Illustration: Cressida Knapp

Frankenpolitics: The Left defence of GMOs

Some background: Last September, Red Pepper, a progressive UK magazine, published a brief article,  “Silenced GM scientist speaks out against biotech coercion“, on its website about Gilles-Eric Seralini, the French molecular biologist sharply criticised by the scientific community for his infamous and headline-grabbing GMO-rat-tumour study, and promoting his British speaking tour. I’ve written for the magazine for many years and was furious that this discredited quack was being taken seriously by my colleagues. An extended email to the editors explaining the problems of the left-anti-GM position evolved into an essay for an upcoming print edition, which then turned into a multi-page debate between me and my friend Emma Hughes, a campaigner with the (really great) London-based environmental group Platform and who is also an opponent of genetic modification. 

The print edition has finally come out, but due to understandable space constraints, the full essay had to be condensed.

I present here a longer version because it contains a series of arguments that I feel are important but have yet to be made and did not make it into the print version, notably around Golden Rice, monoculture crops, superweeds, Big Organic, and the rhetoric of Indian anti-GM campaigner Vandana Shiva.

It is my hope in writing this that other Leftists will steadily begin to recognise that to oppose GM is in fact to take a detour from traditional left-wing ideas about progress, technology, nature – and, most of all, about political economy. Continue reading

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Socialize Big Pharma

Analysis piece originally published by Jacobin magazine and syndicated in Salon on 29 June, 2013. 

The pharmaceutical industry, like oil companies and arms manufacturers, isn’t viewed highly in the public imagination.

And for good reason. There is growing awareness of an inherent conflict of interest in the testing of drugs by the companies that manufacture them — like Pfizer, Merck and Eli Lilly — and a steady stream of tales from journalists, researchers and doctors of deliberately dodgy trials, buried unfavorable results, and purchased academic journals.

Yet the greatest crime of the world’s major private pharmaceutical companies is not what they do, but what they don’t do. In the ongoing war against bugs and infection, these companies have abandoned their posts at the most critical time: when the enemy is mounting its most ferocious attack in generations. As these firms continue to shirk their duties — effectively abandoning antibiotic research for some 30 years now — senior public health officials are warning that the world could soon return to the pre-antibiotic era, a miserable, fearful time that few people alive now remember. Continue reading

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JP Morgan to eurozone periphery: “Get rid of your pinko, anti-fascist constitutions”

Blog post originally appeared on my Austerityland blog hosted at the EUobserver, on 7 June, 2013. 

At times, I do marvel how antiseptic, bland even, that the language of the most wretchedly villainous documents can be.

Last week, the European economic research team with JP Morgan, the global financial giant, put out a 16-page paper on the state of play of euro area adjustment. This involved a totting up of what work has been done so far and what work has yet to be done in terms of sovereign, household and bank deleveraging; structural reform (reducing labour costs, making it easier to fire workers, privatisation, deregulation, liberalising ‘protected’ industries, etc.); and national political reform.

The takeaway in the small amount of coverage that I’ve seen of the paper was that its authors say the eurozone is about halfway through its period of adjustment, so austerity is still likely to be a feature of the landscape “for a very extended period.”

The bankers’ analysis probably otherwise received little attention because it is a bit ‘dog bites man‘: Big Bank Predicts Many More Years of Austerity. It’s not really as if anyone was expecting austerity to disappear any time soon, however much EU-IMF programme countries have been offered a relaxation of debt reduction commitments in return for ramping up the pace of structural adjustment.

The lack of coverage is a bit of a shame, because it’s the first public document I’ve come across where the authors are frank that the problem is not just a question of fiscal rectitude and boosting competitiveness, but that there is also an excess of democracy in some European countries that needs to be trimmed. Continue reading

Image: CC Houses of Parliament

Dawkins vs democracy

Opinion piece originally appeared in Red Pepper on 22 May 2013.

Richard Dawkins, professional atheist and Twitter provocateur, has branched out beyond his recent foray into Muslim journalist-baiting to offer his recommendations for parliamentary reform. Following Labour ex-minister Frank Field’s call for the new Archbishop of Canterbury to give up the 25 seats the Church of England appoints to the House of Lords, and have the seats awarded instead to people from civil society, Dawkins burped out a series of tweets saying that these seats should be given to scientists and other ‘elites’.

‘Replace Lord Bishops by (elected) heads of Royal Society, British Academy, Roy Coll Physicians, Royal Academy etc,’ he tweeted, adding: ‘I want to be operated on by elite surgeons, flown by elite pilots, have my car fixed by elite mechanics. Why not elite electors of Lords?’

Each of these colleges of presumably godless elites would select their own representatives to the upper chamber, a suggestion that was met with a chorus of approving retweetage from the atheist brigadier’s amassed troops of skeptics, secularists and science fans.  Continue reading

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Kick ‘em all out? Anti-politics and post-democracy in the European Union

A paper I wrote for the journal of Statewatch, the EU civil liberties watchdog. It can be downloaded in full from the Statewatch website (pages 9-20).

One of the more cringeworthy moments of the last few years of sometimes ideological, sometimes street-fighting – but rarely parliamentary – combat between the European superintendents of austerity and their subjects came in October 2012 upon the occasion of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens. Two Greek protesters had dressed themselves up in Nazi regalia, rode through the streets as if conquering soldiers in imitation of so many wartime newsreels, and burnt a flag emblazoned with a Swastika as a piece of radical theatre mocking the Berlin-led imposition of cuts and structural reforms. Continue reading

Image: CC Ggia

Greece: “A promise from the army has been obtained to not intervene against a civil uprising”

Interview with former Greek ambassador was published in the New Statesman on 24 February, 2013.

It is always enlightening to hear the frank assessment of a diplomat upon leaving the service, once unshackled from “the patriotic art of lying for one’s country”, as 19th Century American journalist Ambrose Bierce described the craft.

Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos was a career diplomat with the Greek foreign ministry. As a junior officer with the service in the 1970s, he helped assure the then freshly democratic nation’s accession to the European Union (at the time the EEC). He was at different times Athens’ ambassador to Poland, Albania and Canada, and finally the director general of EU Affairs in the ministry.

Last year, he finally resigned as secretary general of the Black Sea Cooperation organisation, and entered the private sector, and now feels free to speak openly about his fury at what he says Europe and international lenders are doing to his country.

“At a certain moment, quite soon, there will be an explosion of social unrest. It will be very unpleasant,” he says, referring to 15 armed incidents in the previous ten days. Continue reading

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The TB drugs don’t work

This article was originally published on the Nature News blog on 17 October, 2012. 

The good news is that tuberculosis prevention efforts appear to have broken the back of the spread of the disease, according to the World Health Organisation’s latest annual report on the scourge, with new cases of TB falling by 2.2% between 2010 and 2011. The mortality rate has decreased 41% since 1990 and access to TB care has expanded considerably since the mid nineties, when tuberculosis was declared a global emergency by the UN body, with the WHO estimating that some 20 million lives have been saved since 1995. Continue reading