Protest against the latest fiasco in the privatised rail industry

Action at King’s Cross to protest public subsidy of private rail franchisee

On Thursday of this week campaign group We Own It staged an action at King’s Cross station in London. The aim of the action was to draw attention to the costs to the public of subsidising the private companies who operate Britain’s rail services. In this case the operators of the East coast rail franchise Virgin Trains East Coast and Stagecoach have terminated their franchise arrangement early. Critics, such as the We Own It group, point out that this is in effect a bailout. The franchise holders had committed to pay money to the Treasury in the final years of the contract. Now they will not have to.

The whole system of giving rail franchises to the private sector is an example of a desperation to transfer as much public wealth into private hands as possible. This is not the first example of a rail franchise failing. And, surprisingly, given that this is supposed to be all about ‘markets’ we find that in reality private companies are able to reap profits but avoid risk. This then is not in fact a ‘market’ operation at all. It is a kind of reverse socialism – where the public underwrite and subsidise the private sector.

Details of the franchise can be found on this Guardian article. 

Great that campaign group We Own It are actively campaigning on this matter.

For background here is an interview from some time ago which Cat Hobbs, Director at We Own It, gave on the subject of rail privatisation to Sky News last year.

[su_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/wU_ble1NP1c”%5D

 

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New US Sanctions may target Europe’s gas relationship with Russia

Congress has passed, overwhelmingly, a new sanctions bill – which includes sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea.

The bill now goes to the Senate where it is expected to be passed. President Trump will then be under strong pressure to sign it into law.

The sanctions against Russia include new Iran-style sanctions. These go beyond instructing US businesses what they can and cannot do. These sanctions target the businesses of other countries; imposing penalties on their US operations if they work with Russia in certain ways. The EU is up in arms – though they may not in reality do very much.

The part of the bill (Section 232) which has so offended the EU is that part which imposes penalties on entities which make financial investments which “directly and significantly contributes to the enhancement of the ability of the Russian Federation to construct energy export pipelines” or which make technology transfers which “could directly and significantly facilitate the maintenance or expansion of the construction, modernization, or repair of energy export pipelines by the Russian Federation”. I.e they are targeting non Russian companies who work with Russia to develop export pipelines.

The penalties are various (given in Section 235 of the document). They include:

  • withdrawal of US government export credit facilities
  • curtailment of any export licenses concerning goods which would be exported to the targeted entity
  • blocking of loans made by any US financial institution to the targeted entity
  • using the US vote to block loans made by international organisations
  • withdrawal of a right to be a primary dealer in US government debt
  • blocking of any US government contracts made with the targeted entity
  • blocking of any financial transactions made with/by/to the targeted entity via the US financial system
  • blocking of US purchasing debt from the targeted entity

This is very serious stuff.

The immediate target of this is the the Nord Stream 2 project – a pipeline Russia is building under the Baltic to export gas to Europe, bypassing Ukraine. (There is already one pipeline on this route; this is to add capacity). This project is a joint project between Russian state controlled Gazprom [2] and several European energy companies. [3]

These companies will now have to decide if they want to risk substantial negative repercussions if they continue to be involved.

A secondary target might be Russian plans for a gas pipeline across the Black Sea to Turkey.

The EU – which was looking forward to its citizens consuming the exported gas will have to decide if it wants to make a political response.

The way out for everyone appears to be that the bill permits the President at will to impose the sanctions. The bill can be passed and become law but President Trump might simply choose not to take advantage of the provisions in the bill. Though one imagines that if the bill is passed then he will face pressure to use the measures in it. But for the EU to accept some kind of fudge like this would set a dangerous precedent for them.

Up till now EU and US sanctions have targeted Russia’s oil industry rather than gas. Russia exports oil to Europe but China, South Korea and Japan are also recipients. But almost all of Russia’s gas exports go to Europe. [4] Up till now – the EU has been careful to avoid doing anything which could affect its own gas supply. And, clearly, the continued export of its gas to the EU is a major source of revenue for the Russian state. The US bill thus threatens both the EU (in terms of cheap, reliable, gas supplies) and Russia (in terms of a potential loss of revenue).

The argument being made by the Russian side is that the driver for this is a US desire to sell its own gas products to Europe. This view is also being openly voiced in Germany. [5] (Readers of RT cannot but fail to notice that the long predicted division between the EU and the US over sanctions is now coming to pass).

The bill also makes existing sanctions which currently have the status of a directive into law which will make it harder for them to be removed.

This is a kind of declaration of war.

In the end all this will probably backfire on the US. When Congress chants ‘we are protecting freedom’ what they are actually chanting is ‘we are protecting the profits and interests of US business’. But they are in the long run backing themselves into a backwater. The world will go on – whatever difficulties they try to create for people who don’t ‘get’ the American way.

Notes

1. Full text of the Bill in Congress

2. https://www.economist.com/news/business/21573975-worlds-biggest-gas-producer-ailing-it-should-be-broken-up-russias-wounded-giant

3. https://www.rt.com/business/357176-nord-stream2-biden-us-russia/

4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2015/04/07/heres-where-russia-shipped-oil-last-year-as-ukraine-europe-diversifies/#4755fb017c5d

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=17231

5. https://www.rt.com/news/394783-germany-russia-sanctions-nordstream/

Pret á exploit

Fast-food chain Pret á Manager is, according to a report in the Guardian, ‘offering’ teenagers a week’s “work experience” over the Summer.

(The scheme is presented by their PR as something to do with recruiting ‘British’ teenagers to work in their stores, as most of their staff are non-British; an idea, which from certain points of view, seems simply racist. What’s wrong with non British workers?).

This kind of development should surprise no one. The gloves are truly off in capitalism. While exploitation is enshrined within capitalism it has, until quite recently, been held back from going the final mile, by a remnant of decency and morality. However; recently even these restraints are being abandoned. In a “progressive” shift in the culture such extreme kinds of exploitation can now confidently be explained away as “giving young people experience”. Power is so deeply buried – and yet so ascendant – that this kind of exploitation can be presented as normal.

In a competitive labour market, without restraints, it is entirely logical that people will find their first job is one they have to work for free; maybe even actually pay for. Expect more of this.

 

Severed limb protests – Russia replies

Following the ‘mannequin’ protest at the gates of the Russian Embassy in London Russia has replied:

If we want to count the wrecked limbs of killed civilians it would seem that, taking the last 20 years, the UK has more to its account than Russia. Bombing of Yugoslavia to force it to give up Kosovo (1998), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011) – the current destabilization of Syria. (The UK is fully aligned with weaponising all kinds of extremely right-wing Islamic militias who are being used to bring down the government of Assad).  As far as the Americans go there is a long list of refuge convoys, wedding parties, hospitals,  shepherds, TV stations, civilian air-raid shelters and so on to their account.

But our wars are always ‘right’. In defence of ‘human rights’. Or ‘democracy’. Or ‘regional stability’. And we “never deliberately target civilians”. And so it drones on.

Incidentally, a word on “we never deliberately target civilians”. Pay attention. This phrase is casually interpreted to mean that the West nevers hits civilians except by accident. But this isn’t that they mean. (Though every illegal war brings with it hundreds or perhaps thousands who are killed simply by ‘accident’ when a missile goes off-target or the coordinates were wrong). They have chosen their words carefully. It means that they are quite happy to bomb a target knowing full well that civilians are in or are highly likely to be in the vicinity – and they they will be hit. True – the civilians haven’t been “targeted”. It was the TV station, or the telephone exchange, or the house with the presumed militant inside which they were targeting. But, accidents aside, the West in its bombing is quite prepared to kill civilians in pursuit of military objectives. It inevitably does this when it bombs civilian infrastructure such as telephone exchanges, dams, power stations, bridges, water treatment plants and even TV stations etc [1] These people were not deliberately targeted. But they are dead nonetheless. And people also die when they were simply too close to a presumed military target. (Hundreds have been killed by the current wave of allied air-strikes in Iraq and Syria). [2] The liberal press and political class is whipping up a storm about “Russian war crimes” in Syria. But – the West does what it accuses the Russians of – on a far greater scale, and usually in wars of aggression rather than defence.

The people placing theatrical severed limbs outside the Russian Embassy in London, (unless they are committed peace activists who hold all parties to account for war per se), are in the strange position of people carrying out a protest which depends on delusion and make-believe. They might as well be on LSD for all their grasp of international affairs and recent history. Perhaps they are…

Notes

1. Partial list published in Washington Post illustrating typical civilian infrastructure targets hit when the US bombs a country. From 1991 campaign against Iraq.

Wikipeda article on US bombing in 1991 Iraq war. Details of civilian infrastructure hit.

2. Some Airwars (Soros backed monitoring group) figures on civilian casualties caused by allied bombing in Syria and Iraq

Russia warns the US

Russia has warned the US that if it (continues to) attack Syrian military forces in Syria their planes and missiles may be shot down. [1]

Russian air defense system crews are unlikely to have time to determine in a ‘straight line’ the exact flight paths of missiles and then who the warheads belong to. And all the illusions of amateurs about the existence of ‘invisible’ jets will face a disappointing reality. [1]

This looks pretty blunt.

Since (by the US’s own admission) [2] any direct US military intervention in Syria would be illegal under international law – and since the Russians are there legally by invitation of the Syrian government – if the Russians were to actually shoot down a US missile or plane that would be a legal action carried out against an illegal aggression. A legal action carried out against criminals in effect.

It remains to be seen whether the US will now proceed to start bombing Syrian government forces. An alternative would be for them to supply anti-aircraft missiles to the opposition. They’ve been avoiding this so far because of the problem of seepage of weapons from ‘moderate rebels’ to radical Islamists. [3] A seepage of anti-aircraft weapons opens up the nightmare PR scenario for the US of an Israeli civilian plane being shot down with a US supplied missile.

One tactic the CIA uses is to supply their ‘moderate’ fighters with Eastern European weapons so as (presumably) to try to disguise their provenance. [4] But it seems unlikely that supplying such ‘kinetic’ weapons as effective anti-aircraft systems could be so easily disguised. And – the level of transparency in the US is such that such a covert programme would most likely be eventually disclosed.

The situation now appears to have real potential for a direct military confrontation between Russia and the US. US policy is in disarray. The danger is that the war party will seize the initiative and may come out on top.

Notes

1. https://www.rt.com/news/361800-russia-syria-usa-aistrikes/

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/09/30/world/middleeast/john-kerry-syria-audio.html

3. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-conflict-jabhat-al-nusra-jihadists-show-off-weapons-allegedly-seized-us-trained-rebels-1522032

4. http://www.janes.com/article/59374/us-arms-shipment-to-syrian-rebels-detailed

Speaking truth to Power

This is an extract from Mr Lavrov’s speech at the UN today. It seems like the Russians patience is finally wearing a bit thin.

В просвещённом XXI веке просто неприлично поучать всех подряд, оставляя за собой, оставляя за собой право и на допинг, и на односторонние авантюры в обход ООН, и на геополитические эксперименты ценой в миллионы жизней, и на экстерриториальный шантаж всех, включая ближайших союзников, когда на кону финансовая выгода на своих, — сказал Лавров. [Source: Life News]

A rough translation reads:

In the enlightened 21st century it is simply indecent to preach to everyone in succession, leaving for oneself, the right to doping and unilateral adventures bypassing the UN, and to geopolitical adventures at the cost of millions of lives, and to the extraterritorial blackmail of everyone, including one’s closest allies, when one’s own financial advantage is at stake.

I doubt if anyone in the American delegation, even Kerry, even blushed.

 

New British war-crime

So. The BBC (as reported by RT) has confirmed the presence (illegal) in Syria of British troops.

They go on about ‘international law’ but break it all time.

This is because they are imperialists. They think (know) that the laws are made for the peasants/natives – and don’t apply to them, the rulers. They intefere all over the developing and emerging world leaving huge piles of bodies and hundreds of thousands of orphans (quite literally) in their wake. Quelle de nouvelle.

Though, actually, this apparent presence of the SAS in Syria is just part of a long-standing British imperial inteference in Syria. So nothing new really. [1]

Notes

1. http://www.stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news/matt-carr-blog/1490-iraq-and-the-us-game-of-thrones-was-isis-made-in-washington