Politics – 5

Russia

As a country, it is full of contradictions.  One sees the growth of private industry and an openness to tourism.  It hosts international sports events.  Yet corruption is rife and the country has a good number of oligarchs, who are very, very rich.  It is very difficult to speak out against President Putin or his friends. Then there is the extreme poverty, especially in the eastern part of Russia.  Evangelical Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious groups are being targeted, including the forcible closing down of churches.

These days, the Russian Government has been accused of interfering in a number of political events (the recent American election and the EU referendum).  And now there is circus that is the supposed involvement of the Russian FSB (what was the KGB) in the use of a chemical agent in the attack on an ex-Soviet spy and his daughter in Salisbury, a town in the south of England, not too far from Portondown, the UK centre for research into how to deal with chemical and biological ‘agents’.  The UK Government has said it is almost certain that the ‘attack’ on British soil was orchestrated by Russia.  As a consequence the ‘game’ of expulsions has begun.  What makes it different from previous events is the sheer number of countries that have supported the UK in expelling a number of Russian diplomats.

What do we know about the chemical Novichok?

Novichok (Russian: Новичо́к, “newcomer”) is a series of nerve agents the Soviet Union and Russia developed between 1971 and 1993.[a][2][3] Russian scientists who developed the agents claim they are the deadliest nerve agents ever made, with some variants possibly five to eight times more potent than VX,[4][5] and others up to ten times more potent than soman.[6]

They were designed as part of a Soviet program codenamed “FOLIANT”.[7][1] Five Novichok variants are believed to have been weaponised for military use.[8] The most versatile was A-232 (Novichok-5).[9] Novichok agents have never been used on the battlefield.

In 2016 Iranian chemists synthesised five Novichok agents for analysis and produced detailed mass spectral data which was added to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Central Analytical Database.[12][13] Previously there had been no detailed descriptions of their spectral properties in open scientific literature.[14][12]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novichok_agent


Russia’s record with Chemical and Biological Agents

The Soviet Union’s chemical weapons programme was in such disarray in the aftermath of the Cold War that some toxic substances and know-how could have got into the hands of criminals, say people who dealt with the programme at the time.

“Could somebody have smuggled something out?” said Amy Smithson, a biological and chemical weapons expert.

“I certainly wouldn’t rule that possibility out, especially a small amount and particularly in view of how lax the security was at Russian chemical facilities in the early 1990s.”

While nerve agents degrade over time, if the pre-cursor ingredients for the nerve agent were smuggled out back then, stored in proper conditions and mixed recently, they could still be deadly in a small-scale attack, two experts on chemical weapons told Reuters.

Accounts of security deficiencies at weapons facilities indicate that, at least for a period in the 1990s, Moscow was not in firm control of its chemical weapons stockpiles or the people guarding them.

When Russian banking magnate Ivan Kivelidi and his secretary died in 1995 from organ failure after a military-grade poison was found on the telephone receiver of his Moscow office, an employee of a state chemical research institute confessed to having secretly supplied the toxin.

In a closed-door trial, Kivelidi’s business partner was convicted of poisoning Kivelidi over a dispute. At the trial, prosecutors said the business partner had obtained the poison, via several intermediaries, from Leonid Rink, an employee of a state chemical research institute known as GosNIIOKhT.

The same institute, according to Vil Mirzayanov, a Soviet chemical weapons scientist who later turned whistleblower, was part of the state chemical weapons programme and helped develop the “Novichok” family of nerve agents that Britain has said was responsible for poisoning Skripal.

In a statement to investigators after his arrest, viewed by Reuters, Rink said he was in possession of poisons created as part of the chemical weapons programme which he stored in his garage. On more than one occasion, he said, he sold the substances to supplement his income and pay down a debt.

The poison in the Kivelidi case was sold in a deal brokered by an ex-policeman contact of Rink’s. Rink handed over the poison, in an ampoule hidden inside a pen presentation box, in a meeting at Moscow’s Belorussky station, according to his statement.

Rink received a one-year suspended prison sentence for “misuse of powers,” according to Boris Kuznetsov, who was a lawyer for Kivelidi’s business partner during the trial.

Kuznetsov said he believed his client was innocent, and that Kivelidi was poisoned by rogue intelligence officers acting without the knowledge of the Russian president at the time, Boris Yeltsin.

The Soviet chemical weapons programme was a sprawling operation spread across far-flung provincial cities that incorporated the world’s largest chemical arsenal, publicly declared at 40,000 tonnes.

When the Soviet Union ceased to exist, funding dried up, scientists’ salaries were in several months of arrears, staff morale slumped and facilities were left to fend for themselves with little government control or oversight.

According to a 1995 report published by the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington security think-tank, and based on accounts from industry insiders, physical security at the facilities was deficient.

It said railroad entrances to the facilities were padlocked but unguarded, and at some sites chemical weapons were stored in buildings with wooden doors and tiled roofs that an intruder could get into with little difficulty.

Chemical weapons were stored in silos without tamper-proof seals, making it difficult to detect if small quantities were being siphoned off.

A second report by the Stimson Center four years later highlighted the risk of Soviet chemical weapons scientists – who earned a pittance when they were paid at all – being recruited by criminals, terrorists, or rogue states.

“All the ingredients for successful black marketeering are present through the chemical and biological complexes – under- or unemployed, scientists and managers, valuable commodities at far-flung locations, and poor security,” the report said.

SATELLITE STATES

In some cases in the early 1990s, highly toxic chemical agents wound up outside Russian territory, in ex-Soviet facilities in newly-independent states such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

According to Mirzayanov, the former Soviet chemical weapons scientist, the “Novichok” family of nerve agents developed by the GosNIIOKhT institute was tested in Nukus, Uzbekistan.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Mirzayanov, now resident in Princeton, New Jersey, said though he believed the Kremlin was behind the Skripal attack.

The ex-Soviet republics outside Russia that suddenly found themselves hosting ex-Soviet chemical weapons facilities were even less equipped than Moscow to secure them.

U.S. troops who arrived in Uzbekistan after 2001 to establish an air base in the city of Khanabad came across stockpiles of old munitions that had not been accounted for, which turned out to contain chlorine and other chemical compounds, said someone who was present at the time and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

People in the chemical weapons field said security since the 1990s had improved drastically, helped by Western aid, the transfer of weapons stockpiles from neighbouring states to Russia and a stronger Russian state.

Russia’s trade and industry ministry, which oversaw the disposal of chemical weapons stockpiles, said in a statement sent to Reuters that Russia had destroyed 100 percent of the stocks in strict compliance with international commitments, and faster than the United States.

The ministry did not address questions about chemical weapons smuggling in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse.

Ukraine’s state security service, which tracks weapons proliferation, said it had no immediate comment.

The Uzbek foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. The state-owned Kazakh nuclear company which operates the Pavlodar Chemical Plant, a former chemical weapons facility, and the Energy Ministry, to which the nuclear company reports, did not reply to questions.

http://news.trust.org/item/20180314181331-8936f/


Vil Mirzayanov, as mentioned above, is supposed to have published the formula for the nerve agent.  If that is true, then anyone could have used it.  The issue is why was Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 attacked with such an agent?  A possible explanation can be found here http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/the-daughter-of-former-russian-spy-sergei-skripal-was-the-real-target-of-the-nerve-agent-attack-relative-claims/news-story/5d7bb94389d882b6a41ee4afc5cc5d01 and here https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/russian-spy-poisoning-skripal-salisbury_uk_5a9fbe18e4b0d4f5b66bcd91


Gwyn Winfield—the editorial director of CBRNe World magazine, a trade publication for those dealing with chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive threats—said it’s possible that the Russians continued to develop novichoks in the years after the publication of Mirzayanov’s book. But even then, the British were probably able to reliably gather minute traces with a novichok’s unique chemical signature.

“You’d have to detect the phosphate chain, and they [mass spectrometers] are probably looking at broad families detecting something hazardous in the environment,” Winfield added, referring to a flame phytometry detector that the British Army likely used for chemical identification.

Winfield said it’s also important to note that we don’t yet have any idea what particular novichok variant hit the Skripals and the police officer who responded to them.

When Winfield first heard about the incident, he and other journalists thought it was a fentanyl overdose. “When the Salisbury Hospital shut down, [it was done so for] fentanyl poisoning,” Winfield told The Daily Beast. “That sounded right, that we were looking at two individuals who had overdosed on something.”

Fentanyl wouldn’t be out of the question: Prior to its more recent use in the United States as an opioid, Winfield said the drug has been used for assassination attempts. “It was effective and inefficient, and there was plausible deniability,” he said, pointing out that victims could be thought to have overdosed.

When Prime Minister May came out and said the culprit was novichoks, Winfield said he was surprised, particularly given that Skripal reportedly became aggressive, waved his arms, and pointed to the sky while yelling in Russian, he said. “Those don’t fit into what we know about organophosphate exposures,” Winfield explained—which means that while novichok is being pointed to as the source nerve agent, it’s possible that it was swirled with another drug that produced hallucinogenic qualities that were more similar to a fentanyl poisoning.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/sorry-i-developed-the-weapon-that-poisoned-a-russian-spy


In all the ‘fuss’ about the attempted murder, it is time to put the issue into context.  This involves a couple of people who are the centre of a political ‘crisis’.  But, what about the other more pressing issues that are happening around the world?  For example, the situation in the South China Seas (where China has claimed jurisdiction over large swathes of the area and so is at odds with her neighbours and the USA), or the Yemen (where millions are dying due to lack of food and medicine as bombing continues), or the growth of the drug cartels, human trafficking and the arms trade.  These involve a lot more people and just because some of the ‘issues’ are ‘over there’ does not mean we should treat people any different than we do in the UK, for they all have the potential of developing into wider disputes and much loss of life.  And at a time when relations with Russia over the Ukraine and Syria are at a all-time low, it is not diplomatic to accuse it until definite and corroborated evidence can be presented to them show Mrs May and Mr Johnson calling them ‘names’.

So, I call upon the media, government and the public to stop jumping to conclusions over this affair, and see it in a wider world context.

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Politics – 4

Christians in politics

Back in the 1990’s, an organisation called ‘The Movement for Christian Democracy’ was born.  It was brought into being by three MPs, one from each of the main political parties.  It was an attempt to bring together all those who believed in the teachings of the Bible applied to political thought.  I was excited by its breadth and balance.  There was a ‘maturity’ about it not found in the manifestos of the various political parties.  The original attention was not to form a ‘Christian Democratic’ party but to influence Government policy and thinking.  Unfortunately, as far as I was concerned, a number of its members believed it was the right time to do just that, so the Christian People’s Alliance (CPA) was born.  A number of other groups were also spawned from it.  Even though the CPA has put forward a number of candidates, it has not garnered many votes.

A good number of MPs have declared in one way or another that they are Christians, including Prime Ministers.  Unfortunately, this often means ‘Christian’ in name only.  They have not based their policy on biblical principles, and even if it is, they do not keep to those principles.  This has been evident in recent events over same-sex marriage, and homosexuality in general, all for political expediency.  To me, that makes you wonder if that individual can be trusted with one’s vote.  I could give a number of examples, but it would not achieve anything.  Now, as a Christian, one should seek to follow the principles outlined in the Bible.  Unlike others, we have a framework to base our thinking and practice.  Our understandings may vary from person to person, hence why MPs can stand for the various Parties and still keep their principles.  These biblical values means to stand up against their Party when a policy falls foul of the Bible; that means fearing God more than the Whip!

So, when are we going to hear of Christians who are prepared to stick up for their biblical principles, have a wholistic and integrated viewpoint and express it in an attitude of Jesus love?

(Having had a look at the various manifestos of the ‘Christian’ parties, I would not vote for them for a number of their policies are similar to those of the English Democrats, a far right party.  Also some of the attitudes that come across in their writings are not very loving.)

Below is a copy of the original ‘Westminster Declaration’ published in a publication of the Movement for Christian Democracy in the 1990s. (Not the one published by the CPA recently.)

HRP – VALUES – THE WESTMINSTER DECLARATION – MCD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Politics – 3

Another election has taken place.  The results will not be fair and nothing much will change.  What we need is a different way of voting and Government structure.

When we come to vote, we decide on a number of issues:

  • who we want to represent us in Parliament  (ideally, this would mean that we no longer have political parties; the individuals standing for election need to have lived in the constituency for at least five years and can demonstrate their involvement in the community in a variety of ways)
  • who we want to lead the country (someone who has experience in bringing people together, has verifiable exemplary leadership skills, can speak at least one other ‘useful’ language, has a good working knowledge of all issues (both national and international), has travelled extensively, and is well educated in politics and world affairs)
  • who we want to lead the various Government departments (of which there should only be a maximum of ten, preferably eight) (each potential candidate should have demonstrable experience in the relevant field at senior leadership level of at least ten years, has potential policies to implement, has ‘people skills’ and has suitable qualifications in politics and world affairs)

All candidates should be able to demonstrate that they are people of integrity, have strong mental and physical health to be able to cope with the pressures of the work, and that their family (if married or in a permanent relationship) is wholly committed to the candidate standing and that it will not put a strain on their relationship.

Elections should take place every ten years so that Governments have time to make a real difference with their policies.

Policies should be decided by the Prime Minister/President and the leaders of the various Departments so that there is an integrated approach to all issues.

The ‘Cabinet’ consists of Prime Minister, Department Leaders and the ‘Civil Service’ Chief.  Each year, one of the Department Leaders would be the Prime Minister’s deputy.

I would like to suggest that all current titles are abolished and replaced with the following:

Executive Director (old Prime Minister)

Director – Environment, Transport, Housing

Director – Security (Defence), Justice

Director – Finance (inc Benefits)

Director – Health and Well-Being

Director – Foreign Affairs

Director – Business

Director – Culture, Media and Sport

Director – Lifelong Learning, Knowledge Management, Science

Director – Government Staffing (old Civil Service), Ethics and Legislation

Constituencies become smaller so that MPs can really engage with people and have time to serve on one Scrutiny of Policy Commission for each of the eight areas.

The House of Lords is abolished, the Houses of Parliament becomes a museum and a brand new Parliament building is created with the main auditorium created for 700+ MPs, and equipped with future-proofed technology (both visual and sound based).  Also within the complex, there is an office suite for each MP, their PA, and two researchers; suitable catering facilities; many meeting rooms for small gatherings of up to 50 people; medical facilities for basic healthcare; proper security facilities and control – the building is built so that there is only limited number of access points and can withstand a bomb attack.  All Government Departments are also located in this complex.  The design team for the building will need to consult with MPs, Government Department leaders, staff, security experts etc as what is required and it meets the highest environment standards.  The building should be located on a ‘brownfield’ site in the east of London, to help increase employment in a low job area.

All election candidates to be given a partially-refundable amount of finance for campaigning (but only to those candidates who meet certain criteria – what should they be?).  Donations cannot be given to make sure there is no fraud or potential favours given.

Unfortunately, none of the above will happen unless every member of the public who cares about this country takes hold of the above and writes to their MP and to the Prime Minister.  We would also need a few how profile people to take hold of the vision and get it discussed on the television, radio and the papers as well as on-line.  Anyone up for the challenge?

Any thoughts, suggestions on improving greatly received.

Politics – 2

Every so often the media raises the issue of donations to political parties and yet nothing much is done about this and the subject of expenses. I think it is time to simplify the situation.

I would like to suggest that all political parties are funded purely by its members paying a fixed rate, so everyone is treated equally and no donations are to be accepted to prevent fraud.

All members also would be given one vote to be used for the following purposes:
– to vote for – their party leader
– party secretary
– allocation of funds inc campaigning
– party auditor
– to vote in – manifesto policies
– constitution

This way, political parties will have to listen to their members, otherwise they will put themselves out of ‘business’. If any party goes bust, the members of Parliament would stay in post, but will have to become Independents.

For Independents to stand for election, they will be allowed a fixed amount for campaigning and office expenses.

As regards expenses, the following is to be covered by the Treasury:

MPs should be given a en-suite room in a building built specifically for them and is only available to those whose constituencies are outside the Greater London area. All utility and cleaning costs are met. Meals and other costs whilst staying there are to be met out of their salary.

As regards travel expenses to and from their constituency, they are given a fixed allowance per month as part of their salary, whatever their position. If there is foreign travel required, an allowance is given plus cost of tickets to travel second class.

Also an allowance should be given to pay for staff (a PA and two researchers) and a constituency office with slightly bigger allowance for London constituencies.

Salaries should be based an average pay for a middle manager plus an entertainment allowance (less than they get now).

This would save the Government money and reduce fraud and make it fairer for everybody concerned

Politics – 1

Letter to the President of the United States

Guantanamo Bay Naval Station

May I through your good offices, urge you to find ways of closing the Naval Station completely and returning the land to Cuba, its rightful owner.

This issue has now been festering for many years, especially regarding the illegal detention of prisoners at a base which should come under normal laws that apply in the United States itself.

I would like to suggest the following actions are taken by yourself and your Government:

 As President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the USA, you are entitled ‘to grant reprieves or pardons’ of the 126 prisoners of war. Thus, as many of those held in Guantanamo Bay are not a national security threat, they can be released, either back to the country from where they were taken, or to the USA mainland. As part of that repatriation, it would be very helpful if they are given compensation, including help to find suitable and sustainable employment.

 Those that do constitute a ‘threat’ could be transferred to a purpose-built maximum security prison (in a non-death penalty state), for the purposes of facing a trial based on the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution (…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws). As a temporary measure, Alaska could hold them in a suitable well-protected prison. I would suggest that the trials are held without a jury due to the sensitive nature of the evidence. But, I would propose that independent persons from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International (but not the ACCL) and the International Red Cross (a non- American) be present to make sure that the Law is upheld and the prisoners are not tortured or mis-treated in any form. So, access is to prisoners is important.

 To solve the main issue, an Executive Order could be issued to the Department of Agriculture to ‘buy’ the land of the Naval Station for the purposes of creating an area of wildlife conservation or to return it to agricultural land. Once bought all the papers stored there would need to be removed and transferred to the National Archives for use of the defence and prosecution lawyers in the legal cases brought against those who have been detained but under strict but fair conditions of access. As regards the buildings, airfield, etc, they should be all cleared and the land prepared for its future use. But, the fencing should be initially kept until the work is complete within nine months.

 And finally, the whole area is then returned to Cuba, as the original ‘owner’ and whose territory, it was only ‘leased’ under treaties from the early 20th century. This last point could be part of ‘normalising’ relations with the country. The USA has had diplomatic relations with communist countries in the past, so it need not be any different today. (Getting rid of the Naval Station, would help reduce the Defence budget, yet it would not decrease the capability of the US Navy because of other more suitable bases on the American mainland being available.)

Such actions would improve the standing of the United States through-out the world, especially in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, further action to improve the perception of others with regard to prisoner treatment, and the ‘extraction’ of people, could be undertaken.

 One area would be to develop policies on improving prisoner treatment and to allow regular access to them by their lawyers and the International Red Cross.

 Another would be to set up strict protocols as regards the control by your Office of the military in terms of its finances and operations, and to uphold the highest standards of prisoner treatment. (With regard to that last point, it might be helpful to bring all the intelligence agencies under one roof to prevent duplication and to increase a better sharing of knowledge.)

Such actions would also reduce the draw to those organisations which seek to destroy and kill westerners and locals who oppose them.

I do hope this letter will not end up in a corner somewhere in the White House, not seen by anyone of importance. For I believe that my suggestions are important when we are talking about justice for all peoples and not just the USA. I have many American friends and there is much good in the country, but this is one area which needs to vastly improve!