Tag Archives: Vince Cable

Avaaz: manufacturing consent for wars since 2011

Four years ago I received an email from the internet campaign group Avaaz which read:

“Together, we’ve sent 450,000 emails to the UN Security Council, “overwhelming” the Council President and helping to win targeted sanctions and a justice process for the Libyan people. Now, to stop the bloodshed, we need a massive outcry for a no-fly zone.” [Bold as in the original.]

Of course, that no-fly zone was Nato’s justification for a war – “no-fly zone” means war. So the bloodshed wasn’t about to be stopped, it was about to begin in earnest:

The foreign media has largely ceased to cover Libya because it rightly believes it is too dangerous for journalists to go there. Yet I remember a moment in the early summer of 2011 in the frontline south of Benghazi when there were more reporters and camera crews present than there were rebel militiamen. Cameramen used to ask fellow foreign journalists to move aside when they were filming so that this did not become too apparent. In reality, Gaddafi’s overthrow was very much Nato’s doing, with Libyan militiamen mopping up.

Executing regime change in Libya cost the lives of an estimated 20,000 people: but this was only the immediate death toll, and as a civil war rages on, the final figure keeps rising, indefinitely and seemingly inexorably. And the number of victims will go on rising for so long as there is lawlessness and chaos in a country now completely overrun with terrorists and warlords. So what was started with a “no-fly zone” is ending with a hell on earth: abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Given their unpardonable role in instigating this entirely avoidable human catastrophe, does it come as any surprise when, with “mission accomplished”, the media chose to turn its back on the carnage in Libya? Patrick Cockburn, who wrote the article from which the above quote is taken, has been a rare exception to the rule. A journalist who was not so quick to swallow the official line, he has since been committed to telling the bigger story, which includes the falsity of Nato’s original justifications for air strikes:

Human rights organisations have had a much better record in Libya than the media since the start of the uprising in 2011. They discovered that there was no evidence for several highly publicised atrocities supposedly carried out by Gaddafi’s forces that were used to fuel popular support for the air war in the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. These included the story of the mass rape of women by Gaddafi’s troops that Amnesty International exposed as being without foundation. The uniformed bodies of government soldiers were described by rebel spokesmen as being men shot because they were about to defect to the opposition. Video film showed the soldiers still alive as rebel prisoners so it must have been the rebels who had executed them and put the blame on the government.

So here is a pattern that repeats with uncanny consistency, and with the mainstream media’s failure to discover and report on the truth also recurring with near parallel regularity. We had the ‘Babies out of incubators’ story in Kuwait, and then those WMDs in Iraq that, as Bush Jnr joked, “have got to be here somewhere”, to offer just two very well-established prior instances of the kinds of lies that have taken us to war.

Patrick Cockburn continues:

Foreign governments and media alike have good reason to forget what they said and did in Libya in 2011, because the aftermath of the overthrow of Gaddafi has been so appalling. The extent of the calamity is made clear by two reports on the present state of the country, one by Amnesty International called “Libya: Rule of the gun – abductions, torture and other militia abuses in western Libya” and a second by Human Rights Watch, focusing on the east of the country, called “Libya: Assassinations May Be Crimes Against Humanity”.1

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article published last November.

But accusations do not stop even at the deplorable roles played by “foreign governments and media alike”, but apply to all of the various warmongering parties at that time, and one of the groups we must also point the finger to is Avaaz. For it was Avaaz, more than any other campaign group, who pushed alongside Nato in their call for the “no-fly zone” which got the whole war going. To reiterate, since it is vitally important that this is understood, a “no-fly zone” always and without exception means war:

Clearly a no-fly zone makes foreign intervention sound rather humanitarian – putting the emphasis on stopping bombing, even though it could well lead to an escalation of violence.

No wonder, too, that it is rapidly becoming a key call of hawks on both sides of the Atlantic. The military hierarchy, with their budgets threatened by government cuts, surely cannot believe their luck – those who usually oppose wars are openly campaigning for more military involvement.2

So wrote John Hilary in an excellent article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” published on the cusp of “intervention”.

In response, Ben Wikler, a campaign director at Avaaz, posted a comment that included the following remarks:

Would imposing a no-fly zone lead to a full-blown international war? No-fly zones can mean a range of different things.

Wikler is wrong and Hilary correct: “no-fly zones” always mean war. And as a consequence, those at Avaaz like Ben Wikler now have blood on their hands – and yet are unrepentant.

Yes, as with most others who were directly or indirectly culpable, “foreign governments and media alike”, it seems Avaaz too are suffering from collective amnesia. Not only have they forgotten the terrible consequences of imposing a “no-fly zone” on Libya, but they also seem to have forgotten their own deliberate efforts when it came to bolstering public support for that “bloody and calamitous” (to use Cockburn’s words) “foreign intervention” (to use the weasel euphemisms of Nato and the West). Because instead of reflecting upon the failings of Nato’s air campaign four years ago, and without offering the slightest murmur of apology for backing it (not that apologies help at all), Avaaz are now calling upon their supporters to forget our murderous blundering of the recent past, with calls for the same action all over again… this time in Syria.

It was yesterday when I received the latest email from Avaaz. Don’t worry, I’m not a supporter (although the simple fact I receive their emails means by their own definition, I am presumably counted one), but after Libya I chose to remain on their mailing list simply to keep an eye on what they were doing. And (not for the first or the second time) they are selling us on more war:

The Syrian air force just dropped chlorine gas bombs on children. Their little bodies gasped for air on hospital stretchers as medics held back tears, and watched as they suffocated to death.

But today there is a chance to stop these barrel bomb murders with a targeted No Fly Zone.

The US, Turkey, UK, France and others are right now seriously considering a safe zone in Northern Syria. Advisers close to President Obama support it, but he is worried he won’t have public support. That’s where we come in.

Let’s tell him we don’t want a world that just watches as a dictator drops chemical weapons on families in the night. We want action.

One humanitarian worker said ‘I wish the world could see what I have seen with my eyes. It breaks your heart forever.’ Let’s show that the world cares — sign to support a life-saving No Fly Zone

Obviously, I am not supplying the link for this latest call to arms: “a[nother] life-saving No Fly Zone”.

After Avaaz called for war against Libya back in 2011, I wrote a restrained article. But I was too polite. When they called for war again following the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, I hesitated again and looked into the facts. They didn’t stack up (as I explained at length in another post). But nor did I damn Avaaz on that occasion, as I ought to have done, when with Libya already ablaze they set up a campaign like this (sorry that it’s hard to read):

 

Since that time it has become evident to the world (at least the one outside the Avaaz office) that it has been Syrian forces who have most successfully fought back against Islamist extremists (al-Qaeda, but now more often called ISIS) who not only use poison gas to murder their enemies and spread fear, but methods so barbaric and depraved – public mass beheadings, crucifixions and even cannibalism – that you wonder which century we are living in. But Avaaz push the blame for all of this killing back on to the Assad regime, just as the West (whose close allies continue to back the so-called “rebels”) have also tried to do. And Avaaz are now saying (once again) that escalating the conflict is the way to save the people of Syria – so don’t worry if it spreads the infection now called ISIS – more love bombs are the preferred Avaaz solution for every complex political situation:

“Today, Gadhafi is dead, and the Libyan people have their first chance for democratic, accountable governance in decades…. American casualties were zero. Insurgent fighters and the vast majority of the population have cheered the victory as liberation, and courageous Syrians who face daily threats of death for standing up to their own repressive regime have taken comfort in Gadhafi’s fall. These accomplishments are no small feats for those who care about human dignity, democracy, and stability….

Progressives often demand action in the face of abject human suffering, but we know from recent history that in some situations moral condemnation, economic sanctions, or ex-post tribunals don’t save lives. Only force does.”

These are the self-congratulatory words of Tom Perriello, the co-founder of Avaaz, writing in late 2012. And he finishes the same piece:

We must realize that force is only one element of a coherent national security strategy and foreign policy. We must accept the reality—whether or not one accepts its merits—that other nations are more likely to perceive our motives to be self-interested than values-based. But in a world where egregious atrocities and grave threats exist, and where Kosovo and Libya have changed our sense of what’s now possible, the development of this next generation of power can be seen as a historically unique opportunity to reduce human suffering. 3

Independent investigative journalist, Cory Morningstar, who has probed very deeply into the organization says, “Make no mistake – this is the ideology at the helm of Avaaz.org.”

As she explains:

Tom Perriello is a long-time collaborator with Ricken Patel. Together, they co-founded Avaaz.org, Res Publica and FaithfulAmerica.org.

Perriello is a former U.S. Representative (represented the 5th District of Virginia from 2008 to 2010) and a founding member of the House Majority Leader’s National Security Working Group.

Perriello was also co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He worked for Reverend Dr. James Forbes on “prophetic justice” principles. Many of these organizations were created with the intent of creating a broad-based “religious left” movement. […]

Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose – to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism.

As Cory Morningstar also points out:

In December 2011, Perriello disclosed that he served as special adviser to the international war crimes prosecutor and has spent extensive time in 2011 in Egypt and the Middle East researching the Arab Spring. Therefore, based on this disclosure alone, there can be no doubt that the deliberate strategy being advanced by Avaaz cannot be based upon any type of ignorance or naïveté. 4

“It breaks your heart forever.” That was the heading under which yesterday’s email arrived and the way it signed off went as follows: “With hope, John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest of the Avaaz team”. And this is how they come again with further ploys to prick your conscience. So do please remember before you click on their pastel-coloured links or forward those ‘messages’ to your own friends, how they beat the drums to war on two earlier occasions. In 2013, when they last called for the bombing of Syria (but the war party were halted in their mission), and in 2011 when they first aided Nato’s grand deception and helped to bring unremitting horrors to the innocent people of Libya. Keep in mind too, how lacking in guilt they have been in light of their own imploring role during the run up to the full “shock and awe” display over Tripoli.

Because John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest… are really not our friends. They are humanitarian hawks, who are in the business of manufacturing consent for every Nato “intervention”. Indeed, I would like to ask John, Mais, Nick, Alice, Rewan, Wissam, Ricken and the rest, in good faith, just how do you sleep at night?

Click here to read a thorough examination of Avaaz put together by independent investigative journalist Cory Morningstar.

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Additional:

Here is an open letter I constructed in Summer 2012, but then decided not to post:

Dear Ricken, Eli and the whole Avaaz team,

By your own rather loose definition, I have been a member of Avaaz now for several years. In other words I responded to one of your campaigns many moons ago, and have never subsequently withdrawn my name from your mailing list. I believe that under your own terms, I am thus one of the many millions of your ‘members’. You presume that all those like me who are ‘in the Avaaz community’ support your various campaigns simply because we are on your contact list, although in my own case, this is absolutely not the case. I have ceased to support any of the Avaaz campaigns since you pushed for a ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya, and from this time on, have kept up with your campaign messages simply to keep an eye on you. I vowed never again to sign any of your petitions on the grounds that I do not wish to be a supporter of any organisation that backs an aggressive and expansionist war.

The most common criticism of Avaaz, and other internet campaign groups, is that it encourages ‘slacktivism’, which is indeed a very valid concern:

Sites such as Avaaz, suggested Micah White in the Guardian last year, often only deal with middle-of-the-road causes, to the exclusion of niche interests: “They are the Walmart of activism . . . and silence underfunded radical voices.” More infamously, internet theorist Evgeny Morozov has called the likes of Avaaz “Slacktivists”, claiming that they encourage previously tenacious activists to become lazy and complacent.

There’s also the issue of breadth. Clicktivist websites often cover a range of issues that have little thematic or geographical relation to each other, which leaves them open to accusations of dilettantism.

Click here to read Patrick Kingsey’s full article in the Guardian.

Ricken Patel’s response to Kingsley is to point to their campaign against Murdoch’s takeover of BSkyB:

“Our activism played a critical role in delaying the BskyB deal until the recent scandal was able to kill it,” Avaaz‘s founder, New York-based Ricken Patel, tells me via Skype. 5

So is this really the best example Avaaz has to offer? Since the BSkyB deal would undoubtedly have been stymied for all sorts of other reasons, not least of which were the various phone hacking scandals, and most shockingly, in the hacking of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone. This more than anything killed off the Murdoch bid for BSkyB.

We might also give a little grudging credit to Business Secretary Vince Cable, who in late 2010 revealed privately to undercover reporters that he was ‘declaring war’ on Rupert Murdoch. This caused such a storm that Tory leader David Cameron came out against Cable, describing his comments as “totally unacceptable and inappropriate”, whilst Labour leader Ed Miliband immediately followed suite saying that he would have gone further and sacked Cable 6. In any case, Murdoch was coming under attack from many fronts (including, as shown by Cable’s example, a maverick offensive from inside the government), and so there were already growing calls for a review of the BskyB deal. As it turns out, the deal itself was seriously compromised by a conflict of interests involving Ofcom Chairman Colette Bowe, not that this widely reported – I wrote a post on it just before the deal suddenly collapsed. In fact, I had tried in vain to get a number of politicians to look into this aspect of the case, but none at all even bothered to reply. The story the media were telling quickly moved on, and so the role of Ofcom remains more or less unscrutinised.

But I have a far bigger problem with Avaaz than simply the matter of its lack of effectiveness. Since even if Avaaz has achieved nothing concrete whatsoever, which might well be the case, its growing prominence as a campaign group is undoubtedly helping to frame the protest agenda. Picking and choosing what are and aren’t important issues is dilettantism, yes, and also, potentially at least, “the manufacturing of dissent”. Avaaz‘s defence is that it is an independent body – oh, really?

Co-founder and Director of Avaaz, Ricken Patel said in 2011 “We have no ideology per se. Our mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. Idealists of the world unite!”

“No ideology per se”? So what then are we to make of your association with another organisation called Res Publica, of which Patel is a fellow, and Eli Pariser has also been a member of the Advisor Board.

Res Publica (US) is described by wikipedia as “a US organization promoting ‘good governance, civic virtue and deliberative democracy.’”, though there is no article on the group itself, and nor, for that matter, any entry on Ricken Patel himself. If I visit the Res Publica website, however, the link I immediately find takes me straight to George Soros’ Open Democracy group and also the International Crisis Group of which Soros is again a member of the Executive Committee. The International Crisis Group that gets such glowing endorsements from peace-loving individuals as (and here I quote directly from the website):

President Bill Clinton (‘in the most troubled corners of the world, the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community’); successive U.S. Secretaries of State (Condoleezza Rice: ‘a widely respected and influential organisation’, Colin Powell: ‘a mirror for the conscience of the world’ and Madeleine Albright: ‘a full-service conflict prevention organisation’); and former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the late Richard Holbrooke (‘a brilliant idea… beautifully implemented’ with reports like CrisisWatch ‘better than anything I saw in government’).

Whilst according to Res Publica‘s own website Ricken Patel has himself “consulted for the International Crisis Group, the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation…”

To cut to the quick then, Avaaz claims to independence are simply a sham. Whether foundation funded or not, you are undeniably foundation affiliated. Which brings me to your recent campaigns.

In a letter which I received on Wednesday 11th January, you wrote, typically vaingloriously, about the significance of Avaaz in bringing about and supporting the uprisings of Arab Spring:

Across the Arab world, people power has toppled dictator after dictator, and our amazing Avaaz community has been at the heart of these struggles for democracy, breaking the media blackouts imposed by corrupt leaders, empowering citizen journalists, providing vital emergency relief to communities under siege, and helping protect hundreds of activists and their families from regime thugs.

When all that I can actually recall is some jumping on the bandwagon and your support for the ‘shock and awe’ assault that we saw lighting up the skies over Tripoli. Gaddafi was ousted, of course, much as Saddam Hussein had been by the Bush administration, and likewise, the country remains in chaos. But does the removal of any dictator justify the killing of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people in the first months of the Libyan war – these figures according to Cherif Bassiouni, who led a U.N. Human Rights Council mission to Tripoli and rebel-held areas in late April. 7 Figures that officially rose to 25,000 people killed and 60,000 injured, after the attacks on Gaddafi’s besieged hometown of Sirte. 8 The true overall casualties of the Libyan war remain unknown, as they do in Iraq, although a conservative estimate is that around 30,000 people lost their lives. Avaaz, since you called for this, you must wash some of that blood from your own hands.

Now you are calling for ‘action’ against Syria, on the basis this time of your own report which finds that “crimes against humanity were committed by high-level members of the Assad regime”. Now, let me say that I do not in the least doubt that the Assad regime is involved in the secret detainment and torture of its opponents. The terrible truth is that such human rights abuses are routinely carried out all across the Middle East, and in many places on behalf or in collusion with Western security services such as the CIA. Back in September 2010, PolitiFact.com wrote about the Obama administration’s record on so-called “extraordinary renditions” [from wikipedia with footnote preserved]:

The administration has announced new procedural safeguards concerning individuals who are sent to foreign countries. President Obama also promised to shut down the CIA-run “black sites,” and there seems to be anecdotal evidence that extreme renditions are not happening, at least not as much as they did during the Bush administration. Still, human rights groups say that these safeguards are inadequate and that the DOJ Task Force recommendations still allow the U.S. to send individuals to foreign countries.[158]

Whilst back in April 2009, on the basis of what he had witnessed in Uzbekistan, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004, Craig Murray, gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture”. In answers to questions, he explained to the committee how the UK government disguises its complicity and that he believed it has, in effect, helped to create “a market for torture”:

If I may refer to the documents on waterboarding and other torture techniques released recently in the United States on the orders of President Obama, if we are continuing to receive, as we are, all the intelligence reports put out by the CIA we are complicit in a huge amount of torture. I was seeing just a little corner in Uzbekistan. [p. 73]

I think the essence of the government’s position is that if you receive intelligence material from people who torture, be it CIA waterboarding, or torture by the Uzbek authorities or anywhere else, you can do so ad infinitum knowing that it may come from torture and you are still not complicit. [bottom p. 74]

Their position remains the one outlined by Sir Michael Wood, and it was put to me that if we receive intelligence from torture we were not complicit as long as we did not do the torture ourselves or encouraged it. I argue that we are creating a market for torture and that there were pay-offs to the Uzbeks for their intelligence co-operation and pay-offs to other countries for that torture. I think that a market for torture is a worthwhile concept in discussing the government’s attitude. [p. 75]

The government do not volunteer the fact that they very happily accept this information. I make it absolutely plain that I am talking of hundreds of pieces of intelligence every year that have come from hundreds of people who suffer the most vicious torture. We are talking about people screaming in agony in cells and our government’s willingness to accept the fruits of that in the form of hundreds of such reports every year. I want the Joint committee to be absolutely plain about that. [bot p.75] 9

Click here to watch all of parts of Craig Murray’s testimony.

Here is the introduction to Amnesty International‘s Report from last year:

Over 100 suspects in security-related offences were detained in 2010. The legal status and conditions of imprisonment of thousands of security detainees arrested in previous years, including prisoners of conscience, remained shrouded in secrecy. At least two detainees died in custody, possibly as a result of torture, and new information came to light about methods of torture and other ill-treatment used against security detainees. Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, particularly flogging, continued to be imposed and carried out. Women and girls remained subject to discrimination and violence, with some cases receiving wide media attention. Both Christians and Muslims were arrested for expressing their religious beliefs.

But not for Syria – for Saudi Arabia report-2011.

And it continues:

Saudi Arabian forces involved in a conflict in northern Yemen carried out attacks that appeared to be indiscriminate or disproportionate and to have caused civilian deaths and injuries in violation of international humanitarian law. Foreign migrant workers were exploited and abused by their employers. The authorities violated the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers. At least 27 prisoners were executed, markedly fewer than in the two preceding years.

Further down we read that:

At least 140 prisoners were under sentence of death, including some sentenced for offences not involving violence, such as apostasy and sorcery.

Not that Amnesty‘s report on Syria report-2011 is any less deplorable:

The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody. The government failed to clarify the fate of 49 prisoners missing since a violent incident in 2008 at Saydnaya Military Prison, and took no steps to account for thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in earlier years. Women were subject to discrimination and gender-based violence; at least 22 people, mostly women, were victims of so-called honour killings. Members of the Kurdish minority continued to be denied equal access to economic, social and cultural rights. At least 17 people were executed, including a woman alleged to be a victim of physical and sexual abuse.

Please correct me, but so far as I’m aware, Avaaz have been entirely silent in their condemnation of the human rights violations of either Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia (two countries that maintain very close ties with the US). Silent too when Saudi forces brutally cracked down on the Arab Spring protests in neighbouring Bahrain. So one could be forgiven for thinking that when Avaaz picks and chooses its fights, those it takes up are, if not always in the geo-strategic interests of the United States, then certainly never against those interests.

Back to your call for action against Syria and the letter continues:

We all had hoped that the Arab League’s monitoring mission could stop the violence, but they have been compromised and discredited. Despite witnessing Assad’s snipers first-hand, the monitors have just extended their observation period without a call for urgent action. This is allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action, while the regime’s pathetic defense for its despicable acts has been that it is fighting a terrorist insurgency, not a peaceful democracy movement.

Well, I’m not sure that anyone was expecting much from the Arab League, but can you really justify what you are saying here? That the violence now taking place in Syria is against an entirely “peaceful democracy movement” and that Syria is in no way facing a terrorist insurgency. Not that such an insurgency is entirely unjustified; after all one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But that both sides are involved in atrocities, since both sides are evidently armed and the rebels are undeniably backed by militant Islamist groups.

Making statements such as “allowing countries like Russia, China and India to stall the United Nations from taking action”, directly implies that these foreign powers are simply protecting their own selfish interests (which is, of course, true), whereas the US is intent only on defending freedom and human rights. Such a gross oversimplification and plain nonsense.

So far, I note, Avaaz have not called for direct ‘military intervention’ in Syria, unlike in the shameful case of Libya. But given the timing of this latest announcement and on the basis of past form, I’m expecting petitions for what amounts to war (such as the ‘no-fly zone’ over Libya) will follow soon enough.

And so to your latest campaign, which I received by email on Tuesday 10th April. It begins:

Dear Friends,

Today is a big day for Avaaz. If you join in, Avaaz might just move from having a small team of 40 campaigners to having 40,000!!

Then goes on to explain how the reach of Avaaz will be broadened by encouraging everyone to write their own campaign petitions:

So, to unlock all the incredible potential of our community to change the world, we’ve developed our website tools and website to allow any Avaazer to instantly start their *own* online petitions, tell friends, and win campaigns.

The site just went live – will you give it a try? Think of a petition you’d like to start on any issue – something impacting your local community, some bad behaviour by a distant corporation, or a global cause that you think other Avaaz members would care about. If your petition takes off, it may become an Avaaz campaign – either to members in your area, or even to the whole world!

On the face of it, you are offering a way for everyone to be involved. But 40,000 petitions…? Is this really going to change the world? I have an idea that maybe just five or six might serve the purpose better – here are my suggestions for four:

  • a call for those responsible within the Bush administration and beyond to be charged with war crimes for deliberately leading us into an illegal war with Iraq
  • the criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity of George W Bush and others who have publicly admitted to their approval of the use of torture
  • the repeal of NDAA 2012 and the rolling back of the unconstitutional US Patriot and Homeland Security Acts
  • a criminal investigation into the rampant financial fraud that created the current global debt crisis

So consider me a member of the team once more. I’m putting those four campaigns out there. Or at least I would have before I’d read your ‘Terms of Use’. For it concerns me that “In order to further the mission of this site or the mission of Avaaz, we may use, copy, distribute or disclose this material to other parties” but you do not then go on to outline who those ‘other parties’ might be. And you say you will “Remove or refuse to post any User Contributions for any or no reason. This is a decision Avaaz will strive to make fairly, but ultimately it is a decision that is solely up to Avaaz to make.”

Since you reserve the right to “remove or refuse to post” without making a clear statement of your rules and without any commitment to providing justification for such censorship, I see little reason in bothering to try. Doubtless others will attempt to build campaigns on your platform for actions regarding the very serious issues I have outlined above, and should they achieve this, then I will try to lend support to those campaigns. Alternatively, should I fail to come across campaigns formed around these and related issues, I will presume, rightly or wrongly (this is “a decision that is solely up to me to make”), that Avaaz prefers not to support such initiatives. Either way, I will not holding my breath.

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1 From an article entitled “The West is silent as Libya falls into the abyss” written by Patrick Cockburn, published by The Independent on November 2, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-west-is-silent-as-libya-falls-into-the-abyss-9833489.html

2 From an article entitled “Internet activists should be careful what they wish for in Libya” written by John Hillary, published in the Guardian on March 10, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/mar/10/internet-activists-libya-no-fly-zone

3 From an article entitled “Humanitarian Intervention: Recognizing When, and Why, It Can Succeed” written by Tom Perriello, published in Issue #23 Democracy Journal in Winter 2012. http://www.democracyjournal.org/23/humanitarian-intervention-recognizing-when-and-why-it-can-succeed.php?page=all

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

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

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

5 From an article entitled “Avaaz: activism or ‘slacktivism’?” written by Patrick Kingsley, published in the Guardian on July 20, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/20/avaaz-activism-slactivism-clicktivism

6 From an article entitled “Vince Cable to stay on as Business Secretary” published by BBC news on December 21, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12053656

7 From an article entitled “Up to 15,000 killed in Libya war: U.N. Right expert” reported by Reuters on June 9. 2011. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/09/us-libya-un-deaths-idUSTRE7584UY20110609

8 From an article entitled “Residents flee Gaddafi hometown”, written by Rory Mulholland and Jay Deshmukh, published in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 3, 2011. http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/residents-flee-gaddafi-hometown-20111003-1l49x.html

9 From the uncorrected transcript of oral evidence given to the Joint Committee on Human Rights “UN Convention against torture: allegations of complicity in torture” on April 28, 2009. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200809/jtselect/jtrights/152/152.pdf

Please note that when I originally posted the article the link was to a different version of the document, but it turns out that the old link (below) has now expired. For this reason I have altered the page references in accordance with the new document.

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:nogix7L1-kIJ:www.craigmurray.org.uk/Uncorrected%2520Transcript%252028%2520April%252009.doc+craig+murray+evidence+parliamentary+slect+commitee&hl=en&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESjfCqyleDnk_maooZDF7iGJ5MC68Lb9zNDi5PCH8_9PwlwCybyXYiCD-A1E-O_j9Z5XgnOsKsvguvirw4jqJW9zjuor_secSn7aw_X1JIxHxjLw0CZON7vwOcfitFM1bB8MOsaO&sig=AHIEtbScxyI2eTh3HF2MA_yGyeAcyTsoiQ

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Vince Cable’s “mansion tax” proposal means more meddling instead of real justice

A fortnight ago today [Oct 15th], I received the following email that was headed “Unfair and Inefficient” from the Business Secretary, Vince Cable:

Friend —

Our system of taxation is both unfair and inefficient. People on modest incomes are paying their fair share of tax while the super rich can too easily avoid paying their share.

It is a particular scandal that some of the world’s wealthiest people who own property in the UK worth millions pay virtually the same council tax as owners of a modest family home.

I want to change this – I want a new ‘mansion tax’ on the most valuable properties – we propose 1% of the value of over £2million. This will be paid by the wealthiest 0.16% of property owners.

Unlike taxes on income, it is impossible to dodge a mansion tax. After all, a mansion can’t be hidden offshore.

There is plenty of opposition from top investment bankers who would have to pay more tax. And the Tories don’t like it either; it will hit some of their friends.

Polls show that this idea is very popular. The public want fairer taxes, as we do

Thank you,

Vince Cable MP

PS. Those who benefit from the current system are not short of help or money.

*

As an immediate response, I replied to Vince Cable as follows:

Dear Vince Cable,

I totally applaud your aim of establishing a fairer tax system, but feel that the idea of a mansion tax is unhelpful in this regard. As a direct consequence of the recent housing bubble, house prices have generally become over-inflated and in some regions of the country there are many properties with prices in the region of or around your seemingly arbitrary value of £2 million. If house prices begin to rise again, which is something that might easily happen given the long term inflationary impact of the government’s policy of quantitative easing, then the level of the mansion tax will come into the range of many more moderately well off individuals and families. Alternatively, once the tax is established, then to increase revenues it might be very tempting for the government (yours or a future one) to slowly lower the threshold. And what guarantee can you offer than this will not happen? So the mansion tax appears not so much as a way to hit (as you put it) some of the more affluent friends of your Coalition partners the Tories, but rather as the Sword of Damocles about to hang over rather more ordinary mortals within the ranks of the semi-affluent upper middle classes.

But let’s step back a moment and ask why you need this money in the first place? I can think of two immediate and obvious reasons. Firstly, because of the failures of successive governments, with your own very much included, to close the offshore tax loopholes of the corporations and genuinely super-rich. Here is an enormous amount of potential tax revenue that should rightfully be collected. The second reason is those same governments inability to rein in the catastrophic excesses of a financial industry they themselves had slowly helped to deregulate. It has been nothing more or less than irresponsibility on the part of successive governments and regulators, combined with incompetence and malfeasance within the highest echelons of the financial sector, that has led us to what is – and this is becoming increasingly obvious – a global economic depression.

You speak of fairness and inefficiency, when you ought more properly to speak of justice. But if you really want greater efficiency then you might instead try rewriting the hundreds of pages of tax rules and removing from them so many ready-made means for avoidance. Then you might also close down the multitude of offshore tax havens that operate as British dependencies. You could also draw in revenues by taxing the financial industry directly, levying a modest Toban Tax – say 1% to keep it in line with your proposed mansion tax. Unlike the rest of us, those buying and selling for profit within the markets still pay no tax whatsoever. How can this be fair? Finally, if you want fairness – or rather justice – then we need to begin prosecuting the banks and the other agencies who have been responsible for the rampant and systemic fraud that has evidently taken place (for example, in the rigging of Libor) and continues to take place within the City.

In short then, I am against your modest proposal because it calls for people in the middle to foot more of the costs, instead of seeking proper repayment for damages from those at the very top. It is also simply too modest. It is like offering a sticking plaster for an amputated limb. It represents just more fiddling whilst Rome burns… a pasty anyone?

Yours sincerely,

James Boswell

*

Update:

On November 27th (six weeks after I sent my letter) I received a reply from Vicky Gallagher of the Correspondence and Information Rights Team for HM Treasury writing on behalf of Vince Cable. It read:

A mansion tax would be complex to introduce, involve the revaluation of many homes and raise fairness issues about the ability of those liable to pay the tax. For example, it would risk penalising those people, in the main pensioners, on low incomes who have seen their homes appreciate in value. Under a mansion tax they would face a substantial increase in taxes without having the income to pay them, which could potentially see them forced out of their homes.

The government judged that rather than make such people pay more, it was fairer to target owners of high value property who are avoiding paying their fair share in the first place. We therefore have no intention to introduce a mansion tax at this time.

I will add only that all of this was abundantly clear from the outset. The fact that the government has U-turned in less than two months going to show that they hadn’t properly thought the idea through in the first place.

 

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an open response to Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems

Having somehow ended up on a Liberal Democrat email list, presumably because I accidentally voted for them on a couple of occasions, on Wednesday I received the following message from their respected leader, Nick Clegg. By way of personal response, and to address the various items point by point, I have decided to add my own reply to each paragraph.

Nick Clegg’s letter begins:

Dear Friend,

Today’s Queen’s Speech has again shown that the Liberal Democrats are punching way above their weight – and we can be proud of that.

So here begins my carefully considered reply (interspersed paragraph by paragraph, as already explained):

Dear Nick,

You really think so? Are you living on the same planet as the rest of us…

It included many of the long-term reforms we’ve campaigned for, such as reform of the banks. These will help build a sustainable future for our country.

Reform of the banks. Yes, good idea. And you say you’ve campaigned for this already? Can’t say that I remember, but good luck with the new initiative.

I trust that you will begin by pressing for a clampdown on the totally out of control financial derivatives market, and especially the sorts of “over the counter” derivatives that have enabled fraudulent practices to reach unprecedented levels. Since the cause of the crisis was the growth in such trading, and aside from bringing in regulation to stop future problems of this kind arising, I presume that you also intend to press for a full investigation of the banks responsible, with necessary powers granted to bring later prosecutions. Here’s a government petition that you might also like to sign.

In 2010, we took the decision together to enter into a Coalition Government so we could do the right thing for the country at a time of economic crisis. Today we’ve focused on helping families and supporting growth and jobs.

This is certainly the justification you’ve repeatedly given for tearing up the election manifesto and then signing up to a new manifesto that no-one actually voted for. I’m sure you did this with the best of intentions, and no doubt those at the top of the party know best.

Helping families and supporting growth and jobs” sounds very reasonable, if a little vague. It would be helpful here if you might give a few more concrete examples because mostly I’m just aware of your unflinching commitment to wholesale and damaging “austerity measures”, combined with the accelerated privatisation of the NHS and our other public services (including, perhaps most worryingly, the police force).

Vince Cable will regulate the banks so they can no longer be in a position to hold the country to ransom when their financial gambles don’t pay off. And Ed Davey will establish the world’s first Green Investment Bank and introduce electricity market reform to protect consumers, support low-carbon energy and invest in renewables.

It is pleasing to see that Vince Cable is now rehabilitated after being caught bad-mouthing the venerable Rupert Murdoch. I suppose that this is in part thanks to the Leveson Inquiry, which will presumably at some stage call your close friend David Cameron in for questioning.

I trust that Vince Cable will now hasten to regulate the banks so that, as you put it, “they can no longer be in a position to hold the country to ransom.” My main concern here being that, and as you no doubt recall, Vince Cable has candidly admitted that he totally failed to see this present crisis coming, in which case, I fear that he may not be the best person to solve the crisis now. Hopefully, Vince will prove me wrong.

Regarding green initiatives, here’s something else we can all support, and I take it that these new initiatives will have nothing to do with granting permission for widespread natural gas fracking under our beautiful countryside. In any case, I feel confident that your government would never sacrifice our country’s energy security for the sake of a few inadequate wind-farms, and that altogether more temperamental, although wonderfully green alternative, nuclear power.

Incidentally, the simplest and most effective way to introduce electricity market reform would be to entirely renationalise the industry. Are you also thinking along these lines?

We’re also helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Steve Webb will help pensioners by introducing a flat-rate pension. We’ll propose a way to modernise adult care and support, finally ensuring dignity in old age.

Well, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to call you on this one. You say that you are “helping the most vulnerable people in our society.” To the untrained eye, however, it looks as if you are instead committed to slashing public services and to raising the pension age, which will automatically disqualify many vulnerable people from receiving the money that their National Insurance contributions had supposedly paid for. I must also confess that I have never heard of Steve Webb but hopefully he knows what he’s doing.

Today also clearly set out our collective determination to reform the House of Lords, an historic commitment of our party.

This one sounds like an excellent idea, at least in principle. The removal of an archaic and self-serving elite is something we can all get behind. And this was in the Queen’s speech… that’s right? The question remains, of course, how will we ever replace our lordships?

An elected second chamber? I’m not sure if such a change would guarantee any significant improvement and offer up, as an example, the current failings of the American system. When both houses are elected this can lead to a situation in which all members are holding party political allegiances, and in any essentially two-party system (which as you know, Britain still remains), this has the unwanted effect of bringing the two houses into closer alignment, which is, often as not, to the detriment of the wider democratic process.

However, since some kind of reform is unquestionably desirable, perhaps we might allow ourselves to think a little more outside of the box. Here then is a radical proposal of my own: perhaps the future members of a “House of Lords” might be decided not on an hereditary basis, but modernising the process, by means of a national lottery. After all, in our prospering casino economy, pure luck has become the preferred method of wealth distribution, so why not apply a similar system to apportioning a little more of the political power?

More seriously, verdicts in our highest criminal courts are already reached by the agreement of twelve randomly selected members of the public, and not thankfully by panels of appointed judges. So why not take this same tried and tested formula to the next logical level? Britain would lead the world again. And with the House of Lords being thereby democratised in the fullest sense of the word, just imagine the renewed public interest in politics. We could even have regular votes on which lord to evict, say every six months or so, like on reality TV, but actually real, just imagine that… the viewing figures!

Well anyway, just off on flights of fancy, sorry, I’ll cross that last bit out and get back to the more serious matter of replying to your letter – oh, and before I forget, “Dear Friend”, thanks buddy… the personal touch is so often missing in this non-stop, 24/7 age of cut-and-paste efficiency.

There’s so much more I could highlight: Sarah Teather’s work on improving support for children with special educational needs, our support for flexible working and shared parental leave and our proposals to strengthen the hand of farmers and other suppliers of supermarkets through an independent adjudicator.

This Queen’s Speech has a firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it, delivering on what we’ve passed at Conference and pounded the pavements and knocked on doors for.

Best wishes,

Nick Clegg MP

Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Deputy Prime Minister

This Queen’s Speech has a firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it”, you write, and I certainly was most pleased to see that the government seeking to reform this country’s overly stringent libel laws. For some reason, however, you have failed to mention this piece of good news in your letter. Whatever – I’m sure you won’t forget to pass the legislation.

You have also failed to mention that at the same time, the government are pressing ahead with the Draft Communications Bill which according to BBC news: “Plans to make it easier for the police and intelligence agencies to monitor e-mails, phone calls and internet use…” Does this proposal also have the “firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it”?

Now if I’m being perfectly straight with you, this Queen’s speech does leave the impression of a government intent on rather a lot of fiddling around – setting up new quangos here, there and everywhere – but then I suppose the public should be shouting a bit louder: “Fire, Fire!!!” Something like that.

In any case, presumably Ma’am wasn’t handed the relevant pages wherein her government outlines its bolder plans to halt our never-ending slide into a surveillance society, and to restore just a semblance of social justice. Perhaps you mislaid them yourself, and forgot to mention all this in your letter.

Anyway, chin up on those local election results, and keep the yellow flag flying high!

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threat to unions as Coalition drop their liberal disguise

Addressing delegates at the GMB union’s conference in Brighton, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, was booed and heckled after he threatened that any kind of coordinated strike action against the government’s economic plan may lead to tougher union laws:

“We are undoubtedly entering a difficult period. Cool heads will be required all round. Despite occasional blips, I know that strike levels remain historically low, especially in the private sector.

“On that basis, and assuming this pattern continues, the case for changing strike law is not compelling.

“However, should the position change, and should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on us to act would ratchet up.

“That is something which both you, and certainly I, would want to avoid,” he said to loud jeers from the audience, at which point the GMB president Mary Turner had to intervene saying, “You may not like what you are hearing, any more than I do, but please listen.”

In response to Cable’s speech, Len McCluskey, general secretary of the UK’s largest union Unite, said Mr Cable ought to be ashamed:

“How can a professed liberal seek to crack down on human rights?”

The GMB’s Paul Kenny made a comparison with government response to events abroad, accusing Cable of double standards:

“Government ministers come onto the TV and the media, saying it’s ok to have protests and strikes in Egypt but when it comes to workers’ protests in this country we think we should legislate them out of business,”

“It’s double standards. They wouldn’t apply the same rules they’re talking about applying for trade union ballots as they would do in electing MPs, or even the recent AV referendum,” he added.

Sarah Veale, the TUC’s head of equalities and employment rights, pointed to the inconsistency with regards to the government’s stated commitment of protecting civil liberties:

“The UK already has some of the toughest strike legislation in the developed world so there is no justification for further curbs, as the minister himself acknowledges.

“Restricting the right to withhold labour would also be completely at odds with the coalition’s commitment to civil liberties.

“Disputes are always better settled through negotiation with unions, rather than veiled threats to rig the law in the employers’ favour.”

Meanwhile, at a regular daily media briefing, the PM’s spokesman said:

“The position remains the same, which is that we don’t have any current proposals to amend strike laws, but [the Prime Minister] has said in the past that he is happy to look at the argument.

As the Business Secretary has been saying this morning, despite occasional blips strike levels in this country remain historically low.

As he says, at the moment the case for changing strike law is not compelling. Clearly it is something we keep under review, and if the position were to change and we were to see a wave of irresponsible strikes, that is something we would want to look at very carefully.”

This threat to the unions is actually loud and clear: the government saying that if you don’t behave yourselves, then we’ll restrict your freedoms. It’s a warning that any toddler can understand. If it is veiled, then it is only to the extent that any new measures will be brought in as a reaction against “irresponsible strikes”. Given the current situation, however, any major industrial action within the next five years (at the very least) will undoubtedly be deemed “irresponsible”. So in effect then, the government’s message to the trade unions is simply to shut up and go away —or else! Which aside from being arrogant and controlling, also reveals a little more of the Coalition’s real agenda, which differs from the Tory’s old agenda only in severity, whilst proving yet again, that we’re really not all in this together.

The article is based on reports taken from yesterday’s BBC News and The Telegraph.

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