Category Archives: Noam Chomsky

Support David Miller: fired by Bristol University for resisting Israel’s assault on free speech

Update:

On October 11th, Labour Campaign for Free Speech organised an online meeting to discuss the background to Prof. David Miller’s sacking and how to resist the ongoing Zionist campaign to restrict free speech and academic freedom.

David Miller spoke first, and other speakers included Jewish mathematician, philosopher and socialist activist, Moshé Machover; pro-Palestinian activist, Natalie Strecker, who served as a human rights monitor in Hebron in 2018; rapper and political activist, Lowkey; doctor of medicine, author and academic, Dr Ghada Karmi; and British student, activist and writer with Palestinian and Iraqi heritage, Huda Ammori, who is co-founder of the solidarity group Palestine Action.

Lowkey’s contribution is so well-informed and powerfully expressed that I have cued the video to begin there, however, the discussion is excellent throughout (although there are audio problems in some parts) but in particular I also direct readers to listen to David Miller’s introduction, Huda Ammori’s call for direct action [from 58 mins] and Natalie Strecker’s [from 24 mins] courageous defiance of Labour’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-semitism which conflates Judaism with Zionism in assuming that all Jews are Zionists, and that the state of Israel in its current reality embodies the self-determination of all Jews:

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The University of Bristol has fired Professor David Miller, a leading UK critic of Israel and its lobby.

After a years-long campaign of smears by that same lobby, the university said on Friday [Oct 1st] that, “Professor David Miller is no longer employed by the University of Bristol.”

The statement said only that Miller “did not meet the standards of behavior we expect from our staff,” though it did not elaborate.

Miller told The Electronic Intifada he would be appealing and “fighting it all the way.”

From a report written by Asa Winstanley, published by The Electronic Intifada.

It continues:

The university said in its statement that Miller “has a right of internal appeal which he may choose to exercise and nothing in this statement should be taken to prejudge that.”

The university “does not intend to make any further public comment at this time,” it said.

Bristol University further claimed that it was committed to an environment preserving “academic freedom.” But in what seemed a Freudian slip, it also said that “we take any risk to stifle that freedom seriously.”

Adding:

A who’s who of right-wing figures, anti-Palestinian activists and Israel lobbyists made a massive effort to push for Miller to be fired, with even British politicians piling on. […]

These included the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Zionist Federation, the Jewish Labour Movement and the Community Security Trust.

At the end of February, Israel itself also got involved, mobilizing one of its online troll armies to flood social media conversations with calls for Miller to be fired.

Act.IL – which is directed and funded by an Israeli ministry – issued a mission calling for attacks on an opinion piece published by Al Jazeera defending Miller.

However, David Miller has also received a great deal of support including statements of solidarity from filmmaker Ken Loach and comedian Alexei Sayle and many hundreds of academics and relevant others including Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé, Norman Finkelstein, Ronnie Kasrils and John Pilger who have signed an open letter of support which is reprinted in full below.

On February 20th, Miller wrote in a piece for The Electronic Intifada that:

Britain is in the grip of an assault on its public sphere by the state of Israel and its advocates.

Meaningful conversations about anti-Black racism and Islamophobia have been drowned out by a concerted lobbying campaign targeting universities, political parties, the equalities regulator and public institutions all over the country.

Earlier this month, the newly elected secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Zara Mohammed, was set upon by two of the most energetic Zionist campaigners in British public life (Laura Marks and BBC presenter Emma Barnett) within days of taking up her position.

This month American commentator Nathan J. Robinson revealed how The Guardian fired him as a columnist for a mere tweet referencing US military aid to Israel.

At the same time, the celebrated film director Ken Loach was smeared by Israel lobby groups such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who attempted to prevent him speaking to students at the Oxford college where he studied.

And this week, Israel’s lobby in Britain has trained its guns on me.

Adding:

In February 2019, I delivered a lecture for a course I teach at Bristol explaining the five pillars theory of Islamophobia.

The theory details the mechanisms by which certain states, far-right movements, the neoconservative movement, the Zionist movement and the liberal New Atheist movement promote Islamophobia.

Within weeks, the pro-Israel Community Security Trust complained to Bristol university about the inclusion of the Zionist movement in my teaching.

This was followed by a complaint to university authorities against me drafted by the Union of Jewish Students, a group revealed in an undercover Al Jazeera investigation to be funded by the Israeli embassy in London.

And concluding:

There can be no doubt, too, about the threat Israel’s campaign of censorship poses to Arab and Muslim students, who are silenced from expressing how the racism that targets them actually works.

Bristol university has seen several shocking racist incidents unfold in recent years, including far-right posters plastered over its campus and an event co-hosted by the Zionist Pinsker Centre at which the guest speakers included the proudly Islamophobic former British army colonel, Richard Kemp.

Also speaking was Yossi Kuperwasser, the former “head of research” of Israeli military intelligence and former director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, the department in charge of overseeing manufactured anti-Semitism allegations internationally and of targeting pro-Palestinian activists around the world.

The Israel lobby’s attack on me lays bare what is actually going on – a weaponization of bogus anti-Semitism claims to shut down and manipulate discussion of Islamophobia.

But the lobby’s tactics are only so effective because they are rarely challenged. It is time for those who are concerned about Islamophobia, racism and academic freedom to make their voices heard.

Click here to read David Miller’s full article entitled “We must resist Israel’s war on British universities” published by The Electronic Intifada on February 20th.

And here to read Asa Winstanley’s full article published by The Electronic Intifada on October 1st.

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Additional: Educators and researchers in support of Professor Miller

Public intellectuals, educators and researchers speak out against the censorship campaign targeted at Bristol’s David Miller

Professor Hugh Brady

President and Vice-Chancellor

University of Bristol

Re: Academic freedom and the harassment and victimisation of Professor David Miller

Dear Professor Brady,

We wish to express our serious concerns about the unrelenting and concerted efforts to publicly vilify our colleague Professor David Miller.

Professor Miller is an eminent scholar. He is known internationally for exposing the role that powerful actors and well-resourced, co-ordinated networks play in manipulating and stage-managing public debates, including on racism. The impact of his research on the manipulation of narratives by lobby groups has been crucial to deepening public knowledge and discourse in this area.

The attacks on Professor Miller stem from a lecture on Islamophobia that he gave to students at the University of Bristol two years ago. In the most recent instance of this harassment, Professor Miller was approached to provide a statement on Israel-Palestine. When he responded honestly to the query, well-orchestrated efforts were made to misrepresent these responses as evidence of anti-Semitism. A call was then made to the University of Bristol to deprive him of his employment.

We oppose anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism. We also oppose false allegations and the weaponisation of the positive impulses of anti-racism so as to silence anti-racist debate. We do so because such vilification has little to do with defeating the harms caused by racism. Instead, efforts to target, isolate and purge individuals in this manner are aimed at deterring evidence-based research, teaching and debate.

Prolonged harassment of a highly-regarded scholar and attempts to denigrate a lifetime’s scholarship cause significant distress to the individual. Such treatment also has a broader pernicious effect on scholarship and well-informed public discourse. It creates a culture of self-censorship and fear in the wider academic community. Instead of free and open debate, an intimidatory context is created and this can be particularly worrying for those who do not hold positions of seniority, influence or stable employment, particularly in times of job uncertainty and in a sector with high levels of casualised employment. As a result, important scholarship is omitted, and this curtails the public’s and students’ right to learn and to engage in thoughtful debate.

At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has reinvigorated public consciousness about the structural factors entrenching racism, attempts to stifle discourse on Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism are particularly regressive and inconsistent with the values the University of Bristol espouses.

As public intellectuals and academics, we feel duty-bound to express our solidarity with Professor Miller and to oppose such efforts to crush academic freedom. Given your roles within the University and your responsibilities to the wider academic community, we urge you to vigorously defend the principle of academic freedom and the rights to free speech and to evidence-based & research-informed public discourse. We hope that you will uphold the integrity of academic debate.

cc:

Professor Simon Tormey, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Professor Sarah Purdy, Pro VC (Student Experience) 

Professor Tansy Jessop, Pro VC (Education) 

Professor Judith Squires, Provost 

Mr Jack Boyer, Chair, Board of Trustees 

Dr Moira Hamlin, Vice-Chair, Board of Trustees

Ms Jane Bridgwater, Director of Legal Services 

Yours truly

Professor Noam Chomsky, University of Arizona, Linguistics

Dr Ahdaf Soueif, Writer and Retired Professor in English at Cairo University 

Professor Sami Al-Arian, Istanbul Zaim University, Director, Center for Islam and Global Affairs

Professor Ilan Pappé, University of Exeter, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies

Mr John Pilger, Journalist, Author and Filmmaker

Dr Norman G Finkelstein, Political Scientist and Author

Mr Ronnie Kasrils, Author and Former South African Government Minister (1994-2008)

Dr François Burgat, Emeritus Senior Research Fellow at French National Centre for Scientific Research

Professor Deepa Kumar, Rutgers University, Communication and Information

Dr Françoise Vergès, Political Scientist, Historian and Feminist

Professor Emeritus Seamus Deane, University of Notre Dame

Mr Sami Ramadani, London Metropolitan University, Social Sciences (Retired)

Professor Peter Kennard, Royal College of Art, Photography

Professor Salman Sayyid, University of Leeds, Sociology and Social Policy

Professor Augustine John, Coventry University, Office of Teaching & Learning

Professor Emeritus Joseph Oesterlé, Sorbonne University, Paris, Mathematics

Professor Ad Putter, University of Bristol

Professor Alf Nilsen, University of Pretoria, Sociology

Professor Aeron Davis, Victoria University of Wellington, Political Science and International Relations

Professor Ali Rattansi, City, University of London, Sociology

Professor Anand Pillay, University of Notre Dame, Mathematics

Professor Andreas Bieler, University of Nottingham, Politics and International Relations

Professor Anna Gilmore, University of Bath, Health

Professor Bryan McGovern, Kennesaw State University, History

Professor Cahal McLaughlin, Queen’s University Belfast, School of Arts, English and Languages

Professor Chris Knight, University College London, Anthropology

Professor Craig Brandist, University of Sheffield, Languages and Cultures

Professor Cyra Choudhury, Florida International University, Law

Professor Daniel Boyarin, University of California at Berkeley, Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric

Professor Daniel Broudy, Okinawa Christian University, Rhetoric and Applied Linguistics

Professor David H. Price, St Martin’s University, Society and Social Justice

Professor David Randall Roediger, University of Kansas, American Studies

Professor David Whyte, University of Liverpool, Sociology 

Professor Des Freedman, Goldsmiths, University of London, MCCS

Professor Elizabeth Poole, University of Keele, Humanities

Professor Eshragh Motahar, Union College, Schenectady NY, Economics 

Professor Frank García Hernández, Juan Marinello Cuban Institute for Cultural Research

Professor Hagit Borer, QMUL, Fellow of the British Academy

Professor Haim Bresheeth-Zabner, SOAS, Palestine Studies Centre

Professor Hamish Cunningham, University of Sheffield, Computer Science

Professor Hans Klein, Georgia Institute of Technology, Public Policy 

Professor Harry Hemingway, UCL, Institute of Health Informatics

Professor Hatem Bazian, Zaytuna College and University of California, Berkeley, Islamic Law and Theology 

Professor Helen Colhoun, University of Edinburgh, IGMM 

Professor Iain Munro, Newcastle University, Business

Professor Iftikhar H. Malik, Bath Spa University, History 

Professor Izzat Darwazeh, University College London, Engineering

Professor James Dickins, University of Leeds, Languages, Cultures and Societies

Professor Jane Wheelock, Newcastle University, Geography, Politics and Sociology

Professor Janet C.E. Watson, University of Leeds, Languages, Cultures and Societies

Professor Jared Ball, Morgan State University

Professor Jawed IA Siddiqi, Sheffield Hallam University, Computing

Professor Jeff Goodwin, New York University, Sociology 

Professor Jeremy Keenan, Queen Mary University London, Law

Professor John Parkinson, Maastricht University, Philosophy

Professor John Womack Jr, Harvard University, History 

Professor Julia O’Connell Davidson, University of Bristol, Sociology, Politics and International Studies 

Professor Julian Petley, Brunel University London, Social Sciences

Professor Julian Williams, University of Manchester, Education

Professor Kate Alexander, University of Johannesburg, South African Research Chair in Social Change

Professor Kevin O’Neill, Boston College, History

Professor Mario Novelli, University of Sussex, Education

Professor Maurice L. Wade, Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, Philosophy

Professor Megan Povey, University of Leeds, Food Science and Nutrition

Professor Michael Rowlinson, University of Exeter, Business

Professor Michael Wayne, Brunel University London, Media

Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio, University of Manchester, Humanities 

Professor Mohan Dutta, Massey University, Culture-Centered Approach to Research & Evaluation

Professor Mujahid Kamran, Former Vice-Chancellor of Punjab University

Professor Nacira Guénif, University of Paris VIII, Education Sciences

Professor Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths, Media, Communications and Cultural Studies

Professor Nigel Patrick Thomas, University of Central Lancashire, Social Work, Care and Community

Professor Patrick Bond, University of the Western Cape, Government

Professor Paul McKeigue, University of Edinburgh, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

Professor Penny Green, QMUL, Law

Professor Pilar Garrido Clemente, Murcia University, Arabic and Islamic Studies

Professor Rafik Beekun, University of Nevada, Management and Strategy

Professor Ray Bush, University of Leeds POLIS 

Professor Richard Jackson, University of Otago, New Zealand, National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

Professor Salim Vally, University of Johannesburg, Education

Professor Sam Ashman, University of Johannesburg, Economics

Professor Sandra Eldridge, QMUL, Institute of Population Health Sciences

Professor Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, National University of Ireland Galway, Health Promotion

Professor Schneur Zalman, Newfield CUNY, Social Sciences

Professor Siobhan Wills, Ulster University, Law

Professor Steve Tombs, The Open University, Social Policy and Criminology

Professor Susan Newman, The Open University, Economics

Professor Tariq Modood, University of Bristol, Sociology, Politics and International Studies

Professor Tim Hayward, University of Edinburgh, Social and Political Science

Professor T. J. Demos, UC Santa Cruz, History of Art and Visual Culture

Professor Tom Cockburn, Edge Hill University, Social Sciences

Professor Yosefa Loshitzky, SOAS, University of London, Media Studies

Professor Emeritus Alex Callinicos, King’s College London

Professor Emerita Avery F Gordon, UC Santa Barbara, Sociology

Professor Emeritus Bill Rolston, Ulster University, Transitional Justice Institute

Professor Emeritus Chris Roberts, University of Manchester, Health Science

Professor Emeritus Colin Green, University College London, Surgery and Interventional Sciences

Professor Emeritus Colin Webster, Leeds Beckett University, Social Sciences 

Professor Emeritus Daniel Cornford, San Jose State University, History

Professor Emeritus David Emmons, University of Montana, History

Professor Emeritus David Moshman, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Educational Psychology

Professor Emeritus Dennis Leech, University of Warwick, Economics

Professor Emeritus G Rex Smith, University of Manchester, History

Professor Emeritus Hartmut Logemann, University of Bath, Mathematical Sciences

Professor Emeritus Henry Maitles, University of the West of Scotland, Education and Social Sciences

Professor Emeritus Jennifer Birkett, University of Birmingham, Modern Languages

Professor Emeritus John Marriott, University of Oxford, History

Professor Emeritus Kerby Miller, University of Missouri, History

Professor Emeritus Laurence Dreyfus, University of Oxford, Faculty of Music

Professor Emeritus Leslie Sklair, London School of Economics, Sociology

Professor Emeritus Mark Duffield University of Bristol, School of Politics and International Studies

Professor Emeritus Mike Gonzalez, University of Glasgow, Latin American Studies

Professor Emeritus Mike Tomlinson, Queen’s University Belfast, Social Sciences, Education and Social Work

Professor Emeritus Moshé Machover, King’s College London, Philosophy (Retired)

Professor Emeritus Oliver Boyd-Barrett, Bowling Green State University, Journalism and Public Relations

Professor Emeritus Paddy Hillyard, Queen’s University Belfast, Sociology

Professor Emeritus Patrick Williams, Nottingham Trent University, Media and Cultural Studies

Professor Emeritus Phil Scraton, Queen’s University Belfast, School of Law

Professor Emeritus Stan Smith, Nottingham Trent University, English

Professor Emeritus Timothy Gorringe, University of Exeter, Theology

Professor Emeritus Vivien Walsh, University of Manchester, Innovation Research

Professor Emeritus William Nolan, University College Dublin, Geography

Adjunct Professor Matthew MacLellan, Mount Saint Vincent University

Associate Professor Anthony J Langlois, Flinders University, Business, Government and Law

Associate Professor Claire Blencowe, University of Warwick, Sociology

Associate Professor Issam Aburaya, Seton Hall University, Religion

Associate Professor Jesús David Rojas Hernández, Universidad Nacional Experimental Simón Rodríguez

Associate Professor Mark Taylor, University of Queensland, Modern Languages

Associate Professor Yusuf Ahmad, University of the West of Bristol England (Retired)

Assistant Professor Tim Kelly, Coventry University, English

Honorary Professor Iain Ferguson, University of the West of Scotland

Former Honorary Visiting Professor Roy Greenslade, City, University of London, Journalism

Click here to read the original letter with the complete list of signatories.

And here to add your own name to support David Miller

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, Israel, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky

failure in Afghanistan was inevitable yet the noble lies of the “war on terror” persist

In the last few days we have heard a great deal about the plight of Afghanistan, which is in stark contrast to the last two decades when there has been next to no news reporting from this war-torn and beleaguered nation. The officially recorded quarter of a million lives lost in the last twenty years of western invasion and occupation have mostly happened unseen; the millions more soldiers and civilians who lost their limbs, eyes, genitals or were otherwise mutilated by shrapnel and high explosives and others who fell victim to shadowy CIA-backed death squads have likewise hardly received any mention.

On December 18th 2020, Democracy Now! spoke to Andrew Quilty of The Intercept about his shocking exposé of how CIA-backed death squads in Afghanistan have killed children as young as eight-years old in a series of night raids on madrassas, which are Islamic religious schools:

Yet it is only in the aftermath of America’s shambolic and humiliating exit when suddenly there is any outpouring of expressed concern for the plight of women and children (in particular), as if all the drones and the air strikes and the CIA black sites and Trump’s “mother of all bombs” were their last and only salvation from the admittedly monstrous Taliban. And I say admittedly monstrous, but again, these are strictly speaking our monsters; ones America trained and funded to be the cat’s paw that ultimately defeated the Soviet Union.

As Hillary Clinton admitted an interview to Fox News: “we have helped to create the problem we are now fighting”:

And here is a different statement made by Hillary Clinton justifying the US support for the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets under Operation Cyclone:

Click here and here to watch different uploads of the same clips available on DailyMotion.

More recently the western powers have trained, funded and also provided air support for comparable and arguably worse Islamist factions in order to bring about regime change in Libya and to attempt another overthrow in Syria – if you’ve never heard of it, look up Timber Sycamore. This is how western foreign policy operates covertly today.

For a better perspective on moral responsibility, here is Noam Chomsky’s response to a concerned pro-war critic speaking at a forum held on October 18th 2001 (the war began on October 7th) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):

Click here to watch the full debate. The excerpt above is from 3:50 mins of the second part which is a Q+A session.

The extreme levels of hypocrisy and ahistorical revisionism surrounding the Afghan War (so often downplayed as merely an “intervention”) make the task of unravelling the truth a difficult one, so I shall leave it to two US war veterans turned activists to supply the details.

Mike Prysner served in Iraq and afterwards became co-founder of March Forward!, an organisation of active-duty members of the U.S. military and veterans that encourages current active-duty service personnel to resist deployment. Stan Goff retired from the US Army in February 1996. A veteran of the US occupation of Vietnam, he also served in seven other conflict areas.

In an interview with Katie Halper (embedded below), Mike Prysner addresses a range of questions that cover the true historical background to conflict, the serious issues around women’s rights, and gives valuable insight into how for more than a decade the war was officially but secretly acknowledged as a failure. In more sardonic tone, Stan Goff gives praise to Biden for finally ending the perpetual war and considers the true repercussions of the US withdrawal. Please skip down the page for these excellent pieces.

Update: On Thursday 19th, Novara Media spoke with British Labour MP Clive Lewis, a veteran of the Afghanistan War who did not get a chance to speak during the previous day’s parliamentary debate:

My purpose here is instead to scrutinise the latent ideology that actually drove the West into this well-named “graveyard of empires” and that entirely inflamed the “war on terror”. Once this is properly understood, it becomes clear that as Joe Biden confessed in his recent White House speech on Monday 16th:

Our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation building.  It was never supposed to be creating a unified, centralized democracy.

Of course, for these candid admissions, Biden has received furious bipartisan opprobrium from the usual hand-wringing politicians and media alike, although this part of his statement is nothing more than the unvarnished truth.

Moreover, when George W Bush told the world two decades ago that America was hunting down Osama Bin Laden “wanted: dead or alive”, he was clearly playing both to an audience traumatised by the attacks of 9/11 and one brought up on Hollywood stories where the guys with the white hats are unimpeachably good and always win.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the neo-con faction who seized power were eager to launch a global US-led military offensive on the pretext of a “new Pearl Harbor” that neatly fitted the one outlined in their own document Rebuilding America’s Defenses published almost precisely one year earlier.

Furthermore, if the Afghanis were the immediate victims of this neo-con strategy that got the ball rolling on “the New American Century”, then even from the outset it was abundantly clear that the next target would be Iraq. In a letter to President Bush dated September 20th (scarcely more than a week after 9/11), the neo-con think tank Project for the New American Century (PNAC) led by William Kristol and Rober Kagan already implored the president to ramp up his “war on terrorism”, specifying:

We agree that a key goal, but by no means the only goal, of the current war on terrorism should be to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, and to destroy his network of associates. To this end, we support the necessary military action in Afghanistan and the provision of substantial financial and military assistance to the anti-Taliban forces in that country.

Continuing in the next paragraph under the heading “Iraq”:

We agree with Secretary of State [Colin] Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Clearly then, the neo-cons were not interested in “justice” (the official spin) but determined to embark on a vast neo-imperialist project that in their own terms would bring about a Pax Americana. However even this is a lie, of course, as they knew perfectly well too, since peace was never a serious concern. But the neo-cons unflinchingly justified every deception in terms their intellectual progenitor Leo Strauss espoused: for these were “noble lies”.

Significantly, the neo-cons are the direct heirs of Strauss and not only because Paul Wolfowitz was one of his most notable students. Strauss’s uncompromising worldview is the main inspiration to the whole neo-con ideology. In order to better understand their methods and motives, therefore, we must take a closer look at Straussian philosophy.

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In 2003, Danny Postel, who is Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, and former senior editor of openDemocracy, produced an extended article based on an interview with Shadia Drury, professor of political theory at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan and a leading scholarly critic of Leo Strauss.

The article entitled “Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neo-cons, and Iraq” is a really excellent one and its significance is very much resonant today – why? Because although the discussion surrounds the illegal Iraq invasion, it considers the motives of the same cast of neo-cons who launched the “war on terror” against Afghanistan; both conflicts clearly intended to deliver corresponding geopolitical ends.

Of course, it more or less goes without saying that the “war on terror” was an absolute godsend for the military-industrial complex. As America’s most decorated general Smedley Butler told us: war is a racket! – which is always the bottom line.

Top 5 US Defence Contractors shock market gains since 2001

But what of the ideology behind the neo-cons and the importance of Leo Strauss? Well, the key to following their methods, and to seeing why their approach has been so succesful in inculcating a pro-war consciousness amongst the liberal classes, lies in understanding their basic stratification of society into three layers: the wise few (the elite, and in their terms, rightful rulers), the vulgar many (the majority), and the gentlemen. Crucially, it is role of the gentlemen to be the unwitting enablers, who, according to this scheme, although well-intentioned are simply useful idiots who are manipulated to achieve the desired ends for the ruling elite. As Shadia Drury says:

“There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the higher pleasures, which amount to consorting with their puppies or young initiates.

“The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society that is, the illusions of the cave [reference to Plato’s cave]. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

“The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.”

She continues:

“For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.”

Drury then considers Strauss’s immediate philosophical influences, before summarising his general political outlook as follows:

“Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and creature comforts. Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

“This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

“I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.”

Understood in this context, it is perfectly easy to see why the neo-cons would be keen to initiate conflicts that might then go on indefinitely. Although Drury herself offers a caveat saying that factions within the neo-cons may also have somewhat different aspirations; ones that more closely align with those ‘the gentlemen’ are in fact encouraged to believe:

“I think that the neo-conservatives are for the most part genuine in wanting to spread the American commercial model of liberal democracy around the globe. They are convinced that it is the best thing, not just for America, but for the world. Naturally, there is a tension between these idealists and the more hard-headed realists within the administration.

“I contend that the tensions and conflicts within the current administration reflect the differences between the surface teaching, which is appropriate for gentlemen, and the nocturnal or covert teaching, which the philosophers alone are privy to. It is very unlikely for an ideology inspired by a secret teaching to be entirely coherent.”

To sum up then, the chief architects of the “war on terror” which began in Afghanistan hold views that are (in Drury’s own terms) wholly fascistic, although into that mix we must admit that some do believe in globalised neoliberalism. Soft or hard, the imperialist desire is both undeniable and unrestrained.

I have appended an unabridged version of their “guide to his influence on US neo-conservatism” that takes the form of Q+A interview with all highlights and links retained at the end and recommend reading it all – indeed following the link to read the original article.

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Understanding Afghanistan with Anti-war Iraq Veteran Mike Prysner

On August 16th, political commentator Katie Halper invited Mike Prysner, an Iraq veteran, anti-war activist and organiser, producer of Empire Files and co-host of the Eyes Left Podcast to share his thoughts on the war in Afghanistan, what needed to happen, and what needs to happen next. Their discussion features in the first 45 minutes of the video upload embedded below. I have also produced a full transcript with relevant links included.

Katie Halper: [from 2:05 mins]

I just wanted to know your perspective on this as someone who was an anti-war former soldier, a current veteran – I guess you’re always a veteran – what you thought of what’s happening in Afghanistan. If you could just set up where we are right now and I guess the question I have is what could have been done? What should have been done? And what needs to happen now?

Mike Prysner: [from 2:30 mins]

I just want to say from the outset that I wasn’t in Afghanistan – I was in Iraq. I joined the army two months before the September 11th attacks in 2001, so I witnessed the Afghanistan war from an inside perspective. From the beginning, even though I was sent to, as Obama called it, ‘the dumb war’, instead of ‘the smart war’ which is Afghanistan: that whole framing…

But I’ve been super-engaged in this issue for the duration because after I separated from the military in 2005 and became a part of the anti-war movement, since then [I’ve been] very much a part of organising around the Afghanistan war specifically – so mobilisations for the anniversary of Afghanistan, but in particular, working with active-duty soldiers who were deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq. And so, I got that inside perspective of organising with Afghanistan veterans who were then returning to the country, helping them resist orders to go, and still to this day I’m in touch with that community.

I know a lot of people normally don’t talk about Afghanistan – a lot of people are talking about it now who never talked about it before. But my engagement with the issue of Afghanistan was always around creating media content and agitation directed at active-duty soldiers who were about to deploy. So having to follow the issue very closely because we were literally on a military bases talking to soldiers who were having orders to go – and talking to them about their options for why they should not go, and all the political and strategic reasons why they shouldn’t as well.

My take on what’s happening now is… what we’re seeing now is what we knew back in Obama’s first term. You know I think in 2009-2010 there was probably still some hope among the Pentagon establishment that the war could be turned around. I mean the Taliban were dispersed within the first months of the US invasion, but then once they started mounting a comeback there was probably some belief in the Pentagon brass that they could turn the war around and emerge victorious.

But by 2011, it was clear to the military establishment – the top generals, the commanders, all of them – they knew that they couldn’t win. They knew that they could never defeat the Taliban. They knew that the only possible victory that the US military and US government could get out of Afghanistan was putting enough military pressure on the Taliban where the Taliban would enter a power-sharing agreement. Where they’d say okay we get 50% of the new government and the US-backed puppet government will get 50%.

So that since about 2010 that’s what the US has been pursuing. The troop surge in Afghanistan – all these massive strategies that led to large numbers of people dying on US and Afghan sides and the Nato side – all of that was on the understanding that the US couldn’t actually defeat the Taliban. All they could do was maybe give them enough of a bloody nose where the Taliban would concede and say maybe we’ll do a 50/50 government. So that’s really been the goal of the war for the entire time.

You know in 2011, is when there is this major report came out by a guy named Lieutenant-Colonel [Daniel] Davis, and he was tasked by the Pentagon to travel to every province in Afghanistan – travel 9,000 miles across the country – and give an honest assessment of how everything was going. And he came back and he went out to the media and he said ‘we’ve got to get out now’. He’s like ‘I’ve seen the war more than anyone else – for a longer period of years than anyone else – and we have lost and there is no possibility for us to win’. I mean this is back in 2011 that he did this.

From that point on the Pentagon knew that there was no military victory against the Taliban and the best they could do was unity government. Even that seemed almost impossible to accomplish because the Afghan puppet forces were not reliable, they weren’t capable, and you know the Taliban were just a strong resistance force. And that knew then too that if there was a US withdrawal the very situation we are seeing today would happen.

You know in 2019, we had the Pentagon Papers [aka Afghanistan Papers], the bombshell revelation that came out, which made a little bit of a media splash but not much – you know Joe Biden was very much implicated in the Pentagon Papers as one of the people who helped cover up how badly the Afghanistan war was going. He got one debate question the Primary that was hammering him for it, but he never really had to answer for that.

For those who don’t know, really what the Pentagon Papers revealed was that, particularly throughout the Obama administration, all of the generals were going to the White House and saying ‘by every metric we have lost the war – by every metric’ and the Obama administration went back and said ‘well create a metric that has us winning the war’. So they created all these false charts for progress of oh, we built this many schools compared to five years before, so that shows we’re winning! They just created all these fake rationales to show there was progress. To deceive the American people into thinking there was some hope for a victory in Afghanistan, while they knew all along they were just lying to the American people.

So, for example, the maps that we are seeing now of how quickly the Taliban took over – where you see the provinces outlined – and saying two months ago the Afghan government controlled all of these provinces and now it’s all Taliban controlled – I mean most of those have been under Taliban control forever – as the Pentagon Papers show, the US is just lying about what provinces the US-backed Afghan government controlled. So this has been, of course, a dire situation for the US for a long time.

For the United States they know that it looks bad for the image of the empire. A war that they can’t win – to just be bogged down for twenty years in a military quagmire where we can talk about how badly they were losing – but when they try to go out into the countryside they are hammered and kicked back to the main bases and then they could have dealt with maybe this endless stalemate situation, but that looks back for the empire. And so for a long time the Pentagon has acknowledged that they need to retreat. They need to leave.

And really this is what happened under Obama, when Obama announced his troop surge – his flooding of soldiers into every remote area of Afghanistan – like bulking up troop numbers to 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan bolstered by a lot of Nato forces too – because it wasn’t just a defeat for the US but every other major imperialist army was a part of this. You know when Obama announced we are going to do this troop surge but then we’re going to leave in two years – announcing the end of the war – they knew that they are going to be retreating and so it’s very similar to the Vietnam war where once the White House and the Pentagon knew ‘we’ve lost – we can’t win’ instead of just saying ‘well if we’ve lost and we can’t win and the outcome of a conquest by our enemies is the same no matter what, [so] why don’t we  just leave right now and stop killing people and stop having our own people [killed]’ but the hubris of the American political machine doesn’t allow that.

I mean what President wants to admit defeat at the hands of an insurgency that’s using rifles from a hundred years ago? No-one wants to be in that position of admitting defeat and so what we’ve seen over the past more than a decade has really been a slow-motion retreat by the US empire. Knowing that eventually they are going to fully leave, but like Nixon did, the strategy of ‘peace through honour’, meaning ‘yes we’ve lost, we’ve got to end the war, but we’re going to kill a bunch more people on our way out, so it doesn’t seem like the empire has been defeated so badly’.

So that’s really been the strategy [with] an acceptance that the US would eventually leave…

[connection problems briefly cut the conversation]

Katie Halper: [from 10:40 mins]

I was listening to you on Brian Becker’s show on his podcast [embedded immediately below], and I don’t know if I ever knew this, or I don’t know if my politics were so naive that I didn’t think this was a big deal, but I didn’t realise that… the Taliban said that they were willing to give up Osama Bin Laden and the United States said ‘we refuse to negotiate with terrorists’ – again, it shouldn’t have been shocking, but it was shocking. Can you talk about that and what the significance is and what it reveals about the United States’ motives in Afghanistan?

Mike Prysner: [from 11:20 mins]

Yeah. Well, it’s important to remind people that the Taliban had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks – no role in it. Of course, Bin Laden from being essentially an operative and ally of the United States through the war in the 1980s and funded by the United States, you know had training camps and a base of operation for his al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan. And maybe there was some overlap with Taliban people going to the al-Qaeda schools. You know they’re in a war with a group called the Northern Alliance and so they would send some of their soldiers to al-Qaeda training camps that existed in Afghanistan.

But the Taliban did not support the 9/11 attacks. They condemned the 9/11 attacks, so it was a shock to them when all of a sudden the US was talking about the Taliban and at the time the Taliban was trying very hard to prevent that from happening.

And we’re not just talking about this ragtag group that’s just issuing statements from the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan. Afghanistan had a robust press network and so they’d have spokespeople who would give press conferences in English in countries in the region and would be talking directly to the United States saying ‘we’re trying to negotiate; we don’t support what happened; we want to find a resolution’ and they even said in these press conferences ‘the United States used to call us freedom fighters, not too long ago – and then all of a sudden we’re terrorists and they won’t negotiate with us’.

So that is what happened, as you recounted it Katie. The Taliban offered a solution where the US didn’t have to invade and occupy the government in Afghanistan but that wasn’t really the motives for the US going into Afghanistan. The US didn’t really invade Afghanistan because they thought that was the only way to destroy al-Qaeda and get Osama Bin Laden. They easily could have done that through other methods.

The reason that they wanted to invade Afghanistan is because the Taliban weren’t subservient collaborators to the United States. I mean Clinton in the ’90s had tried very hard to build relationships. He didn’t care that the Taliban lynched people when they came to power in the ’90s. He just cared that maybe they could sign an oil contract together. Unocal, the oil company, flew delegations of Taliban leaders to Texas to stay in their ranches and discuss plans for oil pipelines.

But the Taliban wasn’t that interested in that kind of development and they weren’t a subservient client state to the United States. So any country that is in its own orbit – [enjoys] its own independence – and isn’t a client to US corporations and subservient to the US government, they get targeted for destruction. And so when 9/11 happened, the US government said ‘great, this is perfect’ because we’ve been trying to negotiate with these guys and they won’t let us build this pipeline, or they won’t let us have a military base, so we’ll just overthrow them, set up our own puppet government – move over to Iraq, overthrow them, set up a puppet government, move over to Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Somalia, Sudan – all the countries that were on their list for overthrow after the 9/11 attacks.

So that was the reason in the first place. I mean that’s really what’s behind it. It was never really about al-Qaeda. And it was never really about giving the Afghan people a better life from the Taliban. But to answer your question, yes, it was a totally avoidable war in the first place – there was no reason to do – but if you can remember at that time, I mean support for it was high.

[And 9/11] was used as a way for the US to achieve its other objectives, which is proven by the fact that we ended up in Iraq a year later, which had less to do with 9/11 than the Taliban.

Katie Halper: [from 15:25 mins]

There’s a kind of parallel between the way people frame the war in Afghanistan with the first Iraq War. There’s a whole group of liberals who consider the first Iraq War, ‘the good Gulf War’, and the war in Afghanistan, ‘the good response to 9/11’. As you have pointed out, and others have pointed out, that’s not the case and… I don’t know if you know about Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez – they started “not in our name” – their son Greg was in one of the towers when he was killed, and they immediately knew that the US government was going to try to use this to justify a war and they wrote a letter saying “Not in our son’s name”… you know, he didn’t die so that you could use his name to invade another country.

And you know what she told me…? She told me that they wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that they didn’t publish. Can you imagine? Right after 9/11, you have one of the parents of the people who died saying ‘don’t go to war in our son’s name’ – can you imagine the gall of the New York Times not even printing that op-ed?  Like not even seeing the newsworthiness of it? They’re such ideologues that they would not publish that.

Mike Prysner: [from 16:50 mins]

The first major demonstration against war on Afghanistan occurred, I think it was four days after the September 11th attacks. It was about 40,000 people – so it’s not a small crowd. The slogan of the march: the banner was “war won’t bring our loved ones back”, and the march was led by people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks [Guardian report from Sept 20th ­­] .

And then all the headlines about this fairly significant anti-war demonstration after 9/11 was like ‘people rally in support of terrorists’ and ‘people rally in support of negotiating with terrorists and not fighting terrorism’ and things like that. So it just gives you a window into the war fervour in the country post-9/11, which continued for quite a long time.

I mean even in the anti-war movement there was an entire sector that supported the Afghanistan war. Even in Veterans Against the War, it was controversial – it wasn’t okay to talk about Afghanistan too, in fact it was too alienating to lots of veterans who were in the anti-war movement – ‘I joined the army to go fight in Afghanistan, I didn’t join to go fight in Iraq’. It was a significant faction that had to be battled against for a long time.

And so that’s [what] Obama essentially campaigned on: he campaigned on the intense opposition to the Iraq War, but kind of this idea: ‘weren’t we supposed to go fight in Afghanistan…? And then immediately we went to Iraq and then we lost the war in Afghanistan’. So Obama’s thing was, we’re going to get out of Iraq (‘the dumb war’) and then we’re going to win the war in Afghanistan. And that got a lot of support from liberal-minded people as well.

But that’s when that new era began that really defined the Afghanistan War. The US said: ‘okay, we were slacking, focussing too much on Iraq, so now we’re going to get everyone out of Iraq (not everyone) but we’re going to get a good portion of people out of Iraq and send them right to Afghanistan, and then we’re going to try to completely overwhelm the Taliban’. And even when the United States had an insane number of troops there – and they were everywhere in Afghanistan – there was really no place where they really could win or beat back the Taliban. So I think that’s one of the hidden histories of the Afghanistan War.

I mean you have the US outposts out in the middle of the countryside with [about] 40 soldiers there – 40 US troops – this is what a normal day would be like: you would get up (and this is just recounting from countless friends of mine) and you would leave the gates of your base to go on a patrol that had no purpose other than to say ‘hey, we’re here! we’re patrolling this area’.

You get a hundred yards off the base, if you’re lucky, when you start getting shot at by people that you do not see – they are a thousand yards away just harassing you with sniper fire and machine gun fire – at some point on your little walk, your little pointless walk through a bunch of fields that have no purpose to walk through for any reason, some will get blown up by an IED because you’re walking on paths every day – and you know the signature wound of the Afghan War around that time (the surge time) was triple amputations; so losing usually two legs and one arm and your genitalia (I think when the troop surge happened there was about a 92% increase in wounds to genitalia – that became really the most common wound)… If you kept your legs you probably lost a bunch more flesh down there.

So every day you’d go on these completely meaningless, pointless patrols, where basically the point was just to get shot at so then you know who to shoot back at, which most of the time they didn’t do anyway. Then you’d go back to your base at night, and then at night you would just come under heavy assault by missiles and mortars and indirect fire. And sometimes you’d have hundreds of Taliban fighters assaulting a little outpost that had 40 US soldiers. And this was happening all over the country… and in a lot of cases you had Taliban fighters getting over the wall, and being inside the US base and being killed inside the US base.

The job of US soldiers then was basically to be bait for these Taliban to come – it was exactly like the Vietnam War: you’re on a hilltop [and] you’re just bait for the Taliban to attack, and your job is to survive long enough for air support to get to you. So you start getting attacked, you call in air support, it takes 30 minutes or so for the Apache helicopters, the A-10s, [and] the B-52 bombers to come in and just level the area where you’re being attacked from with heavy munitions.

So that really defined the troop surge era of the war. I mean it was just a complete failure from a military standpoint and it was just completely senseless bloodshed. There’s even a lot of rebellion and opposition among soldiers who are very pro-military and pro-war – blowing the whistle on all this, just saying there’s no reason for us to do this; there’s no reason for us to go on these convoys; no reason to go on these patrols. We’re just meant to be bait. We’re just meant to be sitting ducks.

All of those deaths then were just completely pointless. And then the US realised, you know this strategy doesn’t work at all. They retreated from all those areas all across the country – you know places like Korangal Valley [nicknamed “The Valley of Death”] which was ‘the most strategically important valley’ of the Afghanistan War. Like 120 US soldiers died defending just this one valley and then at the end of this two year period of huge battles there, the Pentagon said: ‘you know what this valley doesn’t actually matter at all, we’re just going to go back here’. So that really was emblematic of the war.

So then the US pulled back to its main bases and that defined the war in the post-surge era when US casualties went down, but that’s because they basically had retreated from most of the country already [and] were just holed up on the big bases, where they are operating through proxy forces and special operations. And then the ironic thing about that too is that the US said: the US casualties are getting too serious, we need to just hide out on the bases and send our proxy forces out. Well, when they tried that strategy the number one killer of US troops became the Afghan soldiers who they were training just killing them.

So you had tons of people who were either Taliban or just anti-US joining the Afghan army and then within a week they’re sitting there with US soldiers getting trained on how to shoot, they just turn their guns around and kill all the US soldiers training them. So then it became even too strategically untenable to have US soldiers training troops back in these supposedly super-safe and secure bases. So from every angle it was a total military defeat. Mind you we’re talking about a decade ago that it was that bad, and they knew at that point we’re not going to make any more progress.

You know Trump came in and thought he could win the war by taking bombing to a whole new level, and that was really Trump’s legacy in Afghanistan. Although he campaigned on ending the war, he was responsible for more civilian casualties for two years in a row than any other previous year of the war, just through air strikes. And that says a lot because Obama was in charge of the troop surge. A lot of people died in the troop surge. Trump killed more people just by changing the rules of engagement so they could really drop huge munitions everywhere in the country. And that didn’t do anything either.

I mean I guess it got the Taliban to the table in the sense that they would accept this deal which they did accept – and the Taliban spokesman before we started talking said we are going to honour our commitment to not allow terrorist attacks against the United States from Afghanistan, and we’re not going to punish anyone in the former government – it’s kind of sticking to the Doha Agreement so they have some kind of legitimacy.

I think the important thing is that the generals, the Pentagon, the White House; they’ve always known that this was inevitable anyway, unless we just stayed forever holed up on a base in Kabul. But what we didn’t have was a president that was willing to say: ‘I’m going to end the war and I accept the responsibility for it looking bad when the Taliban comes in to take over’.

And it’s funny that Biden is that person, because Biden doesn’t have any guts. He never has been advocating for withdrawing from Afghanistan because it’s the right thing [and] it is the right thing. A full, complete and immediate withdrawal of US troops is the right thing. Biden never advocated for that. He always advocated staying until the Afghan government was stable enough to stand on its own, which was always a pipedream.

So I think he was just kind of the fall guy, you know. He came in after campaigning on staying in Afghanistan – criticising Trump’s Taliban agreement and saying that we need to leave 3,000–4,000 troops because we can’t abandon the Afghan government. After a couple of months in office, he’s like: ‘actually, you know what? we’re going to leave Afghanistan fully’. So he does press conferences now and [he gets]: ‘what do you mean the Taliban are going to take over the government? what are you talking about?’

So instead of having a president saying ‘finally I’m willing to do the right thing even though it’s going to end up aesthetically bad, it’s still a war that we need to get out of’, he didn’t do that for that reason… and the proof that Biden thought it was going to look good for him – ‘I’m the one who ended the war that the Americans are tired of’, which they are; polls show that about 70% of Americans support the withdrawal – Biden actually thought he could have a 9/11 victory lap celebration. And they’ve been planning this event for 9/11 where he could boast that our administration ended the war: we did it; we ended a long, unpopular forever war. I don’t think they’re going to be doing that celebration any more.

And even if back in April they were getting some good press around this: for ending the war; people want the war to end. You know this is maybe a good thing. Kamala Harris came out and leaked to the press back in April: ‘I helped convince Biden to do a complete withdrawal’ and ‘the last person Biden talked to before making his decision was me, Kamala Harris’; trying to take credit because she anticipated that the story was actually going to look good for the Biden administration.

I think now that the press is pretty negative – it’s a pretty humiliating, embarrassing defeat for the US that their puppet forces fell so dramatically – but the Pentagon knew. You had Pentagon insiders weeks ago saying the Taliban will probably take over within 30 days. And there was a real disconnect between what Biden and Harris were projecting out to the public and what the actual Pentagon officials were telling them.

Katie Halper: [from 27:35 mins]

So why is the withdrawal happening when it’s happening?

Mike Prysner: [from 27:40 mins]

I think the US really just needed to get out. I mean obviously the US is going to stay engaged in some way. They’re going to continue with probably bombing Afghanistan whenever they feel like it; just like they did a B-52 bombing just a week ago against a school and a health clinic and killed about 20 civilians. There’s still going to be CIA operatives and proxy forces on the ground – you know the death squads that have been terrorising the country for 20 years. They are of course still going to be there.

But the US lost and I think a lot people just thought well there’s money to be made in the Afghanistan War and so they’re going to stay forever. So job of the state (which includes the military establishment) is to advance the collective interests of the ruling class, right? – so yes, there are particular industries (the weapons manufacturers, the mining companies, energy companies) that probably aren’t happy with the withdrawal. But it’s not about this or that sector of the ruling class that matters, it’s what collectively is good for the empire; what’s collectively good for American capitalism and American imperialism.

US Defence Contractor board members and revolving doors of govt

And so the state [and] military establishment calculated that ‘you know we’re not really achieving our objectives here’. We can’t have a puppet government because the Taliban are too powerful. We can’t defeat the Taliban. And this idea of well we can be there to steal Afghanistan’s mineral resources – well, how are you going to build a mine if you’re coming under attack by the Taliban constantly? And they knew that it was never going to be resolved. They were never going to be able to build a pipeline through Afghanistan, or mine Afghanistan, so long as they were in a war with the Taliban.

So they figured we can get out of Afghanistan and then just do what we do with every country: we negotiate with them; sanction them if they don’t do what we want; bomb them if they don’t do what we want; but try to get something out of the situation. Because they knew that staying and fighting endlessly wasn’t going to. So they felt that the time had finally come. They had a president who was willing to – whether he was conscious of it or not – bear the brunt of all the negative press that’s going to come down. And then they’re going to treat the Taliban government like they do others that they try to get something out of who, you know, they don’t approve of everything they do, but well as long as you’ll meet our strategic interests we’ll work with you, and if you don’t we’ll just bomb you.

Katie Halper: [from 30:15 mins]

And what do you say to people who are arguing that women are going to be especially vulnerable? I’m not talking about cynical people who have shitty politics. I’m talking about people who really are in good faith worried about the civilian population. What’s your response to that?

Mike Prysner: [from 30:35 mins]

Sure well, the backwardness that exists there, first of all is a construct of the United States. It was the legacy of US intervention in the country that even brought to prominence these reactionary forces; these right-wing forces. I mean they are completely born from the US intervention in the ’80s. So first off, the situation for women in Afghanistan is because of the United States in the first place. So the idea that it could be solved by continued US intervention is just also kind of absurd.

Everyone talks about the Taliban’s treatment of women but the Afghan puppet government was also really bad towards women. And that was never really scandalous in the media that the Afghan puppet government had almost the same policies towards women as the Taliban…

To understand that the majority of civilian casualties – for people who care about women in Afghanistan – are from US air strikes, and US forces, and US proxy forces. So it’s kind of disingenuous to say the US military can play some sort of role of protecting women in Afghanistan. But how many women have been killed by US air strikes over the last 20 years? A lot.

The US government doesn’t care about that. They’re happy to work with Saudi Arabia. They’re happy to work with other countries that have horrible repressive policies towards women. And they will be happy to work with the Taliban, as long as the Taliban say ‘hey, we’re ready to work with you’, the US government [in] Washington will forget about all of the criticisms they have of the Taliban’s treatment of women.

And just one thing I’ll say about the conduct of US forces in Afghanistan. There is an expose by The Intercept. It was covered on Democracy Now! I think the Washington Post did a story on it also. But the CIA, you know these Special Activities Divisions – the CIA soldier, ground troops – did a couple of operations where they went to religious schools in Afghanistan. They rounded up these children – some of them were as young as eight-years old, nine-years old – they took them all into one room together and then they executed them.

I mean this is Americans – CIA soldiers, ground troops – who were executing children. Shooting children in the head to create the sense of terror that if you one day – you know, this is what happens if you go to a religious school that could one day feed people into the ranks of the Taliban army. And that’s pretty brutal. That’s pretty representative of the conduct of Afghan military, Afghan special operations, US special operations. I mean summary executions were so, so commonplace, especially by special operations, US and CIA and others.

So the idea that an occupying military force that is carrying out over the last 20 years these type of actions can be some sort of force that can protect people is just false. Afghanistan can [move] forward; it can move towards progress; just like so many other countries that are plagued with the backwardness of just the impact of US imperialism. They can’t begin to move forward – they can’t begin to progress – until they solve that main contradiction, which is the contradiction with imperialism; an occupying foreign army.

So any [progressive] forces in Afghanistan – women’s activism – none of that will be able to get momentum or steam to push Afghanistan in the direction that it needs to go socially if there’s a war in the country between an occupying imperialist power – multiple ones – and an insurgent force that’s fighting it – that gets pretty popular fighting it, because most people don’t like the foreign occupying troops.

Of course we want to see social progress in Afghanistan, but that is a chapter that has to start with the elimination of an occupying imperialist force – when that exists it sucks up everything [and] becomes the main problem in the country. And I think now that that’s gone, it opens up an entirely new space for there to be social progress.

And the last thing I’ll say is I don’t want to paint any kind of rosy picture of the Taliban, or make any optimistic predictions about the kind of government that they’re going to impose on the country, but I will say that one of the recent statements by the Taliban was saying ‘we want to create a unity government’, and even said specifically ‘we believe in the right of women to get an education and so forth’ and so they seem to be trying to have some kind of PR around the fact that ‘we’re not what everyone says we are, we’re not going to do things that are objectionable, we’re going to be a legitimate government of a sovereign country on the world’s stage’.

So I don’t want to give that too much credence – I mean we’ll have to see – but that’s also the kind of thing that you don’t see in the dire projections. Not only that but also the impact on women by the US occupation.

Katie Halper: [from 35:55 mins]

Yes, that’s a really important point, and the civilian deaths are something that don’t really get talked about.

Can you also share what changed your politics?  I mean you were in the army, so what changed your politics? Why are you anti-war now? And what were your politics like when you enlisted?

Mike Prysner: [from 36:15 mins]

Well like I said, I joined before 9/11, so it was just a different climate. Everyone I was in training with, everyone was just like ‘we’re not going to have to go to war’. Like the last war in our memory was the Gulf War when barely anyone went and all of the soldiers who died – like 99% – died from friendly fire: everyone blowing themselves up!

So there wasn’t really a consciousness about ‘oh, we’re going to go to war’. The memory of Vietnam was [that] that was the way wars were fought in the past, whereas they aren’t fought this way anymore. So everyone in my generation who joined was like ‘ah, we’re never going to go to war’.

I think the Iraq War in particular was just so outrageous, so heinous, that it didn’t matter how much propaganda and racism we were fed. I mean being in Iraq as an occupying soldier, pretty quickly you see that everything Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were saying on TV when you were going were just complete lies and that there was no justification…

For me I think that the thing that turned me around – which was the thing for most soldiers, because thousands of active-duty people turned against the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War too, but predominantly the Iraq War – is realising we’d be doing the same thing if we were Iraqi. And seeing what US forces were doing in the country.

I mean even if they weren’t just driving around shooting random people – which was happening – just being there, just being this kind of messed up occupying force, you know imposing a new government on people, subjecting people to checkpoints and home raids and all of these things – everyone I was with was basically like: ‘if I was Iraqi I’d be shooting at American forces’. You know who wouldn’t? It was like Red Dawn – everyone’s like this is like Red Dawn, except that we’re the bad guys!

So it wasn’t a big leap for people to not only to see through the propaganda, but identify with the people that we were told were enemies – and to see a great deal of commonality between the Iraqi people and ourselves. That’s really what moved me was feeling an intense brotherhood and kinship and commonality with the people that I was interacting with every day as an occupying soldier and understanding.

You know it reached the point where we’d be getting attacked and I’d be [thinking] I support this even though I might die, you know I definitely support that this is happening. Because I’d become so disgusted with what the Iraqi people had been made to live under.

And so I think that that actually happens in every war that the US wages, and that’s really the history of US intervention in every war – I mean going back to the 1800s [with] US occupation of the Philippines and so forth, you had soldiers who basically switched sides. I think that’s going to be the case in future wars also, but it’s also part of the history of the Afghanistan War. Large numbers of Afghanistan veterans became fighters and activists against it and they’re as much a part of the history as the history that’s going to be written for us.

After Obama ended the Iraq War, you know he declared this new national holiday: I thnk it was called ‘Freedom Day’ or something; marking the end of the Iraq War. And just laid out: this is the legacy of the Iraq War. The White House gave their own convoluted narrative history of the Iraq War, which was completely false and fake.

So it’s up to people like us to make sure they don’t do the same thing with the Afghanistan War. They’re going to try to rewrite the narrative, rewrite the history of what happened, what US forces did, but of course it’s going to bear no real resemblance to what really happened, and that’s up to grassroots independent media to make sure that stuff is still on the record.

Katie Halper: [from 40:10 mins]

A lot of people are talking about the poppy fields. Do you know what the significance of those are and the motives of the United States?

Mike Prysner: [from 40:25 mins]

Yeah, Afghanistan is like the biggest heroin producer. I mean it wasn’t until the US invasion. The Taliban had strict rules against cultivation of opium and so they had eradicated most of the opium production in the country. The US comes in and I think there’s a lot of speculation that the CIA wanted the opium because it was using it for dark money for black ops, and there probably was some degree of that.

The Taliban and the US basically allowed the cultivation of poppy in the country. The Taliban because it was a big money-maker. They had moral objection to it, but when you’re fighting a war against not only the United States, but all of the Nato powers, all the big imperialist countries, and all of their technological advance, it helps to have, you know, a few million dollars a week rolling in in heroin money.

How Afghan opium farming expanded during US occupation

But also the US allowed the heroin production because the US is stationed in all these middle-of-nowhere areas in Afghanistan; they’re having to have the loyalty of local farmers [as] people that they want to trust and say don’t let the Taliban put IEDs on our path. Tell us if there are insurgents who are going to come kill us. So in order to maintain good relationships with farmers in the countryside, they had to not just let them grow opium, but protect the opium.

And so you’ll hear any soldier who was stationed in the area where they were growing opium – there’d be paths where there would be IEDs on them, where you know if you walk down this path you’re going to get blown up – then there’s the opium field where you know if we walk through the field there’s probably not a good chance that there’s going to be an IED because where would you put them, it’s such a huge field? But they would get in trouble for walking through the opium field, because then the farmer would get mad and then they would call the commanders and the commanders would say ‘don’t walk through the opium fields’.

So then who knows how many people are walking around right now, or who are not walking around, [but] in wheelchairs or missing arms and legs, missing their genitals, simply because they didn’t want to walk through the opium fields because they would make someone [mad] who the commander thought was strategically important. So that speaks to the absurdity of the war the entire time.

The US of course would have liked to have a puppet government in Afghanistan – you know big pharma buys opium from places like India – I mean it is a commodity on the market; the US doesn’t really grow it itself. So of course the US, if they had won the Afghanistan War, would have thought ‘oh great, now we have a supply of opium that’s under our own jurisdiction’. And so yes, that was probably one of the ideal outcomes for the US war on the country – not just the oil industry, not just the mineral industry, not just the defence industry, but big pharma had a lot to gain from it also.

So I think that’s why you’re seeing a lot of opposition in the media. In the corporate media there’s a lot of anger about the withdrawal right now. Number one, because it’s just humiliating and makes the US look bad, and so they’re all mad that it happened in such a disastrous way. But there are sectors of the ruling class that are pissed that they are going to miss out on a huge cash crop unless they can have some kind of long-shot deal with the Taliban.

It’s funny because normally the media are just stenographers of the Pentagon, but it’s more that they’re just supporters of war whatever war it is. Because the Pentagon wants to leave: this is the Pentagon’s plan, and so it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the entirety of the establishment media, and all these big talking heads, go against the wishes of pretty much the entire Pentagon establishment is when they’re actually pulling back from a war. So it made me reevaluate that they don’t just repeat everything the Pentagon says, but [only] when it’s pushing more war around the world.

Katie Halper: [from 44:15 mins]

Yes, that’s really interesting.

And finally, [a listener] asks “isn’t this withdrawal to help with the new cold war with China?”

Mike Prysner: [from 44:20 mins]

Oh, absolutely. I mean that’s probably the most important thing about this.

When Obama came into office, he became very critical of Bush’s wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He said, ‘you screwed up Afghanistan; that should have been a quick easy in-and-out war’. But the case that Obama made was not that Iraq was just immoral and wrong, Afghanistan was a complete mistake to do this – his thing was: the American empire has become bogged down in the Middle East, and it is preventing us from pointing towards our real enemy which is China, and this doctrine of great power confrontation.

‘The Asia Pivot’ – many people will know that term, ‘the Asia Pivot’, which was Obama’s foreign policy orientation towards confronting China and building up military forces against China and rallying all our allies and potential allies to create confrontation and conflict with China

Pivot away from what? He meant pivot to Asia from the Middle East. So that was the Obama Doctrine: pivot away from the Middle East towards our real enemy China.

The drawdown, which is also happening in Iraq, the drawdown in Afghanistan, this is very much a re-orientation. That’s been happening for a little while. A re-orientation of US foreign policy and imperialism to try to disrupt and confront China, and other places in the world as well. But it’s harder to do that when you’re bogged down in a lost war. So yes, that’s obviously something everyone needs to be very conscious of.

You know I see a lot of comments saying, ‘the empire’s crumbling, the empire’s in decline’, because it’s been dealt this big embarrassing, humiliating military defeat. You know it was defeated very badly in Korea. The US was defeated very badly in Vietnam. That didn’t mean the US backed off at all: ‘hey man, we’ve got to relax on this war stuff’. They just went towards other parts of the world. They went to Latin America, and they went to the Middle East. I mean it doesn’t matter and it’s almost like they need to redeem themselves.

You know after the defeat in Vietnam, they were like: ‘communism got one over on us, but we’re going to get one over on the communists in Latin America’, and sponsor all these dirty wars, and start funding coups of independent and socialist governments around the world.

They’re not going to take this well. They know they look very bad. And what they can do to recover from it is focus everyone’s attention on some other theatre or some other American victory around the world, which we should be a little nervous about, but also prepared to confront it, because that’s of course what’s necessary.

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In Praise of Joe Biden | Stan Goff

The following extended excerpt is taken from an article published by Counterpunch on August 18th.

The US is not morally, socially, or politically fit to run the affairs of people halfway around the world. Forgotten — in the plethora of images being pumped into the fires of public outrage by the military-industrial-media complex — are the atrocities of “our side,” of the state of extreme exception that has been normalized since 2001, of the expansion of the war into seven countries by Obama, of the torture and execution black sites, the drone strikes against civilians, and the fascist Patriot Act. Unreported were the day-to-day humiliations and abuses that are committed by ALL occupying forces everywhere and throughout history.

I’ll tell you who made out like bandits, though. War industries and their politicians. Mercenary “contractors.” Cable news.

I completely understand, even if I disagree with, the sentiment of veterans and military families: “Can this all be for nothing? Did all those people spend all that time and effort, some losing life, limb, or eyesight . . . was all that treasure spent ($2.26 trillion conservatively) . . . for nothing?”

It’s an important question, because it’s the question that will become a campaign slogan soon enough, even though the answer is far less satisfying and politically effective than attacking Joe Biden for this affront to the nation’s masculinity. To those veterans and military families — from a retired Army veteran who belongs to a very military family — I say, yes, it was all for nothing . . . like a tragic accident, only one that someone did on purpose. It was all for nothing . . . if we let it be; that is, if we fail to learn from this. That’s how we make it “worth it,” as if such an accounting weren’t part of the bodyguard of lies that accompanies all wars.

I’m praising Joe Biden. This departure took guts. It takes guts in a culture so steeped in simulacra, manufactured myth, and incessant political maneuvering to do a thing that’s simultaneously necessary and sure to produce unsavory results. Whatever else Biden does that pisses me off in the future — and that’s a sure thing — he deserves credit, not all this hand-wringing and blame. He has confronted the Archons of the military-industrial-media complex, who are writhing and raging now across the screens of cable news — an industry taken over by the same ideology that got us into Afghanistan in the first place: neoconservatism, an arrogant and clueless late imperial ideology now spouted on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC.

Biden is not to blame for a “debacle” in Afghanistan.

This exercise in mortal stupidity started with George W. Bush, and cheered on by the media. It was extended and expanded by Bush II (Obama). It was denounced by Trump, but allowed to go on, because even Trump didn’t have the guts to risk a hit to the very performative masculinity that fueled his popular appeal. The occupation was not wine, improving with age. It was a wound festering to gangrene, and now there had to be an amputation. And none of them, not Bush, not Obama, not Trump, had the guts to say, “Stop!” Only Biden, at long last. Praise be!

Click here to read the full article entitled “In Praise of Joe Biden” by Stan Goff, published by Counterpunch on August 18th.

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Addendum: a guide to Leo Strauss’s influence on US neo-conservatism

A natural order of inequality

Danny Postel: You’ve argued that there is an important connection between the teachings of Leo Strauss and the Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war. What is that connection?

Shadia Drury: Leo Strauss was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics. Public support for the Iraq war rested on lies about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United States the business about weapons of mass destruction and a fictitious alliance between al-Qaida and the Iraqi regime. Now that the lies have been exposed, Paul Wolfowitz and others in the war party are denying that these were the real reasons for the war.

So what were the real reasons? Reorganising the balance of power in the Middle East in favour of Israel? Expanding American hegemony in the Arab world? Possibly. But these reasons would not have been sufficient in themselves to mobilise American support for the war. And the Straussian cabal in the administration realised that.

Danny Postel: The neo-conservative vision is commonly taken to be about spreading democracy and liberal values globally. And when Strauss is mentioned in the press, he is typically described as a great defender of liberal democracy against totalitarian tyranny. You’ve written, however, that Strauss had a profound antipathy to both liberalism and democracy.”

Shadia Drury: The idea that Strauss was a great defender of liberal democracy is laughable. I suppose that Strauss’s disciples consider it a noble lie. Yet many in the media have been gullible enough to believe it.

How could an admirer of Plato and Nietzsche be a liberal democrat? The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty, and that giving them these sublime treasures would be like throwing pearls before swine. In contrast to modern political thinkers, the ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition, they held, is not one of freedom, but of subordination and in Strauss’s estimation they were right in thinking so.

Praising the wisdom of the ancients and condemning the folly of the moderns was the whole point of Strauss’s most famous book, Natural Right and History. The cover of the book sports the American Declaration of Independence. But the book is a celebration of nature – not the natural rights of man (as the appearance of the book would lead one to believe) but the natural order of domination and subordination.

The necessity of lies

Danny Postel: What is the relevance of Strauss’s interpretation of Plato’s notion of the noble lie?

Shadia Drury: Strauss rarely spoke in his own name. He wrote as a commentator on the classical texts of political theory. But he was an extremely opinionated and dualistic commentator. The fundamental distinction that pervades and informs all of his work is that between the ancients and the moderns. Strauss divided the history of political thought into two camps: the ancients (like Plato) are wise and wily, whereas the moderns (like Locke and other liberals) are vulgar and foolish. Now, it seems to me eminently fair and reasonable to attribute to Strauss the ideas he attributes to his beloved ancients.

In Plato’s dialogues, everyone assumes that Socrates is Plato’s mouthpiece. But Strauss argues in his book The City and Man (pp. 74-5, 77, 83-4, 97, 100, 111) that Thrasymachus is Plato’s real mouthpiece (on this point, see also M.F. Burnyeat, Sphinx without a Secret, New York Review of Books, 30 May 1985 [paid-for only]). So, we must surmise that Strauss shares the insights of the wise Plato (alias Thrasymachus) that justice is merely the interest of the stronger; that those in power make the rules in their own interests and call it justice.

Leo Strauss repeatedly defends the political realism of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli (see, for example, his Natural Right and History, p. 106). This view of the world is clearly manifest in the foreign policy of the current administration in the United States.

A second fundamental belief of Strauss’s ancients has to do with their insistence on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.

The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. In On Tyranny, Strauss refers to this natural right as the tyrannical teachingof his beloved ancients. It is tyrannical in the classic sense of rule above rule or in the absence of law (p. 70).

Now, the ancients were determined to keep this tyrannical teaching secret because the people are not likely to tolerate the fact that they are intended for subordination; indeed, they may very well turn their resentment against the superior few. Lies are thus necessary to protect the superior few from the persecution of the vulgar many.

The effect of Strauss’s teaching is to convince his acolytes that they are the natural ruling elite and the persecuted few. And it does not take much intelligence for them to surmise that they are in a situation of great danger, especially in a world devoted to the modern ideas of equal rights and freedoms. Now more than ever, the wise few must proceed cautiously and with circumspection. So, they come to the conclusion that they have a moral justification to lie in order to avoid persecution. Strauss goes so far as to say that dissembling and deception in effect, a culture of lies is the peculiar justice of the wise.

Strauss justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie. But in truth, Strauss has a very impoverished conception of Plato’s noble lie. Plato thought that the noble lie is a story whose details are fictitious; but at the heart of it is a profound truth.

In the myth of metals, for example, some people have golden souls meaning that they are more capable of resisting the temptations of power. And these morally trustworthy types are the ones who are most fit to rule. The details are fictitious, but the moral of the story is that not all human beings are morally equal.

In contrast to this reading of Plato, Strauss thinks that the superiority of the ruling philosophers is an intellectual superiority and not a moral one (Natural Right and History, p. 151). For many commentators who (like Karl Popper) have read Plato as a totalitarian, the logical consequence is to doubt that philosophers can be trusted with political power. Those who read him this way invariably reject him. Strauss is the only interpreter who gives a sinister reading to Plato, and then celebrates him.

The dialectic of fear and tyranny

Danny Postel: In the Straussian scheme of things, there are the wise few and the vulgar many. But there is also a third group the gentlemen. Would you explain how they figure?

Shadia Drury: There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the higher pleasures, which amount to consorting with their puppies or young initiates.

The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society that is, the illusions of the cave. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.

Like Plato, Strauss believed that the supreme political ideal is the rule of the wise. But the rule of the wise is unattainable in the real world. Now, according to the conventional wisdom, Plato realised this, and settled for the rule of law. But Strauss did not endorse this solution entirely. Nor did he think that it was Plato’s real solution Strauss pointed to the nocturnal council in Plato’s Laws to illustrate his point.

The real Platonic solution as understood by Strauss is the covert rule of the wise (see Strauss’s The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws). This covert rule is facilitated by the overwhelming stupidity of the gentlemen. The more gullible and unperceptive they are, the easier it is for the wise to control and manipulate them. Supposedly, Xenophon makes that clear to us.

For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.

Nowhere is this state of affairs more advanced than in America. And the global reach of American culture threatens to trivialise life and turn it into entertainment. This was as terrifying a spectre for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmitt.

This is made clear in Strauss’s exchange with Kojève (reprinted in Strauss’s On Tyranny), and in his commentary on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (reprinted in Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue). Kojève lamented the animalisation of man and Schmitt worried about the trivialisation of life. All three of them were convinced that liberal economics would turn life into entertainment and destroy politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death. In short, they all thought that man’s humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and creature comforts.” Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.

Danny Postel: You’ve described Strauss as a nihilist.

Shadia Drury: Strauss is a nihilist in the sense that he believes that there is no rational foundation for morality. He is an atheist, and he believes that in the absence of God, morality has no grounding. It’s all about benefiting others and oneself; there is no objective reason for doing so, only rewards and punishments in this life.

But Strauss is not a nihilist if we mean by the term a denial that there is any truth, a belief that everything is interpretation. He does not deny that there is an independent reality. On the contrary, he thinks that independent reality consists in nature and its order of rank the high and the low, the superior and the inferior. Like Nietzsche, he believes that the history of western civilisation has led to the triumph of the inferior, the rabble something they both lamented profoundly.

Danny Postel: This connection is curious, since Strauss is bedevilled by Nietzsche; and one of Strauss’s most famous students, Allan Bloom, fulminates profusely in his book The Closing of the American Mind against the influence of Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.

Shadia Drury: Strauss’s criticism of the existentialists, especially Heidegger, is that they tried to elicit an ethic out of the abyss. This was the ethic of resoluteness choose whatever you like and be loyal to it to the death; its content does not matter. But Strauss’s reaction to moral nihilism was different. Nihilistic philosophers, he believes, should reinvent the Judæo-Christian God, but live like pagan gods themselves taking pleasure in the games they play with each other as well as the games they play on ordinary mortals.

The question of nihilism is complicated, but there is no doubt that Strauss’s reading of Plato entails that the philosophers should return to the cave and manipulate the images (in the form of media, magazines, newspapers). They know full well that the line they espouse is mendacious, but they are convinced that theirs are noble lies.

The intoxication of perpetual war

Danny Postel: You characterise the outlook of the Bush administration as a kind of realism, in the spirit of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli. But isn’t the real divide within the administration (and on the American right more generally) more complex: between foreign policy realists, who are pragmatists, and neo-conservatives, who see themselves as idealists even moralists on a mission to topple tyrants, and therefore in a struggle against realism?

Shadia Drury: I think that the neo-conservatives are for the most part genuine in wanting to spread the American commercial model of liberal democracy around the globe. They are convinced that it is the best thing, not just for America, but for the world. Naturally, there is a tension between these idealists and the more hard-headed realists within the administration.

I contend that the tensions and conflicts within the current administration reflect the differences between the surface teaching, which is appropriate for gentlemen, and the nocturnal or covert teaching, which the philosophers alone are privy to. It is very unlikely for an ideology inspired by a secret teaching to be entirely coherent.

The issue of nationalism is an example of this. The philosophers, wanting to secure the nation against its external enemies as well as its internal decadence, sloth, pleasure, and consumption, encourage a strong patriotic fervour among the honour-loving gentlemen who wield the reins of power. That strong nationalistic spirit consists in the belief that their nation and its values are the best in the world, and that all other cultures and their values are inferior in comparison.

Irving Kristol, the father of neo-conservatism and a Strauss disciple, denounced nationalism in a 1973 essay; but in another essay written in 1983, he declared that the foreign policy of neo-conservatism must reflect its nationalist proclivities. A decade on, in a 1993 essay, he claimed that “religion, nationalism, and economic growth are the pillars of neoconservatism.” (See The Coming Conservative Century, in Neoconservatism: the autobiography of an idea, p. 365.)

In Reflections of a Neoconservative (p. xiii), Kristol wrote that:

patriotism springs from love of the nation’s past; nationalism arises out of hope for the nation’s future, distinctive greatness. Neoconservatives believe that the goals of American foreign policy must go well beyond a narrow, too literal definition of national security. It is the national interest of a world power, as this is defined by a sense of national destiny not a myopic national security. The same sentiment was echoed by the doyen of contemporary Straussianism, Harry Jaffa, when he said that America is the Zion that will light up all the world.

It is easy to see how this sort of thinking can get out of hand, and why hard-headed realists tend to find it naïve if not dangerous.

But Strauss’s worries about America’s global aspirations are entirely different. Like Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kojève, Strauss would be more concerned that America would succeed in this enterprise than that it would fail. In that case, the last man would extinguish all hope for humanity (Nietzsche); the night of the world would be at hand (Heidegger); the animalisation of man would be complete (Kojève); and the trivialisation of life would be accomplished (Schmitt). That is what the success of America’s global aspirations meant to them.

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man is a popularisation of this viewpoint. It sees the coming catastrophe of American global power as inevitable, and seeks to make the best of a bad situation. It is far from a celebration of American dominance.

On this perverse view of the world, if America fails to achieve her national destiny, and is mired in perpetual war, then all is well. Man’s humanity, defined in terms of struggle to the death, is rescued from extinction. But men like Heidegger, Schmitt, Kojève, and Strauss expect the worst. They expect that the universal spread of the spirit of commerce would soften manners and emasculate man. To my mind, this fascistic glorification of death and violence springs from a profound inability to celebrate life, joy, and the sheer thrill of existence.

To be clear, Strauss was not as hostile to democracy as he was to liberalism. This is because he recognises that the vulgar masses have numbers on their side, and the sheer power of numbers cannot be completely ignored. Whatever can be done to bring the masses along is legitimate. If you can use democracy to turn the masses against their own liberty, this is a great triumph. It is the sort of tactic that neo-conservatives use consistently, and in some cases very successfully.

Among the Straussians

Danny Postel: Finally, I’d like to ask about your interesting reception among the Straussians. Many of them dismiss your interpretation of Strauss and denounce your work in the most adamant terms (bizarre splenetic). Yet one scholar, Laurence Lampert, has reprehended his fellow Straussians for this, writing in his Leo Strauss and Nietzsche that your book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss contains many fine skeptical readings of Strauss’s texts and acute insights into Strauss’s real intentions. Harry Jaffa has even made the provocative suggestion that you might be a closet Straussian yourself!

Shadia Drury: I have been publicly denounced and privately adored. Following the publication of my book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss in 1988, letters and gifts poured in from Straussian graduate students and professors all over North America books, dissertations, tapes of Strauss’s Hillel House lectures in Chicago, transcripts of every course he ever taught at the university, and even a personally crafted Owl of Minerva with a letter declaring me a goddess of wisdom! They were amazed that an outsider could have penetrated the secret teaching. They sent me unpublished material marked with clear instructions not to distribute to suspicious persons”.

I received letters from graduate students in Toronto, Chicago, Duke, Boston College, Claremont, Fordham, and other Straussian centres of learning. One of the students compared his experience in reading my work with a person lost in the wilderness who suddenly happens on a map. Some were led to abandon their schools in favour of fresher air; but others were delighted to discover what it was they were supposed to believe in order to belong to the charmed circle of future philosophers and initiates.

After my first book on Strauss came out, some of the Straussians in Canada dubbed me the bitch from Calgary. Of all the titles I hold, that is the one I cherish most. The hostility toward me was understandable. Nothing is more threatening to Strauss and his acolytes than the truth in general and the truth about Strauss in particular. His admirers are determined to conceal the truth about his ideas.

Respond to this article, and debate Strauss, philosophy and politics in our forum.

My intention in writing the book was to express Strauss’s ideas clearly and without obfuscation so that his views could become the subject of philosophical debate and criticism, and not the stuff of feverish conviction. I wanted to smoke the Straussians out of their caves and into the philosophical light of day. But instead of engaging me in philosophical debate, they denied that Strauss stood for any of the ideas I attributed to him.

Laurence Lampert is the only Straussian to declare valiantly that it is time to stop playing games and to admit that Strauss was indeed a Nietzschean thinker that it is time to stop the denial and start defending Strauss’s ideas.

I suspect that Lampert’s honesty is threatening to those among the Straussians who are interested in philosophy but who seek power. There is no doubt that open and candid debate about Strauss is likely to undermine their prospects in Washington.

Click here to read the full article written by Danny Postel based on an interview with Shadia Drury, published in October 2003.

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Noam Chomsky, September 11th, USA

5 former OPCW officials join prominent voices to call out Syria cover-up

Reprinted below is the full ‘Statement of Concern’ signed by more than twenty prestigious academics, journalists and leading weapons experts including five former OPCW officials who are named as Dr. Sabine Krüger, former OPCW Inspector 1997-2009; Dirk van Niekerk, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader & Head of OPCW Special Mission to Iraq; Dr. Antonius Roof, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader; Alan Steadman, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader & UNSCOM Inspector; and José Bustani, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France. The full list of signatories is attached at the end of the statement.

Click here to read the same statement as it originally appears posted on the Courage Foundation website on Thursday March 11th.

Embedded below is the latest broadcast of The Grayzone’s ‘Pushback’ in which Aaron Maté details the letter and airs clips of his and Tulsi Gabbard’s recent ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ appearance discussing the OPCW controversy:

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Statement of Concern

The OPCW investigation of alleged chemical weapons use in Douma, Syria

We wish to express our deep concern over the protracted controversy and political fall-out surrounding the OPCW and its investigation of the alleged chemical weapon attacks in Douma, Syria, on 7 April 2018.

Since the publication by the OPCW of its final report in March 2019, a series of worrying developments has raised serious and substantial concerns with respect to the conduct of that investigation. These developments include instances in which OPCW inspectors involved with the investigation have identified major procedural and scientific irregularities, the leaking of a significant quantity of corroborating documents, and damning statements provided to UN Security Council meetings. It is now well established that some senior inspectors involved with the investigation, one of whom played a central role, reject how the investigation derived its conclusions, and OPCW management now stands accused of accepting unsubstantiated or possibly manipulated findings with the most serious geo-political and security implications. Calls by some members of the Executive Council of the OPCW to allow all inspectors to be heard were blocked.

The inspectors’ concerns are shared by the first Director General of the OPCW, José Bustani, and a significant number of eminent individuals have called for transparency and accountability at the OPCW. Bustani himself was recently prevented by key members of the Security Council from participating in a hearing on the Syrian dossier. As Ambassador Bustani stated in a personal appeal to the Director General, if the Organization is confident in the conduct of its Douma investigation then it should have no difficulty addressing the inspectors’ concerns.

To date, unfortunately, the OPCW senior management has failed to adequately respond to the allegations against it and, despite making statements to the contrary, we understand has never properly allowed the views or concerns of the members of the investigation team to be heard or even met with most of them. It has, instead, side-stepped the issue by launching an investigation into a leaked document related to the Douma case and by publicly condemning its most experienced inspectors for speaking out.

In a worrying recent development, a draft letter falsely alleged to have been sent by the Director General to one of the dissenting inspectors was leaked to an ‘open source’ investigation website in an apparent attempt to smear the former senior OPCW scientist. The ‘open source’ website then published the draft letter together with the identity of the inspector in question. Even more alarmingly, in a BBC4 radio series aired recently, an anonymous source, reportedly connected with the OPCW Douma investigation, gave an interview with the BBC in which he contributes to an attempt to discredit not only the two dissenting inspectors, but even Ambassador Bustani himself. Importantly, recent leaks in December 2020 have evidenced that a number of senior OPCW officials were supportive of one OPCW inspector who had spoken out with respect to malpractice.

The issue at hand threatens to severely damage the reputation and credibility of the OPCW and undermine its vital role in the pursuit of international peace and security. It is simply not tenable for a scientific organization such as the OPCW to refuse to respond openly to the criticisms and concerns of its own scientists whilst being associated with attempts to discredit and smear those scientists. Moreover, the on-going controversy regarding the Douma report also raises concerns with respect to the reliability of previous FFM reports, including the investigation of the alleged attack at Khan Shaykhun in 2017.

We believe that the interests of the OPCW are best served by the Director General providing a transparent and neutral forum in which the concerns of all the investigators can be heard as well as ensuring that a fully objective and scientific investigation is completed.

To that end, we call on the Director General of the OPCW to find the courage to address the problems within his organization relating to this investigation and ensure States Parties and the United Nations are informed accordingly. In this way we hope and believe that the credibility and integrity of the OPCW can be restored.

Signatories in Support of the Statement of Concern:

José Bustani, Ambassador of Brazil, first Director General of the OPCW and former Ambassador to the United Kingdom and France.

Professor Noam Chomsky, Laureate Professor U. of Arizona and Institute Professor (em), MIT.

Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor, Harper’s Magazine.

Daniel Ellsberg, PERI Distinguished Research Fellow, UMass Amherst. Former Defense and State Department official. Former official of Defense Department (GS-18) and State Department (FSR-1).

Professor Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University.

Tulsi Gabbard, former Presidential candidate and Member of the US House of Representatives (2013-2021).

Professor Dr. Ulrich Gottstein, on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW-Germany).

Katharine Gun, former GCHQ (UKGOV), whistleblower.

Denis J. Halliday, UN Assistant Secretary-General (1994-98).

Professor Pervez Houdbhoy, Quaid-e-Azam University and ex Pugwash.

Kristinn Hrafnnson, Editor in Chief, Wikileaks.

Dr. Sabine Krüger, Analytical Chemist, Former OPCW Inspector 1997-2009.

Ray McGovern, ex-CIA Presidential Briefer; co-founder, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East, National Intelligence Council (rtd); member, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

Professor Götz Neuneck, Pugwash Council and German Pugwash Chair.

Dirk van Niekerk, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader, Head of OPCW Special Mission to Iraq

John Pilger, Emmy and Bafta winning journalist and film maker.

Professor Theodore A. Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Antonius Roof, former OPCW Inspection Team Leader and Head Industry Inspections.

Professor John Avery Scales, Professor, Pugwash Council and Danish Pugwash Chair.

Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator (Iraq).

Alan Steadman, Chemical Weapons Munitions Specialist, Former OPCW Inspection Team Leader and UNSCOM Inspector.

Jonathan Steele, journalist and author.

Roger Waters, Musician and Activist.

Lord West of Spithead, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff 2002-06.

Oliver Stone, Film Director, Producer and Writer.

Colonel (ret.) Lawrence B. Wilkerson, U.S. Army, Visiting Professor at William and Mary College and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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Filed under John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Syria

how the Guardian, NYT and rest of the “Vichy journalists” all sold Julian Assange down the river

“Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy” — Noam Chomsky

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On September 7th,  as Julian Assange’s extradition hearing entered its final stage, John Pilger gave this address outside the Central Criminal Court in London:

When I first met Julian Assange more than ten years ago, I asked him why he had started WikiLeaks. He replied: “Transparency and accountability are moral issues that must be the essence of public life and journalism.”

I had never heard a publisher or an editor invoke morality in this way. Assange believes that journalists are the agents of people, not power: that we, the people, have a right to know about the darkest secrets of those who claim to act in our name.

If the powerful lie to us, we have the right to know. If they say one thing in private and the opposite in public, we have the right to know. If they conspire against us, as Bush and Blair did over Iraq, then pretend to be democrats, we have the right to know.

It is this morality of purpose that so threatens the collusion of powers that want to plunge much of the world into war and wants to bury Julian alive in Trumps fascist America.

In 2008, a top secret US State Department report described in detail how the United States would combat this new moral threat. A secretly-directed personal smear campaign against Julian Assange would lead to “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”.

The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its founder. Page after page revealed a coming war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and democracy.

The imperial shock troops would be those who called themselves journalists: the big hitters of the so-called mainstream, especially the “liberals” who mark and patrol the perimeters of dissent.

And that is what happened. I have been a reporter for more than 50 years and I have never known a smear campaign like it: the fabricated character assassination of a man who refused to join the club: who believed journalism was a service to the public, never to those above.

Assange shamed his persecutors. He produced scoop after scoop. He exposed the fraudulence of wars promoted by the media and the homicidal nature of America’s wars, the corruption of dictators, the evils of Guantanamo.

He forced us in the West to look in the mirror. He exposed the official truth-tellers in the media as collaborators: those I would call Vichy journalists. None of these imposters believed Assange when he warned that his life was in danger: that the “sex scandal” in Sweden was a set up and an American hellhole was the ultimate destination. And he was right, and repeatedly right.

The extradition hearing in London this week is the final act of an Anglo-American campaign to bury Julian Assange. It is not due process. It is due revenge. The American indictment is clearly rigged, a demonstrable sham. So far, the hearings have been reminiscent of their Stalinist equivalents during the Cold War.

Today, the land that gave us Magna Carta, Great Britain, is distinguished by the abandonment of its own sovereignty in allowing a malign foreign power to manipulate justice and by the vicious psychological torture of Julian – a form of torture, as Nils Melzer, the UN expert has pointed out, that was refined by the Nazis because it was most effective in breaking its victims.

Every time I have visited Assange in Belmarsh prison, I have seen the effects of this torture. When I last saw him, he had lost more than 10 kilos in weight; his arms had no muscle. Incredibly, his wicked sense of humour was intact.

As for Assange’s homeland, Australia has displayed only a cringeing cowardice as its government has secretly conspired against its own citizen who ought to be celebrated as a national hero. Not for nothing did George W. Bush anoint the Australian prime minister his “deputy sheriff”.

It is said that whatever happens to Julian Assange in the next three weeks will diminish if not destroy freedom of the press in the West. But which press? The Guardian? The BBC, The New York Times, the Jeff Bezos Washington Post?

No, the journalists in these organisations can breathe freely. The Judases on the Guardian who flirted with Julian, exploited his landmark work, made their pile then betrayed him, have nothing to fear. They are safe because they are needed.

Freedom of the press now rests with the honourable few: the exceptions, the dissidents on the internet who belong to no club, who are neither rich nor laden with Pulitzers, but produce fine, disobedient, moral journalism – those like Julian Assange.

Meanwhile, it is our responsibility to stand by a true journalist whose sheer courage ought to be inspiration to all of us who still believe that freedom is possible. I salute him.

Click here to read the same transcript on John Pilger’s official website.

John Pilger also gave an extended interview with Afshin Rattansi on today’s ‘Going Underground’:

*

Yesterday was the last day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey and unless you have followed the daily reports from Craig Murray; Binoy Kampmark at Counterpunch; Joe Lauria of Consortium News or a handful of other alternative media sites, it is more than likely you have remained unaware that any trial was taking place, let alone what is at stake.

As Binoy Kampmark reported on Thursday – summing up events of the previous day:

Today will be remembered as a grand expose. It was a direct, pointed accusation at the intentions of the US imperium which long for the scalp of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. For WikiLeaks, it was a smouldering triumph, showing that the entire mission against Assange, from the start, has been a political one. The Australian publisher faces the incalculably dangerous prospect of 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Stripped to its elements, the indictment is merely violence kitted out in the vestment of sham legality. The rest is politics.

Doubtless, and was not for ‘the politics’, the Assange case would have made headline news and featured front-and-centre of mainstream news bulletins for weeks, not only because the seriousness of its potential ramifications – how it will cast a long shadow over press freedom and set a precedent for further US overreach based on trumped up charges of ‘spying’ – but more straightforwardly because of the prominence and quality of so many of the witnesses called to give testimony in Assange’s defence. These include (to single out just three of the more outstanding) Daniel Ellsberg, ‘Pentagon Papers’ whistleblower; Clive Stafford Smith, esteemed human rights lawyer and a  co-founder of Reprieve; before, on Wednesday, Noam Chomsky joined these illustrious ranks having issued a fourteen point submission of concise eloquence which concludes as follows:

One device to control the population is to operate in secret so that the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders will stay in their place, remote from the levers of power, which are none of their business. That’s the main purpose for classification of internal documents. Anyone who has pored through the archives of released documents has surely come to realise pretty quickly that what is kept secret very rarely has anything at all to do with security except for the security of the leadership from their domestic enemy, their own population.  The practice is so routine that illustration is really quite superfluous.  I’ll mention only one current case.  Consider the global trade agreements: Pacific and Atlantic, in actuality investor rights agreements masquerading under the rubric of free trade. They’re negotiated in secret. There’s an intention of a Stalinist style of ratification by parliaments –  yes or no –  which of course means yes with no discussion or debate, what’s called in the United States “fast track”.  To be accurate they’re not negotiated entirely in secret.  The facts are known to the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the details in such a way as to protect the interests of the constituency that they represent which is of course not the public. The public on the contrary is an enemy that must be kept in ignorance.

Julian Assange’s alleged crime in working to expose government secrets is to violate the fundamental principles of government, to lift the veil of secrecy that protects power from scrutiny, keeps it from evaporating – and again it is well understood by the powerful that lifting the veil may cause power to evaporate. It may even lead to authentic freedom and democracy if an aroused public comes to understand that force is on the side of the governed and it can be their force if they choose to control their own fate.

In my view, Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing. His actions in turn have led him to be pursued in a cruel and intolerable manner.

Click here to find Chomsky’s statement uploaded in full within Craig Murray’s report.

Returning to Binoy Kampmark’s report from the same day, he continues:

Witness statements were read from a veritable who’s who of courageous investigative journalism (Patrick Cockburn, Andy Worthington, Stefania Maurizi and Ian Cobain) and an assortment of legal freight from Guy Goodwin-Gill, professor of law at the University of New South Wales, Robert Boyle, well versed in the dark practices of grand juries and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

These statements, pointing to the value of the WikiLeaks publications, the care taken in releasing them, and the terrifying prospects for press freedom, deserve separate treatment.

Kampmark’s report then scrutinises in granular detail, evidence presented by two anonymous witnesses from the Spanish security firm UC Global S.L. in what he describes as “Wednesday’s grand show”. Since this lies outside of my purview, I direct and encourage readers instead to read his full article entitled “Assange on Trial: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping” published by Counterpunch on October 1st.

A précis is also provided by Craig Murray’s report from Wednesday:

Twenty minutes sufficed for the reading of the “gist” of the astonishing testimony of two witnesses, their identity protected as their lives may be in danger, who stated that the CIA, operating through Sheldon Adelson, planned to kidnap or poison Assange, bugged not only him but his lawyers, and burgled the offices of his Spanish lawyers Baltazar Garzon. This evidence went unchallenged and untested.

Meanwhile, here is what BBC has been reporting throughout what is (without exaggeration) the trial of the century – quite literally nothing! (the top article here is a ‘profile’ from September 23rd):

Screenshot from BBC website today

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“If I am a conspirator to commit espionage, then all these other media organisations and the principal journalists in them are also conspirators to commit espionage. What needs to be done is to have a united face in this.”

These are the words of Julian Assange quoted from an interview with journalist Mark Davis of Australian TV channel SBS back in 2011, as he unpacked why the US preferred to charge him under the Espionage Act of 1917 in their determined effort to isolate him from other journalists and thereby lessen an otherwise perceived threat that they too might share his fate. (The relevant section is from 24–43 mins and the quote is at 40:00 mins.)

In a different article published last week by Counterpunch, investigative reporter Jonathan Cook reminds us of Assange’s statement and places it in context:

During the course of the current extradition hearings, US officials have found it much harder to make plausible this distinction principle than they may have assumed.

Journalism is an activity, and anyone who regularly engages in that activity qualifies as a journalist. It is not the same as being a doctor or a lawyer, where you need a specific professional qualification to practice. You are a journalist if you do journalism – and you are an investigative journalist if, like Assange, you publish information the powerful want concealed. Which is why in the current extradition hearings at the Old Bailey in London, the arguments made by lawyers for the US that Assange is not a journalist but rather someone engaged in espionage are coming unstuck.

Cook continues:

Assange was doing exactly what journalists claim to do every day in a democracy: monitor power for the public good. Which is why ultimately the Obama administration abandoned the idea of issuing an indictment against Assange. There was simply no way to charge him without also putting journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian on trial too. And doing that would have made explicit that the press is not free but works on licence from those in power.

For that reason alone, one might have imagined that the entire media – from rightwing to liberal-left outlets – would be up in arms about Assange’s current predicament. After all, the practice of journalism as we have known it for at least 100 years is at stake.

But in fact, as Assange feared nine years ago, the media have chosen not to adopt a “united face” – or at least, not a united face with Wikileaks. They have remained all but silent. They have ignored – apart from occasionally to ridicule – Assange’s terrifying ordeal, even though he has been locked up for many months in Belmarsh high-security prison awaiting efforts to extradite him as a spy.

In a follow-up piece also published by Counterpunch, Cook discusses at greater length and in detail how the corporate media have betrayed Assange. Most egregious is the Guardian, which of course worked in collaboration with Wikileaks to publish the Iraq and Afghan war diaries. Cook writes:

My first criticism was that the paper had barely bothered to cover the hearing, even though it is the most concerted attack on press freedom in living memory. That position is unconscionably irresponsible, given its own role in publishing the war diaries. But sadly it is not inexplicable. In fact, it is all too easily explained by my second criticism.

That criticism was chiefly levelled at two leading journalists at the Guardian, former investigations editor David Leigh and reporter Luke Harding, who together wrote a book in 2011 that was the earliest example of what would rapidly become a genre among a section of the liberal media elite, most especially at the Guardian, of vilifying Assange.

He continues:

Leigh and Harding’s book now lies at the heart of the US case for Assange’s extradition to the US on so-called “espionage” charges. The charges are based on Wikileaks’ publication of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, then an army private, that revealed systematic war crimes committed by the US military. 

Lawyers for the US have mined from the Guardian book claims by Leigh that Assange was recklessly indifferent to the safety of US informants named in leaked files published by Wikileaks.

Assange’s defence team have produced a raft of renowned journalists, and others who worked with Wikileaks, to counter Leigh’s claim and argue that this is actually an inversion of the truth. Assange was meticulous about redacting names in the documents. It was they – the journalists, including Leigh – who were pressuring Assange to publish without taking full precautions.

Of course, none of these corporate journalists – only Assange – is being put on trial, revealing clearly that this is a political trial to silence Assange and disable Wikileaks.

Cook then provides details regarding a specific incident that is central to the prosecution claims highlighting how it was the Guardian journalists themselves and not Assange who must be held responsible for many of these unredacted leaks:

The February 2011 Guardian book the US keeps citing contained something in addition to the highly contentious and disputed claim from Leigh that Assange had a reckless attitude to redacting names. The book also disclosed a password – one Assange had given to Leigh on strict conditions it be kept secret – to the file containing the 250,000 encrypted cables. The Guardian book let the cat out of the bag. Once it gave away Assange’s password, the Old Bailey hearings have heard, there was no going back.

Any security service in the world could now unlock the file containing the cables. And as they homed in on where the file was hidden at the end of the summer, Assange was forced into a desperate damage limitation operation. In September 2011 he published the unredacted cables so that anyone named in them would have advance warning and could go into hiding – before any hostile security services came looking for them.

Yes, Assange published the cables unredacted but he did so – was forced to do so – by the unforgivable actions of Leigh and the Guardian.

Not that any of Wikileaks publications are believed to have harmed informants, as a Guardian report substantiates:

“Brigadier general Robert Carr, a senior counter-intelligence officer who headed the Information Review Task Force that investigated the impact of WikiLeaks disclosures on behalf of the Defense Department, told a court at Fort Meade, Maryland, that they had uncovered no specific examples of anyone who had lost his or her life in reprisals that followed the publication of the disclosures on the internet. “I don’t have a specific example,” he said.

It has been one of the main criticisms of the WikiLeaks publications that they put lives at risk, particularly in Iran and Afghanistan. The admission by the Pentagon’s chief investigator into the fallout from WikiLeaks that no such casualties were identified marks a significant undermining of such arguments.

Click here to read the full Guardian report entitled “Bradley Manning leak did not result in deaths by enemy forces, court hears” written by Ed Pilkington, published on July 31st 2013.

Moreover, John Young, the editor of a US website Cryptome (which has in the past been highly critical of Wikileaks) is another who gave evidence at the Assange hearings. Young told the court they had published the unredacted cables on September 1st 2011, crucially the day before Wikileaks published, though they (unlike Wikileaks) have never been pursued by law enforcement agencies. Craig Murray, who has been reporting from the public gallery throughout the trial, writes that:

Cryptome is US based but they had never been approached by law enforcement about these unredacted cables in any way nor asked to take them down. The cables remained online on Cryptome.

Similarly Chris Butler, Manager for Internet Archive, gave evidence of the unredacted cables and other classified documents being available on the Wayback machine. They had never been asked to take down nor been threatened with prosecution.

Click here to read the same in Craig Murray’s report from day 17 of the hearing published on September 25th.

Jonathan Cook then goes on to list the Guardian’s deceptions point-by-point. He writes – and I have reproduced below his criticism in full:

Every time the US cites Leigh and Harding’s book, it effectively recruits the Guardian against Assange and against freedom of the press. Hanging over the paper is effectively a threat that – should it not play ball with the US campaign to lock Assange away for life – the US could either embarrass it by publicly divulging its role or target the paper for treatment similar to that suffered by Assange.

And quite astoundingly, given the stakes for Assange and for journalism, the Guardian has been playing ball – by keeping quiet. Until this week, at least.

Under pressure, the Guardian finally published on Friday a short, sketchy and highly simplistic account of the past week’s hearings, and then used it as an opportunity to respond to the growing criticism of its role in publishing the password in the Leigh and Harding book.

The Guardian’s statement in its report of the extradition hearings is not only duplicitous in the extreme but sells Assange down the river by evading responsibility for publishing the password. It thereby leaves him even more vulnerable to the US campaign to lock him up.

Here is its statement:

“The Guardian has made clear it is opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange. However, it is entirely wrong to say the Guardian’s 2011 WikiLeaks book led to the publication of unredacted US government files,” a spokesman said.

“The book contained a password which the authors had been told by Julian Assange was temporary and would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours. The book also contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September

Cook then goes on to highlight the deceptions:

  1. The claim that the password was “temporary” is just that – a self-exculpatory claim by David Leigh. There is no evidence to back it up beyond Leigh’s statement that Assange said it. And the idea that Assange would say it defies all reason. Leigh himself states in the book that he had to bully Assange into letting him have the password precisely because Assange was worried that a tech neophyte like Leigh might do something foolish or reckless. Assange needed a great deal of persuading before he agreed. The idea that he was so concerned about the security of a password that was to have a life-span shorter than a mayfly is simply not credible.

  1. Not only was the password not temporary, but it was based very obviously on a complex formula Assange used for all Wikileaks’ passwords to make them impossible for others to crack but easier for him to remember. By divulging the password, Leigh gave away Assange’s formula and offered every security service in the world the key to unlocking other encrypted files. The claim that Assange had suggested to Leigh that keeping the password secret was not of the most vital importance is again simply not credible.
  2. But whether or not Leigh thought the password was temporary is beside the point. Leigh, as an experienced investigative journalist and one who had little understanding of the tech world, had a responsibility to check with Assange that it was okay to publish the password. Doing anything else was beyond reckless. This was a world Leigh knew absolutely nothing about, after all.

But there was a reason Leigh did not check with Assange: he and Harding wrote the book behind Assange’s back. Leigh had intentionally cut Assange out of the writing and publication process so that he and the Guardian could cash in on the Wikileak founder’s early fame. Not checking with Assange was the whole point of the exercise.

  1. It is wrong to lay all the blame on Leigh, however. This was a Guardian project. I worked at the paper for years. Before any article is published, it is scrutinised by backbench editors, sub-editors, revise editors, page editors and, if necessary, lawyers and one of the chief editors. A Guardian book on the most contentious, incendiary publication of a secret cache of documents since the Pentagon Papers should have gone through at least the same level of scrutiny, if not more.

So how did no one in this chain of supervision pause to wonder whether it made sense to publish a password to a Wikileaks file of encrypted documents? The answer is that the Guardian was in a publishing race to get its account of the ground-shattering release of the Iraq and Afghan diaries out before any of its rivals, including the New York Times and Der Spiegel. It wanted to take as much glory as possible for itself in the hope of winning a Pulitzer. And it wanted to settle scores with Assange before his version of events was given an airing in either the New York Times or Der Spiegel books. Vanity and greed drove the Guardian’s decision to cut corners, even if it meant endangering lives.

  1. Nauseatingly, however, the Guardian not only seeks to blame Assange for its own mistake but tells a glaring lie about the circumstances. Its statement says: “No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September 2011.”

It is simply not true that Assange and Wikileaks expressed no concern. They expressed a great deal of concern in private. But they did not do so publicly – and for very good reason.

Any public upbraiding of the Guardian for its horrendous error would have drawn attention to the fact that the password could be easily located in Leigh’s book. By this stage, there was no way to change the password or delete the file, as has been explained to the Old Bailey hearing by a computer professor, Christian Grothoff, of Bern University. He has called Leigh a “bad faith actor”.

So Assange was forced to limit the damage quietly, behind the scenes, before word of the password’s publication got out and the file was located. Ultimately, six months later, when the clues became too numerous to go unnoticed, and Cryptome had published the unredacted file on its website, Assange had no choice but to follow suit.

This is the real story, the one the Guardian dare not tell. Despite the best efforts of the US lawyers and the judge at the Old Bailey hearings, the truth is finally starting to emerge. Now it is up to us to make sure the Guardian is not allowed to continue colluding in this crime against Assange and the press freedoms he represents.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s article in full at Counterpunch and here to read his previous article also published by Counterpunch.

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Update:

On October 3rd, Craig Murray spoke about the hearing with Chris Hedges on his RT show ‘On Contact’:

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Filed under Australia, Britain, Craig Murray, internet freedom, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky

lions led by donkeys: heroes and villains in our war against Covid-19

Heroes

Heroic is a word that tends to be thrown around rather casually these days, with the unfortunate and inevitable consequence that it has become somewhat cheapened and degraded. There are times, however, when ‘heroic’, overworked as it is, becomes appropriate again. When searching for ways to describe acts of wholehearted self-sacrifice, it remains perhaps the only word that conveys this meaning with sufficient gravity.

The staff on the frontline in our hospitals, especially those working in intensive care, daily tending to the essential needs of critically ill patients, under extreme pressure because the wards they serve are already understaffed, are worthy of such a title even during ordinary times but it is during exceptional times of crisis when they truly earn the respect (if not the wage) that they fully deserve. Today’s sympathetic applause in countries and regions all throughout Europe is a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude and deep public support; even here in Britain, where a weekly ritual has been somewhat stage-managed, the applause is no less heartfelt.

Because even the everyday heroic commitment of our hospital workers, seldom remembered by most of us in ordinary times, is now exceeded each and every day, as those same doctors and nurses who continue to tend to the sick patients, do so at serious risk to their own lives.

The consequence of a long-term lack of investment and mismanagement of the NHS has become very apparent resulting in inadequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that leaves staff highly vulnerable to infection. In response nurses and doctors are posting photographs of the sorts of makeshift alternatives they have been forced to rely on. In response to this, some have even received official gagging notices for reporting such vital information:

For example, A&E staff at Southend hospital in Essex have been warned that they could face disciplinary action if they raise the issue of PPE publicly.

In a memo on 26th March they were told: “The posting of inappropriate social media commentary or the posting of photographs of staff in uniform who are not complying with IPC [infection prevention and control] standards and social distancing requirements is unacceptable. Such behaviour will be considered under the disciplinary policy.

“Now, perhaps more than ever, NHS staff are in the public eye and we have a responsibility to convey a professional image and to role model positive messages about social distancing. It would be very sad for moments of inappropriate or unprofessional behaviour to undermine the respect that we and our colleagues have from the public.”

Others who speak out are being bullied with threatening emails or more formally threatened with disciplinary action:

  • An intensive care doctor who voiced unease about facemasks was told by their hospital that “if we hear of these concerns going outside these four walls your career and your position here will be untenable”.
  • Another intensive care specialist was called into a meeting with their bosses and disciplined after raising concerns.
  • A GP working at Chase Farm hospital in London was sent home for voicing unease.
  • A consultant paediatrician in Yorkshire was told in an email from their hospital that their social media output was being monitored and they should be careful.
  • A GP who appealed to her community on social media for more supplies of PPE was then barred by her local NHS clinical commissioning group from speaking out. “I was being warned I wasn’t toeing the party line,” she said. 1

Consecutive governments abandoned them, failing to supply essential equipment, or to even run systematic screening today, but in spite of this they have not abandoned us, carrying out their duties irrespective of the additional risks, and this again is why we pay tribute to their heroism.

On April 8th, RT’s ‘Going Underground’ featured an extended interview with journalist and film-maker John Pilger, who began by reminding us of the suppressed finding of Exercise Cygnus, a pandemic simulation run by the British government as recently as October 2016, which revealed the country’s health system to collapse from a lack of resources including “inadequate ventilation”. Pilger also speaks to the damage done to the NHS caused by underfunding and stealth privatisation of services and the shifting of blame for current government failures on to the Chinese:

Healthcare workers in America have also been left exposed to the risk of infection due to lack of essential equipment. Last Thursday [April 2nd], nurses and doctors at Montefiore medical center in the Bronx protested over the lack of PPE. “Every day when I go to work, I feel like a sheep going to slaughter,” said Dr Laura Ucik, a third-year resident at the centre:

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In homage, I could now embed a whole sequence of video clips featuring medical professionals working on the frontline in Italy, Spain, America, and Britain’s NHS. They would all tell you how desperate the situation has already become; how unprepared their own health service is; and how fearful they are for the wellbeing of the patients and themselves. But there is little point in doing this, since the stories they tell are widely available across most media platforms. So I shall include just a single example: Dr David Hepburn, a Critical Care Consultant, who had been infected with Covid-19, but soon after recovering from the illness at home, returned to work – as countless other healthcare professionals have selflessly done.

Last week, Hepburn had told C4 News about how the intensive care wards at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport where he works had run out of space, so patients were moved into operating theatres. And, on April 3rd, Channel 4 News interviewed him again at length:

Asked to paint a picture of the current situation inside the critical care unit, Hepburn told us:

“It’s controlled chaos at the moment… the difference at the moment is that everybody is desperately unwell, everybody is on a ventilator, so the acuity or the severity of illness is very high”

Whilst regarding the demographics of the patient population, he says:

“There are a lot of people who are in work, there are a lot of people who are younger, the pattern of illness that we’ve seen in Gwent, and I can’t speak for anywhere else, is much younger patients that we were expecting; you know when the reports were coming out of Wuhan we were led to believe that this was something that was particularly dangerous for the more elderly patients, but I would say that all of the patients we have got on intensive care are in their 50s or younger at the moment.”

Hepburn’s account is now the repeated one. Please keep his testimony in mind as we come to the villains of the story in the next part, and not because it is extraordinary or exceptional, but because it is so very ordinary and fact-based. He has no reason to distort the truth and nor do any of the other healthcare professionals courageously struggling behind the scenes to save people like us.

On April 7th, John Campbell provided a summary of 4th April audit by Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre 9 (ICNARC) based on data collected from 210 ITUs in the U. The report shows that the median age for admission for critically ill patients is just 61 years old, and that the first quartile is 52 years old (coincidentally my own age), which means a quarter of those admitted are younger than I am. Three-quarters were men and 62.9 percent of all patients required mechanical ventilation in the first 24 hours:

Meanwhile, if the heroes of this pandemic are easy to see, they are also easy to support.

Founded by Cardiology Registrar, Dr Dominic Pimenta, you can offer support at HelpThemHelpUs, which is a independent forum for volunteering.

Novara Media welcomed Dominic Pimenta on to their March 31st broadcast to talk about the government’s plan and to outline the ideas behind his own HelpThemHelpUs initiative:

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Villains

Whereas the heroes are few, the villains abound. Let’s begin with the idiots because these are the lesser villains, even though the media often likes to portray them as a more tremendous threat to our lives.

We have the daft ones who are hoarding all the toilet rolls (fighting off competitors in a raw Darwinian struggle for survival as they grab their stash), presumably in order to pile them high as a monument to their own craven stupidity. The still more selfish are those who bought so much perishable food that they have already discarded most of it in rubbish bins. If we want a law against stupidity then I would begin by charging these people first of all.

A special dishonourable mention must also go to those hiding behind online aliases and spreading a different kind of rubbish whether on social media platforms or within comment sections. Incendiary drivel to the effect that ‘China’s day of reckoning must come’; as if they committed a crime or an act of war, when we still don’t know for certain the origins of this virus – despite the repeated though wholly unsubstantiated claims that its origins must have been that Wuhan wet market. The underlying message is an old one: beware the yellow peril!

And I wonder how much of this dog-whistle warmongering might actually be the product of our own military or intelligence units; the output of Brigade 77 for instance, or other more clandestine psychological operations such as GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) with its remit that includes “posting negative information on internet forums” all paid for with British taxpayer money. (Obviously, if these were foreign agents we would call them ‘troll farms’ but those are all spewing out bad Russian disinformation, not the good dishonest British stuff!)

From this array of lesser fools, however, we must turn upwards to consider those above. And according to the original government strategy, based solidly on ‘the science’ (lots more on that as we continue), the nation required around 60% infection of the population, in accordance with Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty’s assessment, to ensure ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity, which meant letting the spread of the virus continue unchecked, was now the answer to tackling Covid-19. Taking his hands off the wheel entirely being Johnson’s first big plan!

If this approach still sounds like it might have been scientifically informed (as it was obviously meant to), then unfortunately you are mistaken. Herd immunity certainly helps to protect a population from the spread of infectious disease, however, ordinarily, this is acquired through programmes of vaccination, which are presumed to be safe. By encouraging ‘herd immunity’ to tackle the spread of a novel pathogen on the other hand, requires the infection of millions with a disease of unknown severity – what are the lasting health effects; what is the lethality? Such a policy is clearly reckless in the extreme. In fact, we still do not even know for sure that immunity to Covid-19 will be lasting, so there is a chance that herd immunity cannot be achieved at all.

But we are slowly learning how the lights had been blinking red for months and Boris Johnson’s inability to lead a coordinated response was unravelling before it had even started:

In the medical and scientific world, there was growing concern about the threat of the virus to the UK. A report from Exeter University, published on February 12th, warned a UK outbreak could peak within four months and, without mitigation, infect 45 million people.

That worried Rahuldeb Sarkar, a consultant physician in respiratory medicine and critical care in the county of Kent, who foresaw that intensive care beds could be swamped. Even if disease transmission was reduced by half, he wrote in a report aimed at clinicians and actuaries in mid-February, a coronavirus outbreak in the UK would “have a chance of overwhelming the system.”

With Whitty stating in a BBC interview on February 13th that a UK outbreak was still an “if, not a when,” Richard Horton, a medical doctor and editor of the Lancet, said the government and public health service wasted an opportunity that month to prepare quarantine restriction measures and a programme of mass tests, and procure resources like ventilators and personal protective equipment for expanded intensive care.

Calling the lost chance a “national scandal” in a later editorial, he would testify to parliament about a mismatch between “the urgent warning that was coming from the frontline in China” and the “somewhat pedestrian evaluation” of the threat from the scientific advice to the government.

This same ‘special report’ from Reuters published on April 7th, also discloses why there was so little preparedness:

According to emails and more than a dozen scientists interviewed by Reuters, the government issued no requests to labs for assistance with staff or testing equipment until the middle of March, when many abruptly received requests to hand over nucleic acid extraction instruments, used in testing. An executive at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Oxford said he could have carried out up to 1,000 tests per day from February. But the call never came.

“You would have thought that they would be bashing down the door,” said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity. By April 5th, Britain had carried out 195,524 tests, in contrast to at least 918,000 completed a week earlier in Germany.

Nor was there an effective effort to expand the supply of ventilators. The Department of Health told Reuters in a statement that the government started talking to manufacturers of ventilators about procuring extra supplies in February. But it was not until March 16th, after it was clear supplies could run out, that Johnson launched an appeal to industry to help ramp up production.

Charles Bellm, managing director of Intersurgical, a global supplier of medical ventilation products based outside London, said he has been contacted by more than a dozen governments around the world, including France, New Zealand and Indonesia. But there had been no contact from the British government. “I find it somewhat surprising, I have spoken to a lot of other governments,” he said. 2

Click here to read the full article published by Reuters, which is apologetically entitled “Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm”. (Pushing the blame from the government onto its scientific advisors won’t wash, however the report contains some valuable insights nonetheless.)

Notable by its absence from this Reuters’ account of events is the advice and guidance of the World Health Organisation (WHO). This is important because for a while Britain had stood entirely alone, having taken its decision to act in brazen defiance to the directives of WHO, whose chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued his starkest warning on March 13th: “do not just let this fire burn”.

One day earlier Prime Minister Johnson was still solemnly reminding us “many more families are going to lose loved ones” – my own father saying to me afterwards, I suddenly realised “that means me”. But then, at the eleventh hour, Johnson and his government embarked on an astonishing U-turn. And hallelujah for that!

The reason was the maths: 60% of 66 million is very nearly 40 million, and, assuming a case-fatality rate of 0.7% (the best estimate we had – based on S Korean figures), that makes 280,000 deaths. No need for sophisticated epidemiological modelling or a supercomputer, the back of any old envelope will do.

As the sheer scale of the predicted death toll began to dawn on Johnson and his advisors, out of the blue came a highly convenient “leak”. Seemingly it fell upon Dominic Cummings to assume the role of scapegoat as fresh justifications were sought for a swift and sudden change of policy, purportedly based on the findings of ‘new modelling’ – reading between the lines, someone had to take the bullet and quite frankly Cummings was already the most detested of the principle actors.

Here’s how that “leak” was reported by The Sunday Times:

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior aide, became convinced that Britain would be better able to resist a lethal second wave of the disease next winter if Whitty’s prediction that 60% to 80% of the population became infected was right and the UK developed “herd immunity”.

At a private engagement at the end of February, Cummings outlined the government’s strategy. Those present say it was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad”.

At the Sage meeting on March 12th, a moment now dubbed the “Domoscene conversion”, Cummings changed his mind. In this “penny-drop moment”, he realised he had helped to set a course for catastrophe. Until this point, the rise in British infections had been below the European average. Now they were above it and on course to emulate Italy, where the picture was bleak. A minister said: “Seeing what was happening in Italy was the galvanising force across government.” 3

Click here to read the full article published by The Sunday Times on March 22nd.

(Or perhaps he really did have that “Domoscene conversion”! In which case, we must conclude that government policy was actually concocted more on the basis of Cummings’ whims, which is not exactly “following the science” either, is it?)

Incidentally, anyone who continues to deny the government’s rapid and complete U-turn (including Julia Hartley-Brewer, who I’ll come back to later), I direct to an article featured on Buzzfeed News from March 31st, which reads:

BuzzFeed News has spoken to health experts in the UK and across Europe to find out why [Britain has done comparatively little testing for coronavirus]. The answer, they said, stemmed from Britain’s controversial initial strategy of mitigation of the virus (rather than suppression), rendering testing a secondary concern — an approach which has also contributed to a lack of preparedness and the capacity to carry out tests at scale.

The UK’s mitigation approach was devised by England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. According to a person who has spoken to Whitty and [Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick] Vallance, they took the view that the UK should not attempt to suppress the outbreak entirely but rather prioritise protecting the elderly and vulnerable, and ensuring the NHS did not become overwhelmed, while allowing the rest of population to build up “herd immunity”.

This strategy meant that widespread testing of every coronavirus case was not a priority for the UK, the person said, since the government’s scientists were assuming that between 60% and 80% of the population would become infected.

Accordingly, no preparations were made to increase manufacturing or imports of testing kits, nor to expand the UK’s laboratory capacity. Imports of testing kits are now extremely difficult as other nations seek more than ever to keep them for their own use. 4

[Bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full article entitled “Even The US Is Doing More Coronavirus Tests Than The UK. Here Are The Reasons Why.”

However, the government and its advisors, although nominally in charge of matters, and accordingly as reprehensible as they are, should not be too isolated once it comes to attributing responsibility. The media must take a considerable share of any blame too.

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From the outset, the whole story surrounding coronavirus was completely politicised. For months it was all about Chinese mismanagement and repression, following which, after China slowly regained control of the situation in Wuhan, press attention and opprobrium switched to Iran.

Oh, how we all chortled when the Iranian Deputy Health Minister, Iraj Harirchi, was seen sweating out a fever as he tried to deliver a speech – in what sort of a tinpot regime does a Health Minister end up contracting the infection he is supposed to be fighting, hey? But shoe, other foot, media reframing… you get the picture:

Indeed, when Johnson himself was admitted to hospital and shortly afterwards moved to intensive care, a newspaper-led campaign encouraged people to gather outside again for a standing ovation to keep his spirits up. Of course, along with thousands of unfortunate victims still struggling for breath beside him, we wish him a full and speedy recovery, but this isn’t North Korea, and so, besides a handful of the party faithful, most of the country respectfully declined this nationwide call to lavish praise on the glorious leader.

On Good Friday, when another 980 deaths in hospitals alone were recorded – surpassing Spain and Italy’s worst recorded daily totals (figures for care homes are harder to establish), this was the headline in The Sun:

Only when Covid-19 gained a foothold in Europe was the tone adjusted, so that rather than peddling rumours about incompetence, due sensitivity was given instead to the suffering of the people – in this case, the Italian people.

Prior to the first European cases, there was also a lack of key information, and so it wasn’t until March that we first began to learn the full facts about the disease itself: how extremely virulent it is and not like flu at all, but SARS; how it doesn’t only attack the old and the vulnerable; how it is easily transmitted by asymptomatic spreaders and has a comparatively long incubation period; how between 5–10 percent of the victims require oxygen or mechanical ventilation, and many are left with irreparable lung damage. Suddenly China’s urgent need to construct new hospital facilities overnight became totally understandable.

Why were we left in the dark so long? Up until March Covid-19 still remained a blunt tool to beat the old enemies with, so presumably delving into cause of the crisis distracted too much from this propagandistic exercise. Yet this failure to fact-find – a routine matter for proper journalism – soon came back to haunt us.

Finally, a lack of widely available information accounts, at least in part, for why, three months on, Britain is desperately converting conference centres into thousand-bed hospitals: an impressive feat but one that also speaks to prior failures and a total lack of preparedness. China was our warning but the media was too sidetracked to stress this.

On April 5th, Sky News Australia released a “SPECIAL REPORT: China’s deadly coronavirus cover-up”, except that it isn’t and scarcely presents any evidence at all from China. Instead, it offers a montage of coverage from around the world, political talking heads, that are interspersed with images from a wet market (somewhere, presumably in South East Asia), overlaid with a breathless commentary and an ominous soundtrack. Today this passes for journalism apparently:

If the press instead had focussed more on the virulence of the disease, rather than always seeking a political angle, the public and governments of the West might have had greater cause to introduce tighter measures from the beginning, recognising the urgency of taking appropriate action to avoid suffering the same fate as the inhabitants of Wuhan. We could have closed our borders in time (yet they remain open even today) and made preparations for testing and contact tracing as they did in South Korea. But why take such drastic precautions if the problem is mostly one with the Chinese politburo and Iranian mullahs?

Indeed, as Rachel Shabi astutely reminds us in a more recent Guardian article, Britain is already blessed with teams of environmental health officers employed by local government who “have wide experience in contact tracing, a process used to prevent infections spreading and routinely carried out in outbreaks such as of norovirus, salmonella or legionnaires’ disease.”

As one of the environmental health workers she spoke to said, he was “struggling to figure out” why they hadn’t been given the go-ahead from the start. Another told her: “We are pretty good at infection control and contact tracing, it’s part of the job. We thought we’d be asked and were shelving other work.” In response, a spokesperson for Public Health England (PHE), said “the organisation did not call upon environmental health workers to carry out contact tracing for coronavirus, instead using its own local health protection teams.” 5

Hats off to Rachel Shabi for doing the legwork to expose this vital ‘missed opportunity’ by PHE and the government – examining the reasons behind this decision is now on the table for a public inquiry.

Unfortunately, much that passes for journalism today relies on scant research and little to no investigation at all. Instead it is informed by a diet of press conferences, press releases and press packs – all more or less pre-digested, all PR, and all oven-ready (as Johnson would say). Many reporters are the embedded and approved members of a press corps who grant their sources ‘quote approval’. Compounding this there is the groupthink and the self-censorship that has always existed.

In a well-known BBC interview with Noam Chomsky in 1996, Andrew Marr – who afterwards went on to become the BBC’s Political Editor – famously rebutted Chomsky’s accusation of a ubiquitous lack of media impartiality and journalistic integrity, demanding:

“How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are…”

Chomsky’s reply clearly rocks him: “I don’t say you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is, if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.” 6

It is understandable therefore (although not excusable) that those in the press and media have fallen into the easier habit of propagating and sanctioning accepted narratives, advocating official policy and being apologists for government mistakes and state crimes – after all, if you hold your nose, much of the job is done for you – readymade copy to cut and paste. And a climate of crisis furthers these temptations, cultivating this already indifferent attitude towards truth, and fostering journalistic practice that is non-confrontational on grounds of “national interest”.

By contrast, true journalism shares a lot in common with real science, which is similarly fact-based and objective. But to be fact-based and objective requires research and investigation, and this is tiresome and time consuming, so it’s easier not to bother.

Today, we see another consequence of this as the government shields itself behind ‘the science’, and the media once again provides it with cover. For instance, here is Sky News‘ Thomas Moore informing his audience as recently as March 27th that: “one of the government’s key advisors hazarded a guess this week that between half and two-thirds of those dying would probably have done so soon anyway.” [from 0:45 mins]:

How very Malthusian of him, you may think. How very: “herd immunity, protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad.”

It would be nice to stop right there. This kind of pseudoscientific validation for ideologically-informed policy is hardly worthy of closer examination. In this instance it is simply insulting, not only to the vulnerable and elderly whose existence Moore is quite literally attempting to delete but to anyone with an ear for propaganda. (And so for this secondary reason, let us parse his words just a little.)

Key advisor…? CMO for England, Chris Whitty; or former President of R&D of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) recently appointed government CSA, Sir Patrick Vallance; or Chief Executive of NHS England and former senior executive of UnitedHealth Group, Sir Simon Stevens, or some otherwise anonymous, faceless, quite possibly, non-existent advisor: who knows? Perhaps it was Matt Hancock…? Or was this again, Dominic Cummings?

Hazarded a guess… Really, can you get any vaguer than this? On what distant planet could Moore’s statement be considered remotely journalistic?

Not to be outdone on April 2nd, the BBC issued a Twitter stream along very similar lines:

 

 

Such Malthusian talking points are also echoed throughout a wide range of publications but found most especially on the shelves reserved for opinions of the libertarian right. As an outstanding example of this, I refer readers to a column written by Dr John Lee that was published in The Spectator as recently as March 28th: the day after the Sky News broadcast above, and just a fortnight ago.

Dr Lee is one of those pundits who love to cherry pick statistics; a talent so honed that upon first reading anyone could be forgiven for thinking that not only have we all been dreadfully deceived by our lying eyes but also by all the hysterical staff working in our NHS hospitals who incessantly talk nonsense about a crisis.

“The moral debate is not lives vs money,” Lee decides on the basis of the numbers, adding emphatically, “It is lives vs lives.” In fact, boiling Dr Lee’s argument down more literally, he is balancing risk to the economy against number of deaths, although doubtless it sounds more reasonable and more dramatic too, when you say “lives vs lives”. Not that the economy doesn’t matter, but that evidently from Lee’s viewpoint it sits high above mere lives and behind a huge ‘greater than or equal to’ sign. That said, his main proposal is a fittingly modest one:

Unless we tighten criteria for recording death due only to the virus (as opposed to it being present in those who died from other conditions), the official figures may show a lot more deaths apparently caused by the virus than is actually the case. What then? How do we measure the health consequences of taking people’s lives, jobs, leisure and purpose away from them to protect them from an anticipated threat? Which causes least harm?

Incidentally, the ultimate question here – “Which causes the least harm?” – sheds interesting light on Dr Lee’s own personal morality, or at least the ideas that underpin and inform it. Those who have studied philosophy will indeed recognise his stance, and place it under the technical heading ‘Consequentialism’: that the ultimate basis for a moral judgment should be founded on whether any action (or inaction) will produce a good or bad outcome, or consequence. Another way of saying this is “the ends justify the means”.

Consequentialism is essentially a rerun and a quite fashionable version of Utilitarianism, where Utilitarianism, in turn, values human behaviour according to some measure of usefulness. Once you understand this, it becomes a lot easier to comprehend why someone with Dr Lee’s outlook might share Cummings’ preference to “protect the economy and if it means some pensioners die, too bad”. The sacrifice of a few “useless eaters” (a phrase rightly or wrongly attributed to Kissinger) for the sake of the greater good. If I am being unkind to Dr Lee, then forgive me, but his words turn my own thoughts to Thomas Malthus again, who so eloquently justified the economic need for poor people to starve.

But I have digressed. The vital point to understand and remember here, as the establishment gatekeepers and government stenographers all insist, is that Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan-Smith and the rest of the Conservative crew have always acted in strict accordance with the best scientific advice available. And that never at any stage were decisions taken with callous indifference even when it came to their original decision to pursue a quasi-scientific policy of ‘herd immunity’ by letting a few of our loved ones die:

Governments everywhere say they are responding to the science. The policies in the UK are not the government’s fault. They are trying to act responsibly based on the scientific advice given. But governments must remember that rushed science is almost always bad science.

That’s also Dr John Lee’s opinion by the way, as he reaches for a conclusion to his piece. The case he makes fails throughout to acknowledge any government accountability whatsoever; not even when it comes to deciding which advice to listen to. A case that he set out as follows:

In announcing the most far-reaching restrictions on personal freedom in the history of our nation, Boris Johnson resolutely followed the scientific advice that he had been given. The advisers to the government seem calm and collected, with a solid consensus among them. In the face of a new viral threat, with numbers of cases surging daily, I’m not sure that any prime minister would have acted very differently. 7

It’s the science, stupid – just so you know.

By the way, I call Dr John Lee, Dr Lee because this is how his article is attributed. And I think he wants you to recognise his expertise because he describes himself as “a recently retired professor of pathology and a former NHS consultant pathologist”. There is nothing wrong, of course, in highlighting your own professional credentials. That said, the entire emphasis of his piece is that the government places trust in expertise as should you too. Thus, signing off in this fashion is a very effective way to pull rank on his readership. (Trust me on this, I’m a doctor too – I just don’t make a point of flaunting my PhD at every opportunity.)

If Dr John Lee wants you to get the message because he knows better, then for those who prefer to be browbeaten rather than condescended to, and as a quite different alternative, I offer the latest outpourings of small-‘c’ conservative rent-a-mouth Julia Hartley-Brewer.

Brewer is in fact the daughter of a GP, although happily she is otherwise as unqualified to proffer expert analysis on any subjects at all basically – unhappily, this doesn’t stop her and thanks to a public platform called Talkradio those unqualified and largely unsought opinions are broadcast across the nation on a weekly basis.

Recently she’s been doing a lot of Tweeting too, fulfilling her other obligation as a leading light amongst the commentariat. Here is one of her more recent efforts:

Yes, that’s right: the only thing that matters is whether Boris Johnson is following scientific advice. And he is – can’t you understand that? Now just shut up. I paraphrase, just a little; hardly at all really.

This brings me to reflect, finally and once again, on the dismal state of so much of today’s journalism and media more broadly, characterised, as it is, by wilful ignorance and woeful submissiveness to authority. Rigidly confined within an ever-tightening Overton Window, it speaks up for almost no-one, whether on the pressing question of how to fight coronavirus, or on most other vital issues of the day.

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1 From a report entitled “NHS staff ‘gagged’ over coronavirus shortages” written by Denis Campbell, published in the Guardian on March 31, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/31/nhs-staff-gagged-over-coronavirus-protective-equipment-shortages

2 From a ‘Special Report’ entitled “Johnson listened to his scientists about coronavirus – but they were slow to sound the alarm” written by Stephen Grey and Andrew MacAskill, published in Reurters on April 7, 2020. https://uk.mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUKKBN21P1X8

3 From an article entitled “Coronavirus: ten days that shook Britain – and changed the nation forever” written by Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler, published in The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-ten-days-that-shook-britain-and-changed-the-nation-for-ever-spz6sc9vb

4 From an article entitled “Even The US Is Doing More Coronavirus Tests Than The UK. Here Are The Reasons Why”, written by Alex Wickham, Alberto Nardelli, Katie J. M. Baker & Richard Holmes, published in Buzzfeed News on March 31, 2020. https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexwickham/uk-coronavirus-testing-explainer

5 From an article entitled “UK missed coronavirus contact tracing opportunity, experts say” written by Rachel Shabi, published in the Guardian on April 6, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/06/uk-missed-coronavirus-contact-tracing-opportunity-experts-say

6 Interviewed for The Big Idea, BBC2, February 14, 1996. A complete transcript is available here: http://scratchindog.blogspot.com/2015/07/transcript-of-interview-between-noam.html

The broadcast has also been uploaded on Youtube in full and is embedded below:

7 From an article entitled “How deadly is the coronavirus? It’s still far from clear?” written by Dr John Lee, published in The Spectator on March 28, 2020. https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/The-evidence-on-Covid-19-is-not-as-clear-as-we-think

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, China, Iran, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky

‘Your Man in the Public Gallery’ – Craig Murray’s report from day 1 of the Assange hearing

The following report was published on Tuesday 25th by Craig Murray.

Woolwich Crown Court is designed to impose the power of the state. Normal courts in this country are public buildings, deliberately placed by our ancestors right in the centre of towns, almost always just up a few steps from a main street. The major purpose of their positioning and of their architecture was to facilitate public access in the belief that it is vital that justice can be seen by the public.

Woolwich Crown Court, which hosts Belmarsh Magistrates Court, is built on totally the opposite principle. It is designed with no other purpose than to exclude the public. Attached to a prison on a windswept marsh far from any normal social centre, an island accessible only through navigating a maze of dual carriageways, the entire location and architecture of the building is predicated on preventing public access. It is surrounded by a continuation of the same extremely heavy duty steel paling barrier that surrounds the prison. It is the most extraordinary thing, a courthouse which is a part of the prison system itself, a place where you are already considered guilty and in jail on arrival. Woolwich Crown Court is nothing but the physical negation of the presumption of innocence, the very incarnation of injustice in unyielding steel, concrete and armoured glass. It has precisely the same relationship to the administration of justice as Guantanamo Bay or the Lubyanka. It is in truth just the sentencing wing of Belmarsh prison.

When enquiring about facilities for the public to attend the hearing, an Assange activist was told by a member of court staff that we should realise that Woolwich is a “counter-terrorism court”. That is true de facto, but in truth a “counter-terrorism court” is an institution unknown to the UK constitution. Indeed, if a single day at Woolwich Crown Court does not convince you the existence of liberal democracy is now a lie, then your mind must be very closed indeed.

Extradition hearings are not held at Belmarsh Magistrates Court inside Woolwich Crown Court. They are always held at Westminster Magistrates Court as the application is deemed to be delivered to the government at Westminster. Now get your head around this. This hearing is at Westminster Magistrates Court. It is being held by the Westminster magistrates and Westminster court staff, but located at Belmarsh Magistrates Court inside Woolwich Crown Court. All of which weird convolution is precisely so they can use the “counter-terrorist court” to limit public access and to impose the fear of the power of the state.

One consequence is that, in the courtroom itself, Julian Assange is confined at the back of the court behind a bulletproof glass screen. He made the point several times during proceedings that this makes it very difficult for him to see and hear the proceedings. The magistrate, Vanessa Baraitser, chose to interpret this with studied dishonesty as a problem caused by the very faint noise of demonstrators outside, as opposed to a problem caused by Assange being locked away from the court in a massive bulletproof glass box.

Now there is no reason at all for Assange to be in that box, designed to restrain extremely physically violent terrorists. He could sit, as a defendant at a hearing normally would, in the body of the court with his lawyers. But the cowardly and vicious Baraitser has refused repeated and persistent requests from the defence for Assange to be allowed to sit with his lawyers. Baraitser of course is but a puppet, being supervised by Chief Magistrate Lady Arbuthnot, a woman so enmeshed in the defence and security service establishment I can conceive of no way in which her involvement in this case could be more corrupt.

It does not matter to Baraitser or Arbuthnot if there is any genuine need for Assange to be incarcerated in a bulletproof box, or whether it stops him from following proceedings in court. Baraitser’s intention is to humiliate Assange, and to instill in the rest of us horror at the vast crushing power of the state. The inexorable strength of the sentencing wing of the nightmarish Belmarsh Prison must be maintained. If you are here, you are guilty.

It’s the Lubyanka. You may only be a remand prisoner. This may only be a hearing not a trial. You may have no history of violence and not be accused of any violence. You may have three of the country’s most eminent psychiatrists submitting reports of your history of severe clinical depression and warning of suicide. But I, Vanessa Baraitser, am still going to lock you up in a box designed for the most violent of terrorists. To show what we can do to dissidents. And if you can’t then follow court proceedings, all the better.

You will perhaps better accept what I say about the Court when I tell you that, for a hearing being followed all round the world, they have brought it to a courtroom which had a total number of sixteen seats available to members of the public. 16. To make sure I got one of those 16 and could be your man in the gallery, I was outside that great locked iron fence queuing in the cold, wet and wind from 6am. At 8am the gate was unlocked, and I was able to walk inside the fence to another queue before the doors of the courtroom, where despite the fact notices clearly state the court opens to the public at 8am, I had to queue outside the building again for another hour and forty minutes. Then I was processed through armoured airlock doors, through airport type security, and had to queue behind two further locked doors, before finally getting to my seat just as the court started at 10am. By which stage the intention was we should have been thoroughly cowed and intimidated, not to mention drenched and potentially hypothermic.

There was a separate media entrance and a media room with live transmission from the courtroom, and there were so many scores of media I thought I could relax and not worry as the basic facts would be widely reported. In fact, I could not have been more wrong. I followed the arguments very clearly every minute of the day, and not a single one of the most important facts and arguments today has been reported anywhere in the mainstream media. That is a bold claim, but I fear it is perfectly true. So I have much work to do to let the world know what actually happened. The mere act of being an honest witness is suddenly extremely important, when the entire media has abandoned that role.

James Lewis QC made the opening statement for the prosecution. It consisted of two parts, both equally extraordinary. The first and longest part was truly remarkable for containing no legal argument, and for being addressed not to the magistrate but to the media. It is not just that it was obvious that is where his remarks were aimed, he actually stated on two occasions during his opening statement that he was addressing the media, once repeating a sentence and saying specifically that he was repeating it again because it was important that the media got it.

I am frankly astonished that Baraitser allowed this. It is completely out of order for a counsel to address remarks not to the court but to the media, and there simply could not be any clearer evidence that this is a political show trial and that Baraitser is complicit in that. I have not the slightest doubt that the defence would have been pulled up extremely quickly had they started addressing remarks to the media. Baraitser makes zero pretence of being anything other than in thrall to the Crown, and by extension to the US Government.

The points which Lewis wished the media to know were these: it is not true that mainstream outlets like the Guardian and New York Times are also threatened by the charges against Assange, because Assange was not charged with publishing the cables but only with publishing the names of informants, and with cultivating Manning and assisting him to attempt computer hacking. Only Assange had done these things, not mainstream outlets.

Lewis then proceeded to read out a series of articles from the mainstream media attacking Assange, as evidence that the media and Assange were not in the same boat. The entire opening hour consisted of the prosecution addressing the media, attempting to drive a clear wedge between the media and Wikileaks and thus aimed at reducing media support for Assange. It was a political address, not remotely a legal submission. At the same time, the prosecution had prepared reams of copies of this section of Lewis’ address, which were handed out to the media and given them electronically so they could cut and paste.

Following an adjournment, magistrate Baraitser questioned the prosecution on the veracity of some of these claims. In particular, the claim that newspapers were not in the same position because Assange was charged not with publication, but with “aiding and abetting” Chelsea Manning in getting the material, did not seem consistent with Lewis’ reading of the 1989 Official Secrets Act, which said that merely obtaining and publishing any government secret was an offence. Surely, Baraitser suggested, that meant that newspapers just publishing the Manning leaks would be guilty of an offence?

This appeared to catch Lewis entirely off guard. The last thing he had expected was any perspicacity from Baraitser, whose job was just to do what he said. Lewis hummed and hawed, put his glasses on and off several times, adjusted his microphone repeatedly and picked up a succession of pieces of paper from his brief, each of which appeared to surprise him by its contents, as he waved them haplessly in the air and said he really should have cited the Shayler case but couldn’t find it. It was liking watching Columbo with none of the charm and without the killer question at the end of the process.

Suddenly Lewis appeared to come to a decision. Yes, he said much more firmly. The 1989 Official Secrets Act had been introduced by the Thatcher Government after the Ponting Case, specifically to remove the public interest defence and to make unauthorised possession of an official secret a crime of strict liability – meaning no matter how you got it, publishing and even possessing made you guilty. Therefore, under the principle of dual criminality, Assange was liable for extradition whether or not he had aided and abetted Manning. Lewis then went on to add that any journalist and any publication that printed the official secret would therefore also be committing an offence, no matter how they had obtained it, and no matter if it did or did not name informants.

Lewis had thus just flat out contradicted his entire opening statement to the media stating that they need not worry as the Assange charges could never be applied to them. And he did so straight after the adjournment, immediately after his team had handed out copies of the argument he had now just completely contradicted. I cannot think it has often happened in court that a senior lawyer has proven himself so absolutely and so immediately to be an unmitigated and ill-motivated liar. This was undoubtedly the most breathtaking moment in today’s court hearing.

Yet remarkably I cannot find any mention anywhere in the mainstream media that this happened at all. What I can find, everywhere, is the mainstream media reporting, via cut and paste, Lewis’s first part of his statement on why the prosecution of Assange is not a threat to press freedom; but nobody seems to have reported that he totally abandoned his own argument five minutes later. Were the journalists too stupid to understand the exchanges?

The explanation is very simple. The clarification coming from a question Baraitser asked Lewis, there is no printed or electronic record of Lewis’ reply. His original statement was provided in cut and paste format to the media. His contradiction of it would require a journalist to listen to what was said in court, understand it and write it down. There is no significant percentage of mainstream media journalists who command that elementary ability nowadays. “Journalism” consists of cut and paste of approved sources only. Lewis could have stabbed Assange to death in the courtroom, and it would not be reported unless contained in a government press release.

I was left uncertain of Baraitser’s purpose in this. Plainly she discomfited Lewis very badly on this point, and appeared rather to enjoy doing so. On the other hand the point she made is not necessarily helpful to the defence. What she was saying was essentially that Julian could be extradited under dual criminality, from the UK point of view, just for publishing, whether or not he conspired with Chelsea Manning, and that all the journalists who published could be charged too. But surely this is a point so extreme that it would be bound to be invalid under the Human Rights Act? Was she pushing Lewis to articulate a position so extreme as to be untenable – giving him enough rope to hang himself – or was she slavering at the prospect of not just extraditing Assange, but of mass prosecutions of journalists?

The reaction of one group was very interesting. The four US government lawyers seated immediately behind Lewis had the grace to look very uncomfortable indeed as Lewis baldly declared that any journalist and any newspaper or broadcast media publishing or even possessing any government secret was committing a serious offence. Their entire strategy had been to pretend not to be saying that.

Lewis then moved on to conclude the prosecution’s arguments. The court had no decision to make, he stated. Assange must be extradited. The offence met the test of dual criminality as it was an offence both in the USA and UK. UK extradition law specifically barred the court from testing whether there was any evidence to back up the charges. If there had been, as the defence argued, abuse of process, the court must still extradite and then the court must pursue the abuse of process as a separate matter against the abusers. (This is a particularly specious argument as it is not possible for the court to take action against the US government due to sovereign immunity, as Lewis well knows). Finally, Lewis stated that the Human Rights Act and freedom of speech were completely irrelevant in extradition proceedings.

Edward Fitzgerald then arose to make the opening statement for the defence. He started by stating that the motive for the prosecution was entirely political, and that political offences were specifically excluded under article 4.1 of the UK/US extradition treaty. He pointed out that at the time of the Chelsea Manning Trial and again in 2013 the Obama administration had taken specific decisions not to prosecute Assange for the Manning leaks. This had been reversed by the Trump administration for reasons that were entirely political.

On abuse of process, Fitzgerald referred to evidence presented to the Spanish criminal courts that the CIA had commissioned a Spanish security company to spy on Julian Assange in the Embassy, and that this spying specifically included surveillance of Assange’s privileged meetings with his lawyers to discuss extradition. For the state trying to extradite to spy on the defendant’s client-lawyer consultations is in itself grounds to dismiss the case. (This point is undoubtedly true. Any decent judge would throw the case out summarily for the outrageous spying on the defence lawyers).

Fitzgerald went on to say the defence would produce evidence the CIA not only spied on Assange and his lawyers, but actively considered kidnapping or poisoning him, and that this showed there was no commitment to proper rule of law in this case.

Fitzgerald said that the prosecution’s framing of the case contained deliberate misrepresentation of the facts that also amounted to abuse of process. It was not true that there was any evidence of harm to informants, and the US government had confirmed this in other fora, eg in Chelsea Manning’s trial. There had been no conspiracy to hack computers, and Chelsea Manning had been acquitted on that charge at court martial. Lastly it was untrue that Wikileaks had initiated publication of unredacted names of informants, as other media organisations had been responsible for this first.

Again, so far as I can see, while the US allegation of harm to informants is widely reported, the defence’s total refutation on the facts and claim that the fabrication of facts amounts to abuse of process is not much reported at all. Fitzgerald finally referred to US prison conditions, the impossibility of a fair trial in the US, and the fact the Trump Administration has stated foreign nationals will not receive First Amendment protections, as reasons that extradition must be barred. You can read the whole defence statement, but in my view the strongest passage was on why this is a political prosecution, and thus precluded from extradition.

For the purposes of section 81(a), I next have to deal with the question of how this politically motivated prosecution satisfies the test of being directed against Julian Assange because of his political opinions. The essence of his political opinions which have provoked this prosecution are summarised in the reports of Professor Feldstein [tab 18], Professor Rogers [tab 40], Professor Noam Chomsky [tab 39] and Professor Kopelman:-
i. He is a leading proponent of an open society and of freedom of expression.
ii. He is anti-war and anti-imperialism.
iii. He is a world-renowned champion of political transparency and of the public’s right to access information on issues of importance – issues such as political corruption, war crimes, torture and the mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees.

5.4. Those beliefs and those actions inevitably bring him into conflict with powerful states including the current US administration, for political reasons. Which explains why he has been denounced as a terrorist and why President Trump has in the past called for the death penalty.

5.5. But I should add his revelations are far from confined to the wrongdoings of the US. He has exposed surveillance by Russia; and published exposes of Mr Assad in Syria; and it is said that WikiLeaks revelations about corruption in Tunisia and torture in Egypt were the catalyst for the Arab Spring itself.

5.6. The US say he is no journalist. But you will see a full record of his work in Bundle M. He has been a member of the Australian journalists union since 2009, he is a member of the NUJ and the European Federation of Journalists. He has won numerous media awards including being honoured with the highest award for Australian journalists. His work has been recognised by the Economist, Amnesty International and the Council of Europe. He is the winner of the Martha Gelhorn prize and has been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, including both last year and this year. You can see from the materials that he has written books, articles and documentaries. He has had articles published in the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Statesman, just to name a few. Some of the very publications for which his extradition is being sought have been refereed to and relied upon in Courts throughout the world, including the UK Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights. In short, he has championed the cause of transparency and freedom of information throughout the world.

5.7. Professor Noam Chomsky puts it like this: – ‘in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of profess to share he has performed an enormous service to all those in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing’ [see tab 39, paragraph 14]. So Julian Assange’s positive impact on the world is undeniable. The hostility it has provoked from the Trump administration is equally undeniable. The legal test for ‘political opinions’

5.8. I am sure you are aware of the legal authorities on this issue: namely whether a request is made because of the defendant’s political opinions. A broad approach has to be adopted when applying the test. In support of this we rely on the case of Re Asliturk [2002] EWHC 2326 (abuse authorities, tab 11, at paras 25 – 26) which clearly establishes that such a wide approach should be adopted to the concept of political opinions. And that will clearly cover Julian Assange’s ideological positions. Moreover, we also rely on cases such as Emilia Gomez v SSHD [2000] INLR 549 at tab 43 of the political offence authorities bundle. These show that the concept of “political opinions” extends to the political opinions imputed to the individual citizen by the state which prosecutes him. For that reason the characterisation of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence agency” by Mr Pompeo makes clear that he has been targeted for his imputed political opinions. All the experts whose reports you have show that Julian Assange has been targeted because of the political position imputed to him by the Trump administration – as an enemy of America who must be brought down.

Tomorrow the defence continue. I am genuinely uncertain what will happen as I feel at the moment far too exhausted to be there at 6am to queue to get in. But I hope somehow I will contrive another report tomorrow evening.

With grateful thanks to those who donated or subscribed to make this reporting possible.

This article is entirely free to reproduce and publish, including in translation, and I very much hope people will do so actively. Truth shall set us free.

Click here to read the same report on Craig Murray’s official website.

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‘Jewish support for Chris Williamson’: an open letter signed by 100 prominent Jews is censored by the Guardian

Reproduced in full below is an open letter signed by over a 100 prominent members of the Jewish community that was originally published in Monday’s Guardian. The next day it was removed “pending investigation”.

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Jewish support for Chris Williamson

Prominent members of the Jewish community, in the UK and abroad, write to defend the Labour MP Chris Williamson amid allegations of antisemitism.

We the undersigned, all Jews, are writing in support of Chris Williamson and to register our dismay at the recent letter organised by Tom Watson, and signed by parliamentary Labour party and House of Lords members, calling for his suspension (Anger over return of MP who said Labour was ‘too apologetic’ over antisemitism, 28 June).

Chris Williamson did not say that the party had been “too apologetic about antisemitism”, as has been widely misreported. He correctly stated that the Labour party has done more than any other party to combat the scourge of antisemitism and that, therefore, its stance should be less apologetic.

Such attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters aim to undermine not only the Labour party’s leadership but also all pro-Palestinian members.

The mass media have ignored the huge support for Chris both within and beyond the Labour party. Support that includes many Jews. The party needs people like him, with the energy and determination to fight for social justice.

As anti-racist Jews, we regard Chris as our ally: he stands as we do with the oppressed rather than the oppressor. It should also be noted that he has a longer record of campaigning against racism and fascism than most of his detractors.

The Chakrabarti report recommended that the party’s disciplinary procedures respect due process, favour education over expulsion and promote a culture of free speech, yet this has been abandoned in practice. We ask the Labour party to reinstate Chris Williamson and cease persecuting such members on false allegations of antisemitism.

Noam Chomsky, MIT
Norman Finkelstein, Lecturer and writer
Ed Asner, Actor
Prof Richard Falk, Princeton University
Leah Lavene and Jenny Manson, Jewish Voice for Labour
…and more than 100 others.

For the full list of signatories, click here. This letter was previously published in The Guardian, but was removed “pending investigation”.

Click here to find the same article as it appears reproduced by Off-Guardian.

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Additional:

As Kit Knightly of Off-Guardian writes:

The Board of Deputies of British Jews apparently formally complained to the Guardian regarding their “mishandling” of the letter. It was covered in the Jewish Chronicle and the Huffington Post.

Either way, the letter is gone.

Of course, it’s peculiar that this particular open letter had to sent in to them anyway, since The Graun usually like to advertise the views of Noam Chomsky. At least, as long as he’s criticising the government of Venezuela, or critiqueing the BDS movement.

When he’s deploring the US-backed coup in Venezuela, or dismissing the Russiagate accusations as “a bad joke”, he tends to get less publicity.

Funny that.

Perhaps more important than the presence of Chomsky’s name, or that of Norman Finkelstein, is the sheer number of CLP’s represented by the other signatories.

Well over a hundred Jewish Labour members, representing dozens of CLPs, all completely at odds with the Parliamentary Labour Party on this issue. For years this rift – between the MPs and their members – has been obvious. It seems to get wider all the time.

You see Tom Watson et al. accusing Labour members of “bullying” MPs by calling for de-selection. None of the MPs who defected to the absurd Change UK (or whatever their current name is) faced a by-election – which means several CLPs, and thousands of loyal Labour voters, have had their votes and MPs stolen from them. The Blairite wing of the PLP, spearheaded by Watson and his cabal of climbers, have not said a word about this.

When a general election comes, this will be an issue to watch.

It is an encouraging sign for those of us who try hard to spread the truth, at least. Because it means the totally created “antisemitism crisis” is being seen for what it is by a good portion of Labour members. Just another example of ordinary people, in the real world, clashing with the media bubble.

Returning to the letter, it’s actually hard to see why they would bother censoring it, yes it is counter to the establishment narrative, but it is hardly extreme. You could almost call deleting it a desperate thing to do. A move which shows the insecurity of their position. Whatever the eventually announced reason is for removing the letter, it is certainly the wrong thing to do, and not just ethically. The Streisand effect exists. Removing the letter simply calls attention to it, far smarter to just let it rot on the back pages of the internet.

Click here to read Knightly’s full response published by Off-Guardian.

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roll up the red carpet!

The following article is Chapter Five of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year and beyond. Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

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“All animals are equal
but some animals are more equal than others

— George Orwell 1

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I discovered recently and by happy accident that the author, Michael Young, who invented the term ‘meritocracy’, detested his own creation. Here’s how Young outlined his position in a Guardian article “Down with meritocracy”, published in 2001:

I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair.

The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.2

But I shall save further thoughts of Michael Young until later, and begin here by considering what lies in the shadows of a meritocracy. After all, and at first glance, what on earth can be wrong with the purposeful restructuring of society in ways that prioritise ‘merit’ above all else? Isn’t this the epitome of a fair system?

As with examining most ideas, it is helpful first to step back a little to gain perspective. In this case, it is important to get a fuller grasp of what ‘merit’ means when buried within the heart of ‘meritocracy’. What does ‘merit’, in this narrow political sense, finally equate to?

Throughout the last two hundred and more years, including under progressive administrations such as Clement Attlee’s reforming government in Britain and FDR’s earlier New Deal for America, the political systems in the West have remained very solidly rooted in capitalism, and being so, they have remained inherently utilitarian in design. It follows that ‘merit’ (in our narrow definitional sense) must be gauged on the scales of those extant utilitarian-capitalist conventions: that ‘merit’ therefore becomes an adjunct of ‘utility’ or, in other words, ‘usefulness’.

Advocates of capitalism like to evoke the invisible hand of the market, which they say enhances productivity and safeguards against wanton overproduction, thereby ensuring society’s needs are met. Thanks to the market that which is wasteful falls away, and in consequence profits and earnings will flow to the most efficient producers. So it follows that within a meritocracy governed strictly by market forces, with the invisible hand steering our efforts unerringly toward ‘usefulness’, estimations of ‘merit’ ought to be fairly directly measureable in terms of salaries and wealth. Maximum profits and earnings tending to go to those who serve the most useful function and are, by dint of this, the most ‘merited’. The losers are those who merit little since they provide little to nothing of use, and, conversely, the winners contribute most gainfully in every sense…

There is already a suffocating tightness in this loop; a circularity that brings me to consider the first serious objection against meritocracy, if only the most trivial and conspicuous. For judged solely by its own terms just how meritocratic is our celebrated meritocracy? Hmmm – need I go on? Very well then, I shall offer this brisk reductio ad absurdum:

Let’s start where the debate ordinarily ends, with the topic of professional footballers… To most people, the excessive salaries paid to footballers stands out as an egregious example of unfairness. I share the same view, but wonder why we stop at footballers. They are not alone; not by a long chalk.

Indeed, given that our utilitarian-capitalist meritocracy does in fact function as it is presumed to function, then it follows that most top sportsmen (to a lesser extent, sportswomen too), including footballers, but also tennis players, golfers, F1 drivers, cyclists, athletes, etc – sports of low popularity by comparison – as well as pop idols, TV celebrities and film stars (not forgetting agents and the retinue of hangers-on) are, by virtue of their fabulous incomes, not merely most deserving of such high rewards, but also, by direct extension, some of the most ‘productive’ amongst us. Would any deign to defend this high visibility flaw in our socio-economic system? Truth is that many on this ever-expanding list are rewarded for just one thing: fame – thanks to another self-perpetuating cycle in which fame makes you wealthy, and then wealth makes you more famous again.

Nor does such rightful utilitarian calculus reliably account for the gargantuan salaries and bonuses (and who else gets bonuses in excess of their salaries!) of so many bankers, hedge fund managers and other financiers who callously wrecked our western economies. With annual remuneration that outstrips most ordinary worker’s lifetime earnings, the staggering rewards heaped upon those working in The City and Wall Street have little relationship to levels of productivity and usefulness, but worse, remuneration is evidently disconnected from levels of basic competence. Instead we find that greedy ineptitude is routinely and richly rewarded, if only for the ‘made men’ already at the top and lucky enough to be “too big to fail”. In light of the crash of 2008, any further talk of “the classless society” ought to have us all running for the exits!

Then we come to the other end of our meritocratic muck-heap. And here amongst the human debris we find contradictions of an arguably more absurd kind. I am referring to those disgustingly unworthy winners of our many lotteries – you know the types: petty criminals, knuckle-draggers and wastrels (the tone here is strictly in keeping with tabloid outrage on which it is based) who blow all their winnings on a binge of brash consumerism and a garage full of intoxicants. Conspicuous consumption of the most vulgar kinds! How dare they squander such hard, unearned dosh on having fun! But wait a minute… surely the whole point of running a lottery is that anyone can win. Have we forgotten the advertisement already? So if we are really serious about our meritocracy then perhaps we should to be stricter: no lotteries at all! Yet a cursory consideration of this point presents us with far bigger hurdles by far. For if we are truly committed to the project of constructing a meritocracy (and we must decide precisely what this means), it is vital to acknowledge the fact that life is inherently beset with lotteries. Indeed when roundly considered, this represents an existential dilemma that potentially undermines the entire project.

For life begins with what might best be described as our lottery of inheritance. Where you are born and to whom, the postal code you reside in, the schools you attended, your religious (or not) upbringing, whether you happen to carry one or two x-chromosomes, and the colour of your skin… the whole nine yards. Your entire existence happened by extraordinary chance and each and every aspect of it owes an unfathomable debt to further blind chance.

Therefore, in our most puritanical understanding of meritocracy, lotteries relating to the guessing of random numbers will be abolished altogether, in order to set a precedent, although still these other lotteries, life’s lotteries, remain inescapable. Which is devastating blow to the very concept of fully-fledged meritocracy, since whatever meritocracy we might choose to build will always remain a compromise of one kind or another.

In point of fact, however, we have been moving instead in the completely opposite direction. There has been a tremendous and rapid growth in lotteries of all shapes and sizes: from the casino economy working to the advantage of financial speculators at the top; to the rise of online casinos and the latest betting apps, mathematically honed to suck money from the pockets of the desperate and sometimes destitute pipedreamers at the bottom. Further indications of how far our society truly diverges from even the most rudimentary notions of meritocracy.

So there is plenty of scope for devising a better version of meritocracy; one that isn’t so riddled with blatant inconsistencies and arbitrary rewards. A more refined meritocracy operating according to common sense fairness and consistency, with built-in checks and balances to ensure the winners are more consistently worthy than the losers. A more level playing field bringing us closer to the ideal – for surely a better devised version of meritocracy is the fairest system we can ever hope to live under. In fact, I beg to differ, but before entering further objections to the sham ideal of meritocracy, I wish first to celebrate the different areas in which greater equality has indeed been achieved and ones where it is still dangerously lacking.

During the Q&A session following a lecture entitled “Capitalist Democracy and its Prospect’s” that he delivered in Boston on September 30th, 2014, Noam Chomsky speaks to why the notion of a capitalist democracy is oxymoronic. He also discusses the widespread misinterpretation of Adam Smith’s economic thinking, especially amongst libertarians, and specifically regarding the misuse of his terms ‘invisible hand’ and ‘division of labour’.

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There is no denying that at the start of the twenty-first century our own society has, and in a number of related ways, been made fairer and more equal than it was just thirty years ago when I was a school-leaver. Most apparent is the sweeping change in attitudes towards race and gender. Casual racism wasn’t merely permissible in seventies and early eighties Britain, but an everyday part of the mainstream culture. The sporadic Black or Asian characters on TV were neatly allotted into their long-established stereotypes, and comedians like bilious standup Bernard Manning had free rein to defile the airwaves with their popular brands of inflammatory bigotry. Huge strides have been taken since then, and social attitudes are unalterably changed for the better. Today the issue of diversity is central to political debate, and social exclusion on the grounds of race and gender is outlawed.

In the prophetic words of abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”; words famously borrowed by Martin Luther King in a celebrated sermon he delivered in the year of 1965.3 It was a momentous year: one that marked the official end to racial segregation in the Southern United States with the repeal of the horrendous Jim Crow laws, and the same year when Harold Wilson’s Labour government passed the Race Relations Act prohibiting discrimination in Britain on “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic and national origins”.

On August 28th (last Tuesday) ‘Democracy Now’ interviewed co-founder and chair of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, who was arrested and indicted after speaking outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He describes how during his trial Judge Julius Hoffman ordered him to be gagged and bound to his chair [from 9:15 mins]:

Did Bobby Seale’s treatment provide inspiration for Woody Allen’s madcap courtroom scene in ‘Bananas’? [from 5:00 mins]:

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As Parker and King understood well, of course, the arc of the moral universe does not bend of its own accord but requires tremendous pressure from below. And so it was, again in 1965, after shockwaves sent by Wilson’s government through former colony Rhodesia, that in efforts to avoid the end of its apartheid system, the white minority government under then-Prime Minister Ian Smith, declared independence, and an armed struggle for black liberation ensued. It was a bloody struggle that would grind on throughout the 70s, but one that ended in triumph. Meanwhile, apartheid in neighbouring South Africa outlasted Rhodesia for a further decade and a half before it too was dismantled in 1994 and the rainbow flag could be hoisted.

In solidarity with Nelson Mandela and leading the armed struggle had been Joe Slovo, a commander of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) who fought alongside deputy Ronnie Kasrils; both the sons of émigré Jews. Also prominent within the anti-apartheid resistance were other Jewish figures including Denis Goldberg, Albie Sachs, and Ruth First – an activist, scholar and wife of Joe Slovo, she was murdered by a parcel bomb sent to her in Mozambique. Ironically, today Israel stands alone as the last remaining state that legally enforces racial segregation, but even the concrete walls and barbed wire dividing the West Bank and Gaza cannot hold forever.

This video footage was uploaded as recently as Wednesday 29th. It shows a young Palestinian girl living under Israeli control in Hebron having to climb a closed security gate just to get home:

The fence had been extended in 2012 and fitted with a single gate to provide entrance to the Gheith and a-Salaimeh neighborhoods in Hebron. The footage below was recorded by B’Tselem in May 2018 and shows other students unable to return from school and their mothers beseeching the Border Police officers to open it. The officers say in response that the gate is closed as “punishment” for stone throwing; a collective punishment that is prohibited under international law:

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Likewise, homosexuality, which until astonishingly recent times remained a virtually unspoken taboo, was decriminalised as comparatively recently as 1967 – the year of my birth and coincidentally the same year aboriginal Australians received full citizenship and the right to vote.

Before the Sexual Offences Act came into force, gay men faced prosecution and a prison sentence (lesbians slipped through the legal loophole due to technicalities surrounding the delicate issue of penetration), whereas today they enjoy the equal right to marriage, which cynics will doubtless say entitles them to an alternative form of imprisonment, but hurrah for that… since irrespective of one’s views on the institution of marriage, equality under law is indicative of genuine social progress. The same goes for the transformation of attitudes and legal framework in countering discrimination on grounds of gender, disability and age. Discrimination based on all these prejudices is plain wrong, and liberation on all fronts, an unimpeachable good.

In these ways, our own society – like others across the globe – has become more inclusive, and, if we choose to describe it as such, more meritocratic. Yet many are still left out in the cold. Which people? Sadly, but in truth, all of the old prejudices linger on – maybe they always will – but prime amongst them is the malignant spectre of racism.

For overall, as we have become more conscious and less consenting of racism than in the past, the racists, in consequence, have adapted to fit back in. More furtive than old-style racism, which wore its spiteful intolerance so brashly on its sleeve, many in the fresh crop of bigots have learned to feign better manners. The foaming rhetoric of racial supremacy is greatly moderated, and there is more care taken to legitimise the targeting of the chosen pariahs. Where it used to be said how “the Coloureds” and “the Pakis” (and other labels very much more obscene again) were innately ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘doped-up’ and ‘dirty’ (the traditional rationalisations for racial hatred), the stated concern today is in difference per se. As former BNP leader Nick Griffin once put it:

[I]nstead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.4

And note how identity politics here plays to the right wing just as does to the left, better in fact, because it is a form of essentialism. In effect, Griffin is saying ‘white lives matter’, when of course what he really means is ‘white lives are superior’. But talk of race is mostly old hat to the new racists in any case, who prefer to attack ‘culture’ over ‘colour’.

In multicultural Britain, it is the Muslim minority, and especially Muslim women, who receive the brunt of the racial taunts, the physical abuse, and who have become the most preyed upon as victims of hate crimes, while the current hypocrisy lays blame at their door for failing to adopt western values and mix in; a scapegoating that alarmingly recalls the Nazi denigration and demonisation of the Jews. It follows, of course, that it is not the racists who are intolerant but the oppressed minority who are or who look like Muslims. By this sleight of hand, Islamophobia (a very clumsy word for a vile creed) festers as the last manifestation of semi-respectable racism.

When it was released in 1974, “Blazing Saddles” shocked audiences. It is no less shocking today, but the difference today is that no-one could make it. No contemporary film in which every third word is a vile racist expletive would pass the censors. Yet as it plunges us headlong into a frenetic whirlwind of bigotry, and as all commonsense rationality is suspended, nothing remains besides the hilarious absurdity of racial prejudice. Dumb, crude, and daring: it is comedy of rare and under-appreciated genius. As Gene Wilder puts it “They’ve smashed racism in the face and the nose is bleeding, but they’re doing it while you laugh” [6:15 mins]. Embedded below is a BTS documentary tribute entitled “Back in the Saddle” [Viewer discretion advised]:

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“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,” quipped Oscar Wilde.5 And though the accusation at the heart of his bon mot may be contested, that most people certainly do judge by appearances really cannot be. Briefly then, I wish to consider a few of the most overlooked but widespread social prejudices, which though seldom so vicious and of less clear historical significance than other such virulent strains as sexism and racism, are long-standing and ingrained prejudices nonetheless. These tend to be prejudices against certain types of individual, rather than against interconnected “communities”. Prejudices so commonplace that some readers will doubtless see my digression as trivial, or even laughable, and yet there is good reason to delve into the matter as it opens up a bigger question, and, once expanded upon, more fundamentally challenges our whole notion of meritocracy. So here goes… (I am braced for the many titters and guffaws and encourage you to laugh along!)

Firstly, there is a permitted prejudice on the one hand against short blokes (trust me, I am one), and on the other against fat ladies. Short men and fat women being considered fair game for ridicule literally on the grounds that we don’t shape up. Which would be fine – believe me, I can take a joke – except that in playing down the deep-seated nature of such prejudice, as society generally does, there are all sorts of insidious consequences. For it means, to offer a hopefully persuasive example, that whenever satirists (and I use the term loosely, since genuine satire is rather thin on the ground) lampoon Nicolas Sarkozy, rather than holding him to account for his reactionary politics and unsavoury character, they go for the cheaper shot of quite literally belittling him (and yes, prejudice in favour of tallness saturates our language too). Worse still, Sarkozy had the gall to marry a taller and rather glamorous woman, which apparently makes him a still better target for wisecracks about being a short-arse (it’s okay, I’m reclaiming the word). As a result, Sarkozy is most consistently disparaged only for what he couldn’t and needn’t have altered, instead of what he could and should have. No doubt he takes it all on the chin… presuming anyone can actually reach down that far! Yes, it’s perfectly fine to laugh, just so long as we don’t all continue pretending that there is no actual prejudice operating.

Moreover, it is healthy for us to at least admit that there is a broader prejudice operating against all people regarded in one way or another as physically less attractive. Being fat, short, bald or just plain ugly are – in the strictest sense – all handicaps, which, and though far from insurmountable, represent a hindrance to achieving success. Even the ginger-haired enjoy a less than even break, as Neil Kinnock (who was unfortunate enough to be a Welshman too) discovered shortly after he was elected leader of the Labour Party.

Indeed, most of us will have been pigeon-holed one way or another, and though we may sincerely believe that we don’t qualify to be categorised too negatively, our enemies will assuredly degrade us for reasons beyond our ken. But then, could we ever conceive of, for instance, the rise of something akin to let’s say an “ugly pride” movement? Obviously it would be comprised solely of those self-aware and unblinkingly honest enough to see themselves as others actually see them. This envisaged pressure group would comprise an exceptionally brave and uncommon lot.

Then what of the arguably more delicate issues surrounding social class? Indeed, we might reasonably ask ourselves why is there such an animal as social class in the first place? And the quick answer is that people are inherently hierarchical. That “I look up to him because he is upper class, but I look down on him because he is lower class”, to quote again the famous skit from The Frost Report. But now pay proper attention to the vocabulary and its direct correspondence with the physical stature of the three comedians.6

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Class and stature side-by-side, just as they are in the dictionary – and as they have been throughout recent history thanks to dietary deficiencies. Here is a visual gag with etymological parallels: the word ‘stature’ itself a double entendre. But, and unlike physical stature, class is already inextricably tied into levels of wealth and success, and virtually impossible to escape in any society – the Soviet system and Mao’s China were arguably more deeply class-riven than our own purportedly “classless” societies.

Incidentally, I in no way advocate the drafting of future legislation to close the gap on these alternative forms of everyday discrimination: demanding social justice for all those with unpopular body shapes, or who speak with the wrong accent, or stutter, or who have chosen to grow patches of hair in the wrong places, or whatever it is (beards became fashionable after I wrote this!). That would instantly make our lives intolerable in another way: it would be (as the Daily Mail loves to point out) “political correctness gone mad!” After all, prejudice and discrimination come in infinite guises, so where could we finally draw the line?

All of which brings me to our last great tolerated prejudice, and one that is seldom if ever acknowledged as a prejudice in the first place. It is our own society’s – and every other society’s for that matter – very freely held discrimination on the grounds of stupidity. And no, this is not meant as a joke. But that it sounds like a joke makes any serious discussion about it inherently tricky.

Because the dim (and I have decided to moderate my language to avoid sounding unduly provocative, which is not easy – I’ll come to other tags I might have chosen in a moment) cannot very easily stand up for themselves, even if they decide to try. Those willing to concede that their lives are held back by a deficit in braininess (sorry, but the lack of more appropriate words is unusually hampering) will very probably fail to grasp much, if anything at all, of the bigger picture, or be able to articulate any of the frustrations they may feel as daily they confront a prejudice so deeply entrenched that it passes mostly unseen. Well, it’s fun to pick on the idiots, blockheads, boneheads, thickos, cretins, dimwits, dunderheads, dunces, knuckleheads, dumbbells, imbeciles, morons, jerks, and simpletons of the world isn’t it? It is the cheaper half of every comedy sketch, and in all likelihood will remain so; with much of the rest that brings us merriment being the schadenfreude of witnessing the self-same idiots cocking up over and over again. And finally, is there really a nicer word that usefully replaces all the pejoratives above? Our casual prejudice against the dim has been indelibly written into our dictionaries.

On May 13th, 1999, comedian George Carlin was invited to deliver a speech to the National Press Club at Washington D.C. He used the occasion to poke fun at the tortuous abuse of language by politicians as well as the growing tyranny of an invented “soft language”, which includes what he describes as ‘the tedious liberal labeling’ of minorities. His speech is followed by an entertaining Q&A session:

Here’s a little more from Carlin dishing the dirt on political correctness:

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Now if I’d been writing say a hundred years ago (or even more recently) the available vocabulary would have been a little different. For it was permissible during the first half of the last century to speak and write about the problem of ‘feeble-mindedness’ – a term that implies an innate (and thus inherited) ‘disability’. Moreover, as part of a quasi-scientific conversation, social reformers including intellectuals and political thinkers got into the habit of discussing how this affliction (as it was then regarded) might best be eradicated.

Those on the political left were no less shameful in this regard than those on the right, with radical thinkers like H.G. Wells 7 and George Bernard Shaw, chipping in alongside the youthful Winston Churchill8; all scratching their high brows to think up ways of preventing the spread of such evidently bad stock from ruining good society – ‘the feeble-minded’, for reasons never dwelt on by the pioneering eugenicists, not the least bit incapable of passing on their enfeebled genes.

Thanks again to genuine social progress it is unacceptable to speak (openly) about the elimination of the underclasses in our societies today, or to openly speculate on means of halting their uncontrolled and unwanted proliferation (though I write very much in terms that Wells, Shaw and Churchill would have understood). But eugenics, we should constantly remind ourselves, was a great deal more fashionable not so very long ago – even after the concentration camps and worryingly under alternative names it finds advocates still today (for instance, the Silicon Valley techies gather nowadays for conferences on transhumanism, the artificial ‘enhancement’ of humanity, which is one way in which eugenics has reemerged9).

Today’s progressives (and keep in mind that Wells and Shaw both regarded themselves as progressives of their own times) prefer to adopt a more humanitarian position. Rather than eliminating ‘feeble-mindedness’, the concern is to assist ‘the disadvantaged’. A shift in social attitude that is commendable, but it brings new hazards in its stead. For implicit in the new phraseology is the hope that since disparities stem from disadvantage, all differences between healthy individuals might one day be overcome. That aside from those suffering from disability, everyone has an approximately equivalent capacity when it comes to absorbing knowledge and learning skills of one form or another, and that society alone, to the advantage of some and detriment of others, makes us smart or dim. But this is also false, and cruelly so – though not yet barbarously.

For differences in social class, family life, access to education, and so forth (those things we might choose to distinguish as environment or nurture) are indeed significant indicators of later intellectual prowess (especially when our benchmark is academic performance). So it makes for comfortable presupposition that regarding intelligence (an insanely complex matter to begin with) the inherent difference between individuals is slight, and upbringing is the key determinant, but where’s the proof? And if this isn’t the whole picture – as it very certainly isn’t – then what if, heaven forfend, some people really are (pro)created less cognitively proficient than others? Given that they did indeed receive equivalent support through life, it follows that failure is “their own fault”, is it not?

In any case, intelligence, like attractiveness, must be to some degree a relative trait. During any historical period, particular forms of mental gymnastics are celebrated when others are overlooked, and so instruments to measure intelligence will automatically be culturally biased (there is a norm and there are fashions) to tally with the socially accepted idea of intelligence which varies from place to place and from one era to the next. There can never be an acid test of intelligence in any pure and absolute sense.10

Furthermore, whatever mental abilities happen to confer the mark of intelligence at any given time or place, obviously cannot be equally shared by everyone. As with other human attributes and abilities, there is likely to be a bell curve. It follows, therefore, that whatever braininess is or isn’t (and doubtless it takes many forms), during every age and across all nations, some people will be treated as dimmer, or brighter, than their fellows. And notwithstanding that whatever constitutes intelligence is socially determined to some extent, and that estimates of intelligence involve us in a monumentally complex matter, it remains the case that an individual’s capacity for acquiring skills and knowledge must be in part innate. This admission is both exceedingly facile and exceedingly important, and it is one that brings us right to the crux of meritocracy’s most essential flaw.

For how can those who are thought dim be left in charge of important things? They can’t. Which means that it would be madness to give the dimmest people anything other than the least intellectually demanding jobs. The meritocratic logic then follows, of course, that being less capable (and thus relegated to performing only the most menial tasks) makes you less worthy of an equal share, and yet this cuts tangentially across the very principle of ‘fairness’ which meritocracy is supposed to enshrine. For wherein lies the fairness in the economic exclusion of the dim? To reiterate what I wrote above, our prejudice is so deeply ingrained that to many such exclusion will still appear justified. As if being dim is your own lookout.

For whether or not an individual’s perceived failure to match up to society’s current gauge of intelligence is primarily down to educational ‘disadvantage’ (in the completest sense) or for reasons of an altogether more congenital kind, we may justifiably pass over the comfortable view that equal opportunity (laudable as this is) can entirely save the day. Degrees of intellectual competence – whether this turns out to be more socially or biologically determined – will always be with us, unless that is, like Wells, Shaw and Churchill (together with a many other twentieth century social reformers including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, and the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger) we opt instead for the eugenic solution – and I trust we do not. But bear in mind that programmes of forced sterilisation kept running in regions of the western world long after WWII right up to the 1970s.11 Earlier calls to weed out the “feeble-minded” that never fully went away, but instead went underground.

On March 17th 2016, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed Adam Cohen, co-editor of TheNationalBookReview.com and author of “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck”, who explained how:

After World War II, we put the leading Nazis on trial for some of the worst things that the Nazis did. One of those very bad things was they set up a eugenics program where they sterilized as many as 375,000 people. So we put them on trial for that. And lo and behold, as the movie [“Judgment at Nuremberg”] shows, their defense was: “How can you put us on trial for that? Your own U.S. Supreme Court said that sterilization was constitutional, was good. And it was your own Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of your most revered figures, who said that. So, why are we the bad guys in this story?” They had a point.

Click here to watch on the Democracy Now! website.

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Now for those further thoughts from the man we might describe as “the father of meritocracy” – even though he would certainly hate it! This is Michael Young speaking out against about his accidental bastard child and the decisive role it is has played in reshaping our societies:

I expected that the poor and the disadvantaged would be done down, and in fact they have been. If branded at school they are more vulnerable for later unemployment.

They can easily become demoralised by being looked down on so woundingly by people who have done well for themselves.

It is hard indeed in a society that makes so much of merit to be judged as having none. No underclass has ever been left as morally naked as that.12

This meritocracy we live in today, as Michael Young points out, is not just a distant remove from the fairest society imaginable, but in other ways – psychological ones especially – arguably crueller than any older, and less enlightened, -ocracies.

Embedded below is one of a series of lectures “Biology as Ideology” given by distinguished geneticist and evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin in 1990. Lewontin here explaining how erroneous theories of biological determinism have been used to validate and support the dominant sociopolitical theories and vice versa. He also offers his subversive thoughts on meritocracy:

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Inevitably, ‘merit’ is equated with, and thus mistaken for, ‘success’, and this is true not only for our self-declared meritocracy, but universally. Think about it: if millions of people love to read your books, or to listen to your songs, or just to watch your delightful face on their TV screens, then who would not leap to the conclusion that what they do is of the highest ‘merit’? How else did they rise to stand above the billions of ordinary anonymous human drones?

The converse is also true. That those who remain anonymous are often in the habit of regarding themselves as less significant – in fact psychologically less real – than others in the limelight they see and admire: the celebrities and the VIPs. Which brings me to a lesson my father taught me; an observation which reveals in aphoristic form the inbuilt fault with all conceptions of meritocracy: VIP being a term that makes him curse. Why? For the clinching fact that every one of us is a “very important person”. If this sounds corny or trite then ask yourself sincerely, as my father once asked me: “Are you a very important person…?”

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Famously, Van Gogh sold just a single painting in his lifetime13, but then we all know that millions of terrible painters have also sold one (or less than one!) Not so widely known is that a great deal of Schubert’s music was lost when, in the immediate aftermath of his death, it was recycled as waste paper; but then again, thousands of dreadful composers have also had their music posthumously binned. So the odds are that if you can’t sell your music or publish your book, then you’re just another of the billions, rather than an as yet unappreciated master and another Van Gogh or Schubert. For aside from posterity, and no matter how much we might like to conjure one up, there is no established formula for separating ‘merit’ from ‘success’, and no good reason for supposing we will ever discover such a razor.

In reality therefore, any form of meritocracy will only ever be a form of success-ocracy, and in our own system, money is the reification of success. A system in which success and thus money invariably breeds more success and more money because unavoidably it contains positive and negative feedback loops. For this reason the well-established ruling oligarchies will never be unseated by means of any notional meritocracy – evidence of their enduring preeminence being, somewhat ironically, more apparent in the American republic, where dynasties, and especially political ones, are less frowned upon, and in consequence have remained more visible than in the class-ridden island kingdom it abandoned and then defeated. But even if our extant aristocracies were one day uprooted wholesale, then meritocracy simply opens the way for that alternative uber-class founded by the “self-made man”.

Indeed, ‘aristocracy’, deriving from the Greek ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratia) and literally meaning “rule of the best”, sounds a lot like ‘meritocracy’ to me. Whereas governance by those selected as most competent (the other way ‘meritocracy’ is sometimes defined) is better known by an alternative name too – ‘technocracy’ in this case – with the select order of technocrats working to whose betterment we might reasonably ask. Meritocracy of both kinds – and every meritocratic system must combine these twin strands – has fascistic overtones.

The promise of meritocracy has been seductive largely because of its close compatibility with neoliberalism, today’s predominant, in fact unrivalled, politico-economic ideology. Predicated on the realism that humans do indeed have an ingrained predisposition to social hierarchy (something that traditional concepts of egalitarianism sought to abolish), it offers a reconfigured market solution to foster a sort of laissez-faire egalitarianism: the equalisation of wealth and status along lines that are strictly “as nature intended”. Furthermore, it appeals to some on the left by making a persuasive case for “equality of opportunity”, if always to the detriment of the more ambitious goal of “equality of outcome”. A sidelining of “equality of outcome” that has led to a dramatic lowering of the bar with regards to what even qualifies as social justice.

Moreover, the rightward drift to meritocracy involves the downplaying of class politics in favour of today’s more factional and brittle politics of identity. This follows because under meritocracy the rigid class barriers of yesteryear are ostensibly made permeable and in the long run must slowly crumble away altogether. In reality, of course, social mobility is heavily restricted for reasons already discussed at length. But this abandonment of class politics in favour of the divisiveness of identity politics is greatly to the benefit of the ruling establishment of course. Divide and conquer has been their oldest maxim.

Interestingly, of the many advocates of meritocracy – from Thatcher to Reagan; Brown to Blair; Cameron to Obama; Merkel to May – none have bothered to very precisely define their terms. What do they mean to imply by ‘merit’ and its innately slippery counterpart ‘fairness’? And whilst they talk of ‘fairness’ over and over again – ‘fairness’ purportedly underlying every policy decision they have ever taken – the actual direction all this ‘fairness’ was leading caused a few to wonder whether ‘fairness’ might be wrong in principle! Like other grossly misappropriated abstract nouns – ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ spring instantly to mind – the difficulty here is that ‘fairness’ is a handy fig-leaf.

Instead, and if we genuinely wish to live in a society striving for greater equality, then the political emphasis ought not to be placed too heavily on wooly notions like ‘merit’ or ‘fairness’ but upon enabling democracy in the fullest sense. The voice of the people may not be the voice of God, but it is, to paraphrase Churchill (who mostly hated it), the least worst system.14 One person, one vote, if not quite the bare essence of egalitarianism, serves both as a fail-safe and a necessary foundation.

Of course, we must always guard against the “tyranny of the majority” by means of a constitutional framework that ensures basic rights and freedoms for all. For democracy offers an imperfect solution, but cleverly conceived and justly organised neither is it, as so many right-wing libertarians are quick to tell you: “two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner”. This sideswipe is not just glib, but a better description by far of the extreme right-wing anarchy they advocate. In reality, it is their beloved ‘invisible hand’ that better ensures rampant inequality and social division, and for so long as its influence remains unseen and unfettered, will continue to do so, by rigging elections and tipping the scales of justice.

Democracy – from its own etymology: rule by the people – is equality in its most settled form. Yet if such real democracy is ever to arise and flourish then we must have a free-thinking people. So the prerequisite for real democracy is real education – sadly we are a long way short of this goal too and once again heading off in the wrong direction. But that’s for a later chapter.

Next chapter…

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Addendum: our stakeholder society and the tyranny of choice

Prior to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders (for further thoughts on Sanders read my earlier posts), mainstream politics in Britain and America, as more widely, were converged to such a high degree that opposition parties were broadly in conjunction. Left and right had collapsed to form a single “centrist” amalgam in agreement across a wide range of diverse issues spanning race relations, gender equality, immigration, environmentalism, to foreign policy, and most remarkably, economics. In Britain, as in America, the two major parties ceased even to disagree over the defining issue of nationalisation versus privatisation because both sides now approved of the incorporation of private sector involvement into every area of our lives. “Big government”, our politicians echoed in unison, is neither desirable nor any longer possible. Instead, we shall step aside for big business, and limit ourselves to resolving “the real issues”.

The real issues? Why yes, with the business sector running all the fiddly stuff, governments pivoted to address the expansion of individual opportunity and choice. Especially choice. Choice now became the paramount concern.

Even the delivery of essential public services, once the duty of every government (Tory and Labour alike), began to be outsourced. No holy cows. It became the common doctrine that waste and inefficiency in our public services would be abolished by competition including the introduction of internal markets and public-private partnerships, which aside from helping to foster efficiency, would, importantly, diversify customer choice once again.

Under the new social arrangement, we, the people, became “stakeholders” in an altogether more meritocratic venture. Here is Tony Blair outlining his case for our progressive common cause:

“We need a country in which we acknowledge an obligation collectively to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it. One Nation politics is not some expression of sentiment, or even of justifiable concern for the less well off. It is an active politics, the bringing of a country together, a sharing of the possibility of power, wealth and opportunity…. If people feel they have no stake in society, they feel little responsibility towards it, and little inclination to work for its success. ….”15

Fine aspirations, you may think. But wait, and let’s remember that Blair was trained as a lawyer, so every word here counts. “Sharing in the possibility of power…” Does this actually mean anything at all? Or his first sentence which ends: “…to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it” – “it” in this context presumably meaning “the country” (his subject at the beginning). But every citizen already has a stake in the country, doesn’t s/he? Isn’t that what being a citizen means: to be a member of a nation state with an interest, or ‘stake’ (if we insist) in what goes on. However, according to Blair’s “One Nation” vision, members of the public (as we were formerly known) are seemingly required to become fully paid-up “stakeholders”. But how…?

Do we have to do something extra, or are our “stakeholder” voices to be heard simply by virtue of the choices we make? Is this the big idea? The hows and wheres of earning a salary, and then of spending or else investing it; is this to be the main measure of our “stakeholder” participation? In fact, is “stakeholder” anything different than “stockholder” in UK plc? Or is it less than this? Is “stakeholder” substantially different from “consumer”? According to the Financial Times lexicon’s definition, a stakeholder society is:

“A society in which companies and their employees share economic successes.”16

Well, I certainly don’t recall voting for that.

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We are increasingly boggled by choice. Once there was a single electricity supply and a single gas supply – one price fitting all. Now we have literally dozens of companies offering different deals – yet all these deals finally deliver an entirely identical supply of electricity and gas. The single difference is the price, but still you have to choose. So precious moments of our once around the sun existence are devoted to worrying about which power company is charging the least amount. And the companies know all this, of course, so they make their deals as complicated as possible. Perhaps you’ll give up and choose the worst of options – for the companies concerned, this is a winning strategy – thinking about it, this is their only winning strategy! Or, if you are of a mind to waste a few more of your precious never to be returned moments of existence, you may decide to check one of the many comparison websites – but again, which one? Just one inane and frustrating choice after another. And more of those tiresome tickboxes to navigate.

But choice is everything. So we also need to worry more about the latest school and hospital league tables. It is vital to exercise our right to choose in case an actual ambulance arrives with its siren already blaring. In these circumstances we need to be sure that the ambulance outside is bound for a hospital near to the top of the league, because it is in the nature of leagues that there is always bottom – league tables giving a relative assessment, and ensuring both winners and losers.

And provided, an entirely free choice – and not one based on catchment areas – what parent in their right mind elects to send their offspring to a worse school over a better one? So are we just to hope our nearest school and/or hospital is not ranked bottom? Thankfully, house prices save much of the time in helping to make these determinations.

Meantime I struggle to understand what our politicians and civil servants get up to in Whitehall these days. Precisely what do those who walk the corridors of power find to do each day? Reduced to the role of managers, what is finally left for them manage?

And where is all of this choice finally leading? In the future, perhaps, in place of elections, we will be able to voice our approval/dissatisfaction by way of customer surveys. With this in mind, please take a moment to select the response that best reflects your own feelings:

Given the choice, would you say you prefer to live in a society that is:

 More fair

Less fair

Not sure

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Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

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1 Quote taken from Chapter 10 of George Orwell’s satirical fairytale Animal Farm published in 1945. After the animals have ceased power at the farm they formulate “a complete system of thought” which is designed to unite the animals as well as preventing them from returning to the evil ways of the humans. The seventh and last of these original commandments of ‘Animalism’ is straightforwardly that “All animals are equal”, however, after the pigs have risen to dominance again, the sign is revised and so this last commandment reads “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

2 From an article entitled “Down with meritocracy: The man who coined the term four decades ago wishes Tony Blair would stop using it” written by Michael Young, published in the Guardian on June 29, 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2001/jun/29/comment

3 Quote taken from a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Temple Israel of Hollywood delivered on February 25, 1965. In fuller context, he said:

“And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

An audio recording of King’s speech and a full transcript is available here: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm

4 Quote taken from a meeting on April 22nd, 2000 with American white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, that was recorded as “American Friends of the British National Party” video.

In fuller context Griffin says:

“Perhaps one day, once by being rather more subtle we got ourselves in a position where we control the British Broadcasting media and then we tell ’em really how serious the immigration problem was, and we tell them the truth about a lot of the crime that’s been going on, if we tell ’em really what multiracialism has meant and means for the future, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say yes every last one must go.  Perhaps they will one day.  But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with, you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. So instead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.  My primary identity quite simply is there (points to veins in wrist). That’s the thing that counts.”

The clip was shown in BBC1’s Panorama: Under the Skin first broadcast on November 25, 2001.

The transcript is available here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/audio_video/programmes/panorama/transcripts/transcript_25_11_01.txt

5 Although these words are frequently attributed to Wilde himself, they actually belong to one of his characters. To Lord Henry Wotton who says “To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Taken from Chapter 2 of Wilde’s once scandalous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

6 The “Class Sketch” was first broadcast on April 7, 1966 in an episode of David Frost’s satirical BBC show The Frost Report. It was written by Marty Feldman and John Law, and performed by John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in descending order of height!

7 Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901), is one of H.G.Wells’ earliest blueprints for the future. Set in 2000, a youthful Wells (aged 34) suggested an altogether more matter of fact solution to the problem of what he then called “the People of the Abyss” than a promise of education, education, education (the commentary is my own of course):

“It has become apparent that whole masses of human population are, as a whole, inferior in their claim upon the future, to other masses, that they cannot be given opportunities or trusted with power as superior peoples are trusted, that their characteristic weaknesses are contagious and detrimental in the civilizing fabric, and that their range of incapacity tempts and demoralises the strong. To give them equality is to sink to their level, to protect and cherish them is to be swamped in their fecundity…”

Which is putting it most politely! Oh dear, oh dear! What has happened to the clarion call for freedom and equality (and here I mean equality of opportunity, since to be fair Wells was ever the egalitarian, consistently keener on meritocracy than any of the more radical ideals of wealth redistribution). Might it be that the young Mr Wells was showing off his truer colours? Let us go on a little:

“The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully, and efficiently will be to die.”

Just who are the hideous hoards who Wells so pities and despises (in roughly equal measures)? Let us read on:

“…the small minority, for example, afflicted with indisputably transmissible diseases, with transmissible mental disorders, with such hideous incurable habits of the mind as the craving for intoxication…”

But he’s jesting… isn’t he?

“And I imagine also the plea and proof that a grave criminal is also insane will be regarded by them [the men of the New Republic] not as a reason for mercy, but as an added reason for death…”

Death? Why not prison and rehabilitation…?

“The men of the New Republic will not be squeamish either, in facing or inflicting death, because they will have a fuller sense of the possibilities of life than we possess…”

Ah, I see, yes since put like that… yes, yes, death and more death, splendid!

“All such killing will be done with an opiate, for death is too grave a thing to be made painful or dreadful, and used as a deterrent for crime. If deterrent punishments are to be used at all in the code of the future, the deterrent will neither be death, nor mutilation of the body, nor mutilation of the life by imprisonment, nor any horrible things like that, but good scientifically caused pain, that will leave nothing but memory…”

An avoidance of nasty old pain… that’s good I suppose.

“…The conscious infliction of pain for the sake of pain is against the better nature of man, and it is unsafe and demoralising for anyone to undertake this duty. To kill under the seemly conditions of science will afford is a far less offensive thing.”

Death, yes, a more final solution, of course, of course…

This is horrifying, of couse, especially in light of what followed historically.

Deep down Wells was an unabashed snob, though hardly exceptional for his time. Less forgivably, Wells was a foaming misanthropist (especially so when sneering down on the hoi polloi). But mostly he longed to perfect the human species, and as a young man had unflinchingly advocated interventions no less surgical than those needed to cure any other cancerous organ. But then of course, it was once fashionable for intellectual types to seek scientific answers to social problems: programmes of mass-sterilisation and selective reproduction.

His Fabian rival George Bernard Shaw had likewise talked of selective breeding in his own quest to develop a race of supermen, whilst Julian Huxley, Aldous’s big brother, was perhaps the foremost and pioneering advocate of eugenics, later coining the less soiled term ‘transhumanism’ to lessen the post-Nazi stigma. Judged in the broader historical context therefore, Wells was simply another such dreaming ideologue.

That Wells was also one of the first to use the term “new world order” maybe of little lasting significance, however totalitarian his visions for World Socialism, but importantly Wells was never in the position to realise his grander visions, in spite of being sufficiently well-connected to arrange private meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who entertained him over dinner, and with Joseph Stalin at the Kremlin. Finally, he was unable to inspire enough significant others to engage in his “open conspiracy”.

All extracts below are taken from Anticipation of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, Chapman & Hall, 1901

8

Like most of his contemporaries, family and friends, he regarded races as different, racial characteristics as signs of the maturity of a society, and racial purity as endangered not only by other races but by mental weaknesses within a race. As a young politician in Britain entering Parliament in 1901, Churchill saw what were then known as the “feeble-minded” and the “insane” as a threat to the prosperity, vigour and virility of British society.

The phrase “feeble-minded” was to be defined as part of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, of which Churchill had been one of the early drafters. The Act defined four grades of “Mental Defective” who could be confined for life, whose symptoms had to be present “from birth or from an early age.” “Idiots” were defined as people “so deeply defective in mind as to be unable to guard against common physical dangers.” “Imbeciles” were not idiots, but were “incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.” The “feeble-minded” were neither idiots nor imbeciles, but, if adults, their condition was “so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or the protection of others.”

Extract taken from a short essay called “Churchill and Eugenics” written by Sir Martin Gilbert, published on May 31, 2009 on the Churchill Centre website. http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support/the-churchill-centre/publications/finest-hour-online/594-churchill-and-eugenics

9 “Population reduction” is another leftover residue of the old eugenics programme but freshly justified on purportedly scientific and seemingly less terrible neo-Malthusian grounds – when previous “population reduction” was unashamedly justified and executed on the basis of the pseudoscience of eugenics, the pruning was always done from the bottom up, of course.

10 Aside from being the invention of pioneering eugenicist Francis Galton, the IQ test was an pseudo-scientific approach that first appeared to be validated thanks to the research of Cyril Burt who had devised ‘twin studies’ to prove the heritability of IQ. However, those studies turned out to be fraudulent:

“After Burt’s death, striking anomalies in some of his test data led some scientists to reexamine his statistical methods. They concluded that Burt manipulated and probably falsified those IQ test results that most convincingly supported his theories on transmitted intelligence and social class. The debate over his conduct continued, but all sides agreed that his later research was at least highly flawed, and many accepted that he fabricated some data.”

From the current entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/85886/Sir-Cyril-Burt

11

Eugenics is now rightly abjured, and if only for its abominable record for cruelty. But the cruelty of the many twentieth century programmes of eugenics was hardly incidental. Any attempt to alter human populations to make them fit an imposed social structure by means of the calculated elimination and deliberate manipulation of genetic stock automatically reduces people to the same level as farm animals.

It should be remembered too that what the Nazis had tried to achieve by mass murder across Europe was only novel in terms of its extremely barbarous method. Eugenics programmes to get rid of “inferior” populations by forced sterilisation having been introduced earlier in America and surreptitiously continuing into the 1970s. For instance, there was a secret programme for the involuntary sterilisation of Native American women long after the World War II.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v024/24.3lawrence.html

12 From the same Guardian article entitled “Down with meritocracy” written by Michael Young, published in June, 2001.

13 Van Gogh famously sold one painting during his lifetime, Red Vineyard at Arles. A painting that now resides at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The rest of Van Gogh’s more than 900 paintings were not sold nor came to public attention until after his death.

14

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

— Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons, November 11, 1947.

15 Tony Blair speaking in Singapore on January 7, 1996.

16 The source for this definition is given as the Longman Business English Dictionary (although the link is lost). http://lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=stakeholder-society

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Filed under analysis & opinion, « finishing the rat race », financial derivatives, neo-liberalism, Noam Chomsky

illegal bombing in the name of justice: Syria, Trump and the latest WMD accusations

Recent historical background

In October 2011, Russia drew a line in the sand when it vetoed western intervention in Syria.

The UN security council is expected to seek a fresh resolution on Syria after Russia and China on Tuesday night vetoed a draft that threatened sanctions, a security council source said.

The veto by Russia, which was supported by China, provoked the biggest verbal explosion from the US at the UN for years, with its ambassador Susan Rice expressing “outrage” over the move by Moscow and Beijing.

Rice also walked out of the security council, the first such demonstration in recent years. While walkouts are common at the UN general assembly, they are rare in the security council. 1

Click here to read the full report in the Guardian.

In response, former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, provided his own translation of the Russian statement of explanation for their veto:

The situation in Syria cannot be considered without reference to events in Libya. The international community should be alarmed at statements to the effect that the implementation of Security Council resolutions on Libya, as read by NATO, provide a model for future NATO action for the implementation of the “responsibility to protect”. One can easily imagine that tomorrow this “exemplary model” of “joint defence” can start to be introduced into Syria.

Let me be clear to all; Russia’s position with regard to the conflict in Libya in no way stems from any special ties with the Gadaffi regime, to the extent that several States represented around this table had a great deal warmer relationships with the Gadaffi regime than Russia. It is the people of Libya who have determined the destiny of Gadaffi.

In the view of Russia, in that case members of the UN Security Council twisted the provisions of Security Council resolutions to give them the opposite of their true meaning.

The requirement for an immediate ceasefire instead resulted in large-scale civil war, with humanitarian, social, economic, and military consequences which have extended far beyond Libya’s frontiers.

The no-fly zone resulted in the bombing of oil installations, television stations and other civilian targets.

The arms embargo resulted in a naval blockade of the West coast of Libya, including for humanitarian supplies.

The “Benghazi crisis” has resulted today in the devastation of other cities. Sirte, Bani Walid, and Sephi.

This then is the “Exemplary model”. The world must abolish such practices once and for all.

As Murray points out, the validity of the Russian statement is borne out by the facts on the ground, even if the mainstream media has turned away from presenting the true horror of the atrocities that have been committed by Nato and the rebel forces in the name of freedom and democracy, most especially in the case of Sirte:

Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view to the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO have in effect declared being in Gadaffi’s political camp a capital offence. There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue”. It is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s post in full.

Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya was one of very few independent journalists reporting inside Libya. He consistently dismissed the official story of ‘humanitarian intervention’. This is what he had to say in an interview at the end of July 2011:

Without question, it has to be emphasized that the NATO-led bombings have deliberately targeted Libyan civilians and have sought to punish the civilian population in Libya. Water facilities, hospitals, medical clinics, schools, food facilities, hotels, civilian vehicles, restaurants, homes, government office buildings, and residential areas have all been bombed. This includes the Libyan Supreme Court, a civilian bus, a Down’s Syndrome facility, a children’s vaccination centre, and Nasser University. The NATO claim that military command and control buildings are being targeted is nonsense and untrue.

The NATO goal has not been to protect civilians, but to provoke civilians into blaming Colonel Qaddafi and his regime for the war and NATO’s war crimes against the Libyan people. NATO believes that the brutality of its bombings of Libyan civilians and its strategy to create a shortage of fuel, money, medicine, food, and water would cause regime change in Tripoli by pushing the Libyan population to oust Qaddafi. 2

And here is Mahdi Nazemroaya giving an eyewitness account at a Toronto Conference for “The Truth about Libya” a few months later on Sept 9th, when he spoke passionately against the lies of the mainstream media that covered up the horrors of the NATO intervention:

Craig Murray likewise points out that: “NATO action in Libya went way beyond what the Security Council had actually authorised, which was a no fly zone to protect civilians, a ceasefire, and negotiations between the parties” and goes on to describe Susan Rice’s reaction to the Russian statement as ‘pathetic’:

Having absolutely abused UNSCR 1973, plainly NATO was seriously damaging the ability of the Security Council to work together in future, and making quite certain that China and Russia would not for many years agree to any SC Resolutions which might be open to similar abuse. I know the American Envoy to the UN, Susan Rice, and have in the past worked with her and had great respect for her; she was genuinely committed to the fight against apartheid. But her histrionic walkout in reaction to a Russian statement which was both plainly true, and an eminently forseeable result of America’s own rash actions, was just pathetic.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s post.

That Russia and China will resort to appeals to ‘humanitarianism’ only when it suits their own geostrategic agenda is true, of course. In this instance, Russian being primarily concerned to protect its interests in Syria, which includes the Tartus naval base 3. But then it’s always so much easier to see through the hypocrisy coming out of Beijing and Moscow, than when it comes from the lips of our own leaders — Sarkozy, Cameron and Obama at the time — or, more importantly, from a media that is unswervingly loyal to the same corporate and establishment interests.

War is a racket, remember that – not my words but those of Smedley Butler, the most highly decorated general in America’s history. And in his famous anti-war pamphlet of the same name, first published in 1935, he writes:

“A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

Or, as Craig Murray rewrites it for our contemporary times:

“Liberal intervention” does not exist. What we have is the opposite; highly selective neo-imperial wars aimed at ensuring politically client control of key physical resources.

Wars kill people. Women and children are dying now in Libya, whatever the sanitised media tells you. The BBC have reported it will take a decade to repair Libya’s infrastructure from the damage of war. That is an underestimate. Iraq is still decades away from returning its utilities to their condition in 2000.

I strongly support the revolutions of the Arab Spring. But NATO intervention does not bring freedom, it brings destruction, degradation and permanent enslavement to the neo-colonial yoke. From now on, Libyans like us will be toiling to enrich western bankers. That, apparently, is worth to NATO the reduction of Sirte to rubble.

If there is full scale “intervention” in Syria then we can certainly expect similar results, because, and in spite of the humanitarian justifications that will undoubtedly be given, the real motivation remains the same. A grab for power and money. As Butler says: it’s just a racket.

*

Earlier chemical attacks in Syria

During the half decade in which a sustained proxy war has engulfed Syria, there have now been two alleged chemical attacks which have prompted demands for direct military “intervention” against Assad. The first happened four years ago when Obama accused the Syrian regime of “crossing a red line” following a release of sarin gas in Ghouta. Allegations which Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh afterwards refuted, challenging Obama’s claims that US intelligence possessed solid evidence proving Assad’s guilt, and more importantly, revealing that the origins of the sarin used in the attack “didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad. 4

The article quoted above entitled “Whose sarin?” was published by the London Review of Books on December 19th, 2014.

In a follow up article Hersh also provided supporting evidence that the Ghouta attack was most probably carried out by al-Qaeda factions in Syria who quite definitely did have the means:

Obama’s change of mind [decision not to attack Syria] had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

And Hersh finally went on to implicate Turkey as likely collaborators in the Ghouta atrocity and other less widely reported chemical attacks in Syria:

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat. 5

Read more here and here.

Following Tuesday’s [April 4th] chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, some 30 miles south of Idlib city, Assad stands accused once again, this time by Trump, of crossing “many, many lines – beyond a red line”. On this occasion, no evidence has yet been provided aside from video footage that purportedly shows rescuers trying to resuscitate victims of an alleged aerial attack. The images are indeed extremely harrowing, but what precisely are we witnessing? The plain fact that the only footage available carries the logo of the al-Qaeda linked White Helmets is grounds alone to query the authenticity of the story.

Quoted below is the gruesome conclusion drawn by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR) and associated medical experts after closely analysing similarly disturbing video footage of White Helmet responders dealing with an alleged gas attack in Sarmine in March 2015:

‘Lifesaving’ procedures on the children showed in the White Helmets videos were found to be fake, and ultimately performed on dead children. 6

In a related report Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, a prominent figure in the resistance movement against the Pinochet Dictatorship (biographical notes from his current wikipedia entry are reproduced as a footnote ), adds that:

SWEDHR took the time to get the dialogue in the White Helmet movie translated. At 1:16 the doctor in full light green and a gray & black jumper says:

”Include in the picture (meaning in the film or the frame -translators note) the mother should be underneath and the children on top of her, hey! Make sure the mother is underneath.”

Perhaps, if the video had been subtitled, the UN officials [who watched the film in the closed-door session at the UN Security Council] might have queried this overt staging of an event that one must assume, was chaotic, harrowing and stressful. Perhaps, they would have found it strange, that in the midst of a “chemical weapon” attack, one of the medics, attempting to save the lives of three Syrian children, would be concerned with the positioning of their bodies for the camera. 7

Click here and here to read the full reports from Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR). [hat tip to Burning Blogger of Bedlam]

It is noteworthy that the wikipedia entry for SWEDHR may soon be deleted. Here is a screenshot as it currently appears (apologies for the size but I wanted to capture the full article):

And here is a close up of the banner at the top — observe how the various “issues” are all dated April 2017:

*

Lacking the legal sanction of a UN Security Council resolution or approval from Congress, it is on the basis of similarly doubtful and unsubstantiated video evidence that Trump so hastily launched his $100 million offensive – an initial salvo which is presumably set to open yet another front in the West’s ever-expanding post-9/11 warzone. Neo-con David Ignatius even made this extraordinary comparison writing in the Washington Post:

Then came those pictures of the Syrian children. With Thursday night’s action, Trump reached one of those unforeseen tipping points on which decisions of war and peace so often rest: the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, the “Zimmermann telegram” of 1917, Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Gulf of Tonkin attack in 1964, the Iraqi WMD delusion in 2003. What all these triggers for war have in common is that people didn’t see them coming. 8

Anyone with even a passing interest in history will recognise that what those pretexts to major wars in Ignatius’ list share in common is a good deal less superficial than “that people didn’t see them coming”. It is common knowledge that the last two examples were outright lies (not “delusions”), but serious and lingering doubts also remain over the seemingly willful negligence accompanying the separate tragedies which accelerated US entry into each of the world wars. For deceit and deception is not only part and parcel of war itself, more often than not it is a necessary catalyst to instigate war.

Above is a Mail Online report published in January 2013 that was subsequently removed.

Below is a screenshot of the CNN article by award winning journalist Elise Labott, the original link was later redirected to CNN blogs:

Click here to read more about these earlier reports at Global Research.

*

As the rush to a new war quickens, here are just a few pleas for restraint – extracts from articles and interviews (the transcripts are my own) from a wide range of dissenting but considered and well-informed perspectives.

Trump’s war crime

Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Sacha Llorenti, at the UN Security Council meeting on April 7th:

Holding up an enlarged photo of Colin Powell’s “weapons of mass destruction” speech, Llorenti made an impassioned plea to hold the U.S. to account for Thursday’s unprovoked attack on Syria, noting the U.S. history of imperialist interventions in other nations, including Latin America.

“Now the United States believe that they are investigators, they are attorneys, judges and they are the executioners. That’s not what international law is about.”

The Andean nation currently holds a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

“I believe it’s vital for us to remember what history teaches us and on this occasion (in 2003), the United States did affirm, they affirmed that they had all the proof necessary to show that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but they were never found … never were they found,” the Bolivian envoy told the emergency Security Council meeting on Friday.

Arguing that the U.S. acted unilaterally and in flagrant violation of the U.N. charter, the Bolivian envoy called for a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

“The United States was preparing once again and carried out a unilateral attack,” Llorenti said. “The missile attack, of course, is a unilateral action. They represent a serious threat to international peace and security.”

Click here to read the full article on telesur.

Llorenti also reminded delegates:

“After [the Iraq] invasion there were 1 million deaths and it launched a series of atrocities in that region. Could we talk about ISIS if that invasion had not taken place? Could we be talking about the series of horrendous attacks in various parts of the world had that invasion, this illegal invasion not taken place?” [from 8 mins]

*

To describe the US attack on Syria as a serious development is to be guilty of understatement.

Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington. It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, where NATO troops have been conducting military exercises for some time in striking distance of Russian territory.

In the wake of the horrific images that emerged from Idlib after the alleged sarin gas attack, the clamour for regime change in Damascus has reached a crescendo in the West, with politicians and media outlets rushing to judgement in ascribing responsibility for the attack to the Syrian government. No one knows with any certainty what happened in Idlib, which is why an independent investigation should have been agreed and undertaken in pursuit of the truth and, with it, justice.

However only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike against Syria was unleashed with justice in mind. How could it be when US bombs have been killing civilians, including children, in Mosul recently? And how could it be given the ineffable suffering of Yemeni children as a result of Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign there?

No, this US attack, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.

Click here to read the full article by political analyst John Wight published in Counterpunch.

*

Cui bono?

On Wednesday 6th in the immediate aftermath of the gas attack inside Khan Sheikhoun, the former British Ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, was interviewed by Sky News. He said:

Ask who benefits – clearly it’s not the Syrian regime or the Russians who are benefitting. And I believe it’s highly unlikely that either were behind what’s happened. There are different possibilities. One is that all of it is fake news: the images, the videos, the information all come from opposition sources and not from any credible independent journalists.

It’s also possible that the pictures show the aftermath of a bombing attack which happened to hit a jihadi chemical weapons munition dump. We know for a fact that the jihadi’s were storing chemical weapons in schools in Eastern Aleppo because these were seen later by western journalists. This is one distinct possibility.

We never learn, do we? Iraq’s chemical weapons – remember that one? We were stampeded. Aleppo, we were told that there was a holocaust going on – massacres – didn’t happen. Independent reporters went in afterwards and saw no evidence of massacres. What we did see were fighters being bussed out quietly. And we discovered subsequently that a lot of the footage was fake.

Asked whether western intervention in 2013 “might have changed things”, Ford replies:

Well, it’s not profitable to discuss the what-might-have-been – personally, I think it was correct in 2013 not to intervene on the side of the jihadis. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that most of the people, when they thought about it for a second, would ask themselves: well, what’s going to replace Assad and the secular regime which is protecting minorities, Christians, women’s rights? I don’t think the Islamists would have been a better bet, and that is even more the case today. Remember that in Idlib where this happened is a rats’ nest of the most extreme jihadis.

Dogs returning to their own vomit. They made all these mistakes: Iraq, Libya – they never learn and they would like to reproduce the same scenario in Syria. Fortunately, the Trump administration moved only last week – and this may be significant here – moved only last week to disown the Obama policy of trying to unseat the Syrian regime. Trump’s people said: we’re more interested in unseating ISIS – that’s our priority. And you may think it’s significant that this attack comes days after that. Now if the jihadis wanted to complicate Trump’s task of making America’s policy more sensible, they wouldn’t have gone about it any other way than trying to mount a piece of fake news like this.

*

The media has helped spread the war fever. New York Times columnist and Iraq war cheerleader Thomas Friedman reflexively proposed that Syria be partitioned, with U.S. troops if necessary. On CNN, correspondent Arwa Damon wept over the lack of U.S. resolve, suggesting that a bombing campaign against Damascus would somehow salve the wounds of Syria.

But there has been one issue major media outlets have refused to touch, and that is the nature of the rebels who would gain from any U.S. military offensive. Who holds power in Idlib, why are they there and what do they want? This is perhaps the most inconvenient set of questions for proponents of “humanitarian” military intervention in Syria.

The reality is that Idlib is substantially controlled by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, which has gone through a series of rebranding schemes but remains the same jihadist group it always was: Jabhat al-Nusra. In the province it rules, al-Nusra has imposed what a leading scholar has described as a Taliban-like regime that has ethnically cleansed religious and ethnic minorities, banned music and established a brutal theocracy in which it publicly executes women accused of adultery.

Even analysts who have repeatedly called for U.S.-led regime change in Syria have described Idlib as the “heartland of al-Nusra.”

Click here to read the full article by Max Blumenthal & Ben Norton, published in Alternet on Wednesday 5th.

The same piece includes the following insightful update (with all links maintained from original):

Several hours after this article was published, the U.S. attacked the Syrian government, launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, in the city of Homs. ISIS seized on the opportunity and launched an offensive against the Syrian government immediately after the U.S. strike. The attack was likewise applauded by the Salafi jihadist militia Ahrar al-Sham, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

*

On Saturday 8th, Afshin Rattansi interviewed Peter Oborne, Associate Editor of the Spectator magazine, and Middle East Eye columnist, who has visited Syria during the war and is about to return. Here extracts from what Oborne said:

Well the pictures are terrible – really shocking and awful. But the question is: what’s behind them; what could have created this situation; and was the Syrian government/regime involved? And I think it’s very unwise to jump to immediate conclusions. That’s what history teaches you. Intelligence agencies produce stuff which is unreliable and false: you know going back to WMD before the Iraq invasion. You got back to the reasons given for the Libyan intervention, five years after that, and then the attempts to get western involvement in the wake of the alleged chemical attack in East Ghouta. I just think that we need to pause.

I think there should be an investigation: it’s very shocking what’s happened. But to immediately blame the Assad regime and then say look we’ve got to go to war is not the sensible response. […]

Matthew Rycroft [British ambassador to the UN Security Council] is a young man, and he’s probably not that experienced, and he’s probably a bit naive. Intelligence agencies need to assess in a responsible and adult way what happened. And to suddenly launch World War Three – which this potentially could become –on the back of a whole series of media reactions to a very serious and terrible event is not sensible. We need to know the truth about what happened first.

One of the questions is cui bono – who benefits? And if you look at the situation of the Assad regime now you can’t really say that it’s in their interest to go around dropping chemical weapons. They knew four years ago in 2013, the United States came very close to bombing Damascus in the wake of that [chemical incident at Ghouta]. Now do they want that to happen? I don’t think so.

From the perspective here in London, you know, it looks like the war is almost over. Do you want to reignite something absolutely terrible? […]

I can’t look into the mind of President Trump, but I was surprised. We know that there has been a constituency to go to war in Syria. In my view, to get involved in that would have made things far worse – led to far more innocent deaths, to far more deaths of children. And if the West is going to pile into Syria then it’s going to cause unintended consequences on a limitless scale, as we saw when we used the false justification of WMD in Iraq. So much better is to sit back, pause, use proper intelligence techniques to work out and analyse what did happen, and respond over time. But what we are seeing now is hysteria. […]

We don’t know how many people have died in Syria because of the terrible war which has been going on for the last four years. Is it 200,000? Is it 400,000? I don’t know. How many lives have been destroyed? How many children have died? (All the rest of it…) If any situation called for restraint, this is the one.

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, has just come back from Saudi Arabia. She’s trying to sell British arms, etc (I presume) to Saudi. Saudi has a long-standing determination to destroy the Assad government in Syria. And I’d just like to be clear about what Mrs May’s… you know, you need to be aware of who Mrs May talks to. It is not in the interests of humanity or the world to get involved in a new war in Syria to take it in a fresh direction on the basis of an event we know practically nothing about.

*

The immediate fall out

President Donald Trump’s missile attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Western Syria was a poorly planned display of imperial muscle-flexing that had the exact opposite effect of what was intended. While the attack undoubtedly lifted the morale of the jihadists who have been rampaging across the country for the last six years, it had no military or strategic value at all. The damage to the airfield was very slight and there is no reason to believe it will impact the Syrian Army’s progress on the ground.

The attack did however kill four Syrian servicemen which means the US troops in Syria can no longer be considered part of an international coalition fighting terrorism. The US is now a hostile force that represents an existential threat to the sovereign government.

Is that the change that Trump wanted?

As of Friday, Russia has frozen all military cooperation with the United States.  According to the New York Times:

“In addition to suspending the pact to coordinate air operations over Syria, an accord that was meant to prevent accidental encounters between the two militaries, Russia also said it would bolster Syria’s air defense systems and reportedly planned to send a frigate into the Mediterranean Sea to visit the logistics base at the Syrian port of Tartus….

Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, said that the cruise missile strikes on Friday represented a “significant blow” to American-Russian ties, and that Mr. Putin considered the attack a breach of international law that had been made under a false pretext. “The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons at its disposal,” Mr. Peskov said.” (New York Times)

The missile attack has ended all talk of “normalizing” relations with Russia. For whatever the reason, Trump has decided that identifying himself and the United States as an enemy of Moscow and Damascus is the way he wants to conduct business. That, of course, is the President’s prerogative, but it would be foolish not to think there will be consequences.

Click here to read the full article by Mike Whitney published in Counterpunch. The same piece also includes Mike Whitney’s transcription of part of a 14 minute interview on Thursday’s Scott Horton show with former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi. It is reproduced below:

Philip Giraldi: I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known — but maybe didn’t — and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict.

Scott Horton: Tell me everything you can about your sources or how you are learning about this?

Philip Giraldi: Okay. These are essentially sources that are right on top of the issue right in the Middle East. They’re people who are stationed there with the military and the Intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the US essentially that they astonished at how this is being played by the administration and by the media and in some cases people are considering going public to stop it. They’re that concerned about it, that upset by what’s going on.

Scott Horton: So current CIA officers are thinking about going public right now?

Philip Giraldi: They are, because they’re that concerned about the way this thing is moving. They are military and intelligence personnel who are stationed in the Middle East and are active duty and they are seeing the intelligence the US government has in its hands about what happened in Syria, and the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons… There was an attack but it was with conventional weapons – a bomb – and the bomb ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the terrorist group affiliated with al Qaida.

Scott Horton: You say this thing is moving really fast. How fast is this thing moving?

Philip Giraldi: It’s moving really fast. Apparently the concern among the people who are active duty personnel is that the White House is anticipating doing something to take steps against the Syrian government. What that might consist of nobody knows. But Trump was sending a fairly clear signal yesterday and so was our ambassador to the UN about the heinousness of this act. Trump talked about crossing numerous “red lines” and they are essentially fearful that this is going to escalate. Now bear in mind, Assad had no motive for doing this. If anything, he had a negative motive. The Trump said there was no longer any reason to remove him from office, well, this was a big win for him. To turn around and use chemical weapons 48 hours later, does not fit ant reasonable scenario, although I’ve seen some floated out there, but they are quite ridiculous.”

Whitney writes:

I think you’ll find that listening to the whole show is worth the time. [click here to listen]

Giraldi’s observations are persuasive but not conclusive. There needs to be an investigation, that much is certain. (The show was taped before the missile attack, which does show that Giraldi was right about “how fast” things were moving.)

Whitney also quotes from a recent statement made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

And here’s another thing readers might find interesting: The Russians have an impressive grasp of Washington’s global strategy, in fact, their analysis is vastly superior to anything you’ll read in either the western journals or the establishment media.  Here’s a short clip from a recent speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov:

“The concept of managed chaos appeared long ago as a method of strengthening US influence. Its basic premise is that managed chaos projects should be launched away from the United States in regions that are crucial for global economic and financial development. The Middle East has always been in the focus of politicians and foreign policy engineers in Washington. Practice has shown that this concept is dangerous and destructive, in particular for the countries where the experiment was launched, namely Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan…In Iraq, Syria and Libya, this chaos was created intentionally.

…Responsible politicians have come to see that the managed chaos theory is destroying life in many regions. Some parties can benefit in the short term from fluctuations on the raw materials markets provoked by the revolutions orchestrated by external forces, but this theory ultimately backfires at its engineers and executors in the form of massive migration inflows, which terrorists use to enter these countries. We can see this in Europe. Terrorist attacks have been staged even in the United States. The Atlantic Ocean has not protected it from the terrorist threat. This is the boomerang effect.” (Lavrov)

“Managed chaos”. Brilliant. That’s Washington’s foreign policy in a nutshell. That’s why there’s been no effort to create strong, stable, secular governments that can provide security for their people in any of the countries the US has destroyed in the last 16 years, because this long string of failed states that now stretches from North Africa, through the Middle East and into Central Asia (The ‘arc of instability’) create a permanent justification for US military intervention as well as strategic access to vital resources.

*

Update:

Here is US Congressman Thomas Massie challenging the official narrative on CNN to the undisguised chagrin of the anchor:

The original upload is no longer available so here’s another version courtesy of CNN:

Click here to listen to former CIA officer and Director of the Council for the National Interest, Philip Giraldi, interviewed on Scott Horton show on April 6th.

*

There is also Professor Theodore Postol’s analysis of the hastily drafted White House Intelligence Report, released on April 11th: “A Quick Turnaround Assessment of the White House Intelligence Report Issued on April 11, 2017 About the Nerve Agent Attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria

The reports concludes:

The White House report at that time also contained other critical and important errors that might properly be described as amateurish. For example, the report claimed that the locations of the launch and impact of points of the artillery rockets were observed by US satellites. This claim was absolutely false and any competent intelligence analyst would have known that. The rockets could be seen from the Space-Based Infrared Satellite (SBIRS) but the satellite could absolutely not see the impact locations because the impact locations were not accompanied by explosions. These errors were clear indicators that the White House intelligence report had in part been fabricated and had not been vetted by competent intelligence experts.

This same situation appears to be the case with the current White House intelligence report. No competent analyst would assume that the crater cited as the source of the sarin attack was unambiguously an indication that the munition came from an aircraft. No competent analyst would assume that the photograph of the carcass of the sarin canister was in fact a sarin canister. Any competent analyst would have had questions about whether the debris in the crater was staged or real. No competent analyst would miss the fact that the alleged sarin canister was forcefully crushed from above, rather than exploded by a munition within it. All of these highly amateurish mistakes indicate that this White House report, like the earlier Obama White House Report, was not properly vetted by the intelligence community as claimed.

What I can say for sure herein is that what the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.

Sincerely yours,

Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy Massachusetts Institute of Technology”

For a more comprehensive summary of the report I recommend this article by independent journalist Eva Bartlett.

*

In a talk given on April 14th, Noam Chomsky directs attention to Theodore Postol’s analysis and also challenges the official White House narrative:

*

Finally – perhaps not to everyone’s taste – here is James Corbett’s sardonic quick-fire dissection of the same events in four minutes flat:

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1 From an article entitled “Syria sanctions: ‘outraged’ US seeks fresh resolution after double veto blow” published in the Guardian on October 5, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/05/syria-sanctions-us-fresh-resolution

2 Taken from an interview of Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya for the publication Eurasia. The interview was conducted at the end of July 2011 by two Italian researchers from the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences/L’Istituto di Alti Studi in Geopolitica e Scienze Ausiliarie (IsAG), Chiara Felli and Giovanni Andriolo. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=26774

3

The Russian expansion of the Tartus would include the installation of an air defence system with S-300 PMU2 Favourite ballistic missile system that would be a virtual threat to the Ceyhan, maritime traffic, the flow of oil, and would provide an air defence shield for vital portions of Syria that are strategically important, especially in the event of a war. In essence Damascus, the Syrian capital, and Syria would be protected from either Israeli or American aerial bombardment. It is clear that the Russian aims in Syria are a symmetrical reaction to American objectives for the Middle East and part of a global chess game.

From an article entitled “Russian Base in Syria, a Symmetrical Strategic Move” written by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, on July 28, 2006. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=2839

4 From an article entitled “Whose sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published in the London Review of Books, Vol 35, No. 24, December 19, 2013. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

5 From an article entitled “The Red Line and the Rat Line” written by Seymour Hersh, published in the London Review of Books, Vol 36, No. 8, April 17, 2014. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line

6 From a report entitled “White Helmets Movie: Updated Evidence From Swedish Doctors Confirm Fake ‘Lifesaving’ and Malpractices on Children” written by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), published in The Indicter, March 2017 issue. http://theindicter.com/white-helmets-movie-updated-evidence-from-swedish-doctors-confirm-fake-lifesaving-and-malpractices-on-children/ 

7

From a report entitled “Swedish Doctors for Human Rights: White Helmets Video, Macabre Manipulation of Dead Children and Staged Chemical Weapons Attack to Justify a ‘No-Fly Zone’ in Syria” written by Professor Marcello Ferrada de Noli, Chairman of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights (SWEDHR), published in The Indicter, March 2017 issue. http://theindicter.com/swedish-doctors-for-human-rights-white-helmets-video-macabre-manipulation-of-dead-children-and-staged-chemical-weapons-attack-to-justify-a-no-fly-zone-in-syria/ 

Marcello Ferrada de Noli had a classical liberal ideological background, influenced by his eldest brother, a lawyer with previous membership in the right-wing Liberal Party. However, he later evolved towards left-liberal and social-libertarian positions. At age 22, Marcello Ferrada de Noli was one of the founders of MIR, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left. MIR was a Chilean political party and former left-wing guerrilla organization (founded on October 12, 1965) prominent in the resistance to the Pinochet Dictatorship. Together with his old-time school friend Miguel Enríquez (died in combat 1974) and Marco A. Enríquez, Ferrada de Noli was an author of the Political-military Theses of MIR – known also as La Tesis Insurreccional – the first document of MIR approved in its foundation congress of 1965;[6][7][8] there he represented left-libertarian standpoints.

During the government of the Christian Democratic Party, President Eduardo Frei Montalva declared MIR to be illegal and Marcello Ferrada de Noli was posted in the nationwide published wanted-list of thirteen fugitive MIR leaders,[9] together with his friends Miguel Enríquez, Bautista van Schouwen, and others. Later captured in August 1969[10] Ferrada de Noli was acquitted without trial after having been kept in isolation[11] at Concepción prison (La Cárcel). Altogether he had been captured or imprisoned on seven occasions for his political activities in Chile during his time in the MIR but was never condemned by a Chilean court.

In the aftermath of the resistance to the military coup of 1973 Marcello Ferrada de Noli was captured in Concepción and taken first to the Stadium and later was imprisoned in Quiriquina Island Prisoners Camp. After his liberation he went to Italy, where he was one of the witnesses before the Russell Tribunal which investigated human rights violations in Chile and Latin America. He then became a member of the Russell Tribunal Scientific Secretariat in Rome.[12]

8 From an article entitled “Trump enforces the ‘red line’ on chemical weapons” written by David Ignatius, published in the Washington Post on April 6, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-faces-a-moral-test-in-syria/2017/04/06/bea8bdde-1aee-11e7-bcc2-7d1a0973e7b2_story.html?utm_term=.fb0a06a21135

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Trump false flag? Noam Chomsky needs to get his facts straighter

In a recent interview [March 27th] given to Jan Frel of Alternet, Noam Chomsky suggested that when people become aware Trump’s promises are “built on sand”, to maintain his popularity he might be tempted to stage a terrorist event:

I think that we shouldn’t put aside the possibility that there would be some kind of staged or alleged terrorist act, which can change the country instantly.

Click here to read a transcript of the full interview.

Today, he clarified those earlier remarks on Democracy Now! saying:

The other possibility is a staged attack of a minor kind. And how hard would that be? Take the FBI technique, which they’re using constantly, of creating situations of entrapment. Well, suppose one of them goes a little too far, that you don’t stop it right in time. That wouldn’t be hard to work out. I don’t particularly anticipate it, but it’s a possibility.

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

Although careful to avoid the term, Chomsky is alerting us to the possibility of false flag attacks; a valid concern given how “black ops” of this kind have a well-documented history whether it comes to manufacturing consent for wars (Gulf of Tonkin, USS Liberty), scapegoating opponents (Reichstag Fire, COINTELPRO) or more straightforwardly building and escalating a ‘strategy of tension’.

Chomsky also rightly draws attention to the repeated entrapment of ‘terrorist suspects’ by the FBI – a tactic I covered in this earlier piece – and to the possibility that “one of them goes a little too far”. Presumably he knows about former Egyptian army officer and FBI informant Emad Salem and the murky role he played in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993:

But Chomsky is also well aware that false flag attacks are not the province of the President or his administration. That “black ops” are, of necessity, ‘deep state’ enterprises – planned and executed by intelligence services and/or private contractors with the skills needed to carry them out. Even “a staged attack of a minor kind” involves advanced planning and is not done on the whim of any President.

Trump is certainly a con man with gangland connections, and his presidency is a rising threat to all of us. But the surmise that he or any other President can just click his fingers to conjure up a false flag attack merely to improve poll ratings is pure fantasy. Chomsky knows better than that. So why is he saying this? Why now?

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