Category Archives: analysis & opinion

Personal perspectives and the views of others regarding current affairs, politics and related topics

update: censorship of alternative left-wing websites by Google intensifies

The latest follow-up article published by WSWS.org on Tuesday [Sept 19th] supplies evidence that Google’s algorithm changes have continued to reduce traffic to alternative left-wing websites:

By other measures, the WSWS’s performance in search results has been impacted even more substantially. On September 16, the latest date available, articles from the WSWS were shown in search results 68,000 times, down from over 450,000 in April. This constitutes a decline of some 85 percent.

As a result of Google’s censorship, the WSWS’s global page rank has fallen from 31,000 to 41,000, according to Amazon’s Alexa traffic ranking software.

Other sites affected include:

Alternet, one of the top 3,000 sites in the US, has seen its Google search traffic fall by 71 percent between April and September, up from 63 percent in the period through July.

Democracy Now, one of the top 5,000 sites in the US, had its search traffic fall 50 percent between April and September, up from 36 percent in the period through July.

Common Dreams, ranked in the top 8,000 US sites, had its Google search traffic fall by 50 percent between April and September, up from 37 percent in the period through July.

Global Research, one of the top 14,000 sites in the US, had its traffic fall slightly from its massive 62 percent decline between April and July.

Truth-out.org, ranked in the top 12,000 sites in the US, had its search traffic fall by 49 percent, up from 25 percent in the period through July. [bold highlights added]

Although the article above makes no specific mention of smaller outlets and blogs, I was recently interviewed by a journalist from WSWS.org who confirmed that the attack is more widespread. For the purpose of our discussion I also constructed a graph that shows data for this site from April up to mid-August:

The blue line shows the % total visitors to this site (compared to the figure averaged for previous six months); the green line shows % change in traffic only directed from Google searches; and the red line is % change in total traffic from UK (I don’t have separate Google figures for this).

Overall Google searches and total UK traffic both fell by 75% since the start of April and (not shown above) continued to decline throughout the second half of August and September. It is worth noting that although the overall decline is in some ways steady, I experienced a quite sudden collapse in traffic at the beginning of July when figures for visitors were abruptly halved and never recovered.

I would be interested to hear from others whose websites have been suffering similar declines in traffic and encourage readers to comment below.

Note that the green and red lines show % change since the first week of April and therefore these values begin at 0%.

The blue line is constructed quite differently with 100% marking the equivalence to the average level during the previous six months (The line begins fractionally higher than that average, briefly exceeds it again at the beginning of June, and then very rapidly declines).

Correction:

In the original piece I had stated misleadingly “The blue line shows the % change in total traffic (based on figures averaged for previous six months)”. The new statement is clearer and accurate.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, internet freedom

Chris Hedges on “The Silencing of Dissent” and Google’s part in it

The following is a short extract from an extended article entitled “The Silencing of Dissent” written by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and published yesterday in Truthdig:

In the name of combating Russia-inspired “fake news,” Google, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, Agence France-Presse and CNN in April imposed algorithms or filters, overseen by “evaluators,” that hunt for key words such as “U.S. military,” “inequality” and “socialism,” along with personal names such as Julian Assange and Laura Poitras, the filmmaker. Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, says Google has amassed some 10,000 “evaluators” to determine the “quality” and veracity of websites. Internet users doing searches on Google, since the algorithms were put in place, are diverted from sites such as Truthdig and directed to mainstream publications such as The New York Times. The news organizations and corporations that are imposing this censorship have strong links to the Democratic Party. They are cheerleaders for American imperial projects and global capitalism. Because they are struggling in the new media environment for profitability, they have an economic incentive to be part of the witch hunt.

The World Socialist Web Site reported in July that its aggregate volume, or “impressions”—links displayed by Google in response to search requests—fell dramatically over a short period after the new algorithms were imposed. It also wrote that a number of sites “declared to be ‘fake news’ by the Washington Post’s discredited [PropOrNot] blacklist … had their global ranking fall. The average decline of the global reach of all of these sites is 25 percent. …”

[…]

The accusation that left-wing sites collude with Russia has made them theoretically subject, along with those who write for them, to the Espionage Act and the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires Americans who work on behalf of a foreign party to register as foreign agents.

The latest salvo came last week. It is the most ominous. The Department of Justice called on RT America and its “associates”—which may mean people like me—to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. No doubt, the corporate state knows that most of us will not register as foreign agents, meaning we will be banished from the airwaves. This, I expect, is the intent. The government will not stop with RT. The FBI has been handed the authority to determine who is a “legitimate” journalist and who is not. It will use this authority to decimate the left.

This is a war of ideas. The corporate state cannot compete honestly in this contest. It will do what all despotic regimes do—govern through wholesale surveillance, lies, blacklists, false accusations of treason, heavy-handed censorship and, eventually, violence.

I encourage readers to click here to read Chris Hedges full article.

And here to read my previous post with links to sign the WSWS online petition against Google’s internet censorship.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, internet freedom

wanted: dead or alive — how we abandoned justice and came to love shoot-to-kill

Shortly after the 9/11 atrocity, President Bush appeared on CNN and issued the following statement:

Osama Bin Laden is just one person. He is representative of networks of people who absolutely have made their cause to defeat the freedoms that we understand, and we will not allow them to do so… I want justice, and there’s an old poster out West that as I recall said ‘Wanted: dead or alive’.”

Sixteen years have passed since Osama Bin Laden was hunted down, but the war without end initiated under Bush grinds on of course. In those sixteen years, the small pockets of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan expanded into Iraq, Libya, Syria and well beyond. They have since splintered multiple times and been rebranded.

Daesh is the latest and reportedly most obscene of those Salafist offshoots. This is in part because its atrocities – that is, the ones it claims for itself – are routine and strike at the heart of our own cities. Like the wars that first spread the plague of ‘Islamism’, we are told that this sickness is something we have to live with forever.

In reality, of course, nothing is ever so straightforward. So consider this:

The U.S. government has prosecuted more than 800 people for terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Most of them never committed an act of violence.

This eye-opening fact is taken from a brilliant recent article by investigative reporter Trevor Aaronson published by The Intercept. In it Aaronson relates in scrupulous detail the tragic tale of a young man called Arlem Suarez. Suarez, who had always lived at home with his mother and very likely suffers from brain damage, has just received a life sentence for his role in an ISIS plot. Except it wasn’t an ISIS plot, but one entirely concocted as an FBI sting.

As this sorry tale unfolds we learn about how Suarez was deliberately and persistently strung along by FBI ‘informants’ who at one point helped him to make a jihadi video (hilarious if it wasn’t so sad) and also encouraged him to procure items for a bomb. It is perfectly evident from the transcripts that for Suarez his ordeal starts out as a game – he is really not very smart – and indeed, as the game becomes increasingly scary, he attempts to back out, repeated times in fact. But the FBI simply won’t let go (they have invested time and literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in their entrapment operation) and as Suarez frets about the danger facing his mother if he lets ‘his brothers’ down, the FBI lead him to a pick-up point and hand him a fake bomb.

As Aaronson writes:

The jury didn’t accept Suarez’s excuses and convicted him on February 1. U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez, a former prosecutor who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, gave Suarez the maximum punishment: life in prison.

Suarez’s sentence is indicative of the increasingly harsh punishment ISIS defendants caught up in FBI stings are now facing in federal courts. While federal judges rarely gave life sentences to sting targets allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda and other groups — the Fort Dix Five being a notable exception — Suarez is one of two ISIS defendants to receive a life sentence in the last year.

In each of these ISIS cases, the other being Justin Nojan Sullivan, the FBI provided the weapons in the supposed plots. Since Suarez was arrested after taking custody of the fake bomb, there’s no way of knowing with certainty what he would have done with it. 1

Click here to read Trevor Aaronson’s full account which includes an embedded video showing Suarez hapless attempt at making his jihadi video with the FBI on hand to help.

And here to read an earlier post about the FBI ‘terror’ factory entitled “the tragic tale of Sami Osmakac – or how the FBI creates a terrorist patsy” posted in 2015.

*

The latest acts of senseless violence (this time in Catalonia)

Spanish police on Monday shot dead an Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van in Barcelona last week, ending a five-day manhunt for the perpetrator of Spain’s deadliest attack in over a decade.

Police said they tracked 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub to a rural area near Barcelona and shot him after he held up what looked like an explosives belt and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest). The bomb squad used a robot to approach his body.

So begins a report published by Reuters on August 21st, the day of the killing of suspected van driver of the horrific Barcelona attack, the alleged perpetrator in the latest of so many terrorist atrocities. The same article continues:

“Shortly before 5 p.m., the police shot down Younes Abouyaaqoub, the driver of the van in the attack that killed 14 people in Barcelona,” Carles Puigdemont, head of the Catalonia regional government, told a news conference. He said the bomb belt turned out to be a fake one. 2

Click here to read the full Reuters report.

Being dead, Reuters and other media outlets saw fit to omit the word “alleged” or “suspected” (as I have properly inserted above) from their account of the actions of Younes Abouyaaqoub. This Moroccan with his suspiciously exotic name is the “Islamist militant who killed 13 people with a van”, even whilst support for this otherwise as then unsubstantiated accusation is founded on the wholly circumstantial evidence of remarks reportedly made by unnamed “relatives”:

“The van driver, Abouyaaqoub, began showing more religiously conservative behaviour over the past year, said relatives in his native Morocco. He refused to shake hands with women during a visit to his birthplace in March, they said.”

I find this eerily reminiscent of a scene in Albert Camus’ famous novel L’Étranger (trans: The Outsider) in which the title character, a French Algerian called Meursault, is put on trial for the murder of an Arab man. The facts of the case are clear and Meursault is indeed guilty of shooting the Arab, but at his trial the prosecutor is far more interested in directing the jury to consider Meursault’s behaviour at his mother’s funeral, than over details of the case. Eyewitnesses said he hadn’t cried apparently. As Camus writes:

I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game. 3

Younes Abouyaaqoub was killed four days after the attacks in a town 30 miles away from Barcelona, and the story of his escape is a complicated one. It is since reported that CCTV images captured the moment his white Fiat van came to halt on the famous Joan Miró mosaic on Las Ramblas. Abouyaaqoub immediately got out of the van, put on his sunglasses, and continued on foot. He then walked for about an hour and a half finally reaching the Universitaria district in the north of the city where he allegedly murdered another victim, Pau Pérez, a Spanish vineyard worker, who was parking his Ford Focus. With Pérez’s body on the back seat of the car, Abouyaaqoub then rammed his getaway vehicle through a police barricade leaving one officer injured and evaded capture a second time. This occurred two hours after the van attack.

Abouyaaqoub’s brother El Houssaine and first cousins Mohamed and Omar Hychami were also among the list of other suspects shot dead by police. They were three of five involved in a second incident when a different van was driven through a crowd of pedestrians at nearby Cambrils, killing one woman and injuring six others. All five men were believed to have been members of a terrorist cell comprised of twelve members in total – four have been arrested (more in a moment).

This cell is said to have been led by a shady imam by the name of Abdelbaki Es Satty. It was first thought that Es Satty, a convicted drug trafficker, vanished shortly before the twin van attacks, however, suspicion soon arose that instead he had been blown up the night before the Catalonia attacks when the cell’s bomb-making factory accidently exploded. Since confirmed dead, Es Satty, the alleged ringleader, was well-known to both the security services and the police:

Es Satty appears to be the only one of the suspects whose name had already crossed the radar of the police. He was jailed in Castellón in Valencia in 2010 for smuggling cannabis, and released in 2014. It is reported that while in prison he met Rachid Aglif, who is serving 18 years for his part in the 2004 Madrid bomb attacks that left 192 dead and about 2,000 people wounded.

More significantly, his name also appears in a report that was compiled after five men were arrested south of Barcelona, in Vilanova i la Geltrú, on charges of recruiting young men to fight in Iraq.

The imam also spent three months in Belgium before the Brussels attacks, it has emerged. The mayor of Vilvoorde, Hans Bonte, told local TV that Es Satty was in the Belgian town between January and March 2016.

The assaults on Brussels airport and a Metro station killed 32 people in March last year. Isis claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Es Satty is thought to have travelled to Belgium frequently, but he was never an official resident. Immigration and asylum minister Theo Francken said he was unknown to the foreigners’ registration service. “He has never requested or received a Belgian residence permit,” he wrote on Twitter. “Of course, he could have been in Belgium, but the immigration office has no record of him.” 4

There are so many parts of this story that appear to be missing or unexplained. Most glaring is how did this bomb-making factory with its hundreds of gas canisters not arouse greater suspicion? Also why did the authorities not react sooner after it exploded on the night before the van attacks? Although surely the most salient question is how the disreputable imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, another “known wolf”, manages to slip the security services time and again? Then lastly, why have Salh El Karib and Mohamed Aalla, two of the four suspects originally detained by police, since been quietly released?

A Spanish High Court judge on Thursday ordered another one of the four suspects arrested over twin attacks in Catalonia last week, Salh El Karib, to be freed on certain conditions, according to a court source. […]

El Karib will have to hand over his passport and check into court every week. The judge decided that there was not enough evidence to keep El Karib in custody, the court source said.

… Mohamed Aalla, was also released on certain conditions earlier this week while two others were remanded on charges of membership of a terrorist group and murder. 5

Could it be that there is insufficient evidence to convict the two men? Or that the available evidence, were it ever to come to light, would raise uncomfortable questions about the role played by the security services? More properly, in any case, we should insist that Salh El Karib and Mohamed Aalla are presumed innocent – the presumption of innocence was once the “golden thread of justice”. Alarmingly, the presumption of innocence no longer applies in cases of this kind.

Remarkably few of the alleged perpetrators of this post-9/11 spate of terrorist attacks carried out across Europe have actually been found guilty for the simple fact that they died before capture. Many of the earlier incidents were of course suicide attacks (or allegedly so) but countless others have been shot dead by police before they were able to provide testimony. There is even a convenient euphemism that helps turn reality on its head – “suicide by police”.

With no day in court, there can only be a trial by the media. Meanwhile, we have been habituated to accept the adopted though seldom discussed shoot-to-kill policy, when besides the blatant issue of human rights violations, lessons drawn from recent history ought to be cautionary.

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Lest we forget

“British justice must be in tatters after today. It’s not as if the evidence wasn’t there. The evidence had been there all the time… they had us picked out, they told us that… We were made scapegoats to appease the public and it’s been connived with right up to the very highest of levels because what they did to us, and the amount of people that’s in it, it couldn’t have been done without the help and connivance of people in high places.” 6

These are the impassioned words of Paddy Hill spoken at a press conference shortly after his release from prison in March 1991. Hill was one of a group of men who would come to be known as the Birmingham Six — Hugh Callaghan, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were the others — all wrongly arrested without hours of the Birmingham pub bombings in November 1974 and falsely sentenced to life imprisonment. Sixteen years later they won their case in the court of appeal in what proved to be a humbling day for British justice. As former Labour MP and campaigner for their release, Chris Mullin, wrote later in his book Error of Judgement, published 1997:

The release of the Birmingham Six was a watershed for British justice. In the months that followed there was a string of further releases. At the time of writing, twenty-seven other people have either had convictions quashed or charges against them dropped after evidence from West Midlands detectives was discredited.

A number of other terrorist convictions also collapsed. In July, 1991, Mrs. Annie Maguire, five members of her family and a friend who had been convicted of making bombs had their convictions quashed. In June, 1992, the Appeal Court quashed the conviction of Judith Ward, then in the nineteenth year of a thirty-year sentence for the M62 coach bombing. The judgement was a damning indictment of the police officers, forensic scientists and Crown layers responsible for the conviction. Judith Ward’s release brought to eighteen the number of innocent people wrongly convicted of terrorist offences committed in 1974. Of these, ten would certainly have been hanged had the death penalty still been in force. So, too, would at least one of the three people wrongly convicted of the murder of PC Blakelock during a riot on the Broadwater Farm Estate in north London. Their convictions were quashed in November, 1991, amid a great deal of official wailing and gnashing of teeth. The case made legal history. For the first time anyone could recall, a British judge apologised.

Not only the Maguire Seven, but also the better remembered Guildford Four — Paul Michael Hill, Gerard Conlon, Paddy Armstrong and Carole Richardson — also had their verdicts quashed in the months following the acquittal of the Birmingham Six. Besides the lack of evidence, it wasn’t even true to say the members of the Guildford Four fitted the profile of an IRA terrorist. Carole Richardson was an Englishwoman who lived in a squat. Yet in spite of such bizarre incongruities, rumours persisted long after their release. Here’s Mullin again:

A whispering campaign started from the moment the first convictions were quashed. It could be heard wherever two or three lawyers or police officers were gathered. The Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Mrs. Maguire and her family are all guilty, it said. They were released on a technicality. Okay, maybe the forensic scientists souped up the evidence a little. Maybe the police cut a few corners, but everyone is guilty so there is nothing to worry about, nothing for which to apologise. It is a tribute to our capacity for self-delusion that there is scarcely a policeman or a judge in the country who does not believe this falsehood.

He continues:

At Blackpool 2,000 delegates of the Police Federation, meeting for their annual conference, received the news with a standing ovation. An editorial in the Daily Telegraph caught the new mood.

“Until now the received view of the Guildford Four … is that they were all innocent victims of a scandalous miscarriage of justice who spent many years in jail for crimes they did not commit. The acquittal of the three ex-policemen, and some of the new evidence heard in the course of their Old Bailey trial, suggests that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that two of the Guildford Four, Mr. Patrick Armstrong and Mr. Gerry Conlon, might have been guilty after all. This raises the disturbing possibility that the real miscarriage of justice in their case occurred when they walked free.”

There was, of course, no new evidence. The Guildford Four were convicted on the basis of confessions in police custody and nothing of any significance has since emerged. 7

Had police on the British mainland been operating a shoot-to-kill policy (as was the case in Northern Ireland 8) the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and many others might all have been gunned down in cold blood. Had this happened we would in all probability still not know the truth today.

*

Mistakes were made…

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks current Brexit Secretary and former shadow Home Secretary David Davis published an article in the Guardian in which he wrote:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi [aka “Jihadi John”] after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

I reprinted these paragraphs in an earlier article on the subject, adding further names to Davis’ long list of examples of “known wolves”:

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s [subjects of interest], people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home. Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks. And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry.

A complete list indeed goes on and on and on… and please note that all the above cases have been referenced with footnotes in my original article entitled “another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

With the accused, including so many of those listed, killed during pursuit, not only is uncertainty left hanging over their own guilt, but in cases such as those above, it leaves us with questions about the role played by the security services who had kept them under close surveillance. The truth dies with them.

Zakaria Boufassil is someone who has been convicted for his role in Islamist terrorism. Last December both he and accomplice Mohammed Ali Ahmed were sentenced and jailed for handling money supplied to Mohamed Abrini who was an alleged perpetrator of the 2015 Paris attacks and also believed to be the so-called “man in the hat” filmed at the Brussels airport prior to the March 22nd bombing. Abrini, who was charged in January for his role in the Paris attacks, was (once again) known to security services 9. He is yet to face trial. However, this is what defending barrister, Dorian Lovell-Pank QC said during the Boufassil trial:

“In Zakaria’s eyes, he feels he was effectively picked up by MI5 and was pumped and dumped.

“He found himself approached by the security service and he was reluctant at first, then more gradually, he told them what he knew about Abrini and the meeting in the park.

“He was told by MI5 he wasn’t in any trouble and was told they were interested in signing him up or having him on their books.

“He feels he ceased to be of any use to them and he was effectively thrown to the wolves.”

According to the Guardian article (where the statement is reported):

The prosecution said they could “neither confirm nor deny” Boufassil’s claim, which is a standard response from MI5. 10

Click here to read the full Guardian report entitled “Convicted terrorist says MI5 ‘pumped and dumped’ him”.

As I wrote previously in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11, we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”, we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

Click here to read my earlier extended post from March 2015.

*

Dead or alive

The twenty-first century turned out to be a lot simpler than the twentieth. Its defining image, a projection of Manifest Destiny as recast by the silver screen and the latest video games, is the ‘War on Terror’. In this war, Uncle Sam polices the world, while at home the good guys inside our security services work tirelessly to stop the bad guys as they connect to Daesh via the portal of the dark web. Marked out crisply in sharp lines of black and white, news bulletins provide a daily insight into this ongoing Manichaean battle between good and evil.

Bush told us that Osama Bin Laden was “Wanted: dead or alive” and dead was precisely how the world’s most wanted man eventually turned up – gunned down in Pakistan, if we accept the only available accounts. So instead of facing extradition and trial for his terrorist murder spree, the official story tells us that a team of United States Navy SEALs cornered him inside his own ‘compound’ in Abbottabad and dispatched him, then hastily buried the corpse at sea. Few respectable journalists have dared to delve into the strangeness of this tale of derring-do or to challenge the lack of tangible evidence. Why would they?

When veteran journalism Seymour Hersh had the temerity to take issue with a few minor details of the official story surrounding which agencies knew what and when, even he was not immune to mainstream opprobrium. Perhaps he would have done better just to stick by his statement made during an interview with the Guardian that the whole story was “one big lie, not one word of it is true”. 11

This wasn’t always so. In the past not all journalists in the mainstream media were so “pathetic” (Hersh’s word). For instance, back in 1988 ITV was brave enough to produce and broadcast a hugely controversial episode of their current affairs documentary series This Week entitled “Death on the Rock” that took to task the official British government account of the shooting of three members of the IRA at a filling station in Gibraltar.

Here’s a quick review of the case. The three — Seán Savage, Daniel McCann, and Mairéad Farrell — were all known to the authorities and allegedly preparing to detonate a bomb outside the governor’s residence. Under Operation Flavius, plain-clothed SAS soldiers opened fire on the three as they tried to evade capture. The soldiers later testified that they had acted in the belief that the suspects were reaching for weapons or a remote detonator, although it afterwards transpired that none of the three were armed and no explosives were discovered in their car. The official account was also refuted by eyewitnesses who said the three were shot without warning and with their hands up. Sound familiar?

The fallout is revealing however: although programme-makers were instantly castigated by the Thatcher government and the usual attack dogs writing for the tabloids decried this “trial by television”, the programme went on to win a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary as well as the Best Single Documentary Award (1989) 12 from the Broadcasting Press Guild. That said, the broadcast is also “widely believed to have sealed the fate of the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority [IBA]”. 13 Another repercussion was that programme-maker Thames Television lost its franchise; almost certainly in an act of revenge. Heightened political censorship is one of the many forgotten the legacies of Thatcher’s reign in office.

In only three decades all this has been turned absolutely upside-down. In today’s world shoot-to-kill – that rightly reviled criminal policy once synonymous with British forces and the RUC in Northern Ireland – has become the norm across the continent and no-one bats an eyelid. This is especially so now that, unaccountably, fake suicide vests are the de rigueur terrorist apparel. And why would a real terrorist bother to fake a suicide vest? It isn’t proper to ask apparently. This is the other side of the reversal we have seen: today no ‘serious journalist’ ever asks the awkward questions.

As the ‘War on Terror’ has exported terror and terrorism (the two are significantly different) and more widespread human rights abuses (for example inside the many CIA ‘black sites’), it has likewise paved the way for a tightening surveillance state and the trampling of civil liberties at home. But as with much else that is done in the name of preventing ‘terror’, the policy of shoot-to-kill is being introduced more insidiously. In strict legal terms nothing has changed; it is the spirit of the law that is being flouted and undermined.

After each fresh terrorist atrocity, retribution is swiftly delivered. And though this reversion to frontier justice is a subversion of the rule of law, as with the proverbial boiling frog in the pot, if you turn the heat up fairly gradually it won’t ever notice being cooked alive. Is there really any better way of destroying our lasting freedoms – the ones so detested by the ‘Islamists’ – than this?

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1 From an article entitled “The Unlikely Jihadi” written by Trevor Aaronson, published in The Intercept on September 3, 2017. https://theintercept.com/2017/09/03/the-fbi-pressured-a-lonely-young-man-into-a-bomb-plot-he-tried-to-back-out-now-hes-serving-life-in-prison/

2 From an article entitled “Spanish police track down, shoot dead Barcelona attacker” written by Angus Berwick, published in Reuters on August 21, 2017. https://in.reuters.com/article/spain-security-idINKCN1B10JQ

3 Written by Albert Camus in January 1955. Quoted in Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice by David Carroll, published by Columbia University Press. p. 27.

4 From an article entitled “Spanish police focus on Ripoll imam who vanished before terror attacks” written by Stephen Burgen, Jonathan Watts, Ian Cobain and Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on August 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/20/ripoll-the-small-town-home-to-the-barcelona-and-cambrils-attackers

5 From an article entitled “Second of four men arrested over Catalonia attacks released: source” published by Reuters on August 24, 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-spain-security-suspect/second-of-four-men-arrested-over-catalonia-attacks-released-source-idUSKCN1B41GQ

6 You can listen to Paddy Hill’s full statement here: http://www.rte.ie/archives/2016/0314/774696-birmingham-six-released/

7 From “Error Of Judgement: Truth About the Birmingham Bombings” written by Chris Mullin, published on March 13, 1997. Read more on his website here:  http://www.chrismullinexmp.com/recent-articles/error-of-judgement

8

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Britain has a case to answer in relation to allegations of an “illegal shoot-to-kill” policy in Northern Ireland.

From an article entitled “‘Shoot-to-kill’ case gets go-ahead” published by BBC news on April 5, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/702920.stm

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Identified as a radical Islamist by Belgian investigators, Mr Abrini is believed to have briefly visited Syria last year and his younger brother Suleiman, 20, died there.

He was known to security services for belonging to the same cell as Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the organisers of the Paris attacks who opened fire on bars, restaurants and a concert hall before he died in a police shootout shortly afterwards.

From an article entitled “Brussels bombing suspect Mohamed Abrini charged over Paris attacks, say French lawyers” written by Chris Stevenson, published in The Independent on January 30, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/mohamed-abrini-brussels-bombing-paris-attacks-france-belgium-killings-isis-islamic-state-french-a7552741.html

10 From an article entitled “Convicted terrorist says MI5 ‘pumped and dumped’ him” written by Jamie Grierson and Duncan Gardham, published in the Guardian on December 12, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/dec/12/convicted-terrorist-says-mi5-pumped-and-dumped-him

11

Don’t even get him [Hersh] started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011 [see footnote].

From an article entitled “Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media” written by Lisa O’Carroll, published in the Guardian on September 27, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/media/media-blog/2013/sep/27/seymour-hersh-obama-nsa-american-media

The footnote reads:

Hersh has pointed out that he was in no way suggesting that Osama bin Laden was not killed in Pakistan, as reported, upon the president’s authority: he was saying that it was in the aftermath that the lying began. Finally, the interview took place in the month of July, 2013.

12 http://www.broadcastingpressguild.org/bpg-awards/1989-3/

13

1988 Government relations turn frigid when Thames Television broadcast Death on the Rock, which produces evidence to show three unarmed IRA terrorists had been shot dead by the SAS in Gibraltar. Asked if she is furious Thatcher replies “deeper than that”. This is widely believed to have sealed the fate of the regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which had a responsibility for what was broadcast.

From a Timeline entitled “How ITV got where it is today” written by Maggie Brown, published in the Guardian on March 4, 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2009/mar/04/how-itv-got-where-it-is-today

2 Comments

Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, police state, Spain, USA

of course we’re evil — how Google is killing the internet by stealth

“Something has happened with Google across the board that affects left-wing media in a big way,” said Scott LaMorte, a web developer for both Truthout and The Real News.

“This is absolutely an aberration. It’s a three-year low for both Truthout and The Real News, and likely unprecedented in the life of these organizations. Neither have previously experienced three straight months of declines as they have since May.”

“It’s not like everybody on the left suddenly changed their SEO [Search engine optimization],” LaMorte said. “I don’t think it was a change in Google’s algorithm in how they value SEO practices.” […]

“This is political censorship of the worst sort; it’s just an excuse to suppress political viewpoints,” said Robert Epstein, a former editor in chief of Psychology Today and noted expert on Google.

Epstein said that at this point, the question was whether the WSWS had been flagged specifically by human evaluators employed by the search giant, or whether those evaluators had influenced the Google Search engine to demote left-wing sites. “What you don’t know is whether this was the human evaluators who are demoting you, or whether it was the new algorithm they are training,” Epstein said. 1

On July 31st, World Socialist Web Site reporter, Andre Damon, spoke with RT America’s Natasha Sweatte about how and why Google is now directly targeting progressive websites:

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An open letter to Google: Stop the censorship of the Internet!

Stop the political blacklisting of the World Socialist Web Site!

August 25th 2017

Sundar Pichai
Chief Executive Officer
Google, Inc.

Lawrence Page
Chief Executive Officer/Director
Alphabet, Inc.

Sergey Brin
President/Director
Alphabet, Inc.

Eric Schmidt
Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors
Alphabet, Inc.

Gentlemen:

Google’s mission statement from the outset was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Its official code of conduct was proclaimed in Google’s famous motto: “Don’t be evil.” In recent years, you have seriously lost your way. You are now engaged in hiding the world’s information, and, in the process, are doing a great deal of evil.

When Google officially discontinued its China-based search engine, due to censorship by the Chinese government of search engine results for political criticism, Mr. Brin publicly stated that for Google, “it has always been a discussion about how we can best fight for openness on the Internet. We believe that this is the best thing that we can do for preserving the principles of the openness and freedom of information on the Internet.”

In 2013, when Mr. Schmidt visited Burma, he spoke in favor of free and open Internet use in the country. In light of Google’s recent actions, the statements of Mr. Brin and Mr. Schmidt appear utterly hypocritical.

Google, and by implication, its parent company Alphabet, Inc., are now engaged in political censorship of the Internet. You are doing what you have previously publicly denounced.

Google is manipulating its Internet searches to restrict public awareness of and access to socialist, anti-war and left-wing websites. The World Socialist Web Site (www.wsws.org) has been massively targeted and is the most affected by your censorship protocols. Referrals to the WSWS from Google have fallen by nearly 70 percent since April of this year.

Censorship on this scale is political blacklisting. The obvious intent of Google’s censorship algorithm is to block news that your company does not want reported and to suppress opinions with which you do not agree. Political blacklisting is not a legitimate exercise of whatever may be Google’s prerogatives as a commercial enterprise. It is a gross abuse of monopolistic power. What you are doing is an attack on freedom of speech.

We therefore call upon you and Google to stop blacklisting the WSWS and renounce the censorship of all the left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive websites that have been affected adversely by your new discriminatory search policies. […]

Beginning in April of this year, Google began manipulating search results to channel users away from socialist, left-wing, and anti-war publications, and directing them instead towards mainstream publications that directly express the views of the government and the corporate and media establishment (i.e., the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.), and a small number of mildly left “trusted” websites whose critiques are deemed innocuous (i.e., Jacobin Magazine and the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, which functions as a faction of the Democratic Party).

As a pretext for these actions, Google announced that it was making changes to its search algorithm “to surface more authoritative content,” a term that brings to mind efforts by authoritarian regimes to censor the Internet and, specifically, political views deemed outside the consensus as defined by the establishment media.

Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, attempted to justify the imposition of political censorship with a blog post on April 25, claiming that the changes to the algorithm were a response to “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”

Google, according to Gomes, has recruited some 10,000 “evaluators” to judge the “quality” of websites. These evaluators are trained to “flag” websites that are deemed to “include misleading information” and “unsupported conspiracy theories.” Gomes explained that the blacklists created by these evaluators will be used, in combination with the latest developments in technology, to develop an algorithm that will impose censorship automatically, in real time, across future search results.

Whatever the technical changes Google has made to the search algorithm, the anti-left bias of the results is undeniable. The most striking outcome of Google’s censorship procedures is that users whose search queries indicate an interest in socialism, Marxism or Trotskyism are no longer directed to the World Socialist Web Site. Google is “disappearing” the WSWS from the results of search requests. For example, Google searches for “Leon Trotsky” yielded 5,893 impressions (appearances of the WSWS in search results) in May of this year. In July, the same search yielded exactly zero impressions for the WSWS, which is the Internet publication of the international movement founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938.

Other frequently used words and phrases that no longer include the WSWS in Google search results include: socialism, class struggle, class conflict, socialist movement, social inequality in the world, poverty and social inequality, antiwar literature, and the Russian revolution. A search for socialism vs. capitalism, which, as recently as April, would have listed the World Socialist Web Site as the eighth result on the first page of search results, now no longer returns any results at all for the WSWS. Of the top 150 search queries that returned results for the WSWS in April, 145 now no longer do so.

All the search terms listed above are employed frequently by users seeking a left-wing, socialist or Marxist take on events. Far from protecting readers from “unexpected” responses to their search requests, Google is manipulating its algorithm to make sure that the left-wing and progressive segment of their users, who would be most interested in the World Socialist Web Site, will not find it. Moreover, the extent and precision of the exclusion of the WSWS from search results strongly suggests that the anti-socialist bias of the new algorithm is being supplemented by the actual physical intervention of Google personnel, enforcing authoritarian-style direct and deliberate blacklisting.

As stated above, since April, other left-wing publications that present themselves as progressive, socialist or anti-war also have suffered significant reductions in their Google search results:

* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent

Google justifies the imposition of political censorship by using a loaded term like “fake news.” This term, properly used, signifies the manufacturing of news based on an artificially constructed event that either never occurred or has been grossly exaggerated. The present-day furor over “fake news” is itself an example of an invented event and artificially constructed narrative. It is a “fake” term that is used to discredit factual information and well-grounded analyses that challenge and discredit government policies and corporate interests. Any invocation of the phrase “fake news,” as it pertains to the WSWS, is devoid of any substance or credibility. In fact, our efforts to combat historical falsification have been recognized, including by the scholarly journal American Historical Review.

The facts prove that Google is rigging search results to blacklist and censor the WSWS and other left-wing publications. This raises a very serious question, with far-reaching constitutional implications. Is Google coordinating its censorship program with the American government, or sections of its military and intelligence apparatus?

Google probably will dismiss the question as an example of conspiracy theorizing. However, it is legitimate given the ample evidence that Google maintains close ties with the state. In 2016, Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton Carter, appointed you, Mr. Schmidt, to chair the Department of Defense Innovation Advisory Board. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Google headquarters to discuss the ongoing and close collaboration between the company and the Pentagon. More generally, according to a report in The Intercept, Google representatives attended White House meetings on average at least once a week from January 2009 through October 2015.

Google claims to be a private corporation, but it is deeply involved in the formulation and implementation of government policy. The distinction between commercial interests and state objectives is increasingly difficult to detect. By obstructing the free access to and exchange of information, Google’s censorship program is aimed at enforcing a twenty-first century version of Orwellian “Right-Think.” It is undermining the development of progressive and constitutionally protected political opposition. It is benefiting the proponents of war, inequality, injustice and reaction.

The censorship of left-wing websites, and the WSWS in particular, reflects the fear that a genuine socialist perspective, if allowed a fair hearing, will find a mass audience in the US and internationally. There is widespread popular opposition to your efforts to suppress freedom of speech and thought. That is why Google feels compelled to cloak its anti-democratic policies with misleading arguments and outright lies. An online petition circulated by the WSWS demanding a halt to Google’s censorship efforts has already attracted several thousand signatures from readers in 70 different countries on five continents. We are determined to resist Google’s efforts to censor our publication, and to continue to raise awareness internationally about Google censorship. As long as this policy continues, Google will pay a heavy price in lost public credibility.

The International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Sites demands that the anti-democratic changes to the Google search result rankings and its search algorithm since April be reversed, and that Google cease its effort to curtail search accessibility to the WSWS and other left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive web publications.

Sincerely,
David North
Chairperson, International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site

Click here to read the open letter in full and here to sign the petition.

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Further thoughts

The open letter reprinted above from WSWS is an excellent one and very little can be usefully added in terms of alerting interested parties (basically everyone with a left-leaning or else genuinely libertarian outlook) regarding Google’s part in the ongoing censorship of the internet. It should however cause us to think extremely carefully about the fragility of this new information commons we increasingly depend upon. Any library can only be as good as its indexing system. When the library is as huge as the internet then good indexing is the only way to prevent information from becoming lost forever.

A few months ago, Google, which holds a de facto monopoly position on indexing the world’s greatest library, changed its algorithms. It actually does this on a fairly regular basis and historically these changes have generally been small and rather hard to detect. On this occasion, however, the changes were just as dramatic as they are very blatantly targeted.

Just as WSWS reports, the traffic to my own website (this one) suffered a vertiginous fall during recent months. Around the start of July the number of hits was cut in half, virtually overnight. What’s more, it has been traffic from the UK (my home country) that has plummeted most. Indeed, traffic to this site from the UK has been falling steadily since April (when Google announced its algorithm changes) and I now estimate that it has dropped by something like 80%. So what is happening here is obviously a very deliberate attack on the alternative left even including such small sites this.

But we should not be so very surprised. Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google (today it also owns youtube), is one of the most profitable and powerful of all global corporations. Amazingly, having entered the Fortune 500 little more than a decade ago, it then climbed into the top 100 within four years and currently stands at #27. 2 Although maybe this isn’t half so amazing once one considers Google’s true origins; and its hand-in-glove ties to the security state:

“From inception,” writes investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, “Google was incubated, nurtured and financed by interests that were directly affiliated or closely aligned with the US military intelligence community” […]

“The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.” (More in an addendum below)

Or click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article entitled “How the CIA made Google”.

The everyman gloss also comes off once one considers that its billionaire Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, is a member of the Trilateral Commission and has been a Bilderberg attendee every year since 2008 (apart from his absence in 2009). In fact, Google and Bilderberg appear to have firmer ties than Eric Schmidt’s affiliation as I explained when the two organisations ran back-to-back conferences at Watford in 2013:

It is a fortnight since the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first broke with revelations of a “previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” announced to the world by Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian on Friday 7th:

“The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.”

On that very same day I was heading down the M1 motorway to Watford with a friend to protest against the Bilderberg meeting taking place at the Grove hotel: a meeting that evidently has extremely close connections to those same “internet giants” who have been enabling the NSA as well as our own GCHQ to covertly snoop into every aspect of our lives. Indeed Google were already busy having their very own “private gathering” inside the same grounds of the very same hotel on days either side of the Bilderberg confab. In spite of being so closely connected to the inner circle of the Bilderberg clique, and thus to the very people who are engaged in this rampant abuse of our civil liberties, here’s what Google officially said to the Guardian:

“In a statement, Google said: ‘Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.’”

Plausible deniability, in other words, and it gets better:

“Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. ‘If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,’ one said.

“An Apple spokesman said it had ‘never heard’ of Prism.” 3

I imagine he’s probably never heard of those Foxconn factories in China with the suicide nets either.

Click here to read my earlier post.

From an article published by The Independent, we learn how such ‘Google-berg’ events take place annually:

Each year, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, jet into London for the invitation-only annual gathering, at the Grove hotel, where 400 delegates, chosen from the “great minds of our time”, discuss topics ranging from technology and the media to politics and the arts. […]

For conspiracy theorists, the conference, staged by the search engine giant, which reported a 60 per cent surge in earnings to $2.89bn this year, is a cuddlier version of the Bilderberg Group, the supposedly shadowy network of financiers that holds a private annual assembly, recast in the image of our new tech masters. 4 [my own bold highlight added]

This is also discussed at slightly greater length in another earlier post.

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Although dominated by corporations, the internet operates as a commons: a public space to which we contribute voluntarily and as individuals. Anyone can publish online just as I did right now. There’s no editorial control and relatively little censorship. Knowing how to peruse the enormous and ever-expanding repository of online publications, anyone might stumble across my words. Access which is aided thanks to the principle of net neutrality – a democratic notion that all internet traffic should be treated equally – helping online communities to flourish and maintaining a measure of equality in cyberspace. But this is rapidly changing.

Around the time of the Arab Spring there was increasing furore closer to home which surrounded disputed claims about the creation of an “internet kill switch”. In June 2010, some six months prior to the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation sparked riots that led to the Tunisian Revolution, US Senator Joe Lieberman presented a bill entitled “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” with provision for ‘emergency’ shutdown. Similar legislation has also been introduced in Britain as The Independent reported in March 2011:

In Britain there are two pieces of legislation which give the Government power to order the suspension of the internet and, in theory, bring about web armageddon. The Civil Contingencies Act [2004] and the 2003 Communications Act can both be used to suspend internet services, either by ordering internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down their operations or by closing internet exchanges. Under the protocol of the Communications Act, the switch-flicking would be done by the Culture Secretary. In the eyes of the legislature, Jeremy Hunt is the man invested with the power to send us back to the dark ages.

The same piece continues:

In theory, the mechanical process of shutting down the internet should be simple. In addition to ordering the nation’s main ISPs to cease operation, officials can also close main internet exchanges such as Linx – the London Internet Exchange – which handles 80 per cent of our internet traffic.

To illustrate the case, the article then reminds us of internet shutdowns during the Arab Spring:

The ISP shutdown process was used recently by the Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt, ostensibly to stifle the propagation of dissent. On 27 January Egypt was effectively disconnected from the rest of the web after its ISPs were ordered to shut down their services. […]

Egypt’s other three big ISPs – Link Egypt, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr – also stopped services. A few days later the final service provider, Noor, went down, taking the country’s stock exchange with it.

The pattern has since been repeated in other parts of the Middle East where popular uprisings have occurred. On 19 February Libya went completely offline. In Bahrain reduced web traffic flow was reported between 14 and 16 February.

However, shutting down the web isn’t always this simple:

The problem comes down to the very nature of the internet in developed countries. It is a mesh of networks. It transcends borders and has no definable beginning or end. As a result of this structure it is almost impossible to isolate all the connections. […]

It seems highly likely then, that as happened in Egypt, if the Jeremy Hunt Doomsday scenario were ever come to pass, an alternative network would quickly expand and provide access to the internet for all. Which is a relief. 5

Click here to read the full article.

The internet “kill switch” is mostly a red herring, because the corporatocracy has no cause to kill the internet for so long as it is maximising profits by selling the latest products – including obviously so many virtual products of our dot.com world – and in the process is hoovering up data about us.

For corporate needs the internet is little more than the free market on steroids, and for the security state it is, as Julian Assange put it so eloquently, ‘the worldwide wiretap’. As these merge, the wealth of data accumulated is filtered and packaged to fit the needs of both sectors. Knowledge becomes both power and profits. But it comes at a cost for our increasingly merged corporations and state. In the pursuit of profits and the acquisition of personal information, they sacrificed a stranglehold over public discourse. That anyone can now broadcast and publish threatens to undermine establishment control. The corporatocracy, however, still holds the key, just so long as we remain reliant on Google and the other corporate tech giants for access to this information commons.

To all intents and purposes, Google are now in the process of throwing that mythical internet “kill switch” except it’s not a switch, it’s a knob… and they are suddenly turning the amplitude right down. If this continues and we are unable to find an efficient and fully independent alternative to Google then the internet will effectively die. It will appear much the same and many of its old functions will remain unaltered – doubtless, it will provide an expanding marketplace and likewise it will continue to track our lives in ever higher resolution – but the internet as tool for progressive resistance will become ossified. For the true potential it still holds for bringing about radical political change and transforming society in truly revolutionary ways will be lost forever.

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Addendum: ‘How the CIA made Google’

In an extended article entitled “How the CIA made Google” Nafeez Ahmed embarked on a trail that took him from the Pentagon, the NSA, and CIA’s venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, via a group known as the Highlands Forum – a private network and “bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites” – back to Stanford University, and legendary PhD students Larry Page and, more especially, Sergey Brin. It also led him to the door of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), and its purportedly discontinued Total Information Awareness (TIA) programme (featured in an earlier post about the rise of the surveillance state).

It is impossible to neatly summarise all of Ahmed’s findings here so without reprinting too much of the original I have tried to capture a flavour of what he discovers with regards to how Google grew out of DARPA and TIA:

“According to DARPA official Ted Senator, who led the EELD [Evidence Extraction and Link Detection] program for the agency’s short-lived Information Awareness Office, EELD was among a range of “promising techniques” being prepared for integration “into the prototype TIA system.” TIA stood for Total Information Awareness, and was the main global electronic eavesdropping and data-mining program deployed by the Bush administration after 9/11. TIA had been set up by Iran-Contra conspirator Admiral John Poindexter, who was appointed in 2002 by Bush to lead DARPA’s new Information Awareness Office.”

*

Aside:

“[U]nder the TIA program, President Bush had secretly authorized the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans without court-approved warrants, in what appears to have been an illegal modification of the ThinThread data-mining project — as later exposed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake.” […]

“Core components of TIA were being “quietly continued” under “new code names,” according to Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, but had been concealed “behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.” The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPA’s jurisdiction to the NSA.” […]

“By 2008, as Facebook received its next funding round from Greylock Venture Capital, documents and whistleblower testimony confirmed that the NSA was effectively resurrecting the TIA project with a focus on Internet data-mining via comprehensive monitoring of e-mail, text messages, and Web browsing.”

*

TIA was purportedly shut down in 2003 due to public opposition after the program was exposed in the media, but the following year Poindexter participated in a Pentagon Highlands Group session in Singapore, alongside defense and security officials from around the world. Meanwhile, Ted Senator continued to manage the EELD program among other data-mining and analysis projects at DARPA until 2006, when he left to become a vice president at SAIC [Science Applications International Corporation, a US defence firm and “the forum’s partner organization”] which changed its name to Leidos in 2013. He is now a SAIC/Leidos technical fellow.

*

Aside:

According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the first to disclose the vast extent of the privatization of US intelligence with his seminal book Spies for Hire, SAIC has a “symbiotic relationship with the NSA: the agency is the company’s largest single customer and SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.”

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Long before the appearance of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stanford University’s computer science department had a close working relationship with US military intelligence. […]

From the 1970s, Prof. Feigenbaum and his colleagues had been running Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project under contract with DARPA, continuing through to the 1990s. Feigenbaum alone had received around over $7 million in this period for his work from DARPA, along with other funding from the NSF, NASA, and ONR.

Brin’s supervisor at Stanford, Prof. Jeffrey Ullman, was in 1996 part of a joint funding project of DARPA’s Intelligent Integration of Information program. That year, Ullman co-chaired DARPA-sponsored meetings on data exchange between multiple systems.

In September 1998, the same month that Sergey Brin briefed US intelligence representatives Steinheiser and Thuraisingham, tech entrepreneurs Andreas Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton invested $100,000 each in Google. Both investors were connected to DARPA. […]

After Google’s incorporation, the company received $25 million in equity funding in 1999 led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Homeland Security Today, “A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection.” Similarly, Kleiner Perkins had developed “a close relationship” with In-Q-Tel, the CIA venture capitalist firm that funds start-ups “to advance ‘priority’ technologies of value” to the intelligence community. […]

In 2003, Google began customizing its search engine under special contract with the CIA for its Intelink Management Office, “overseeing top-secret, secret and sensitive but unclassified intranets for CIA and other IC agencies,” according to Homeland Security Today. […]

Google’s relationship with US intelligence was further brought to light when an IT contractor told a closed Washington DC conference of intelligence professionals on a not-for-attribution basis that at least one US intelligence agency was working to “leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring” capability as part of an effort to acquire data of “national security intelligence interest.” […]

In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests. 6

Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article entitled “How the CIA made Google”.

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1 From an article entitled “Evidence of Google blacklisting of left and progressive sites continues to mount” written by Andre Damon, published in World Socialist Web Site on August 8, 2017. http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/08/08/goog-a08.html

2 http://fortune.com/fortune500/alphabet/

3              From an article entitled “NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others” written by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on June 7, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data

4 From an article entitled “The great Google gathering: The search engine is taking its quest for knowledge offline at a secluded British hotel” written by Adam Sherwin, published in The Independent on May 22, 2012. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/online/the-great-google-gathering-7771352.html

5 From an article entitled “Could the UK Government Shut Down the Web?” published in The Independent on March 8, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/could-the-uk-government-shut-down-the-web-2235116.html

6 From an article entitled “How the CIA made Google” written by Nafeez Ahmed, published by Insurge Intelligence on January 22, 2015. https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/how-the-cia-made-google-e836451a959e

4 Comments

Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, internet freedom

apartheid Israel — Abby Martin on the ground inside the West Bank

“You do not see human beings in front of you. Do not believe their sorrow, do not believe their smiles, do not believe their feelings. They’re subhuman.”Eran Efrati, a former sergeant in the Israeli military.

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Investigative reporter Abby Martin recently completed an in-depth and highly commendable six-part series of 30 minute documentaries for TeleSUR based around interviews with people living and working in the Palestinian occupied territories, and from her own experiences on the ground. Each of the episodes is embedded below according to the original sequence of broadcasts and including the first which provides historical context for what follows.

As Eran Efrati says in the penultimate episode – an extended interview [from 25:00 mins]:

“What a lot of people like to describe as the most complicated political situation of our time is probably the most simple… It’s a situation about equality.”

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Nakba: the catastrophe

Between December 1947 and January 1949, some 600 villages were entirely flattened and larger cities devastated as thousands of Arabs were massacred and more than 700,000 fled or were expelled from their homes. This frenzy of ethnic cleansing made way for a new wave of European settlers and caused Palestine to be broken up into three parts.

The Empire Files begins its series of reports by looking back on the bloody history of Zionist colonisation, beginning with expansion and the steady expulsion of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants under British rule – a land grab that quickened in the immediate aftermath of the post-war reign of terror known to Palestinians as Nakba or “the catastrophe”:

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Refugees in their own land

Today nearly 70% of all Palestinians are refugees. Millions of displaced Palestinians are scattered around the world, yet hundreds of thousands remain in their own country, and many of those now crowded inside refugee camps were ethnically cleansed from villages only a few miles away. Of these, more than a million are imprisoned inside the walled-off and blockaded Gaza Strip.

In the first of her on-the-ground reports from Palestine, Martin speaks with those trapped inside two of the most besieged refugee camps in the West Bank, Balata (the largest, where 30,000 people are crammed inside 0.25 square km)* and Aida (nearby Bethlehem with 5,500 people inside 0.1 square km):

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Annexation one settlement at a time

There are absolutely no legal Israeli settlements in the West Bank under international law. Israel, however, takes a different view. Once in a while a caravan arrives on a hilltop adjacent to a large existing settlement. Shortly, a few more settlers arrive there. Soon afterwards, this ‘pirate outpost’ is afforded protection with a military camp and electricity and water are also connected via the main settlement. Access roads are laid, ancient olive groves are cut down, and gradually another slice of the Palestinian land is stolen away as this new settlement is declared ‘legal’. Thus, little by little the Palestinians are evicted and penned behind fences, as their homeland is eaten into and annexed by stealth:

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A tale of two cities – both under enemy occupation

Like Berlin under Soviet rule, Hebron is a divided city. One area is designated H1 and the other H2. To cross from one sector to the other involves security checks where residents must pass through turnstiles but only once their papers are thoroughly checked. For Palestinians this often means delays of hours to get to work or school. So the Palestinian residents are abandoning H2 in droves, forced out by the daily harassment of Israeli forces and the illegal settlers alike. Indeed, to ensure this ethnic cleansing goes on, Palestinian are routinely humiliated, verbally abused, physically attacked and even gunned down on a regular basis because no action is taken by the Israeli authorities. Many acts of extremist terrorism are committed in the name of Zionism but never reported upon or debated in our corporate news:

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“I was the terrorist” – confessions of an Israeli veteran

Eran Efrati was a sergeant in the Israeli military, but has since become an outspoken critic of the occupation of Palestine and Israeli apartheid. In this extended interview he gives testimony on how Israeli war crimes are institutionalised, and how the oppression of the Palestinians is simply a war of conquest that will doubtless be accelerated under the Trump Administration:

Asked to explain more specifically how the culture within the Israeli military fosters anti-Arab racism, Efrati replies [from 17:40 mins]:

I think the system, you know, is not only inside the military. It’s like I said before: that’s actually what being an Israeli means. Being an Israeli, growing up in the Israeli educational departments, you understand that all the Arabs hate you. That they are actually in a way the continuation of the biblical Amalek or Hitler. You know that everybody there wants to throw you into the sea. This is what you’re growing up with and you really believe in that.

I mean going into the military, you already go in so full of hate and fear that at the same time you don’t need much to be very aggressive, violent and racist towards Palestinians. They see the Palestinian women and the Palestinian men as subhuman. The occupied territories are like an [exclave] where those human beings are considered to be not human beings.

This is a process that you start at a very early age, being enforced inside your boot camp, and later on when you’re going into your service… you do not see human beings in front of you. Do not believe their sorrow, do not believe their smiles, do not believe their feelings. They’re subhuman.

Abby Martin interjects: “But they look just like you – there are so many Arab Jews”

Efrati replies [from 19:10]:

I think the Arab Jews in Israel are probably the most tragic story in the entire story of Zionism after the Palestinians. And you know it’s obviously not being talked [about] enough obviously inside Israeli society… The Mizrahi Jews – the Arab Jews – that came around the years of ’50 and onwards into Israel (some came by choice, some came by force) but they didn’t come to a country that was theirs.

They came only about two years after Israel had already given out most of the land to the European people. And they [the Ashkenazi settlers from Europe] understood that they could not hold the territory alone [but] need more people on the ground to fight off Palestinians or Palestinian refugees if they will come back, and then they went off and brought most of the Arab Jews and put them in the most terrible places in Israel: on the borders, on the borders with Egypt or Jordan or Lebanon and Syria. We put them at buffer zones to protect us from Palestinians. […]

Many of them [the Arab Jews] in Iraq or Egypt had a good life (or in Morocco) and wanted to stay. They didn’t know what would be the destiny of this new country – it was very likely that there would be a lot of wars going on there. They felt protected in those countries and they said no. And the Zionist organisations sent other delegations into some of these countries… to terrorise those people [and] to force them to come into Israel. […]

After they came they were being sent into the most disgusting forms of settlement for the newcomers [who were] sprayed with DDT, with gas, to try to “clean them up” before they join with the Ashkenazi – the European kids – to play with them. They were separated and segregated for years – it was not their country and it is still not their country. And what they had to do to start to assimilate themselves inside this new country was to make sure that everybody understood they are not Arabs – they look like Arabs, they talk Arabic, but they are not Arab; they are Jewish. Because you can be an American Jew and you can be a European Jew, but you cannot be an Arab Jew in Israel.

They erased their identity and they started to form what we know today as the most extreme right in Israel. They are the extreme right because they have to solidify themselves as the most loyal citizens of the state.

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Silencing the screams from Palestine

Although Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is an internationally-recognized human rights crime, those who defiantly resist the occupation are harshly punished. “Taking part in political activity” has been criminalised along with most other forms of non-violent resistance including the publication of instances of oppression on social media platforms. Under the latest draconian measures, throwing stones is deemed “an act of terrorism” and punishable with up to twenty years in jail.

Moreover, with recourse to “administrative detention”, Palestinian suspects can be imprisoned without charge on the basis of secret information, and this can be renewed every six months indefinitely. Such arbitrary and indefinite detention may begin with up to 180 days of interrogation, for the first sixty of which the prisoner can be denied access to a lawyer. In fact, 40% of Palestinian men in the West Bank and Jerusalem have spent time in prison, with a conviction rate in the military courts of 99.7%.

Getting detailed facts about Israel’s imposition of martial law in the West Bank, Martin visits the Ramallah offices of Addameer — the most prominent prisoners’ rights organizations in Palestine — where she also hears about the shocking use of torture, and in particular psychological techniques against children, that provides yet another weapon for oppression.

Chronicling this history of resistance and repression from the First Intifada through the 2015 uprising, this final episode reveals the brutal lengths the Israeli occupation will go to silence any and all advocacy for freedom:

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Additional: Lies and distortion in the media coverage of Palestine

In an earlier broadcast [November 2015], Abby Martin looked at how the so-called “Israel-Palestine conflict” was deliberately misrepresented by the western corporate media during the last major crisis in the region. She covered the variety of tactics employed by the state of Israel to control the narrative from its Hasbara propaganda machine to the murder of journalists.

The episode features interviews with Dan Cohen, an investigative journalist who had recently returned from 7 months living and reporting in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and, Rania Khalek, a writer and editor with the Electronic Intifada:

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* In the programme the figures for the Balata refugee camp are given as 28,000 inhabitants packed inside an area 1km by 1km (i.e., one square km), however wikipedia currently puts the figure at 30,000 residents in an area of only 0.25 square km. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balata

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Filed under analysis & opinion, did you see?, Israel, Palestine, police state

as the empire strikes back in Venezuela, our news media does its bidding (again)

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:

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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, 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.

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Whenever the media fixates on street protests in far-flung corners of the world (especially regions that it ordinarily overlooks) it is advisable to be on your guard. Check the vocabulary and consider honestly whether the coverage betrays an unspoken allegiance of any kind. Ask the obvious question: is there a colour revolution taking place?

Consider, for instance, how comparable events at home would be described, or happening elsewhere in the western world, say on the streets of other allied powers, and if, for instance, ‘protesters’ began torching barricades or hurling Molotov cocktails at those police lines? At what point would levels of violence in Britain, Europe and America be condemned and police retaliation deemed proportionate and necessary? Now consider this:

A police helicopter launched grenades at Venezuela’s supreme court building on Tuesday evening following months of protests against the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro.

Maduro said “terrorists” had lobbed two grenades that failed to detonate. Some reports put the number of grenades higher. Local media suggested a former police intelligence officer had carried out the attack.

This is how Guardian journalist Virginia López decided to report an armed assault against Venezuela’s Interior Ministry and Supreme Court little more than a month ago on June 28th. So imagine for a moment if a similar attack were carried anywhere inside Europe, America, Canada, Australia, Israel, or even inside one of our despotic client Gulf States – would apostrophes be inserted around the word “terrorists” or Maduro’s reference to the incident as an “act of terrorism”? By any definition, the unlawful use of violence in the pursuit of political aims is an act of terrorism.

Shortly afterwards, video was released (embedded above) featuring former captain in the CICPC, Venezuela’s intelligence and investigative body, Oscar Pérez, the alleged pilot of the helicopter. Flanked by masked men with assault rifles, Pérez read out a statement: “We are nationalists, patriots, and institutionalists. This fight is not with the rest of the state forces, it is against the tyranny of this government”. Details are given in the Guardian piece and commented upon as follows:

Later, information minister Ernesto Villegas read a statement accusing the helicopter of firing 15 shots against the interior ministry as a reception was taking place for 80 people. It then flew a short distance to the government-stacked supreme court, which was in session, and launched what he said were four Israeli-made grenades of “Colombian origin”, two of them against national guardsmen protecting the building.

The president of the high court said there were no injuries from the attack and that the area was still being surveyed for damages. Villegas said security forces were being deployed to apprehend Pérez, who the government accused – without giving evidence – of working under the instructions of the CIA and the US embassy in Caracas, as well as to recover the helicopter.

Many of Maduro’s opponents accused the president on social media of orchestrating an elaborate ruse to justify a crackdown against Venezuelans seeking to block his plans to rewrite the constitution.2

Thus, official government accusations of CIA involvement are presented as “without evidence”, whereas opposition accusations on social media rumouring that Maduro was “orchestrating an elaborate ruse” go unchallenged. In this fashion, the Guardian is rather quick to divert attention from US meddling for which there is a great deal of historical precedence, and perfectly happy to accuse the Venezuelans of orchestrating a ‘false flag’ attack without any supporting evidence. In fact, in a follow up article later the same day, López writes:

But on Wednesday, speculation was growing that the incident may have been staged by a government eager to divert attention from three months of protests, fueled by mounting anger at the country’s chronic lack of basic foods and medicines.

Julio Borges, president of the opposition-led assembly, said that he and other opponents of Maduro were still analysing the events.

“It seems like a movie,” he said. “Some people say it is a set-up, some that it is real … but I summarize it like this: a government is decaying and rotting, while a nation is fighting for dignity,” he added.

It soon emerged that Perez had an active Instagram account with images of him posing in fatigues with a German shepherd dog, horse riding, and scuba diving while clutching a rifle. The account has since been deleted.

He also has an eclectic CV which included a starring role in a 2015 action movie called Suspended Death in which he played an investigator rescuing a kidnap victim.

Beneath the strapline “some speculate that Oscar Perez’s actions were an orchestrated distraction from the Maduro regime’s further consolidation of power”, the same piece continues:

But skeptics questioned how an aircraft was allowed to circle above such sensitive government buildings in a city where even drones are illegal.

No other members of the police or armed forces have joined or expressed support for Perez.

“If the incident of the helicopter is a hoax, it means the regime is desperate, and if it was a coup attempt and no one defended it, then it’s even worse,” said one Twitter user.

Adding:

And the attack came hours after one of the worst outbreaks of looting since protests erupted in April. For most of Monday night and Tuesday the city of Maracay – which is home to one of the country’s most important military bases – was wracked by a wave of unrest in which at least 64 shops were sacked. It is unclear why the National Guard was unable to contain the rioting.

Before finally concluding:

“Regardless of whether this was a hoax or an act by a lunatic, the impact is the same: it suggests that the government is entering a new stage and willing to escalate violence,” said Phil Gunson, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“It seems the government is trying to find the right level of repression that can put the ‘genie back in the bottle’.” 3

Apparently then – according to the Guardian as it quotes directly from Soros funded International Crisis Group 4– it doesn’t actually matter whether this attack with grenades against the government and the Supreme Court was a hoax or not because “the impact is the same”. Either way, Maduro and his ‘regime’ is to blame!

In February 2014, Abby Martin spoke on RT’s “Breaking the Set” with Eva Golinger, author of the “Chavez Code”, about the Western backed ‘resistance groups’ and how there is a coup already underway in Venezuela:

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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 a year ago. 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.5

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

Last November Al Jazeera invited Economist and former Venezuelan Planning Minister Ricardo Hausmann to debate with former Hugo Chavez adviser Temir Porras on “UpFront”:

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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 and recent article entitled “Venezuela Regime Change Project Revealed” written by David William Pear and published on August 6th. 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. 6

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.

On May 11th political activist and analyst, Tariq Ali, discussed the worsening situation in Venezuela on TeleSUR:

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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 “Venezuela: police helicopter attacks supreme court with grenades” written by Virginia López, published in the Guardian on June 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/venezuela-supreme-court-grenade-police-helicopter

3 From an article entitled “Patriot, or government plant? Rumors fly over Venezuela helicopter attack” written by Virginia López, published in the Guardian on June 28, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/28/venezuela-helicopter-attack-oscar-perez-rumors

4 Board Members of ICG include Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wesley Clark and George Soros. Soros, Chairman of the Open Society Institute (listed in the donors below), also sits on the ICG Executive Committee.

Foundation and private sector donors include The Atlantic Philanthropies; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Ford Foundation; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Flora Hewlett Foundation; Henry Luce Foundation; John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; John Merck Fund; Charles Stewart Mott Foundation; Open Society Institute; Ploughshares Fund; Sigrid Rausing Trust; Sasakawa Peace Foundation; Sarlo Foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund; United States Institute of Peace; and Fundacão Oriente.

From Sourcewatchhttp://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/International_Crisis_Group#Foundation_and_private_sector_donors_include

5 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/

6 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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Filed under analysis & opinion, did you see?, Venezuela

taking stock of Corbyn’s heroic election campaign — what’s the opposite to a Pyrrhic victory?

A screenshot of the wikipedia page on ‘moral victory’

The image above is a screenshot of the wikipedia entry for “moral victory” as it appears at present. As you can see, presented as examples of “the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory” it lists just three: The Alamo, the Battle of Thermopylae and the United Kingdom 2017 General Election!

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the #ToriesOut post-election rally organised by the People’s Assembly:

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Before reading on, I encourage readers to reflect on a short but detailed article by independent journalist Jonathan Cook entitled “The facts proving Corbyn’s election triumph” in which he scrutinises Corbyn’s results compared with those of his predecessors. Based on the evidence, he writes:

He won many more votes than Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, who were among those that, sometimes noisily, opposed his leadership of the party. They lost their elections. […]

In short, Corbyn has proved himself the most popular Labour leader with the electorate in more than 40 years, apart from Blair’s landslide victory in 1997.

And concludes:

Here is a graph that offers another measure of the extent of Corbyn’s achievement last night.

It shows that he has just won the largest increase in the share of the Labour vote over the party’s previous general election performance since Clement Attlee in 1945. In short, he’s turned around the electoral fortunes of the Labour party more than any other party leader in 70 years.

And unlike Blair, he’s done it without making back-room deals with big business to eviscerate his party’s economic and social programmes.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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A tale of two leaders

When May called the snap General Election on April 18th, she and her Conservative Party were riding high in the polls with a twenty point lead. In office for just nine months, she had been hastily crowned Prime Minister after Cameron fell on his sword in the wake of his own humiliating EU referendum defeat, but quite wisely afterwards had kept a mostly low profile. In this way, and with her oft-repeated pledge to honour the pro-Brexit result, May cultivated the appearance of reliability and toughness – she was Thatcher 2.0 but with a more daring wardrobe.

“Brexit means Brexit” is almost as nebulous as it is defiant, but the Tory’s tiresome mantra was also serving May’s purposes well. Her image as a “bloody difficult woman” given an extra boost thanks to Jean-Claude Junker’s odd cameo at Downing Street right on cue as the campaign got underway: their reportedly “frosty dinner” doing little to dent the popular belief that May was a safe pair of hands.

In short, the Tories were bound to win last month’s General Election and everyone was simply waiting to find out how historic their historic landslide would finally be. Indeed, given the dire circumstances, some on the left openly expressed the opinion that Corbyn ought to have blocked her opportunistic move by rallying support against the Commons’ vote, even if this meant giving the Tories a free pass until 2020. (The horns of Corbyn’s dilemma clearly point to inherent shortcomings in our new Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – five-year terms that are prescheduled up until the moment any government decrees otherwise.)

On the other hand, May’s call for a needless election did open up a small chink in her otherwise shining armour. For having repeatedly assured the nation she would do no such thing, this act was literally the only moment she’d dropped her guard since becoming PM.

Her campaign underway, May now resolved to basically disappear from sight. Shirking the TV debates, placing unprecedented restraints on press access, and avoiding all but the most fleeting encounters with the hoi polloi, her strategy was one of total control. Although this quiet contempt for democracy was not going to pass unnoticed.

By contrast, the Labour Party was forced into the campaign when already in complete disarray. Seldom mentioned, the polls had in fact narrowed considerably twelve months earlier during the run up to the referendum vote, and also immediately after Cameron’s defeat (see above), yet the Blairites wasted no time undermining Corbyn on the grounds of his lacklustre performance stumping for the “remain” campaign. Since it suited their purpose, they simply ignored what the polls were actually telling them, and seized on this flimsiest of excuses to stir the pot a whole lot more in the hope of finally deposing the leadership.

Former leader Neil Kinnock was perhaps first up, delivering what the Guardian soon afterwards reported as “a remarkable speech” to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

(Strictly in private) Kinnock said this:

I quote one person, just one, out of hundreds in Cardiff three weeks ago. Well, he complained about Jeremy and I said, ‘Honestly, his heart’s in the right place, he wants to help people, he wants to help people like you.’ He’s a working-class guy, a fitter on what remains of the docks. And he said: ‘I know he’s saying it, because he thinks we’re easy. We’re not bloody easy. We’re not listening, especially since he’s weird.’

Now that is unfortunate. But you know. Everybody in this room knows, canvassing in the Welsh elections, in the Scottish elections, in the local elections, in the referendum – you know that is what you’re getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader.

Reprinted in full, Kinnock’s “remarkable speech” is really just a tub-thumping (quite literally) rant. But then Kinnock didn’t need to try too hard because he was preaching to the converted, one of whom evidently saw fit to leak the recording of this beer hall putsch to the press:

PLP meetings are private, but Kinnock’s speech was recorded by someone in the room and it was passed to Ben Ferguson, a freelance filmmaker who recently made a fly-on-the-wall documentary about Corbyn for Vice News 1

Neil Kinnock is famously unelectable, of course, so I suppose we ought to marvel at the sheer brass neck of the man. His “we’re all right” Sheffield debacle was the single most excruciating misjudgement made by any Labour leader since Jim Callaghan’s “Waiting at the Church” moment of hubris.

However, Lord Kinnock has certainly done all right – at least for himself – since those formative hiccoughs: appointed to the European Commission in 1995, then rapidly promoted to Vice-President in 1999, and awarded a life peerage in 2005. Wife Glenys ploughed a similar furrow, becoming an MEP in 1994 and receiving her own life peerage in 2009, whilst son, Stephen, a current Labour MP and another uninhibited Corbyn critic, is married to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a former MEP herself before becoming Danish PM. The Kinnocks have built a tidy little empire for themselves.

Although a year ago, the self-serving Kinnocks took time off from feathering their own nests to help spearhead the growing PLP demands for Corbyn’s resignation. Popularity within the rank and file of the membership (who have twice elected Corbyn leader of course) must not be put ahead of party unity, “electability” and that kind of thing – to paraphrase his Lordship, this time speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC:

Meanwhile, in light of the PLP’s motion of no confidence in Corbyn (more below), son Stephen penned the following rationalisation for the relentless backstabbing and published it as an opinion piece also in the Guardian:

The referendum campaign was a sorry affair and it’s clear that it was not the Labour party’s finest hour. Every pro-Remain member will be feeling the same deep sense of disappointment and regret that I am feeling this weekend, as we have failed, collectively, to save the UK from a reckless leap into the unknown, and we fear it is the people we came into politics to represent who will be hurt first and worst.

Looking back, it’s clear that once the Scottish, Welsh and local elections were out of the way on 6 May [2016], then we should have treated the period through to 23 June as if it were the short campaign period leading up to a general election. Judged against that benchmark, it is equally clear that our leader fought a lacklustre and half-hearted campaign. He spoke at a total of 10 rallies between 6 May and polling day, whereas the party leader would normally expect to achieve that level of activity in a week, when in full campaigning mode.

We must, therefore, have a full and frank discussion when the parliamentary Labour party meets on Monday, to look at what went wrong, and what we should learn. Our leader must be held accountable for the failure of the “Labour In For Britain” campaign, as must we all.

Following which, Kinnock Jr. takes aim at Corbyn’s purported lack of skill as a future Brexit negotiator, which is curious given that no members of the opposition have ever been invited to the talks:

There is no doubt that Jeremy is a great campaigner, but this is not a time for campaigners. This is a time for hard-headed negotiators. And it is also a time for people who have more than a passing knowledge of, and interest in, the EU. […]

We may have no say over who the Tories send to the negotiating table, but we do have a say about who Labour sends. Jeremy Corbyn is a seasoned and highly effective campaigner, and he was elected to lead our party on the basis of a thumping mandate. But that was then and this is now.

Now should not be about the past. The British people have spoken, the decision is made, and we must look forward. British politics is going to be dominated by these Brexit negotiations for the foreseeable future. It is vital that Labour has a seat at the top table, and critical that we have a leader who has the right experience and skills for the task at hand.

And it is for that reason that I am supporting this motion of no confidence. 2

Titled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator”, Kinnock might have borrowed ammunition for his snide hit piece directly from the arsenals of Tory HQ. He’s just not “strong and stable enough”… a claim that belies the truth if we listen to the judgement instead of Conservative MP and current Brexit Secretary David Davis. Together with Corbyn, Davis had negotiated the release of the last British prisoner, Shaker Aamer, from Guantánamo, and shortly after Corbyn was voted party leader, Davis was interviewed on Sky News. This is what he said:

“I think that the odds of our winning the next election after yesterday are higher, but I don’t think it’s an open and shut case by any means. I think complacency would be absolutely the daftest thing to go in for now…

You’ve just had Frank Field on, talking about how Jeremy in other circumstances is able to work with other people… he is very polite, very courteous, listens to arguments. So we want to be a bit careful. We certainly don’t want to go in for ad hominem attacks – that would be a disaster.”

But the Tory attacks could wait. During the notorious post-referendum ‘chicken coup’, no less than 44 frontbench Labour MPs resigned their positions in as many hours.3 Alongside Stephen Kinnock, leading lights of this suicidal insurrection included Deputy Leader Tom Watson, Angela Eagle, about-to-be leadership challenger Owen Smith, and then-Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn – reluctantly sacked by Corbyn before he had chance to resign. Each of the above publicly declared their loss of confidence in the leadership: a transparently lame excuse given how the self-same “rebels” had shown no loyalty whatsoever during any earlier stage of Corbyn’s brief tenure.

When the PLP balloted for a vote of no confidence a few hours later, it was passed by a truly astounding 172–40: but it remained a vote which as Corbyn correctly asserted had “no constitutional legitimacy”. Nevertheless, the stage was set, and for the next three months the party tore into itself as it entered the throes of a hugely divisive and unwarranted leadership election.

Inevitably, this infighting took its toll. Labour support tumbled in the polls, as did support for Corbyn’s leadership. Unsurprisingly, salt was liberally rubbed into these same gaping and self-inflicted wounds by both the Tories and the media alike, who cultivated the opinion already expressed by 80% of Labour MPs, that Corbyn – freshly re-elected as party leader – was in fact “unelectable”.

Ken Loach interviewed on BBC Radio 5 shortly after the General Election: “Just think, if the MPs had been arguing for those policies for two years, if they hadn’t been feeding stories to the press, if you hadn’t had Peter Mandelson being quoted saying ‘I get up every morning to undermine him,’ and interviewed on that agenda on a number of occasions. Just think if he’d had that support – I think he would have won.”

Click here to watch a montage put together by Channel 4 News featuring senior Labour MPs (including Stephen Kinnock again) who publicly excoriated Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Update:

For some reason the interview featuring Ken Loach has been taken down, so here’s an earlier one broadcast on BBC news:

*

Even with the general election campaign underway, prominent Blairites and faux progressive commentators continued to put the knife into Corbyn. On May 5th, on the back of disappointing local and mayoral election results, Jonathan Freedland wrote this:

What more evidence do they need? What more proof do the Labour leadership and its supporters require? This was not an opinion poll. This was not a judgment delivered by the hated mainstream media. This was the verdict of the electorate, expressed through the ballot box, and it could scarcely have been clearer – or more damning.

The headline figure is a projected national share of 27%, the worst recorded by an opposition since the BBC started making such calculations in 1981. The Tory lead of 11 percentage points is larger than the one Margaret Thatcher enjoyed as she headed into the elections of 1983 or 1987, when she won triple-figure landslides.

“Why has this happened?” barked a furious Freedland, answering to his own smug satisfaction:

The good news for Labour is that what I saw in the focus groups were people unimpressed by the Tories, desperate for an opposition and itching to vote Labour again if only Corbyn would get out of the way. It suggests a new leader could take the fight to Theresa May very rapidly. The bad news is that once people have broken a lifelong Labour habit – and shattered a taboo by voting Tory – they may never come back.

According to Freedland, it was just wrongheaded of “the Corbynistas” to try to blame disloyal MPs or, heaven forfend, the “metropolitan pundits who [they] can slam as red Tories” for what he described hyperbolically as “the disaster” and “this meltdown”:

Blaming others won’t do. Instead, how refreshing it would be, just this once, if Corbyn and McDonnell put their hands up and took even a small measure of responsibility for this calamitous result. 4

And a month on, after it transpires that news of the Labour Party meltdown was exaggerated, has Freedland eaten his words? Well, here’s what he wrote on June 10th:

[P]oliticians and pollsters alike did not see this coming. But nor did most pundits – including me. I opposed Jeremy Corbyn when he first stood for the Labour leadership in 2015, and thereafter, and I did so on two grounds. First, on principle: I was troubled by his foreign policy worldview, with its indulgence of assorted authoritarian regimes, and by what I perceived as his willingness to look past antisemitism on the left. But more immediate was an assessment of his basic electability. I wanted the Tories gone, and simply did not believe Labour could pose a serious electoral threat under Corbyn.

My principled objections have not faded, but Thursday’s results make clear that on the electability issue, I was wrong. 5

Freedland’s “principled objections” are in fact bogus (read earlier posts here and here) and his apology is long overdue. Surely the big question, however, is why anyone still takes the opinions of liberal gatekeepers like Freedland at all seriously. In the space of a month he had managed to eloquently flip-flop from “Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” to “Corbyn successfully framed voting Labour as the only way to say enough is enough” and “He’s rewritten the rules.” Hallelujah! (I suppose.)

So please allow me to briefly digress, because today’s media, so narcissistically in love with its own reflection, has become the very definition of an echo chamber: newspaper headlines are a mainstay of TV debate and what is broadcast on TV and radio then siphons back into the newspapers. Additionally, there is increasing reliance on so-called vox pops: phoney snapshots of public opinion, meticulously edited into tidy bundles of required thought. Cheap to produce, they maintain the delusion that media is representative of what people like you and me actually think. In reality, of course, ordinary Joes and Joannas are commandeered to provide off-beam refractions simply to bolster a prefabricated message: Obama is cool; May is serious; Trump is an idiot; and Corbyn is hopeless.

For months on end, the mention of Corbyn elicited titters from the commentariat alongside the required level of derision from the (assiduously selected) ‘man on the street’. Likewise, without fail, each week an audience member on the BBC Question Time would prime the panel with one of those tired old questions about his “unelectability” or the purported “lack of any effective opposition”. Thus, Corbyn was roasted on all sides: by media hacks and politicians from every camp, including nominally his own colleagues.

But then, with the election called, this changed. Legal requirements would ensure some better measure of balance in the debate. Thus, with the playing field abruptly if only partially levelled (our right-wing newspapers are free from such constraints), Corbyn got the chance he’d been waiting for: able at last to make the case for a fairer and more caring society and not to be instantly drowned out by the clamour of critics.

*

Project Fear

“Hope always wins over fear” – John McDonnell (post-election interview 6)

“I am a treat” my friend said as I pointed out the large black billboard ahead. His unconscious was momentarily getting the better of him and suggestively reworking the slogan to ensure it was functioning as ads generally do: as promotions for a product. But instead, this image, one I had walked past daily for almost a week, with its Big Sister portrait of May – former Home Secretary behind the Snooper’s Charter – sternly peering out like a stony-hearted headmistress, was issuing the country an exceedingly stark but fair warning.

Put together by anti-austerity campaign group the People’s Assembly, its message was bleak yet factual and accurate. It branded May a threat to our hospitals, our schools, our job security, our pensions and our peace and security. And who could deny any of it?

Sam Fairbairn, People’s Assembly National Secretary described the poster as a response to the Tories’ “manifesto of misery”, adding “she is a threat to everything we rely on from cradle to grave”:

“The crisis in the NHS was created by the Conservative government and they’re doing nothing to address it. She’s snatching free school lunches off infants while her plans to restructure our education system will leave schools without proper funding. University students are being strapped with lifelong debt.” 7

In fact this portent of doom had only recently replaced another. The face of Donald Trump and around it the words “Advertising works… look what it did for me”, but now with a toothbrush moustache inked above those all-too familiar pouting, foul-mouthed lips. Soon afterwards the same billboard had been further subverted when someone had the wherewithal to scrub over ‘advertising’ and substitute a far more appropriate four-lettered word: ‘HATE’ in block capitals. Yes, I mused philosophically, as I passed under it each day… hate does indeed ‘work’ in a political sense.

In our own election hate had mostly remained on the backburner. Instead, the campaign was framed about Brexit, and with emphasis not on immigration this time around. Instead it was supposedly all about leadership. About “strong and stable” government. The hate could wait…

The Sun has since issued a statement to the effect that this headline was not released immediately after the Manchester atrocity but shortly before it occurred. Evidently its editor did not, however, find the conscience to remove it or issue an apology for it remaining published online. Nor did The Sun and other press outlets refrain from issuing follow-up smears against Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbott in the wake of the London Bridge attacks. In fact, on the eve of the vote, The Sun ran with the absolutely disgusting headline “Jezza’s Jihadi Comrades” while the Daily Mail devoted no less than 13 pages to pillorying those same “Apologists for Terror”:

Did the hate work? Below is a screenshot of The Independent on the morning after the London Bridge attacks – the polls were again narrowing and rather rapidly:

Also take a close look at the graph above and see how the convergence between the Labour and Conservative polling slows directly after the Manchester atrocity on May 22nd. Given that campaigning was suspended this is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that in a state of shock and heightened anxiety, voters will tend to be more inclined to support an incumbent government or, still more, to turn toward the party most traditionally trusted on law and order. Yet the surge for Labour was only partially held back, and the pollsters were found wanting all over again – except for the exit poll, that is.

There was also the honourable exception of polling company Survation who had bravely forecast a hung parliament and were ridiculed for sticking to their guns…

*

The real unelectables

The night before the election, with the polls which had certainly tightened still remaining wildly divergent, I decided to check out the odds at the bookies, given how bookies obviously have a vested interest in getting their numbers right. And a Tory majority then remained odds on, with many punters betting on who might be the next Labour leader. Although May’s position had become shaky too, the smart money was very much backing an increased Tory majority with gains of up to a hundred seats. My heart sank, just as it did immediately upon hearing May’s election announcement. Like many Labour supporters, I was still braced for a trouncing.

Most polls are unreliable, but exit polls are different. They have a special legitimacy and have in some cases been applied as a standard of verification for elections across the world.

Two years ago the exit poll had been a shattering blow. In the weeks leading up to the vote the opinion polls consistently pointed to a hung parliament, whereas the exit poll had quite correctly forecast a Tory majority. On this occasion I was anticipating the worst. Given the unbridgeable six point gap (and an enormous spread of polls between 1% and 15%) combined with the traditional last minute shift in favour of the Conservatives (the shy Tories emerging from their closets), damage limitation was all any Labour supporter could conceivably wish for.

“And what we’re saying is, the Conservatives are the largest party”, David Dimbleby announced to the nation shortly after the polls closed at ten, continuing “but note they don’t have an overall majority at this stage…” soon afterwards conceding, “we’ll be hung, drawn and quartered” if our exit polls are wrong. Although defeated, Corbyn’s many supporters, myself included, were tasting something closer to victory:

Not only the Tories, but every other mainland political party were about to be humiliated in their own special way. Ukip were rather predictably annihilated. Yet to think how a mere four months earlier, so many pundits had been licking their lips at the prospect of leader Paul Nuttall stealing Stoke-on-Trent Central in a by-election, and running Labour and Corbyn out of town. Now Nuttall was ruined instead.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems whose entire campaign was devoted to their bizarre since unrealisable promise of an EU referendum rerun, gained a measly four seats to prop up the meagre eight they already held. Former leader Nick Clegg who had helped the Tories remain in power during the miserable days of the Con-Dem Coalition lost his seat just up the road from me in Sheffield Hallam; like many across the country, I cheered his just demise. A few hours later, hopeless leader Tim Farron did the honourable thing.

In my own constituency of Sheffield Central, former leader of the Greens, Natalie Bennett, came to contest what is a comparatively safe Labour seat, rather than more profitably fighting her corner in a Conservative marginal – so much for forming a “progressive alliance” against the government. Once again, justice was served and Bennett lost, finishing an embarrassing third behind the Tories, with incumbent Paul Blomfield swept back into parliament with a hugely increased majority now approaching 28,000.

North of the border, the political landscape was being even more dramatically reshaped. After the Brexit vote, the SNP had been calling for a new independence referendum – a replay of that “once in a lifetime decision” barely more than two years on. But this divisive move soon became an albatross, and as the SNP tried to backslide on their promises and downplay calls for Indyref2, the Scottish Conservatives no less opportunistically cranked up the pro-unionist rhetoric (a flavour of things to come). It proved a winning tactic with many disaffected Scottish voters.

Even so, not all the angry Scots were turning back to the Conservative and Unionist Party. Studiously under-reported in the media, a great many were evidently returning to Corbyn’s Labour too – Labour regaining six of the seats lost during their humiliating wipe-out in 2015. Either way, the outcome had been a disastrous one for the SNP, losing more than a third of their seats as the vote collapsed by over 13%. By the end of the night, the SNP’s leader in Westminster Angus Robertson lost his seat in Moray, and, most memorably, Scotland’s former First Minister and long-time talismanic party leader Alex Salmond was defeated in Banff & Buchan. More cheers! (I speak for myself obviously.)

Then we must come to the forlorn figure of Theresa May. Has any winner of any general election ever appeared so dejected? She would try to paint some gloss on it later, naturally enough, but there is simply no convincing way to disguise the fact that her anticipated triumph had crumbled to unmitigated disaster. Indeed, only one leader would be able to claim any sort of victory on the night: the “unelectable” Jeremy Corbyn. The rest of the field, slipping backwards in their different manners, were evidently just too electable by far! Astonishingly, May and her Conservative government were left clinging to power only by the tassels of an orange sash. 8

*

 ‘Theresa May and the Holy Grail’: having lost her majority, and with complicated Brexit negotiations and fields of wheat on her doorstep, Theresa May is determined to ‘get on with the job of government’ (and to seek the Holy Grail). Click here to watch the original upload at Australia’s ABC.

*

A moral victory

A week prior to the general election I had a dream and woke with a vision of Jeremy Corbyn walking into Downing Street as Prime Minister. The dream genuinely happened, but then dreams are rarely prognostic. Instead, the Tories clung on as the main party of government, which is the very best they can say for themselves. May’s re-election was the very epitome of a Pyrrhic victory.

Instead of the envisaged landslide, her government is suddenly in retreat, and clinging to power by its political fingertips, made all the grubbier by that desperate £1.5 billion deal with the political arm of Ulster’s loyalist paramilitaries. How long this weak and wobbly ‘coalition of chaos’ can hobble along together is anyone’s guess.

Regarding my dream again, it obviously owed much to my own psychological investment in the election. Like many thousands of others who had never before been actively involved in campaigning, for six weeks I was out and about leafleting, running street stalls, and door-to-door canvassing. I remain very much committed to the cause. Although the Tories won the battle, suddenly they are losing the war: Corbyn may yet walk into Downing Street…

More speculatively then, the dream seems to me prophetic in a truer sense of the word: that intuitively I was picking up on quite seismic upheavals that were very hard to comprehend, or even to register, during my various interactions on the doorstep. Thus, routinely faced with antipathy and aversion toward Corbyn’s leadership, a common reaction coming from many one-time Labour voters, it became easy to overlook the surge in Labour support from less expected quarters.

This groundswell, as we now know, involved more than just an increased turnout of first-time voters, since it mostly comprised disaffected Lib Dems, wavering Greens, and, more interestingly, some half of former Ukip supporters, plus thousands returning from the SNP, and most surprising of all, a significant proportion of affluent middle-class who are traditionally Conservative supporters. In short, my dream had detected a sea change taking place in our society; shifts in outlook that Corbyn and others in the Labour leadership were directly responding to.

Very skilfully, they had steered the whole debate away from Brexit (May’s original pretext for calling the election) and away from personality too (May’s team had embarked on a presidential-style campaign) by redirecting attention firmly back on to policy instead. In the manner of a musical maestro who responds to applause from his audience by holding up the score, Corbyn consistently drew the public gaze back to Labour’s bold and very thoughtfully composed manifesto: “For the many, not the few”. A manifesto launched not once but twice – funny that! Fully-costed, anti-austerity populism; this was certainly a masterstroke.

Corbyn and McDonnell survived the election against all the odds, and having thus achieved a result beyond common expectation, they have managed to reunite the party behind a commitment to democratic socialist policies. These policies have become Labour’s main strength again. So although Corbyn didn’t win the vote, the Labour manifesto actually did, and as a direct consequence, temporarily at least, it has produced a measureable shift leftwards in the mythical ‘centre ground’ of politics. Those of us determined to say “enough is enough” now have a place to turn and a leader they can get behind.

Jeremy Corbyn gives an impromptu but impassioned speech to the ‘Left Field’ fringe event at this year’s Glastonbury Festival:

*

Update:

The latest poll of polls (Friday 7th) now puts Labour eight points ahead of the Tories with a record high of 46%. Meanwhile in Scotland, the poll puts Labour ahead of the SNP by 36% to 31%:

*

1 From an article entitled “Secret recording of Kinnock’s anti-Corbyn speech to MPs – in full” written by Andrew Sparrow and Harrison Jones, published in the Guardian on July 8, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/08/secret-recording-neil-kinnock-jeremy-corbyn-step-down-speech-to-mps-in-full

2 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn is a great campaigner – but we need a hard-headed negotiator” written by Stephen Kinnock, published in the Guardian on June 25, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/jeremy-corbyn-leadership-challenge-no-confidence-motion

3

Remember those few days in June when Labour MPs couldn’t stop resigning? That long Sunday after the country had voted for Brexit, when every time you turned on the radio another shadow cabinet minister had stood down, calling for Jeremy Corbyn to do likewise? Or the next day, when the only thing you wanted to quit was the non-stop news, just for a few hours, but there was Angela Eagle in tears at her own resignation? Before June, the mass resignation of 44 frontbench politicians in as many hours, all citing a loss of confidence in their leader, would have led to said leader being turfed out of office. But we didn’t count on Corbyn.

From an article entitled “The fate of the MPs who plotted a coup against Corbyn” written by Jane Merrick, published in the Guardian on December 20, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/dec/20/mps-plotted-coup-jeremy-corbyn-coup-where-are-they-now

4 From an article entitled “No more excuses: Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on May 5, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/05/jeremy-corbyn-blame-meltdown-labour-leader

5 From an article entitled “Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win – but he has rewritten all the rules” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on June 10, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/10/jeremy-corbyn-general-election–labour-rewrites-rules

6 Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and financial journalist Paul Mason discuss the election result with the Artist Taxi Driver (viewer discretion advised):

7 From an article entitled “Theresa May branded a ‘threat’ to peace, hospitals and schools in nationwide billboard campaign” written by Dan Bloom, published in the Daily Mirror on May 22, 2017. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-branded-threat-peace-hospitals-10474044

8 Quip stolen from George Galloway.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain

Seymour Hersh conclusively debunks “Trump’s Red Line” – the gas attack was no such thing

Seymour Hersh is perhaps most highly respected investigative journalist alive today. He earned his reputation as the first to bring the world’s attention to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.

During the Syrian War, Hersh has twice investigated claims that Assad crossed chemical “red lines”, first in Ghouta in August 2013, and more recently in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun last April. The evidence he has uncovered disproves the official narrative of both incidents. Faced with such inconvenient truth, however, the mainstream media simply ignores him.

Here are extracts from his latest piece on the alleged sarin atrocity at Khan Sheikhoun, although I very much encourage all readers to follow the links to read the full article published in yesterday’s Sunday edition of Die Welt:

Within hours of the April 4 bombing [and alleged chemical attack], the world’s media was saturated with photographs and videos from Khan Sheikhoun. Pictures of dead and dying victims, allegedly suffering from the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning, were uploaded to social media by local activists, including the White Helmets, a first responder group known for its close association with the Syrian opposition.

The provenance of the photos was not clear and no international observers have yet inspected the site, but the immediate popular assumption worldwide was that this was a deliberate use of the nerve agent sarin, authorized by President Bashar Assad of Syria. Trump endorsed that assumption by issuing a statement within hours of the attack, describing Assad’s “heinous actions” as being a consequence of the Obama administration’s “weakness and irresolution” in addressing what he said was Syria’s past use of chemical weapons. […]

Hersh says that his sources provided him with evidence “in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4”. These were part of “an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction [in which] U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter”:

Russian and Syrian Air Force officers gave details of the carefully planned flight path to and from Khan Shiekhoun on April 4 directly, in English, to the deconfliction monitors aboard the AWACS plane, which was on patrol near the Turkish border, 60 miles or more to the north.

The Syrian target at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Americans at Doha, was depicted as a two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town. Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The two groups had recently joined forces, and controlled the town and surrounding area. […]

The meeting place – a regional headquarters – was on the floor above. “It was an established meeting place,” the senior adviser said. “A long-time facility that would have had security, weapons, communications, files and a map center.” The Russians were intent on confirming their intelligence and deployed a drone for days above the site to monitor communications and develop what is known in the intelligence community as a POL – a pattern of life. The goal was to take note of those going in and out of the building, and to track weapons being moved back and forth, including rockets and ammunition. […]

The Russians gave the Syrian Air Force a guided bomb and that was a rarity. They’re skimpy with their guided bombs and rarely share them with the Syrian Air Force. And the Syrians assigned their best pilot to the mission, with the best wingman.” The advance intelligence on the target, as supplied by the Russians, was given the highest possible score inside the American community.

Seymour Hersh was also able to speak at length with a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and the CIA:

“This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale. If so, everyone involved in transferring, loading and arming the weapon – you’ve got to make it appear like a regular 500-pound conventional bomb – would be wearing Hazmat protective clothing in case of a leak. There would be very little chance of survival without such gear. Military grade sarin includes additives designed to increase toxicity and lethality. Every batch that comes out is maximized for death. That is why it is made. It is odorless and invisible and death can come within a minute. No cloud. Why produce a weapon that people can run away from?”

The target was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before midnight in Washington. A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered  a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground. According to intelligence estimates, the senior adviser said, the strike itself killed up to four jihadist leaders, and an unknown number of drivers and security aides. […]

Within hours of viewing the photos, the adviser said, Trump instructed the national defense apparatus to plan for retaliation against Syria. “He did this before he talked to anybody about it. The planners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evidence that Syria had sarin stored at a nearby airport or somewhere in the area. Their military had to have it somewhere in the area in order to bomb with it.” “The answer was, ‘We have no evidence that Syria had sarin or used it,’” the adviser said. “The CIA also told them that there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian SU-24 bombers had taken off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.” Everyone involved, except perhaps the president, also understood that a highly skilled United Nations team had spent more than a year in the aftermath of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syria, removing what was said to be all chemical weapons from a dozen Syrian chemical weapons depots.

At this point, the adviser said, the president’s national security planners were more than a little rattled: “No one knew the provenance of the photographs. We didn’t know who the children were or how they got hurt. Sarin actually is very easy to detect because it penetrates paint, and all one would have to do is get a paint sample. We knew there was a cloud and we knew it hurt people. But you cannot jump from there to certainty that Assad had hidden sarin from the UN because he wanted to use it in Khan Sheikhoun.” The intelligence made clear that a Syrian Air Force SU-24 fighter bomber had used a conventional weapon to hit its target: There had been no chemical warhead.

Regarding the potential fallout of Trump’s knee-jerk response, these are Hersh’s closing remarks:

The crisis slid into the background by the end of April, as Russia, Syria and the United States remained focused on annihilating ISIS and the militias of al-Qaida. Some of those who had worked through the crisis, however, were left with lingering concerns. “The Salafists and jihadists got everything they wanted out of their hyped-up Syrian nerve gas ploy,” the senior adviser to the U.S. intelligence community told me, referring to the flare up of tensions between Syria, Russia and America. “The issue is, what if there’s another false flag sarin attack credited to hated Syria? Trump has upped the ante and painted himself into a corner with his decision to bomb. And do not think these guys are not planning the next faked attack. Trump will have no choice but to bomb again, and harder. He’s incapable of saying he made a mistake.”

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full article entitled “Trump’s Red Line”.

And here to read an earlier post on the Khan Sheikhoun chemical incident entitled “illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations”, published April 10th.

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Update:

If you wish to understand the degree to which a supposedly free western media are constructing a world of half-truths and deceptions to manipulate their audiences, keeping us uninformed and pliant, then there could hardly be a better case study than their treatment of Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

All of these highly competitive, for-profit, scoop-seeking media outlets separately took identical decisions: first to reject Hersh’s latest investigative report, and then to studiously ignore it once it was published in Germany last Sunday. They have continued to maintain an absolute radio silence on his revelations, even as over the past few days they have given a great deal of attention to two stories on the very issue Hersh’s investigation addresses.

writes independent reporter and investigative journalist Jonathan Cook, who continues:

His story has spawned two clear “spoiler” responses from those desperate to uphold the official narrative. Hersh’s revelations may have been entirely uninteresting to the western media, but strangely they have sent Washington into crisis mode. Of course, no US official has addressed Hersh’s investigation directly, which might have drawn attention to it and forced western media to reference it. Instead Washington has sought to deflect attention from Hersh’s alternative narrative and shore up the official one through misdirection. That alone should raise the alarm that we are being manipulated, not informed.

The first of the “spoilers” was reported in the Guardian last Wednesday [June 28th ] as follows:

The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would “pay a heavy price” for further use of the weapons. […]

The unusual public warning on Monday night appeared to be intended to deter the regime from repeating its use of chemical weapons against rebel-held cities and towns.

It may also have been aimed at the regime’s backers in Moscow and Tehran, who have resolutely backed Assad and denied the regime’s responsibility for chemical weapons use.

Click here to read the full report written by Julian Borger.

The second involves a rehash of earlier claims made by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which was reported by BBC news on Friday [June 30th] as follows:

The fact-finding mission for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is based in The Hague, concluded that, after interviewing witnesses and examining samples, “a large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance”. […]

The new report has been circulated among OPCW members but has not been made public.

A joint UN and OPCW investigation will now investigate who was to blame for the attack.

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Jonathan Cook reminds us:

There are obvious reasons to be mightily suspicious of these stories. The findings of the OPCW were already known and had been discussed for some time – there was absolutely nothing newsworthy about them.

There are also well-known problems with the findings. There was no “chain of custody” – neutral oversight – of the bodies that were presented to the organisation in Turkey, as Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector in Iraq, has noted. Any number of interested parties could have contaminated the bodies before they reached the OPCW. For that reason, the OPCW has not concluded that the Assad regime was responsible for the traces of sarin. In the world of real news, only such a finding – that Assad was responsible – should have made the OPCW report interesting again to the media.

As Cook correctly concludes:

[B]y going public with their threats against Assad, the Pentagon and White House did not increase the deterrence on Assad, making it less likely he would use gas in the future. That could have been achieved much more effectively with private warnings to the Russians, who have massive leverage over Assad. These new warnings were meant not for Assad but for western publics, to bolster the official narrative that Hersh’s investigation had thrown into doubt.

In fact, the US threats increase, rather than reduce, the chances of a new chemical weapons attack. Other, anti-Assad actors now have a strong incentive to use chemical weapons in false-flag operation to implicate Assad, knowing that the US has committed itself to intervention. On any reading, the US statements were reckless – or malicious – in the extreme and likely to bring about the exact opposite of what they were supposed to achieve.

In light of the White House statement, Caleb Maupin of RT asked spokesperson for the US State Department, Heather Nauert: “Are you concerned that that could have created an opening for the terrorist groups to carry out a chemical attack… [adding] you’re not concerned even though al-Nusra, al-Qaeda groups have been using chemical weapons in Syria – that’s documented”. But Nauert prefers to answer her own question:

But beyond this, there was something even more troubling about these two stories. That these official claims were published so unthinkingly in major outlets is bad enough. But what is unconscionable is the media’s continuing blackout of Hersh’s investigation when it speaks directly to the two latest news reports.

No serious journalist could write up either story, according to any accepted norms of journalistic practice, and not make reference to Hersh’s claims. They are absolutely relevant to these stories. In fact, more than that, the intelligence sources he cites are are not only relevant but are the reason these two stories have been suddenly propelled to the top of the news agenda.

Any publication that has covered either the White House-Pentagon threats or the rehashing of the OPCW report and has not mentioned Hersh’s revelations is writing nothing less than propaganda in service of a western foreign policy agenda trying to bring about the illegal overthrow the Syrian government. And so far that appears to include every single US and UK mainstream newspaper and TV station.

Click here to read the full article entitled “After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria”.

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As a side note, I must draw attention to the seldom mentioned fact that Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), attended the Bilderberg conference in Telfs-Buchen, Austria as recently as June 2015. There is a clear conflict of interests when the head of an independent intergovernmental organisation for disarmament ‘privately’ attends a meeting which includes Nato top brass as well as the heads of major arms manufacturers. It raises serious questions over the impartiality of the OPCW.

You can also read full attendance list here.

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Caleb Maupin: I mean they could carry out a terrorist attack and then the White House saying, ‘oh Assad was going to do it’, that would create a cover for them to do such a thing.

Heather Nauert: Do I have to do this again? We know that Assad has used chemicals weapons on his own people, and he’s done that repeatedly, including women and children, and we have all seen the video and there is no debate about that.

CM: Didn’t Assad give up his chemical weapons in 2013?

HN: No.

CM: Are you saying that al-Qaeda has not used chemical weapons?

HN: I’m not going to get into this conversation with you about this – you want to have a debate, okay, about a hypothetical… and I’m not going to get into a debate about a hypothetical.

CM: Since you’ve announced that then they could carry out an attack and make it look like the [Syrian] government did it. Isn’t that a real possibility?

HN: If you want to try to make excuses for the Assad regime, go right ahead.

CM: I’m not talking about the Assad, I’m talking about terrorist groups – I’m talking about al-Qaeda.

HN: I’m not going to spend all our folks’ time having that conversation. We all know here in the room that Bashar al-Assad is responsible for chemical attacks on his own people, including women and children. We are not going to debate it beyond that. Al-Qaeda are horrible too but what we’re talking about right now is Assad and Syria. Next question…

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John Pilger asks what the PM knew in the lead up to the Manchester atrocity

Prologue:

1. Suppression of ‘sensitive’ government report

An investigation into the foreign funding of extremist Islamist groups may never be published, the Home Office has admitted.

The inquiry commissioned by David Cameron, was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in December 2015, in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Isis into Syria.

But although it was due to be published in the spring of 2016, it has not been completed and may never be made public due to its “sensitive” contents.[…]

It comes after Home Secretary Amber Rudd suggested during a leadership debate, that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are good for industry.

The Government has recently approved £3.5bn worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia and a stream of British ministers have visited the kingdom to solicit trade, despite its ongoing involvement in the bombing campaign in Yemen.

Click here to read the full article published by The Independent entitled “Home Office may not publish terrorist funding report amid claims it focuses on Saudi Arabia” on June 1st.

And here to read more in a related article published by the Guardian.

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2. Nicholas Wilson tries to speak about arms sales to Saudi Arabia

At a hustings in Rye on 3 June, where I am standing as an independent anti-corruption parliamentary candidate, a question was asked about law & order. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in answering it referred to the Manchester terrorist attack. I took up the theme and referred to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia & HSBC business there. She spoke to and handed a note to the chairman who removed the mic from me.

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The following are extended extracts drawn from the opening and closing sections of an article published on June 1st by investigative journalist John Pilger – I very much encourage readers to follow links to the full article.

Pilger begins:

The unsayable in Britain’s general election campaign is this. The causes of the Manchester atrocity, in which 22 mostly young people were murdered by a jihadist, are being suppressed to protect the secrets of British foreign policy.

Critical questions – such as why the security service MI5 maintained terrorist “assets” in Manchester and why the government did not warn the public of the threat in their midst – remain unanswered, deflected by the promise of an internal “review”.

The alleged suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was part of an extremist group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, that thrived in Manchester and was cultivated and used by MI5 for more than 20 years.

The LIFG is proscribed by Britain as a terrorist organisation which seeks a “hardline Islamic state” in Libya and “is part of the wider global Islamist extremist movement, as inspired by al-Qaida”.

The “smoking gun” is that when Theresa May was Home Secretary, LIFG jihadists were allowed to travel unhindered across Europe and encouraged to engage in “battle”: first to remove Mu’ammar Gadaffi in Libya, then to join al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria.

Last year, the FBI reportedly placed Abedi on a “terrorist watch list” and warned MI5 that his group was looking for a “political target” in Britain. Why wasn’t he apprehended and the network around him prevented from planning and executing the atrocity on 22 May?

These questions arise because of an FBI leak that demolished the “lone wolf” spin in the wake of the 22 May attack – thus, the panicky, uncharacteristic outrage directed at Washington from London and Donald Trump’s apology. […]

In 2011, according to Middle East Eye, the LIFG in Manchester were known as the “Manchester boys”.  Implacably opposed to Mu’ammar Gadaffi, they were considered high risk and a number were under Home Office control orders – house arrest – when anti-Gadaffi demonstrations broke out in Libya, a country forged from myriad tribal enmities.

Suddenly the control orders were lifted. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said one LIFG member. MI5 returned their passports and counter-terrorism police at Heathrow airport were told to let them board their flights.

On Saturday 3rd, John Pilger discussed with Afshin Rattansi on RT’s ‘Going Underground’ the close ties between British intelligence and the LIFG jihadists, and how the Manchester atrocity was an avoidable product of UK foreign policy:

Pilger concludes:

The Manchester atrocity on 22 May was the product of such unrelenting state violence in faraway places, much of it British sponsored. The lives and names of the victims are almost never known to us.

This truth struggles to be heard, just as it struggled to be heard when the London Underground was bombed on July 7, 2005. Occasionally, a member of the public would break the silence, such as the east Londoner who walked in front of a CNN camera crew and reporter in mid-platitude. “Iraq!” he said. “We invaded Iraq. What did we expect? Go on, say it.”

At a large media gathering I attended, many of the important guests uttered “Iraq” and “Blair” as a kind of catharsis for that which they dared not say professionally and publicly.

Yet, before he invaded Iraq, Blair was warned by the Joint Intelligence Committee that “the threat from al-Qaida will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq… The worldwide threat from other Islamist terrorist groups and individuals will increase significantly”.

Just as Blair brought home to Britain the violence of his and George W Bush’s blood-soaked “shit show” [Barack Obama’s description of Cameron’s role in Libya], so David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, compounded his crime in Libya and its horrific aftermath, including those killed and maimed in Manchester Arena on 22 May.

The spin is back, not surprisingly. Salman Abedi acted alone. He was a petty criminal, no more. The extensive network revealed last week by the American leak has vanished. But the questions have not.

Why was Abedi able to travel freely through Europe to Libya and back to Manchester only days before he committed his terrible crime? Was Theresa May told by MI5 that the FBI had tracked him as part of an Islamic cell planning to attack a “political target” in Britain?

In the current election campaign, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made a guarded reference to a “war on terror that has failed”. As he knows, it was never a war on terror but a war of conquest and subjugation. Palestine. Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Iran is said to be next. Before there is another Manchester, who will have the courage to say that?

The same article was republished by Counterpunch here.

John Pilger had also appeared on ‘Going Underground’ on May 24th when he spoke about the Manchester bombing, Saudi Arabia, Trump and wikileaks:

For further links and information, I also recommend an article written by Max Blumenthal published in Alternet subtitled “How the U.S. and the U.K. helped bring jihadists like Salem Abedi to Libya and Syria”.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Britain, John Pilger, Libya, Saudi Arabia

Bilderberg 2017: what’s being cooked up at Chantilly, Virginia?

This post is a little more rushed than usual so apologies in advance for typos, grammatical errors, issues of style, etc – I will most probably update this article after Sunday’s close with additional observations, videos, and so forth. Meanwhile, here are some prompt sketches based upon on-the-ground reports plus limited mainstream coverage of the event so far…

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Starters with frothy cream

Named after an obscure association with the French town, chateau and dessert topping, this “census-designated place” of 25,000 people in Fairfax County on the fringes of Washington DC is about to welcome a more controversial kind of cream: the secretive annual meeting of world leaders, CEOs, financiers and power brokers known as the Bilderberg Group.

“… a more controversial kind of cream” Ooh er missus!

This ham-fisted flattery heads an “article” (even within quotes “article” is generous) written by the obsequious Phil Hoad and shamelessly published in the Guardian on the eve of this year’s Bilderberg meeting. Titled “Chantilly in the spotlight: inside the secretive Bilderberg’s ‘home from home’” author Mr Toady continues:

In fact, Chantilly’s Westfields Marriott hotel, hosting this year’s meeting from 1-4 June, has become the Bilderberg’s home from home in recent times, having also served as the conference’s venue in 2002, 2008 and 2012. Sure to be in attendance are the scrum of protesters, alt-media, conspiracy theorists, Illuminati watchers and anyone else keen to see the world elite turn into lizards after supping blood out of the Holy Grail at midnight…

A glance left reveals how “the content” (scant as it is) “is supported by the Rockefeller Foundation”, although the piece itself makes no direct mention of David Rockefeller, a founder member of Bilderberg and, prior to his death in March, the most notorious of all the boring old patriarchs of the club. But then this “article” makes no mention of anyone connected to Bilderberg, and nor does it provide serious journalistic speculation on what this “critical mass of movers and shakers” might be doing other than:

… either benignly spitballing global policy or carving up the future between themselves (depending on your paranoia levels) …

Which is NOT journalism. It’s not even ‘fake news’, but totally fatuous and content-free dross. At one level, the whole “article” is brochure-speak: frothy and bland. On another, it is a snide if clumsy assault on what the author tacitly rejects: free and unrestricted investigative reporting. It doesn’t matter how or why “Bilderberg flies beneath the radar in Chantilly”; it just does – and more power to them! Whilst those who aren’t enamoured by the thought of this billionaire club mixing it (“in private”) with our senior politicians are evidently crazy, tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist nutjobs who believe in alien lizards… so there!!!

Click here if you really want to read any more of this vacuous and execrable flimflam – but you are only encouraging more of it.

Alternatively, and for more considered thoughts on this whole alien lizard schtick, click here to read my extended review of last year’s meeting in Dresden.

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Appetiser: lightly grilled Bilderberger

One notable change at this year’s confab is the record number of attendees from inside our press and media ranks. During previous years there have always been a handful of house-trained “journalists” but the quota on this occasion exceeds 10% of the total cohort and includes…

Yet by observing the strict Chatham House Rules, none has actually gone to report on the inside scoop. And none of their excluded pressroom colleagues is there reporting from outside either. Charlie Skelton is again the lone mainstream maverick, and though Al Jazeera did send a small team, the real investigative work is being carried by a few freelance citizen journalists and alternative media outlets:

Indeed, as the Bilderbergers landed at nearby Washington Dulles International Airport, Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange and Dan Dicks of Press For Truth were amongst the first on hand to greet them. And wisely, they had applied for passes granting permission to film, although notwithstanding such assiduous preparations, were soon detained by police in any case – repeatedly detained and released in fact. In between bouts of police harassment, they did manage to capture some interesting footage. Here’s what a few of the attendees had to say for themselves – they certainly love to talk about the weather:

Others preferred to keep tight-lipped:

Larry Summers was especially taciturn:

Whereas Canadian Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, did provide some comment:

A few were more talkative still – a video compilation is included in a later section.

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Main course with vampire squid

One of the lamest arguments for failing to scrutinise Bilderberg is that since everything takes place behind closed doors there’s nothing of real interest that is open for discussion. Aside from the self-defeating nature of this position, it is also inherently false. Indeed, as the public is increasingly becoming aware, there is a great deal that can be sieved and usefully filtered from anyone’s metadata. In this instance we might glean valuable information from who turns up, their associations with fellow attendees, not to mention any extant commitments to Bilderberg’s slimline though published agenda of “key topics”.

Here, for example, are a few connections quickly traced by Charlie Skelton that link up with aforementioned Canadian Finance Minister, Bill Morneau:

And, as Charlie Skelton points up, this year’s mix includes an even heftier dollop of executives from Goldman Sachs than usual:

In the same spirit, it is certainly worthwhile to peruse Bilderberg’s official press release – this year it begins:

The 65th Bilderberg Meeting will take place from 1-4 June 2017 in Chantilly, Virginia, USA. As of today, 130 participants from 21 countries have confirmed their attendance. As ever, a diverse group of political leaders and experts from industry, finance, academia and the media has been invited. The list of participants is available here

The key topics for discussion this year include:

1. The Trump Administration: A progress report
2. Trans-Atlantic relations: options and scenarios
3. The Trans-Atlantic defence alliance: bullets, bytes and bucks
4. The direction of the EU
5. Can globalisation be slowed down? [their concern is it can!]
6. Jobs, income and unrealised expectations
7. The war on information
8. Why is populism growing?
9. Russia in the international order
10. The Near East
11. Nuclear proliferation
12. China
13. Current events

More jaunty than usual, and, when boiled down, there are about half a dozen strands of immediate interest. In fact, I strongly advise reading adjacent items as correlated pairs as follows:

i) Trump and Trans-Atlantic relations – as Charlie Skelton notes:

The White House is taking no chances, sending along some big hitters from Team Trump to defend their boss: the national security adviser, HR McMaster; the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross; and Trump’s new strategist, Chris Liddell. Could the president himself show up to receive his report card in person?

Skelton continues:

Henry Kissinger, the gravel-throated kingpin of Bilderberg, visited Trump at the White House a few weeks ago to discuss “Russia and other things”, and certainly, the Bilderberg conference would be the perfect opportunity for the most powerful man in the world to discuss important global issues with Trump. 1

ii) “Trans-Atlantic defence alliance” aka Nato and “the direction of the EU” – this is an ever-tightening relationship, as I have previously discussed (see here).

iii) Globalisation and jobs – there can be no mistaking which side Bilderberg is on!

iv) “Information war” and worries about that new bugbear “populism” – we might categorise these twin items as cause and effect under the separate heading ‘fake news’ (itself a manufactured trope)

v) Russia and “The Near East” which is, of course, more commonly termed the Middle East – think Syria, think Iran… an issue that is now perennial amongst Bilderberg’s biggest obsessions.

vi) Nuclear proliferation and China – here I simply refer readers to John Pilger’s excellent “The Coming War with China

The last item, “Current events”, is obviously a catch-all – although one can’t help thinking it’s included purely to extend their list to a fuller complement of thirteen (lucky for some!)

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Below is a compilation of those attendees who did speak on camera:

And on Friday 2nd, investigative reporter Tony Gosling interviewed Charlie Skelton and Luke Rudkowski. Their discussion covered a lot of ground:

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Side dish: curried favour à la Bilderberg

Say what you like about Bilderberg, but they’ve got a sense of humour. The agenda for this year’s secretive summit of the global elite is full of in-jokes. They get big laughs straight off the bat by describing themselves as “a diverse group of political leaders and experts”.

Writes Charlie Skelton in this year’s second report from his annual Bilderblog, adding:

Perhaps by “diverse” they mean that some of the participants own hedge funds, whereas others own vast industrial conglomerates. Some are on the board of HSBC, others are on the board of BP. Some are lobbyists, others are being lobbied. That sort of thing.

And Skelton’s “favourite joke” is, as he puts it:

“The war on information”. Bilderberg is concerned about fake news? The world’s most secretive conference, which is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars keeping the press away from its sacred discussions, which has spent decades lying and obfuscating about itself, wants to ensure the spread of truth?

As an illustration of their temerity, Skelton then points to the flagrant denial of the attendance of World Bank executive director, Fernando Jiménez Latorre, who was spotted on the backseat of a limo with Spanish Finance Minister, Luis de Guindos, although not listed amongst the attendees:

As Skelton says:

If Bilderberg wants an answer to “Why is populism growing?” – another question on the agenda – they might take a look in the mirror. It’s almost as if people aren’t all that comfortable with unaccountable technocratic elites and billionaire globalists lobbying their ministers and party leaders behind closed doors.

The optics are awful. To see Spain’s minister of the economy being locked away for three days with Ana Botín, the head of Banco Santander, Spain’s largest bank, while around them swirl Goldman Sachs executives, hedge fund owners and the secretary general of Nato, and then not see a press conference at the end of it … this might be part of the problem. 2

Click here to read Charlie Skelton’s full article entitled “Bilderberg: the world’s most secretive conference is as out of touch as ever”.

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Just desserts?

Surely the most eye-popping sentence in this year’s official press release is this one:

Founded in 1954 and chaired for the first twenty years by a former SS officer, the Bilderberg Meeting is an annual conference designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America.

Just why, all of a sudden, did Bilderberg choose to remind the world of their own unsavoury origins? Candour is not the Bilderberg style, and neither is bravado. Yet this statement looks deliberately crafted to signify a new defiance. Dropping in a reference to their own Nazi connections and then immediately switching focus as if the whole matter is of no importance, serves as a sort of two-fingered salute to the rest of us.

But conceivably, this odd sort of swagger may be indicative of growing paranoia within the club: a boastfulness to cover the cracks as “the secret of rulers of the world” (according to Jon Ronson, many like to imagine themselves this way) are losing “the war on information” and with it their tight grip on public perception.

It could very well be that at the rotten heart of Bilderberg, the same “elites” who steered the political course of our post-war western societies, are now suddenly feeling the strain as a direct consequence their own dire socio-economic mismanagement. So are we witnessing signs of desperation just as the wheels of our financial-military-industrial complex, already creaking rather badly, start coming off altogether?

Or is this merely wishful thinking? Perhaps. The undoing of our horribly corrupt global corporatocracy, so painstakingly erected, is an urgent matter. For what has been christened a “new world order” by some within this same Atlanticist set is nothing but a twisted and ruinous simulacrum of true internationalism.

We are already in perilous times. Western democracy was hard won, and will be far harder to recover if we allow it to be stolen away again. At Bilderberg that theft is ongoing, as year on year the oligarchs and plutocrats gather to feast with their political counterparts, all greedy for power and influence. And every year there is less and less on our own plates. Is this what we deserve?

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Comments to Guardian “awaiting moderation”

A friend added the following comment to Phil Hoad’s pathetic puff piece:

Has no one noticed this Cities section is actually sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation. I think that should tell you all you need to know about this article. One should question the author’s intent/collusion, and ask who paid for this article to be written?

And then this one:

Considering Rockefeller is a name integrally interwoven with the history of Bilderberg, it seems ironic that The Rockefeller Foundation actually sponsored this Cities section in which this article appears! Is this just a coincidence no one else has spotted?

Neither passed the scrutiny of the moderator. So much for “comment is free”.

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1 From an article entitled “Bilderberg 2017: secret meeting of global leaders could prove a problem for Trump” written by Charlie Skelton, published in the Guardian on June 1, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/01/bilderberg-trump-administration-secret-meeting

2 From an article entitled Bilderberg: The world’s most secretive conference is as out of touch as ever” written by Charlie Skelton, published in the Guardian on June 2, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/02/bilderberg-secretive-conference-eric-schmidt

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