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

Gilet Jaunes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon after a translated version appeared too:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion she says:

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

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

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

Link to Tweet and video here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same wsws.org article continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s full article.

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

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

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

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

Click here to read CJ Hopkin’s complete essay.

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Avaaz

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

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

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

[bold highlight added]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s dangerous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the full New Internationalist article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And meanwhile the Guardian published:

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

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

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

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

Let them eat, drink and après-ski!

*

Macron

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avaaz then released this video on its facebook page:

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

*

Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the ACLU statement in full.

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

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

The statement was made last October and continues:

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

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

Click here to read the Facebook statement in full.

As the Guardian reported at the time:

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

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

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

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

‘Mountain’ told the Guardian:

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

Predictably, the piece ends:

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full Guardian article

*

Real ‘fake news’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Final thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

forget ‘Russiagate’, why is no-one talking about ‘Israelgate’…?

The following is an extract drawn from an article posted last February entitled “‘fake news’ is the new blackwhite” – a reference to newspeak jargon from Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ .

*

‘Russiagate’ has dominated the US news cycle for well over eighteen months in spite of the fact that after several investigations there has been an embarrassing failure to uncover substantiating evidence pointing to an actual Russian plot to “hack the election” as was so vigorously claimed. But the latest twist in the saga is arguably the lamest to date. It involves Robert Mueller’s indictment of thirteen Russian nationals for purportedly creating sockpuppet accounts on behalf of Trump (or else disparaging him – presumably for added confusion!), as well as (still more bafflingly) bolstering the campaigns of progressives Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein in the 2016 election. Missing altogether are any claims that Trump knew anything at all about the alleged Russian meddling, or that in fact “Russia hacked the election” – the very pivot about which Russiagate started spinning. As even the Guardian admits in its wholly uncritical account of Mueller’s findings which is excitedly titled “Putin’s chef, a troll farm and Russia’s plot to hijack US democracy”:

The indictment does not allege that any American knowingly participated in Russian meddling, or that Trump campaign associates had more than “unwitting” contact with some who posed as Americans. Trump quickly claimed vindication, noting in a tweet that the interference efforts began in 2014 “long before I announced that I would run for president”. He added: “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

Nor does it have anything to say regarding the origins of ‘Russiagate’:

The indictment does not mention the hacking of Democratic emails, which then turned up on WikiLeaks. It does not mention the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. It does not mention the four Trump associates who are facing charges that range from money laundering to lying to the FBI about conversations with Russia’s ambassador. America, and the world, is waiting for Mueller to join the dots.1

The post continues:

In fact, both presidential candidates bent over backwards to secure the backing of AIPAC, the most formidable foreign lobby group in America, but that doesn’t count as meddling apparently.

Meanwhile, the bizarre claim that a handful of Russians threw the election process into confusion via social media platforms is an already laughably pathetic allegation, made worse for the simple fact that it is next to impossible to validate, since, as Mueller knows perfectly well, those named will never be extradited to face trial. And for what crime are they to be indicted exactly? For not being American citizens but writing about an US election without registering as a foreign agent. That’s certainly the precedent Muller is setting here. Moreover, the contention is not that this alleged ‘troll farm’ has been spreading falsehoods as such, but that they cunningly redeployed truth in order to deceive the ignorant masses.

Click here to read the full post.

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On August 13th, Jimmy Dore welcomed William Binney, NSA whistleblower and member of Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), to set the record straight about Guccifer 2.0 and Mueller’s indictments:

*

Having trawled for evidence of “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” as the Mueller investigation was tasked to do, it instead uncovered actual evidence of complicity with Israel. These uncomfortable revelations have since been swept under the carpet by the corporate media, but are discussed in detail elsewhere. For instance, as far back as last December Max Blumenthal was reporting for Alternet:

Seven months later, after three indictments that did little, if anything, to confirm the grand collusion narrative, Mueller had former National Security Council advisor Michael Flynn dragged before a federal court for lying to the FBI. The Russia probe had finally netted a big fish.

As the details of the Flynn indictment seeped out into the press, however, the bombshell was revealed as another dud. To the dismay of many Trump opponents, nothing in Flynn’s rap sheet demonstrated collusion with Russia. Instead, the indictment undermined the Russiagate narrative while implicating another, much more inconvenient foreign power in a plot to meddle in American politics.

Blumenthal continues:

To be sure, Flynn indictment did contain a stunning revelation of collusion between Team Trump and a foreign state. But it was not the country that the national media has obsessed over for the past year.

Flynn was found by the FBI to have lobbied [Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey] Kislyak to exercise Russia’s veto against the passage of a United Nations security council resolution condemning the growth of Israel’s illegal settlements. And he did so under orders from Jared Kushner, the presidential son-in-law and Middle East fixer, who was himself acting on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Thanks to Flynn’s indictment, we now know that the Israeli prime minister was able to transform the Trump administration into his own personal vehicle for undermining Obama’s lone effort to hold Israel accountable at the UN. A clearer example of a foreign power colluding with an American political operation against a sitting president has seldom, if ever, been exposed in such glaring fashion. 2

Click here to read Blumenthal’s full article entitled “Michael Flynn’s Indictment Exposes Trump Team’s Collusion With Israel, Not Russia”.

Around the same time, a journalistic investigation of Israeli meddling in American politics was also secretly hushed up. As a sequel to its damning report on the Israel Lobby’s activities in Britain, Al Jazeera’s Director of Investigative Journalism, Clayton Swisher, announced in October 2017 that the Qatari satellite channel had embedded a different undercover journalist (called “Tony”) inside the US Israel lobby:

Swisher made the announcement soon after the UK’s broadcast regulator dismissed all complaints against Al Jazeera’s film The Lobby.

That documentary, broadcast in January 2017, exposed Israel’s covert influence campaign in the UK’s ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties. The film revealed an Israeli embassy agent plotting with a British civil servant to “take down” a government minister seen as too critical of Israel.

Although Swisher promised the US film would come out “very soon,” nearly five months later it has yet to be broadcast. 3

Click here to read more on the announcement at The Electronic Intifada.

The documentary was never broadcast. However, based on newly leaked footage from this banned documentary, The Electronic Intifada published a follow-up article last week [Sept 13th] that discloses the operation of (what should be called) ‘troll farms’ operating under the cover of “The Israel Project” (TIP) using sockpuppets to sway public opinion and disseminate propaganda on the social media platform Facebook:

The Israel Project, a major advocacy group based in Washington, is running a secret influence campaign on Facebook.

The video above, exclusive to The Electronic Intifada, shows the latest excerpts to leak from the documentary.

Earlier leaked footage published by The Electronic Intifada and the Grayzone Project has already revealed underhanded tactics by anti-Palestinian groups planned and executed in collusion with the Israeli government.

In the newest clips, David Hazony, the managing director of The Israel Project, is heard telling Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter: “There are also things that we do that are completely off the radar. We work together with a lot of other organizations.”

“We produce content that they then publish with their own name on it,” Hazony adds.

A major part of the operation is the creation of a network of Facebook “communities” focused on history, the environment, world affairs and feminism that appear to have no connection to pro-Israel advocacy, but are used by The Israel Project to spread pro-Israel messaging.

The same piece continues:

One of these Facebook pages, Cup of Jane, has almost half a million followers.

Cup of Jane’s “About” page describes it as being about “Sugar, spice and everything nice.”

But there is no disclosure that this is a page run for the purpose of promoting Israel.

The “About” page does identify Cup of Jane as being “a community launched by TIP’s Future Media Project in DC.”

There is however no direct and explicit mention of Israel or indication that “TIP” stands for The Israel Project.

The Electronic Intifada understands that even this vague acknowledgment of who is behind the page was only added after The Israel Project learned about the existence of the Al Jazeera undercover documentary and presumably anticipated being exposed.

The Israel Project also added an acknowledgment on its own website that it runs the Facebook pages. However its website is not linked from the Facebook pages themselves.

There is no evidence in the Internet Archive of the page existing before May 2017 – months after “Tony’s” cover was blown.

According to [former employee Jordan] Schachtel, The Israel Project is putting considerable resources into producing Cup of Jane and a network of similar pages.

“We have a team of like 13 people. We are working on a lot of videos, explainers,” he tells Tony in Al Jazeera’s documentary. “A lot of it is just random topics and then maybe like 25 percent of it would be like Israel or Jewish-based.”

“Cup of Jane” is just one of many such fake websites:

Other pages identified by the censored Al Jazeera documentary as run by The Israel Project include Soul Mama, History Bites, We Have Only One Earth and This Explains That.

Some have hundreds of thousands of followers.

History Bites does not reveal its affiliation with The Israel Project, not even with the vague formula used by Cup of Jane and the other pages.

History Bites simply describes itself as conveying “The awesome of History in bite-sized chewable pieces!”

That page re-posted Cup of Jane posts presenting Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister who implemented racist and violent policies against indigenous Palestinians, and viewed Palestinian women giving birth as an existential threat, as a feminist hero.

A 2016 This Explains That video spreads false Israeli claims that the UN cultural agency UNESCO “erased” Jewish and Christian reverence for holy sites in Jerusalem.

History Bites reposted the video last December stating that it “seems to support President Trump’s declaration today that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state of Israel.”

The video has received almost five million views.

Another video posted by History Bites attempts to justify Israel’s June 1967 surprise attack on Egypt, launching the war in which Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights.

The video describes Israel’s military occupation of East Jerusalem as the city being “reunified” and “liberated.”

There is a great deal more detail in the article and I strongly encourage readers to read the piece in its entirety. It concludes where my own post begins – making a parallel reference to the furore surrounding the equivalent Russiagate allegations:

Since the 2016 US presidential election, Facebook has been accused of allowing its platform to be used for manipulative Russian-sponsored propaganda aimed at influencing politics and public opinion.

Despite the hype, these allegations have been grossly overblown or unsubstantiated.

Nevertheless, Facebook has partnered with the Atlantic Council in an effort to ostensibly crack down on “fake accounts” and “disinformation.”

The Atlantic Council is a Washington think tank that has been funded by NATO, the US military, the brutally repressive governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, European Union governments, and a who’s who of investment firms, oil companies, arms makers and other war profiteers.

As the apparent result of this partnership, a number of completely innocuous social media accounts with few or no followers were recently taken down.

More worryingly, pages run by leftist news outlets focusing on countries targeted by the US government, such as Venezuela Analysis and teleSUR, were suspended, though later restored.

Now with solid evidence of The Israel Project’s well-resourced and extensive influence campaign on Facebook, it remains to be seen if the social media giant will act to ensure that unwitting users are aware that what they are being exposed to is propaganda designed to boost and whitewash the Israeli state.

In response to a request for comment, a Facebook spokesperson told The Electronic Intifada the company would look into the matter. 4

Why is no-one talking about ‘Israelgate’? The question in the title to this post is rhetorical, of course, but we might easily answer it anyway. Russiagate was the cover story for why the Clinton campaign bombed so badly and then afterwards successfully reworked into the pretext to close down “fake news” websites. Talking about Israelgate on the other hand… what would that achieve?

Click here to read the full article entitled “Censored film reveals The Israel Project’s secret Facebook campaign.

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On Monday 10th, The Real News interviewed Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal about why Qatar bowed down to American pressure to censor the documentary. In particular they speak about leaked clips that show how the Israeli government was behind attacks on American pro-Palestinian activists and Black Lives Matter:

Ali Abunimah: We published on August 27th, the first leaked video from the film in which an official of The Israel Project names Adam Milstein, a pro-Israel financier based in California – real estate magnate who spent time in federal prison for tax evasion. In the film, Milstein is named as the funder of ‘Canary Mission’ [a blacklist for pro-Palestine activists] and for years now people have been trying to find out who is behind ‘Canary Mission’ other than a few snippets of information which came out this appears to be first major break in cracking who is behind this.

And what it also shows is that ‘Canary Mission’ is part of a much bigger effort, effectively orchestrated by the Israeli government, in which groups like the ‘Israel on Campus Coalition’ and ‘The Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ are acting as agents, or front groups, for the Israeli government, helping it to gather information on US citizens; to harass US citizens; and other activities – without being registered as foreign agents of the State of Israel. So this really I think explains why the Israel lobby put such intense pressure on Qatar and on Al Jazeera to censor the film. Because I think it reveals a lot of activity that they don’t want revealed.

And what’s ironic is that this film contains real evidence of foreign interference in American politics [and] in American civic life by a foreign state: orchestrated, funded and directed by a foreign state and it’s got no attention. The censorship has gotten very little attention in the mainstream media. Meanwhile, as you know very well, the mainstream media and mainstream politicians continue to chase the shadows of ‘Russiagate’ and Russian interference, which until now have proven to be just shadows, as opposed to this really powerful evidence of Israeli interference.

[from 1:55 mins]

Max Blumenthal: Well, Noah Pollak [Executive Director of the ‘Emergency Committee for Israel’] is part of the crew that Ali describes as essentially unregistered agents – Adam Milstein, Jacob Baime of the ‘Israel on Campus Coalition’ – that are effectively surveilling and attacking American students on behalf of the Israeli government. These are Likudnik operatives: figures who align with the ring wing in Israel, who are substantially funded by Milstein as well as Sheldon Adelson who is one of the largest donors to both Donald Trump and to the political empire of Benjamin Netanyahu.

And we reported based on leaked content from the censored Al Jazeera “Lobby USA” documentary that Noah Pollak had essentially been astroturfing a protest against a 2016 gathering of the ‘National Students for Justice in Palestine’ conference. It was in DC and basically Pollak went to the Hudson Institute, which is a pro-Israel think tank with very close ties of its own to the Israeli government, and said you know send us some of your campus fellows – basically like youth fellows – and they’re going to protest for us.

And the undercover reporter for Al Jazeera, James Kleinfeld, gets on the bus to this protest – he was interning for The Israel Project, another affiliated pro-Israel lobby group – and covertly films all of these young people, who are young conservative activists, saying we don’t really have any interest in going to yell at Arabs and that’s what we’ve been told to do: go shout at Arabs. And they’re driving around in a bus and getting lost and asking people “where are the Jihadis? We’ve just been told to go yell at Jihadis.” So you can see kind of the racism and Islamophobia behind the whole operation. But at the same time they’re saying basically we’re being forced to do this. We get paid like $50,000 a year as part of this fellowship and this is what we have to do – we’re selling our souls.

So it’s kind of amusing but at the same time you see how the Israel lobby operates. It essentially has to pay fake protesters because it has no grassroots support.

Then these campus fellows from this right-wing think tank show up at the conference where there are hundreds of young people, students who are organically drawn to Palestine solidarity activism [and] don’t have to be paid to be there. They themselves are paying their own way. And these fake protesters start shouting Islamophobic insults at them. Noah Pollak is screaming about child suicide bombers at young women and men, who are mostly students from immigrant backgrounds. So I thought it was a really scandalous scene and I chose to reveal at the Greyzone Project along with a more recent report that shows the phenomenon that Ali described which is the Israeli government actually coordinating directly attacks on American progressive social movements, which should be scandalous. If Russia was doing it, you know, you’d have the New York Times and Washington Post freaking out but in this case it’s silence.

I mean [the report] should have been explosive… if the FBI had been exposed for recruiting black establishment leadership to attack the Black Lives Matter movement and undermining Black Lives Matter events, you know, how much outrage would there be? Probably a lot but in this case all we’ve done is expose a foreign government – the apartheid government of Israel – for doing exactly the same and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of outrage. The suppressed, censored Al Jazeera “Lobby” documentary shows scenes from a pro-Israel conference where a group of Israeli diplomats are essentially boasting about having recruited former civil rights leaders and established black activists as proxies to denounce Black Lives Matter as antisemitic. This was right after the movement for black lives had introduced its platform supporting BDS, denouncing Israel as an apartheid state, and accusing it of committing genocide against the Palestinian people. So there was a big priority not just for the Israel lobby but the Israeli government to undermine Black Lives Matter. And they not only claimed responsibility for op-eds in the Huffington Post by black civil rights leaders and in other publications attacking Black Lives Matter as anti-Semitic. […]

Then you have Eric Gallagher, who is the Director of development [of The Israel Project] who was filmed covertly by the undercover Al Jazeera reporter, James Kleinfeld, boasting of how The Israel Project had gotten a Black Lives Matter event cancelled – a fundraiser cancelled – in New York, right after it released its platform, basically by calling donors and then having them call a nightclub that they were affiliated with and the nightclub put the kibosh on the event. So all this goes back to the phenomenon that Ali described, which is the Israeli government interfering, not just in American politics, but in American life. Surveilling Americans and covertly undermining American progressive social movements that are dedicated to advocating for the equality of some of the most oppressed groups in the country.

[from 4:45 mins]

The transcript is my own.

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1 From an article entitled “Putin’s chef, a troll farm and Russia’s plot to hijack US democracy” written by David Smith, published in the Guardian on February 17, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/17/putins-chef-a-troll-farm-and-russias-plot-to-hijack-us-democracy

2 From an article entitled “Michael Flynn’s Indictment Exposes Trump Team’s Collusion With Israel, Not Russia” written by Max Blumenthal, published in Alternet on Decmeber 5, 2017. https://www.alternet.org/grayzone-project/flynn-indictment-exposes-collusion-israel

3 From an article entitled “What’s in Al Jazeera’s undercover film on US Israel lobby?” written by Asa Winstanley, published in The Electronic Intifada on March 5, 2018. https://electronicintifada.net/content/whats-al-jazeeras-undercover-film-us-israel-lobby/23496

4 From an article entitled “Censored film reveals The Israel Project’s secret Facebook campaign” written by Ali Abunimah and Asa Winstanley, published by The Electronic Intifada on September 13, 2018. https://electronicintifada.net/content/censored-film-reveals-israel-projects-secret-facebook-campaign/25486

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ex-miner John Dunn is guilty of speaking truth to power – so the Labour Party have suspended him!

John Dunn, a Labour Party member for 45 years, has suddenly been suspended. His infraction?

Well, back in late July, Dunn was out and about tackling Owen Smith – politely but firmly:

The two men spoke for a few minutes, before Mr Smith was bundled into the back of a car and driven away, his encounter now over with the very personification of the challenge he faces this summer. 1

An ex-miner, Dunn confronted Smith and accused him of “shamelessly exploiting” what had happened at Orgreave for his own political ends.

As you can see from the photo above, Dunn is proudly sporting a “Orgreave truth and justice campaign” T-shirt. Further evidence of his contumacy.

Dunn afterwards described the moment on his Facebook page:

Just back from running Owen Smith out of S Yorks.

So sick of him trying to shamelessly exploit our struggle that I felt compelled to dash off to Orgreave to politely (yes I can do polite!),and, as a striking miner, ask him to stop such shameless opportunism. He tried to tell me about his background in S. Wales so I replied that whilst he was making pharmaceutical companies rich we were struggling for justice and told him that it was disgusting that he would have such shame as to tarnish the defining moment in our strike, and if he was so committed to the Orgreave issue why had he not signed Ian Lavery’s early day motion, to which I got no response whatsoever.

I added that his actions in the PLP coup were no different to the UDM [Union of Democratic Minerworkers] scabs who undermined our strike. He scuttled into his car, wound the window up and wouldn’t speak to me anymore.

I personally saw John Dunn deliver a terrific speech, both poignant and hilarious by turns, in support of Jeremy Corbyn at last week’s Sheffield rally.

Unfortunately there is only limited footage I can find to embed, although there are plenty of tweets including this one:

And this image published in The Mirror:

Staunch support for the party’s leader appears to have been Dunn’s most egregious infringement of party regulations to date. The last straw, presumably, for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), although we will never know for sure because they have refused to comment on any decisions regarding individual members:

The Labour party say their validation process includes an electoral register check and a duplication check.

It also includes “verification all voters share the aims and values of the Labour Party”, but they have not revealed on what basis this is judged.

It’s been suggested that supporters’ social media accounts are being examined for words including “traitor”, “scab” and even “blairite”, though Labour would not confirm this.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on NEC decisions regarding individual members.” 2 

[bold emphasis added]

Defiant as ever, John Dunn vows to fight on:

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John Dunn is one of many members and activists now being suspended ahead of the leadership vote. Others excluded include Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, who says he is “disgusted and in shock”.

Although reminiscent of a previous Labour Party witch-hunt carried out under Neil Kinnock’s leadership during the mid-80s when members were expelled on the grounds of allegiance to Militant Tendency, in the case of today’s purges, the vast majority of members targeted are among the ranks of supporters of the party’s leader, and not those in alliance with any breakaway faction.

The media has indeed repeatedly tried to recast pro-Corbyn group Momentum as if it were comprised of Militant-like entryists, but the slur is much too obvious and doesn’t wash. The better comparison to the 80s infiltration by Militant in fact belongs to another fringe ‘ginger group’ Progress – an influential Blairite faction that the media assiduously fails to discuss.

Progress put forward its own candidate, Liz Kendall, during the last leadership contest. She was so unpopular that she won just 4% of the vote.

Click here to read an earlier post with more about the recent history of the Labour Party and how Peter Mandelson steered it away from its traditional trade union roots and towards the ‘extreme centre’ of British politics.

Finally, here’s a brief and incisive overview on “how to rig an election” from youtube vlogger James Prowse:

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1 From an article entitled “Labour leadership: Owen Smith attempts to woo Jeremy Corbyn backers” written by Chris Mason, published in BBC news on July 27, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36909320

2 From an article entitled “long serving trade union leader banned from Labour Leadership vote” written by Mikey Smith, published in The Mirror on August 25, 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/long-serving-trade-union-leader-8704495

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two little boys in Aleppo and what the corporate media don’t want you to see

Images of little Omran Daqneesh dazed and covered in dust and blood reminded us again of the horrors of war, however the mainstream media outlets who featured the video as their headline story, told us very little about its source, a man named Mahmoud Raslan (also Rslan). Had they dug just a little deeper, they would have quickly uncovered something immeasurably more horrific and sinister.

Here is Mahmoud Raslan standing in front of a tank captured by ‘the rebels’ in the Ramouseh district of Aleppo:

 

Below we find Raslan featured within a montage of four images. Top left, he is again the main subject of a selfie but standing in front of a different group of ‘rebel’ fighters taken from his Facebook page – these same friends are also seen in the adjacent image with arrows indicating who is who (I will come back to that in a moment). Bottom left, we find Raslan wearing his distinctive blue and white shirt, as he is in the accompanying photo (bottom right) which reveals him in the act of filming little Omran Daqneesh.

Now let’s return to the image above again (top right) which is a single frame captured from a ‘rebel’ video. It shows Raslan’s friends sitting in the back of a truck next to another little boy (his face blanked). This second boy is a 12 year old Palestinian child named Abdullah Tayseer Al Issa. Abdullah is about to be slowly decapitated with a knife. 1 The perpetrators of this sickening crime are the CIA-backed Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement, a faction affiliated to the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA). 2

As a report by offGuardian explains:

So, the alleged event the MSM are doing their best to make a catalyst for more Western intervention in Syria, was filmed by friends of al Nusra, and its chief witness seems to be an associate of the worst and most depraved murderers in the region.

Is there any independent confirmation that this video [of Omran Daqneesh] is showing what it claims to show? Do we positively know the little boy was hurt by a bomb and not by any of his handlers?

Maybe those misguided people currently chiding and insulting us for daring to question the video should turn their attention to the real issues here. The boy in the video is fortunately alive. The one beheaded by Mahmoud Raslan’s chums is not. If your outrage is real and not feigned – turn it where it deserves to be. 3

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Additional:

The Canary also reported on the “brutal skeletons” in Mahmoud Raslan’s closet with further disturbing evidence taken from his Facebook page that reads [translated by The Canary]:

“With the suicide fighters, from the land of battles and butchery, from Aleppo of the martyrs, we bring you tidings of impending joy, with God’s permission”

And:

“Thousands of suicide fighters and tens of booby-traps are being prepared for the great battle in Aleppo, the first battle where I see men weeping because they can’t participate on account of the number of attackers.” 4

Click here to read the full report.

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 1 Warning: The video embedded below is by Mimi Al Laham (Syrian Girl). It carefully puts all the pieces of the story together, however, it also contains scenes so disturbing [from 5:30 on] that I cannot even bring myself to watch it in full:

2

The men in the first video say he [little Abdullah] is a fighter from Liwa al-Quds (the Jerusalem Brigade), a Palestinian pro-government militia operating in the Aleppo area.

Enab Baladi, a pro-opposition news website, said the boy was captured in Handarat by members of a local rebel group, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement.

It quoted Yasser Ibrahim Youssef, a member of the group’s political bureau, as saying on Facebook that an independent judicial commission had been appointed to investigate the incident. Anyone proven to have been involved in any violations would be referred to military justice, he added.

A legal adviser for the Western-backed Free Syrian Army was also cited by Enab Baladi as saying it would hold to account those responsible for such a violation. […]

A report published by the human rights group Amnesty International earlier this month detailed a series of violations allegedly committed by Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement fighters, including abductions and torture.

The group is reported to have benefited from financial and military support from the US, UK, France, Turkey, Qatar and other Gulf Arab states in the past.

From a BBC news report entitled “Syria conflict: Rebels ‘filmed beheading boy’ in Aleppo” published on July 19, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36835678

3 From an article entitled “An ID for ‘Mahmoud Raslan’” published by offGuardian on August 19, 2016. https://off-guardian.org/2016/08/19/an-id-for-mahmoud-raslan/ 

4 From an article entitled “The man behind the viral ‘boy in the ambulance’ image has brutal skeletons in his own closet”, written by Brad Hoff,  published in The Canary on August 19, 2016. http://www.thecanary.co/2016/08/19/the-man-behind-the-viral-boy-in-the-ambulance-image-has-brutal-skeletons-in-his-own-closet-images/ 

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this is the EU — so take it or leave it… #3. ‘The Brussels Business’

“Who runs the European Union?” This is the question front and centre of the excellent 2012 documentary The Brussels Business which takes the viewer on “a journey into the corridors of power of the biggest economy on earth – the European Union.” What filmmakers Matthieu Lietaert (Belgium) and Friedrich Moser (Italy) find is a Byzantine complex of corporate entanglements and high-powered lobby groups.

Assiduously researched and documented, the real importance of this film is that almost uniquely it presents an exposé of the European Union from a leftist perspective:

Produced by:
Steven Dhoedt (VisualAntics – Be)
Friedrich Moser (green + blue communication – Austria)

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Additional: latest example of EU corporatocracy at work

On Tuesday [May 31st] the European Commission together with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft announced a code of conduct “to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe”:

The definition of illegal online content is based on the Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia which criminalises the public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin. 1

In accordance with the directive, views and opinions that the aforementioned corporations deem “hate speech” will be removed within 24 hours, whereas “alternative” content deemed “a counter narrative” to “hate speech” will be actively promoted. In other words, the tech giants who already own most of the internet will be put in charge of policing it too:

In short, the “code of conduct” downgrades the law to a second-class status, behind the “leading role” of private companies that are being asked to arbitrarily implement their terms of service. This process, established outside an accountable democratic framework, exploits unclear liability rules for companies. It also creates serious risks for freedom of expression as legal but controversial content may well be deleted as a result of this voluntary and unaccountable take down mechanism. 2

*

1 http://ec.europa.eu/news/2016/05/20160531_en.htm

2

Today, on 31 May, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now delivered a joint statement on the EU Commission’s “EU Internet Forum”, announcing our decision not to take part in future discussions and confirming that we do not have confidence in the ill considered “code of conduct” that was agreed.

Launched at the end of 2015, the “EU Internet Forum” was meant to counter vaguely defined “terrorist activity and hate speech online”. The discussions were convened by the European Commission and brought together almost exclusively US-based internet companies and representatives of EU Member States. While no civil society organisations were invited to attend the discussions on terrorism, several civil society representatives were allowed to take part in some of the discussions on online hate speech. However, civil society was systematically excluded from the negotiations that led to the voluntary “code of conduct” for IT companies – an official document that was presented today, despite the lack of transparency and public input into its content.

From the joint statement released by European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now on May 31, 2016. https://edri.org/edri-access-now-withdraw-eu-commission-forum-discussions/ 

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internet freedom and the sovereigns of cyberspace

With two controversial internet ‘anti-piracy’ bills, SOPA and PIPA, now moving through Congress, Rebecca MacKinnon, author of the forthcoming book, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom” spoke on yesterday’s Democracy Now! about the clampdown on internet freedom, as well as the dangerous rise of internet surveillance:

[And so,] it’s very important that people who are exercising power, whether they’re corporate or whether they’re government, that are exercising power over what we can see, over what we can access, over what we can publish and transmit through these digital spaces, need to be held accountable, and we need to make sure that power is not being abused in these digital spaces and platforms that we depend on. And so, that’s why this SOPA and PIPA legislation and the fight over it is so important, is who are you empowering to decide what people can and cannot see and do on the internet, and how do you make sure that that power is not going to be abused in ways that could have political consequences.

MacKinnon cites examples from all over the world showing how the internet can be controlled or else used for control. Here is China:

And China, in many ways, is exhibit A for how an authoritarian state survives the internet. And how do they do that? They have not cut off their population from the internet. In fact, the internet is expanding rapidly in China. They now have over 500 million internet users. And the Chinese government recognizes that being connected to the global internet is really important for its economy, for its education, for its culture, for innovation. Yet, at the same time, they have worked out a way to filter and censor the content overseas that they feel their citizens should not be accessing.

And what’s even more insidious, actually, is the way in which the state uses the private sector to conduct most of its censorship and surveillance. So, actually, what we know as the Great Firewall of China that blocks Twitter and Facebook, that’s only one part of Chinese internet censorship. Actually, most Chinese internet users are using Chinese-language websites that are run by Chinese companies based in China, and those companies are all held responsible for everything their users are doing. And so, they have to hire entire departments of people to monitor their users at the police’s behest and also to not just block, but delete content that the Chinese government believes infringes Chinese law. And, of course, when—in a country where crime is defined very broadly to include political and religious dissent, that involves a great deal of censorship. And it’s being conducted, to a great degree, not by government agents, but by private corporations who are complying with these demands in order to make a profit in China.

This is Egypt:

Facebook has its own kind of type of governance, which is why I call private internet companies the “sovereigns of cyberspace.” And so, Facebook has a rule where it requires that its users need to use their real name, their real identity. And while some people violate that rule, that makes them vulnerable to having their account shut down if they are discovered. And so, the reason they do this is that they want people to be accountable for their speech and prevent bullying and so on. And that may make sense in the context of a Western democracy, assuming that you’re not vulnerable in your workplace or anything like that, which is even a question, but it means that you have to be—as an Egyptian activist or as an activist in Syria and so on, you’re more exposed, because you have to be on Facebook using your real name.

And actually, a group of prominent activists in Egypt who were using Facebook to organize an anti-torture movement were doing so, before the regime fell, under fake names, and actually, at a critical point where they were trying to organize a major protest, their Facebook group went down, because they were in violation of the terms of service. And they actually had to find somebody in the U.S. to take over their Facebook page so that they could continue to operate.

And this is America:

American political cartoonist, Mark Fiore, had an app in which he was making fun of a range of politicians, including President Obama, and Apple App Store nannies decided to censor that app, because they considered it to be too controversial, even though that speech was clearly protected under the First Amendment. So you have companies making these judgments that go well beyond sort of our judicial and constitutional process.

But much worse, here is America again (and I had no idea how much access the US government already has to investigate the private lives of citizens – the bold highlight is added):

And there’s also a real issue, I think, in the way in which our laws are evolving when it comes to government access to information stored on corporate servers, that is supposed to be private, that we are not intending to be seen in public, which is that, according to the PATRIOT Act and a range of other law that has been passed in recent years, it’s much easier for government agencies to access your email, to access information about your postings on Twitter, even if they’re anonymous, than it is for government agents to come into your home and search your personal effects. To do that, they need a warrant. There is very clear restriction on the government’s ability to read your mail. Yet, according to current law, if your email is older than 180 days old, the government can access your email, if it’s stored on Gmail or Yahoo! or Hotmail, without any kind of warrant or court order. So, there’s a real erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights, really, to protection from unreasonable search and seizure. And this is going on, I think, to a great degree without a lot people realizing the extent to which our privacy rights are being eroded.

Click here to read a full transcript of the interview

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street protests continue to grow in Greece and Spain

It all started about three weeks ago after thousands took to the streets of Madrid on May 15th to voice dissent at the government’s failed economic policies and proposed “austerity measures”. The movement quickly spread to other cities across Spain and was then joined by protesters in Greece.

The protests, which have remained peaceful throughout, have continued ever since, day after day and night after night in both Spain and Greece. Yet these remarkable events have been barely reported by any of the mainstream media outside of the countries involved. Instead, we’ve had endless reports about corruption within FIFA, which is hardly news, especially to anyone who knows anything about football, or else headlines about “killer cucumbers”. So most people I speak to in Britain still know next to nothing about the mass protests taking place just a few hundred miles away.

According to a friend who lives in Barcelona, a fairly accurate description of what’s happening in Spain can be read in an article by Martin Varsavsky published on Huffingtonpost:

Friends outside of Spain have been asking me about the ongoing movement that has become known as #spanishrevolution. Here’s the summary of what this movement is about:

People have become increasingly frustrated by the many problems in Spain: Over 20% unemployment rate and over 30% youth unemployment rate, incompetent politicians unable to deal with the effects of the crisis, extremely high housing prices both for rental and purchase, a mortgage system that ties mortgage holders for life to the bank if the real estate is sold for under the loan amount, and a general discontent with the status of the political landscape (especially the effective two-party system of the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).1

After a detailed account of how the protests have been organised via the internet, and a breakdown of the various groups and spokespersons, the article explains that:

While there are no exact numbers, it is safe to say that there are tens of thousands of people who have been or are at #acampadasol [camping out at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid], and many more in other cities. Most of the sit-ins had food delivery donations and some even had their own daycare. They also received legal assistance from two lawyers, David Bravo and Javier de la Cueva. The movement has even found supporters in other countries, with protests popping up in cities like Berlin, Paris and New York to show solidarity with the movement in Spain. […]

In the end, what started with a few ideas and different initiatives on the web has become a huge movement on the streets all over Spain and in many other countries. As I already mentioned, most of the initiators didn’t know each other at the beginning and only met in person a couple of weeks before the 15M event. The main platforms enabling them to join forces were social networks like Facebook and Tuenti, and of course platforms like Twitter and hundreds (or even thousands) of blogs that supported the movements and spread the word. The sit-in at Plaza del Sol even has its own TV channel, with a mind-blowing 11 million accumulated views so far. Around 45 million people live in Spain.

Click here to read the full article.

My friend in Spain is a teacher and she says:

“I don’t know if my experience is anything to go by, but I’m in touch with this age group through students where I work, and my impression until quite recently was that they were totally uninterested in and dismissive of politics. And they are still, in the sense that they see themselves as “apolitical” and reject all political parties – this is of course something I don’t quite agree with myself, old-fashioned socialist that I am, but it’s the way the younger generation (at least the more educated and aware among them) approach things these days. But at least they’re protesting, and they’re doing it in an organized way, and putting quite a bit of thinking into it, which is a rare thing in a country like this, where the notion of being a citizen with rights is much weaker than in older democracies like Britain.”

“Of course the main question protesters are facing now is what to do next. One thing is to point out what’s wrong with society, to make proposals and protest, and a very different thing is to gain enough power. This movement rejects any involvement with parliament-style politics, not even in the form of so-called “popular law initiatives” – I don’t know what the equivalent thing is in Britain, but here any citizen can try to get a new law passed as long as they have a minimum of half a million supporting signatures to back it up. In any case, protesters are not attempting any of this, and they’re not into petitions either as far as I can tell, and so far no political party has said that they’ll take up any of their proposals. The closest one to the protesters in terms of its agenda is a party called “Izquierda Unida”, which I normally vote for, but despite being considerably to the left of the socialists, I don’t think this party would support the movement’s more radical proposals. They did slightly better than usual in the last election, but they have only 10 seats in the Catalan parliament, and two in the Spanish one.”

So what proposals are the protesters actually making? Well, you can read them in Spanish at the main website, and here is a summarised translation of the headings and contents:

1. “Suppression of politicians’ privileges”: most of the proposals here are about dealing with political corruption.

2. “Against unemployment” : among others, measures to reduce the number of working hours, bring retirement age back to 65 (the government changed it to 67 a few months ago) or set up permanent unemployment benefit for the long-term unemployed (many unemployed people in Spain have run out of benefits and are dependent on charity).

3. “The right to accommodation”: the main proposal here is to change mortgage regulations, so that a mortgage can be paid off by repossession (according to Spanish law, you can lose your property to the bank and still have to pay interest for ever, or even capital if the bank reckons that your property has lost value –many people are becoming destitute through this).

4. “Quality public services”: various proposals to maintain and expand every aspect of the welfare state.

5. “Control of banking institutions”: these mainly consist of stopping any further bailouts, and getting banks to return the money they’ve been given by the state.

6. “Taxation”: various measures to stop tax evasion by the rich, and to impose higher taxation on banks.

7. “Citizens’ liberties and participative democracy”: this is a mixed bag of things, ranging from a defence of freedom of speech on the internet, to proposals for change in the Spanish election system (which favours the main two parties). They also argue there should be a referendum every time the EU puts forward a new measure.

8. “A reduction of military expenses”: there’s just a heading here, without further development.

My friend says that the main effect of the protests so far, seems to be on the number of null or blank votes cast in recent elections:

“Whether the protesters become less “apolitical” in the future and set up new parties is difficult to tell. But I think they have made a lot of people aware. Since they started, politicians here have looked a bit less confident. They still bang on about how we need the cuts, but saying that we deserve them has become bad form, at least in some quarters. I suspect this won’t translate into a change of policy in the short term, but who knows.”

Street protests in Greece have also been gathering momentum, and this weekend saw the biggest gathering so far in front of the parliament building in Syntagma square, Athens:

“Thieves – hustlers – bankers,” read one banner as tens of thousands of people packed the main Syntagma square outside parliament to vent their frustration over rising joblessness as austerity bites, blaming the crisis on political corruption and government incompetence.

Turnout was the biggest so far in a series of 12 nightly protest gatherings in the square inspired by Spain’s protest movement. […]

Police put the crowd at 50,000 by mid-evening, but numbers continued to grow as dusk fell over the Greek capital. According to the Athens News reporters on site the number of protesters exceeded 500,000 at around 22:00 on Sunday. Security was also stepped up around the parliament, with the area blocked for the first time by barricades set by the police.

Another banner drew comparisons with rallies early this year in central Cairo which ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “From Tahrir Square to Syntagma Square, we support you!”, it read.2

Click here to read the Athens News article.

Yesterday’s demonstrations also came on the eve of Papandreou’s cabinet meeting to discuss the latest round of “austerity measures”:

Protesters from all over Greece on the square rejected the austerity policies to cut the budget deficit that lead to layoffs, wage and pension cuts and a heavier tax burden.

“You got the disease, we got the solution — revolution,” read one banner. “We don’t owe, we don’t sell, we don’t pay,” read another, hung on the square’s lamp posts.

Students, pensioners, young couples with their children and immigrants, were among those gathered on the square over the past week, while protesters also gathered in Greece’s second city of Thessaloniki, in the Port of Patras and other major cities.

Organizers say they are determined to continue indefinitely as the number of people joining the Facebook group “Angry at Syntagma” is growing.

A report of this “huge Athens rally against austerity cuts” even made it onto the BBC News website today, although with estimates far below the half million reported by Athens News:

At least 60,000 protesters angered by cuts and tax rises packed into central Athens as Greek PM George Papandreou planned further austerity measures.

The crowd in Syntagma Square rallied outside parliament on Sunday night chanting “thieves!”

It was reckoned to be the biggest demo in 12 consecutive days of protests.3

However, the main story on BBC News today is that the “IMF supports UK economic policies”. Apparently, the IMF forecast is for the UK recovery to resume:

“The IMF gave broad backing to the government’s approach to tackling the deficit saying the spending cuts and tax rises remained essential.”4

Of course, these are precisely the same “remedies” which the IMF have already applied in Spain and Greece, along with a whole host of other unfortunate countries in poorer regions of the world. As a consequence of the inevitable deprivation such measures have already brought to their communities, the Spanish and the Greeks are being forced to take their anger onto the streets, and when similar “austerity measures” begin to bite at home, it is more than likely that this rapidly growing protest movement will spread to our own cities. When it does, we should not expect the BBC or CNN or even Al Jazeera or Russia Today to pay much attention to the gathering storm.

In preparing ourselves for what’s to come, it is essential that we try to learn as much as we can from our friends in the south, since to be forewarned is to be forearmed. One thing we know already is that alternative methods of finding and spreading information will become invaluable, and that means, at the very least, switching off our television sets and doing something less boring instead…

1 From an article entitled “’Spanish Revolution’ of 2011 explained” by Martin Varsavsky, published on 25th May by Huffingtonpost. www.huffingtonpost.com/martin-varsavsky/spanish-revolution-of-201_b_867156.html

2 From an article entitled “Biggest anti-memorandum protest in Syntagma square” (from Reuters) published in Athens News on 5th June. www.athensnews.gr/portal/9/42689

3 From a BBC News article entitled “Greeks stage huge Athens rally against austerity cuts” published on 6th June. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13665140

4 From a BBC News article entitled “IMF cuts UK growth forecast for 2011” published on 6th June. www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13669932

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sheep in wolf’s clothing

Yesterday night I happened to come across an organisation I’d not heard about before. Called UK Uncut, they are one of many new protest groups that have recently taken a stand against the government cuts. Indeed, they are one of the groups trying to organise direct action on the streets of London in and around today’s big march.

According to their own website, UKU began as a single sit-down protest at a flagship Vodafone store on Oxford Street. But their method of protest, of taking direct action against tax-dodging corporations, was quickly to go viral. By means of Facebook and Twitter, this campaign has since spread far and wide across the country – and it is very likely to grab some news attention later today, presuming that some of their many “occupation” plans succeed in London.

If you click on the “About” section of their website you will find a statement of their principles:

“We start with some simple points of agreement. The brutal cuts to services about to be inflicted by the current Government are unnecessary, unfair and ideologically motivated. The coalition are particularly fond of two obscene catchphrases: ‘There is no alternative’ and ‘We’re all in this together.’ Both slogans are empty and untrue. The cuts will dismantle the welfare state, send inequality sky-rocketing and hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. A cabinet of millionaires have decided that libraries, healthcare, education funding, voluntary services, sports, the environment, the disabled, the poor and the elderly must pay the price for the recklessness of the rich.

“Austerity-economics is the policy of the powerful. It cannot be stopped by asking nicely. We cannot wait until the next election. If we want to win the fight against these cuts (and we can win) then we must make it impossible to ignore our arguments and impossible to resist our demands. This means building a powerful grassroots mass movement, able to resist the Government cuts at every turn.
UK Uncut hopes to play a small part in this movement. In only a few months, from a single action in London, UK Uncut has spread to up to fifty-five towns and cities. Everyone from pensioners to teenagers, veterans to newbies have already joined our actions in towns from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth. We have proved that there is anger at these cuts, that the idea of mass apathy is a myth and that people are willing to do more than just join a Facebook group to stand up and defend what they believe in.
Even if you have never been on a protest before, please join us. UK Uncut makes it easy to either join or organise an inspiring, effective protest wherever you are. Vodafone’s own slogan is ‘Power to You.’ It couldn’t be more appropriate.
Now is the time to get angry, to get organised and to build a resistance to austerity.
See you on the high streets.”

So can we disable the current government plans through such a series of sneak attacks? Well, UK Uncut seems to think it will help and one of the tabs brings up a schedule of actions past and pending.

At today’s march they are planning to occupy for the alternative:

“From 2pm flash mobs, bail-ins and occupations will shut down the dozens of banks and tax dodgers along the length of Europe’s biggest shopping street.

And at 3.30pm, after the dispersed actions, there will be a massive final convergence, ready for a spectacular mass occupation of a secret target.”

Their campaign promotion continues: “March 26th is not the end of the battle against the cuts. It is the beginning. Join us on Oxford Street and let’s help kick things off in style.”

Now that’s fighting talk if ever I heard it. And the logo is a good one. In the style of a signpost with a pair of scissors crossed through by a red band, making very clear the demand for no cuts. I’d wager that we’re likely to see a lot more of that logo in the next year or so.

Moving on, I was next drawn by the links at the bottom of the “About” page. And one of these took me to the website of openDemocracy. Having opened the attached mission statement, I followed another link to “our generous supporters” – well, it’s often a good idea to take a look just in case…

“The development of openDemocracy has been funded by the generosity of more than twenty trusts, foundations and individuals since 2001.
openDemocracy’s main source of funding has been through the Open Trust, a registered UK charity (number 1086404). The Trust has no direct stake in openDemocracy but conducts regular oversight to be sure that it is operating in conformity with the Trust’s charitable purpose.1

So what of these other trusts, foundations and individuals? Well, let’s begin with its “past supporters”. We have the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Then there is something called New World Foundation. Another click of the mouse revealing that NWF’s own partners include, the Ford Foundation and Open Society. Then we have the more recent supporters of openDemocracy. There is the Ford Foundation again in 2008. And since 2009, we have The Open Society Institute. And so the chase continued. I clicked again on the link and came to Open Society Foundations. Ever heard of them? Nope? Me neither. Here is what you find if you click on “About”:

“The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. To achieve this mission, the Foundations seek to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. On a local level, the Open Society Foundations implement a range of initiatives to advance justice, education, public health, and independent media. At the same time, we build alliances across borders and continents on issues such as corruption and freedom of information. The Foundations place a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalized communities.”

Well that sounds good. So who could be behind such a progressive venture? Let’s see… “George Soros is founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations. He is also the chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC.” Would that be the George Soros? What really — again! So when UK Uncut posted their link to openDemocracy did they actually bother to consider who might actually be paying the piper?

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, we have the Tax Payers’ Alliance. TPA is a pressure group that actually favours the government cuts, and is calling for swifter “austerity measures”. So taking the same approach, is it possible to find out who is funding this supposedly grassroots movement, with its appeal to Middle England Conservatives? Well, here again I hit a sticking point, with no information available from their own website regarding sponsorship and campaign donations. Indeed, there is now yet another organisation called “The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance” which challenges the transparency of TPA:

“Let’s look at the facts. It’s simply not true that all political organisations are secretive about their funding. Most declare their income and expenditure, and some give a break-down of income sources, including donors. The TPA does neither. It publishes abbreviated accounts which means income and expenditure are withheld. The last time it published full accounts was in 2006, when it recorded an income of £130,000. But the current organisation has ten full-time staff across two offices, which suggests either its income has jumped substantially or it is loaded with debt.”

The above extract was taken from an article on The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance.

As with UKU, it is hard to know precisely who is behind the TPA, aside from establishing its evidently close ties to the Conservative Party.2

According to Sourcewatch “It is affiliated with the World Taxpayers Association. Its initial funding came from the three directors and “generous people we know”.

Sourcewatch also shines a light on other groups the TPA has rubbed shoulders with. These include the right-wing think tank, Institute of Economic Affairs, which has close association with the odious neo-conservative Heritage Foundation. TPA held a joint seminar with the IEA in February 2004, with guest speaker Daniel J. Michell of the Heritage Foundation. According to Sourcewatch, the IEA is in turn funded by the Earhart Foundation, which depends on donations from, amongst others, the Rockefeller Brothers Trust, and a number of major corporations including Exxon and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Oh, what a tangled web of think tanks, charities and foundations we now have. Delving into pressure groups on the left and the right is like peeling back the layers of an onion. But it doesn’t actually take much peeling to reveal the extent of the current astroturfing – one click from the UK Uncut website we find Soros and the Rockefeller Foundations. One step from the Taxpayers’ Alliance and we find related foundations. So when it comes to pressure groups we ought to be careful, alert to the ever-present danger that we might all too easily end up as sheep in wolf’s clothing.

1 And so what of Open Trust? This is the charity that oversees openDemocracy, ensuring that “it is operating in conformity with the Trust’s charitable purpose.” Well, that’s where the trail finally ran out. I found no links from Google for an Open Trust website and so checked on the Charities Commission website instead.

The activities of Open Trust listed by Charity Commission are as follows:

“THE OBJECT OF THE TRUST IS THE ADVANCEMENT OF EDUCATION, NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY, IN THE SOCIAL, ENVIROMENTAL [sic], POLITICAL AND BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, ECONOMICS, LAW, THE ARTS AND MEDIA COMMUNICATION AND OTHER RECOGNISED SCHOLARLY SUBJECTS.”

Registered 30th April 2001. Open Trust have no website registered, but there is an email address and a postal address that traces to a law firm.

So is that normal? For a charity to have the same address as a solicitors – I’m confused now!

2 “[But] a Guardian investigation has established that a large part of its funds come from wealthy donors, many of whom are prominent supporters of the Conservative party. Sixty per cent of donations come from individuals or groups giving more than £5,000. The Midlands Industrial Council, which has donated £1.5m to the Conservatives since 2003, said it has given around £80,000 on behalf of 32 owners of private companies. Tony Gallagher, owner of Gallagher UK, a property company that gave the Conservatives £250,000 in 2007, is a member of the MIC, as is Christopher Kelly who owns the international haulage firm Keltruck, and Robert Edmiston who owns IM Group, a large car importer.” From Guardian article “Who is behind the Taxpayers’ Alliance?” by Robert Booth, Friday 9th October 2009. Click here for full article.

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