his actions supposedly did for conservationists and the cause, are blurred.  

PETA might be called out for some its more shonky and inconsistent protests when it comes to the world of animal ethics, but in the scheme of things, their notes of protest were valid.  Irwin was, first and foremost, a man of business, a rumbling combination of yahoo, entrepreneur and Tarzan.  That business might well have involved an element of conservation, but this was ancillary to the man, to his yob image, a person made wealthy on the fate and good deal of harassing, to use PETA’s term, deadly members of the animal kingdom. For that, he paid the ultimate price.



The Chagos Islands Case, WikiLeaks and Justice

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba

Let this be a lesson to its detractors, doubters and stuff shirts of the secrecy establishment: the documents sourced from WikiLeaks can have tangible, having significant value for ideas and causes. They can advance matters of the curious; they can confirm instances of the outrageous and they can add to those fabulous claims that might change history.  While Julian Assange and the publishing organisation have been sniped at for being, at various instances, dangerous, unduly challenging and even less than significant (odd no?), its documentary legacy grows.

Nowhere has there been a tangible demonstration of this than the issue of litigation.  With gradual but relentless commitment, advocates and activists have been introducing documents obtained from WikiLeaks into court proceedings.  The judicial benches have not always been consistent on how best to cope with the adducing of such matters.  Would, for instance, a document obtained improperly still be relevant in proceedings?  Or should be excluded on grounds of confidentiality?  This state of affairs sits oddly with reality, but then again, the law is more often a fiction that resists reality.

The technological imperative here should be obvious.  Such documents lose their factual character of confidence the moment they appear on the website, however obtained.  Millions have the means to access it, even if, legally, the document might retain a certain character.  In this regard, state officials remain jealous of their secrets and their correspondence, keen to ensure that prying publics are kept in the necessary dark.

The case of removing the inhabitants of the Chagos Archipelago is a particularly ugly one, deeply mired in political considerations and diplomatic intrigue.  The islands, located some 1,800 kilometres from Mauritius, became part of an arrangement between Britain and the United States, the latter particularly keen to acquire a military base in the area, the former keen to be in the good books as Greek advisor to all-powerful Rome. 

In 1965, with cards firmly kept to their chests, British diplomats disaggregated the Chagos Islands from Mauritius.  Mauritius, in turn, received four million pounds for the favour.  This underhanded arrangement became the prelude for the removal of all 3,000 occupants from the Islands.  The UK Permanent Under-Secretary overseeing the sordid business was intent on being brutal, suggesting in 1966 with all the crudeness of an ethnic cleanser that Britain be “tough about this.  The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls who have not yet got a Committee (the Status of Women does not cover the rights of Birds).” 

The hand written note appended by D.A. Greenhill on August 24, 1966 on the same document was filled with lashings of vulgarity: “along with the birds go some few Tarzans or Men Fridays” who had to be moved on.  Once done, “we must be very tough and a submission is being done accordingly.”  What followed was a forced eviction of the inhabitants and the construction of the US base on Diego Garcia. 

This nastiness proved perennial.  The Chagossians took up their claims of return, including unacknowledged fishing rights, badgering the UK government repeatedly in their efforts.  One ploy adopted by the good officials in Her Majesty’s Government was its attempt to turn the area of claim, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, into a marine park or reserve. 

This is where WikiLeaks proved particularly valuable, with cables clearly outlining the improper and frustrating motive of UK officials.  This wily and heinous move, went one summary on May 15, 2009 of a discussion conducted by US political counsellor Richard Mills at the Foreign Office, would make it “difficult if not impossible, to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands if the entire Chagos Archipelago were a marine reserve.”  The assent of the United States would also be required – a mere formality. 

That cable in question became the subject of a legal claim by the Chagossians that wound its way through the British legal system, culminating in two approvals of the use of WikiLeaks cables, the first being the Court of Appeal in 2014, and the second being before the UK Supreme Court in 2018. The latter duly acknowledged that the principle of inviolability would normally “make it impermissible to use such documents or copies in a domestic court of the host country” except in extraordinary circumstances or instances of a waiver by the mission state. In this case, the cable in question did not form part of the London Embassy archive, meaning it could be used in court proceedings.  Even more significantly, the very fact that it came into the public domain “even in circumstances where the document can be shown to have been wrongly extracted from the mission archive” destroyed its inviolability.

Such proceedings formed part of a momentum that saw the UK referred to the International Court of Justice via vote in the United Nations in 2017.  Many European states that might have voted for the UK decided to abstain, a result of Brexit fever.  The ICJ duly found that “the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago.”  Accordingly, the UK was “under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible.”

The UK Foreign Office has been snooty in response.  This island dot continues to irk, worry, and gets under the skin of the establishment. “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment.”  Besides, “The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.”  When in a tight corner, always aspire to universal relevance and importance.  In the meantime, the fortunes of the Chagossians, and international opinion, have turned.


Shifting the Centre of Gravity: Julian Assange Receives His Passport

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba

In March 2008, one Michael Horvath of the US Army Counterintelligence Center within the Cyber Intelligence Assessments Branch considered the risks posed by WikiLeaks in a 32 page document.  Created under the auspices of the Department of Defence’s Intelligence Analysis Program.  The overview suggests, importantly, the interest shown in Assange by the defence wing of the United States at the time it was starting to make more than a generous ripple across the pond of information discourse.  Importantly, it suggests a direct interest of the military industrial complex in the activities of a guerrilla (read radical transparency) group.

The question it asks remains a source of ongoing interest and curiosity about the role played by WikiLeaks in the information wars: “Wikileas.org – An Online Reference to Foreign Intelligence Services, Insurgents, or Terrorist Groups?”  The answer is implicit in the text: its all of the above.

The document remains salient for the persistent strategy adopted against WikiLeaks and its chief publishing head throughout.  To avoid the integrity and credibility of the information, target the man, the organisation and the method.  Suggest he is wonky, a crank, generally wobbly on principles and ethics.  Suggest, as well, that his reputation is questionable, as are his moral inclinations.

The document highlights a feature that gained momentum in the 2016 US presidential elections: that WikiLeaks might serve “as an instrument of propaganda, and is a front organisation for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).” (The only difference in 2016 was that the CIA had fallen out of the orbit of paranoid reckoning, replaced by wily Russian operatives in the US imaginary of electoral manipulation.)  Not only had the organisation denied this, there was “no evidence” mustered “to support such assertions.”

The DoD document makes the objective clear; nothing else will suffice than a campaign ranging on various fronts to target WikiLeaks and its system of obtaining and releasing information.

“The identification, exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action against current and former insiders, leakers or whistleblowers could potentially damage or destroy the center of gravity and deter others considering similar actions from using the WikiLeaks.org Web site.”

The centre of gravity here is a critical point. It is one that is being persistently targeted, using Assange as convenient focal point of derangement, treachery and both.  The memo from Ecuadorean officials from October last year was a laundry list for model good behaviour, effectively the conditions of his continued tenancy in the embassy, along with using the internet.  Press outlets saw it as lunacy taking hold.  He had to refrain from “interfering in the internal affairs of other states” and activities “that could prejudice Ecuador’s good relations with other states.”  His pet cat also had to be looked after lest it be banished to an animal shelter. Sanitation was also noted.

Each granular detail of his fate garners international headlines in an ongoing battle of attrition.  Will he step out?  Will he seek medical treatment he urgently needs?  What will the local constabulary do?  Statements from the Metropolitan Police and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office suggest that he will be medically tended to but will also have to face the charge of violating his bail conditions when he entered the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012.  Once that door opens, the narrow horizon to a US prison cell becomes a realistic prospect, even if it is bound to be a protracted matter.

The recent turn has also excited commentary, though it is not the same mould as the cudgel like recommendations of the 2008 DoD memo.  The Australian dissident figure of the publishing world has been granted a passport by the Australian authorities.  This was something, if only to suggest that those in Canberra, previously keen to see Assange given the roughing over, had warmed somewhat.  In 2016, the then Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop had, at the very least, offered Assange what he was due: consular assistance.

While the grant took place either last September or October, confirmation of its existence was revealed in a Senate estimates hearing.  Australian Senator Rex Patrick of the Centre Alliance pressed officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade whether they had engaged their US counterparts about possible safe passage for Assange in the event he left the embassy.

DFAT’s chief legal officer James Larsen claimed to have no knowledge of any US proceedings against Assange (untutored, mute and ill-informed is Larsen, on this subject); that being so, there was nothing to discuss.  “We are not aware, on the Australian government’s side, of any legal proceedings initiated within, or by, the United States, concerning Assange.”  Larsen had no “record before me of what our engagement with the United States is specifically concerning Mr Assange.”

What mattered were the remarks made by first assistance secretary of the Consular and Crisis Management Division.

“Mr Assange,” Andrew Todd confirmed, “does have an Australian passport.”

Some lifting of the dark had taken place, suggesting, as one of legal advisers, Greg Barnes, has been saying for some time:

“The Australian government does have a role to play in the resolution of the Julian Assange case.”

A potential stumbling block for Assange in getting a passport was section 13 of the Australian Passports Act 2005.  Facing a “serious foreign offence” within that section’s meaning would have scotched the application.  “In order to progress your application,” DFAT informed him, “we require confirmation that section 13 is not enlivened by your circumstances.  To this end, we ask that you provide us with confirmation that section 13 no longer applies to you. Until this time, your passport application will remain on hold.”

There is an element of dark farce to this.  To show that he was eligible to receive a passport, he had to show that he did not face a serious foreign offence.  But pieced evidence revealed thus far demonstrates that a US prosecution assisted by a range of security agencies has busied themselves with making sure he does face such an offence. Thankfully, WikiLeaks has not been able, in their quest for a totally transparent record, to find any relevant corroborating indictment, a point that seemed to seep through the Senate estimates hearings.  In such cases, ignorance can remain, if not blissful, then useful.


The views of this news report are only of Dr Binoy Kampmark and not those of Global News Aruba and its associates or the Editor in Chief, read our disclaimer and contact the News Reporter Dr. Binoy Kampmark for any questions on any articles on his page herein. 

Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: [email protected][email protected]

Turning Screws: China’s Australian Coal Ban

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba


Overly reliant economies are dangerously fragile things.  As it takes two parties, often more, to play the game, the absence of interest, or its withdrawal by one, can spell doom. The Australian economy has been talked up – by Australian economists and those more inclined to look at policy through the wrong end of a drain pipe – as becoming more diverse and capable of withstanding shock.  In truth, it remains a commodity driven entity, vulnerable to the shocks of demand.  Think Australia, think of looting the earth.

Such carefree, plundering optimism lays bare the jarring fact that Australia remains obsessively and maddeningly committed to King Coal.  To coal, she pays tribute, runs errands and sponsors with conviction.  And it is coal that keeps the country tied to hungry markets which, for the moment, see use for it.  But such hunger is not indefinite.  India and China, traditional destinations for Australia’s less than innovative dig it and export it approach, have made it clear that their lust for coal is temporary.  The appetite is diminishing, despite occasional spikes. Renewables are peeking over the horizon, forming the briefing documents of energy and trade departments.

To this comes another problem.  Australia has been rather bullish of late towards the country that receives most of its earthly treasures. The People’s Republic of China has made it clear that it does not agree with the ambitiously aggressive line Canberra has taken on a range of fronts.  There is the issue of blocking Chinese influence in the Pacific, notably through the provision of alternative cyber infrastructure whilst excluding Huawei in bids to secure 5G telecommunications contracts.  There has been a campaign to combat purported Chinese influence on university campuses and claims of meddling in the political process.  (Meddling by the US, by way of contrast, remains gloriously free to continue.)

All of these acts have shown Beijing less Australia’s independence and sovereign will than its unqualified, traditional commitment to the United States, for which it remains undisputed, kowtowing deputy.  What Washington dictates, Canberra disposes. 

Which bring us to Australia’s lingering weakness.  According to Reuters, customs officers of the Dalian Port Group have stopped Australian coal imports, specifically coking coal central to steel making, and announced a plan to cap imports at $A12 million tonnes a year.  This comes after the noticeable increase in delays at Chinese ports handling both coking and thermal coal over the course of last year.  So far, Australia’s coal problem seems confined to the northern port.

The anti-panic campaign is already in full swing, which might also be read as an alternate universe in motion.  Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists that “people should be careful about leaping to conclusions about this.”  Local ports make decisions on local matters; no reason, then, to break into a sweat.  Treasurer Josh Frydenberg feels there is really nothing to see here.  “Our exports with China will continue to be strong as they have been in the past.”  Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has said, banally enough, that China was “a valued partner of Australia and we trust that our free trade agreement commitments to each other will continue to be honoured.”  Hiccups have previously happened in the relationship (“occasional interruptions to the smooth flow”), but this was nothing compared to the common goal: exporting and using more coal.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe prefers to focus on the amount of coal being stopped at Dalian as negligible and, in any case, transferrable. (The Dalian port receives some 1.8 percent of Australian coal exports.) 

“The amount of coal that is being blocked is the equivalent of two months’ exports from Australia to China.  It’s entire possible that if it cannot enter the Chinese market then it can go to other markets.”

The justification from the Chinese Foreign Ministry remains vague, pegged to the language of regulation and quality reassurance.  Spokesman Geng Shuang relies heavily on the issue of compliance. 

“China’s customs assesses the safety and quality of imported coal, analyses possible risks, and conducts corresponding examination and inspection compliant with laws and regulations.” In so doing, China “can better safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese importers and protect the environment.”

Geng was also in a playful mood.  Did the reporter ask him on “coal” or “cow”?  The issue is less amusing for Australian exporters, who have received special attention distinct from their Russian and Indonesian counterparts. This is despite the claim that there is a glut in coal, necessitating a temporary halt for domestic reasons. 

The spokesman was also firm: China-Australia relations had not been impaired. 

“As we have stressed many times before, a sound and stable China-Australia relationship serves the common interests of both countries and peoples.” 

The subtext is hard to ignore: Canberra will need to be taught periodic lessons, bullied when necessary, and reminded about being too overzealous.



The Most Selfish of Virtues: Alan Bennett’s “Lady in the Van”

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba


It does seem specific.  A middle class concern centred on a man and an elderly woman, a sort of surrogate, irritating mother type of indulgent wisdom and uncertain past, seemingly irritating yet, on some level, fulfilling.  Alan Bennett writes prose that moves gracefully, a sort of tender glaze of tea, cocoa and the fire place.  But it was Bennett who brought, into being, this figure who provided haunting teases, provocations and awareness.

It’s all about a van, this un-priestly domain of living, and its indomitable occupant, a certain Miss Mary (or Margaret?) Shepherd, who proffers manners godly but prefers, often, a distinctly profane form of living.  The van itself, poor condition, appears in Gloucester Crescent, north London.  Movement followed, a kind of inexorable progression.  Eventually, number 23 – Bennett’s residence – became a home.  She would stay for fifteen years. 

These are fifteen years that waver between emotions, though one is consistent. “One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation,” remembers Bennett.  During her stay, she is effusive about receiving “guidance from the Virgin Mary” and claims to being horrendously busy.  She sells tracts.  “I sell them, but so far as authorship is concerned I’ll say they are anonymous and that’s as far as I am prepared to go.”

She becomes a feature of Gloucester Crescent.  For some, its pity – and these are given short shrift; then there the youths keen to get a look.  Even police on the beat, as Bennett recalls, were happy to have their little stab of curiosity to “enliven a dull hour of their beat.”  She becomes an object of village persecution, from stall holders to children.  Drunks smash the windows of the van.  The vehicle, at stages, is given a violent rocking.  But she maintains, throughout, a degree of equanimity.  She even has time to tell Bennett that she witnessed “a ginger feller I saw in Parkway in company with Mr Khrushchev. Has he disappeared recently?”

Then there is the sanitation – or its conspicuous lack of.  Concealment and blame are the order of the day: Yardley dusting power is used generously; and, when in doubt, some other cause is identified as being responsible for the “Susie Wong”.

For Bennett, charity is not unadulterated.  This, perhaps, is the lingering lesson of this encounter.  He quotes, at the start of his account of Miss S in Writing Home, William Hazlitt’s observations in “On the Knowledge of Character” (1822): “Good nature, or what is often considered as such, is the most selfish of all virtues: it is nine times out of ten mere indolence of disposition.”

There is guilt, self-interest and anger in such a disposition.  The repeated attacks and attention eventually see Miss S find her way into a form of tenancy in the garden, security that provides scant comfort for Bennett.  He wanted “a quiet life as much as, and possibly more than, she did.  In the garden she was at least out of harm’s way.”

When Miss S finally moves off the mortal coil, having bathed, given a set of fresh clothes and clean sheets, Bennett finds himself searching her van searching for clues as to what made her live the way she did.  He was surprised to find it all rather ordinary, in fact, as ordinary as the lives of others, particularly his own mother: kitchen utensils, soap, talcum powder, hoarded toilet rolls. “The more I laboured, the less peculiar the van seemed – its proprieties and aspirations no different from those with which I had been brought up.” And there are the savings, some £6,000. 

Two remarkable women have entered this figure (figuratively speaking), attempting to capture the essence of that Lady in the Van.  Maggie Smith, who played Miss S in the 1999 stage production and then in the film version in 2015, is inimitable, hard bitten, and impossible.  Miriam Margolyes adds a tender dimension to the Melbourne stage, using her entire frame to convey presence.  She does not match the original description of Miss S by Bennett in any convincing sense: “Nearly six foot, she was a commanding figure” though the outfit is correct enough: “greasy raincoat, orange skirt, Ben Hogan golfing cap and carpet slippers.”  Height is compensated for in terms of sheer billowing character. 

The display at the Melbourne Theatre Company’s production falters a tad with the two figures playing Bennett – such bifurcations can be a tricky business.  One Alan is bad enough, but we are left with two, voices teasing, adjusting, cajoling each other like lingering lovers.  It is clear that somewhere there, a demon is meant to push the angel over, though neither is entirely demonic nor angelic.

Critics, worried about their brief, will attempt to read things into matters that do not exist.  Smith is the naturally hardened one, immune to brittle senses yet aware; and Margolyes has a certain heavenly struck sense about her, touching amidst the faecal spread and confessions.  Both figures may well have played an inscrutable character disposed to a certain urine smell and the incontinence pad but both supply the necessary boldness for the role in contrast to the timid Bennett, who lives, in Camus’s words, “slightly the opposite of expressing.”  Fittingly, they stretch the bounds of charity, showing, as it were, its selfish virtuousness.



The Candidate Rides Again: The Bernie Sanders Re-Run

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba


He could not stay away, and few could blame him.  Such political tendencies are nerves, conditions, diseases: eventually, we have to succumb to them.  Bernie Sanders has announced his intention to run for the White House in 2020.  It was as surprising as any statement about US inequality.  But what matters here is the crowd – and a large one at that – that Sanders has to contend with this time around.

The primary problem here is timing and that old nag of history.  Politics has, at its core, a clock.  Ticking, with an ancient menace, it reminds politicians that a time to challenge comes only once in a time, if not a life time.  It might resurface, supplying the failed candidate with a chance for redemption.  Generally, this is rare; politics and Lazarus do not tend to meet.

The short of it is this: Abiding by the tick-tock of political opportunity benefits the shrewd and calculating.  On evidence, Sanders is neither shrewd nor calculating.  Passionate, yes.  Buckets of character, yes.  On some level, conditionally principled, but otherwise green on the kill.  His capitulation to Hillary Clinton and her family’s strangling apparatus over the Democratic Party was significant in giving the brightest of green lights to Trump. 

The populist election should have been a battle of the populists, and for some time, Sanders’ 2016 campaign was marked by colours different from the standard Democratic line.  His movement into the Democratic universe proved to be a mistake, though it should never be forgotten that he has, at stages of his political life, hugged the outlines of that confused “centrist” party. 

His voting record show patches of poor, and, in some instances severely compromised judgment.  He favoured sending his state’s nuclear waste to the township of Sierra Blanca, Texas in 1998 (better out of Vermont than in). He favoured the sanctions regime against Iraq, one that did much to cause desperation in the populace and nothing to dislodge Saddam Hussein’s regime.  And, in a fit of humanitarianism-at-the-end-of-a-missile, he supported the attack on Serbia in 1999.  This was all the more galling given Sanders’ credentials as the great anti-war activist. 

The point was not missed by fifteen Vermonters who proceeded to occupy his office.  As Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn remind us,

“The last time any political rep from Vermont had an office occupied was when a group later known as the Winooski 44 sat in (Republican) Jim Jeffords’s office in 1984, protesting Reagan’s war in Central America.”

The befuddled statisticians, strategists and Mook-governed sociopaths in the Clinton camp attempted to absorb the threat posed by the Sandernistas, thereby extinguishing it while hoping to grab the voter base.  This did not happen, and a campaign was strangled.

Not all blame can be laid at Clinton’s feet and venal calculation. Sanders retreated, effectively abandoning his supporters.  That old hard-nosed Russian dissident Boris Kagarlisky had something to merit the following remark: in Philadelphia, as he surrendered to Clinton, the political figure from Vermont became “a pathetic old man who does not understand what is happening around him.” 

Sanders may well have aroused the electorate, but he had no desire to consummate his attraction.  Instead he spoke about the future.

“Together, we continue to fight to create a government that represents all of us, and not just the one percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

Now, Sanders does not come out as the fresh eccentric and dynamic alternative figure.  He is an establishment candidate whose message of “Medicare for all” and a Green New Deal has been, for the most part, accepted by the bevy of Democrats making the White House charge.  While it would be nonsense to suggest that the United States has suddenly become more attuned to social democratic principles, there is something to suggest greater receptiveness to them.    

Sanders himself acknowledges how his flush of ideas was received in 2016.

“Three years ago, during our 2016 campaign, when we brought forth our progressive agenda we were told that our ideas were ‘radical’, and ‘extreme’.  We were told that Medicare for All, a $15 an hour  minimum wage, free tuition at public colleges and universities, aggressively combating climate change, demanding that the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes, were all concepts that the American people would never accept.” 

After three years “millions of Americans” were now “standing up and fighting back”, in the process supporting “all of these policies”. 

Sanders, this time around, is playing on the unity message.  As an announcement of his candidacy goes,

“I’m running for president because, now for than ever, we need leadership that brings us together not divides us up.  Women and men, black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay and straight, young and old, native born and immigrant.  Now is the time for us to stand together.”

Against the whole gaggle of female candidates, and a spread of younger variants of himself who have made it clear that they want the laurels; and against other aged hopefuls, Sanders has a mountain to climb so high he may lose his breath.  But US politics, since 2016, is as interesting as any other theatre on the planet.  Best call off the bets and wait the next turn.

*

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The views of this news report are only of Dr Binoy Kampmark and not those of Global News Aruba and its associates or the Editor in Chief, read our disclaimer and contact the News Reporter Dr. Binoy Kampmark for any questions on any articles on his page herein. Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: [email protected][email protected]

'Size Matters: The Demise of Airbus A380'

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba


The aircraft business has always been a dear affair.  More than other forms of transport, it remains susceptible to oscillating costs (materials, fuel), ever at the mercy of the uncontrollable.  The Airbus A380 was meant to be a giant’s contribution to aviation.  In time, its makers came to the conclusion that the bird had already flown.

In the solemn words of outgoing Airbus chief executive Tom Enders, “We have no sustainable A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production, despite all our sales efforts with other airlines in recent years.”

As much as it was a “technical wonder” (an “outstanding engineering and industrial achievement” boasted Enders), the A380 simply did not have the momentum financially to carry the company.  To a large extent, this may have been embedded in the mission itself: to outperform, at quite literally all cost, the Boeing 747, the super mega jet dream born in 1988 when Airbus engineers went to work on designing an ultra-high-capacity-airliner (UHCA).  This would entail the guzzling addition of four jet engines, and an ongoing headache to the accountants. 

The consequences of this vain if admired project have been more than head-ache inducing.  Carriers who have gone for purchases of the divine beast have underperformed on the revenue side of things. Such large entities, to make matters viable, need orders covering up to four-fifths of the seats.  This leads to incentives to discount prices and seek promotions.  In the penny-pinching world of air travel, this is a tall order. 

And big it is.  The A380 was advertised for its breezy size and proportions – 73 metres in length, 80 metres wide, able to ferry 550 to 800 passengers, depending on type, on two complete decks.  Floor space was increased dramatically (some 49 percent), with additional seating being a mere 35 percent from the previous largest aircraft.  The comfort factor was enhanced: more passenger room, and less noise.  In a machine sense, it made many in the aeronautical side of things salivate: modern computerised systems; powerful Rolls-Royce reactors.  A truly big toy.

The transport routes favouring hubs (Dubai and Singapore) were originally the target of the A380.  Megacities would proliferate; traffic between them would necessitate bigger planes to cope with capacity issues.  Congestion would thereby be reduced.  But there were delays – some eighteen months – before it finally made its maiden flight on April 7, 2005. 

Then came a change in strategy from hub destinations.  A diversification of travel routes took place.  Appropriate capacity for destinations was simply not there.  The market has also grown at a lesser rate.  Projections, in other words, have not been met.

In 2015, it was already clear that the A380 was more than struggling. No new orders were taken. The order book then stood at 317 units, with Airbus needing to make it to 420 to break even. (The original projection had been 270, but delays and currency fluctuations will do that sort of thing.)

The arrival of fuel-efficient, longer-haul flights have also become something of a curse.  The Boeing 787 and Airbus’ own A350 have done more than simply pique interest.  A move in their direction signals a greater interest in the More Electric Aircraft generation.  Qantas Airways Ltd. is seen as an example: initially enthusiastic about Emirates, having made an alliance in 2013, it has moved with greater enthusiasm towards Cathay, courtesy of the 787. This means that the traditional hub destinations like Dubai can be by-passed.

The largest purchaser of the A380 – Emirates – has done its best to keep orders coming in for the company.  (In of itself, this suggests dangers to both purchaser and supplier.)  Gross orders as of January 31, 2019 show Emirates coming in at a staggering 162, with Singapore Airlines a very distant second at 24. Since 2008, it has made the airline its centrepiece.  Emirates’ tastes are also fairly unique, being the only major airline preferring large, twin-aisle, wide-bodied jets.

But the airline is looking elsewhere, downsizing to the smaller A350 or A330.  The numbers are eye popping: of the 56 aircraft still on the order line, 53 are set for Emirates; but Dubai’s national carrier was contemplating switching 20 orders of the Airbus SE 380.  Confirmation that it would cut orders for the A380 by 39 was enough of a call for Enders.

There are, however, still a few tricks available in the A380 bag.  Emirates, for one, managed to do the unusual thing of having increasing numbers of passengers while reducing departures.  It won’t and has not saved the continued production of the A380, but that large creature of avionics is set to be around for a time before a full, unpensioned retirement.  In Enders’ romantic reflection, the A380 would be roaming “the skies for many years to come”.


'Refugees as Business'

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba


Despair breeds profits; disturbances supply opportunity.  The genius and venal nature of human nature will always see a possible buck from an impossibly cruel situation.  Globally, a study should be done about how many billions goes into the supply of contracts, tenders and sweetheart deals to companies with a hand in the business of stopping and keeping refugees. They are the modern pimps of a distinctly modern market, and it pays to have a series of companies doing the work for governments.

All too often, the traffickers are saddled with the lion’s share of the blame.  Ignored are the equally vicious exploiters who find form in privately contracted companies.  In some ways, they have even less of a case to make: the right to seek asylum is recognised by the UN Convention on Refugees; the means to facilitate how that is done is a matter that has been seized upon by practitioners in the market.

In Europe, companies such as European Homecare and ORS Service have shown themselves indifferent and, in some cases, openly hostile, to the welfare of inmates and guards. The words of Marie Sallnäs of Stockholm University remain relevant in describing the entire basis of private sector providers when it comes to dealing with refugee arrivals: “cowboys who are only there because they want to make heaps of money.”

Australia storms ahead in these stakes.  Its officials pay the very people smugglers they condemn to take their trafficked goods elsewhere; it has fed a security complex that would make its Anglo forefathers proud (think the reaction of the British Empire to the Boers in South Africa at the end of the nineteenth century; think, dare it be said, concentration and concentrated camps).

The “can-do” country of innovative cruelty has been adding a host of ideas to the mix on how best to tackle those incorrigibles arriving by sea.  To that end, contracts have been awarded to various outfits with a good patina of near as to be criminality.  The contractor Paladin is the most recent upstart in this venture, having received, through a closed-tender process, a range of contracts worth $A423 million for 22 months of work.  It had been receiving $A17 million a month to provide security at three refugee centres located on Manus Island.

The company itself has a curious Australian address: 134 Nepean Esplanade, an inconspicuous beach shack on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.  It had only registered in Australia a month before winning a $A89 million contract to provide security services.  Importantly, Paladin is interested in the grand squeeze, ensuring that the cost for each detainee, minus the actual comfort they receive, exceeds a daily rate twice that for a five-star hotel suite with Sydney Harbour views. In that sense, the Australian tax payer and detainee are given a right royal rogering.

The company itself has done its best to step into the shade.  Founder Craig Thrupp has had a good time of it failing in delivering his contracts, accumulating a set of bad debts in Asia.  (Paladin had been previously known as High Risk Security Asia Pacific, a name oddly appropriate for anybody wishing to do deals with it.)  It has been reported to be running an office out of a beach shack on Kangaroo Island, a classic imposture demonstrating that illegitimate asylum seekers are less relevant than legitimate crooks who know how to cook the books for ruthlessly indifferent governments.

It is an appropriate reminder of another fiasco that took place in the United Kingdom at the end of last year: a ferry contract awarded to a company with no boats.  More digging suggested favours and turning, rather conspicuously, a blind eye.  Paladin’s questionable competence in providing security services does not match the guile evident in moving assets offshore: some 12,000 shares in Paladin Aus finding their way from the Hong Kong holding to its Singapore registered Paladin Holdings Pte Ltd.  The security side of the venture is evidently less relevant than the inventive tinkering of its accountants.

The Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, has retreated.

“I’ve seen this criticism before in relation to closed contracts,” he feebly explained to Sky News.  “There are very few people who can deliver services in the middle of nowhere on an island that is so remote.”

Stunning revelation.  But it was one designed to avoid cabinet responsibility, a concept long lost in Australia’s variant of the Westminster system.  According to Dutton, the ones to be taken to task here were the “secretary of the department ultimately” or some delegated figure “within the department.” Smell the confession.

Money is to be made, but Dutton is not claiming to be part of the scheme. His department, however, was not taking any chances.  Anyone curious enough to investigate the issue using Australia’s stunted Freedom of Information laws will find it interesting that the initial response from the Department of Home Affairs precluded FOI.  That decision was reversed, but Paladin did not need to comply with standard procurement rule set out by Commonwealth guidelines.  Backdoor easing comes to mind.

The Minister for Home Affairs begs to differ.  Nothing to see here, Dutton suggests; move on.  As Bernard Keane, writing for Crikey, explains, there is much to see and more besides, so much so that a Royal Commission into the affairs of the Home Department might be necessary.  And that would just be the start.


'Means of Control: Russia’s Attempt to Hive Off the Internet'

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba

(image courtesy Imparcial Mexico)


Such measures were always going to come on the heels, and heavily so, of the utopians.  Where there is Internet Utopia, Dystopia follows with dedicated cynicism.  Where there are untrammelled means of searching, there will be efforts to erect signposts, usually of a warning nature.  Like the librarian ever worried of her reader finding something inappropriate, material will be kept in a different section of the library, forever filed, concealed and kept from overly curious eyes.  The library, however, will never close. 

Like many of President Vladimir Putin’s projects, tackling the internet has all the elements of the improbable, the boastful and the grand quixotic.  It also has a certain Icarus, waxwing quality to it, and may end up melting when approaching its sunny objective.  Be that as it may, the Russian Internet Isolation Bill is simply another one for the books, another project in authority’s efforts to control, in the name of security, the way the world wide web works.  It seeks to impose further restrictions on traffic and data, routing it through state-controlled points to be registered with Roskomnadzor, the federal communications regulator. To this will be added a national Domain Name System, enabling the internet to function even if severed from foreign links.    

The obvious and sensible point here shared by all states with an interest in using, exploiting and controlling the internet is how best to preserve an information web function that is sovereign and resistant to attack.  The Russian suggestion here is somewhat bolder than others: to hive off and keep RuNet (the state’s internet infrastructure) safe from any cyber mauling. This would effectively link the Russian segment to a switch.  Even after an attack, the internet within the country might still function in its provision of online services, minimising internal chaos.

Critics of this Russian venture would do well to note the differing tactics of states towards the internet.  The functionaries in Moscow have never made any secret of the fact that control is the order of the day.  Ditto China, which remains all focused on maintaining its Great Fire Wall, barrier to deemed ills.  Other countries supposedly interested in freer flowing tributaries of information have the same suspicions and paranoias; they merely choose to manifest them in less heavy handed and, in some instances, underhanded ways. 

As a June 2018 piece from those sinister chaps at Stratfor observes with some accuracy, all governments wish to exploit the internet.  They are junkies for control.  “Administrations even in liberal countries such as the United States have attempted to direct online discourse and to sway public opinion toward some outlets and away from others.”  Ever mindful of future solicitations for its services, Stratfor insists that four countries “merit special attention for their efforts to break Western hegemony on the internet and, by extension, to challenge the free internet model.”  Delightfully slanted in selecting Iran, China, Turkey and Russia, the assessment ignores the obvious point: the free internet model is tat and show.

In the United States, where freedom of speech remains, at least in some form, relevant, the National Security Agency remains dedicated, not so much to controlling the net but conducting surveillance of it.  If you can’t beat it, spy on it.  The point was made with amply devastating effect by whistleblower Edward Snowden: “I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email.”

The lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, allowed passage of the bill on February 12 as the first of three votes.  Amendments are bound to follow, but the work is formidable.  A working group of industry figures established to implement the directives of the ensuing legislation insists that various tests and simulations will have to be done by telecommunication companies to test the effect of disconnection.  Its head, Natalya Kaspersky, might well have praised the goals of the legislation, but she was frank enough about the draft law to suggest that implementing it “raises many questions”.

Critics are, rightly, concerned that such bills have a rather nasty effect on how the Russian segment of the internet will work, which is precisely the point.  The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs is suspicious that this is a grand act of self-harm.  The Communists are sceptical.  Vladimir Zhirinovksy of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia will not back it. 

The issues of cost and capabilities in creating the necessary equipment to implement such a regime of strategic isolation have also niggled legislators.  As LDPR lawmaker Sergei Ivanov bitterly mused in debate,

“Russia does not produce any IT hardware, only cables, which some people better hang themselves on.” 

Strange things tend to be suggested in the name of preservation. 

The broader response by onlookers stretching from those in Freedomland to more autocratic outposts is to simply keep Russia in the cybernews.  Cyberwarfare and cyber activities have lifted Russia into the permanent news cycle, and endless churning and turning in the domestic affairs of the United States and Europe.  Spot the hack, spot the Russian. Lose an election, blame it on the Kremlin’s hacking and electoral interference.  If only it were that simple.

For all the fears, coupled with the boast and bark from the Kremlin, this controlling effort, given the constant evolution of networks, may well collapse.  State regulators such as Roskomnadzor have already shown how they bungle when attempting to limit or stop various apps from working.  Last year’s effort to bar the encrypted communications app Telegram in 2018, for instance, disrupted associated IP addresses (15.8 million, in fact), precipitating havoc on Google and Amazon’s cloud-hosting platforms.  Networks will do that to you.

Notwithstanding that object lesson in what happens when swathes of the internet are blocked to target one undesirable gremlin, the utopians of government control are still in full voice. German Klimenko, who had a rough time of it as Putin’s grand wizard on internet affairs last year, may well be yet another name to add to that list, holding the belief that such complex interconnected systems can be protected by a merely “push” of a button without calamitous consequences.

In its ambition to control the internet, Russia is simply another state addicted to yet paranoid about the nature of the internet.  All states, by definition, want control over the highways, the lanes and the alleys of a system that has its origins in survivability in catastrophic conflict.  Paradoxically, it also has the means to inflict it.  That way, a state’s own infrastructure can be spared at some cost, allowing the censor of unwanted ideas to keep it company, rummaging through materials deemed appropriate for consumers.  That’s what you get for believing in utopia.


The views of this news report are only of Dr Binoy Kampmark and not those of Global News Aruba and its associates or the Editor in Chief, read our disclaimer and contact the News Reporter Dr. Binoy Kampmark for any questions on any articles on his page herein. Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: [email protected][email protected]

'Sharp Manias: Knife Crime in London'

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba

(image courtesy of RT News)

London. A bleak London assailed by daily news about Brexit negotiation, prospects of food shortages and higher prices in the event of a no-deal with the European Union, provides the perfect apocalyptic backdrop for headlines. The city is ailing; the residents are panicked; and the authorities are gloomy.    

Such environments are ideal for talk about emergencies.  One doing much filling on London airtime is that of knife crime.  Not that knife crime in of itself is unusual: for years, stabbing implements have made their way into broader law and order issues in the city’s policing scene, a good number featuring errant youth.  These have encouraged a wide array of myths masquerading as solid fact: London, the city of the “no-go” area; Londonistan, city of perpetual, spiralling crime.

In 2008, Britain’s public institutions – political and public – became darkly enraptured with knife crime afflicting inner city areas, with a heavy focus on London.  Stabbings were reported in lurid fashion; threats to urban safety were emphasised.  As Peter Squires noted in a fairly withering examination of the phenomenon in British Politics,

“The knife crime ‘epidemic’, as it came to be called, coincided with a series of youth justice policy measures being rolled out by the government, and significantly influenced them.”

Kevin Marsh of the BBC, writing at the same time, wondered how best a news organisation might report such crime figures.

“How much does tone and prominence distort the real picture?  Is some coverage self-fulfilling prophecy?  Does it spread fear and anxiety way beyond the rational?” 

Marsh would admit that being a victim of a knife crime was “very, very unlikely”; and that young men, in the main, did not carry knives; “most young people are not components of what some politicians are calling the ‘broken society’.”

For all that, Marsh found himself admitting that “it’s part of the purpose of our media to draw things to our attention, however crudely.”  The crude element remains the sticking point, resisting nuance, despite the hope that reporters might help “us citizens really think hard about possible solutions”.

Knife crime has become the bread and butter of lazy reportage, one hitched to the coattails of the broken society argument.  Describing a broken fence is easier fare than describing a mended one; solutions remain dull, academic matters.  The emergency narrative tends to emerge ahead each time; matters of social causes and complexity receive short shrift.  In 2017, Gary Younge turned his noise up at the panic merchants, and deemed teenage knife crime “a tabloid obsession, blamed on feral youth running riot in our cities.”  Such fears speaks to an obsession with decay and decline; youth go wrong if society does not go right.

In 2018, knife crime became a meme of terror.  The Express shouted with “London BLOODBATH” in a June headline, and subsequently began using it as a running title for any knife-related crime.  Political parties also capitalised on the atmosphere. In the east London borough of Havering, a local Conservative leaflet, buttering up electors ahead of the March local elections, promised mayhem.  “Mayor Khan and Corbyn’s men are desperate to grab power in our Town Hall, so get ready for… A London crimewave with even less police.”  In Lewisham East, UKIP candidate David Kurten added his bit in a by-election with a leaflet featuring the words “STOP THE KARNAGE” placed across a picture of a knife.

The dreary world of knife crime figures is erratic.  Between 2008 and 2014, offences involving knives or sharp instruments fell from 36,000 recorded offences to 25,000.  Then came an increase in 2015/6 – a nudge to 28,900.  The figures on death occasioned by knife crime are even more inscrutable, prompting Spiked Online to conclude that there was “no huge upsurge in knife violence because society overall is becoming less violent, and crime in general is falling.”  This was not to say that no concern should be felt: the issue is particular in London, and its effects disproportionate on young working-class black men. A possible explanation?  Not just indigence or exclusion, but nihilism and plain susceptibility.

Barely two months into this year, and the rounds of panic are in full swing.  As always, it’s the deceptive field of statistics dragged out to give a picture of clear, bolt-the-doors-and-hide doom.  It began with a spate of violent actions on New Year’s Eve, which saw four young men stabbed to death in London, prompting London Mayor Sadiq Khan to berate the government for its squeeze on youth services, policing and education.

Police statistics, pounced upon by the Evening Standard just in time for the evening commute on Monday, suggest that 41 percent across London’s boroughs involve those between the green years of 15 to 19.  Eight percent range from the even greener 10 to 14.

The Standard’s Martin Bentham sliced and spliced the announcement from the police with maximum, terrifying effect, all assisted by a picture perfect grim background of law enforcement officials at a crime scene on Caledonia road. 

“The new figures came as a Scotland Yard chief warned that attacks in the capital were also becoming ‘more ferocious’ as offenders were ‘more and more young’ tried to kill or injure by ‘getting up close and stabbing someone several times’.

Descriptions on police tactics follow, resembling those of urban battle plans keen on frustrating potential attacks.  Chief Superintendent Ade Adelekan, head of the Met’s Violent Crime Task Force is quoted as claiming that “some progress” is being made.  There was also a more frequent use of search and “other tactics” including “the deployment of ‘embedded’ plain clothes officers to work with uniformed counterparts” in acts of prevention.

As Younge rightly notes, such realities are “more complex – and we cannot save lives if we do not understand it.”  But understanding is a term absent in times of panic. These are times rich for exploitation.  With Brexit having become the great psychodrama, all else is ripe for distraction and manipulation.

'Meeting in Moscow: The Taliban Meets the Afghan Opposition'

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba


It had the semblance of a play lacking key actors.  They were deemed the difficult ones, and a decision was made to go through with the performance.  The Taliban were willing to talk with their adversaries, but they were keen on doing so with opposition politicians rather than the stick-in-the-mud types in government led by the current President Ashraf Ghani.  The assessment from The New York Times over the whole affair held at the President Hotel in Moscow was that the meeting could only be, at best, “a brainstorming session”.

The Taliban officials going to Moscow were a different crew, at least in terms of perceptions.  These were not the intemperate salad day youths of 1996, yanking cassettes from car stereos in Kandahar and ranting against all matters musical and female.  These were men of diplomacy, their guns holstered.  Gone were visions of seizing the whole of Afghanistan and establishing a broader theocratic state.  Doing so, by their admission, would not bring the state to peaceful order. Nor, and here there will be questions, did they seem unwilling to reconsider their position on broader notion of human rights.

The claims from the Taliban demonstrate their continued boldness and durability.  Enemies have come and gone, and they remain steadfast in imposing order.  Their brutality remains common and assertive, but they have become wiser, more discerning in their heavy-handedness.

“Peace is more difficult than war,” suggested Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, one of the members of the negotiating party to head to Moscow. 

The January draft agreement arising from a series of meetings with US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, suggests a commitment on the part of the US to withdraw its forces from the country with a Taliban promise to prevent Afghanistan being used as a staging ground for jihadists in future.

The Wednesday statement did little to add flesh to any potential bargain but did outline nine points.  Continued intra-Afghan talks would take place – the usual talks about talks; involving the cooperation of regional countries and others were “essential to determine lasting and nationwide peace in Afghanistan”. 

One aspiration stood out, making all aware about the traumatic divisions in a society that has resisted internally and externally imposed changes for generations.  Unity has been impossible; centralisation of the state an impracticable and unrealisable dream. 

“All parties agreed that the values such as respect for the principles of Islam in all parts of the system, the principle that Afghanistan is a common home to all Afghans, support to a powerful centralised government with all ethnicities having a role in it, protecting national sovereignty and promoting social justice, to keep Afghanistan neutral in all regional and international conflicts, protecting Afghanistan’s national and religious values and undertaking a unified and single policy.”

The other aspirations follow on from the first: the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghan soil; an affirmation of Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the principle of non-interference.  Then come promises to protect “social, economic, political and educational rights of the Afghan women in line with Islamic principles, protection of political and social rights of the entire people of Afghanistan and protection of freedom of speech in line with Islamic principles.”

Ghani’s spokesman Samim Arif expressed his sentiments on the gathering.

“On the issue of the peace process, we respect the views of all parts of society, including the politicians.  But the ownership and the leadership of the peace process is the authority of the Afghan government.”

Ghani was even blunter:

“With whom, what will they agree upon there?  Where is their executive power?  Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be paper (agreements) unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan’s national assembly and Afghanistan’s legal institutions.”

Ghani might as well have asked himself those same questions, his rule itself very much a paper based one, his claims to executive authority adventurous at best.

Notwithstanding the activities in Moscow, there will no doubt be a good number of Afghans, left confused by years of external intervention and promptings, concerned by this affirmation and legitimation of Taliban rule.  While the Moscow declaration insists on observing various rights previously anathema to Taliban theocracy, these are provisional within the remit of “Islamic principles”, which have been shown to be roughly interpreted when needed.  Schools may continue being threatened under any new regime; education for females face the prospects of being reined in (religious reasons apply, naturally), as they always tend to in areas of Taliban occupation.  Aired guarantees are simply that. 

The gathering in Moscow signalled one undeniable reality: the Taliban as a political force cannot be ignored.  Remarks made in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 by US-led forces that the Taliban would be blown to smithereens and wiped off the lunar face of the country have come to nought.  These fighters have lasted the distance; corrupt officials in Kabul, pampered and sponsored by foreign largesse, remain estranged and politically weak.  The Trump administration, prone to erratic spots of unilateral viciousness, is keen on easing part of the imperium’s commitments in the Middle East.  Eyes will be on Kabul to see how far this goes.


( image press tv )

'The Monitoring Game: China’s Artificial Intelligence Push'

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba


It’s all keen and mean on the artificial intelligence (AI) front in China, which is now vying with the United States as the top dog in the field.  US companies can still boast the big cheese operators, but China is making strides in other areas.  The UN World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Thursday report found that IBM had, with 8,920 patents in the field, the largest AI portfolio, followed by Microsoft with 5,930. China, however, was found dominant in 17 of 20 academic institutions involved in the business of patenting AI.

The scramble has been a bitter one.  The Trump administration has been inflicting various punitive measures through tariffs, accusing Beijing of being the lead thief in global intellectual property matters.  But it is also clear that China has done much to play the game.

“They are serious players in the field of intellectual property,” suggests WIPO Director-General Francis Gurry.

Machine learning is high up in this regard, as is deep learning, which saw a rise from a modest 118 patent applications in 2013 to a sprightly 2,399 in 2016.  All this is to the good on some level, but the ongoing issue that preoccupies those in the field is how best to tease out tendencies towards bias (racism, sexism and so forth) that find their way into machine-learning algorithms. Then comes that problem of technology in the broader service of ill, a point that never really goes away.

In other areas, China is making springing efforts.  Moving in the direction of developing an AI chip has not been missed, propelled by moves away from crypto mining. 

“It’s an incredibly difficult to do,” claims MIT Technology Review senior editor Will Knight.  “But the fact that you’ve got this big technological shift like it once in a sort of generation one means that it’s now possible, that the playing field is levelled a little bit.”

The nature of technological advancement often entails a moral and ethical lag.  Functionality comes before philosophy.  AI has been seen to be a fabulous toy-like thing, enticing and irresistible.  But what is good in one field is bound to be inimical in another.  The implications for this should be clear with the very idea of deep learning, which stresses the use of neural networks to make predictions on collected data.  Enter, then, those fields of natural language processing, facial recognition, translation, recommendation algorithms. 

Canadian computer scientist Yoshua Bengio, regarded as a storming pioneer in the field of deep learning along with Yann LeCun and Geoff Hinton, has felt his conscience prick in this regard. 

“This is the 1984 Big Brother scenario,” he observed in quotidian fashion in an interview.  “I think it’s becoming more and more scary.” 

Bengio seems a bit late to the commentary on this point, given the prevailing dangers posed by existing technologies in the private sector in the field of surveillance.  He could hardly have missed the fact that the tech company sector took the lead in matters of surveillance, leaving governments in the lurch on how best to get data on their citizens. Where there are the confessional solicitations of social media, monitoring officials have their work cut for them, a result which seems attempts to find backdoors and encourage compliance. 

The PRC has enthusiastically embraced elements of facial recognition in its quest to create a total surveillance society, one that sorts the desirable wheat from the undesirable chaff.  Anti-social behaviour is monitored.  The way services are used by citizens is also controlled through its National Credit Information Sharing Platform, which is fast becoming a model for other states to emulate.  Algorithmic tyranny has become a reality.

In January, George Soros, problematic as he has been in his financial meddling, noted how AI had supplied “instruments of control” which gave “an inherent advantage of totalitarian regimes over open societies.” (It was a pity that his speech was delivered before the failed managers and plunderers of the global economy at that holiday gathering known as the World Economic Forum in Davos.)  China had become “the wealthiest, strongest and most developed in machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

The AI frontier, in short, teems with prospects dire and fascinating.  But the way technology companies deal with data remain as important as those of the states that either sponsor them as champions or see them as collaborators on some level.  The point is, both are out, through their use of artificial intelligence, to get at the basic liberties of citizens even as they claim to be advancing their interests. For some, is the making of a buck; for others, it’s that old issue of control.


( image imparcial mexico )

Everybody Else’s Business: Coup Fever in Venezuela

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba

This could have been seen as audacious.  Instead, it had the smell of a not so well concealed sponsorship, the backing of a meaty foreign hand.  Venezuelan opposition leader and President of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó decided to take a quick step in the direction of the presidency.  His own counterfeit theory is simple: he is not being a usurper, so much as a panacea for the usurpation by the current president, Nicolás Maduro. 

“I swear to assume all the powers of the presidency to secure and end to the usurpation.” 

Such language is not that of a principled revolutionary figure so much as a hired hand intent on returning the country to conservative tedium.  The power doing that hiring has had friendly press outlets for Guaidó to express his opinions. On January 15, the president of the National Assembly was permitted space in The Washington Post to claim that his country was witnessing something without precedent. (Be wary of the message claiming the exceptional.)  “We have a government that has dismantled the state and kidnapped all institutions and manipulate them at will.” 

But even Guaidó had to explain, despite deeming Maduro an unrecognised figure, that Venezuela was not your vanilla, crackpot dictatorship wedded to the use of police powers.

“The regime may have ties to drug trafficking and guerrilla groups, but we also have a functioning, democratically elected parliament, the National Assembly.” 

Pity, then, that Guaidó needs so much outside help to make his call.

Maduro, understandably, fumed at the challenge. 

“We’ve had enough interventionism, here we have dignity damn it.”

But dignity is a hard matter to retain in broader geopolitical dramas.  Shame, compromise, and a general muddying of credibility tend to follow in such foreign incursions. 

The official Venezuelan president cannot be said to have been a friend of state institutions.  He is holding power under a form of sufferance.  His interpretation of the democratic mandate can be said to be sketchy at best, a feature not uncommon in the history of the Americas.  Authoritarianism breeds revolt, which breeds authoritarianism, a default revenge mechanism.  But Maduro has good reasons to sneer at his opponent and the warm embrace by US officials of the movement seeking to remove the Chávista. The memory of 2002 and the failure on the part of Washington to remove Hugo Chávez remains strong and, in some ways poisonous; the failed coup resulted in attempts on the part of Chávez to neutralise the power of his opponents, be they in the Supreme Court or the corporate media.  Mass round-ups and executions were resisted, but authoritarian counter measures were used.  Maduro has merely been one of Chávez’s keener students in that regard.

To this dysfunctional mess can be added the pervasive, consistent and persistent molestation of US foreign policy.  Gardens in Latin America have been trampled upon by US thuggery since the Republic was founded, and the tendency is instinctive and genetic.  That thuggery also shares a neurotic relationship with democracy, the product Washington finds hard to export while scuttling the democratic projects of others.  Hustlers and gamblers are not, by their dispositions, democratic: they believe in the doomed nature of change, and, to that end, identify the steady horse they would wish to back in any political race.  If that horse is sympathetic to capital interests, despite kicking in the teeth of liberal democracy, all the better.

While apoplectic hysteria governs the US security heavies from the Hill to the public talk circuit about Russian electoral interference, dispensation will always be given to meddling in the affairs of others. Trump, for one, has acknowledged Guaidó’s declaration as legitimising an interim presidency, one that will arm an opponent of Maduro and ensure a transition of loyalty to the United States.

“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law.”  (Richly inconsistent, is The Donald, on matters regarding freedom and the law.)

The international reaction has been illustrative of the broader issues at stake, making it far more than a matter of pure bullying from Washington.  Other countries have decided to make Venezuela their business, some by suggesting that it should not be the business of others.  Mexico remains an observer of the status quo.  China and Russia have taken the view that non-interference should be the policy while Turkey insists that Maduro dig in.  Cuba and Bolivia had defended the incumbent, but Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina have gone the whole hog in accepting Guaidó.

Liberal democratic states have shown themselves presumptuous enough to violate the UN Charter in directly stating their willingness to back Maduro’s opponents.  Even timelines have been advanced and demands issued that directly impair the Venezuelan political process. 

“Unless elections are announced within eight days,” suggested France’s unpopular President Emmanuel Macron, “we will be ready to recognise @jguaido as ‘President in charge’ of Venezuela in order to trigger a political process.” 

Given Macron’s own tarnished legitimacy as leader, harangued as a charlatan intent on market and labour reform, this came across as rich posturing. 

The same with Spanish Prime Minster Pedro Sanchez, yet another figure who has decided to make Venezuelan politics a matter of personal interest. 

“The government of Spain gives [President] Nicolas Maduro eight days to call free, transparent and democratic elections.  If that doesn’t happen, Spain will recognise Juan Guaidó as interim president in charge of calling these elections.” 

And to think that Sanchez can hardly be said to have a standing vote in those elections.

As in other countries, the fate of the incumbent government may be decided by the loyalty of the army.  The position, as stated by the country’s defence minister Vladimir Padrino, is that the armed forces do not, at this point, recognise the usurping antics of the opposition leader “imposed by shadowy interests… outside the law”.  Such stances, as history shows, change.

From this whole mess, one conclusion may be drawn.  Venezuela has ceased being a midget to be pushed over by the obese villain and its allies, though it still risks succumbing to the dictating wishes of others.  Maduro has severed relations with Washington, issuing marching orders to US diplomats. But the schismatic spectacle of two governments seeking to pull the strings has become an absurdly disruptive prospect.  Any state that has suggested this as feasible should be wary of what they wish for. 


Dr. Binoy Kampmark, is a Journalist & News Reporter of World Events for Global News Aruba. He is a Senior Lecturer at the worlds top 1 % best world's colleges RMIT University in Australia the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, teaching within the Bachelor of Social Science (Legal and Dispute Studies) program. He  holds a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He also holds a Masters degree in history and honors degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Queensland.  His field of expertise as an academic are: Institution of war, diplomacy, international relations, 20th century history, terrorism, and international law. DrBinoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: 

'Shutting Down in Trumpland'

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter for Aruba

Global News Aruba

It is a political idiosyncrasy that most political systems avoid: the state, as if suffering a stroke, operating at only partial capacity, incapable of paying certain employees and incapable of fronting certain services.  And so it is in the United States, which is facing the longest shut down in its history after the record set under the Clinton Presidency – 21 days in 1995 – was passed. 

Prior to the 1970s, the administration of the day could generally expend moneys without prior congressional approval.  Then came a shifting of power from the executive to Congress in a 1974 law, reorganising the budget process.  Scrapping duly followed between the arms of government, and the legal opinion of United States attorney general Benjamin R. Civiletti provided the kiss of dysfunction to politics in Washington.  Agencies could not, he surmised with high priest severity, continue to operate in the absence of congressional appropriations, bar those engaged in certain vital tasks, such as protecting life and property.

The reasons for the current squabble remain less significant than the process and consequences.  President Donald Trump wants his wall on the Mexico border; the Democrats remain cool to aspects of the idea.  The result has been a standoff and the drying up of pay checks to certain federal employees.

The term “shutdown” is deceptive.  The state itself, for the most part, is still functioning, hence that qualifying word “partial”.  The imperial mechanisms of waging war, procuring weapons of death and lining the pockets of the military industrial complex are exempt activities, the purview of the Department of Defence.  Many agencies have also been funded through the current fiscal year. 

But services out of the news, and on the margins, are the first to go into the world of pro-bono delivery, food pantries and food banks.  An estimate in terms of how many are going without pay runs into 800,000.

Then come those flexing arms of Homeland Security: the Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration.  Political decisions can have stinging irony, and for a president keen to press home his interest in border security and impervious walls, not paying members of these parts of the security apparatus seems a jarring, and risible, oversight.  TSA employees have found small ways to inflictvengeance: employees are calling in sick in large numbers; checkpoints have been closing.

The Coast Guard has had to be comforted by words rather than cash.  Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson described members as “brave” in their task of keeping “America’s waters safe” even as they assisted the navy in various “maritime theatres of war” in maintaining security and countering piracy.

The issue with shutdowns is problematic in several ways.  Trump’s loyal base may remain unmoved by his obstinate childishness, but the issue remains depleting to the entire practice of governance. When the money stops trickling into services, the political figures of the day will be noted and marked.  But Trump retains a padding that resists corrosion and wearing.  The same cannot be said either about members of the GOP, or the Democrats.  As the Republic rusts before the fantasy of a wall and a self-engineered, partial paralysis, the man who remains standing, whatever the polls say, is Trump.

The danger for the Democrats is how to stay mighty and distant, instead of close and small.  This has been all but impossible for them.  Trump is ramping it up with delinquent enthusiasm, as he always does, playing the trivial politics of small gains and considerable bellows, and also making it hard for his opponents to escape falling for much the same.

He has, for instance, delighted in preventing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from using a plane that would have taken her on a trip to Afghanistan.  Trump’s administration, in the words of a White House official, “worked with the Air Force and (the Defence Department) and basically took away the rights to the plane from the speaker.”  The note from Trump to Pelosi explaining the decision suggests an emperor keen to prevent an out of favour official from seeing the sights of the imperium. “Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan has been postponed.” The “seven-day excursion” (how true) would be rescheduled “when the Shutdown is over”.

Pelosi, not wanting to be left out of the barnyard romp of low expectations, retaliated by insisting that the House of Representatives “will not consider a concurrent resolution authorizing the president’s State of the Union address in the House chamber until the government has opened.”

Trump, in a previous note to Pelosi, dared and cajoled the House Speaker into seeking to prevent the speech from going ahead. “It would be so very sad for our country if the State of the Union were not delivered on time, on schedule, and very importantly, on location.”  Trump, inadvertently, is accurate in one respect: if Congress be that great cinema, and theatre, of dissimulation and intrigue, a studio production line insulated from the electors, it is only appropriate for the chief to address its members there and then. 

Trump’s dark pull, Washington’s scolding id, is total and consuming to opponents and followers alike, barrel scraping, and ultimate circus.  Others, as they have done before, will have to busy themselves running matters while those on the Hill and in the White House pursue matters of non-governance.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark, is a Journalist & News Reporter of World Events for Global News Aruba. He is a Senior Lecturer at the worlds top 1 % best world's colleges RMIT University in Australia the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, teaching within the Bachelor of Social Science (Legal and Dispute Studies) program. He  holds a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He also holds a Masters degree in history and honors degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Queensland.  His field of expertise as an academic are: Institution of war, diplomacy, international relations, 20th century history, terrorism, and international law. DrBinoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: 

"No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit"

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba

Theresa May’s prime ministership remains one of torment, drawn out, and weakened daily.  But does it really matter?  If it is true to claim that people deserve the government they elect, then there is something madly representative of the debacle of May’s leadership, one where problems are sought for any possible solutions. 

Steering through the waters of Brexit has been a nigh impossible task rendered even more problematic by a stubborn myopia nursed by May.  She nurses dogmas incapable of learning new tricks.  Her latest Brexit plan, as it headed to inevitable defeat, would have rendered Britain bound to the EU in a manner more servile than any sovereign populist would have dreamed.  Benefits would have been shed; obligations would have persisted. While there is very little to recommend the views of the rabid Tory Eurosceptics, there is something in the idea that Britain would become a vassal state. 

As it transpired, May lost by a colossal margin, an indication that few could stomach her vision: 432 to 202, the worst defeat by a British administration in over a century.

“In all normal circumstances,” observed Robert Peston, that legendary pessimist of matters economic, “a Prime Minister would resign when suffering such a humiliation on their central policy – and a policy Theresa May herself said today would ‘set the future of this country for a generation’.”

Such is the nature of the climate: gross failure results in bare survival rather than inevitable annihilation.  Grand acts of quixotic behaviour are not richly punished but given reprieve before the next charge against windmills. So we are left with the idea of uncharted territory, suggesting, in the face of such chaos and uncertainty, a postponement of the departure date from the EU set for March 29.  The Article 50 period, in other words, would have to be extended, but this, again, implies a set of hypothetical variations and ponderings. 

For all that, May survived yet another no-confidence motion by 325 to 306, with Labor’s Jeremy Corbyn incapable of pushing the entire debacle to an election. Not even the Tories wished that upon their own leader, whom they have come to despise in ways verging on the pathological. Corbyn might well have called the May prime ministership a “zombie” administration, but he had failed to supply the necessary weapons to finish it off, prompting colleagues in the Commons to suggest a change of approach. 

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, advanced the proposition that the Labour leader had to alter “his position and come behind the ‘People’s Vote’ or he will just be seen, and will be, a handmaiden of Brexit.” 

Despite the failure, Corbyn had his own demands.  “The government must remove clearly, once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal exit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that.”  The language of cross-party lines on discussing Brexit remain distant matters.

As for the zombie representative-in-chief herself, the government would “continue to work to deliver on the solemn promise to the people of this country to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union”.  Same words, barely touched up – the May formulae remains incapable of changing form, incapable of elevation, but also seemingly incapable of perishing.

Wednesday’s vote of survival after the calamity of her defeated proposals suggested a change in heart from May.  (Did she have any other choice?)  She ventured talks with various opposition party leaders, though various news outlets in the UK insisted that Corbyn had been ungenerous in snubbing the prime minister. Labour’s leadership remains sceptical at any advances from Downing Street.  As The Guardian editorialised on May’s proposed talks,

“It is a welcome shift in tone, but there is no indication from Mrs May’s record that she has the diplomatic skills required to make such a consultation fruitful.” 

This notable lack manifested in an obsession with “red lines”, a mad faith in a Brexit plan long rendered cadaverous. 

For the paper’s own worth, a new strategy of change focused on a customs union arrangement between Britain and the EU would “transform dialogue with Labour and pro-European Tories.”  Fine thing to suggest, but the darkness refuses to abate.  International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, for one, sees such a union as a way of ensuring that Britain will not have an independent trade policy.  The ship of apocalypse, whatever it might entail, remains on course.

"Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion"

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba

It’s a messy, though typical picture.  US President Donald Trumpwants to pull out forces in Syria.  When announced in December, jaws drooped and sharp intakes of breath were registered through the Washington establishment.  Members of the military industrial complex were none too pleased.  The President had seemingly made his case clear: US blood and treasure will not be further drawn upon to right the conflicts of the Middle East. 

His national security advisor, John Bolton, prefers a different message: the US will not leave north-eastern Syria till the militants of Islamic State are defeated and the Kurds protected.  If this was a message of intended confusion, it has worked.  The media vultures are confused as to what carrion to feed upon. The US imperial lobby is finding the whole affair disruptive and disturbing.  Washington’s allies attempt to read the differences between policy-by-tweet and policy by representation.

Trump’s pre-New Year announcement suggested speediness, a rapid removal of US forces supposedly indispensable in Making America Great Again.  Once made, US troops were to leave in a matter of weeks – or so went a certain wisdom.  “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” ventured the president.  But Bolton suggested otherwise.  US personnel, he suggested, would remain in al-Tanf to counter Iranian influence.  Timetables could be left to the talking heads.

A change of heart also came from the White House, with Trump asserting that,

“We won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.” 

To reporters, he adopted a familiar stance in ever shifting sands: promising to do something meant doing something different.

“We are pulling back in Syria.  We’re going to be removing our troops.  I never said we’re doing it that quickly.”

On Sunday, Trump delivered another streaky note on Twitter, thereby adding another lace of confusion.

“Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions.” 

Last Thursday, information on the withdrawal of some US military ground equipment from Syria was noted.  On Friday, Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria, issued a statement claiming that the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria” leaving little by way of details.  In Trumpland, the scanty detail often prevails over the substantive.

US strategy in the Middle East has tended to revolve around setting up figures for the fall while inflicting the fall of others.  The Kurds have tended to find themselves in that role, encouraged and prompted to take up arms against their various oppressors, only to find themselves left to the slaughter in the subsequent geopolitical dramas of the region.  The promise by Great Britain and France at the conclusion of World War I that a Kurdish state be chalked out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire never materialised.  In the crude machinations of international relations, they have remained, as Joost Hiltermann describes them, the “expendable” ones. 

Bolton is keen not to make that same mistake, which is exactly why he risks doing so.  The great enemy of the Kurds on this occasion remains a prickly US ally, Turkey. 

“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with the agreed to by the United States”. 

Trump, similarly, suggested in a direct call with the Turkish president that the Turkish economy would be devastated “economically if they hit Kurds.”  In a statement from White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders,

“The President expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS.” 

Bolton’s credibility in pursuing that agenda seemed to crumble in Ankara before a notable snubbing by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on January 8.  The national security advisor had to make do with a meeting with Erdoğan’s senior advisor, Ibrahim Kalin. Bolton was not one the Turkish leader particularly wanted to see in light of his comments that Turkey not harm members of the Kurdish Syrian militias in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.  Such views also fly in the face of Turkey’s self-appointed role as an agent of influence in the region.  An absent Washington is simply too good a chance to press home the advantage, and Ankara is bound to capitalise.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not fare much better in his regional whistle-stops in Egypt Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf states.  In Cairo, Pompeo denied that there was any “contradiction whatsoever” about Trump’s position on withdrawal. 

“I think everyone understands what the United States is doing.” 

If not everyone, then at the very least, “the senior leaders in their governments”.  Very good of them.

The views of American functionaries have not necessarily meant much in the righteous intent of other powers, but Bolton is nonetheless happy to pen his name to this mast.  He wishes for the Kurds to hold firm, avoid the temptation of seeking another sponsor who just might do a better job. 

“I think they know,” suggested Bolton, “who their friends are.”  (Bolt is more than nudging here, making sure the Russians or the Assad regime are avoided in any future security arrangements that might supply a shield for the Kurds.)

Daft, can be Bolton, who sees himself as a true appraiser of the international relations system when he is disabled by presumption.  The Turks may, in time, hand Washington another bloody lesson of retribution showing that basic, keen hatreds in historical dramas are far more significant than sophisticated notions of self-interest.  The presence of US troops in Syria will no doubt be reclassified, withdrawal by which any other name would be as confusing.  The Kurds will have to chew over their options with the sort of caution nursed by a history of promise followed by abandonment.  Be wary of the expendable ones.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark, is a Journalist & News Reporter of World Events for Global News Aruba. He is a Senior Lecturer at the worlds top 1 % best world's colleges RMIT University in Australia the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, teaching within the Bachelor of Social Science (Legal and Dispute Studies) program. He  holds a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He also holds a Masters degree in history and honors degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Queensland.  His field of expertise as an academic are: Institution of war, diplomacy, international relations, 20th century history, terrorism, and international law. DrBinoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: 
[email protected]ALNEWSARUBA.COM

"Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the “Integrity Initiative”

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba

Is there such a plane of blissful, balanced information, deliberated and debated upon?  No.  Governments mangle; corporations distort.  Interest groups tinker.  Wars must be sold; deception must be perpetrated.  Inconsistencies must be removed.  There will be success, measured in small doses; failure, dispatched in grand servings. 

The nature of news, hollow as it is, is to fill the next segment for the next release, a promiscuous delivery, an amoral ejaculate.  The notion a complicated world can somehow be compressed into a press release, a brief, an observation, is sinister and defeating. 

The believers in an objective, balanced news platform are there.  Grants are forked out for such romantic notions as news with integrity, directed to increase “trust in news”, which is tantamount to putting your trust in an institution which has been placed on the mortician’s table.  The Trump era has seen a spike in such funding, but it belies a fundamental misconception about what news is.

Funny, then, that the environment should now be so neatly split: the Russians (always) seen to distort from a central programme, while no one else does.  The Kremlin manipulates feeble minds; virtuous powers do not.  The most powerful nation on the planet claims to be free of this, the same country that boasts cable news networks and demagoguery on the airwaves that have a distinct allergy against anything resembling balanced reporting, many backed by vast funding mechanisms for political projects overseas.  Britain, faded yet still nostalgically imperial, remains pure with the BBC, known as the Beeb, a sort of immaculate conception of news that purportedly survives manipulation.  Other deliverers of news through state channels also worship the idol of balance – Australia’s ABC, for one, asserts that role.

We are the left with a distinct, and ongoing polarisation, where Russia, a country relatively less influential than other powers in terms of heft and demography, has become a perceived monster wielding the influence of a behemoth on the course of history.  Shades and shadows assume the proportions of flesh and meat.  The fact that the largest country on the planet has interests, paranoias and insecurities other countries share is not deemed relevant but a danger.  Russia must be deemed the exception, the grand perversion, a modern beast in need of containment.

Terry Thompson of the University of Maryland supplies readers with a delightfully binary reading, because the forested world of politics is, supposedly, easy to hive off and cultivate.  The woods will be ignored, and small, selective gardens nurtured.  The United States has been indifferent, even weak, before the Kremlin’s cheek and prodding ways, or so goes this line of thinking.  The time for change is nigh, and the freemen and women of the US imperium must take note.  A hoodwinked US will arise, and learn from those states who have suffered from Moscow’s designs! 

“After years of anaemic responses to Russian influence efforts, official US government policy now includes taking action to combat disinformation campaigns sponsored by Russia or other countries.”

In this intoxicated atmosphere comes the Scottish based Integrity Initiative, a “partnership of several independent institutions led by the Institute of Statecraft.  This international public programme was set up in 2015 to counter disinformation and other forms of malign influence being conducted by states and sub-state actors seeking to interfere in democratic processes and to undermine public confidence in national political institutions.”

This low level clerk depiction is all good, a procedurally dull initiative designed to harden the mettle of debate against those who sneer and seek to discredit certain institutions.  Democracy is often the victim of such paper clip fillers and grant seekers.  Then comes the nub of the matter: the political thrust of this entire exercise.  Where did the Integrity Initiative get its pennies?  Moral citizens, perhaps?  Bookworms with deep pockets?

That political thrust was revealed, we are told, by a hack.  It came from the devil incarnate, those bear like fangs sharpened on the Russian steppes.  “It is of course a matter of deep regret,” came a statement from the group in November, “that Integrity Initiative documents have been stolen and posted online, still more so that, in breach of any defensible practice, Russian state propaganda outlets have published or re-published a large number of names and contact details.”  Transparency is a damn bugger, but forced transparency for outfits claiming that no one else practices it is an upending terror.

The revelations were striking on a few fronts.  Britain’s Labor Party had been a target, with the group’s Twitter account used to heap upon its leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  But more to the point, it blew the lid off the notion of pristine, exalted partiality.  Funding, it transpired, had been obtained, and in abundance, from that most self-interested of bodies, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  In effect, monies had been supplied to the Initiative via a government body to attack the opposition, not exactly a very democratic practice.

On December 3 lasts year, Sir Alan Duncan, in response to a question from Chris Williamson, the member for Derby North, claimed that the FCO had funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative to the tune of £296,500 in the financial year 2017/8.  That amount has ballooned for the current financial year to the tune of £1,196,000.  “Such funding furthers our commitment to producing important work to counter disinformation and other malign influence.”  Russian practitioners could hardly have said it better themselves.  

The technique here remains dog-eared: discredit the hackers as criminal and sidestep the implications of the content revealed. 

“We note,” claimed the initiative, “both the attempts by Russian state propaganda outlets to amplify the volume of this leak; and the suggestion by a major Anonymous-linked Twitter account that the Kremlin subverted the banner of Anonymous to disguise their responsibility for it.”

In December, the group, as did Duncan, reiterated the notion that it was a “non-partisan programme of The Institute for Statecraft, a non-partisan charity which promotes good governance.”  On no occasion had the group “engaged in party political activity and would never take up a party-political stance.”  Charming in such insistence, if somewhat disingenuous: any statement with a political target is, by definition, political activity.  Not so for the Initiative, which claims that the FCO’s funding merely reflected “their appreciation of the importance of the threat, and a wish to support civil society programmes seeking to rebuild the ability of democratic societies to resist large scale, malicious disinformation and influence campaigns.”

The very idea of insisting on information that corrects disinformation must, by definition, be politically oriented.  It has a target, and objective.  The world is wrong, at least according to one version, so right it.  We know it, and others do not.  The implication is inescapable.

An example of a journalist outed by the hack is illustrative.  He fell from Olympus.  He thought he was all fair and high, a prince of objectivity.  James Ball, somewhat slighted by the exposures stemming from the Integrity Initiative documents, described the Kremlin’s approach to managing the message in The Guardian as follows:

“Russia’s information manipulation strategies are many and varied, and far more sophisticated than simply pushing out pro-Putin messages. It uses a mix of Russian-owned media outlets, most notably RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik, sympathetic talking heads, social media ‘bot’ accounts and state-sponsored hackers to influence western politics and media coverage.”

To deny the existence of such media management strategies would simply be silly.  But equally daft is the suggestion that journalism run through the corporate mill in the United States, or through media conglomerates in Europe, identifies some miraculous golden mean of objective fairness.  Ditto numerous governments, who have a deep interest in selling a particular story within, and without their jurisdiction.  Respective messages are doing a dance, and governments the world over are attempting to influence the course of discussion.  They are the self-appointed bulwark against “post-truth”, a nonsense term that has assumed the very thing it seeks to combat.

Ball falls into the trap of heralding the virtues of free speech and media only to then find fault with them.  Even he doesn’t entirely these tendencies.  Russia, he argues, simulated a “virus that turns its host’s immune system against itself” using an “information strategy… turning free media and free speech against its own society.”  And what of it?  Surely, models of information parry and thrust can drive the bad out with the good, or is there, underlying these criticisms, the latent suggestion that free society harbours the imbecilic and destructive? As with any wading into these murky waters, the danger is that none of these catalytic engagements seeks free speech, merely a managed deployment of spears analogous to battle.  The amoral terrain of the Cold War re-appears, and behind many interlocutors lies the funding of a state.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark, is a Journalist & News Reporter of World Events for Global News Aruba. He is a Senior Lecturer at the worlds top 1 % best world's colleges RMIT University in Australia the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, teaching within the Bachelor of Social Science (Legal and Dispute Studies) program. He  holds a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He also holds a Masters degree in history and honors degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Queensland.  His field of expertise as an academic are: Institution of war, diplomacy, international relations, 20th century history, terrorism, and international law. DrBinoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: 

"Ice Matters: A Meditation on Snow"

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba

Most speak of floods in the age of climate change, when the cooked and the roasted take precedence over the snowed in and the freezing, and the parliaments of lost islands shall be convened in the sea.  Comparatively cruel fates should never be entertained, but the difference here is worth noting.  Flooded islands lost to the rise of sea levels; submerged hopes done by the relentless pounding of storms and water; destroyed civilisations drowned by the supposed folly of the human species.  These take a privileged if morbid position in the discussion on environmental catastrophe and climate change. 

The more neglected aspect of modern discussion is the ice factor, and with that, its attendant literature.  The chill produces its own mental states, a specific way of seeing.  Away from the humidity and the heat, from the tropical sighs and the going-troppo sense of the heat lies another form of threat, beauty and appreciation.  Call it ice, cold, the freeze.

History is replete with its minor and major ice ages, its cold snaps that do last beyond the minor calculations of a meteorologist.  Cold, in short, makes history, altering the course of wars and civilisations.  The Little Ice Age (sometime between the 16th to 19th centuries) features as political weaponry and historical debate, a period that managed to fill diaries and scripts with concern and speculation about glacial doom or imminent redemption for the human species. 

Predictions and assessments become matters of concern and conjecture.  Martin Mlynczak of NASA’s Langley Research Centre suggested last September that the sun’s inactivity could lead to the lowering of temperatures of the thermosphere (a layering of the earth’s atmosphere at some 300 miles above the surface).  “High above the Earth’s surface, near the edge of space, our atmosphere is losing heat energy.  If current trends continue, it could soon set a Space Age record for cold.”  This led, erroneously, to the suggestion that a “grim ‘mini Ice Age’,” would make its presence felt.

“The ‘imminent mini ice age’ myth,” writes environmental scientist Dana Nuccitelli with tired resignation for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, “rears its ugly head in the conservative media like clockwork every year or two.”

From the solidity of ice, its image of hardened bodies, snow bitten parts and paralysis, comes that poetic, if overly sentimentalised spin-off: snow.  Snow remains a source of poetic reflection, a linguistic and cultural house of richness.  The Danish author, Peter Høeg, delved into the theme of snow as the backdrop to understanding a crime in Smilla’s Sense of Snow.  Snow acts as the illustrative vehicle and device. 

“I think more highly of snow and ice than love,” reflects the protagonist, Smilla Jaspersen.  “I have a good relationship with ice.” 

Ice is a measure of existence: it comes in the form of field ice, frazil ice, pancake and porridge.  Inuit terms for snow become a matter of interest: qanik covers large flakes; apuhiniq frozen drifts.  To understand snow and its forms is to understand life.

Today, in the southern Balkans, a captured miniature of the Ottoman Empire past, the scene is replete with soft colours on the horizon, a glazed blue reminiscent of porcelain and pale eyed beauties, as the light gradually fails. The distant blue itself has layers: tenderly soft to the eye to heavy dark; the paleness fades to solemn colours on the lower horizon.  The sun has been banished, but its rays remain stubborn reminders, coming through to play and tease out the last light of the day.     

The snow has been caking, posting its presence on window sills, pavements, cars.  Dirt and mud has been blissfully hidden, ugliness brushed and layered like a model’s makeup.  Snow’s softness belies an utter terror; its crystal dimension hiding the fundamentally dangerous nature of its accumulation.  Cars must be dug out of the clutch of the freeze.  Ditches are hidden, drains covered.  Public transport has been affected; the passengers await for buses that may arrive, at some point.  (The emphasis here is on some, rather than point.)  Time assertions are an irrelevance here, in the land where Romani, Serb and Albanian meet, and the domain of the freeze takes precedence over all.

The snow that falls today suggests, paradoxically, comfort and warmth.  Provided the body has a suitable layering of warmth for the body, the flakes, falling vertically, is at a stalemate.  It does not steal warmth, but nor does the body necessarily win out against it.  It cannot get through to the skin; it acts as a soft cover, falling and sliding off effortlessly.   There is none of the savage biting that comes with a skin searing blizzard, nor a deep, bone chill that comes with the brittle inducing conditions of a shock freeze.  This is snow on the slow kill, a seductive crystallising blanketing that seduces the walker into grand exhibitions of dancing ritual, of gallivanting in feathery ice and attempting to puncture layers of immaculate, cream coverage.

Animals must cope, and so they do.  Sparrows gather together in strings of feathers and flesh across branches iced and weighed down by snow.  Chaffinches seem to bleed their colours into the bare vegetation now carpeted by white.  Stray cats seek shelter; dogs, the same.  These snow levels do not necessarily kill in the same way as certain freezing conditions do, and can create layers of protection for the more enterprising.  Nature, being nature, deals a blow to the rest, and the retreating cold reveals the bodies of those failing to find suitable shelter.

Humans must also cope.  Rounds are made to homes isolated, their occupants caged – in Bujanovac, favours are done, though these are self-serving.  Bills must still be paid, even in the midst of catastrophe, and men make their rounds to gather payment.  (How helpful.)  The elderly must not be forgotten as units of payment for the state craving its pennies – the utilities providers shall have their pound of flesh.  For some, reserves are running out, and humanitarian assistance is sought.  Snow kisses the young who play in it but condemns the aged who would prefer a warmer fate.  The craving for spring is palpable.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark, is a Journalist & News Reporter of World Events for Global News Aruba. He is a Senior Lecturer at the worlds top 1 % best world's colleges RMIT University in Australia the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, teaching within the Bachelor of Social Science (Legal and Dispute Studies) program. He  holds a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He also holds a Masters degree in history and honors degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Queensland.  His field of expertise as an academic are: Institution of war, diplomacy, international relations, 20th century history, terrorism, and international law. DrBinoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: 

"" Trump’s Steel Barrier Border Fortification, Partial Government Shutdown, “Where is the Emergency”? ""

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba

Sunday Online Newspaper 01.13.2019 

New year occasions, given the pleasant fiction it entails, are times to change.  Resolutions are made by that delightful species Homo sapiens, hope packaged for quick delivery to those who promise change.  The weak will become stronger; the strong will show humility.  The venal, well, they just might change. 

Human nature suggests the opposite, and 2019 has begun with an unsurprisingly consistent thud from the White House.  The House Democrats have barricaded themselves on one side; President Donald Trump mans the opposing positions.  A partial government shutdown has been in effect for almost three weeks.  But the new year tidings have merely made the president more insistent.  He demands $5.7 billion to construct a steel barrier as part of the border fortifications along the US-Mexico border, and reminds Democrats that they did, in 2006, vote for a physical barrier of 1,120 km.  Overall, he insists this is small beer, as Mexico will fund the wall through a rejigged North American Free Trade Agreement.  Mexican officials and politicians beg to differ, as they always have.

In his January 8 address, the president insisted on a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border” (growth of a crisis is a common Trump theme).  That particular “southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.  Every week 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.”

For Trump, selective culling and trimming is essential to any message that winds its way to the public sphere that can be dared called a forum.  He edits texts, perceptions and accounts to oblivion, putting in place his distinct variation.  Where there is something minor, there is bound to be a catastrophe.  Where there is a calamity, it is bound to be distinctly minor. 

This was his view on the use of emergency powers as described by Adam Smith, the sort he hopes to use in dealing with getting funds to resolve his Mexican problem, thereby ending the “humanitarian” and “security” crisis.  Doing so would enable him to access sources otherwise frozen by the current shut down. 

“Congressman Adam Smith, the new Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, just stated, ‘Yes, there is a provision in law that says a president can declare an emergency.  It’s been done a number of times.’” 

That tweet is, as is the Trump method, right and wrong, and even he hopes to make sure that the work is best done through Congress.  Smith did tell ABC News’s This Week that emergency powers were available to be invoked.  But, as ever, the qualifying statement follows. “In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying, ‘Where is the emergency?’  You have to establish that in order to do this.’”  Those words to George Stephanopoulos have managed to make their way into the ether of forgetting, as is the Trump way.

Political emergencies tend to be confections and propagations, puffed realities advanced by demagogues and figures of desperation.  The issue of a Mexican emergency on the border has always been far-fetched, but last Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was insisting that there were 4,000 suspected or known terrorists who had been caught attempting to enter freedom’s land, with Mexico being the “most vulnerable point of entry”.  Such a statement implied that Mexico was playing its own irresponsible part in ensuing this vulnerability to prosper.  A qualifier was subsequently made by White House advisor Kellyanne Conway: the figures used in rather cavalier fashion by Sanders had been from 2017 for the whole set of attempted entrants.

Trump has some latitude in redirecting military funds by a declaration of a formal emergency under the National Emergencies Act of 1976.  The threshold is surprisingly low, a more than generous nod towards executive flexibility in determining what might constitute a state of sufficient disturbance.  What matters from Trump’s perspective is showing how the border wall would fit into the category of a military fortification.  While his judgment might well be challenged in court, the issue of standing for any opponents will be problematic.

Trump has been attempting to make his own crusted resolutions, which seem very much like those made in 2018.  For man quick to disturb and disrupt, he remains painfully, and sometime ineffectively, consistent.  Even he found the issue of giving his January 8 address a bit of a bore, and did his boring best to remind us why he feels the Democrats should throw their lot in to assist the wall project.    

Opponents should now know that the way through the man’s heart is to anticipate the proffering of a promise that can only be made by giving the impression that his wishes will be satisfied, only to then adjust the outcome.  Pretend, and let the rest go.  But politics in the Trump era remains, for the moment, ruled by a classic misapprehension: that the tweet is not only the message, but the whole message, to be attacked for its facts, presumed or otherwise.  Treat it seriously at your own peril.  As things stand after the January 8 speech, the words of Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan are as accurate as any: “Nobody convinced anybody.”  


Dr. Binoy Kampmark, is a Journalist & News Reporter of World Events for Global News Aruba. He is a Senior Lecturer at the worlds top 1 % best world's colleges RMIT University in Australia the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, teaching within the Bachelor of Social Science (Legal and Dispute Studies) program. He  holds a PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. He also holds a Masters degree in history and honors degrees in Arts and Law from the University of Queensland.  His field of expertise as an academic are: Institution of war, diplomacy, international relations, 20th century history, terrorism, and international law. DrBinoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Contact Dr Binoy Kampmark at: 

" Oaked Fires in Serbia. “For the Slavs, the Tree Remains all Central and Bearing” "

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba

They set out early in the morning, men with axes, boys in tow and, for some, the odd girl champing at the bit.  The woods are some way from Bujanovac, but these columns of individuals resembled statues who have moved off their plinths, heading to the woods that call them with mesmerising force.  The groves seem to speak in this part of Europe, where the Serbs still commune with a spirit of past.  Industrialisation has yet to kill off this element, yet to estrange the citizens from the south from their magical ends.

The woods have, historically, served as links between the finitely mortal and timeless supernatural, a manifestation with roots in the earth, deeply grown and burrowed, and leaves in the canopy, a link pointing to the heavens.  The Norse peoples worshiped Yggdrasil, a great, worldly ash tree cosmically sustaining the mortal and immortal, whatever the form. 

For the Slavs, the tree remains all central and bearing, the fecund creature that holds the seeds of all, the progenitor for the verdant world.  To down such a tree, or, in the tradition of the badnjak, to remove a sampling of oak covered in brown gold leafing, would require ceremonial preliminaries.  And so this cautionary note has survived, more in the context of communal gathering and pursuit, as it does on this day, the determined axemen of the village, fortified by wine and local brandy, making their way as if in a deep trance, towards the woods that call them with mesmerising calls.  There is a slow motion carnival feel to this, and this is topped by a horse plumed in red baubles, heading with a look of obedience, to the show.  To the woods, and there, you shall find yourself with a branch’s severance, a small tree’s beheading.

With the necessary badnjak samples gathered, religious authority is consulted.  At the local church in the village of Rakovac in the Preševo Valley, an area awash with mineral goodness from its waters, the priest is buzzing and busy, a man deluged with attention.  He is parachuted in to perform ceremonial duties after his previous counterpart committed adultery and fled for Austria with his new bride.  There, he keeps up a long Yugoslav mission of feeding other economies with the Gastarbeiter.   

Contributions are made as each oak tree is blessed with a dip and a splash, and the icon kissed, all taking place in the church yard and a Christmas freeze.  The line of oak carrying devotees forms like a living forest, moving slowly through snow and frozen mud.  The fire in the church yard burns as welcome and promise, and here, the Christian message is tagged to the pagan, a feat of neat historical reconstruction: the heat brought from burning the badnjak suggests the three shepherds warming the stable of Jesus’s birth. 

The music commences, wind meeting brass, the clarinet engaging the trumpet.  Vocal chords are exercised.  The procession to the village square commences with a noisy enthusiasm that drowns out the doubts of despair and dark thoughts.  Solemn celebration thatches with defiance. 

At the village gathering, evident hierarchies seem to take shape.  The in-crowd is to be found in proximity to the brandy, or rakija, cooking away in a capacious stove overseen by two men whose teeth have seen better days.  The outers, hugging a local convenience shop like frozen sparrows, gaze on with a slightly menacing look, though this is merely temporary and marked more by curiosity than anything else.  They bide their time and will, when the moment comes, commit to the ring dance that is bound to eventuate. 

There are old men, craggily faced and withered with memories and young men with short hair, some even shaved, with suspicions of the new age.  NATO, throbs the sentiment in this crowd, cannot be trusted over the mischief in Kosovo (the recent moves by that confused political entity to create its own army in defiance of the stationed troops from the alliance have released fears).  History remains a set of betrayals, missteps and misunderstandings, a vice that seemingly clamps on this region.  The next disaster is deemed as inevitable as the next tummy upset. 

The bonfire gathers momentum in the village centre, the primeval lusty flame that lights hope and shreds fears.  It is all fire in this region: fire in the woodstove that delivers the distinctly flavoured food of immense quantity while warming houses; fire in the church yard that acts like a beacon for the faithful; fire to dance around; fire as life.  The inferno is sovereign, governs the soul, dictates the process of communing.  It is elemental.  To gaze at this promethean flame in the home stove or in the village square as it rises to consume is to be alive and feel the veins warmed, to embrace something atavistic and deep; to know that you can endure what is to come despite the calamities that might be faced and, truth be known, to deny.

Children release eardrum creasing crackers with irritating enthusiasm, some casting them into the mother flame; flare guns are released, usually by those yet to reach puberty.  (Where the gun speaks, whatever form it takes, the conversation may prove violent.) Earlier in the day, live guns were fired, a stutter in the wintry air softened by the snow-capped earth and the vegetation creamy white from heavy falls.  While celebratory, these have a sinister undertone, a promise from Serbs to counterparts – the Albanians, for the most part – that they are up for a fight in the demographic and political struggle for this region. 

The rakija that heats in the stove overlooking the small centre in Rakovac – one can hardly call it a square, given the misshapen nature – is cooked for the masses, and the men who come to it are filled with its manna-giving properties.  The warming liquid is distributed in plastic cups, and are filled to their dripping brims.  The set of dances start to breakout, vigorous, energetic, even manic.   The gyration and jangling around the fire signals pagan tribute and affirmed living, for it is here, in this dance around the flames, that reassurance comes in abundance.  Then, a man of about forty raises a flaming sample of fireworks, an all glorious flare.  The entire audience is illuminated, faces in rapture. The fire, alive from the oak, continues to feed.


For Media or Viewers Questions Contact
Dr Binoy Kampmark

" Gabon and Coup Mania "

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark

Signature News Reporter 

Global News Aruba

It starts with a presumption, makes its way through a discussion, and becomes a set, moulded stereotype: Africa is the continent of tin pot dictatorships, unstable leaderships, and coups.  Latin America, attuned to brigandage and frontier mentalities, is not far behind.  Such instances lend themselves to the inevitable opportunity to exploit the exception.  Gabon, ruled by the same family without interruption since 1967, is being stated as a possible example.

The news so far, if one dares trust it, suggests that a coup was put down in the African state with the loss of two lives.  Seven of the plotters were captured a mere five hours after they seized a radio station, during which Lieutenant Kelly Ondo Obiang broadcast a message claiming that President Ali Bongo’s New Year’s Eve message “reinforced doubts about the president’s ability to continue to carry out of the responsibilities of his office.”  Bongo, for his part, had seemed indisposed, suffering a stroke in October and slurring his words in a speech during a December 31 television appearance.

As with other attempted coups, the plotters portrayed themselves as up-market planners in the Brutus mould.  They were killing Caesar to save Rome.  In this case, the men of the Patriotic Movement of the Defence and Security Forces of Gabon were keen to “restore democracy”.  The attempt was put down with some speed.  “The situation is under control,” came a government statement some hours after security forces regained control of the RTG state broadcasting headquarters.  Guy-Betrand Mapangou, true to the sort of form shown by a regime unmoved, insisted that, “The government is in place.  The institutions are in place.”

The coup fascination may not be healthy but is nonetheless fascinatingly morbid.  Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne from the University of Central Florida and University of Kentucky cannot get enough of the business, and have compiled a register of failure.  These political scientists insist on defining coups as “illegal and overt attempts by the military or other elites within the state apparatus to unseat the sitting executive”.  But having to presumably stake some exceptional view to the field, the authors insist that those who go through with a coup have power for at least seven days.  (Why not six or eight?)

This cottage industry invariably produces much smoke but a conspicuous lack of fire.  In 2016, with the failed coup in Turkey unfolding, James McCarthy, writing for Wales Online, insisted on a guidebook approach, drawing from Thyne and Powell’s research.  They, according to McCarthy, “found there were 457 coup attempts between 1950 and 2010.  Of those, 227 were successful and 230 failed.”  Invariably, the Americas and Africa feature as the prominent zones of coups.

The BBC has felt free to run with a map featuring African states “with the highest number of coups since 1952,” a kind of morbid horror show of instability.  Sudan is a big league player in this regard with 14, followed by other states which seem to be in competition with each other (Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Benin and Nigeria come in with eight; Sierra Leone and Ghana sport ten).

Unmentioned in the show was the number of times conspirators, cabals and groups have been encouraged, courtesy of external powers, to sabotage fledgling democratic regimes and back counter-revolutionary agents.  As important as the coup plotters are the coup backers, often to be found in Washington and European policy planning departments and company boardrooms.  The story of stuttered, mutated revolutions in Africa and Latin America is very much one of externally directed coups as much as failed local experiments. 

The issue, as if it matters much, about whether a coup is, or is not happening, is a constant theme.  According to Powell,

“Coup leaders almost invariably deny their action was a coup in an effort to appear legitimate.”

This is banally leaden as an observation.  All coups must, by definition, be asserted as acts of dissimulation, and not savage, all extirpating revolutions.  To merely depose a leadership is, by definition, conservative.  In a modern state, decapitation might create some initial chaos but leaves the structure, for the most part, intact.  Coups often have the effect of shoring up the junta, in whatever form it takes.

The field of coup gazing also has a moral edge.  There are coups with supposedly good import, and those that are not.  Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” ending the seemingly interminable rule of António de Oliveira Salazar, is cited as one example.  A coup might engender fertile grounds for a democratic movement, or suffer entropic decline before authoritarian reassertion.  A good coup, speculated the Washington Post, took place in Burkina Faso in 2015, with the end of Blaise Compaoré’s rule.  The same paper does note the rather banal qualifier: that “policymakers and academics should not get too excited about the allegedly positive consequences of coups in Africa.”  African armies, for instance, might propel democratic elections; they might just as well remain in power.

Scholars such as Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way argue that multiparty elections in the aftermath of change can just be a front.  Democratic talk can be so much babble before manipulating strongmen.  “Competitive authoritarian regimes,” argue the authors, can entrench themselves.  All this seems beside the point in Gabon, a distant murmur to the academic discourse and policy ponderings that dazzle a good number of analysts.  The obvious point tends to be same: coups tend to be rooted in evolutionary orthodoxy rather than earth shattering revolution.  They are also often the work of unseen hands behind unstable thrones.  Identify those hands, and you may well have some answers. 


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Dr Binoy Kampmark
Brexit Armageddon
By Dr Binoy Kampmark
 London, New Year’s Eve 2018. It is a very English middle-class trait: the world will end if the price of a certain life style goes up.  Certain services will be cut.  Access to certain travel destinations might be restricted.  (The usual European haunts in France and Spain rendered dearer if not inaccessible.)  But there is no denying that the attitude to the New Year from this side of the world is one of gloom made normal.

Not a day goes by without a digest of panicked revelations about what will happen in the event of a “no-deal Brexit”.  A lack of certainty has propelled a set of speculations so thick as to be asphyxiating.  But there is always room for more, the next desperate act of a government so cadaverous it can only give vague clues that it is still alive, wincing, dodging and avoiding what faces the United Kingdom before the mandarins in Brussels and the nostalgia driven addicts in the Conservative Party.

London itself is the ground-zero of teeth-chattering panic.  Stockpiling of essentials (and various non-essentials) is taking place in a manner reminiscent of the doom that might arise from nuclear holocaust or a crippling blockade initiated by a foreign power.  These fears are not entirely irrational: no one knows what might happen to the smooth exchange of goods ands services with the EU in the absence of any clear set of guidelines.

The latest manifestations of this sense of heightened neuroses can be found in three ferry contracts that have been awarded to French, British and Danish companies.  But the means of shipping do not combat paperwork on the ground, the sort is bound to mount once Britain’s departure from the EU bloc is enforced.   Chief Executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping Bob Sanguinetti puts it bluntly:

“Government is rightly preparing for every eventuality… but it is not clear that government-chartered ships can move goods faster or more efficiently than the private sector.”

The issue of customs remains an obstacle that threatens to hove into view with disrupting menace.

That said, the eve of 2019 featured a comic affair with a bitterly ironic dimension, an episode that rapidly came to be known in Twitterland as Ferrygate, more conventionally termed the Seaborne Freight controversy.  It began with murmurs printed in the Financial Times from the May government that a no-deal Brexit could see the Dover corridor, comprising the port and tunnel, run at between 12-25 percent of normal capacity for half a year.  Given that the proportion of trade being handled through the corridor comes to an eye-popping 52 percent of value of the total trade in goods with the EU (some £422.6 billion), this is more than troubling.

This doomsday scenario was somewhat papered over by the farcical circumstances behind one of the ferry contracts – the British one no less – that was meant to be yet another emergency measure, part of a broader £107.7 million arrangement.  The purpose of the contract will be to provide substitutable capacity to handle exiting volumes of trade that would have otherwise gone through the Dover corridor.

But the jokes piled on quickly: Seaborne Freight, having won a £13.8 million contract to operate ferries on a Ramsgate to Ostend route, had never previously operated ferries and had no intention of doing so till touching distance of the scheduled departure date from the EU.

“It has no ships and no trading history,” observed Paul Messenger, Conservative county councillor for Ramsgate, “so how can due diligence be done?”

The Department of Transport finds itself in a state of pulsating anxiety, churning out the paperwork of woe.  The choice of words in its documents supplies more than a hint about what is coming, even if they genuinely cannot imagine what that might be.  Such agreements are being put in place to counter “unforeseeable” situations, which is more than mildly absurd given that those situations are precisely that: unforeseeable.

The entire Brexit reaction has been characterised by a total absence of planning, which propels the circular reasoning that you cannot plan for what you simply do not know.  This feeds the apocalyptic scenarios of empty supermarket shelves and absentee workers in industries characterised by the employ of vast numbers of EU citizens.

It has also bred a total mistrust. Plans circulate with a giddying confusion that show lack of consultation and engagement.  Major motorworks, by way of example, have focused on the port of Dover.  The plan (dare one use the word?) is to turn the M26 motorway into a holding area for hundreds of heavy vehicles to permit traffic greater freedom to move.  In October, local MP Tom Tugendhat, Conservative chair of the foreign affairs committee, was seething in the House of Commons:

“It’s come to a pretty pass when [an MP] finds out that works have begun on a motorway to turn that motorway into a parking lot without consultation either with the local community or with surrounding [MPs].”

Fittingly absurd, though not as much as awarding a ferry contract to a company without ships.


Contact Dr Kampmark: 

[email protected]

[email protected] 

DR BINOY KAMPMARK ::

“Environmental Buccaneering”: Adani’s Stalling Mega-Mining Project in Northern Australia 

01.02.2019

It should be a sign for this Indian giant, a company that has done much to illustrate the ethical and moral bankruptcy in Australia’s political classes.  Despite support stretching from Canberra to rural Queensland, lifted by the fantasy of job creation, Adani is yet to dig the earth of what would have been one of the largest mining complexes on the planet.  

For one thing, a downsizing was announced suggesting a more compact operation that would supposedly fly under the radar of detractors.  From its initial, lofty ambitions of a $16.5 billion investment, Adani Mining chief executive Lucas Dow now suggests a less extravagant $2 billion reliant on existing rail infrastructure.  Even here, the mission to establish a new coal mine seems grotesque given the dire warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  While Adani mines, the world cooks. There is more than a sense that Adani is a poisoned chalice best avoided by all concerned – unless you are an Australian energy or resources minister incapable of evaluating history or the future prospects of fossil fuels.  This point is particularly problematic given the admission by Indian officials that coal is going off the books at such a rate that the Carmichael project is destined to become the most muddle headed of white elephants.  Indeed, existing thermal coal power in India costs twice what renewable generation does. 

The outlook for such analysts as the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis is glum for the coal romantics and fossil fuel adorers.

“Exports have declined since 2015,” goes its report last month, “and more contraction is expected.  High export revenues entirely reflect current high prices which are themselves partially a result of declining investment in thermal coal mining.” 

Banks have refused to grant a line of finance.  Insurance and reinsurance companies have resisted supplying cover for the coal mine – among them, AXA, SCOR, FM Global, QBE and Suncorp.  Some insurance companies – Allianz, Munich Re, Swiss Re, Zurich and Generali – have environmental policies that preclude engagement with the project. 

The hope for Adani is that various ditherers and the morally lax might still be in the market to cover this enterprise of pure environmental buccaneering: US re-insurer giants such as AIG, AXIS Capital and Berkshire Hathaway have yet to make their stance on this clear.

Such reluctance was prompted, in no small part, by the efforts of 73 environmental organisations, topped by a letter to 30 global insurance and reinsurance companies sent earlier this month.  Such groups have been unrelenting in emphasising the dangers posed by the Carmichael project.  These do not only entail the mining operations themselves but the rail line linked to the export terminal that would threaten the Great Barrier Reef.  Biodiversity and a World Heritage Site remain vulnerable targets before a company renowned for its rapacity towards worker and environment.Other animals have also become talismans of resistance to the project, assuming titanic proportions for opponents.  The Black-throated finch has become something of an activists’ cult, marked by the Black-throated Finch Recovery Team’s insistence that Adani’s reassurances in their protection and preservation are, at best, woeful.  A promise to conduct surveys twice a year hardly counted, and the experts were being given the cold shoulder in what was deemed a “closed book consultation”.  Adani insists on those who sing appropriate tunes.The company’s response has been that of a diligent, agonised box ticker keen on following process.

“The claims that the process has not been ‘followed on a number of different levels,’” went a rebuking spokesperson for the company last year, “is without basis as Adani has followed the legislation and conditions set in close consultation with the Federal and Queensland governments.”

Then there is a sticking point that refuses to go away: Adani’s promised, seemingly unquenchable thirst.  Up to 12.5 billion litres of water drawn from the Suttor River in central Queensland is being sought to aid the open-cut coal effort.  The misnamed Environment Minister’s portfolio, inhabited by the near invisible Melissa Price, did not feel any pressing concerns for conducting an assessment on how damaging such a move would be.

Again, Adani is there with qualifiers and dismissive counters, which are hard things to pull off, given the persistent trouble of drought in Queensland: the issue of the mandatory water trigger, which comes into play in such significant projects, should only apply to water used in the coal extraction process, rather than its overall plan of water usage which it has conveniently softened as a water strategy.  As the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy explains, “stand-alone proposals which involve only associated infrastructure, such as pipelines, are not captured by the water trigger because they do not directly involve the extraction of coal”. Such bureaucratic riddling does well in Canberra. the Australian Conservation Foundation is not impressed, and is taking the matter to the Federal Court.  By not considering the issue of how broad the water trigger was, Price had erred in a matter of law.  As things stand, Price and her colleagues, in connivance with Adani, are erring on a lot more besides, making the campaign against the mine a fundamental counter against permissible and ultimately scandalous environmental vandalism.


Contact Dr Kampmark: 

[email protected]

[email protected] 

Cooking Books and Limiting Responsibility: The Goldman Sachs Playbook in Malaysia

by Dr. Binoy Kampmark

World Events Journalism

Global News Aruba

Managing a bank will always be a more lucrative criminal enterprise than raiding one but this Brechtian styled analysis only goes so far.  A closer look at the extraordinary nature of Goldman Sachs and its operations reveals not merely a bank but a cult of considerable proportion, brazen in its operations and indifferent to authorities.  While states have been surrendering their functions to banks with more regularity than unconscious organ donors, the catch-up was bound to happen. In Malaysia, a country at times irritable with the liberties taken by financial institutions, a retaliation of sorts is taking place.

The Malaysian government now claims that the bank’s subsidiaries, two ex-bankers from Goldman Sachs and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, engaged in an enterprise of misappropriation to the tune of $2.7 billion.  To that can be added claims of bribery and supplying false statements.  But Goldman remains an old hand at this, already doing what it is famed for: minimising any alleged role of impropriety.

Wherever one turns to this mercenary of the finance world, the pattern is tried and familiar.  Clients of varying moral persuasions are targeted; books and accounts are cooked to order; loans and purchases are arranged.  The result is often murky and often seedy.

Examples of this proliferate in the financial jungle.  Greece stands out as one such client, entering into derivatives contracts with Goldman permitting a part securitisation of debt that evaded European Union rules on reporting.  This came via cross-currency swaps on a historically implied foreign exchange rate, meaning that a weaker Euro rate was used to obtain more Euros in exchange for Greece’s Yen and Dollar reserves.  The derivatives effectively functioned as loans from Goldman to the Greek government, enabling an easy fudge on deficit and debt figures.

Malaysia, with its suitable stable of malleable figures and functionaries keen for the quite literal steal, was also ripe for arrangements.

 “We cannot have an egalitarian society – its impossible to have an egalitarian society,” claimed former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak in September 2013 before an audience at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco.

Najib is now chief target of Malaysia’s current Mahathir administration.

That meeting also had another addition.  Tim Leissner, one of the anointed from the Goldman Sachs Group, was there.  In his role as Southeast Asia chairman, he presided over a financial empire with smooth channels of access to those in power.  Najib’s coming to office in 2009 saw an approval of Goldman’s application to conduct fund management and corporate finance activities.  Then came the deals with the state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).  Goldman made a stunning $600 million in raising $6.5 billion for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013 on three bond sales.  Its justification for such a figure lay in the underwriting of risks undertaken by the bank itself.

The matter with the 1MDB fund started going off.  It was rumoured that money was not going to the necessary infrastructure projects but making its way into private accounts.  Najib is now the target of a corruption case that has legs linking him to a former subsidiary of IMDB, namely SRC international.  Swiss prosecutors are investigating suspected misappropriations from the 1MDB amounting to $4 billion.

Leissner, like Najib, is out of favour, pleading guilty to US bribery charges in August.  Investigators are now interested to see whether Goldman Sachs had the temerity to mislead bondholders and break anti-corruption laws.

The bank is attempting to run by the old playbook of limited responsibility.  (It should be rebadged limitless irresponsibility.)  Isolate the virus; defer focus and accountability.  The rogue employee argument becomes the default position in such a manoeuvre.  Leissner and managing director Ng Chong Hwa, have been singled out as the villainous architects, while Andrea Vella has been put out to grass – for the moment.

Such a tactic is known and questionable.

“No matter how senior you are,” opined an anonymous former Goldman employee to CNBC, “there’s always somebody above you.  So a lot of people had to decide they were comfortable committing billions of dollars to this.”

Individuals like chief financial officer Stephen Scherr would have had a say, not to mention current CEO David Solomon and his predecessor Lloyd Blankfein.

That approach is also supplemented by the added incentive of libelling the client.  When things go wrong, the customer is not always right.  How, argues the company, could they have known that the raised revenue would be misappropriated?  In a statement from Goldman,

“Under the Malaysian legal process, the firm was not afforded an opportunity to be heard prior to the filing of these charge against certain Goldman Sachs entities, which we intend to vigorously contest.”

The institution knows it will get into regulatory hot water and insures against it.  That’s the Goldman way.  It will bet against the very same derivatives it sells to clients while using mortgage investment schemes that are immune to success.  It will engage in insider trading and, as happened in April 2012, be fined a mere $22 million.

The sheer audacity of this financial institution is finally captured by its confidence that failings, when not given minor punishment, might well be rewarded by the state.  Goldman Sachs is the sort of institution which has thrived on the largesse of government assistance – the old socialise your losses but privatise your gains sort of philosophy runs through its operational philosophy.  It knows, whatever the weather, it will always be guaranteed a safe place to moor.

As the financial crisis of 2008-9 began to bite with ferocity, the banking concern received some $10 billion, followed by $12.9 billion in credit default swap insurance via the bailout of AIG.  As John Lanchester pointed out at the time, the sensitive, well-thought out response of gratitude duly followed: the bank paid itself $16.7 billion in pay and bonuses for the first three quarters of the year.  That’s bankocracy for you.


Contact Dr Kampmark: 

[email protected]

Leaving Syria: President Trump’s Withdrawal

By Dr. Binoy Kampmark 

World Events Journalism

Global News Aruba

“The President announced an apparently impulsive decision that shook the world, showed little sign of nuanced consideration, confounded top advisers and by the end of the day left Washington in chaos and confusion.”  So goes a typical contribution from CNN, this time byStephen Collinson, pooh-poohing President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out some 2,000 US troops based in Syria. Trump had, whether intentionally or otherwise, touched a sentiment that has seethed underneath the US character at stages of the imperium’s muddled history.  “Torn between nostalgia for a pristine past and yearning for a perfect future,” scribbled that self-important sage and practitioner of US foreign relations, Henry Kissinger, “American thought has oscillated between isolationism and commitment.”

Isolationism has become a pejorative used to scold and denigrate any movement that supposedly moves the US imperial machine away from its policing role.  Cheered on from the international relations galleries, the US as an international sergeant has hardly bettered the world, often finding its clay feet in countries it needlessly deployed forces to.  (It’s all in the name of national security, of course.)  Nor can it ever have been said to be truly isolationist in any strict sense.

Between the War of 1812 against Great Britain and the Spanish-American War of 1898, the US maintained a posture of intervention, interference and influence at the regional level, thus designating it an assertive “hemispheric” power.  “Security,” suggested historian John Lewis Gaddis, “could best be assured… by making certain that no other great power gained sovereignty within geographic proximity of the United States.”

It also proved a violation of that keen injunction made by the all too intelligent President John Quincy Adams in his July 4th address in 1821, one that still sums up the US mission in all its doomed sanctimonious glamour.  “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.”  But be wary of going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy”; to do so might make the US “dictatress of the world” while no longer being “the ruler of her own spirit”.

Trumpland is a tense, manic place, one where chiding allies and high-fiving authoritarian figures might be permissible; but it is also one that eschews the stifling nature of relationships that entangle.  Alliances, like love affairs, can cloy after awhile.  Accusations of infidelity and poor bedroom performance are bound to follow.

Such an approach is bound to leave powers collaborating with Washington in the lurch, a point exemplified by the latest Syria announcement.  “Does the USA,” tweeted Trump on Thursday, “want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing?  Do we want to be there forever?  Time for others to finally fight…”

For Trump, no one should have raised an eyebrow, or had a complaint.  “Getting out of Syria was no surprise.  I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months now, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer.”  In what was a classic deferral of authority in the Syrian campaign, a backhanded admission of sorts, he noted how “Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS.”  Why do their blood shedding work?  “Time to come home & rebuild.” Where Trump reverts to full throttle idiosyncrasy (his critics would term it immodest derangement) is his novel assessment of attitudes of those three states at imminent US withdrawal.  “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the US leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.”  The focus, rather, was on the US “building by far the most powerful military in the world.  ISIS hits us they are doomed!” To round off the announcement, one of the last stalwarts resisting the fever of resignation and sacking that has afflicted the administration, announced his departure.  US Defence Secretary General Jim Mattis added his name to a pre-Christmas evacuation party that has made the Trump tenure one of the most eventful in US history.  His view on leaving remained that of the more orthodox defenders of the US imperium, with its umbrella of “alliances”.


“While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world,” he banally enunciated in his resignation letter, “we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.” Other politicians keen to keep the US brand in foreign military theatres were also dismayed at the move.  House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi was “shaken by the news because of the patriot that Secretary Mattis is.”  The general had proven to be “a comfort to many of us as a voice of stability in the Trump administration.” Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), having argued that the US troops stationed in Syria were “vital to our national security interests” (he never coherently articulated how) seemed personally stung by the announcement. “I’m going to give you an honest evaluation. I am willing to support a Democrat if he followed sound military advice.  I’m willing to fight a Republican if you don’t.” After reading Mattis’ resignation letter, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) felt that the US was “headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries.”  For Rubio and his extensively spread ilk in the foreign interventionist complex, Adams’ warning of 1821, given an awkward Trump twist in 2018, is not just history but another, very distant country.  Empire is its own global and lengthy commitment; to withdraw from any theatre is an admission that it is running out of gas and giving cheer to rivals.


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