Category Archives: UK

British PM reaffirms there will be no “safe spaces” from UK government snooping

Glyn Moody reports for Ars Technica:

The UK’s prime minister, David Cameron, has re-iterated that the UK government does not intend to “leave a safe space—a new means of communication—for terrorists to communicate with each other.” This confirms remarks he made earlier this year about encryption, when he said: “The question is are we going to allow a means of communications which it simply isn’t possible to read. My answer to that question is: no, we must not.”

David Cameron was replying in the House of Commons on Monday to a question from the Conservative MP David Bellingham, who asked him whether he agreed that the “time has come for companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to accept and understand that their current privacy policies are completely unsustainable?” To which Cameron replied: “we must look at all the new media being produced and ensure that, in every case, we are able, in extremis and on the signature of a warrant, to get to the bottom of what is going on.”‘

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19 British MPs official credit cards suspended, including DWP Secretary Ian Duncan Smith

Rowena Mason reports for The Guardian:

Iain Duncan SmithIain Duncan Smith had his official credit card suspended after running up more than £1,000 in expenses debts, it can be revealed. The work and pensions secretary was among 19 MPs subject to action by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) after failing to show spending was valid.

The details, disclosed in response to a freedom of information (FoI) request submitted by the Press Association, are likely to prove embarrassing for Duncan Smith, who has previously backed prepaid cards for benefits claimants to control what they can spend their money on.

The senior cabinet minister is responsible for identifying £12bn of welfare cuts and the benefit sanction regime, which cuts off payments for more than a month at a time for failing to meet certain criteria. It has been criticised by the Commons work and pensions committee for causing severe hardship, sometimes when people are penalised for relatively minor breaches.’

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British Education Secretary says homophobia may be a sign of extremism, is she going to investigate herself?

Ian Dunt reports for Politics.co.uk:

[…] When British Education Secretary Nicky Morgan was asked to give an example of the kind of behaviour from a pupil which would trigger an anti-extremism intervention, she struggled. And then, out of nowhere, she found an example: homophobia.

This was an interesting example, because Morgan herself voted against gay marriage twice. Is opposition to gay marriage always homophobic? No, not really, although you could make the case. But this isn’t about what’s really the case. It’s about what’s perceived to be the case.

School children are often fond of accusing each other of being ‘gay’. Is this going to be enough to call in the anti-extremism unit? Will Catholic or Jewish faith schools face daily visits from the inspectors? Will a socially conservative teacher find themselves under investigation?

Probably not. But we know the truth: when a Muslim kid calls his friend ‘gay’ it will be treated differently to when a white kid does it. The vague language and imprecise measures of the counter-extremism strategy will allow people’s prejudice free rein.’

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Row over British police officer buying shoelaces has cost £500,000, lawyer says

Ciaran Fagan reports for the Leicester Mercury:

A complaint about a police officer buying shoelaces while on duty spiralled into a seven-year dispute costing the public an estimated £500,000.

A shopper saw the uniformed officer buying laces while on duty in the Melton area in August 2008.

The man reportedly told the officer he should not be shopping while on duty. The policeman is said to have replied that he needed the laces for his police-issue boots.

The exchange is thought to have lasted no more than one minute, but was to have long-lasting consequences for both of them.’

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Interview with British soldier badly wounded in Afghanistan on his survival and recovery

‘A soldier who suffered third-degree burns to 70% of his body during a roadside ambush in Afghanistan in 2006 has told the Victoria Derbyshire programme about the experience. L/Cpl Martyn Compton, from Staplehurst, Kent, was the sole survivor of the attack, in Helmand Province. He was twice shot in the leg in the same incident, and has since undergone hundreds of operations to reconstruct parts of his body. L/Cpl Compton was given a medical discharge from the Army in October 2014, and is now hoping he can earn enough through sponsorship to take part in endurance race Le Mans as part of the first disabled team.’ (BBC News)

‘PTSD Action Man’ Mock Toy Ad by Veterans For Peace UK Exposes ‘Spectacle of Military Propaganda’

Charlie Gilmour reports for VICE:

[…] Action Man: Battlefield Casualties, a series of darkly funny short films produced with artist Darren Cullen, is their attempt to show the shit beneath the shine of polished army propaganda. Featuring PTSD Action Man (“with thousand-yard stare action”), Paralysed Action Man (“legs really don’t work”) and Dead Action Man (“coffin sold separately”), the films are being released to coincide with Armed Forces Day.

“No matter how bad anyone thinks this film is, the reality is worse,” says artist Darren Cullen. “It’s not sick to show what actually happens in a war. It’s sick to convince people to join that war without telling them what’s possibly going to happen. Recruiting 16-year-olds into the army is sick.”

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Western collusion with Egypt’s reign of terror

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

[…] So far, Egypt has signed a grant total of $158 billion worth of agreements and memoranda of understanding with international companies, many of which have focused on energy.

Apart from Germany, Britain and Israel, as of March 2015, Egypt has also signed a $1.8 billion deal with China to develop Egypt’s electricity transmission grid; a $2.4 billion deal with companies from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to develop solar and wind power stations; a $7 billion deal with Saudi Arabia to develop a coal power station; a $5 billion deal with Italian oil major Eni to develop Egypt’s oil resources over four years.

Meanwhile, Sisi has appropriated the “war on terror” rhetoric of his Western benefactors to legitimise his brutal crackdown on political dissent and civil society activism.

Presenting himself as a bulwark of regional stability in the face of rising Islamist extremism, the West has rushed to shore up his tyranny primarily with energy contracts, but also, it seems, through direct collusion in Sisi’s domestic human rights abuses to crush political opposition.

The West has learned no lessons from the fall of Mubarak – except to keep doing more of the same.’

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Charlie Brooker On British And American TV News

A clip taken from the first series of Charlie Brooker‘s Newswipe, originally aired on 8th April 2009. Brooker examines the workings of television news comparing anchors on British and American channels.

Facial Recognition: Kiss Army Make A Mockery Of Download Police Trials

Metal Talk writes:

kissLast weekend thousands of Metal fans gathered at Castle Donington for the annual Download Festival, this year headlined by Slipknot, Muse and Kiss.

MetalTalk reported just as the event kicked off (here) on how Leicestershire Police Force had decided to use the Download Festival at Castle Donington as part of a trial run for their new surveillance system known as NeoFace.

[…] The legions of Kiss fans known as the Kiss Army simply smiled and did what they always do. After seeing the MetalTalk article, one of the leaders of the UK Kiss ARMY, Dan Griffiths from Aberystwyth in West Wales, posted on the Thursday evening:

“Neoface facial recognition system? Might wear some Kiss makeup then!”‘

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Trident whistleblower: MoD brainwashing public over nuclear safety

Rob Edwards reports for the The Herald Scotland:

William McNeilly said the public were being deceived over the safety of nuclear warheads being carried by submarines on the ClydeIn a new message to the public, he says that people are being deceived about the security of Trident nuclear warheads carried by submarines based at Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde. A terrorist attack is highly likely, he claims.

McNeilly disclosed last week that he had been dishonourably discharged by the Royal Navy for making public a dossier alleging that Trident was “a disaster waiting to happen” and going absent without leave. He is promising to say more in July.

The Sunday Herald revealed his allegations on May 17, while he was on the run. The following day he handed himself in to police at Edinburgh airport, saying he had achieved what he wanted.

His dossier, which detailed 30 safety and security flaws on Trident submarines, was raised in the House of Commons by the former SNP leader, Alex Salmond. But it was dismissed by the MoD as “factually incorrect or the result of misunderstanding or partial understanding”.

McNeilly, a 25-year-old naval recruit from Belfast, was on patrol with the Trident submarine, HMS Victorious, from January to April this year. He posted a new report online last week defending the accuracy of his allegations.’

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Child poverty rise across Britain “halts progress made since 1990s”

Jamie Doward and Toby Helm report for The Guardian:

Children playing in the streets in Brierfield in Lancashire where nearly 35% of children live in povChild poverty is on course for the biggest rise in a generation, reversing years of progress that began in the late 1990s, leading charities and independent experts claim.

The stark prognosis comes before the release of government figures which experts believe will show a clear increase for the first time since the start of the decade.

It also comes as the chancellor George Osborne and work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith announced they had agreed a plan to slash a further £12bn a year from benefits spending. In a joint letter they pledged to attack the “damaging culture of welfare dependency”, and said it would take “a decade” or more to return the welfare budget to what they called “sanity”.

The introduction of the bedroom tax and cuts in benefits between 2013 and last year are blamed for fuelling the rise in the number of families whose income is below 60% of the UK average – the definition of relative poverty.’

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UK Chancellor to proceed with £12bn welfare cuts despite anti-austerity protests

Rowena Mason reports for The Guardian:

Protesters at Parliament Square, London, demostrating against the government’s austerity programme on Saturday.George Osborne is to press ahead with £12bn of welfare cuts despite disquiet among some of his colleagues about the scale of the proposed reductions and anti-austerity protests in a number of UK cities.

The chancellor and Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said in an article for the Sunday Times that they still intended to make deep cuts.

There have been reports in recent weeks that the cuts could be delayed or scaled back over fears they would be too damaging, coming on top of the £21bn of reductions in the last parliament.’

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British war veterans call for rethink on recruitment of 16-year-olds

Tracy McVeigh reports for The Guardian:

Action Man: Battlefield CasualtiesA group of British war veterans will launch a campaign this week against enlisting 16-year-olds into the military.

Britain is the only state in Europe or Nato that still enlists minors, a policy criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the parliamentary joint committee on human rights and other groups including Child Soldiers International and British Quakers. The organisation Veterans For Peace (VFP) is demanding change, but the MoD says it depends on 16-year-olds for a quarter of the intake needed to sustain UK forces.

After a six-month trial, 16-year-olds are locked in to the forces until they reach 22, meaning a life-changing decision is made at a brutally young age, says VFP co-ordinator Ben Griffin, 37, who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan in the SAS and the Parachute Regiment. He said his experiences gave him an “obligation” to tell teenagers the truth.

There is provision for “unhappy juniors” to be discharged at the discretion of their commanding officer but no guarantee it will happen.’

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The American far-right’s trojan horse in Westminster

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Insurge Intelligence:

There is a violent extremist fifth column operating at the heart of power in Britain, and they stand against everything we hold dear in Western democracies: civil liberties, equality, peace, diplomacy and the rule of law.

You wouldn’t think so at first glance. In fact, you might be taken in by their innocuous-looking spokespeople, railing against the threat of Muslim extremists, defending the rights of beleaguered Muslim women, championing the principle of free speech — regularly courted by national TV and the press as informed experts on global policy issues.

But peer beneath the surface, and an entirely different picture emerges: a web of self-serving trans-Atlantic elites who are attempting to warp public discourse on key issues that pose a threat not to the public interest, but to their own vested interests.

One key organisation at the centre of this web is the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), an influential British think-tank founded a decade ago, ostensibly to promote noble ideals like freedom, human rights and democracy. But its staff spend most of their energies advancing the very opposite.’

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Scott Trust chair: Before Guardian phone-hacking revelations “journalists had switched off their moral compass”

Dominic Ponsford reports for Press Gazette:

Scott Trust chair Dame Liz Forgan has said that it seemed like a “whole generation of journalists had switched off their moral compass” prior to The Guardian’s exposure of the phone-hacking scandal.

Forgan (pictured, Guardian Media Group) was speaking at an event to mark Alan Rusbridger’s departure as Guardian editor. He succeeds Forgan as head of the Scott Trust, the body which owns The Guardian and The Observer, later this year.

In a speech paying tribute to Rusbridger she said that the phone-hacking investigation was “emblematic” of the “nature and importance” of The Guardian.

She described it as “Nick Davies’s seven-year relentless, nearly doomed but ultimately vindicated, revelation of the corruption of the trade of journalism by the systematic use of phone-hacking to bully, intimidate and invade privacy on a massive scale”.’

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How Thatcher and Murdoch made their secret deal

Harold Evans writes for The Guardian:

Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch‘The coup that transformed the relationship between British politics and journalism began at a quiet Sunday lunch at Chequers, the official country retreat of the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She was trailing in the polls, caught in a recession she had inherited, eager for an assured cheerleader at a difficult time. Her guest had an agenda too. He was Rupert Murdoch, eager to secure her help in acquiring control of nearly 40% of the British press.

Both parties got what they wanted.

The fact that they met at all, on 4 January 1981, was vehemently denied for 30 years. Since their lie was revealed, it has been possible to uncover how the greatest extension of monopoly power in modern press history was planned and executed with such furtive brilliance.

All the wretches in the subsequent hacking sagas – the predators in the red-tops, the scavengers and sleaze merchants, the blackmailers and bribers, the liars, the bullies, the cowed politicians and the bent coppers – were but the detritus of a collapse of integrity in British journalism and political life. At the root of the cruelties and extortions exposed in the recent criminal trials at the Old Bailey, was Margaret Thatcher’s reckless engorgement of the media power of her guest that January Sunday. The simple genesis of the hacking outrages is that Murdoch’s News International came to think it was above the law, because it was.’

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News of the Screws, Rupert Murdoch and MI5: Interview with former news editor Neville Thurlbeck

‘Afshin Rattansi goes underground with the former news editor at the News of the World and author, Neville Thurlbeck. As the Prime Minister’s former Press Secretary, Andy Coulson, is cleared of perjury, we talk to man who shared a cell with him- and he tells us what it was like to work on the most scandalous stories of the last few decades.’ (Going Underground)

Afghan Opium Trade: What a lot of poppycock

Afghan Opium Poppycock (PE1394)

The scandal of the disappearing Chilcot report into the disastrous and illegal Iraq war

Matt Carr writes at Stop the War coalition:

Blair and ChilcotWhen the Iraq Inquiry was first convened in 2009, it was expected to publish its findings before the 2010 general election.  Instead Sir John Chilcot and his team completed their hearings in February 2011.   At various times since then we have heard that its report was written and ready for publication.

In January 2014, the British press was reporting that the 1,000,000+word report was ready for publication later that year.

Earlier this year there were rumours that the report would be published before the election, and then in April BBC Newsnight suggested that it would be published after the election.

And now we have been told that the report is unlikely to be published until next year ‘at least’.

Yet neither the government nor the main opposition has appeared particularly concerned by the delay, and the public has also remained generally indifferent to it.  The lack of interest from the political establishment is only to be expected.’

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Cherie Blair’s firm accused of ‘unethical profiteering’ over deal with Maldives

Paul Gallagher reports for The Independent:

Cherie Blair is the founder of Omnia Strategy (AFP/Getty)Cherie Blair has been accused of accepting money from repressive regimes after her legal consultancy signed a deal with the Maldives government – which faces international condemnation for human rights abuses.

Omnia Strategy, the London and Washington-based consultancy that Ms Blair founded and chairs, is to advise President Abdulla Yameen’s government on “democracy consolidation”.

The value of the contract, which was signed this week,  has not been confirmed. But the deal has sparked an outcry in the Indian Ocean archipelago, where the current regime has been accused of suppressing political dissent. The leading opposition movement, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), condemned Ms Blair’s decision, describing the consultants as “unethical and profiteering” people who were being employed to   “help wash the blood” off the President’s hands.’

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Tony Blair speaks at Putin’s ‘vanity forum’… and considers a job with Ukraine

Matthew Holehouse reports for The Telegraph:

Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, appeared to be courting both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict as he appeared at Vladimir Putin’s “vanity summit”, hours after being offered a job by the government of Kiev.

Mr Blair this morning appeared alongside Russian bankers and government ministers at the St Petersburg Economic Forum, a pet project of Vladimir Putin modelled on the World Economic Forum in Davos.

[…] His appearance in the region gives a tantalising indication of where Mr Blair’s interests may now lie.

His network of business interests, clients and contacts already stretches across the world, providing advice to an oil firm in Saudi Arabia, JP Morgan Chase Bank in the US, and governments in Kazakhstan, Romania and Mongolia. He has built up extensive network of contacts in China.’

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Does Monitoring Kids for Terrorist Traits Mess with Their Heads?

Adam Forrest writes for VICE:

When is a child old enough to have their mobile phone examined for signs that they’re a potential terrorist? At what point does a teacher need to start listening out for phrases like “jihadi bride” and “war on Islam” in the playground?

These are the weird and difficult questions being asked in British schools today. The days when kids drawing dicks everywhere was the biggest worry are behind us. Today’s teachers are expected to be intelligence officers trained in the subtle business of susceptibility to religious and political fundamentalism.

Firms are selling “anti-radicalisation” software to education boards, with one company now piloting its system on school computers in 16 different locations across the UK. The software monitors pupils’ online antics for extremist-related language, flagging up keywords like “Kuffs” (a casual, insulting term for non-Muslims) or “YODO” (an acronym for “you only die once” which shows up in ISIS martyrdom material).

Under the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015, which comes into force next month, schools have a new duty to “have due regard to the need to prevent pupils being drawn into terrorism”.’

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The Labour leadership frontrunners are boring, rightwing and unprincipled

Frankie Boyle writes for The Guardian:

Interesting times in British politics. We can look forward to David Cameron’s merciless manoeuvring against his rivals – “It’s a touch unconventional, Boris, but I’m appointing you Israel’s ambassador to Syria!” – and a London mayoral race between a group of characters you would normally expect to see arguing about how to deal with Batman. And yet we know that none of this is good, in the same way we know that seeing a beautiful mural on the side of a building just means that you’re in a really shit neighbourhood.

At least the Labour leadership election offers a reassuring oasis of boredom. The candidates have few redeeming features, or features of any kind. They work most successfully not as politicians, but as a sort of broad-ranging challenge to satire.Yvette Cooper has a broken, downbeat delivery that could make Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah sound like a cancer diagnosis. Andy Burnham sounds like he wishes that there were speedbumps in Mario Kart. They both give interviews with the halting, guarded intonation of a hostage. Liz Kendall at least has the alarming air of an Apprentice candidate, and surely that show’s unique dynamic – where you can be fired without actually having a job – meshes neatly with the party’s increasingly colourful views on workers’ rights.

Of course, none of the frontrunners are proper socialists; they don’t even hate each other. Jeremy Corbyn did scrape together enough nominations to stand, causing the left of the party to get quite excited that it is still allowed to lose. One of the few decent politicians remaining in the Labour party, he reminds me of those old drinkers you see haunting a new bar because they used to go to the pub that was there before.’

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Sunday Times Snowden Story is Journalism at its Worst

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

‘Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it’s hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they’ve learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major U.S. and British media outlets “report,” especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials — laundered through their media — as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.

We now have one of the purest examples of this dynamic. Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.” Just as the conventional media narrative was shifting to pro-Snowden sentiment in the wake of a key court ruling and a new surveillance law, the article (behind a paywall: full text here) claims in the first paragraph that these two adversaries “have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.”’

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What really goes on at G7? Interview with Nick Dearden

‘Nick Dearden, Director of NGO Global Justice Now, talks about what is really going on at the summit in the Bavarian town of Schloss Elmau. As the leaders of the richest countries on the globe meet to discuss improving the world, are they really just planning policies to benefit elites in Western countries? Plus what is The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and how is it making it easier for big corporations to buy up land in developing countries.’ (Going Underground)

Charles Kennedy and the Hypocrisy of the Pro-War British Establishment

Neil Clark writes for Sputnik:

Former Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy, right, speaks with leader of the Liberal Democrats Party, Nick Clegg, left.Establishment tributes to Charles Kennedy, the former Liberal Democrat leader who died suddenly on June 1, have been generous. But its worth remembering that the elite was not so kind towards him when he was Lib Dem leader from 1999-2006, and took positions on foreign policy and the economy which influential neocons and neoliberals disagreed with.

Under Kennedy’s leadership, the Lib Democrats positioned themselves to the left of Labour, coming out against the Iraq war and university tuition fees and supporting an increase in the top rate of income tax. The polices went down well with the electorate — in the 2001 election, the Lib Dems won their record highest number of seats (52) — and in 2005, they did even better, winning 62 seats and obtaining a 22.1% vote share. Kennedy was the most successful leader of the Lib Dems — or the Liberal Party before them — since the days of Asquith and Lloyd George. However, his success was not to the liking of those who want all three major parties to be singing from the same pro-war, pro-privatisation hymn sheet.

Today, Kennedy’s criticism of the Iraq war is widely lauded by establishment figures as principled and brave, but it was a different story at the time.’

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Tony Blair Questioned About His Attendance at Bilderberg in 1993

Alan Rusbridger steps down after 20 years as Guardian editor

Dominic Ponsford and William Turvill report for Press Gazette:

Alan Rusbridger steps down today after 20 years as Guardian editor, handing over the reins to deputy editor Katharine Viner.

Under Rusbridger, The Guardian won newspaper of the year four times at the British Press Awards and last year it became the first UK newspaper to win the Pulitzer Prize for the Edward Snowden revelations about US state surveillance.

Rusbridger took over from Peter Preston at a time when the paper’s print circulation was solidly above 400,000 and it did not yet have a website.

He leaves with less than half the daily print sales (176,157, according ABC) but with a digital footprint of more than 7m daily browsers. Some 63 per cent of The Guardian’s web readership now comes from outside the UK.

According to the National Readership Survey, The Guardian is the fourth most-read national newspaper brand in the UK (in print and online) with 16.3m readers a month. This puts it ahead of The Sun and a whisker behind The Daily Telegraph.

As editor-in-chief of Guardian News and Media, which includes The Observer, Rusbridger has led an “open journalism” approach, committing to free online access while raising the daily print cover price to £1.80. He took GNM “digital-first” in 2011, ruling that from that point on digital rather than print was The Guardian’s main priority.’

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Doctors to withhold treatments in campaign against “too much medicine”

Denis Campbell reports for The Guardian:

various medical pillsDoctors are to stop giving patients scores of tests and treatments, such as x-rays for back pain and antibiotics for flu, in an unprecedented crackdown on the “over-medicalisation” of illness.

In a move that has roused fears that it will lead to the widespread rationing of NHS care, the body representing the UK’s 250,000 doctors is seeking to ensure that patients no longer undergo treatment that is unlikely to work, may harm them and wastes valuable resources.

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges wants to bring an end to a culture of “too much medicine” in which “more is better” and doctors feel compelled to always “do something”, often because they feel under pressure from the patient, even though they know that the treatment recommended will probably not work.

Many patients with asthma, prostate and thyroid cancers, and chronic kidney disease already undergo “unnecessary care” because they are “over-diagnosed” and thus “over-treated”, the academy claims.’

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ISDS: Even Before TPP And TTIP, US Already Being Forced To Change Laws By Trade Agreements

Glyn Moody writes for Techdirt:

Recently, we looked at how corporate sovereignty provisions undermine democracy by irrevocably binding future governments. The analysis was framed in terms of the UK’s situation, but applied more generally to any country that signs up to investor-state dispute (ISDS) mechanisms in trade agreements. In particular, it applies to the US. And yet in President Obama’s (in)famous TPP speech at Nike a few weeks ago — the one where he claimed some of his “dearest friends” were wrong — he said the following:

[TPP] critics warn that parts of this deal would undermine American regulation — food safety, worker safety, even financial regulations. They’re making this stuff up. (Applause.) This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.

But as a post on the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy site points out, just 12 days after Obama made that speech, this happened.’

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