Category Archives: campaigns & events

Gilets Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition)

Gilet Jaunes

In late November last year a new grassroots movement took to the streets of Paris. Taking its name from the adopted emblematic apparel of hi-vis yellow vests which every French motorist is obliged to carry in their vehicles, early reports repeated the claim that the thousands of demonstrators had gathered for the rather limited mission of stopping the implementation a new fuel tax. As the weeks passed, however, and as the protests continued even after President Macron’s concessionary intervention to freeze the tax hike 1, it became evident that although elected to office just eighteen months previously, Macron was suddenly facing a very serious political crisis. One of the few political commentators to recognise the nature and the importance of the Gilets Jaunes was American author Diana Johnstone, who is based in Paris and wrote in early December:

Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.

President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.

This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”

After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins). This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism. Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.

Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris! 2

Click here to read Johnstone’s full article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron”.

Although there is a great deal of misrepresentation of the Gilets Jaunes, it isn’t very hard to trace their origins. We could go back fifty years to the same Paris streets and the anti-establishment uprising instigated by student protests that signalled the beginning of the end for Charles de Gaulle. However, there was a stronger ideological current in ’68 than now; the movement then stirred into being and driven by the purposefully obscure quasi-Marxist slogans of the Situationists, most famous for enigmatically declaring “Sous les pavés, la plage!” (“Under the pavement, the beach”).

Within a few decades following the dissolution of the Situationists, a more distinctly anti-capitalist movement began to emerge. Widely referred to at the time as anti-globalisation, for many years it was belittled and trivialised, characterised as directionless and quixotic. In fact it was simply ahead of its time, and with the millennium rapidly approaching, the mobilisation of many tens of thousands who steadily gathered outside the WTO convention in Seattle was about to seriously unsettle the western establishment.

On November 30th 1999, with the conference underway, the authorities reacted. Their response has since become a familiar one: blockades, pepper spray, tear gas and stun grenades rained down on what had been more or less peaceful demonstrations. Having provoked a response, the Mayor of Seattle, Paul Schell, subsequently declared a state of emergency, and then, the following day, State Governor, Gary Locke called in National Guardsmen to enforce a no-protest zone. At the height of what would later be known as the “Battle in Seattle” the streets were strewn with shattered glass just as the air was thick with teargas. The estimated costs to the city exceeded $20 million.

As it transpired, the protests Seattle represented the apogee of this first anti-globalisation movement, its growing strength abruptly snuffed out by the attacks on the World Trade Center. No movement so openly hostile to global trade could sustain itself in the immediate post-9/11 environment, and so it withered away as the peace movement would too; all anti-establishment causes becoming collateral damage. In fact it took nearly a decade for any comparable movement to re-emerge, and this time it was born in the shadow of the banking crisis and on the back of the “Arab Spring”.

It was not until 2011 before thousands in Spain and Greece finally took to the streets protesting against neo-liberalism and the “austerity measures” that were starting to cripple their economies and to undermine welfare and other state provision. This happened during the earliest days of this blog, and so I cut my teeth writing a sequence of articles which began with the first of the ‘los indignados’ protests on May 15th (also known as 15M). Shortly afterwards on July 25th, a small contingent of the burgeoning movement had embarked on a thousand mile march from Madrid to the European Parliament in Brussels in forlorn hopes of petitioning “the Troika” to end their measures.

Across the Atlantic, and inspired by popular uprisings now taking place around the Mediterranean (including the so-called Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt), Occupy Wall Street then commenced with its call for people to gather on September 17th. Just a month later, on Saturday October 15th (15-O), there was a coordinated day of international dissent called for by los indignados with rallies taking place not only in Spain (half a million in both Barcelona and Madrid), but also in Greece and the other “PIGS” (to use the vile and frankly racist acronym quite freely attached by the press), as well as in other major European cities and across the United States. The 15-O event actually sparked protests as far afield as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, Canada, South America and Africa.

Click here to read a list of the 15-O Occupy protests around the world and here to read my own post about this first day of global outrage.

By the symbolic (if coincidental) date of November 5th, Occupy Sheffield sprang up too, when a small band of disillusioned strangers put together a makeshift protest camp outside the cathedral. Thus the Occupy movement that had been inspired by los indignados in Spring, and spread to Wall Street by mid-September, was within months recruiting fellow travellers in my home city as in other towns and cities of the UK including the capital.

For a brief moment, the Occupy movement became a global protest movement, and one that in superficial respects, resembles today’s Yellow Vest movement. It was horizontally structured, eschewed leadership and listed no formal demands. Finally, and in spite of its foundational and unswerving commitment to non-violence action, when the time came – in America especially – the police response was unrestrained and brutal. The largest encampment in Zuccotti Park would be swept aside within just a few hours on November 15th, scarcely two months after the protests had commenced.

It is true to say that los indignados slowly transformed into the new political party Podemos, and that the parallel protests in Greece likewise helped to trigger the rise of Syriza, however, once the last pockets of resistance were vanquished in other parts of the world, little more remained than a lasting slogan: “we are the 99%”. And so in spite of the tremendous enthusiasm and initial optimism, the revolution was cancelled. Doubtless in part it was doomed to fail if only because camping in the park – especially at the onset of Winter – was a desperately poor strategy to begin with, but more importantly, the movement had never managed to reach out to the wider populous, whether through trades unions, civil rights groups or by tuning in to the real concerns of disaffected groups beyond the large metropolitan centres.

I visited the camp at the Cathedral on a few occasions and at first was eagerly welcomed in, but as the weeks passed, the mood changed. The mix included students, the homeless, drop-outs and well-intentioned others, but rather than actively protesting, this in-crowd mostly spent their days cooking food, constructing shelters and sitting in meetings with comrades where decisions were made on a strict consensus basis, and nights hunkered down in tents or under tarpaulin. They had built makeshift libraries and hung up posters – I recall that one was for Avaaz – and they did workshops for anyone interested. In short, Occupy was always directed towards building a ‘community’ and as such was inward-looking. Outside the tents, the passersby passed by, and most were unimpressed by the genuine commitment shown by those who nightly sacrificed the warmth and comfort of a bed to sleep out on the streets.

Although the Gilets Jaunes are successors to the fin de siècle anti-globalisation movement that culminated in Seattle, and to the Occupy camps which disbanded a decade after, their anger is more palpable and their strength has been greatly reinforced due to support throughout the rural provinces. Unlike the earlier movements, the Gilets Jaunes are in fact marginalised in a different way: largely abandoned by the left-leaning intelligentsia, for better or worse, neither do they enjoy celebrity endorsements. Finally, at the extremes of the criticism they endure, they are disparaged as ‘populist’. This is actually their greatest strength, of course, and the biggest reason they are met with such hardline suppression by the authorities. It is also why both their political cause and the gatherings of thousands each weekend (especially when peace is maintained) have been dutifully downplayed by the corporate media.

In truth, this spontaneous and mostly leaderless movement is more straightforwardly working class, and it is this factor above others that singles it out and makes it significantly different from the earlier movements. Such an awakening of class consciousness also potentially makes it a genuine existential threat to the establishment.

Activist, writer and theoretical physicist, Jean Bricmont, a Belgian perhaps best known for his role in the ‘Sokal Affair’, is a leftist commentator who has actually participated in the Yellow Vest protests. In a recent interview with independent Algerian journalist, Mohsen Abdelmoumen, he outlined other ways in which the Gilets Jaunes radically differs from previous social uprisings:

[T]he movement is intensely patriotic – they sing the “Marseillaise”, wave the French flag, etc. It is an attitude that deeply disturbs the left.  The people show that they are attached to their country – as the Algerians are attached to Algeria, the French are attached to France –, which does not imply any hostility towards foreigners, but it implies a certain idea of national community and this is something that the left has hated for decades. It is the great problem of the left that it is cut off from the majority of people because it rejects this idea of a national community and puts forward its membership in Europe, globalization, etc. From this point of view, the left is completely cut off from the people.

According to Bricmont, the Gilets Jaunes confront the powers-that-be with what is for them an irresolvable crisis:

Yellow Vests ask such fundamental questions that no European government could answer them. Moreover, Macron is a prisoner of the European Union logic. He throws oil on the fire with his provocations, but the crisis is the result of decades of neoliberal politics, deindustrialization, destruction of public services, and so on.

Asked whether the emergence of the GJ movement is historical, Bricmont replies:

Yes, I think so, but it is very complicated to imagine the form by which the people would take power. They talk about the RIC (Citizens’ Initiative Referendum) and the European Union, but they are not at all clear on the latter issue. The problem is that it is a spontaneous and unorganized movement, so there are no leaders, no method for collective thought. There is collective thought developed by people discussing in the traffic circles and who think of alternatives, but the movement is not yet structured enough so that we could know where it will lead. I tend to think that we have to wait to know what will come of all this. For now, they are resisting, which is already remarkable, but where it will go, I do not know. 3

Click here to read the full interview in the American Herald Tribune.

Interestingly, although leaderless, as far back as December 5th a set of demands purporting to be an ‘official’ Yellow Vest manifesto appeared:

Soon after a translated version appeared too:

For alternative leftist analysis of the movement we may also turn to Serge Halimi, editorial director of Le Monde diplomatique, whose thoughts were published by Counterpunch on January 8th. Halimi writes:

The sudden emergence of the yellow vests, just as miraculous and much more powerful, demonstrates the gradual impoverishment of an ever-larger section of society. It also demonstrates the feeling of absolute defiance towards — almost disgust at — the usual channels of representation: the movement has no leaders or spokespeople, rejects political parties, keeps its distance from unions, ignores intellectuals and hates the media. This probably explains its popularity, which it managed to retain even after violence any other government would have capitalised on. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Forgotten France Rises Up”.

Another article that shines some clearer light on the rise of the Gilets Jaunes was written by Max Parry and published in Counterpunch on January 4th. He writes:

In less than two months, the yellow vests (“gilets jaunes”) movement in France has reshaped the political landscape in Europe. For a seventh straight week, demonstrations continued across the country even after concessions from a cowing President Emmanuel Macron while inspiring a wave of similar gatherings in neighboring states like Belgium and the Netherlands. Just as el-Sisi’s dictatorship banned the sale of high-visibility vests to prevent copycat rallies in Egypt, corporate media has predictably worked overtime trying to demonize the spontaneous and mostly leaderless working class movement in the hopes it will not spread elsewhere.

The media oligopoly initially attempted to ignore the insurrection altogether, but when forced to reckon with the yellow vests they maligned the incendiary marchers using horseshoe theory to suggest a confluence between far left and far right supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen. To the surprise of no one, mainstream pundits have also stoked fears of ‘Russian interference’ behind the unrest. We can assume that if the safety vests were ready-made off the assembly line of NGOs like the raised fist flags of Serbia’s OTPOR! movement, the presstitutes would be telling a different story.

And he addresses the reason behind the mostly silent response coming from progressives within America:

While the media’s conspicuous blackout of coverage is partly to blame, the deafening silence from across the Atlantic in the United States is really because of the lack of class consciousness on its political left. With the exception of Occupy Wall Street, the American left has been so preoccupied with an endless race to the bottom in the two party ‘culture wars’ it is unable to comprehend an upheaval undivided by the contaminants of identity politics. A political opposition that isn’t fractured on social issues is simply unimaginable. Not to say the masses in France are exempt from the internal contradictions of the working class, but the fetishization of lifestyle politics in the U.S. has truly become its weakness. […]

In today’s political climate, it is easy to forget that there have been periods where the American left was actually engaged with the crisis of global capitalism. In what seems like aeons ago, the anti-globalization movement in the wake of NAFTA culminated in huge protests in Seattle in 1999 which saw nearly 50,000 march against the World Trade Organization. Following the 2008 financial collapse, it briefly reemerged in the Occupy movement which was also swiftly put down by corporate-state repression. Currently, the political space once inhabited by the anti-globalization left has been supplanted by the ‘anti-globalist’ rhetoric mostly associated with right-wing populism.

Globalism and globalization may have qualitatively different meanings, but they nevertheless are interrelated. Although it is shortsighted, there are core accuracies in the former’s narrative that should be acknowledged. The idea of a shadowy world government isn’t exclusively adhered to by anti-establishment conservatives and it is right to suspect there is a worldwide cabal of secretive billionaire power brokers controlling events behind the scenes. There is indeed a ‘new world order’ with zero regard for the sovereignty of nation states, just as there is a ‘deep state.’ However, it is a ruling class not of paranoiac imagination but real life, and a right-wing billionaire like Robert Mercer is as much a globalist as George Soros.

Ever since capitalism emerged it has always been global. The current economic crisis is its latest cyclical downturn, impoverishing and alienating working people whose increasing hardship is what has led to the trending rejection of the EU. Imperialism has exported capital leading to the destruction of jobs in the home sectors of Western nations while outsourcing them to the third world. Over time, deep disgruntlement among the working class has grown toward an economic system that is clearly rigged against them, where the skewed distribution of capital gains and widespread tax evasion on the part of big business is camouflaged as buoyant economic growth. When it came crashing down in the last recession, the financial institutions responsible were bailed out using tax payer money instead of facing any consequences. Such grotesque unfairness has only been amplified by the austerity further transferring the burden from the 1% to the poor. 5

Click here to read the full article entitled “Why France’s Yellow Vest Protests Are Ignored by ‘The Resistance’ in the U.S.”

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“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” said Gandhi (or possibly somebody else 6), but that was old school in any case. In today’s ‘post-truth’ era, ‘they’ have been enabled both to ignore and to fight you simultaneously. And just as the Occupy movement was forcibly dismantled with the cameras turned away, so on the streets of France another unreported crackdown is being carried out right now.

On January 28th, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, who has “been keeping close track of the events linked to the ‘yellow vest’ movement in France since mid-November 2018” made an official visit to Paris, prompted by what she describes as an “increasing number of violent incidents, reported by a very large number of media outlets, confirmed by information passed on to her by national human rights bodies and borne out by evidence received directly by her Office”. A month later on February 26th, she released her damning report on “the circumstances of the use of force by law enforcement officers and some demonstrators, and assess[ing] the human rights situation in the context of the various forms of action linked to the yellow vest movement.” The following summary is directly quoted from that report (further extracts are reprinted in the footnote):

[A]ccording to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds [i.e., rubber bullets], 1428 instant tear gas grenades and 4942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019. She is concerned at the high level of use of these so-called intermediate weapons despite the fact that their deployment is restricted and they can cause serious injury. The Commissioner notes that according to a count carried out by an independent journalist, at the time of writing, the three types of intermediate weapon referred to above had been involved in 253 of 428 reports made to him by persons claiming to be victims of police violence, which he himself had documented and cross-checked, confirming a high prevalence of LBDs, accounting for 193 of these cases. The count highlighted 38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye.

In conclusion she says:

The Commissioner is extremely concerned about the number of serious, concurring and credible allegations of police violence causing mutilation and serious injury, particularly to the head. She considers that head wounds caused by LBD [rubber bullets] fire show a disproportionate use of force and the unsuitability of this type of weapon in the context of operations aimed at maintaining public order. 7

Investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley has witnessed the police violence first-hand and has been running regular columns throughout the already five months since the GJ first took to the streets. Back on January 31st, she reported:

Since the 24th November 2018 the violence witnessed on the streets of cities across France has escalated dramatically. One French independent journalist, David Dufresnes, has been recording all infractions committed by police and security forces and tweeting them to the Interior Ministry while giving interviews to a huge number of French media channels to raise awareness of the police brutality during peaceful protests. In the tweet below, infraction number 362 dated 26/1/2019, an off duty soldier is reported to be hit in the head by a police LBD40 rubber bullet as he is leaving a restaurant in Montpelier on his way to the nightclub with two of his colleagues:

Link to Tweet and video here.

Dufresnes has recorded 157 injuries to the head including 18 who have lost an eye, fractures of the jaw and comas in the most severe cases. 11 hand injuries, in 4 cases resulting in the loss of a hand. 8 back injuries, 28 injuries to the upper body, 40 lower limb injuries, 3 injuries to the genital area, 48 unspecified injuries and 55 cases of intimidation, insults, repression of press freedom infractions. One eighty-year-old was murdered on the 1st December 2018 in Marseilles – Zineb Redouane was killed when a tear gas grenade was thrown in her face by the security forces. According to Dufresnes this is the list of the more serious injuries, an estimated 2000 – 3000 more GJs have been “lightly” injured during the protests since November 2018.

Record of some of the appalling injuries inflicted upon unarmed civilians by police forces across France. (Photo: Desarmons.net)

Dufresnes argues that the police have already lost control of the situation and can no longer be legitimately claiming to “maintain law and order”. In one interview Dufresnes points out that the use of 10,000 tear gas grenades on one day of protests points to a “panic” situation among the security forces. During “Acte XI” of the protests on the 26th January the elderly man, Eric, in the photo below was hit on the head by a police truncheon in Marseilles. He has three fractures and is forced to eat only liquid food from the left side of his mouth for three weeks, according to his brother.

On February 11th, Venessa Beeley delivered a presentation at the Mot Dag Conference in Oslo and provided a powerful testimony of the state sanctioned violence against unarmed civilians in French cities:

Having cited other instances of entirely innocent protesters who have been maimed or otherwise seriously injured, Beeley writes:

Effectively the Gilets Jaunes have exposed Macron and his government for what it is. Macron is the President who was elected by the globalists, the capitalists and the ruling elite to protect their interests. A book recently published, authored by Francois-Xavier Bourmand, entitled “Emmanuel Macron the Banker who would be King” has investigated the corporatocracy who ensured Macron’s election win in order to expand their interests globally and to convert France from Republic into Plutocracy at the expense of the “dispensables”, the “little people”.

During one confrontation with a citizen at one of the Grand Debates, Macron is asked why he has failed to fulfill his pre-election promise of “no more SDF (homeless) on the streets of France – 580 SDF died on the streets of France in 2018. Rather than show compassion for the poverty-stricken and homeless, Macron defends his policies with accountant-speak, informing the audience that the elite must be protected in order to provide jobs for the “poor”.

If indeed Macron’s coterie in government are pushing for confrontation between the people and the security forces and introducing increasingly repressive measures to up the pressure on the protestors rather than trying to defuse matters, it is really ten minutes before midnight in France. The insanity of Macron supporting the “uprising” in Venezuela while sanctioning vicious reprisals against his own people at home is glaringly obvious to all but Macron and his backers. That is because Macron is doing his job and his job is to manufacture the conditions in which the privileged, wealthy ruling elite can thrive and further their globalist ambitions which includes military adventurism and resource theft from target nations that include Venezuela and Syria.

Violence will escalate in France because it is state-sanctioned. Unless the police wake up to their manipulation by the state and join forces with the GJs there is a risk of a serious confrontation in the very near future.

Click here to read Vanessa Beeley’s full article published on Patreon.

On January 28th, Vanessa Beeley, was interviewed on The Last American Vagabond about the “Yellow Vests” movement. She discussed the media suppression, police brutality and its subsequent cover up, and also spoke about the orchestration of an alternative so-called ‘Red Scarf’ resistance movement:

Then on March 10th, Vanessa Beeley appeared as a guest on George Galloway’s RT show ‘Sputnik’, were she again talked about the ‘Yellow Vest’ protests and the media silence:

Protests on consecutive weekends have now passed more than a hundred days, and with no sign at all that the movement is ready to fade away, the Macron government has been stepping up its strong-arm measures, including the deployment of the army on the streets of Paris. This latest move is justified on the basis of an abrupt escalation in violence and vandalism during the 18th act of the protests. However, as wsws.org reported on Thursday 21st, the crackdown comes in spite of widescale evidence of police collusion with black bloc and other agitators:

The escalation of repression by the Macron government after Saturday’s clashes with protesters on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, during the 18th weekly “yellow vest” protests, raises the most serious questions as to the government’s role. No evidence has been provided that the violence was caused by “yellow Vest” protesters. But the Élysée is seeking to tear up the right to protest on the basis of these murky events, which sections of the state apparatus itself have attributed to far-right forces.

On Monday, the government announced that protests could be banned in areas where violence had previously occurred, if police declare that “extreme elements” could be present among the protesters. But it is precisely the question of the police’s own role that is raised by Saturday’s events, which saw numerous buildings set on fire, notably Fouquet’s restaurant.

The police, which were filmed ransacking the merchandise store of the Paris Saint-Germain football club, are now threatening the “yellow vests” with a major escalation of violence. Frédéric Lagache, the general secretary of the Alliance police union which is tied to neo-fascists, called for the injuring of demonstrators: “We should be willing to clash with them and maybe cause some injuries. We’re not going up against choir-boys.”

The incriminating footage of alleged police looting can be found here:

[A] segment of a video originally live-streamed by Rémy Buisine, a journalist for the French news site Brut, has gone viral, garnering more than three million views. The footage shows an officer a few metres from the PSG shop entrance carefully folding what looks like club jerseys or white sweatshirts and putting them into a black bag.

Buisine is heard commenting that “some items were…” before being brusquely interrupted. As the camera shakes, Buisine says that he was clubbed by a police officer with a baton, although that isn’t clearly shown in the video. 8

The same wsws.org article continues:

On Saturday, the Socialist Party mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, reacted to the violence by declaring: “What I saw tonight were extreme right groups who want to destabilize democracy, and groups of looters.”

She also pointed to the responsibility of police for the violence that erupted on the Champs-Élysées: “It ought to be possible to take control of a situation like the one we just passed through.”

Naturally, Hidalgo chose her words and took care not to express herself in a way that would raise questions as to the role of the state machine, of which she is herself an important cog. But it is necessary to ask the questions which are directly posed by such statements.

If far-right groups are indeed responsible, then which far-right groups are they? Who are their leaders, and who gave orders to set different shops and buildings on fire? Are there ties between the far-right groups that ransacked the Champs-Élysées, according to Hidalgo, and those, for example, who are now appealing the conviction of their ex-members for the fascist murder of Clement Méric?

Given the vast powers that the state has to monitor electronic communications and mobile phones, how is it possible that they do not know the identities of those responsible?

And if, as Hidalgo claims, the responsibility for the violence lies with far-right forces that threaten democracy, what conclusions should one draw about the role of the government? Why are Macron and his ministers silent about the role of the far right, besides the fact that this discredits their claim that the “yellow vests” and those who support them—some 70 percent of the French population—are responsible for the violence? 9

Click here to read the full report entitled “Unanswered questions on French police role in Saturday ‘yellow vest’ clashes”.

On Saturday 23rd, ‘We Are Change’ released an extended interview with an anonymous Gilets Jaunes spokesman “Bob” who spoke to Luke Rudkowski about the violence of the previous weekend’s “18th Act”; the psychological problems suffered by police officers; the use of a new type of unknown ‘teargas’ agent; the deployment of troops; and the callous manipulation of the narrative by Macron. Both parts of the interview are embedded below [warning: the introductory music is unnecessarily loud]:

In short, fighting against what have been, for the most part, peaceful protests is in the long run a losing strategy, so it has been essential to denigrate the entire ‘Yellow Vest’ movement by tarnishing its reputation, whether by means agents provocateurs (Vanessa Beeley reported on this in early February) or else by branding its supporters as racists, or more specifically, accusing them of antisemitism – an increasingly prevalent trend which usefully serves also to reverse an otherwise defensive posture needed to protect Israel. As independent journalist Jonathan Cook wrote in an excellent piece entitled “France’s Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism”:

Macron’s sleight of hand [“his repeated conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism”] has a related and more specifically self-serving agenda, however, as has become clear in the wider misuse – or weaponisation – of antisemitism slurs in Europe and the US.

Macron is faced with a popular revolt known as the Yellow Vests, or Gilets Jaunes, that has taken over high streets for many months. The protests are rocking his government.

Like other recent grassroots insurrections, such as the Occupy movement, the Yellow Vests is leaderless and its demands difficult to decipher. It represents more a mood, a spreading dissatisfaction with an out-of-touch political system that, since the financial meltdown a decade ago, has looked chronically broken and unreformable.

The Yellow Vests embody a grievance desperately searching to hitch its wagon to a new political star, a different and fairer vision of how our societies could be organised.

The movement’s very inarticulateness has been its power and its threat. Those frustrated with austerity policies, those angry at an arrogant, unresponsive political and financial elite, those craving a return to a clearer sense of Frenchness can all seek shelter under its banner.

But equally it has also allowed Macron and the French elite to project on to the Yellow Vests any kind of malevolent motive that best serves their efforts to demonize the movement. A charge spokespeople for the movement deny.

And given the rising tide of nativist, far-right movements across Europe, casting the Yellow Vests as antisemitic has proved difficult to resist for the embattled French president.

Just as Macron has presented leftwing and anti-racism activists supporting BDS as in cahoots with neo-Nazis, he has lumped together the Yellow Vests with far-right white nationalists. Much of the French media have happily recycled this mischief. 10

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

There are few satirists who puncture the convoluted pomposity of today’s febrile political climate quite so astutely as playwright and novelist CJ Hopkins. Lately he has gone to town on the virulence of what he calls the “Anti-Semitic Pandemic” and in his most recent piece, wryly retraces its spread from latent seeds within British Labour Party out to the streets of Paris:

Emergency measures are now in effect. A full-scale Labour Party lockdown is imminent. Anyone not already infected is being advised to flee the party, denounce anyone who hasn’t done so as “a Hitler-loving Corbyn-sympathizer,” and prophylactically apologize for any critical statements they might have made about Israel, or “elites,” or “global capitalism,” or “bankers,” or anything else that anyone can construe as anti-Semitism (preferably in the pages of The Guardian).

Nor has the Continent been spared! What at first appeared to be a series of spontaneous protests against Emmanuel Macron, economic austerity, and global capitalism by the so-called “Yellow Vests” in France has now been officially diagnosed as a nationwide anti-Semitism outbreak. In a heroic attempt to contain the outbreak, Macron has dispatched his security forces to shoot the eyes out of unarmed women, pepper spray paraplegics in wheelchairs, and just generally beat bloody hell out of everyone.

Strangely, none of these tactics have worked, so France has decided to join the USA, the UK, Germany, and the rest of the empire in defining anti-Zionism as form of anti-Semitism, such that anyone implying that Israel is in any way inherently racist, or a quasi-fascist Apartheid state, or making jokes about “elites” or “bankers,” can be detained and prosecuted for committing a “hate-crime.” 11

Click here to read CJ Hopkin’s complete essay.

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Avaaz

On March 12th, Avaaz released a lengthy report entitled “Yellow Vests Flooded By Fake News: Over 100M Views of Disinformation on Facebook”. The cover page features the image below:

What this image is depicting is not entirely clear, however I suggest that we try to dissect it to see if we can uncover an underlying message. To begin then, who are the two screaming victims meant to represent and why are they in the throes of such extreme agony? Moreover, what is the unseen agency pulling at their strings? To my eyes the torment and the envisaged tormenter are conflated, deliberately so given how there is no other visible cause for their trauma. Presumably then the subliminal message is that the pain that is felt and expressed by the Yellows Vests is both the outcome and an expression of one source: ‘fake news’. Of course the main purveyor of this dread ‘fake news’ is then made clear in the accompanying caption:

“Avaaz calls on Facebook to Correct the Record ahead of EU Elections – with an in-depth study showing how fake news surrounding the Yellow Vests reached over 100 million views, and how Russia fueled the divide.”

[bold highlight added]

In short, Russia is to blame, and not just for somehow orchestrating mass demonstrations across France that have been ongoing since November, but for bringing such grief to the French people by generating and stoking their rage. You see the people who go out on the streets in their tens of thousands are actually dupes of the Kremlin – empty-headed pawns in a game that goes on entirely above their heads:

Yes, the image above is another one lifted from the pages of Avaaz’s report, and as if their message isn’t plain enough, there is a further accompanying statement that clarifies:

This new in-depth study by the global citizens’ movement Avaaz shows for the first time the unprecedented scale at which the Yellow Vest movement has been impacted by disinformation. According to its findings, fake news surrounding the French Yellow Vest movement has reached an estimated 105 million views on Facebook alone, in a country with just over 35 million Facebook monthly active users. 12

The report then highlights three prime examples of the kinds of disinformation inflaming the French protests:

• a post with images including bleeding ‘Yellow Vest protesters,’ which media and government allegedly hid from the public – when some of the photos were actually taken at different protests near Madrid or in Catalonia (136,818 shares, 3,511,456 est. views)

• a video of French President Macron dancing in the Middle East “while France suffers,” when the video was actually taken over a month before, during the Summit for the Francophonie in Armenia (183,390 shares, 5,700,000 views)

• an image of a Yellow Vest protest in Paris, with a caption alleging that the image had been censored on Facebook or elsewhere; Le Monde fact-checkers debunked the claim that the photo or the caption were deleted (349,403 shares, 8,967,432 est. Views 13

I wish to consider each of these items in turn, starting with the photo of an injured protester who is mistakenly identified as a victim of the recent violence in France when in fact she was a previous victim of police brutality in Madrid. It was late February when Avaaz launched their initial campaign on the back of this deception. The email they sent reads (and bold highlights are preserved from the original):

“This shocking photo of a young woman, left beaten and bleeding by police at a protest, went viral on social media in France.

It’s the sort of thing Avaaz might launch an urgent campaign on.

So let’s pause there, if only to bookmark this first claim before continuing…

“But there’s just one problem – the image has nothing to do with France. It was taken in Madrid, years ago. It’s fake. Untrue. A lie.

And it’s dangerous.

Where to begin? Well surely the first point is that the image is not in any literal sense fake at all. Indeed, no-one is actually claiming that the image has been photoshopped. All that is ‘fake’ is that it happened in a different place and another time when evidently – and in spite of all their frantic virtue signalling – Avaaz did not bother to launch a campaign in response to it. No, they waited. And it was not until they could reuse the image to push a new agenda when they finally decided to direct the world’s attention to it.

Now it might be the case that they simply hadn’t seen this image before, although if so, then one wonders how they so promptly identified it as “fake” upon its re-emergence. Although none of this really matters. The fact is, as Avaaz know full well, the Gilet’s Jaunes protesters have also been repeatedly “beaten, bloody and terrified” in staggering numbers by French police; many left permanently blinded or as amputees. I have covered this above, however, the following extract is taken from a mainstream article that published by the New Statesman as early as January 30th, and thus a whole month prior to the Avaaz email:

In the video that has stunned France, Paris’s Place de la Bastille is relatively calm, with gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters scattered around the square. Jérôme Rodrigues, a pacifist yellow vest figure, is filming 26 January’s “Act XI” on Facebook Live, greeting fellow yellow vests as his “family”, reminding them that they are “authorised” to be there (unlike previous ones, this march had been declared to the authorities) and regretting reports of violence elsewhere. At the nine-minute mark, police start closing in. An explosion goes off. Seconds later, Rodrigues falls to the ground, badly hurt in the eye as his friends call for help. The video has been watched more than 2.2 million times in less than a week.

Rodrigues, who may remain blind in one eye, is among dozens of protesters who have been severely injured by the French police since the start of the yellow vests movement last autumn. Unlike violence against the police, which has been sharply condemned by the government in several speeches — including president Emmanuel Macron’s new year’s address, in which he described protesters as a “hateful crowd” — police brutality against protesters went largely ignored by the authorities for months. Rodrigues’s footage, and his prominent standing within the movement, has shone a light on police violence and the horrific injuries their weapons have caused since the first protests in November. 14

Click here to read the full article entitled “The French police’s brutality against the gilets jaunes can no longer be denied”.

A similar report entitled “Police violence against gilets jaunes sparks broad backlash” was published by the New Internationalist literally one day before the Avaaz email arrived. It begins:

Since that now infamous Act 2 protest in Paris on the 24th of November in which the first riots erupted on the Champs Elysee, the gilets jaunes, or ‘yellow vests’, have been met by an increasingly heavy handed police response. The 15th of December in Paris saw this reach an absurd peak when there were 2,200 protestors on the streets and over 8,000 police. They were ubiquitous. On the 15th they were so numerous that they could consistently split groups of gilets jaunes from merging to form a bigger mass. Ironically, this was one of the calmer weekends in terms of crowd numbers, police violence and casseur presence. Other times though the police response was devastating.

Jacques Pezet, fact-checking Journalist for the CheckNews division of Liberation had, as of the 30th of January counted 144 verifiable cases of gilets jaunes and journalists severely injured by the riot police. At least 14 victims have lost an eye and 92 of the 144 have been shot by flashballs. Flashballs are rubber bullets fired from a tube like weapon with the stopping power of a .38 calibre handgun. At close range, as the French CRS (riot police) have used them, they can be particularly damaging. This violent misconduct by the CRS has sparked a wave of activism and created a new movement against police brutality within the gilets jaunes. 15

Click here to read the full New Internationalist article.

So when Christoph Schott at Avaaz warns us that “Disinformation like this has the power to turn protest violent…” I know that he is being duplicitous. That what he is saying is fake, untrue, a lie… and that it’s dangerous. Because that genuinely “shocking photo of a young woman” in Madrid was really nothing more than a decoy to draw attention from the horrific violence of the French police and the hundreds of victims like these:

Record of injuries from police use of disproportionate force against unarmed civilians during GJ protests. (Photo: Desarmons.net)

Now let us turn to Avaaz’s second example of “dangerous” disinformation: a video which purportedly shows Macron dancing “while France suffers”, but as Avaaz rightly contends, was in fact filmed during an event which took place on October 11th, and so roughly one month prior to the GJ protests. Here’s an upload for anyone who’s remotely interested in watching Macron strut his stuff:

The implication Avaaz makes here is that news of Macron’s detachment from the plight of the ordinary French citizen has been at best exaggerated and at worst fabricated. Yet once again this seriously and knowingly misses the essential point. So try this instead. Type into Google the words, “Macron let them eat cake” and then count the hits yourself. I will merely present a sample of the various tweets and articles you will instantly be linked to:

Instead of the confident leader, lecturing and preening on the global stage, he is barricaded in his palace, a sort of latter-day Marie Antoinette. French people can’t afford diesel? Let them buy Teslas. Others might compare him to Nero, fiddling with emission targets while Paris burns. 16

From an article published by The Spectator in December appropriately entitled “Let them buy Teslas! How Macron provoked an uprising”.

Also back in December, The Economist weighed in with this tweet:

And meanwhile the Guardian published:

It is feasible – indeed, desirable – to use the tax system to tackle climate change, but only if the hit to living standards is fully offset by cuts in other taxes. Otherwise it is simply more of the austerity that voters everywhere are rejecting. And it is politically suicidal to be known as the president of the wealthy and then tell voters angry about rising fuel prices to car share or take public transport. That’s not De Gaulle, that’s Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake”.17

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable.”

The backlash was indeed inevitable, and is nothing to do with the sorts of shadowy puppetry that are alluded to by Avaaz. Furthermore, Macron may or may not have been dancing during the protest, however, as Paris burned last weekend, he was most definitely in the Alps skiing:

Mr Macron was forced to cut short a skiing holiday and return to the capital as an 18th consecutive Saturday of demonstrations by the gilets jaunes or yellow vests turned into a riot on the Champs-Elysées. 18

Let them eat, drink and après-ski!

*

Macron

Nominally anti-fascist, in reality, Avaaz is more straightforwardly pro-establishment globalist. While on the one hand it actively manufactures consent for pro-western regime change operations, on the other, it quietly supports neoliberal “centrism”. As its co-founding President and Executive Director, Ricken Patel, told the euobserver in an interview given last July:

“I think the people of Europe stand with Merkel. That doesn’t mean that every right-wing voter in Bavaria stands with Merkel’s positions, but the majority of people in Germany, and the majority people in Europe, stand behind her and she needs to lead with confidence, and with boldness, and with creativity to execute the solutions she is offering, because the other side is not offering any solutions.”

“They are offering fantasies and unworkable solutions and things that would destroy the laws and the values of the European project and liberal democracy. And I think she should continue to lead boldly.” 19

As with Merkel, so with Emmanuel Macron. Indeed, here is a campaign Avaaz ran in the lead up to the French presidential elections in 2017:

In less than 4 weeks, France will have a new President, and he or she will have an immense impact on how we work together to build the world most of us want to see.

We’re figuring out our next steps for engaging the 4 million-strong Avaaz community across France, and we need your help. If the election was held tomorrow, would you vote for Emmanuel Macron? If yes, sign the form!

Avaaz then released this video on its facebook page:

But the meddling in foreign elections doesn’t end here, because there is also Avaaz’s army of ‘elves’, who, as I discussed in a previous post, are in reality simply Cass Sunstein’s unwitting little helpers:

*

Facebook

This brings me to Avaaz’s third and final highlighted instance of “disinformation” that is purportedly fuelling the current outrage in France. It takes the form of “an image of a Yellow Vest protest in Paris, with a caption alleging that the image had been censored on Facebook or elsewhere”. According to Avaaz, “Le Monde fact-checkers debunked the claim that the photo or the caption were deleted”. Now, rather than delving into this specific allegation which I see little reason to doubt, it is more worthwhile to consider this allegation in fuller context.

Firstly it is vital to understand how this entire Avaaz campaign is absolutely intent on lessening the impact of political content distributed on Facebook, and thus rather blatantly guilty of the kind of censorship it here alleges didn’t happen. It is important to stress therefore that Facebook is already charged with helping to silence political dissent, and that there is an abundance of available evidence to find the company fully guilty on that count.

In fact, it is nearly a year since Facebook first revealed its previously secret rules for censoring posts. As Forbes reported:

The company has come in for a fair amount of criticism over the years for taking down perfectly innocuous content – everything from photos of classical statues to the famous picture of a napalmed child in Vietnam.

Now, users whose content has been taken down will be notified and given the chance to ask for a review; reviews will normally be carried out within 24 hours.

The policy will initially apply only to nudity or sexual activity, hate speech and graphic violence, says [VP of global product management Monika] Bickert.

But, she adds, “We are working to extend this process further, by supporting more violation types, giving people the opportunity to provide more context that could help us make the right decision, and making appeals available not just for content that was taken down, but also for content that was reported and left up.” 20

In response to Facebook’s announcement of its censorship policy, the ACLU cautioned against what it saw as a clampdown on free speech:

If Facebook gives itself broader censorship powers, it will inevitably take down important speech and silence already marginalized voices. We’ve seen this before. Last year, when activists of color and white people posted the exact same content, Facebook moderators censored only the activists of color. When Black women posted screenshots and descriptions of racist abuse, Facebook moderators suspended their accounts or deleted their posts. And when people used Facebook as a tool to document their experiences of police violence, Facebook chose to shut down their livestreams. The ACLU’s own Facebook post about censorship of a public statue was also inappropriately censored by Facebook.

Facebook has shown us that it does a bad job of moderating “hateful” or “offensive” posts, even when its intentions are good. Facebook will do no better at serving as the arbiter of truth versus misinformation, and we should remain wary of its power to deprioritize certain posts or to moderate content in other ways that fall short of censorship. 21

Click here to read the ACLU statement in full.

More recently, and as it transpires immediately prior to the Gilets Jaunes protests, Facebook then announced a fresh censorship drive:

People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook. It’s why we have a policy banning coordinated inauthentic behavior — networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing. This year, we’ve enforced this policy against many Pages, Groups and accounts created to stir up political debate, including in the US, the Middle East, Russia and the UK. But the bulk of the inauthentic activity we see on Facebook is spam that’s typically motivated by money, not politics. And the people behind it are adapting their behavior as our enforcement improves.

The statement was made last October and continues:

Topics like natural disasters or celebrity gossip have been popular ways to generate clickbait. But today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site. And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the “news” stories or opinions these accounts and Pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate. This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior – such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam – rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.

Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. 22

Click here to read the Facebook statement in full.

As the Guardian reported at the time:

As a private entity, Facebook can enforce its terms however it sees fit, says the ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman. But this can have serious free speech consequences, especially if the social network is selectively enforcing its terms based on the content of the pages.

“Drawing the line between ‘real’ and ‘inauthentic’ views is a difficult enterprise that could put everything from important political parody to genuine but outlandish views on the chopping block,” says Eidelman. “It could also chill individuals who only feel safe speaking out anonymously or pseudonymously.” 23

The same article, which entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged” , interviewed Matt Mountain, the pseudonym of a disabled veteran who operated six leftwing pages subsequently purged, and Brian Kolfage, another disabled veteran who administered the Right Wing News page as well as three other conservative pages that were also removed. Kolfage said:

“I’ve talked with Facebook maybe 50 times in the last few months… Not once did they ever say we broke any rules or did something wrong. If they had an issue, they could have brought it up. We had a really close working relationship. That’s why this whole thing is a complete shock.”

‘Mountain’ told the Guardian:

“I don’t think Facebook wants to fix this… I think they just want politics out, unless it’s coming from the mainstream media.”

Predictably, the piece ends:

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full Guardian article

*

Real ‘fake news’

Every major U.S. war of the last several decades has begun the same way: the U.S. government fabricates an inflammatory, emotionally provocative lie which large U.S. media outlets uncritically treat as truth while refusing at air questioning or dissent, thus inflaming primal anger against the country the U.S. wants to attack. That’s how we got the Vietnam War (North Vietnam attacks U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin); the Gulf War (Saddam ripped babies from incubators); and, of course, the war in Iraq (Saddam had WMDs and formed an alliance with Al Qaeda).

This was exactly the tactic used on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces.

Writes Glenn Greenwald at the top of a very detailed exposé of the latest US government lies to bring about a regime change. The truth was finally admitted by The New York Times a fortnight later – by which time the official story was deeply lodged in people’s minds – and you will find a video and accompanying article about it behind their paywall. Here is their belated headline:

The NYT piece gives proof that the convoys were in fact torched by anti-Maduro protesters, exactly as many independent reporters including Max Blumenthal were reporting on the day, however, as with the disclosure of other fake news stories perpetuated in the mainstream media, and unlike the original lies, the NYT retraction did not grab the wider headlines.  Although CNN, The Telegraph and the BBC all ran the original fake news story, they left NYT alone to publicly retract it.

As Greenwald points out in reference to the evidence for what really happened:

Those last two tweets [embedded below] – using video footage to debunk the lies spread by Marco Rubio, CNN and the U.S. Government – happen to be from a correspondent with RT America. Please tell me: who was acting here as lying propagandists and agents of State TV, and who was acting like a journalist trying to understand and report the truth?

So everything the New York Times so proudly reported last night has been known for weeks, and was already reported in great detail, using extensive evidence, by a large number of people. But because those people are generally skeptical of the U.S. Government’s claims and critical of its foreign policy, they were ignored and mocked and are generally barred from appearing on television, while the liars from the U.S. Government and their allies in the corporate media were, as usual, given a platform to spread their lies without any challenge or dissent, just like the manual for how to maintain State TV instructs. 24

Click here to read Glenn Greenwald’s excellent article entitled “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda”.

*

Final thoughts

Barring the singular exception of the West’s most unconscionable war, the Saudi-led genocide of Yemen, Avaaz has never seen an imperialist intervention, ‘colour revolution’, or other regime change operation it didn’t approve of. It campaigned vigorously for the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya – this, the weasel word euphemism for airstrikes – and soon after Libya was bombed backed into the dark ages, demanded a ‘no-fly zone’ over Syria (read more here and here).

Less well-advertised, Avaaz was also deeply involved in Iran’s failed ‘Green Revolution’:

During the 2009 Green Movement uprising in Iran, for example, Avaaz set up a network of proxy servers to allow protesters to post videos from the streets. 25

Then in 2017, Avaaz went a step further when it financially backed its own candidate in the race for Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia. The candidate in question happened to be none other than former congressman Tom Perriello, one of Avaaz’s original founders, who, it was divulged, received a donation from Avaaz of $230,000. As the Washington Post reported:

As a 501(c)(4) charity, Avaaz is not required to disclose its individual donors, which it says come from among nearly 45 million members in 194 countries. The organization says it accepts no money from governments or corporations and itemizes any donations greater than $5,000 on its tax filing; in 2016, 26 such donations were reported, representing 0.7 percent of Avaaz’s total revenue.

Perriello co-founded Avaaz with two colleagues who had helped him start an earlier nonprofit called Res Publica, which was aimed at promoting international justice on behalf of the religious left, as Perriello told the National Catholic Reporter in 2004. One of those colleagues, Ricken Patel, a Canadian, is now Avaaz’s executive director. The organization was formed in collaboration with MoveOn.org, the Democratic online activist group that has received funding from billionaire George Soros — who also is a major Perriello campaign contributor. 26

Click here to read the full article published by the Washington Post.

Today Avaaz is fully in league with Bush-era hawk John Bolton, the unapologetic cheerleader for the Iraq War, and Elliot Abrahams, who aided death squads throughout Latin America and was afterwards convicted following his involvement in the Iran-Contra Scandal. In unison with “like-minded leaders” (in the words of John Bolton 27), President Ivan Duque of Colombia, and Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil, Avaaz is assisting in the attempted overthrow of the elected government of Venezuela. The empire has seldom been more brazen when it comes to singling out its latest “axis of evil” (i.e., Bolton’s “troika of tyranny”: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua), yet this self-proclaimed non-partisan people’s movement is eager to lend support in the guise of faux-humanitarianism that distracts from US imperialism and bolsters the neo-con cause:

The image is captured from a translation of its Spanish campaign but you can also find the same campaign in English here:

It is also backing baseless claims that last year’s presidential elections were invalid.

Meanwhile, Avaaz is once again meddling closer to home. In the name of stemming the tide of ‘fake news’ it is preparing the way for greater internet censorship. As they concede in the report:

RT France has massively invested in coverage of the Yellow Vest protests, including hour-long live coverage videos, and as a result, dominated the debate about Yellow Vests on YouTube in France more than any other YouTube channel, let alone mainstream media.

If you imagined that “a global citizens movement” (as Avaaz markets itself) would be in favour of more rather than less coverage of the mass demonstrations across France and so would applaud RT or any other media outlet for providing it, you would be wrong. The fact is that they wish to bury any news of a popular uprising, smothering the truth with overblown allegations of ‘fake news’. So if you still haven’t figured it out, then allow me to spell it out instead: in contrast to the Gilets Jaunes themselves, Avaaz is not and never has been a grassroots movement. It was astroturfed from the get-go to provide controlled opposition, whilst its newest departure into ‘fake news’ surveillance represents a more sinister turn. Once again, I encourage every person of goodwill to unsubscribe from the Avaaz mailing list. I shall remain nominally affiliated just to keep an eye on future machinations – just so that you won’t have to.

*

1

France’s gilets jaunes (yellow vests) have vowed to continue their high-profile protest campaign after forcing the French government into a U-turn on a controversial rise in fuel tax.

The movement behind three weeks of increasingly violent protests across the country declared it wanted more concessions from France’s leaders and would not accept “crumbs”.

From an article entitled “Gilets Jaunes protests in France to continue despite fuel tax U-turn” written by Kim Willsher, published in the Guardian on December 4, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/04/french-government-to-suspend-fuel-tax-increase-say-reports 

2 From an article entitled “Yellow Vests Rise Against Neo-Liberal ‘King’ Macron” written by Diana Johnstone, published in Consortium News on December 5, 2018. https://consortiumnews.com/2018/12/05/yellow-vests-rise-against-neo-liberal-king-macron/ 

3 From an article entitled “Dr. Jean Bricmont: ‘Yellow Vests Ask Such Fundamental Questions that No European Government Could Answer Them” written by Mohsen Abdelmoumen, published in American Herald Tribune on February 22, 2019. https://ahtribune.com/interview/2903-jean-bricmont.html

4 From an article entitled “Forgotten France Rises Up” written by Serge Halimi, translated by George Miller, published in Counterpunch on January 8, 2019.. https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/08/forgotten-france-rises-up/  

5 From an article entitled “Why France’s Yellow Vest Protests Are Ignored by ‘The Resistance’ in the U.S.” written by Max Parry, published in Counterpunch on January 4, 2019.  https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/01/04/why-frances-yellow-vest-protests-are-ignored-by-the-resistance-in-the-u-s/

6 Although in fact like so many of the best known quotes it is probably misattributed.

7

During her visit the Commissioner noted in particular that the validity of the use of rubber bullet launchers (LBDs) during demonstrations was contested by most of the people she met, who highlighted their unsuitability for the purposes of maintaining public order and the danger they posed in such contexts. In his report of December 2017 on maintaining public order with due regard for professional rules of conduct, the Defender of Rights recommended that a multidisciplinary study be carried out on the use of intermediate weapons and that LBDs should be removed from the range of equipment available to law enforcement agencies. The Commissioner notes that the Defender of Rights reiterated his recommendation for LBDs to be withdrawn in January 2019 and that many health professionals support him because of the sometimes irreversible injuries that can be caused by these weapons. Laurent Thines, Head of Neurosurgery at the University Hospital of Besançon, has even talked of the “extreme danger” of these launchers which he considers to have “all the features of weapons of war”. […]

The Commissioner notes that according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior 12 122 LBD rounds, 1428 instant tear gas grenades and 4942 hand-held sting grenades were fired or thrown between the beginning of the yellow vest movement and 4 February 2019. She is concerned at the high level of use of these so-called intermediate weapons despite the fact that their deployment is restricted and they can cause serious injury. The Commissioner notes that according to a count carried out by an independent journalist, at the time of writing, the three types of intermediate weapon referred to above had been involved in 253 of 428 reports made to him by persons claiming to be victims of police violence, which he himself had documented and cross-checked, confirming a high prevalence of LBDs, accounting for 193 of these cases. The count highlighted 38 wounds to upper limbs including 5 lost hands, 52 wounds to lower limbs, 3 wounds to the genitals and 189 head wounds including 20 people who have lost an eye. The Commissioner notes that many head wound victims attribute their injuries to intermediate weapons, particularly LBDs, whereas according to instructions reiterated by the Director General of the national police force on 16 January 2019, the use of LBDs must be “targeted”, with users aiming “only at the torso or the lower or upper limbs”. […]

[T]he Commissioner is concerned about the allegations of police violence targeting journalists which have been brought to her attention by professional journalists’ organisations and human rights groups and which are echoed by those of three photographers who claim that they were “deliberately” targeted by the police in Toulouse at a demonstration on 9 February 2019.

From a report by the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe published on February 26, 2019. https://rm.coe.int/commdh-2019-8-memorandum-france-en/1680932f57

8 From an article entitled “French police accused of stealing PSG jerseys during Yellow Vest lootings”, written by Pierre Hamdi, published in France 24: The Observers on March 19. 2019. https://observers.france24.com/en/20190319-france-social-media-accuse-police-stealing-psg-jerseys-yellow-vests

9 From an article entitled “Unanswered questions on French police role in Saturday’s ‘yellow vest’ clashes” written by Anthony Torres and Alex Lantier, published in wsws.org on March 21, 2019. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2019/03/21/fran-m21.html

10 From an article entitled “France’s Macron leads the way as western leaders malevolently confuse anti-Zionism with antisemitism” written by Jonathan Cook, published in Mondoweiss on February 27, 2019. https://www.jonathan-cook.net/2019-02-27/france-macron-zionism-antisemitism/

11 From an article entitled “Anti-Semitism Pandemic!” written by CJ Hopkins, reprinted in OffGuardian on March 12, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/03/12/anti-semitism-pandemic/

12 From an Avaaz report entitled “Yellow Vest Flooded By Fake News” published on March 12, 2019. https://g8fip1kplyr33r3krz5b97d1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/AVAAZ_YellowVests_100miofake.pdf.pdf.pdf

13 Ibid.

14 From an article entitled “The French police’s brutality against the gilets jaunes can no longer be denied” written by Pauline Bock, published in the New Statesman on January 30, 2019. https://www.newstatesman.com/world/europe/2019/01/french-police-s-brutality-against-gilets-jaunes-can-no-longer-be-denied

15 From an article entitled “Police violence against gilets jaunes sparks broad backlash” written by Oliver Haynes, published in the New Internationalist on February 27, 2019. https://newint.org/features/2019/02/27/police-violence-against-gilets-jaunes-sparks-broad-backlash

16 From an article published entitled “Let them buy Teslas! How Macron provoked an uprising” written by Jonathan Miller, published in The Spectator on December 8, 2018. https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/12/let-them-buy-teslas-how-macron-became-the-enemy-of-the-french/ 

17 From an article entitled “Macron’s politics look to Blair and Clinton. The backlash was inevitable” written by Larry Elliott, published in the Guardian on Decmeber 6, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/06/macron-clinton-blair-backlash

18 From an article entitled “Macron under renewed pressure after another weekend of violence” written by Harriet Agnew, published in the Financial Times on March 17, 2019. https://www.ft.com/content/b774a756-48a7-11e9-8b7f-d49067e0f50d

19 From an article entitled “EU populists not actually that ‘popular’, says global activist” written by Lisbeth Kirk, published in the euobserver on July 3, 2018. https://euobserver.com/political/142242

20 From an article entitled “Facebook Reveals Its Secret Rules For Censoring Posts” written by Emma Woollacott, published in Forbes magazine on April 24, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2018/04/24/facebook-reveals-its-secret-rules-for-censoring-posts/#40a453b56da4

21 From an article entitled “Facebook Shouldn’t Censor Offensive Speech” written by Vera Eidelman, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, published by ACLU on July 20, 2018. https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/internet-speech/facebook-shouldnt-censor-offensive-speech

22 From a Facebook announcement entitled “Removing Additional Inauthentic Activity from Facebook” written by Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy and Oscar Rodriguez, Product Manager, posted by Facebook on October 11, 2018. https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/10/removing-inauthentic-activity/

23 From an article entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged” written by Dan Tynan, published in the Guardian on October 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/oct/16/facebook-political-activism-pages-inauthentic-behavior-censorship

24 From an article entitled “NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Aid Trucks in Venezuela Shows How U.S. Government and Media Spread Pro-War Propaganda” written by Glenn Greenwald, published in The Intercept on March 10, 2019. https://theintercept.com/2019/03/10/nyts-expose-on-the-lies-about-burning-humanitarian-trucks-in-venezuela-shows-how-us-govt-and-media-spread-fake-news/

25 From an article entitled “How a New York City-Based Activist Group Became a Player in Syria”, written by Vivienne Walt, published in Time magazine on March 15, 2012. http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2109212,00.html

26 From an article entitled “‘Dark money’ vs. Corporate cash: Virginia Democratic rivals clash over funding” written by Gregory S. Schneider, published in the Washington Post on April 22, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/dark-money-vs-corporate-cash-democratic-rivals-clash-over-funding/2017/04/21/cc91253c-25d7-11e7-a1b3-faff0034e2de_story.html?utm_term=.6d47c0cae4ab

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“The recent elections of like-minded leaders in key countries, including Ivan Duque in Colombia, and last weekend Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, are positive signs for the future of the region, and demonstrate a growing regional commitment to free-market principles, and open, transparent, and accountable governance,” Bolton said in his speech at Miami-Dade College.

From an article entitled “Bolton praises Bolsonaro while declaring ‘troika of tyranny’ in Latin America” written by Julian Borger, published in the Guardian on November 1, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/nov/01/trump-admin-bolsonaro-praise-john-bolton-troika-tyranny-latin-america

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Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, France, internet freedom, police state, Venezuela

solidarity with Chris Williamson MP

Chris Williamson is not an anti-Semite or a racist, but simply the latest victim of an ongoing witch hunt. I encourage fellow Labour Party members, Corbyn supporters in particular, along with others of good will, to speak out against his suspension, and to pursue justice for him.

Click here to sign a petition on change.org calling for his suspension to be lifted (you can read the full statement appended below).

The suspension of Chris Williamson MP is an absolute disgrace. We stand in full solidarity with Chris, who must be cleared as soon as possible by Labour’s “investigation” – though judging by how Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Tony Greenstein, Ken Livingstone and many, many more Corbyn supporters have been thrown under the bus, we have very little confidence that he will receive a fair one.

He is the latest victim of the witch-hunt by the right in the party whose main target is, of course, Jeremy Corbyn himself.

Jeremy Corbyn recently said: “Chris Williamson is a very good, very effective Labour MP. He’s a very strong anti-racist campaigner. He is not anti-Semitic.” Corbyn was right. He should finally stand up and tell people like Jon Lansman and John McDonnell to stop joining in the witch-hunt – but support the thousands of left-wingers who have been investigated, suspended and expelled, many of them on false accusations of anti-Semitism.

This campaign to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism will only get worse, the closer we get to a general election. Trying to appease the right clearly does not work. If you fight, you might lose – but if you don’t fight, you have already lost.

Click here to find the same statement posted on the Labour Against the Witch Hunt website.

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Updates:

Having asked friends and fellow Labour Party branch members for advice on ways we might respond, the first two replies both offered the same recommendation: direct people to watch the Al Jazeera investigative series “The Lobby”, which uncovered subterfuge within the Labour Party by a spy working for the Israeli embassy.

In the clip below we see Israeli agent Shai Masot telling Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, Joan Ryan MP, at the LFI conference stall about a gift of over £1 million. Although Ryan has since quit Labour and joined “The Independent Group”, she still remains Chair of LFI:

One minute into the same clip (above) we also hear Masot casually discussing how he might help “take down” MPs opposed to Israeli policy. This shocking revelation did make news around the time of Al Jazeera‘s broadcast and eventually led to the quiet expulsion of Masot, though no further investigation was launched either by the media or through a public inquiry.

I have covered the contents of these four remarkable documentaries in earlier posts including this extended article, but following my friends’ suggestion have now decided to embed them again. I encourage readers to watch the series in its entirety (although parts 3 and 4 are perhaps the most pertinent episodes), and to direct others to watch them too:

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A short message from Chris Williamson to his supporters

On March 13th, Chris Williamson’s spoke briefly with @LeeFromSwindon. He began by thanking everyone who has “helped him through a very dark and difficult time”. His bigger message is that, as he put it, “we are on the cusp of literally changing the balance of power in this country in the favour of ordinary working people forever” and he asks members to stick together in solidarity and not abandon the party. Quoting a famous song from the 50s and 60s American civil rights movement, he also encouraged us to “keep your eyes on the prize and hold on”:

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Further update: Israel’s trolls meddling in British politics (Act.IL)

Sarah Leah Whitson, the head of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, was fiercely attacked by anti-Palestinian groups and pundits this weekend.

She had shared a posting of mine on the manufactured “Labour anti-Semitism crisis” story.

My tweet included an article from last year in which I reported a clear example of Israeli interference in British politics.

The “Act.IL” organization, which is coordinated, backed and has been funded by Israel’s so-called Ministry of Strategic Affairs, had used a troll army to spread false information about Jeremy Corbyn – the leader of the UK’s official opposition party.

writes Asa Winstanley in an article published on February 11th entitled “Yes of course Israel is interfering in British politics”. He continues:

Whitson commented, “Why is this #Israel interference in domestic UK politics acceptable? Is it only a problem when Russia does this?”

Both are pertinent questions.

But predictably, Israel’s propagandists attacked the article as “anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”

What Whitson’s attackers refused to address was the substance of the report. Instead, they falsely accused her of spreading “anti-Semitism.”

This is a deliberate tactic to distract from how Israel interferes in domestic UK politics – and indeed around the world.

What I reported – and has still not been contested, let alone refuted – is the fact that in August last year, a well-funded group called Act.IL had used a troll army to spread anti-Corbyn and anti-Labour propaganda in the UK.

A “mission” on the app directed users to comment on Facebook in response to a Huffington Post UK story about Corbyn’s alleged “anti-Israel remarks,” which the Israel-backed app claimed are “often a way to hide anti-Semitism.”

Since that report, The Electronic Intifada has obtained further evidence that Act.IL’s budget is more than $1 million.

An internal report states that, based out of “media rooms” in Israel, the US and the UK, Act.IL can direct an army of more than than 15,000 propagandists via its app.

Click here to read the full article at the Electronic Intifada website.

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Petition statement: Lift the suspension of Chris Williamson

Anti-Semitism is now being used as a weapon to silence those who would speak out against injustice. It is being used in such a way as to silence freedom of speech. The cries of Anti-Semitism are now being used in an inappropriate way. I abhor racism in all its forms but it has now gone far too far and merely the cry of AS has itself has become a weapon of abuse, where is the justice? Why are the NEC and Labour Party now becoming part of the problem? When they continually target people with a good record against racism in all its forms, it actually achieves the opposite to the desired goal. This is not justice, this is a tribute to McCarthyism where an accusation is enough. It has become a kangaroo court with the accusers given anonymity while decent people are tarnished and decried – This is not socialism, and some of these accusations wouldn’t even stand up in a Civil Court let alone a Criminal One even in our broken justice system – Please re-think and look at who the accusers are and where their affiliations lie, as they do not seem to lie with a socialist Labour Party.

Click here to add your name to the petition.

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the counter-revolution will be televised (by its cheerleaders): on the latest attempted coup in Venezuela

Background

A 2003 documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Spanish: La revolución no será transmitida) provides a fascinating insight and behind the scenes account of the US-backed but failed Venezuelan coup of April 2002. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, who had been given direct access to Hugo Chavez with the intention only of making a fly-on-the-wall biography, suddenly finding themselves trapped in the midst of quite extraordinary political turmoil and turnaround:

The Youtube upload has since been taken down, however, I have embedded another version below:

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If at first you don’t succeed…

NEUMANN: Thank you very much. Vanessa Neumann, Asymmetrica. I am a dual America and Venezuelan citizen. So here goes my question, because we’re not covering anything about Western Hemisphere in this forum. Obviously Maduro in Venezuela regime change looks to be, we hope imminent or spiraling down until we either become Cuba in two weeks time or – and die forever or there’s a change in 60 to 90 days. I’m interested in your open assessment on American interests in or threats from Venezuela and which of course has Russian, Iranian et cetera interests and – for the region. Thank you, sir.

POMPEO: So I appreciate the question. At any time you have a country as large and with the economic capacity of a country like Venezuela, America has a deep interest in making sure that it is stable, as democratic as possible. And so, we’re working hard to do that,

I am always careful when we talk about South and Central America and the CIA, there’s a lot of stories.

(Laughter)

POMPEO: So I want to be careful with what I say but suffice to say, we are very hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there, so that we can communicate to our State Department and to others. The Colombians, I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world.1

This exchange between Mike Pompeo, then-Head of the CIA, and businesswoman Vanessa Neumann took place during a Q&A session at a security forum organised by the foundation funded Aspen Institute ‘think tank’. It is an admission that the US is once again covertly engaged in a regime change operation in “America’s backyard”.

Click here to read more in an article entitled “CIA chief hints agency is working to change Venezuela government” published by The Independent on July 25th 2017.

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The night before Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela, the opposition leader received a phone call from Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Pence pledged that the U.S. would back Mr. Guaidó if he seized the reins of government from Nicolás Maduro by invoking a clause in the South American country’s constitution, a senior administration official said.

Click here to read the full article published by The Wall Street Journal entitled “Pence Pledged U.S. Backing Before Venezuela Opposition Leader’s Move”.

The clause in question is Article 233 of Venezuela’s Constitution. It reads as follows:

“The President of the Republic shall become permanently unavailable to serve by reason of any of the following events: death; resignation; removal from office by decision of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice; permanent physical or mental disability certified by a medical board designated by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice with the approval of the National Assembly; abandonment of his position, duly declared by the National Assembly; and recall by popular vote.”

“When an elected President becomes permanently unavailable to serve prior to his inauguration, a new election by universal suffrage and direct ballot shall be held within 30 consecutive days. Pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.”

None of this is applicable of course. Nicolás Maduro is not and never has been absent in any way whatsoever. Moreover, he was re-elected only eight months ago in May 2018 having won 67.8% of the vote in free and fair elections monitored by European observers, when Guaidó chose not to stand. Unlike Maduro, Guaidó has never stood in any presidential election. In short, this is the flimsiest of fig leaves to cover a flagrant breach of international law.

As former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, writes:

But I can think of no precedent at all for recognising a President who does not have and has never had control of the country – and has never been a candidate for President. This idea of the West simply trying to impose a suitably corrupt and biddable leader is really a very startling development. It is astonishing the MSM commentariat and political class appear to see no problem with it. It is a quite extraordinary precedent, and doubtless will lead to many new imperialist adventures.

Click here to read the full article posted by Craig Murray on Thurs 24th entitled “The Coup in Venezuela Must Be Resisted”

Wikipedia quickly fell into line adjusting its entry for Juan Guaidó and validating his illegitimate claim to being “interim president” of Venezuela:

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Update:

On January 29th Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen released an extended exposé on The Grayzone Project detailing how presidential wannabe Juan Guaidó is “the product of a decade-long project overseen by Washington’s elite regime change trainers”. Here is just one of incidents documented in their article:

Around 43 were killed during the 2014 guarimbas. Three years later, they erupted again, causing mass destruction of public infrastructure, the murder of government supporters, and the deaths of 126 people, many of whom were Chavistas. In several cases, supporters of the government were burned alive by armed gangs.

Guaidó was directly involved in the 2014 guarimbas. In fact, he tweeted video showing himself clad in a helmet and gas mask, surrounded by masked and armed elements that had shut down a highway that were engaging in a violent clash with the police. Alluding to his participation in Generation 2007, he proclaimed, “I remember in 2007, we proclaimed, ‘Students!’ Now, we shout, ‘Resistance! Resistance!’”

Guaidó has deleted the tweet, demonstrating apparent concern for his image as a champion of democracy.

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader”.

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It’s the economic war, stupid!

The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market.

Images and portrayals of Venezuelans rioting in the streets over high food costs, empty grocery stores, medicine shortages, and overflowing garbage bins are the headlines, and the reporting points to socialism as the cause.

The Chicago Tribune published a Commentary piece titled: “A socialist revolution can ruin almost any country.” A headline on Reason’s Hit and Run blog proclaims: “Venezuelan socialism still a complete disaster.” The Week’s U.S. edition says: “Authoritarian socialism caused Venezuela’s collapse.”

So begins an article by Caleb T. Maupin published back in July 2016. Maupin continues:

In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution.

Starting in 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil. This is not a mere business decision, but a calculated move coordinated with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy goals. Despite not just losing money, but even falling deep into debt, the Saudi monarchy continues to expand its oil production apparatus. The result has been driving the price of oil down from $110 per barrel, to $28 in the early months of this year. The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports.

Venezuela remains a deeply divided country and there is no doubt that the government under Maduro is at fault in part for the current economic crisis, but as Maupin points out, the opposition is extremely fractured and many do not wish to see a return to the rampant neo-liberalism of the pre-Chavez era:

The artificially low oil prices have left the Venezuelan state cash-starved, prompting a crisis in the funding of the social programs that were key to strengthening the United Socialist Party.

It is odd that the mainstream press blames “socialism” for the food problems in Venezuela, when the food distributors remain in the hands of private corporations. As Venezuelan political analyst Jesus Silva told me recently: “Most food in Venezuela is imported by private companies, they ask for dollars subsidized by the government oil sales to do that; they rarely produce anything or invest their own money.”

According to Silva, the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the U.S., in addition to the oil crisis, have made it more difficult for the Venezuelan government to pay the private food importing companies in U.S. dollars. In response, the food companies are “running general sabotage.”

“Venezuela’s economy depends on oil sales. Now that oil prices are dropping down, the challenge is to get other sources of economic income,” he explained. “Meanwhile, the opposition is garnering electoral support due to the current economic crisis.” […]

While a clear majority cast a voto castigo (“punishment vote”) in December, punishing the government for mismanaging the crisis, the Maduro administration has a solid core of socialist activists who remain loyal to the Bolivarian project. Across Venezuela, communes have been established. Leftist activists live together and work in cooperatives. Many of them are armed and organized in “Bolivarian Militias” to defend the revolution.

Even some of the loudest critics of the Venezuelan government admit that it has greatly improved the situation in the country, despite the current hardships.

In December, I spoke to Glen Martinez, a radio host in Caracas who voted for the opposition. He dismissed the notion that free market capitalism would ever return to Venezuela. As he explained, most of the people who voted against the United Socialist Party — himself included — are frustrated with the way the current crisis is being handled, but do not want a return to the neoliberal economic model of the 1999s.

He said the economic reforms established during the Chavez administration would never be reversed. “We are not the same people we were before 1999,” Martinez insisted.2

Click here to read the full article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart”

On January 25th, Sharmini Peries hosted a discussion for ‘The Real News’ on this latest attempted coup in Venezuela with Abby Martin, Greg Wilpert and Paul Jay:

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The Empire never gives up

‘Dictator’ is the epithet of choice the corporate media dishes out whenever it wishes to denigrate foreign leaders not fully subordinate to western interests. Likewise, ‘regime’ operates as a preferred synonym to denounce the members of every government hostile to Anglo-American imperialism. Hugo Chavez was routinely branded a ‘dictator’ even though he fought and won more elections than any other contemporary world leader. Like Chavez before him, Nicolás Maduro is the elected head of a democratic state.

Conversely, the media has its blinkers firmly attached whenever exalting those in opposition to a targeted ‘regime’. ‘Rioters’ become more benign ‘protesters’, and ‘insurgents’, ‘separatists’ or ‘terrorists’ are elevated to the level of ‘freedom fighters’. Thus in Libya, the murderous salafist gangs who lynched black Africans were portrayed as the valiant ‘rebels’. In Ukraine the brown-shirted brigades that gathered under wolfsangels and swastikas were heralded as Europhile crusaders for democracy – at one point the BBC actually embedded one of its journalists within the ranks of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. And in Syria, the al-Qaeda affiliated ‘rescue workers’ known as the White Helmets became the ‘indomitable first responders’ of an Oscar-winning documentary – they have also been promoted by human rights organisations including Amnesty International. Indeed, with the arrival of ISIS, some purportedly less savage though self-proclaimed al-Qaeda militia have come in for more favourable mainstream coverage – take for instance this BBC Newsnight report.

Yet the propaganda coverage of the crisis suddenly engulfing Venezuela is arguably more egregious again. For unlike each of the cases cited above, the West is not (at least not officially) engaged in any conflict inside Venezuela. Indeed, the fog of war offers no excuse for comparable lapses in journalistic integrity. Furthermore, recent history ought to make all journalists extremely cautious when it comes to covert US-led intervention in Latin America and suspicious of opposition claims in Venezuela especially given what we know about the last failed coup. Here is a New York Times editorial the day after Hugo Chavez was kidnapped and military junta briefly installed in April 2002:

UPRISING IN VENEZUELA: THE GOVERNMENT; VENEZUELA’S CHIEF FORCED TO RESIGN; CIVILIAN INSTALLED

By JUAN FORERO APRIL 13, 2002

A transitional government headed by a leading businessman replaced President Hugo Chavez today, hours after military officers forced him to resign. It was a sudden end to the turbulent three-year reign of a mercurial strongman elected on promises to distance his country from the United States while uprooting Venezuela’s old social order —

Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of Venezuela’s most important business association, was installed as interim president at a ceremony at 6 p.m. He promised that the new government would adhere to “a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law, the state of law.”

Elections will be held within a year, officials said. The Bush administration laid the blame for Mr. Chavez’s overthrow firmly with the ousted leader. Officials portrayed the ouster as a victory for democracy —

And here is the New York Times offering a retraction (of sorts) the following day:

Popular Uprising Allows Chavez to Reclaim Venezuelan Presidency

By GINGER THOMPSON and JUAN FORERO APRIL 14, 2002

Two days after one huge political movement forced President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela out of power, a countervailing uprising that swept like wildfire through the slums surrounding the capital carried the populist leader back to the presidency today.

Once in power, the short-lived interim government, led by a prominent businessman, Pedro Carmona Estanga, dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding.

The new government announced that Mr. Chavez had resigned from power. But word began to spread mostly through international television news reports that Mr. Chavez had not resigned. His followers in slums and poor towns across the country began to worry for his safety. They took to the streets to demand that Mr. Chavez be freed. And they won.

The extracts above are drawn from a well-sourced article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear and published on August 6th, 2017. Note that even after the coup which admittedly “dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding” has failed, the NYT continues to describe the criminals behind the coup as a “short-lived interim government”.

As Pear says:

The Bush Administration, the New York Times and the mainstream media showed no remorse or shame—the U.S. government continued to watch and undermine the Chavista movement, Venezuela’s Bolivarian Socialism, in any way that it can. The U.S. continues to be involved and fund a long-term regime change project. The Empire never gives up. 3

Click here to read a post entitled “the Latin American Spring they never mention” published to mark the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2013.

Also on January 25th, Ben Norton of ‘Moderate Rebels’ spoke with Jordan Chariton to discuss the US-led coup in Venezuela:

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Final thoughts

As America struts about the world stage bullying the poorest nations into submission, a complaisant media can always be relied upon to leap to the defence of every imposition of sanctions and every regime change operation. Even a president as weakened and reviled as Trump (loathed by a supposedly hostile liberal press) can command support just as soon as he calls for the leader of any enemy state to be deposed. Quick to abandon any pretence to upholding international law, senior political figures in the West can also be relied upon to follow suit. America’s allies are ever eager to carry water for the empire. Indeed the leaders in Europe responded to Trump’s latest call for regime change by issuing their own ultimatum:

Three major European countries – Germany, France and Spain – have come out on Saturday saying they are ready to recognize Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president if elections are not called within eight days.

“The government of Spain gives [President] Nicolas Maduro eight days to call free, transparent and democratic elections,” said Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in statement.

“If that doesn’t happen, Spain will recognize Juan Guaido as interim president in charge of calling these elections.”

In what appears to be a coordinated message from European Union countries, at almost the same time French President Manuel Macron sent a tweet echoing Sanchez’s comments.

Macron’s tweet reads: “The Venezuelan people must be able to freely decide their future. Without elections announced within 8 days, we will be ready to recognize @jguaido as “President in charge” of Venezuela to initiate a political process. We are working on it between European partners.”

Yes, this is the same Macron whose government is deploying water cannon, tear-gas and rubber bullets to crackdown on the Gilets Jaunes protests sweeping France during the last three months.

From a Reuter’s report entitled “Germany, France, Spain poised to recognise Venezuela’s Guaido”.

This post is a reworking of an earlier post entitled “as the empire strikes back in Venezuela, our news media does its bidding (again)” published on August 9th 2017.

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Additional: Hands Off Venezuela

The Stop the War Coalition released this statement on January 28th:

“The United Kingdom believes Juan Guaido is the right person to take Venezuela forward. We are supporting the US, Canada, Brazil and Argentina to make that happen”. Jeremy Hunt’s comments last week are solid proof that the UK remains fully on board with US-led regime change In Venezuela as with other parts of the globe. Such statements show utter contempt for even the most basic democratic principles and demonstrate an open willingness on behalf of the Conservative government to use its ‘soft power’ to bolster those aligned with Donald Trump.

The briefest glance at the catastrophic history of US intervention in Latin America proves that this latest attempted coup is motivated purely by self-interest on the side of the US and its puppet politicians in Venezuela. Whatever the failings of Maduro’s regime a US intervention will do nothing to improve the lives of Venezuelans and must be opposed.

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign have organised an emergency rally this Thursday at which Stop the War’s Convenor, Lindsey German, will be speaking alongside Tariq Ali and Kate Hudson.

Please also sign the Stand up to Trump & Pence’s threats of ‘regime change’ in Venezuela petition here.

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On Jan 18th, Democracy Now! interviewed Venezuelan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jorge Arreaza, who said:

“You see this man, who nobody knows in Venezuela—you ask in the streets, “Who is Juan Guaidó?” and nobody knows him—but he’s being pushed to say that he is the new president, by the U.S. He hasn’t said that, but Pompeo says it, Almagro from the OAS says it, and other presidents say that now he’s the president. They are trying to push a political conflict in Venezuela. They are calling the armed forces to make pronunciations against President Maduro. That’s what they want, a coup d’état in Venezuela. They want a war in Venezuela. And it’s not going to happen.”

Asked about the role being played by the United States, Arreaza replied:

“They are the bosses of the opposition. They tell them what to do. Nothing that the opposition does is without the permission or authorization of the State Department, at least, here in the United States. And they confess this. They say, “We have to make consultations with the embassy. We have to make consultations with the Department of State.” It happens. I mean, they are not free. They are not independent.”

Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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On Thurs 24th, Democracy Now! spoke with Alfred de Zayas who visited Venezuela as a United Nations rapporteur in 2017:

ALFRED DE ZAYAS: Well, the mainstream media has been complicit in this attempted coup. The mainstream media has prepared, through a conundrum of fake news, an atmosphere that the public should accept this regime change imposed by the United States on the people of Venezuela because, ultimately, it’s supposed to be for the good of the Venezuelans.

Now, this reminds us of the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003. Now, the mainstream media supported all the lies, all the manipulations of George W. Bush and of Tony Blair to convince the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And on this excuse, it was made somewhat palatable to world public opinion that you would enter Iraq and change the government by force. Now, the fact is that here you had not only a crime of aggression, not only an illegal war, as former—the late Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in more than one occasion, stated. Here you have actually a revolt of 43 states, the “coalition of the willing,” against international law. If there is one tenet of the U.N. Charter that is jus cogens, that is peremptory international law, it’s the prohibition of the use of force. And this attack on Iraq was conducted by 43 states in collusion, breaking all the rules of international law. Now, that was preceded by this media campaign.

Now, we have had, for the last years, actually, a media campaign against Venezuela. And I am particularly familiar with it, because before I went to Venezuela, I had to read everything and all the reports, not only of The Washington Post and of The New York Times, but also the reports of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc., proposing that there was a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Now, when I went to Venezuela, I again took the opportunity to interview representatives of Amnesty International and PROVEA and the other opposition NGOs, but I also had the opportunity to study the documents, to compare, to see the statistics, etc., etc. And, of course, there was no humanitarian crisis. There was hunger. There was, what we say in Spanish, zozobra. There was suffering. There was malnutrition, etc., etc. But it’s not just stating that there is an economic crisis. That’s not the crucial point. The crucial point is which are the causes of that so-called humanitarian crisis. And certainly, those who are crying humanitarian crisis should be the least to say that they should now solve the problem. There’s a principle of international law called ex injuria non oritur jus, which is the principle to estoppel. So they should be estopped from demanding regime change when they themselves are the ones who are aggravating a situation, caused initially by the dramatic fall of the oil prices.

I wanted to make a reference to a professor, Pasqualina Curcio, of the University of Caracas. I had the opportunity of seeing her for a couple of hours when I was there. And she published a book called The Visible Hand of the Market. This is a book that documents the financial blockade, documents the whole complex economic war being waged against Venezuela, which reminds you of the economic war that was waged against Salvador Allende. And what’s interesting is, after three years of economic war against Allende not succeeding in toppling Salvador Allende, it took a coup d’état by General Augusto Pinochet, which brought the Chilean people 17 years of dictatorship.

Click here to read the full transcript and to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

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1 From official transcript of “Aspen Security Forum 2017: The View From Langley” on July 20, 2017, published by The Aspen Institute. http://aspensecurityforum.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-View-from-Langley.pdf

2 From an article entitled “US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart” written by Caleb T. Maupin, published in Mint Press News on July 12, 2016. http://www.mintpressnews.com/us-led-economic-war-not-socialism-tearing-venezuela-apart/218335/

3 From an article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear, published in Off-Guardian on August 6, 2017. https://off-guardian.org/2017/08/06/venezuela-regime-change-project-revealed/

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“This is a moment Avaaz was made for” (or cognitive infiltration for dummies)

Background:

“You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.”

— Naomi Wolf 1

The extract above is drawn from an excellent and extremely prescient article written by Naomi Wolf and published by the Guardian in 2007. It is entitled “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.

In 2011, I produced an updated version by taking Wolf’s analytical breakdown of the Bush years, applying her identified sequence of steps to Obama’s term in office. Here is what I wrote under Step #8. Control the press:

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat.

Following which I reminded readers of the Machiavellian role played by Cass Sunstein (married to warmongering former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers), who, in September 2009, had been appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, Sunstein co-authored a paper with Adrian Vermeule, entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” in which they propose methods for dealing with the spread of faulty  information saying “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”:

“Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”

The authors also advocate other methods for muddying the waters such as the recruitment of “independent experts”:

“government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes… too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”

Indeed, they provide no less than five alternative responses that the US government might take to hinder and restrain such unwanted freedom of speech:

We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. 2

As I wrote in September 2011:

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

Click here to read my full post entitled “12 steps to tyranny – the state of America under Obama”.

Please note that everything above is reprinted in full from part 7 of an extended article entitled “spin, lies and propaganda from yesterday, today and tomorrow – 8 ways of looking at fake news” published in April 2017.

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“Avaaz’s Elves”

Yesterday I received the latest circular email from Avaaz (see screenshot in addendum), which calls upon its members to become actively engaged as “Citizen elves” in what Sunstein defines as ‘counterspeech’ (in fact usefully serving as “credible private parties” as outlined under item (4) of Sunstein’s list above):

Our movement is mobilising to defend democracy on all fronts:

    • hammering Facebook and others to clean up their sites by shutting down fake news and troll accounts;
    • pushing for governments to defend our democracies by passing laws to protect elections from interference;
    • disrupting disinformation online, setting up teams of citizen ‘Elves’ to take on Putin’s ‘trolls’;
    • battling the far right’s divisive narratives in country after country, as elections approach.

[colour highlight added]

The main justification given by Avaaz in calling for its members to engage in Sunstein-style cognitive infiltration are the same ones first rolled out to disguise the true reasons the Clinton campaign bombed. Those entirely unsubstantiated allegations that “Russia hacked the election” (later rebutted by such experts as William Binney) were afterwards repurposed both to keep Trump on his leash by derailing any attempts to restore US-Russian relations and also to clampdown on alternative media – as everyone who disavowed the sanctioned mainstream narrative was quickly branded a Russian troll. Keep in mind that ‘fake news’ is a meme that has been spread most virulently, not by Trump himself (although he is frequently credited with it), but by his opponents.

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“A moment Avaaz was made for”

The email from Avaaz was titled “This is a moment Avaaz was made for”, and in this regard I happen to believe we ought to take them seriously. After all, Avaaz is nothing like the grassroots campaign it takes such pains to promote itself as, but heavily astroturfed since its inception. It was founded for a purpose (and is allied to a consulting firm literally called Purpose Inc) as independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed deeply into the organisation, explains:

Avaaz and GetUp co-founders Jeremy Heimans (CEO) and David Madden are also founders of the New York consulting firm, Purpose Inc.

Avaaz was created in part by MoveOn, a Democratic Party associated Political Action Committee (or PAC), formed in response to the impeachment of President Clinton. Avaaz and MoveOn are funded in part by convicted inside-trader and billionaire hedge fund mogul, George Soros.

Avaaz affiliate James Slezak is also identified as a co-founder and CEO of Purpose at its inception in 2009.

The secret behind the success of both Avaaz and Purpose is their reliance upon and expertise in behavioural change.

While the behavioural change tactics used by Avaaz are on public display, double-breasted, for-profit Purpose, with its non-profit arm, sells their expertise behind the scenes to further the interest of hegemony and capital. Whether it be a glossy campaign to help facilitate yet another illegal “humanitarian intervention” led by aggressive U.S. militarism (an oxymoron if there ever was one), or the creation of a new global “green” economy, Purpose is the consulting firm that the wolves of Wall Street and oligarchs alike depend upon to make it happen. 3

Click here to read the full article on Cory Morningstar’s website Wrong Kind of Green.

Morningstar also follows the money in another excellent article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”:

Avaaz states that they take “absolutely no money from governments or corporations…. While we received initial seed grants from partner organizations and charitable organizations, almost 90% of the Avaaz budget now comes [from] small online donations.” The 2009 Form 990 for George Soros’ Foundation to Promote Open Society reports (page 87) $300,000 in general support for Avaaz and an additional $300,000 to Avaaz for climate campaigning. […]

In addition to receiving funding from the Open Society Institute, Avaaz has publicly cited the Open Society Institute as their foundation partner. This admission by founder Ricken Patel is found on the www.soros.org website. [As discussed in part I, The Open Society Institute (renamed in 2011 to Open Society Foundations) is a private operating and grantmaking foundation founded by George Soros, who remains the chair. Soros is known best as a multibillionaire currency speculator, and of late, an avid supporter of Occupy Wall Street. Soros is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR is essentially the promotional arm of the ruling elite in the U.S. Most all U.S. policy is initiated and written by the exclusive membership within the CFR.]

Avaaz utilized/utilizes their Open Society Institute relationship to distribute member donations via “Avaaz partners at the Open Society Institute.” 4

Click here to read this thorough examination of Avaaz‘s finances by Cory Morningstar.

In short, Avaaz is tightly allied to the Soros NGO empire – the same George Soros who has candidly admitted to his pivotal role in fomenting the colour revolutions across the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union. The same Soros who proudly says he backed the coup of 2014 in Ukraine. As he told CNN host Fareed Zakaria in May 2014:

“Well, I set up a foundation in Ukraine before Ukraine became independent of Russia. And the foundation has been functioning ever since and played an important part in events now.”

So when Avaaz warns me that “Russia’s President has forged an alliance with the far-right, and deployed an army of hackers and trolls, legions of fake social media accounts, and suitcases full of dirty money to sabotage our public debate and elections”, I hear little more than the hypocrisy of Soros who supported the fascists of the Maidan in Kiev.

And whilst Avaaz are writing to inform me that “The British people are calling out the Brexit scam”, another Soros-funded campaign group, Best for Britain, co-founded by Gina Miller, who took the UK government to court in 2016 over its triggering of the Article 50, are already busy rallying public opinion and encouraging MPs to vote against a Brexit deal.

Avaaz says:

The threat we’re up against is everywhere, but so are we. That threat is political, but we can be too when we need to be. That threat claims to be people-powered, but we’re the REAL people power.

About half of this is the truth and half is baloney, as is usually the case with Avaaz. Based on the evidence outlined above, I’ll leave readers to separate fact from fiction.

For more on Avaaz I strongly encourage readers to follow the links here and here to Cory Morningstar’s excellent investigative work and also to read this earlier extended post.

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Addendum: Screenshot of Avaaz email

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1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

2 Conspiracy Theories by Cass Sunstein, Adrian Vermeule, published January 15, 2008. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585

3 From an article entitled “Syria: Avaaz, Purpose & The Art of Selling Hate for Empire” written by Cory Morningstar, published on September 17, 2014.

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2014/09/17/syria-avaaz-purpose-the-art-of-selling-hate-for-empire/

4 From an article entitled “Imperialist Pimps of Militarism, Protectors of the Oligarchy, Trusted Facilitators of War”, Part II, Section I, written by Cory Morningstar, published September 24, 2012. Another extract reads:

The 12 January 2012 RSVP event “Reframing U.S. Strategy in a Turbulent World: American Spring?” featured speakers from Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, Rosa Brooks of the New America Foundation, and none other than Tom Perriello, CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Perriello advanced his “ideology” during this lecture.

http://www.theartofannihilation.com/imperialist-pimps-of-militarism-protectors-of-the-oligarchy-trusted-facilitators-of-war-part-ii-section-i/

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solidarity with the Frack Free Four

On Wednesday 26th, Simon Roscoe Blevins (right), a soil scientist from Sheffield, and Richard Roberts (centre), a piano restorer from London, were each sentenced to 16 months in prison for climbing onto delivery lorries as they tried to enter the Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road near Blackpool, Lancashire. Another protector, Richard Loizou (left), a teacher from Devon, received 15 months for causing a public nuisance and a fourth defendant, Julian Brock, was given a 12-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to the same offence.

Remarkably, the men had stayed on the lorries for at total of 99.5 hours.

Click here to read a full report on the sentencing hearing.

And here to sign the 38 Degrees petition to oppose fast-track fracking

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Although I do not share all the views of the four protectors and my own reason for opposing shale gas extraction is based on overwhelming evidence of the toxic contamination of water, air and soil of the local environment (much of which is irreversible), I greatly admire their conviction and tremendous courage and fully endorse this campaign of non-violent direct action.

In solidarity I have written to my local MP, Paul Blomfield, and encourage others to do the same.

Dear Paul,

I am delighted that you are fully behind Labour’s ban on fracking.

A few days ago I was deeply shocked to read about the imprisonment for 16 months of three peaceful anti-fracking protestors (another received a suspended sentence). As you may be aware, one of the four, Simon Roscoe Blevins, is a university soil scientist who lives in Pitsmoor. He is a friend of some of my own friends. You can read his own testimony here:

I’ve Been Jailed For Protesting Fracking – Here’s Why I Won’t Give Up The Fight

The handing out of custodial sentences for non-violent protest that does not involve criminal damage or intimidation is very nearly unprecedented in modern times. Comparisons have been made to the jailing of activists involved in the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932, but even this comparison is inaccurate, because those involved were not sentenced for trespass but found guilty of affray, having been involved in scuffles with the landowner’s henchmen.

In this instance, Lancashire Council has already voted against fracking but the local democratic process was later overturned. As the government now seeks to allow “permitted development” for fracking more widely (mostly in “the desolate north”), protestors like Simon Roscoe Blevins are the last line of defence against this appalling industry. The draconian sentencing of non-violent protestors is yet another bullying tactic.

This week’s decision to jail three men for peaceably defending the environment represents a travesty of justice. The potential repercussions are so serious that I ask if you will raise the matter in Parliament.

With kind regards,

James Boswell

I received a reply from Paul Blomfield on October 10th as follows:

Dear James,

Thanks for your email regarding the sentence imposed on Simon Blevins. I was shocked by the sentence when I read about it and made my view clear at a public meeting on the 26th September, which I had organised with Sheffield Climate Alliance as part of my Big Conversation. I do oppose fracking, but there is a wider issue at stake on the treatment of peaceful protest. I’ve organised many protest activities over the years and recognise that there are consequences if activities step outside the law but am deeply concerned by the severity of this sentence.

I’ll certainly be doing all I can, recognising that Simon works in my constituency, but am liaising with Gill Furniss as his MP. I’ve read that he intends to appeal the sentence and we’ll therefore liaise with his solicitor, to ensure that any intervention helps the legal process.

With best wishes

Paul

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Additional:

David Smythe was Professor of Geophysics at the University of Glasgow. Following early retirement in 1998 he consulted intermittently for the oil industry. Since 2013 he has researched the risks of contamination of groundwater resources by fracking.

In this TEDx talk from February he speaks specifically to the risks of fracking in the Lancashire Fylde and more generally exposes the fracking industry as both uneconomical and environmentally damaging. He also details ways in which both the industry and the government have been deliberately misleading the public:

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Update:

More than a thousand academics – lecturers, researchers and professors at more than 70 institutions across the UK and abroad – have since signed an open letter calling for a judicial review of the prison sentences given to three men who took part in anti-fracking protests. The letter was originally entitled “Open letter from University of Sussex academics: The harsh sentencing of anti-fracking campaigners sets a dangerous precedent.” It reads:

We the undersigned are writing to express our growing concern about the shrinking space for communities and environmental defenders to engage in civil opposition to fracking developments in the UK.

This week three non-violent campaigners opposing fracking were jailed for 15 to 16 months simply for ‘causing a public nuisance’ and for not expressing regret. This is the first time since 1932 that environmental defenders have been imprisoned for such long periods of time for staging a protest in the UK. It is also the first time ever that activists have been jailed for anti-fracking actions.

With fracking companies increasingly granted civil injunctions to prevent protest, the scope of protest is becoming more and more restricted, representing a threat to fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Fracking is controversial in the UK. According to government surveys conducted in 2017, only 16% of people support fracking development. Given the grave environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing and growing concerns about climate change, this is not surprising.

The ruling sets a worrying precedent, curtailing opportunities for the kind of public protests that have historically been effective in instituting the legal and policy changes that defend our environment for our future generations. We need more, not less, space for action to confront unsustainable industrial practices that harm our communities and perpetuate our reliance on fossil fuels.

We join calls for a judicial review of this absurdly harsh sentence, and an inquiry into the declining space for civil society protest that it represents.

Sincerely,

The original source of this article is University of Sussex

Copyright © Andrea Brock, Dr Amber Huff, and Prof. Lyla Mehta, University of Sussex, 2018

Click here to find the letter and read a periodically updated list of signatories as reprinted by Global Research.

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On October 3rd, MEPs from across Europe joined in a protest at the European Parliament to send a message of solidarity to the campaigners. One of the MEPs, Keith Taylor, said:

“I am pleased so many of my colleagues join me in sending a united message of support to the brave heroes whose fight to protect our planet has robbed them of their liberty.”

“We are supposed to be, the theory goes, a mature liberal democracy that can accommodate dissent.

“The decision to jail peaceful fracking protesters blows that myth wide-open; authoritarianism has become a favourite tool of a minority government that lacks the public’s support to force through its environmentally destructive agenda by any other means.

“Any government that conspires with the dirty fossil fuel industry against its own people is rotten to the core.”

Click here to read more in a report entitled “1000+ academics call for review of fracking protest prison sentences” written by Ruth Hayhurst and published in Drill or Drop.

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On October 5th, Ian Crane devoted the first twenty minutes of episode 119 Fracking Nightmare to the case:

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for the many… in Palestine too

Update: The article as it was originally posted follows the first asterisk.

Exposing Israel’s racism is all too easy. Mere denunciation, without explanation of its underlying context, may actually be misleading if not counterproductive; it may appear as singling Israel out for some peculiar and exceptional moral defect of its leaders or, worse, of its Jewish majority. In fact, racist structures and attitudes, wherever they occur, are part of the legal and ideological superstructure and cannot properly be understood in isolation from their material base.

In the case of Israel, that material base is the Zionist colonisation of Palestine – a process of which Israel is both product and instrument. That the Zionist project is all about the colonisation of Palestine by Jews is, once again, an indisputable fact. It is how political Zionism described itself right from the start.

So writes Israeli-born pro-Palestinian activist and former Labour member Moshé Machover in an article entitled “Why Israel is a racist state” that featured as part of a pamphlet handed out to delegates attending the Labour Party Conference.

On Sept 29th The Real News broadcast an interview with Machover in which he stresses that his article does not consider the question of whether Israel is a racist state (since it irrefutably is), but seeks to address the underlying reason for its racism:

As Machover concludes his piece:

In the US Declaration of Independence, the freedom-loving founding fathers – only some of whom were slave owners – complain that the king of Great Britain “has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” In today’s terminology they would no doubt be described as ‘terrorists’. The Palestinian Arabs are Israel’s “merciless Indian savages”.

When viewed against the background of the history of this type of colonisation, Israeli racist ideology and practices are par for the course. The annals of colonisation certainly have grimmer chapters, such as the total extermination of the people of Tasmania, to mention an extreme example. Zionist colonisation is, however, exceptional in being anachronistic: it continues in the 21st century the kind of thing – settler colonialism – that elsewhere ended in the 19th.

To conclude: apart from its anachronism, there is little that is exceptional about Israel’s racism. It is rooted in its nature as a settler state. Uprooting colonialist racism requires a change of regime, decolonisation – which in the case of Israel means de-Zionisation.

Click here to read the article in full on the Labour Party Marxists website.

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The following is reposted from extracts drawn from an article originally published by The Electronic Intifada. 

In a historic move, the Labour Party’s annual conference on Tuesday [Sept 25th] voted to end UK arms sales to Israel.

Amid a sea of waving Palestinian flags, and chants of “Free Palestine,” delegates debated a motion condemning Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters – more than 140 to date – since the Great March of Return protests began on 30 March.

The motion, passed with almost no votes against, calls for an immediate freeze on UK arms sales to Israel.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s director Ben Jamal stated: “This incredible show of support and this historic motion demonstrate the strength of feeling at the grassroots of the party. Labour members want to show real solidarity with Palestinians.”

“Given Israel’s continuing use of live fire to kill unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, it is no surprise that there’s clear support for an immediate freeze of arms sales to Israel,” Jamal added.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, the steering group of the international BDS movement, praised the Labour Party vote for “rekindling hope that Israel’s South Africa moment is getting closer.”

Click here to read the original report published by The Electronic Intifada from which these extracts are drawn.

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Emily Thornberry

But The Electronic Intifada has learned that Emily Thornberry, the woman who would become foreign minister were a Labour government elected tomorrow, had privately tried to scupper the motion.

Although Thornberry is a close ally of Labour leader and Palestine solidarity veteran Jeremy Corbyn, she is also a supporter of Labour Friends of Israel and opposes an arms embargo.

Thornberry has said in the past that a Labour government would “review” arms sales to Israel – far short of the freeze called for by Tuesday’s motion.

She repeated her promise to review arms sales to Israel at a meeting of Labour Friends of Palestine at the conference on Monday night, a campaigner told The Electronic Intifada.

But multiple sources told The Electronic Intifada that Thornberry had put pressure on Labour activists behind the motion to make changes to its text that would have gutted it.

Not only did Thornberry demand that the call for an immediate arms trade freeze be removed, she had wanted a line mentioning “Palestinian victims of the Nakba” taken out as well – a reference to Israel’s expulsion of some 800,000 Palestinians to establish a “Jewish state” in 1948.

The proposers of the motion declined to comment on the record.

But sources with knowledge of the discussions told The Electronic Intifada that during an hour-long meeting Thornberry and her people pressured the activists from Harlow and Wolverhampton South West local Labour parties to water down the draft.

Proposer Colin Monehen [featured in the video embedded at the top] made a thinly veiled reference to Thornberry’s interference in his speech to delegates.

As Thornberry sat on the stage nearby, he stated: “There are those that are nervous about the word Nakba. But the Nakba did happen and those people were forcibly removed from their homes, and there has to be a recognition of that.”

Thornberry’s pressure tactics failed and, if anything, the final motion ended up slightly stronger. The original draft stated that the arms freeze was pending the results of an independent investigation into Israel’s killings in Gaza, while the adopted text doesn’t make the freeze conditional on an investigation.

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Jackie Walker

During the debate academic Hilary Wise was shut down by the chair after encouraging delegates to watch the Al Jazeera film, The Lobby.

Rhea Wolfson chided Wise: “I would ask you to be very careful with your language.”

Wolfson is a member of the Jewish Labour Movement, a group with intimate ties to the Israeli embassy.

The massive level of popular support for Palestine at the Labour grassroots put into stark relief the failure of the Israel lobby’s attempts to court support within the party.

As it has become clear how isolated pro-Israel activists are within Labour, some appear to be turning to ever more extreme tactics.

On Tuesday night, a film screening focusing on Black anti-Zionist Jewish activist Jackie Walker was cut short after a bomb threat.

The Political Lynching of Jackie Walker was due to be premiered at a conference fringe showing on Tuesday night. The screening got only 15 minutes in before the venue was forced to call off the event.

Walker told The Electronic Intifada that a phone call to the venue from an unknown person claimed that “There are two bombs in the building that will kill many people.”

Walker has been a vocal critic of the Labour Party’s witch hunt against anti-Zionists, and was suspended from the party for her views.

Click here to read the original report published by The Electronic Intifada from which these extracts are drawn.

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Update:

As Craig Murray writes:

What is astonishing is that the state and corporate media, which has made huge play around the entirely fake news of threats to pro-Israel MP Luciana Berger leading to her being given a police escort to protect her from ordinary delegates, has completely ignored this actual and disruptive pro-Israeli threat – except where they have reported the bomb threat, using the big lie technique, as a further example of anti-semitism in the Labour Party!

The Guardian’s report in this respect is simply unbelievable. Headed “Jewish event at Labour conference abandoned after bomb scare” it fails to note that Jewish Voice for Labour is a pro-Corbyn organisation and the film, “The Political Lynching of Jackie Walker”, exposes the evil machinations of the organised witch-hunt against Palestinian activists orchestrated by Labour Friends of Israel and the Israeli Embassy. It is not that the Guardian does not know this – it has carried several articles calling for Jackie Walker’s expulsion.

The attempt to spin this as the precise opposite of what it was continues on social media. This chap is followed on Twitter by the Foreign Office.

I want you to undertake a little mental exercise for me, and try it seriously. Just imagine the coverage on Newsnight, the Today Programme and Channel 4 News if a Labour Friends of Israel meeting had been cancelled by a bomb scare. Imagine through the experience of seeing or listening to the coverage, on each of those in turn, of a bomb threat to Labour Friends of Israel.

Done that?

Well the bomb threat to the pro-Palestinian rights Jewish Voice for Labour has so far received zero coverage on those programmes.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full article entitled “Pro-Israeli Terror Threat at Labour Conference Covered Up By MSM”

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government is trying to make fracking just as easy as putting up a garden shed! join campaign to oppose fast-track fracking

The following sections are drawn from pages of the Frack Free Ryedale campaign website.

The government are planning to make non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas Permitted Development, which means fracking companies won’t need local planning permission to build a 1.5-hectare exploratory well site. They are also planning to make full scale industrial fracking a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), which means the decisions regarding whether or not fracking is allowed will be made by the Secretary of State and a Planning Inspector – not your local council planning authority.

This is nothing less than an assault on local democracy on an unprecedented scale and would result in local communities left without a voice about whether their countryside should be fracked.

This desperate attempt to bypass local democracy shows that the Conservative government have realised that they are never going to get ‘social licence’ for this unwanted, unsafe and unnecessary industry. Rather than put their support behind renewables, they seem intent on forcing fracking on unwilling communities, and at the same time ignoring the huge weight of evidence of the harm this industry causes, and their own climate change commitments.

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

Please sign this 38 Degrees petition, and then share with friends and family.

Please also sign this Friends of the Earth petition, and you can sign up for webinars and resources from FoE here.

For the sake of our countryside fracking should be stopped immediately. This is the only way our beautiful country can avoid becoming a contaminated wasteland.

Click here to reach the Frack Free Ryedale Permitted Development & NSIP campaign page.

Please note: the ‘consultations’ linked above use technical language and appear to be deliberately obscure. Frack Free Ryedale intends to post guidelines on how to respond in near future – I shall update but meanwhile click here to sign up for newsletters.

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Q + A on permitted development and NSIP

Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is Permitted Development?

Permitted Development is the part of the UK planning system which allows people to carry out low-impact improvements on their property without having to apply for planning permission. It was introduced in 1948 to enable people to make modest improvements on their homes without having to apply to the council.

What kind of things can people do to their houses under Permitted Development rules?

Typical home improvements you can undertake under permitted development rules are converting your loft into a bedroom, moving a door or a window, putting up a fence, adding a conservatory or building a garden shed.

That’s all very interesting. But what’s this got to do with fracking?

On 17th May the Government issued a Written Ministerial Statement which proposes that non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas should be considered Permitted Development, and therefore would not require planning permission from the local council.

What do they mean by ‘non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas’?

Before companies can frack, they need to build a well-pad and drill an exploratory well, which will then be used to take core samples of the rock about 2 miles below the surface. These are typically about 1.5 hectares in size, require hundreds of truck movements to construct, involve drilling day and night for weeks and installing a drilling rig of up to 125 ft in height.

So you’re telling me the government wants the planning system to treat a fracking well-pad in the same way as a garden shed?

You are correct. If the government gets its way, fracking companies will be able to put one of these 1.5-hectare well-pads – with all the traffic, noise, pollution and other issues that come with such a development – only a few hundred metres from your home, school, town or village without having to apply to the local council for planning permission.

That’s crazy. Why on earth would they be proposing such a move?

There are lots of reasons, but the main one is probably because in every single place where fracking is proposed, local communities are up in arms about it and raising all sorts of objections to the industrialisation of their local area and the threat fracking poses to their health, environment and water. This has resulted in thousands of objections from local people to every fracking application, and concerted opposition from almost everyone apart from the fracking companies themselves.

This widespread and unceasing opposition to fracking has meant that some applications for exploratory drilling have been refused, others have been challenged in court, and those that have been allowed have been the focus of widespread peaceful demonstrations. So, rather like the school bully complaining to the teacher that someone has stolen his lunch, fracking companies appear to have gone to the government to complain that local residents and democratically elected local councils are slowing down their attempts to frack.

This permitted development ruse is therefore a way for fracking companies (and the pro-fracking Conservative government) to bypass the pesky planning system run by locally elected councils and force fracking on unwilling communities.

This doesn’t seem to be in line with the Government’s stated commitment to encouraging localism and letting the local community have the final say.

That’s true, and perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects to these proposals is that the government seems happy to ignore local democracy and accountability in their desperation to kick-start the failing fracking industry in the UK.

For a political party this is a risky step, particularly when many of the areas that are being threatened, such as North Yorkshire, are run by Conservative majority councils. And worryingly for the government, a recent survey of Conservative Councillors showed that 80% were opposed to making exploratory fracking Permitted Development. And of course Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and many Independents are implacably opposed to fracking anyway, and would ban the practice if they had half a chance.

Is this permitted development rule now enshrined in the laws of the land? 

No, not yet. The Government launched a public consultation on Permitted Development on the final afternoon of Parliament before the summer recess (a cynic would suggest this was to avoid comment or criticism ). We will be posting guidelines on how to respond to this before the October 25th deadline soon but in the meantime, please see the Let Communities Decide website for how to get involved in the campaign against permitted development. You can also read this summary of all the reasons this is a bad idea on this Friends of the Earth briefing.

And if you are moved to write to your MP and councillors to raise your concerns about this, please see our guidelines on our Campaign Page by clicking here.

But this permitted development would just be for exploratory drilling, right? If a company then wanted to establish a multi-well fracking site for commercial production, they’d still need to apply for planning permission, wouldn’t they?

Currently, that is true. However, it would be a very brave council that would refuse permission for production if commercially viable quantities of gas were found during the exploratory phase, particularly as by then the well pad would already be in place. And even if they did, their decision would most likely get overturned on appeal by the Secretary of State anyway. But just in case, the government have a plan for that too. It’s called NSIP.

Hmm, acronyms are never good. What does NSIP stand for?

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. The Written Ministerial Statement also proposes that full scale industrial fracking becomes an NSIP, which would mean that even full-scale commercial production would not need local planning permission, as it would all be decided and imposed by the Secretary of State and the government-appointed Planning Inspectorate. And yes, there is also consultation on NSIP in the summer.

It sounds to me like the government realise that they have completely lost the argument over fracking, and have decided that they are just going to force it on people anyway.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. But all is not lost. This is causing a huge controversy and this is not in place yet. Many groups up and down the land are fighting this and opposition to these outrageous and undemocratic plans are growing every day.

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So, what can I do to stop this happening?

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

One of the most important things you can do is contact your MP and local councillors asking them to oppose the government’s plans to fast-track fracking and bypass local democracy. There is already a great deal of opposition to these proposals across all parties, with a recent survey showing that 80% of Conservative councillors oppose their own party’s Permitted Development plans.

And please visit the Let Communities Decide website for information on the campaign against Permitted Development, for updates on how to help and downloadable materials to help you campaign. You can also sign up for updates from Let Communities Decide by clicking here.

How do I find out who my MP and councillors are?

YOUR MP – To find out your MP’s name and contact details, please click here. You can also Google him/her to find out their local constituency office, which is useful if you want to go and meet your MP [click here to find advice on this at the Frack Free Ryedale website].

COUNCILLORS – To find out who your local councillors are, please visit the website of your local county council. It should be fairly easy to find the name(s) and contact details of your councillor(s). You can contact your Town Councillors and/or Parish Councillors too.

Here, is a template letter produced as part of the #FrackturedCommunities campaign that is run by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, (CPRE).

Click here to read the full page at the Frack Free Ryedale website.

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Some responses from environmental groups

Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

“It’s as if the government doesn’t realise the scale of the opposition. If they press ahead with these proposals, the protests, outrage and anger from local people across the country will undoubtedly intensify.

“These proposals would be a complete perversion of the planning system and trample over the rights of local communities – all to fast-track an industry bringing environmental risks that would massively outweigh any suggested ‘benefit’ to our energy security.”

Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner said:

“Fracking companies cannot be allowed to drill at will; without the need to apply for planning permission and precious little involvement from the local community.

“It’s absurd that planning rules originally designed for minor home improvements, like putting up a garden shed, could now be used for major drilling infrastructure.

“Our countryside and our climate are at serious risk if the government pushes ahead with these plans. We need to be moving away from fossil fuels, not make it easier for companies to dig up more.”

The campaign group, Frack Free United, said:

“This consultation is probably the most important issue for the anti-fracking movement this summer.

It represents a clear and present danger to the UK’ ability to meet its climate change targets. It drives a coach and horses through local democracy for the sake of fossil fuels.”

Sebastian Kelly, 350.org UK Fracking Outreach Organiser, said:

“The government’s proposal to allow free rein to fracking in the British countryside flies in the face of local democracy and threatens to slash community involvement in decision-making. The fact that the supposedly “public” consultation is being opened without informing those who need to be consulted is in blatant disregard of citizens’ right to be heard.”

Barbara Richardson, member of Roseacre Awareness Group, said:

“The government and industry have already lost the argument on fracking. It’s unpopular, risky, and increasingly financially unviable. Fracking has already been stopped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and council after council have stood against development in their areas. These planning proposals are a desperate last ditch attempt to kickstart the industry in the UK – and it’s communities like mine who will pay the price.”

All quotes reposted from Drill or Drop article entitled “Government seeks views on proposals to bypass local council control of shale gas schemes” written by Ruth Hayhurst, published on July 19th.

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Peter Hitchens calls for immediate action to stop the rush to war

I would not ordinarily repost extended passages from articles in the Daily Mail without further comment, but we have entered an exceptional time in history and I believe it is vital that Peter Hitchen’s message (published yesterday) is heard widely so that enough of us will be encouraged to follow his advice. Everything below is taken from Hitchen’s original article which is also linked at the end.

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Please write to your MP now without delay — War, terrible war, may be on the way again.

WMD All Over Again: Our Government moves stealthily towards a new war of choice.

IS war coming? This is the traditional season of the year for plunges into war by British governments which mislead themselves and the country about the extent and nature of what is proposed. […]

This week, the Middle East is in a state of grave and dangerous tension. The huge Sunni Muslim oil power, Saudi Arabia, armed and/or backed diplomatically by Britain, France and the USA, is ever more hostile to Shia Muslim Iran, another oil power not as great but still as important, which is close and growing closer to Russia and China.

Bear in Mind as you consider this that Russia is also a European power, and engaged in a conflict with the EU and NATO in formerly non-aligned Ukraine, after the EU’s aggressive attempt to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and NATO’s incessant eastward expansion into formerly neutral territory. There are several points at which Western troops are now remarkably close to Russian borders, for instance they are about 80 miles from St Petersburg (the distance from London to Coventry), and the US Navy is building a new Black Sea base at Ochakov, 308 miles from the Russian naval station at Sevastopol. Just as the First World War (at root a conflict between Russia and Germany) spread like a great red stain over much of Europe and the Middle East , an Iran-Saudi war could easily spread into Europe itself.

The two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not yet in direct combat with each other, but fight through proxies in Yemen and Syria. It would not take much for this to become a direct war, at least as destructive in the region as the Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988, during which the ‘West’ tended to side with Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein, who had started the war and incidentally used chemical weapons at Halabja in 1988, against the Kurds. The attitude of the British Foreign Office towards this atrocity was interesting: They flatly declined to get outraged, saying: ‘We believe it better to maintain a dialogue with others if we want to influence their actions.

‘Punitive measures such as unilateral sanctions would not be effective in changing Iraq’s behaviour over chemical weapons, and would damage British interests to no avail.’

The Foreign Office knows very well that its job is to defend British interests abroad, at more or less any cost. These days it seems to have concluded that British interests involve almost total subjection to the wishes of Saudi Arabia. So their current stance of supposed total horror on the subject of Chemical Weapons, especially when (as was not the case in Halabja) their use has not been established beyond doubt, may be less than wholly genuine. You’d have to ask them, but in any case I ask you to bear this half-forgotten episode in mind as you read this exchange from the House of Commons Hansard for Monday 10th September, an exchange barely reported in the media. It resulted from an urgent question asked by Stephen Doughty MP, and answered without any apparent reluctance by Alistair Burt, who I learn to my surprise is officially entitled the ‘Minister for the Middle East’. Does the Iranian Foreign Ministry have a Minister for North-West Europe, I wonder? The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

But I am especially interested in this exchange, Mr Burt’s response to a clever question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. I have had rude things to say about and to Ms Thornberry, but in this case she is doing her job properly and should be applauded for it. The emphases are mine:

‘Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on securing it. I can only echo what he said about the terrible bloodshed and humanitarian crisis that is looming in Idlib, the urgency for all sides to work to find some form of peaceful political solution to avert it, and the importance of holding those responsible for war crimes to account.

I want to press the Government specifically on how they intend to respond if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images, suggesting a use of chemical weapons, particularly ​because of how the Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW. If that scenario does arise, it may do so over the next month when the House is in recess.

We know from Bob Woodward’s book that what President Trump wants to do in the event of a further reported chemical attack is to commit to a strategy of regime change in Syria—and, indeed, that he had to be prevented from doing so after Douma. That would be a gravely serious step for the UK to take part in, with vast and very dangerous implications not just for the future of Syria, but for wider geopolitical stability.

In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will give us two assurances today. First, will he assure us that if there are any reports of chemical weapons attacks, particularly in areas of Idlib controlled by HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], the Government will not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used? Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the Government intend to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?

Alistair Burt : The co-ordinated action that was taken earlier this year with the United States and France was not about intervening in a civil war or regime change; it was a discrete action to degrade chemical weapons and deter their use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our position on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is unchanged. As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons, which have had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population. The right hon. Lady may recall that there are circumstances, depending on the nature of any attack, in which the United Kingdom Government need to move swiftly and to keep in mind, as their utmost priority, the safety of those personnel involved in a mission. I am not prepared to say at this stage what the United Kingdom’s detailed reaction might be or to give any timescale, because the importance of responding appropriately, quickly and with the safety of personnel in mind will be uppermost in the mind of the United Kingdom.’

In other words, we’re not asking Parliament, if we can help it. When I heard this on the BBC’s ‘Today in Parliament’ late last night I felt a shiver go down my spine. The White House National Security adviser, the bellicose John Bolton, yesterday presumed (which is not proven, see multiple postings here on the work of the OPCW investigations into these events) that the Assad state had used chemical weapons twice, as he said ‘if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger’. He said the USA had been in consultation with Britain and France and they had agreed this. The House of Commons goes into recess *tomorrow* 13th September, for the party conference season, and does not come back until Tuesday 9th October. Ms Thornberry is quite right to speculate that the conflict in Idlib, where Russia and the Assad state are in much the same position as the ‘West’ and the Iraqi state were in Mosul and Raqqa not long ago (i.e confronted with concentrations of a largely beaten Jihadi enemy, who might recover if not finally defeated), could explode during that period. […]

Emily Thornberry, far too rarely among MPs, is aware of the true position. In her question to Mr Burt, she said ‘The Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW’.

See:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/07/initial-thoughts-on-the-opcw-interim-investigation-into-the-alleged-gas-attack-in-douma-syria.html

If she and other wise and cautious MPs are to be able to pursue this, and to prevent British involvement in a very dangerous and perhaps limitless war, we as citizens are obliged to act now, swiftly, before Parliament goes away on holiday.

I ask you to write, swiftly and politely, to your MP, of any reputation or party, to say that you do not favour a rush to war, to say that the guilt of Syria has not been proved in the past (see:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/04/waiting-for-the-opcw-how-to-read-the-next-report-on-alleged-chemical-weapons-atrocities.html

and that a rush to judgement on such issues is almost invariably unwise. See for example the lies told to Parliament about Suez, the use of the Gulf of Tonkin to obtain political support for the USA’s Vietnam disaster, the non-existent ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which began the Iraq catastrophe and the claims of non-existent massacres and mass rapes used to rush this country into its ill-judged and cataclysmic attack on Libya. Ask only for careful consideration, for an insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission after a full and calm debate. 

it is all we can do.

There are many straws in the wind which suggest that we are being prepared for war. War is hell. At the very least, a decision which could have such far-reaching consequences, which could reach into every life and home, and embroil us for years, should be considered properly. The very fact that our government appears not to want us to consider it properly makes it all the more urgent that we insist on it.

Click here to read Hitchen’s article in full at the Mail Online.

Please note that all bold and coloured font highlights are retained from the original. I have also corrected typos.

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Additional:

The following upload by “The Last American Vagabond” from Saturday 8th provides indepth analysis and a broad overview of the latest developments in the Middle East and Idlib in particular (links to all articles are provided beneath the video on youtube):

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Update:

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria:

You will be seeing lurid accounts in the Western media of the latest  report to the UN Human Rights Council from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This was issued on 12 September.

In particular it is being stated that the report vindicates claims that weaponised chlorine was used in Douma. This is not what the report (text below) actually says.

If you read the actual report – you have to reach section 92 so obviously few hacks will do that – you will see that it is carefully worded.

The inspectors, who unlike OPCW did not actually visit the site, ‘received a vast body of evidence suggesting that..’ (of course they did, from the jihadis and from hostile intelligence services); ‘they received information on [deaths and injuries] (which is not the same as seeing bodies or examining victims); they ‘recall that weaponisation of chlorine is prohibited’ (but do not actually say that Syrian forces used it in Douma). 

Besides the text of the relevant part of the report I have added the paragraph on Raqqa and the ‘indiscriminate attacks and serious violations of international law’ by the coalition of which the UK is part, including the bombing of a school and killing of 40 people.

You will note also the acknowlegement that ISIS exploited hospitals in Raqqa (as other jihadi groups have done in every part of Syria). Naturally the media and our government will not want to discuss that paragraph of the report.

Click here to read the same statement – including relevant excerpts from the text of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria report – posted on Eva Bartlett’s In Gaza website

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Further update:

The following is my own letter emailed to Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central (Thursday 13th). Please feel free use it as a template.

Dear Paul,

The government looks set to get involved in a dangerous escalation in the war in Syria, possibly using the forthcoming parliamentary recess as an excuse for going to war without a vote in the Commons. So I am writing in regards to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by Emily Thornberry on Monday 10th, in which she asked how the government intends to respond “if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images”, and she called on the government, “not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used?”

Thornberry continued: “Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative.”

She also asked “if the Government intend[s] to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?”

The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

I ask if you will stand in full support of Emily Thornberry’s call for careful consideration and her insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission following a full and calm debate.

Kind regards,

James Boswell

Paul Blomfield replied to my letter on October 9th as follows:

I’m pleased to reassure you that I fully support Emily Thornberry’s position. I know that we have previously exchanged emails before about the issue of military intervention more widely.

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censorship in the name of copyright: stop the EU turning the internet into a ‘tool for surveillance and control’

The internet as a public forum is coming under attack once more. In the name of protecting intellectual property rights, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee today voted for legislation first proposed by the European Commission in 2016 which requires the installation of filters that will highly restrict the inclusion of news snippets in internet content, thus overhauling the existing copyright principle of ‘fair use’.

An open letter signed by seventy tech experts including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, was sent to the President of the European Parliament in June. It begins:

As a group of the Internet’s original architects and pioneers and their successors, we write to you as a matter of urgency about an imminent threat to the future of this global network.

The European Commission’s proposal for Article 13 of the proposed Directive for Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive was well-intended. As creators ourselves, we share the concern that there should be a fair distribution of revenues from the online use of copyright works, that benefits creators, publishers, and platforms alike.

But Article 13 is not the right way to achieve this. By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.

It concludes:

We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.

Another provision in the proposed legislation is a so-called “link tax” that will force all of us who use news snippets (as I am about to) to obtain a licence:

The aim is to generate income for publishers from aggregators such as Google and Reddit. Since readers usually want to know what a link leads to before clicking, most websites include a snippet of the linked-to content. Any limitation on snippets is hence also a limitation on linking.

The proposal would potentially restrict not just big players but smaller sites and individuals who publish news snippets. Germany and Spain have introduced similar laws, which have failed badly and been disastrous for publishers, the very group the EU seeks to protect. 1

Click here to read the full Guardian report by Kenan Malik.

Here’s another link to a different part of the story (and separate article) that the EU also wants to prevent me from quoting:

[Green MEP Julia] Reda argues that the “link tax” would drastically curtail internet users from sharing news stories and even holiday photos on the internet. Under the proposals, “such snippets would require licensing, including even short and purely factual headlines like ‘Angela Merkel meets Theresa May’”, she wrote ahead of the vote. 2

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Click here to add your name to a petition against the introduction of Articles 11 and 13 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive:

The proposed law includes powers for media giants to charge licensing fees for posting links, through a new type of copyright, aka the link tax. 3 It would also demand websites install bots to monitor your posts, and censor them, if copyrighted content is detected. 4 We know these rules impact how many of us work on a day to day basis: from journalists looking up sources, to professional reviewers discussing the latest films. 5

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1 From an article entitled “A fairer deal on web copyright doesn’t need the bovver boots from Brussels” written by Kenan Malik, published in the Guardian on April 8, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/08/fairer-deal-on-web-copyright-eu-free-speech-open-access

2 From an article entitled “EU votes for copyright law that would make internet a ‘tool of control’” written by Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/20/eu-votes-for-copyright-law-that-would-make-internet-a-tool-for-control

3 Ancillary Copyright, Publishers’ Right, Link Tax: a bad idea under any name. Source: Communia Association

4 Killing parody, killing memes, killing the internet? Source: EDRi

5 Help our link tax impact research AND speak to your MEPs. Source: OpenMedia

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Media on Trial event banned

OffGuardian

Media on Trial has released the following statement:

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, Leeds City Museum, a city council owned and operated venue, cancelled the Media on Trial’s booking for the event we had planned for 27 May.

The fact that the event was cancelled is perhaps bad enough. What became clear as the day has progressed, though, is that Leeds City Museum appear to have informed the press and media of the cancellation before they informed Media on Trial organisers. Indeed they waited for the Media on Trial representative to arrive at the venue for a planned meeting following a four hour train journey before giving us the news.

They seem to have taken this decision on the basis of misinformed assumptions about the content of the event, and offered no right of reply to Media on Trial.

Leeds City Museum has cancelled an event that threatened mainstream…

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