All posts by Meg Sherman

Julian Assange is Not above the Law, but He Shouldn’t be Beneath Justice

Hewn in to human rights legislation borne of fascism’s decline in the mid twentieth century is a pool of glorious protections of civil liberties and press freedoms. It is deep, but it is not entirely immune from attack. Political opportunists undermine it in regular waves, repressing dissidence in their states and satellite states, even and especially in the West. Victims pile up, the criminalisation of journalism gathering steam, the propaganda to justify this awful retrenchment of civil liberties rising in the background. This is fascism resurgent.

Glasnost translates to ‘transparency’, and it was assumed to be a core value of western government when Gorbachev’s administration began to dismantle socialism in Russia in the 1990s. The liberal democratic system prevalent in the world today is in theory buoyed by open, transparent government, and in every area where it is practised as the predominant form of government, gives rise to the rule of civil liberties said to be inalienable, universal, and non-negotiable. Being as old as democracy itself, they’re deeply rooted in history, representing progress and democratic status. Insofar as it remains worth defending, there remains no better way to adhere to “civilised” culture than to defend civil liberty and constitutional freedoms. While it may be a world away from the current zeitgeist among western leaders for criminalising dissent, journalism, and whistleblowing, reaching its zenith in the prosecution of Julian Assange, it’s nonetheless only a few fights away from restoration.

All around the world are corrupt governments torturing and oppressing citizens critical of the regimes that rule, not serve, them. True to Orientalist stereotypes, this type of place is reflexively assumed by the privileged commentariat to be an anomaly, in some remote region of the East, where the rule of law is alien and everybody’s neighbour knows someone in the gulag. Taking the American tradition of world policing to new heights, however, the most advanced superpower in the advanced industrial west will supply everything you could want if you were seeking examples of archetypal tyranny, and its satellites are all too happy to turn this practice from an isolated infraction to standard, common practice. Being emboldened in power, the US jurisdiction, and those under its spell, practice extraterritorial prosecutions, extraordinary renditions, in which foreign citizens are either extradited to the empire state for trial and punishment bordering on and oft crossing the rubicon into illegal torture, or have it enforced upon them in US bases overseas.

Unluckily, the CIA oversee these cases and will bend over backwards to accommodate torture, and to offend the constitution. Set in the context of the Patriot Act (an unconstitutional abomination of law rafted through congress during the hysteria after 9/11) they have unlimited powers to break non-refoulement law in the human rights convention. The principle of non-refoulement forms the crux of many internationally binding contracts in which signatory states agree to uphold and abide by the practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

Despite power’s collective disgrace of the law by breaking the principles enshrined in non-refoulement law, missing the irony, the Tory government has said the arrest of Julian Assange is just and serves to show he is not above the law. Likewise the official line from Ecuador that Assange’s work constitutes “cyber-terrorism.” Such talk from the government evidences not the culpability of Assange for any crime, but precisely the establishment’s desire to invert the real narrative: ironically, Assange has been arrested for exposing corruption that posits powerful organisations and politicians above the law, and for so doing he is now deemed beneath justice.

Assange had previously said it was not the prospect of answering to British or Swedish justice that worried him and put forward a robust case for the proximity of a British or Swedish trial to a US extradition during the debate about the moral ambiguity of his self-imposed exile, in which he credibly suggested he feared a kangaroo court in the US which would punish him to life, or gruesome death, for abiding by first amendment ethics, a claim that many thought was paranoid but has been vindicated.

Like all young people looking out to the world today, I am acutely conscious we are growing up in a times of extreme volatility and complex global politics marred by violence, war and corruption, one yet borne aloft by revolutionary dreams of a better world that have come to fruition in hopeful global rebellions, which I cheered on as a socially conscientious teenager.

Perhaps the defining note of optimism for me is that I am emboldened by hope in the face of an insurgency of brave truth telling, of righteous civil disobedience against corrupt and ossified power, but at once, the defining note of pessimism for me is that I am equally as worried by the way insurgent bearers of truth are being treated like mice in the maze of a Goliath American state, one that treats the whole world order as if it were its sole domain, its entire extraterritorial jurisdiction, a caliphate, whose subjects are treated with increasingly wanton whim at the behest of the senate, military and intelligence agencies in the empire state.

Notorious names — Schwartz, Assange, Lauri, Manning, Winner — correspond to notorious cases. While the case specifics encompass a varied range of actions and activities associated with subversion of US imperial strategy, they encompass and are united by concerted efforts to subvert imperial activism of the US state decidedly through electronic means — whistle blowing, data dumping, hacking — activity which, rendered through the realpolitik filter with which hawk politicians have been conditioned in the corridors of Yale and The Pentagon, is tantamount to treason. Thinking logically it is obvious treason is an untenable accusation against those who — with the exception of Manning, Schwartz, Winner — have never been American citizens. Indeed such charges sullying the names of these renegades seems designed to inculcate fear and obedience to American objectives not just within but beyond domestic spheres of influence. Silencing dissent, then, can be seen as core imperial strategy, and one with terrifying, unprecedented extraterritorial reach.

Hard working, principled journalists — who’d be legends and treasures in a long lost era of good press ethics in society — and their sources are paying a high price out of their human rights under the aegis of a craven new age of US imperialism. Most modern states bar the integration of legitimate journalistic activity with the penal code, like those currently being deployed to get Julian Assange. But in the data age, with less developed laws around the link between technology and sources, criminalisation is being embraced, or at least is being seized upon in the moment before laws and regulation are clarified and tightened up to get Assange.

But it stinks. For one evidence cited in attempts to justify his arrest and pursuit under the law are at best dubious, at worst slanderous. Moreover in a zeitgeist defined by Brexit negotiations steeped deep in the rhetoric of protecting parliamentary sovereignty it ought to worry us British courts are willing to yield to the whims of US courts who are willing to put Assange away for life, or kill him, for the crime of doing journalism.

It’s time that the establishment drops pretences and stops using the phrase “no man is above the law” as if the mantra is still meaningful. Either justice is a right or its not. For so many, conspicuously all in the business of exposing corruption, they don’t get it. It’s time to reform society’s treatment of whistleblowers and remove all legal obstructions to their freedoms.

In theory, we are equal under the law. In practice, some are beneath justice. Equality under the law — from which the maxim “no one above the law” — is a bastion of liberal democracy. It is oft cited in defence of the moral superiority of the western way of life over other systems that have preceded it or stand in opposition. A fair legal system is seen to be the sign of an ethically mature democracy. Yet it is precisely because the law is administered to prosecute whistleblowers on elite crimes and reward elite corruption that this truism about our equivalence in the contemporary justice system is an anachronism with a diluted meaning. In war, justice is always the biggest casualty.

The post Julian Assange is Not above the Law, but He Shouldn’t be Beneath Justice first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Healthcare Multinational Profiting off Fraudulent Detentions

In July 2020, US healthcare multinational UHS Delaware reached a $122million settlement with the US federal government as the result of an investigation by the FBI into fraudulent detentions of psychiatric patients for profit. Following the resolution of the investigation and civil settlement, UHS must retain an independent monitor selected by the Office of Inspector General within the US Department of Health and Human Services, who will monitor patient care protections. In addition, an independent review organisation will annually audit UHS’s claims to federal healthcare programmes.

The government claims UHS knowingly submitted false claims to Medicaid for services that were not medically necessary, including improper, excessive lengths of stay borne of failure to properly discharge patients when they were well enough, and the admission of patients whose conditions were not severe enough to warrant that level of care. UHS owns nearly 200 acute care inpatient psychiatric hospitals and residential psychiatric and behavioural treatment facilities in the US, with a front group in the UK in the form of Cygnet healthcare.

Furthermore, UHS stand accused of failing to provide safe, adequate care standards, improperly using physical and chemical restraints and seclusion. In the context of compulsory mental health care, principles of best practice place a high value on care standards that are least restrictive. UHS’s conduct in following practices that were improperly restrictive led to an unjustifiable deprivation of liberty. This occasioned the systematic violation of patients human rights.

The Acting Assistant Attorney General Ethan P. Davis for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division said: “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting patients and taxpayers by ensuring that the treatment provided to federal healthcare beneficiaries is reasonable, necessary, and free from illegal inducements… The Department will continue to be especially vigilant when vulnerable patient populations are involved, like those served by behavioral healthcare providers.”

“Illegal inducements should never play a role in a patient’s decision regarding treatment, especially when a patient is seeking care for addiction and other behavioral health needs,” said Byung J. “BJay” Pak, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. “Our office remains committed to pursuing unlawful arrangements that undermine the integrity of federal healthcare programs.”

The scandal raises questions about the ethics of predatory corporate healthcare, and makes the case that multinationals with a commitment to care for vulnerable patients – entrusted with their health, safety and rights – should be subject to democratic oversight. The dearth of public scrutiny affords multinationals broad latitude in determining which care ethics constitute best practice, leading to a deviation from legitimate standards. Secretive, opaque corporate governance structures lead to cultures of impunity that reward failure and disenfranchise patients who are the victims of organisational dysfunction. It was only because of the courage of whistleblowers that the malpractice was brought to light.

The lure of lucrative profits compelled UHS to behave in ways that abused the very communities it is meant to serve, violating medical ethics. The scandal makes the case that healthcare should be a publically owned good rather than an object of corporate profiteering, that healthcare should be a public not a private asset. Longstanding, outgoing UHS CEO Alan B. Miller realized $348,083,919 in total compensation, and the company boasts annual profits of $10billion. The primacy of the profit motive led to a devalued role for ethics, and the proliferation of standards that violated the public interest.

Far from being an isolated incident of malpractice, the scandal represents an endemic culture of calculated, cynical opportunism in the company, which took advantage of a system that is supposed to serve the public, not business. Federal healthcare beneficiaries expect a service that is reasonable and humane, not to become dehumanised objects of profit. The systematic illegality and corruption of UHS’s operations make it illegitimate and unfit for public service.

Documents pertaining to the criminal investigation into UHS reveal that they – albeit unsuccessfully – attempted to suppress evidence of their misconduct in court, showing them to be uncooperative with the investigation and attempts to realise justice. Cultures of abuse thrive on secrecy, and it’s evident that all throughout the investigation UHS sought to prevent their crimes being made public, in order to protect their power and privileges. They are the actions of a company whose operations are based on cynical calculations of self-interest rather than a principled desire to serve the public good.

UHS CEO Alan B. Miller’s extracurricular interests as a member of the board of directors for the Republican Jewish Coalition raises further questions about the lobbying power of the private healthcare industry in politics. His strong ties to the Republican party suggest he supports policies of deregulation and privatisation, which serve to enrich him and liberate UHS from public oversight. His presence in politics suggests he is using his lobbying power to influence policymakers to pass legislation that is beneficial to UHS’s profit agenda, corrupting the democratic process.

Under his leadership, in 1986, UHS created Universal Health Realty Income Trust, the first REIT in the healthcare industry, mixing healthcare provision with real estate. In April 2014 UHS announced the acquisition of Cygnet healthcare for $335 million, extending its operations into the UK market, where it has generated equal practices of abuse. Cygnet’s franchise model means it has the same mode of business operation as a McDonald’s. In the context of behavioural therapies, which seek to reform patients, this means that patients become a reconstituted product.

Fraud and abuse in the corporate healthcare market is not broad public knowledge, making reform seem like an impossible task. Except for a few media headlines, there is a dearth of sustained investigative reports into the corruption. The scale of the problem suggests nothing short of a public inquiry is necessary, and legislation to subordinate the corporate healthcare market to democratic governance structures.

William M. McSwain, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said:

Quality mental health treatment is critical for the patients who place their trust in the hands of service providers… The allegations involved in this matter — inappropriate billing and inadequate care – have no place in our health care system. Behavioral health service entities must have strong mechanisms in place, including appropriate supervision and oversight, to avoid fraud and abuse in order to ensure they provide the level of care that their patients deserve.

The post The Healthcare Multinational Profiting off Fraudulent Detentions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Facebook vs Citizens

A wonderfully written recent article on the ethics of Facebook Inc provoked me to think about my own position. It’s oft said in defence of the software that Facebook is a forum for progressive public debate, an ideal and desirable stimulus for democracy. So I was pleased the article stimulated a lively exchange of ideas on a contentious issue, the ethics of Facebook itself.

During the unprecedented, wild explosion of Facebook’s popularity, it had a revolutionary vibe. By 2018, political scandal had engulfed the company and Facebook vs The People hit the high court in the USA, stoking public concern over how much power the business has. Nonetheless, Zuckerburg is teflon-skinned, at least in the elite privilege networks he moves in, because they are acting as if, and telling us that, Facebook is socially responsible, acts lawfully, and is not a threat to democracy. In all truth, the fact Facebook successfully established the “publisher” defence in court (Wikileaks?) suggests that its primary function as corporate spyware is left unmentioned, intact, and beyond the purview of public scrutiny. In all truth, the only revolutionary thing about Facebook is it has upgraded the ability of the powers that be to repress dissent, especially powerful dissent spawned on Facebook itself.

Like every revolution, Facebook had its cadre, its battle, its legacy. Like every revolution, the cadre was purged, the battle turned downwards, the legacy? Propaganda. By stealth, the undemocratic vanguard of Facebook enacted policies to accrue more power, more wealth, and became an ossified nomenclatura that cultivate, fiercely protect class privileges. Like Stalin being bestowed praise in Pravda, Zuckerburg is given laurels in Time, his eerie face a reminder of who is officially the great man of our times. Like Stalin in the USSR, he is the primary political Titan and heavyweight behind the facile facade of popular democracy. In 1917 the revolution was red, its slogan “Bread and Peace.” In 2018 the revolution is hollowed of soul and substance by a blue collar, data age enterprise, indoctrinating people to think they care about meaningful “connection” before capital, or people, before profit.

Commentators call the data age the fourth industrial revolution. Borne aloft by the rapid global expansion of processes of digitisation and artificial intelligence, the fourth industrial revolution has had vast effects on the economy, the means of production and society at large, blurring the distinction between the digital and physical. Evidently this has had a profound effect on social relations and power dynamics. At once liberating the best and worst instincts in humanity, the means of informational production contains the possibility of liberation today, but in the hands of anti-democratic incumbent elites in politics, business and law enforcement, it deepens and broadens the vassalage relations of feudalism and capitalism by affording elites the power of surveillance, which is an easy way to regulate modes of thought and behaviour to conform to their agenda.

Such unethical psychological and behavioural manipulation was a key strategy of the well documented, but scarcely understood, partnership between Cambridge Analytica, a sordid global lobbying consultancy, and social media. The presidential and Leave-the EU campaigns represent many millions spent on completely manufactured demands: Trump’s policies and Brexit.

The sad truth of where power lies in politics today is that Cambridge Analytica didn’t work for political campaigns. The political campaigns really worked for Cambridge Analytica, because Trump’s and Leave’s roles were — perhaps unknowingly — not to be borne aloft to victory by underlings at the firm but to act as stooges to rally, recruit more and more citizens to be crunched in the firm’s matrix and spat out as a model voter, pliable citizen and captive consumer, a purpose for which corporate information management has been using political campaigns for well over a decade.

Data, advertising and social media companies already have long established and vastly more significant income revenues from the constant use of their software by other means than having to depend on single political commissions to get by. A commission like Trump’s or Leave’s merely sanctions the act of harvest, a mass reaping. Corporate data management portfolios have, over time, edged closer and closer to the architecture of political power, to the extent the two are fast becoming indistinct, a single power complex.

Silicon Valley is increasingly deployed as a strategist, and in turn campaigns enrol them to lobby us in such a way as to recreate our “psycho geographic profile” to fit their model. The idea of elections in days gone past was that, accepting of course it fast became the norm not all candidates abided to the norm, that candidates nonetheless made an earnest pledge for a mandate on which they would be judged by the public and ultimately be rewarded or punished at the ballot box, not that the electoral process would become a spectacle in which dishonest promotions to audiences would be used to nudge and steer them towards well advertised ideas.

Why has this change occurred? The advent of transnational informational capitalism meant centralised hierarchical networks of IT experts like Silicon Valley could pursue their own selfish agenda, namely self enrichment, the most direct and obvious means to that end being to sell the data we so willingly impart within their software within a culture of what I call “consensual coercion” that has taken over our lives. That is, a lifestyle of unnecessary transparency that is promoted to us through social media and, longing for acceptance, we do it, cultivated, nurtured, fed by big business. Lots of companies have high stakes in our penchant for carelessness with data and have long sought for us to give it up by latent or patent means.

To understand the raison d’être of Cambridge Analytica and, by proxy, contemporary political campaigns we have to move backwards to the inception of consumer psychology, the art and science of manipulating the minds, emotions and desires of citizens to generate intended economic outcomes.

As partisan wings of the liberal media stage manage and rehearse their response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal to get their verdict on which breach was worse in first, to best frame events to the advantage of their partisan agenda, the world becomes ever more deceived and confused about precisely how far, how deep, how rancid the rotten corruption runs. Scapegoating Trump alone for the scandal not only ludicrously attributes the misuse of the politics and economy of information management — based on complex mathematical modelling and research — to him, but moreover overlooks the social and historical context of these revelations, which implicates the politico-corporate infrastructure of silicon valley in a vast conspiracy against the people.