IN MEMORIAM: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020): Fire and steel on the US Supreme Court

19/09/2020 Comments Off on IN MEMORIAM: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020): Fire and steel on the US Supreme Court

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second woman ever to sit on the United States Supreme Court and is known as the legal architect of the modern women’s movement. She, more than any other person, pointed out that many laws encouraged gender discrimination instead of guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities to all, as was intended by the United States Constitution. Her interest in the law started in primary school, when she wrote articles for her school newspaper about the Magna Carta.

She attended Cornell University, where she graduated with high honours in government. She married Martin Ginsburg, a law student, who predeceased her in 2010. She went on to Harvard Law School, where she served on the Law Review. There she was told that she and her eight female classmates – out of a class of 500 – were taking the places of qualified males. She transferred to Columbia University, where she graduated at the top of her class and then was unable to find a job. In 1970, she co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, the first law journal in the US to focus exclusively on women’s rights.

After working for a district judge, she joined the faculty of Rutgers University, where, in order to keep her job, she wore overly large clothes to hide the fact that she was pregnant. In 1972, she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and in 1973, she became the Project’s general counsel. The Women’s Rights Project and related ACLU projects participated in more than 300 gender discrimination cases by 1974. As the director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, she argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976, winning five of them. Her strategic advocacy extended to terminology; she used “gender” instead of “sex” after her secretary suggested the word “sex” would serve as a distraction to judges.

She was named a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, where she served until 1993. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court. She was confirmed by the Senate in a vote of 96 to 3, becoming the 107th Supreme Court Justice and its second woman jurist after Sandra Day O’Connor.

She served on the Supreme Court for over 27 years. She wrote 35 significant opinions, two important concurring opinions, and three selected dissenting opinions. She was a strong voice for the separation of church and state, a major legal issue today. In 1999, she won the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award for her contributions to gender equality and civil rights. In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, she criticised the decision in Roe as terminating a nascent democratic movement to liberalise abortion laws which might have built a more durable consensus in support of abortion rights. In 2016, she published her first book, entitled My Own Words, which is a collection of her speeches and writings. One day before her death, she was honoured on Constitution Day and was awarded the 2020 Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center.

She was barely five feet tall and weighed only 100 pounds, but she trained every day with a trainer, who wrote a book about her. She died at home of pancreatic cancer at the age of 87 on 18 September 2020. Mourners gathered at the Supreme Court after the announcement of her death.

The New York Times obituary said: “As Justice Ginsburg passed her 80th birthday and 20th anniversary on the Supreme Court bench during President Barack Obama’s second term, she shrugged off a chorus of calls for her to retire in order to give a Democratic president the chance to name her replacement. She planned to stay “as long as I can do the job full steam,” she would say, sometimes adding, “There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president.”

One day after her death, there is already a “rapidly unfolding political fight over replacing her”, including whether or not to await the election of a new president before doing so.

A book about her by Eleanor H Ayer, published in 1994, described her as “fire and steel on the Supreme Court” – a fitting way to remember her.

INFORMATION AND PHOTOS FROM: Wikipedia as at 18 September 2020 ; PHOTO by SDkb outside Supreme Court 18 September 2020 ; Encyclopedia of Notable Biographies ; A Might Justice, 18 September 2020 ; AZ Central, 18 September 2020

This text and accompanying photos will be on the social media, website and in the newsletter of ICWRSA in the next few days.

Why defending Julian Assange remains absolutely the right thing to do

06/09/2020 Comments Off on Why defending Julian Assange remains absolutely the right thing to do

7 September 2020 — This commentary was submitted in early July to the London Review of Books in response to its many comments about Julian Assange over the years. They rejected it. I am sharing it now as the UK court is about to hear the case for and against Julian Assange’s extradition, that is, whether or not to send him to a death sentence in Donald Trump’s USA this week after the UK having been complicit in his being imprisoned in solitary confinement for almost ten years already — for being a journalist.

Please see the Reporters Without Borders PRESS RELEASE published 4 September 2020 in their newsletter. See also JONATHAN COOK BLOG defending Assange published 2 September 2020.

On 18 June 2020 the London Review of Books (LRB) published a commentary by Patrick Cockburn in defence of Julian Assange (Julian Assange in Limbo, 18 June 2020, p.29-30). I was going to reply commending his stance. But before I had time, the LRB published a letter on 2 July from Patrick O’Connor, reminding us that Wikileaks and Assange himself in some emails had cooperated with Russian security surrogates and the Trump campaign to damage Hilary Clinton. It crossed my mind to check whether the LRB had published other articles about him in the last decade, during which time many people have turned against him. I knew of only one article on 6 March 2014, by Andrew O’Hagan, which I’ll come back to. A quick search showed they had published a number of articles about him and others that merely mention him, about a dozen or so all told.

What follows is a summary of how the LRB’s authors have portrayed Assange and the political issues surrounding his journalism since 2010. It started with Andrew O’Hagan (Short Cuts, With the Hackerati, LRB, 19 August 2010), focusing on how Assange looked and dressed: “If hackers possess a look, then Julian Assange would probably be best placed to carry it onto the runways at New York fashion week. Except that the founder of WikiLeaks – brown cargo pants, computer rucksack, and this season’s must-have, prematurely silver hair – would certainly be arrested as he attempted to cross into the land of the free…” Then, going on to the politically important issues involved, he describes Assange as follows:

“[H]e represents the democratic instinct at its most blunt.”

“Contemptible? Heroic? Assange may simply be fulfilling the journalist’s role in the new ways allowed by the internet.”

But he couldn’t stay focused on the real issues, he had to sidetrack onto Assange’s personality too in his inimitable, judgmental way: “Assange himself, meanwhile, behaves like someone balanced quite delicately between ego-less humanitarian, autistic showman and outrageous monomaniac.”

Jeremy Harding briefly showed a sort of respect for Wikileaks’ accomplishments in describing how the French were not yet sure of Assange or the issue of rights in: (Short Cuts, Les WikiLeaks, LRB, 16 December 2010):

“French opinion is uncertain about white knights like Julian Assange, and still slow to pick up the language of rights, as spoken by WikiLeaks. In the world of governance, rights culture is one of the great climate-changers, melting away old assumptions about the exercise of power, just as the web is doing.”

A month later, Glen Newey discussed the significance of the leaks in a wider political context (Diary Life with WikiLeaks, LRB, 6 January 2011), and argued that: “‘free’ speech incurs opportunity costs” and argued that whether or not secret or confidential information should be leaked should be decided “with reference to the public interest”. He leaves open the question of whether the information leaked by Wikileaks met this criterion. But in regard to Assange refusing to go to Sweden for questioning, Newey reminds us of: the case of Muhammad al-Zery and Ahmed Agiza – Egyptian asylum seekers abducted from Stockholm by the US in 2001 with Swedish complicity, then taken back to Egypt and tortured”.

He closes by saying, with some irony: a copious leak can do the state some service…. [However], it’s a service for which the state may prove signally ungrateful.”

Two weeks later, Slavoj Žižek takes Newey’s argument a major step further (Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks, LRB, 20 January 2011): “There has been, from the outset, something about [Wikileaks’] activities that goes way beyond liberal conceptions of the free flow of information. We shouldn’t look for this excess at the level of content. The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises. Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn? The real disturbance was at the level of appearances: we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know. This is the paradox of public space: even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything… What WikiLeaks threatens is the formal functioning of power…. that might reach beyond the limits of representative democracy…. However, it is a mistake to assume that revealing the entirety of what has been secret will liberate us.”

But Žižek concludes: “[T]oday we face the shameless cynicism of a global order whose agents only imagine that they believe in their ideas of democracy, human rights and so on. Through actions like the WikiLeaks disclosures, the shame – our shame for tolerating such power over us – is made more shameful by being publicised.”

Against the demand for Assange’s extradition, Jeremy Harding points out, 18 months later, that In Assange’s favour is the suggestion that any charge against him would also have to apply to Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times” – whose newspaper published some of the leaked information. Further, he says that Wikileaks and then Bradley Manning altered the global discussion by exhaustive confirmation that the war in Iraq had been a terrible mistake”. Who among us would disagree with that conclusion today? Yet at the time, the information was explosive. (I Could’ve Sold to Russia or China, LRB, 19 July 2012)

At some point during these years, Andrew O’Hagan was contracted to ghostwrite Assange’s autobiography. In 2014, he outed himself as such in the LRB, (Ghosting, LRB, 6 March 2014). I wrote a letter on 29 March to the editor about it at the time, but it was not published. As an editor myself, I believed it was unethical to publish that article as the contractual agreement was he would remain anonymous. In those often below-the-belt 25,900 words, I think O’Hagan did Assange a great deal of damage, belittling him and making him look very bad personally. What he went through as a ghostwriter was clearly very difficult, and I think he wanted to get his own back. Far worse, however, he blamed Julian Assange for his own need to have his experience seen and heard – on the grounds that he himself is a writer. (Letter to LRB, by Marge Berer, 29 March 2014, unpublished; posted in Berer Blog, 9 August 2015)

On the other hand, perhaps learning the details of Assange’s experiences firsthand stopped O’Hagan from seeing him as someone at a hacker’s fashion show. He wrote (Text-Inspectors, LRB 24 September 2014) that: “Surveillance in the UK is an implicitly sanctioned habit that has smashed the moral framework of journalism. Protection of sources is not an adornment, not some optional garment worn only when it suits, but a basic necessity in the running of a free press in a fair democracy. Snowden proved that, but not to the satisfaction of Britain’s home affairs establishment, or the police, who like to behave as if all freedoms are optional at the point of delivery.” He points out that Alan Rusbridger, former Guardian editor, had recently said that “source confidentiality is in peril”, that Glen Greenwald was also at risk of prosecution, not just Julian Assange, and that Edward Snowden taught us that “our freedom is being diluted by a manufactured fear of the evil that surveillance ‘protects’ us from”.

O’Hagan also acknowledges: “The first thing that amazed me about Julian Assange was how fearful he was – and how right, as it turned out – about the internet being used as a tool to remove our personal freedom. That surprised me, because I’d naively assumed that all hackers and computer nerds were in love with the net. In fact, the smarter ones were suspicious of it and understood all along that it could easily be abused by governments and corporations.”

Then the reporting goes downhill. In September 2015, in a review of a novel that had nothing to do with Assange, Adam Mars-Jones quotes a whole paragraph from the novel describing one of its characters, a barely disguised Julian Assange: “[T]here was a warrant out for his arrest for something sexual, nasty sexual. The consensus was confusing. He had raped someone, or he had not and the charges were trumped up. He was a free speech hero or international threat or both, and either being prosecuted for that or a pervert. Point is, he shopped around and got asylum.” Thus, the accusation of rape against Assange was inserted into the public space in a book review through guilt by association. (Sheer Cloakery, 23 September 2015)

In February 2016, Daniel Soar wrote a “cute” piece about Assange and Ai Wei Wei, “two bad boys” he called them, one locked up in the Ecuadorian embassy for three years by that time and the other locked up for three months in China. The first half of the article is about Ai Wei Wei and queries the friendship between the two men only because they are “famous”. The second half of the article gets serious, however. Soar argues: It isn’t Assange’s fault that he needs to keep himself close to the surface of the news: he has been inside the same building for – the counter on WikiLeaks currently reads – 1886 days and nights, and, like Scheherazade, if he doesn’t keep telling stories, he’ll disappear. But the phenomenon that was WikiLeaks depended on facelessness and anonymity. Not only for pragmatic reasons – leakers and whistleblowers have to be allowed the security of invisibility if they are to risk releasing dangerous secrets – but for reasons, too, of effective dissent.”

And by the end very serious: “Assange takes care to manage – or tries to manage – the stories about him. He needs to, because there are a lot of them about, not all of them fair: the sexual predator, the prima donna, the egotist, the reckless betrayer. And, after all, when he ran out of secrets, his image was all he had left. Since he first exploded into view, those in the secret-disclosing business who are sticking it to the Man have understood that once you’ve burned up those secrets, you’re faced with a choice. Either you go supernova, like Snowden, or – like Assange – you turn into a black hole.” (Short Cuts, Julian Assange, LRB, 18 February 2016)

Assange wasn’t managing well by then, and as people began deserting him, his personality was again dissected and the accusation of sexual predator made front page news. I think this did for him. In today’s world, there are certain accusations that, once fired at someone, make them a permanent pariah whether they turn out to be true or not. “Sexual predator/rapist” is one of them. I wonder if anyone in Sweden ever researched or questioned the behaviour of the Swedish authorities and whether these accusations were indeed cooked up, as Patrick Cockburn has suggested is possible.

James Meek, in an article about changes in the newspaper world and at the Guardian for 20 years (The Club and the Mob, LRB, 6 December 2018) quotes Alan Rusbridger: “Reflecting on the Guardian’s mutually beneficial but uneasy relationship with Julian Assange during the WikiLeaks affair, Rusbridger writes: ‘I once remarked to a senior intelligence figure that the British and American governments, instead of condemning our role, should go down on their knees in thanks that we were there as a careful filter. Without newspapers, they would be dealing with a much scarier and intractable problem…. How contemptuous Assange would be of such a thought. How he would despise even my contact with such a person, or the fact that I leave him anonymous in this narrative.’” Thus, Rusbridger reveals his own contempt for Assange.

In 2019, in an article about the Trump presidential campaign in 2016 and the involvement of the Russians (How to Get Screwed, LRB, 6 June 2019), David Runciman reports that Assange said: “We believe it would be much better for GOP to win so that the Democrats, media and other liberals would form a bloc to rein in their [the GOP’s] worst qualities”. Well, he got that wrong, didn’t he, and Trump is now after his life. In any case, the extent to which he “supported” Trump may well also be a cooked-up story.

Which leaves for last (to date) Mary Beard on the subject of Germaine Greer’s new book On Rape (The Greer Method, 24 October 2019). Julian Assange gets one sentence yet again, in a book review that is otherwise not about him. Nor does Beard say what Greer actually says about Assange, if anything, but once again Assange and rape are mentioned and linked.

In conclusion, during almost a decade of LRB articles, Assange’s contribution to journalism and exposé of vicious global politics is both taken seriously and supported politically, even while he himself is looked down upon personally. In some of the articles, the mentions are so minor, however, i.e. only a sentence or two and not the subject of the article concerned at all, that I wonder why the mentions were considered worthwhile.

Postscript – the real issue: On 3 July 2020, Reporters without Borders published an open letter calling on the UK government to “release Mr Assange from prison immediately, and block his extradition to the US” where he is facing 175 years in prison – i.e. a death sentence .

The letter says: “The US government has indicted Mr Assange on 18 counts for obtaining, possessing, conspiring to publish and for publishing classified information. The indictment contains 17 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917 and one charge of conspiring (with a source) to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which uses Espionage Act language. This is the first ever use of such charges for the publication of truthful information in the public interest, and it represents a gravely dangerous attempt to criminalise journalist-source communications and the publication by journalists of classified information, regardless of the newsworthiness of the information and in complete disregard of the public’s right to know.

“On 24 June 2020, the US Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Mr Assange, adding no new charges but expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. This new indictment employs a selective and misleading narrative in an attempt to portray Mr Assange’s actions as nefarious and conspiratorial rather than as contributions to public interest reporting.”

The letter was signed by 40 human rights, press freedom and privacy rights organisations on five continents, including Reporters Without Borders, International Federation of Journalists; PEN International and six national PEN branches; International Association of Democratic Lawyers; International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech; Index on Censorship; Head of Europe and Central Asia of Article 19; International Press Centre; International Press Institute; World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters; Association of European Journalists; European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, a range of national groups in Australia, Norway, Palestine, Bahrain, Liberia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Turkey, and others.

They think 100% support for the release of Julian Assange from many years of solitary confinement without trial is what is called for. I agree. Human rights are for everyone.


Dear Keir Starmer,

28/06/2020 Comments Off on Dear Keir Starmer,

RE: Covid-19, Kashmir, Antisemitism, Rebecca Long-Bailey

28 June 2020

I have spent a lot of my time in lockdown writing letters of protest. Yesterday, I sent an email to Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Jeremy Hunt about the Tory’s 300-strong vote in Parliament this week to deny NHS and care staff Covid-19 tests for their own safety and that of their patients. You can read it here.

I was very upset when you responded to the Kashmir situation by more or less saying it was up to India to deal with it. A group of us wrote you a letter about that. I then saw that a letter had been sent to you by 100 Muslim groups who said they would stop supporting Labour electorally if you did not change your stance. That same article reported your response, in which you changed what you said, as quickly as 24 hours later. Good for you, I thought, though some questioned how deeply it was meant.

Regarding Kashmir, I would like to recommend that you read Arundhati Roy’s book, My Seditious Heart (2019), a collection of her essays written over 20 years, in which among many other things she traces the history of Narendra Modi’s rise to power, starting in Gujarat, and details the persistent, horrific violence against Muslims in both India and Kashmir that he and his party and supporters are responsible for. I think it’s a book you will want to have read.

I voted for you as Party leader, enthusiastically. I was impressed with the range of people you appointed to your shadow cabinet and how you have been challenging Boris Johnson in the House of Commons.

Then, this week, you unceremoniously dumped Rebecca Long-Bailey. Maybe people behind the scenes knew it was coming. I was totally shocked. I’ve been reading what I can find about why it happened, and listening to all the various opinions flying around about it, many of which I think are beside the point. But the more I read, the more I think you’ve made a major mistake.

OK, she re-tweeted something about an interview with Maxine Peake. You thought (or someone convinced you) it was antisemitic? The interview? The tweet? Why? I can only presume you thought (or were told and believed) that it was false that US police were being trained by Israeli police. Then the situation was made worse when, instead of challenging this accusation head-on and presenting you with the facts surrounding it, Long-Bailey published a statement that her tweet wasn’t intended as a defence of the whole article. That wasn’t a defence at all, in my opinion, but then she apparently refused to withdraw the tweet. Very messy, from whatever angle you look at it. But it got messier.

I read on Skwawkbox, published 25 June, that there are big differences between the two of you regarding whether children should go back to school right away in July or not, with her supporting the NEU position of wanting to wait until everyone’s safety can be guaranteed, while you are thinking they should all go back right away. The Skwawkbox view is that this political disagreement was the real subject of conflict between you, and the real reason for you sacking her, but that you used antisemitism to justify yourself. So I have to ask you: is that true? I sincerely hope not. Today, however, just before I was planning to send this letter, I received details of a second article, making the same claim. This Covid-19 related issue is certainly an important political disagreement, but not just between you and her. In fact, it’s an issue for all of us in the Labour Party, and in far more ways than one. But why has it not emerged in the mainstream media as the real reason why you sacked her? And if it is indeed your real reason, how should you have addressed it? This question leads to further questions:

First, has the Shadow Cabinet got a collectively agreed position on the issue of children returning to school? Have they even been asked? If so, what is the position and when was it reached? I am an editor and author on women’s reproductive health issues and I have been reading widely about Covid-19. I happen to think the NEU is absolutely right. I believe the role of children in the transmission of this virus is greatly under-recognised. Preparation for their safety and the safety of everyone in the school community and in children’s own homes is critical. The government has failed to advise how to accomplish that preparation, as they have failed with everything else related to this virus. But isn’t it Long-Bailey’s role to stand up for the NEU position in the Shadow Cabinet if she is convinced it’s correct? Isn’t this her area of expertise? Or must she fall on her sword just because you disagree with her? That brings me to the question of what kind of Party Leader you are going to be, and most importantly how you will deal with dissent and disagreement within the Shadow Cabinet, as well as within the Party more widely. This is something you’ll confront every day. You can’t just go sacking ministers every time one of them disagrees with you. There’ll soon be no one left if you do. But this is not the only thing upsetting me and, it seems, many other people.

Coming back to the accusation of antisemitism, did you use that to set her up, knowing the mainstream (anti-Labour) media would jump on it, since they still get off on the bloodletting that occurs as soon as the words Labour and “antisemitism” appear together? You would know full well she would be crushed in five seconds with that. Or did you really believe the tweet (or the original article) were antisemitic?  If so, who convinced you?

One of my most politically astute friends thought her re-tweet was a stupid thing to do and that it proved she didn’t deserve to be in the Shadow Cabinet, that she should have known better. But that assumes the original article and the tweet were both antisemitic. Most people still understand very little about the parameters of what is and is not antisemitic. If Keir Starmer says it was antisemitic, it must be antisemitic, they would assume. But what if it wasn’t, and you used it anyway? Does it turn out that you are totally unethical? I hope you will explain and justify your reasoning and your actions.

Accusations of antisemitism raise many more issues. One is, what will the new process be in the Labour Party for dealing with allegations of antisemitism? I thought we’d all agreed by now that, in recent years, the process had been a disaster from start to finish. Any doubts on this were put to rest by the “leaked report”. I thought it had also been agreed that a new process is needed. But one thing is for sure – what you did isn’t it. Leader or not, you cannot be allowed to dismiss someone for antisemitism on your own, acting as judge, jury and hangman. It won’t do. If anyone in the Party actually supports your doing so, I fear I’m suddenly in the wrong party.

It is of course in your power as Leader to dismiss someone from the Cabinet over a serious political disagreement, but that’s NOT what you did. The uproar was inevitable. With wrongheaded political decisions being made left, right and centre on starting lockdown too late and stopping lockdown too soon, and all the risks attached to this, this is the last damn thing the country needed.

But returning to antisemitism and the Party. We’re waiting to hear from the EHRC. I think it’s crucial that whatever they say, we need a national discussion in the Party on how to respond, along with a process for dealing both with antisemitism and all other forms of racism, religious and ethnic discrimination – both in response to Black Lives Matter and following from the letter from the 100 Muslim organisations who support Labour. Not treating these separately from each other. And not focusing only on antisemitism.

I also believe the Party needs to tell the Jewish Board of Deputies to step back and stop acting as if they’re in charge. If you want to appoint them as the controllers of the Labour Party on the question of antisemitism, I think you need to ask Conference’s approval. That should also not be in your gift.

When you want Jewish opinions on something, there are hundreds if not thousands of members of the Party who are Jewish, including me, who are ready to give you advice – as long as you don’t expect us all to agree with each other. We are a part of the so-called “Jewish community” too, which is not a monolith and not beholden to the Board of Deputies either. Most importantly, we are Labour Party members. The Board of Deputies should never have been allowed to dictate terms to us, any more than we would allow the Pope to do so.

Lastly, there is the other issue that is part of the toxic mix from this event – the issue of Israelis training police from the USA. I have no idea what you know about this subject. I knew almost nothing till all this blew up. Having done my homework I can say there is no doubt such training is happening, like it or not. It was exposed some years ago by the US group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), who have been campaigning against what they call these “deadly exchanges” since 2014. These “exchanges” involve more countries than the USA and Israel, however. For evidence, I refer you to three articles, from the JVP website:

This last article says:

“Any militarized tactics or technologies acquired through police exchange programs go directly to executing the unchanged mission of the American police, established long before the founding of the state of Israel. Highlighting these police exchange programs without enough context or depth can end up harming our movements for justice. Suggesting that Israel is the start or source of American police violence or racism shifts the blame from the United States to Israel. This obscures the fundamental responsibility and nature of the U.S., and harms Black people and Black-led struggle. It also furthers an antisemitic ideology. White supremacists look for any opportunity to glorify and advance American anti-Black racism, and any chance to frame Jews as secretly controlling and manipulating the world. Taking police exchanges out of context provides fodder for those racist and antisemitic tropes.”

It goes on to say: “Police exchange programs are a mutual exchange of rights violations between like-minded governments. U.S. police have long built partnerships and swapped ‘worst practices’ with militaries and police forces that abuse human rights all over the world. Police exchange programs solidify partnerships between the U.S. and other governments, including Israel, and facilitate a two-way exchange in methods and equipment for state violence and control, including mass surveillance, racial profiling and suppression of protest and dissent.”

Lastly, in an article from 10 June 2020 in the Jerusalem Post, the Israel Police national spokesman Micky Rosenfeld acknowledges that there has been Israeli training in counter-terrorism for US police for some time. He says that the procedure used to kill George Floyd is not taught by them, however, and he argues that counter-terrorism techniques save lives. The difference between how JVP (and I) and the US and Israeli police see this training is a matter of very different politics, to be sure. But nothing, I would argue, nothing to do with antisemitism.

It is perhaps inevitable that the left of the Labour Party has interpreted your sacking of Long-Bailey as a sectarian act that proves you were always  intending to get rid of everyone on the left. But I can’t figure out why you would bother to appoint someone from the left of the party to a high-level position to begin with, if that was your intention. What I do know is that if this turns into a war between left and right internally, we will all lose. And it’s your responsibility to prevent that, not to fan the flames.

I think the anger on her behalf is justified, because she has been greatly humiliated by being called antisemitic over a stupid tweet that was not antisemitic. Now, everyone’s anger needs to be assuaged – so that no one loses face, yourself and Long-Bailey included. Is that possible?

I signed the petition to protest your decision. But I do want to see you bring everyone in the Party together, as you promised. We need unity very badly. For all the members who voted for her to be leader, unity includes Long-Bailey. That’s a lot of people for a new party leader to have pissed off all at once. There’s a lot to be said for not taking rash action. This did not have to happen.

With best wishes,

Marge Berer

Shame on Boris Johnson and his government

27/06/2020 Comments Off on Shame on Boris Johnson and his government

To: ‘’; ‘’; ‘’
Cc: ‘’

Subject: Three hundred Tory MPs vote to deny NHS workers Covid-19 tests

Dear Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Matt Hancock,

Shame on the entire Tory party.

Shame on all of you who voted down needed Covid-19 tests to protect NHS staff and thereby also continuing to put patients at risk.

Special shame on Matt Hancock for failing in his remit to protect the NHS by this, and on Jeremy Hunt who supported more testing for NHS staff earlier in the day, and then voted against it.

Shame on the whole Tory government for failing to provide NHS and care workers with adequate PPE from the very start, let alone now.

Shame on all of you for failing to start testing and contact tracing, failing to promote the universal use of masks in public spaces, and failing to carry out adequate isolation/quarantine measures until so late in the day (if at all even now), and more shame on you for using the excuse that the apps didn’t work when manual contact tracing has always been feasible.

Shame on you for giving incompetent companies like Serco and DeLoitte vast amounts of money to do tasks that NHS labs should have been doing locally as regards testing and contact tracing and isolating people, and were stopped from doing.

Shame on you for ignoring the advice of scientists from East Asia and New Zealand who spoke in the Home Affairs Committee meeting broadcast recently on the Parliament Channel, who advised not opening the country to tourism this year because it was too high risk.

Shame on you for planning and carrying out more privatisation of the NHS behind our backs even now, when it has been pushed to the limit to try and make up for the damage your incompetence has caused.

And shame on you for giving such poor advice to the public that thousands of people have crowded together on our beaches in recent days and with everything else you have opened up prematurely, will contribute to a second wave of infections that data show has already begun.

Shame above all on Boris Johnson who almost died from Covid-19 and only survived because the NHS gave him first class care. You and your government and advisers have killed a very large number of people who never needed to die from this virus. This has not only been a total failure of leadership but also, in my opinion, criminal negligence, and I hope someone takes you to court for it.

Yours sincerely, Marge Berer

George Floyd: it was first degree murder and torture, and it happens every day

04/06/2020 Comments Off on George Floyd: it was first degree murder and torture, and it happens every day

The women’s movement has been condemning violence against women and calling for the impunity of the vast majority of men who are ”getting away with it” to be addressed. But we have not succeeded in finding a way to make that violence, let alone any other form of violence, stop happening to begin with.

There is men’s violence against each other, for example, another class of violence altogether. It probably creates even more victims than violence against women, not least because it is so often committed on a mass scale (especially in war and massacres based on race, religion and ethnic background). It is even turned into highly praised TV programmes about animals in the wild, by apparently peace-loving people such as David Attenborough, who always film animals fighting, stalking their prey and killing each other – as mercilessly as that policeman tortured and murdered George Floyd – with intent and without hesitation or probably even a passing thought for the life that he extinguished.

George Floyd was tortured – it was inhumane, cruel and degrading treatment. The word ‘degrading’ is especially apropos in this instance because above all it was an expression of race hatred.

As Spike Lee said, this has been going on for 400 years. That is, since the country that became the so-called United States of America came into existence through the conquest of the land and its peoples by foreign white men. Can a country whose forebears once practised slavery ever stop treating the descendants of slavery as inferior? What public policy can finally create a society that practises non-violence? Why does humankind not have the understanding and mutual respect to achieve that?

I emigrated from the US for many reasons, but one of them was because, having spent five years of my youth protesting against the US war that decimated Vietnam, I could not cope with the violence rampant in the US itself, including in the Philadelphia neighbourhood where I lived before I left. Let alone that country’s glorification of its own violence through patriotism and the unquestioned assumption that it has the right to dominate, invade and declare war on almost everyone else on earth if, when and how it pleases. While glorifying itself as the world’s greatest democracy, as the world’s saviour even, strutting around the globe like every dictator on earth, preening itself on the world stage. Donald Trump is the culmination of everything that is has ever gone wrong  in my country, whose daily outpourings of hatred and contempt are insufferable, and yet get endless airtime and thereby credibility.

The names of all the black and ethnic minority people who have been murdered by police in the USA and by the US military abroad would fill endless walls. The solidarity of the demonstrations against this latest and most foul death in so many countries was heartfelt, coming from other countries where racism is also rampant though perhaps sometimes less blatantly murderous. Until an event such as the Grenfell Tower fire takes place or a virus is allowed to murder so many healthcare workers, especially those of black and ethnic minority origin, whose lives – seen by their governments as expendable – are extinguished.

The inevitability of Death is bad enough. No one should have to die like that.

Many people are shocked because they watched this murder on TV. But this is a daily event in the USA, as it is in so many other countries, if not in all of them. Why? Because the world does not have enough leaders who can and do implement the profound changes needed to right these wrongs, to challenge and silence the contempt, and stop the violence before it happens to begin with. Let alone enough citizens who will stand up publicly and reject the utter hypocrisy of the inevitable Boris Johnsons who put themselves in front of cameras after events like these to express their… their what? Pfah! as my grandmother used to say.

George Floyd’s brother called for an end to the violence in his brother’s name. I don’t know how to stop it happening either. But I stand with him.

Criminal negligence by the Westminster government: close to 40,000 dead unnecessarily

25/05/2020 Comments Off on Criminal negligence by the Westminster government: close to 40,000 dead unnecessarily

Dear Nickie Aiken (Tory MP for the Cities of London & Westminster),

Hello. I’m afraid you will be receiving several emails from me during this bank holiday weekend. I am one of the few people locally who has not gone to the seaside for the weekend, as so many others appear to have done following the pathetically confused advice from the government, which I fear will lead to many new Covid-19 infections this week.

I find it ironic that everyone is baying for the resignation of Dominic Cummings when the Prime Minister himself broke the rules early on by visiting a hospital and shaking hands with patients with Covid-19 and laughingly said so to a media camera. I have the footage and it’s been shared many times. (See the video link in the report some pages below this one on this blog.)

But I am writing also to criticise the entire government policy on Covid-19. Although I do not have a degree in public health, I have been studying and publishing information on international women’s health issues since 1985. This has included information about the HIV pandemic, about which I published a 400-page book in relation to women’s health in four languages, and more recently regarding the Zika virus, which had a terrible effect on babies born to women with that virus. I am now publishing a twice weekly international newsletter on abortion rights and reproductive health and rights for readers in 129 countries, and have been informing myself about policy on preventing, mitigating and treating Covid-19 for that publication. What I have to say is very simple…

The number and rate of infections and deaths from Covid-19 in each country is a direct reflection of whether their government’s policy is correct or incorrect. In this country, every Tory MP who appears in the media and on television has apparently been instructed to say, like an automaton, that the government has been “following the scientific advice”. But the numbers do not lie. The numbers say that the government has failed, from day one, to implement evidence-based policy that would have prevented most of the current 37,000+ confirmed deaths and 257,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK. These statistics, these dead human beings who gave their lives helping other people, are among the highest figures in the world for such a tiny country.

It is Boris Johnson and his whole government who should resign in shame for having killed so many people by ignoring World Health Organization advice, not just early on but up to this day.

Compare this to Taiwan, also an island, with a population of 23 million, compared to our 66 million. Taiwan, so near China, was one of the first places the virus could have hit. (In 2019, 2.71 million visitors from mainland China travelled to Taiwan and thousands of Taiwanese travel back and forth to China on a daily basis as well.) Yet Taiwan as of yesterday had had only 441 infections and 7 deaths from Covid-19. That is the measure of the failure of our government, your leader. What did Taiwan do that the UK has not:

1. Inspection of all travellers since January arriving from other countries for signs of infection and quarantine any who test positive.

2. Mobilisation of their Central Epidemic Command Center – a rapid-response agency formed in the wake of the 2003 SARS outbreak – to implement quarantines, give the government advice on proven policy, advise hospitals and publish daily informative messages for the public.

3. Testing large numbers of people from the start. Putting people with infection in a special quarantine hospital until 14 days after they test free of the virus.

4. Manual contact tracing to find everyone who had contact with the infected persons and testing and quarantining them if infected.

5. Producing millions of masks and ensuring they are sold cheaply to every citizen, and are always worn when people are outside their homes, especially on public transport. Fines for those who have been warned but do not mask.

6. Enforcing messages about how critical social distancing is, daily.

7. Ensuring that everyone seeing patients has proper PPE – in hospitals, care situations and many many others.

Unlike us, almost no one has died. Unlike us, they never needed lockdown. Unlike Johnson’s health minister and Public Health England cronies, they knew what the correct science was and they have implemented it to the letter.

The Johnson Tory government has done none of these things properly, or at all. The mucking about with apps has been appalling. The use of DeLoitte ad other incompetent private firms,  Johnson’s buddies no doubt, not using local NHS labs with expertise, refusing EU PPE equipment when it was offered, was/is outrageous. Johnson is lying to the people on a daily basis, just like he promised those millions for the NHS on the side of a bus last year. On top of the rest of it, they have been charging the least well paid and least protected NHS health workers and care workers for their own NHS care and only giving in when there was massive protest… the last straw for me.

The verdict: criminal negligence on a large scale. 40,000 people dead unnecessarily whose lives had no value to Boris Johnson because they probably wouldn’t have voted for him anyway. There’s not much to choose between Johnson, Trump, Bolsanaro and Modi. All very right-wing and self-serving. All dead ignorant about health, welfare and human rights. All incompetent in spite of all the money they can command and represent.

So I want Boris Johnson to resign, and that will take care of Cummings too. Two for the price of one.

‘The past six weeks have been unlike anything I’ve known’: a GP on how the pandemic has changed his work

19/05/2020 Comments Off on ‘The past six weeks have been unlike anything I’ve known’: a GP on how the pandemic has changed his work

This is a “long read” article in the Guardian, written by Gavin Francis, a GP in Scotland, published 12 May 2020. It’s very moving and informative.

A brutal but absolutely true comparison in three minutes: Jacinda Ardern of NZ vs. Boris Johnson UK on how to address Covid-19: watch the video

18/05/2020 Comments Off on A brutal but absolutely true comparison in three minutes: Jacinda Ardern of NZ vs. Boris Johnson UK on how to address Covid-19: watch the video


Two must-read articles about the government’s incompetent and devious policies in dealing with Covid-19

03/05/2020 Comments Off on Two must-read articles about the government’s incompetent and devious policies in dealing with Covid-19

If you’re confused about what’s right and wrong in how different governments are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, the answer to the following question is a good indicator of whether they’re doing an excellent job or making a complete mess of it: How many people have died?

In the UK, today, 3 May 2020, 6 minutes ago as I write this, the BBC reported that there are now more than 186,000 confirmed cases in the UK and 28,446 people with the virus who have died. It’s unclear whether that includes only those who have died in hospitals or also those who have died in care homes and in their own homes.

In contrast, Taiwan, with a third of the UK’s population, and among the first countries to be hit by the virus, but has done everything right to keep the population safe, they have had only 436 confirmed cases and 6 deaths. That’s how shockingly badly we are doing in the UK.

Here are two examples of recent truth-telling articles about this picture:

The Intercept, Boris Johnson’s Coronavirus Lies are Killing Britons, by Sonia Faleiro, 30 April 2020

The Lowdown Why bypass NHS labs for mass testing? Concerns over new super-labs, by the NHS Support Federation, 27 April 2020

The Intercept article explains what has been done wrong. The NHS Support Federation Lowdown article gives an example of the deviousness of the UK government’s response. The NHS saved Boris Johnson’s life and this is how he shows his gratitude — he still hasn’t provided 37% of them with personal protection equipment (PPE). And he has completely ignored and failed to implement the World Health Organization’s advice from Day One — testing of everyone with symptoms, contact tracing of everyone who tests positive, and quarantine in hospital of everyone who tests positive.

On 28 March 2020, the editor of the Lancet journals, Richard Horton, called for the entire Public Health England to resign when this is over. I support that, but why wait? A number of frontline health workers talked to the Guardian, published 18 April 2020, about refusing to work without PPE because of the high risk to their lives. I supported that in a letter published by the Guardian soon after. The government told them to shut up. The Intercept article calls for Boris Johnson and the whole government to resign because of the mass slaughter they have allowed to happen. I support that call too.

On Thursdays, don’t just clap for the NHS, also write to your MP — call for immediate provision of personal protective equipment for all NHS health workers, all social care workers, all auxiliary workers — but above all senior frontline staff and all frontline nurses. Call for mass testing and contact tracing with quarantine, not next week, not next year but today. Because we still have no idea how many people in the UK have Covid-19. Let’s not find out the hard way by watching deaths rise again when lockdown is eased.

And please share this blog. 3 May 2020

Dear Honourable Members and Members of Parliament,

03/04/2020 Comments Off on Dear Honourable Members and Members of Parliament,

April 2, 2020

I am writing to share with you the following urgent statement by Richard Horton, founder editor of The Lancet, the most important medical journal in the world:

“When this is all over, the NHS England board should resign in their entirety.” So wrote one National Health Service (NHS) health worker last weekend. The scale of anger and frustration is unprecedented, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the cause. The UK Government’s Contain–Delay–Mitigate–Research strategy failed. It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to “test, test, test” every suspected case. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. They didn’t contact trace. These basic principles of public health and infectious disease control were ignored, for reasons that remain opaque. The UK now has a new plan—Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate. But this plan, agreed far too late in the course of the outbreak, has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients that will soon come. I asked NHS workers to contact me with their experiences. Their messages have been as distressing as they have been horrifying. “It’s terrifying for staff at the moment. Still no access to personal protective equipment [PPE] or testing.” “Rigid command structures make decision making impossible.” “There’s been no guidelines, it’s chaos.” “I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel protected.” “We are literally making it up as we go along.” “It feels as if we are actively harming patients.” “We need protection and prevention.” “Total carnage.” “NHS Trusts continue to fail miserably.” “Humanitarian crisis.” “Forget lockdown—we are going into meltdown.” “When I was country director in many conflict zones, we had better preparedness.” “The hospitals in London are overwhelmed.” “The public and media are not aware that today we no longer live in a city with a properly functioning western health-care system.” “How will we protect our patients and staff…I am speechless. It is utterly unconscionable. How can we do this? It is criminal…NHS England was not prepared…We feel completely helpless.” Lancet, 28 March 2020.

I call on you to take immediate action to secure millions of proper tests for the virus, not just antibody tests, masks, fully protective clothing and goggles NOW – first, for all our frontline health workers in the hospitals, but also for all the support staff whose involvement is required to back them up, and for those in social care work as well – doctors, mid-level providers, reception staff, administrators, cleaners, ambulance staff, kitchen staff, mortuary staff – pharmacy staff – home care & nursing home staff.

TEST! TEST! TEST! – the Director General of the World Health Organization has said from Day One!

I call on you to test everyone with symptoms and do contact tracing to isolate at-risk others.

There is no excuse for the inaction we are seeing from the government, whose lack of understanding of what is needed is abysmal. This country is full of public health experts. Why are they not being asked to advise the government?

Secondly, I am writing to support the call by the European People’s Party, which unites the parties of 11 EU leaders, including Angela Merkel and Leo Varadkar, who issued a statement calling on the government to extend the Brexit transition beyond the end of the year (Guardian 30 March 2020) and for some years after that.

I urge you to support this, no matter what your views on Brexit were/are personally. Why? The majority of our trade is with Europe, including and especially food and medicines. With Europe it is possible to have access to and share essential goods – such as COVID-19 tests, masks, protective clothing, emergency equipment like ventilators for the NHS – and have immediate access to essential information and joint strategies for action to defeat this virus. Put Little England to bed in the last century.

We should also be working with Europe to help the poorest countries of the global south in this pandemic as they have access to NOTHING, and also to support the frontline UN agencies who are seeking to get medical and other supplies to the global south! The Cubans have sent doctors to help other countries. After 10 years of Tory austerity we don’t even have enough health professionals for our own services. We’re down 5,000 midwives, and for how many years now? And the government sends messages of praise to health workers!

I was both heartened and appalled listening to the Opposition Debate on 25 March on the Parliament Channel. Heartened that the opposition parties were so articulate in their demands on the government, all of which were absolutely correct demands, and appalled at the heart-breaking stories of constituents and examples of government failures to act that were shared – while the government front bench was almost entirely absent, not listening, pretending they were acting and making transparently pathetic excuses for inaction. Especially the so-called “miscommunication” excuse following the failure to accept ventilators offered from Europe, which discredited Boris Johnson forever in my eyes.

Lastly, the Prime Minister had a good excuse to prorogue Parliament yet again, to protect all of you, but why are you not insisting on a formal sitting online on a daily basis in order to monitor, criticise, correct and place non-stop demands for appropriate policy and action on the government. The Prime Minister has been taking very bad advice on this pandemic, ignoring the best advice and dragging his feet on everything – putting many of the people of this country in serious danger. Seeing the faces of doctors who have died unnecessarily on the news last night, when they could have been protected, was the last straw.

People with money can more easily protect themselves. It’s the rest who need massive support, and in addition to health care, need secure housing, food and financial safety above all.

Lastly, I’m 73 years old but I’m not going to lay down and die for anyone. My age group is not expendable. We have experience and history to share and the courage to write letters like this. I shall keep writing to you and urging my friends and colleagues to do the same until you get it right. I hope you do so very soon.


Kind regards,

M Berer