Category Archives: Corruption

Persistent Fraudulent Enrollment in Charter Schools

While privately-operated nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have long engaged in a broad range of fraudulent student enrollment practices, yet another avalanche of news reports on such dishonest practices has recently appeared.

There seems to be no end to astonishing news in the unregulated and segregated charter school sector. Controversy, scandal, and charter schools have been fellow-travelers for more than 25 years.

Virtual charter schools, perhaps the most unsuccessful and unethical of all types of charter schools, have a long-standing tradition of enrolling “ghost students” (students that do not exist) in order to embezzle millions of public dollars. This, of course, is always accompanied by Enron-style accounting in an attempt to conceal such damaging financial malfeasance.

The latest debacle in the troubled charter school sector is the massive virtual Epic Charter School Network which operates mainly in Oklahoma. It has made headlines everywhere for enrolling “ghost students” and for engaging in other crimes and unethical behavior for a long time.

In related news, two scandal-ridden online charter schools in Indiana were also recently exposed and criticized for engaging in some of the same crimes as Epic and other cyber charter schools. Together, these virtual schools inflated their enrollments by thousands of students to pilfer enormous sums of public funds.

Sadly, many other examples of inflated enrollments and other scandalous practices in nonprofit and for-profit charter schools could be cited. Corruption plagues the entire charter school sector.

Keeping in mind that the final and highest stage of capitalism ensures greater parasitism, crime, corruption, and violence across society and many sectors, the public should expect a further intensification of fraud, corruption, and controversy from all types of charter schools in the coming months and years.

Whether they are nonprofit or for-profit, virtual or brick-and-mortar, as privatized and marketized arrangements charter schools engender more corruption in education and society. Privatization, as a general rule, is synonymous with corruption and inferior service.

“More regulation” and “better oversight” will not solve the problems plaguing the charter school sector. Charter schools are deregulated schools by definition; they are a main expression of neoliberal education arrangements. Further, the charter school sector is full of wealthy, arrogant, and defensive advocates who will not tolerate any individual or organization that attempts to stop their assault on public education, society, the economy, and the national interest. Charter school owners-operators are determined to seize as much public funds and public property as possible.

But this does not mean resistance is pointless or that the rich and their cheerleaders cannot be defeated. It means the public must develop new and creative ways to deprive the rich of their power to deprive the public of its claims and interests.

It can be done.

No public funds or public property must go to privately-operated charter schools. All public funds and public property must remain in the hands of the public. This is especially true given the fact that charter schools are not public schools, as many court cases in different jurisdictions have ruled over the years.

Rentier Britain: All the Rent Goes to the 1%

There are three fundamental issues that lie at the heart of our current economic malaise: the first is unearned income and wealth from land rent, second the creation of money by privately owned banks, and the third is rent-seeking that is used to juice profits out of intellectual property through copyright and patents.

But the political class, supported by lobbying, continues to avoid addressing these issues. So monopolies grow larger and larger, and as they do, more and more people are excluded from the economy.

To really address the root causes, why don’t we start by calling out the rentier economy as a structural issue that no progressive society can actually afford?

Host Ross Ashcroft is joined by the economist, author and co-founder of Basic Income Earth Network Prof. Guy Standing to discuss rentier capitalism and reclaiming the commons.

Rentier Britain: All the Rent Goes to the 1%

There are three fundamental issues that lie at the heart of our current economic malaise: the first is unearned income and wealth from land rent, second the creation of money by privately owned banks, and the third is rent-seeking that is used to juice profits out of intellectual property through copyright and patents.

But the political class, supported by lobbying, continues to avoid addressing these issues. So monopolies grow larger and larger, and as they do, more and more people are excluded from the economy.

To really address the root causes, why don’t we start by calling out the rentier economy as a structural issue that no progressive society can actually afford?

Host Ross Ashcroft is joined by the economist, author and co-founder of Basic Income Earth Network Prof. Guy Standing to discuss rentier capitalism and reclaiming the commons.

With Panorama’s Hatchet Job on Labour Antisemitism, BBC Has Become the Tory’s Attack Dog

It is difficult to describe as anything other than a hatchet job the BBC Panorama special this week that sought to bolster claims that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has become “institutionally antisemitic”.

The partisan tone was set from the opening shot. A young woman whose name was not revealed tearfully claimed to have been abused with antisemitic taunts at a Labour Party conference.

The decision not to disclose the interviewee’s identity is understandable. It would have discredited the whole narrative Panorama was trying so hard to build.

The woman’s name is Ella Rose, a senior official in the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), an organisation representing Jewish and non-Jewish members of Labour at the forefront of attacks on Corbyn. Rose has a secret past too: she once worked at the Israeli embassy in London.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Two years ago she and other JLM officials were exposed collaborating with Shai Masot, an Israeli embassy official. He had to be hurriedly removed from the UK after an undercover Al Jazeera documentary showed him plotting with activists in the Labour and Conservative parties to discredit British politicians seen as a threat to Israel.

Most observers believe that Masot was operating within the embassy as part of Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, which in turn has been running black ops against western critics of Israel. Corbyn, we can safely assume, is high on that list.

Rose is on record as saying she was a close friend of Masot’s.

Her emotional, quavering voice as she spoke to Panorama presented a very different image from her appearances in Al-Jazeera’s undercover footage. There she is shown threatening to use physical violence – employing Krav Maga, a martial arts technique developed by the Israeli army – against another Jewish party member prominent in support of Corbyn.

Panorama chose to follow in the footsteps of the rest of the British media in ignoring Al Jazeera’s revelations, even though they provide vital context for challenging claims of a supposedly growing “antisemitism crisis” in Labour. For the past three years, the media have produced little more than anecdotal evidence, like Ella Rose’s, to support this narrative.

In a self-fulfilling prophecy, however, the more the media has fear-mongered about antisemitism in Labour – despite the absence of objective data to back up such claims – the more polls have shown British Jews panicking at the propsect of Corbyn reaching power.

The Panorama investigation, titled “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?”, will undoubtedly have further stoked such fear by interviewing a handful of disgruntled former employees involved in the party’s handling of antisemitism complaints.

Bitter feuds

Stripped of context, these testimonies offer a superficially plausible argument that the Labour leadership sought to minimise, or even indulge, antisemitism in the party. But the comments made by these ex-staff have to be viewed in terms of a wider power-play raging in Labour since Corbyn was elected leader.

The party has been riven by bitter, very public feuds between an old guard, which dominated under Tony Blair, and the rapid rise of the party’s left wing under Corbyn, buoyed by massive support from the wider membership.

Panorama referenced these rifts only to dismiss them as a conspiracy theory. Instead, the programme refashioned the split as a culture war between those presented as anti-racist centrists, like the disputes team’s former staff, and a supposed influx of anti-Israel, Jew-hating “Marxists” cultivated by Corbyn.

The mass purge

Some of the former members of the disputes staff interviewed by Panorama appear to have served effectively as a Trojan horse within Labour’s head office, assisting the Blairites in damaging Corbyn.

Though it was not mentioned by Panorama, these staff members were caught repeatedly violating the party rulebook by excluding thousands of Corbyn supporters during the two leadership contests, in 2015 and 2016. These mass purges had nothing to do with antisemitism. People were ousted for “offences” such as retweeting posts by the Green Party or, in one case, praising the band the Foo Fighters.

It was the enormous backlog created by these exclusions that overwhelmed the party machinery, leaving it incapable of handling disciplinary matters involving antisemitism.

Labour officials note that, even after Corbyn was secure as leader, the obstruction continued. A small number of staff – the people Panorama interviewed – actively blocked the rapid resolution of high-profile antisemitism cases, dragging them out to embarrass the leadership.

Since a new general secretary, Jennie Formby, was brought in and a new and larger disputes team appointed, including staff with legal training, the speed of handling antisemitism complaints is reported to have increased four-fold.

The paradox is that those telling Panorama that Labour is “institutionally antisemitic” are the very people who failed to deal effectively with antisemitism complaints when they were in charge.

Fears of a stitch-up

The most astounding and intentional omission from the programme, however, are the countervailing voices in support of Corbyn. The Labour leader himself and senior staff like his chief strategist, Seumas Milne, declined to be interviewed. That is understandable. They had strong grounds to suspect that Panorama planned a stitch-up.

Interviews of Labour leaders denying “institutional antisemitism” set against footage of tearful Jewish party members like Ella Rose speaking of abuse would have been a bad look.

But what was undoubtedly inexcusable was Panorama’s failure to interview even one of the many Jewish Labour members who deny the antisemitism narrative, or to note that many of the most high-profile party members suspended or expelled for antisemitism are, in fact, themselves Jewish.

Jewish members expelled

One of the expulsions briefly mentioned by Panorama was Jackie Walker, who is herself Jewish, as well as black.

The fact that Jewish activists have been disciplined for their criticisms of Israel or disputing the Labour antisemitism narrative suggests that the furor, in part at least, represents the redrawing of battle-lines within the Jewish community about who gets to speak for Jews about Israel.

This was vital, but missing, context for understanding one of Panorama’s central charges: that Corbyn’s inner circle had interfered in the complaints process by offering advice to the disputes team.

What Panorama failed to mention was that the advice was actually sought by the disputes staff. And it related to the need to handle sensitively the issue of the party being seen to take disciplinary action against Jewish members accused of antisemitism by other Jewish members.

Labour administrators were effectively being asked to take sides in an ideological fight between different kinds of Jewish activists – hardline Zionists and anti-Zionists.

‘Wrong kind of Jews’

Why, one can reasonably ask, did Panorama ignore Jewish Voice for Labour in this supposed “investigation” of Labour and anti-semitism? The group was specifically set up by Jewish members to counter the claims being made by activists like Rose.

Groups like the Jewish Labour Movement have implied that Jewish supporters of Corbyn are the “wrong kind of Jews” – an extremely ugly insinuation that Panorama appeared to endorse by entirely sidelining them. This was one of the reasons the Labour leadership censured the programme-makers in a 50-page document presented to BBC boss Tony Hall, in which it argued that Panorama had “pre-determined the outcome of its investigation”.

As Corbyn’s office noted, Panorama had cherrypicked and distorted evidence, presented only one side of the story, and relied almost exclusively on staff who have very large axes to grind.

Score-settling may make for lively TV, but it is execrable journalism.

As a public service broadcaster, the BBC is subject to an editorial policy requiring it to be impartial. Its guidelines also state that audiences should not be able to infer “the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.”

But the fact that Panorama made no attempt at even-handedness or fairness in its programme on Labour should have come as no surprise. The man in charge of the investigation was John Ware, a former Sun journalist. He cannot be considered dispassionate either about Corbyn or the prospects of Labour defeating the Conservative Party at a general election, which may be just around the corner.

Strident supporter of Israel

Two years ago, Ware wrote a lengthy article for a right-wing magazine warning of the danger of Corbyn reaching power. He was a politician, wrote Ware, “whose entire political career has been stimulated by disdain for the West, appeasement of extremism, and who would barely understand what fighting for the revival of British values is really all about”.

Shortly after Corbyn’s leadership election victory in 2015, Ware headed a Panorama documentary that sought to malign the new leader.

Ware is also a strident supporter of Israel and of its state ideology, Zionism. In a 2005 edition of Panorama he suggested that Muslims in Britain who spoke out about Israel’s crimes against Palestinians were “extremists”.

In an article in the Jewish Chronicle last year Ware concluded that anti-Zionism had “morphed into anti-Semitism – itself a Corbyn legacy”.

But that claim – that criticism of Israel is equivalent to antisemitism – needed to be interrogated rather than, as it was, assumed to be true by the Panorama special. It lies at the heart of both the split between the right and left wings of Labour, and the divisions within Labour’s Jewish membership.

‘Witch-hunt against Muslims’

Equally disturbing is Ware’s apparent view that some kinds of racism matter far more than others. This appears to be what he means by “British values”.

While he has repeatedly expressed concern about criticism of Israel, and has himself conflated it with antisemitism, his work has shown an apparent indulgence of Islamophobia. Over nearly two decades Ware has produced reports for the BBC that have antagonised Britain’s Muslim community.

In 2003 David Blunkett, Labour’s home secretary of the time and no ally of Corbyn’s, compared a programme by Ware on asylum seekers to the notoriously racist hate speech of Enoch Powell back in the 1960s.

Two years later the Muslim Council of Britain accused a Panorama documentary headed by Ware of amounting to a “witch-hunt against British Muslims”.

Islamophobia ‘rational’

In 2013 Ware claimed that Islamophobia, or what he called the “I-word”, was stopping people – though not himself, it seems – from talking about Muslim “extremism”. Ware argued that Islamophobia, unlike antisemitism, was rational and justified – or in his words, hatred of Muslims was simply “reactive”.

He wrote in the Jewish Chronicle newspaper: “It is surely Muslim radicals who have brought it [anti-Muslim bigotry] on their fellow Muslims – by their promotion of Islam as a political ideology, and by invoking Islamophobia to close down criticism of this ideology.”

Imagine how that would sound if one replaces “radical Muslims”, “political Islam” and “Islamophobia” with the equivalents of “Israel zealots”, “hardline Zionism” and “anti-semitism”. Let’s try it:

“It is surely Israel zealots who have brought it [anti-Jewish bigotry] on their fellow Jews – by their promotion of hardline Zionism as a political ideology, and by invoking anti-semitism to close down criticism of this ideology.”

Suggesting that Jews are to blame for the racism they face because some extremists among them are fanatical supporters of Israel and its oppression of Palestinians would surely amount to antisemitism in most people’s view.

Skewed political priorities

The relevance of this is that Ware and the BBC made a highly politicised decision to choose to focus exclusively on Labour and antisemitism, while ignoring the well-documented racism of the Conservative Party. That choice matches Ware’s own skewed political priorities.

The BBC’s flagship political documentary assumed that Labour suffers from an “antisemitism crisis” so severe that it needed to be the sole focus of an investigation into racism in British politics.

The decision to ignore the more visible issue of racism in the Conservative Party smacks of dangerous interference by the state broadcaster in the democratic process.

Panorama’s choice is even more astonishing given that the objective data – again overlooked by the programme – indicates that Labour has much less of a racism problem than the ruling Conservative party.

A survey this week confirmed what was already widely known: that Islamophobia – racism towards Muslims and Arabs – is rampant in Conservative ranks. A YouGov poll showed an astounding 56 per cent of party members believe Islam threatens the “British way of life”.

The Tory party’s former chair, Sayeeda Warsi, has long been ringing the alarm about senior officials, warning that they are indifferent to, or supportive of, Islamophobia in the party.

Rampant Tory racism

In addition to rampant Islamophobia, figures show that the Conservatives also have a greater problem than Labour with antisemitism.

While Corbyn has been critical of antisemitic world leaders, the Conservative leadership has been cosying up to figures like Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, who is known for his Jew-baiting and expressions of support for former Hungarian pro-Nazi leaders.

Boris Johnson, the Conservative MP widely expected to become the next prime minister when Theresa May steps down, has a long track record of making inciteful, racist statements.

Anti-semitism data ignored

While the Conservatives’ undeniable racism problem has failed to attract any sustained media attention, the Labour Party’s much less serious antisemitism problem has been blown out of all proportion.

The Panorama team ignored the most elementary facts undermining the now-pervasive narrative of a Labour “antisemitism crisis”.

First, surveys show Labour voters are less likely to hold antisemitic views than the wider general public or Conservative voters, and the proportion of Labour supporters expressing such views has fallen dramatically under Corbyn. The data clearly refute suggestions that Corbyn has made the party more attractive to antisemites.

Second, Labour’s disciplinary process has found that instances of discernible antisemitism is marginal, at 0.06 per cent of its half a million members. And that is after Corbyn’s political enemies have been scouring party members’ accounts seeking evidence of antisemitism.

And third, much of the media coverage has attributed often anonymous hate speech on social media targeting Jews, including Labour MPs, to Labour activists when no evidence exists to support such attribution. The politicised climate is such now that far-right antisemitism is also being blamed on Corbyn.

Questions for the BBC

Corbyn’s critics, of course, have been trying to deflect criticism of the BBC, Panorama and Ware by arguing that Labour’s complaint is some kind of Trumpian attack on journalism. That is patent nonsense.

The BBC is a public service broadcaster paid for by British taxpayers. Its credibility and legitimacy depends on it being seen to maintain strict neutrality and a commitment to evidence, not become a media attack dog in the hands of the ruling party.

The question is why did the BBC’s flagship political investigations show decide that the marginal problem of racism in Labour was a much more urgent matter than the provable and significant racism in the Conservative Party?

Unlike Labour, the Conservatives are actually in power and, through policy-making, are in a position to improve or damage the fabric of life for minority communities in Britain.

This isn’t about protecting Corbyn. It is an expectation that the BBC sticks by its commitment to assess dispassionately British political life rather than interfere, as it did with the Panorama special, in an overt, partisan manner.

• First published in Middle East Eye.

Morsi Died, or was Murdered, while Reciting a Patriotic Poem in a Cage

Former President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, had finished his 15-minute discourse in a courtroom, while being locked inside a sound-proofed cage. He read a poem about his love for Egypt, and then collapsed, and died.

His demise sent shock-waves all over Egypt, the region and the Muslim world.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to accept the official story, claiming that the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi “did not die, he was murdered”.

More came from different corners of the world. According to Reuters:

A British member of Parliament, Crispin Blunt, who had led a delegation of UK lawmakers and lawyers last year in putting out a report on Mursi’s detention, slammed the conditions of Mursi’s incarceration.

We want to understand whether there was any change in his conditions since we reported in March 2018, and if he continued to be held in the conditions we found, then I’m afraid the Egyptian government are likely to be responsible for his premature death,” he said in remarks to the BBC.

Human rights organizations, heads of state, as well as the common citizens of Egypt, were outraged by the demise of Mohamed Morsi (also spelt as Mursi), a former Egyptian leader who governed the nation after winning the first democratic elections in the modern history of the country in 2012, just a year after the brutal pro-Western dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was deposed in 2011.

Mr. Morsi was overthrown in 2013, in a violent military coup just one year after he was sworn into the highest office.

*****

Let’s be clear: Mohamed Morsi was not a ‘good president’. In fact, he was not supposed to be a president at all: the original candidate from his party was disqualified from the elections on a technicality, and Mr. Morsi was asked to take his place. And he won, by a small margin.

He made some serious errors, politically, economically and socially.

He flooded tunnels between Gaza and Sinai.

And under his leadership, more than 40 people died during the violence in Port Said.

Frightening streets of Port Said at night

When he felt threatened, he used to give orders to fire poisonous gasses at the protesters.

But he was not a murderer. And in ‘modern’ Egypt, that was quite an achievement.

He tried to improve the dire situation in his country, but he kept failing.

On the other hand, he separated his government from the gangrenous military embrace. The western-sponsored Egyptian military has been managing to infiltrate everything (under Mubarak’s rule as well as now), fully controlling all aspects of the Egyptian state.

Mr. Morsi tried to please everyone in the terribly divided Egyptian society. But in the end, nobody was satisfied.

Hard-liners in his Muslim Brotherhood hated him for not being radical enough. The anti-religious Left despised him for not pushing harder for social reforms, and for a secular state. He was both obeying the US and the IMF, while at the same time alienating them.

In the end, he appeared like an uncertain, confused and weak man.

*****

In 2012 and 2013, my friends, my left-wing comrades, were battling police in front of the Presidential Palace in Cairo. I was there, with them, filming, face covered with water-soaked rags in order to at least somehow protect myself from the highly poisonous teargas.

In those days, no one seemed to like Morsi.

The rallying cry during the anti-Morsi protests was:

We sing to those who deserve to die;
Morsi-Morsi-Morsi!

Protesters could not have known that 7 years later, their prophecy would come through.

After the military overthrew the democratically elected government (on 3 July 2013), massacres began. Officially hundreds, but most likely thousands of people lost their lives. Tens of thousands were arrested, disappeared, tortured, raped, and exiled.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were liquidated (soon after the coup it became a banned organization), but also various left-wing organizations and individuals, as well as all those people who were against the corrupt right-wing military and its dictatorship.

Protesting disappearance of activist in 2013

Several of my friends had to leave the country. Others are still in prison. Or in hiding.

Former dictator, Western puppet and assassin Hosni Mubarak, is now a free man again. He is 91 years old.

67-year-old Mohamed Morsi is dead.

*****

During the Morsi era, as well as during and after the 2013 coup, I was working in Egypt, making a documentary film for the Venezuelan television channel Telesur (“Egipto – El Fin de Una Revolucion” – “Egypt, End of the Revolution”).

First, I investigated and wrote about the crimes committed during the reign of President Morsi in the city of Port Said: “Notes from a Besieged City

And then, I was right there, in the middle of the battles, when the Egyptian military overthrew Morsi’s government and began liquidating both the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptian left wing. I described the events in my essays “Egypt End of Hope” and “Egypt in the Eye of the Storm“. Many more essays from Egypt were then compiled in my book Exposing Lies of The Empire.

Once, while filming after the coup, I found myself facing 5 talks, all pointing their cannons at me. How I survived, I am not sure. Others did not. By the time I finished collecting footage for my film, my body was covered by scars and bruises.

From among those individuals who used to work with me on the film, and from those who used to protest against then President Morsi, there is hardly anyone now who would support the current rule of pro-Western military junta.

Rallies in 2012 and 2013 were all about improving Egypt; about forcing Morsi to deliver what millions of mostly young Egyptians hoped would be a just, secular and socialist society. Morsi was expected to deliver, or to resign, giving way to a better, more ‘progressive’ leader.

Adore your military

What came instead was a coup, a return of the fascist clique of Mubarak, supported by the US, Europe and Israel.

Looking back, I believe that Mohamed Morsi was a decent human being, but at the same time a bad, untalented, naive and confused ruler. That was still much, much better than what was before and after him.

*****

In her opinion piece for the New York Times, the Egyptian author Mona Eltahawy wrote about the demise of Mohamad Morsi:

…He always looked like a man caught up in something much bigger than him. That he died in an Egyptian courtroom inside a soundproof cage designed to silence him, almost exactly six years to the day he took office and almost completely forgotten by all but his family and human rights activists, is a reminder of the bathos that surrounded him.

Then, Ms. Eltahawy put his death into the context of the present-day Egypt:

Decimated as it is, however, the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to be able to pull off mass protests in Egypt, where protests became all but impossible under a draconian law passed soon after Mr. el-Sisi came to power. This, too, is what Mr. el-Sisi has achieved: From July 2013, when Mr. Morsi was overthrown, and January 2016, when the Egyptian parliament reconvened, between 16,000 and 41,000 people, most supporters of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, were reportedly arrested or detained (Some were liberal or secular activists). Since then, a spike in death sentences and executions, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and a determined effort to wipe out any form of dissent have all but crushed the Brotherhood, as well as most other forms of opposition. Muslim Brotherhood supporters are insisting that Mr. Morsi be eulogized as a martyr at the same time that many state-owned media are reporting on his death without even mentioning that he was once president.

Frankly speaking, the era of Morsi feels like the only period in modern Egyptian history, when ‘everything was possible’, and when one was at least allowed to dream and to fight for a much better future. Yes, of course, the fight was taking place through teargas, and people got injured, some even killed. But they dared, they were not broken and humiliated like now.

After the coup in Alexandria they wanted Morsi back

The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ was manipulated, and most likely ‘created’ by the West. But in 2011 to 2013, there was also a parallel, independent, left-wing upsurge of anti-establishment, anti-capitalist and anti-military movements. There was a struggle, and Egypt could have gone in any direction.

I will never forget that year; “the year of Morsi”. We were risking our lives, often suffering direct physical assaults. Different political factions were at each other throats. Steam was out. Passions were boiling. Nothing was certain, everything possible.

That year, while making my film, I was with a group of socialist doctors; true Marxists. They did not doubt that Egypt could go socialist, if they fought harder. I also worked with Wassim Wagdy, one of the leaders of Revolutionary Socialist Organization.

And then, everything collapsed, literally overnight. 3 July 2013.

Egyptian-upper-class-family

When did I realize that everything was over? It happened in Heliopolis – in a affluent suburb of Cairo – in a park. Hundreds of rich families went to celebrate the coup, wearing T-shirts depicting el-Sisi and his cronies. It looked like some historic photos from 9-11-1973 – from the days when the coup perpetrated by General Pinochet against President Allende in Chile. It was different, of course, it was; but it looked the same. US-sponsored coups always look the same. And so do the faces of the elites that support them!

I read about the demise of Morsi onboard MEA, from Istanbul to Beirut. I felt immense sadness. I did not know why, precisely. Certainly, it was not for Mr. Morsi’s reign. But most likely it was for that time, for that hope that was now totally choked and abandoned. For the days when ‘everything was possible’; when people were ready and willing to fight for their country.

Battles after the coup

Egypt is a ‘failed’ state now. Scared, frustrated, poor and totally corrupt. A state that is devouring its own people.

When I go to one of countless slums of Cairo these days, people look at me with open hate. They see me as a foreigner, as someone who helped to throw them back to hopelessness and misery. Of course, they don’t know that several years ago I fought for them, at least as a filmmaker, side-by-side with their nation’s socialist vanguard.

I also feel sadness for Morsi the man, if not Morsi the president. I somehow sense that the patriotic poem that he read before collapsing and dying, came straight from his heart.

In one single year when he governed, he did his best. His best was not good enough. He failed.

But he did not deserve to die like this, muzzled and humiliated, in a cage!

He deserved better. And his country, Egypt, deserves much, much better, damn it!

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Canada enables corrupt Haitian president to remain in power

At the front of a protest against Haiti’s president last week a demonstrator carried a large wooden cross bearing the flags of Canada, France and the US. The Haiti Information Project tweeted that protesters “see these three nations as propping up the regime of President Jovenel Moïse. It is also recognition of their role in the 2004 coup.”

Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, Haitian protesters regularly criticize Canada. On dozens of occasions since Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government was overthrown in 2004 marchers have held signs criticizing Canadian policy or rallied in front of the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. For their part, Haiti Progrès and Haiti Liberté newspapers have described Canada as an “occupying force”, “coup supporter” or “imperialist” at least a hundred times.

In the face of months of popular protest, Canada remains hostile to the protesters who represent the impoverished majority. A recent corruption investigation by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes has rekindled the movement to oust the Canadian-backed president. The report into the Petrocaribe Fund accuses Moïse’s companies of swindling $2 million of public money. Two billion dollars from a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela was pilfered under the presidency of Moïse’s mentor Michel Martelly.

Since last summer there have been numerous protests, including a weeklong general strike in February, demanding accountability for public funds. Port-au-Prince was again paralyzed during much of last week. In fact, the only reason Moïse — whose electoral legitimacy is paper thin — is hanging on is because of support from the so-called “Core Group” of “Friends of Haiti”.

Comprising the ambassadors of Canada, France, Brazil, Germany and the US, as well as representatives of Spain, EU and OAS, the “Core Group” released another statement effectively backing Moise. The brief declaration called for “a broad national debate, without preconditions”, which is a position Canadian officials have expressed repeatedly in recent weeks. (The contrast with Canada’s position regarding Venezuela’s president reveals a stunning hypocrisy.) But, the opposition has explicitly rejected negotiating with Moïse since it effectively amounts to abandoning protest and bargaining with a corrupt and illegitimate president few in Haiti back.

In another indication of the “Core Group’s” political orientation, their May 30 statement “condemned the acts of degradation committed against the Senate.” Early that day a handful of opposition senators dragged out some furniture and placed it on the lawn of Parliament in a bid to block the ratification of the interim prime minister. Canada’s Ambassador André Frenette also tweeted that “Canada condemns the acts of vandalism in the Senate this morning. This deplorable event goes against democratic principles.” But, Frenette and the “Core Group” didn’t tweet or release a statement about the recent murder of journalist Pétion Rospide, who’d been reporting on corruption and police violence. Nor did they mention the commission that found Moïse responsible for stealing public funds or the recent UN report confirming government involvement in a terrible massacre in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline in mid-November. Recent Canadian and “Core Group” statements completely ignore Moise’s electoral illegitimacy and downplay the enormity of the corruption and violence against protesters.

Worse still, Canadian officials regularly promote and applaud a police force that has been responsible for many abuses. As I detailed in a November story headlined “Canada backs Haitian government, even as police force kills demonstrators”, Frenette attended a half dozen Haitian police events in his first year as ambassador. Canadian officials continue to attend police ceremonies, including one in March, and offer financial and technical support to the police. Much to the delight of the country’s über class-conscious elite, Ottawa has taken the lead in strengthening the repressive arm of the Haitian state since Aristide’s ouster.

On Wednesday Frenette tweeted, “one of the best parts of my job is attending medal ceremonies for Canadian police officers who are known for their excellent work with the UN police contingent in Haiti.” RCMP officer Serge Therriault leads the 1,200-person police component of the Mission des Nations unies pour l’appui à la Justice en Haïti (MINUJUSTH).

At the end of May Canada’s ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard led a United Nations Economic and Social Council delegation to Haiti. Upon his return to New York he proposed creating a “robust” mission to continue MINUJUSTH’s work after its planned conclusion in mid-October. Canadian officials are leading the push to extend the 15-year old UN occupation that took over from the US, French and Canadian troops that overthrew Aristide’s government and was responsible for introducing cholera to the country, which has killed over 10,000.

While Haitians regularly challenge Canadian policy, few in this country raise objections. In response to US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent expression of solidarity with Haitian protesters, Jean Saint-Vil put out a call titled “OH CANADA, TIME TO BE WOKE LIKE ILHAN OMAR & MAXINE WATERS!” The Haitian Canadian activist wrote:

While, in Canada, the black population is taken for granted by major political parties who make no effort to adjust Canadian Foreign policies towards African nations, Haiti and other African-populated nations of the Caribbean, where the Euro-Americans topple democratically-elected leaders, help set up corrupt narco regimes that are friendly to corrupt Canadian mining companies that go wild, exploiting the most impoverished and blackest among us, destroying our environments in full impunity… In the US, some powerful voices have arisen to counter the mainstream covert and/or overt white supremacist agenda. Time for REAL CHANGE in Canada! The Wine & Cheese sessions must end! We eagerly await the statements of Canadian party leaders about the much needed change in Canadian Policy towards Haiti. You will have to deserve our votes, this time around folks!

Unfortunately, Canadian foreign policymakers — the Liberal party in particular — have co-opted/pacified most prominent black voices on Haiti and other international issues. On Monday famed Haitian-Canadian novelist Dany Laferrière attended a reception at the ambassador’s residence in Port-au-Prince while the head of Montréal’s Maison d’Haïti, Marjorie Villefranche, says nary a word about Canadian imperialism in Haiti. A little discussed reason Paul Martin’s government appointed Michaëlle Jean Governor General in September 2005 was to dampen growing opposition to Canada’s coup policy among working class Haitian-Montrealers.

Outside the Haitian community Liberal-aligned groups have also offered little solidarity. A look at the Federation of Black Canadians website and statements uncovers nothing about Canada undermining a country that dealt a massive blow to slavery and white supremacy. (Members of the group’s steering committee recently found time, however, to meet with and then attend a gala put on by the anti-Palestinian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.)

A few months ago, Saint-Vil proposed creating a Canadian equivalent to the venerable Washington, D.C. based TransAfrica, which confronts US policy in Africa and the Caribbean. A look at Canadian policy from the Congo to Venezuela, Burkina Faso to Tanzania, suggests the need is great. Anyone seeking to amplify the voices from the streets of Port-au-Prince should support such an initiative.

Modified

Parts of the documentary Modified are spent at the kitchen table. But it’s not really a tale about wonderful recipes or the preparation of food. Ultimately, it’s a story of capitalism, money and power and how our most basic rights are being eroded by unscrupulous commercial interests.

The film centres on its maker, Aube Giroux, who resides in Nova Scotia, Canada. Her interest in food and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was inspired by her mother, Jali, who also appears throughout. Aube says that when her parents bought their first house her mother immediately got rid of the lawn and planted a huge garden where she grew all kinds of heirloom vegetables, berries, flowers, legumes and garlic.

“She wanted me and my sister to grow up knowing the story behind the food that we ate, so our backyard was basically our grocery store,” says Aube.

During the film, we are treated not only to various outdoor scenes of the Giroux’s food garden (their ‘grocery store’) but also to Aube and her mother’s passion for preparing homemade culinary delights. The ‘backyard’ is the grocery store and much of Giroux family life revolves around the kitchen and the joy of healthy, nutritious food.

When GMOs first began appearing in food, Aube says that what bothered her mother was that some of the world’s largest chemical companies were patenting these new genetically engineered seeds and controlling the seed market.

In the film, Aube explains, “Farmers who grow GMOs have to sign technology license agreements promising never to save or replant the patented seeds. My mom didn’t think it was a good idea to allow corporations to engineer and then patent the seeds that we rely on for food. She believed that seeds belong in the hands of people.”

As the GMO issue became prominent, Aube became more interested in the subject. It took her 10 years to complete the film, which is about her personal journey of discovery into the world of GMOs. The film depicts a world that is familiar to many of us; a place where agritech industry science and money talk, politicians and officials are all too eager to listen and the public interest becomes a secondary concern.

In 2001, Canada’s top scientific body, The Royal Society, released a scathing report that found major problems with the way GMOs were being regulated. The report made 53 recommendations to the government for fixing the regulatory system and bringing it in line with peer reviewed science and the precautionary principle, which says new technologies should not be approved when there is uncertainty about their long-term safety. To date, only three of these recommendations have been implemented.

Throughout the film, we see Aube making numerous phone calls, unsuccessfully trying to arrange an interview to discuss these issues with Health Canada, the department of the government of Canada that is responsible for national public health.

Meanwhile, various people are interviewed as the story unfolds. We are told about the subverting of regulatory agencies in the US when GMOs first appeared on the scene in the early 1990s: the Food and Drug Administration ignored the warnings of its own scientists, while Monsanto flexed its political muscle to compromise the agency by manoeuvring its own people into positions of influence.

One respondent says, “We’ve had a number of people from Monsanto, many from Dupont, who have actually been in top positions at the USDA and the FDA over the last 20 years, making darn sure that when those agencies did come out with any pseudo-regulation, that it was what these industries wanted. The industry will often say these are the most regulated crops in history… I’m not an expert on the law in many other countries. But I am an expert on the laws in the United States and I can tell you… they are virtually unregulated.”

Aube takes time to find out about genetic engineering and talks to molecular biologists. She is shown how the process of genetic modification in the lab works. One scientist says, “In genetics, we have a phrase called pleiotropic effects. It means that there are other effects in the plant that are unintended but are a consequence of what you’ve done. I wouldn’t be surprised if something came up somewhere along the line that we hadn’t anticipated that’s going to be a problem.”

And that’s very revealing: if you are altering the genetic core of the national (and global) food supply in a way that would not have occurred without human intervention, you had better be pretty sure about the consequences. Many illnesses can take decades to show up in a population.

This is one reason why Aube Giroux focuses on the need for the mandatory labelling of GM food in Canada. Some 64 countries have already implemented such a policy and most Canadians want GM food to be labelled too. However, across North America labelling has been fiercely resisted by the industry. As the film highlights, it’s an industry that has key politicians in its back pocket and has spent millions resisting effective labelling.

In the film, we hear from someone from the agri/biotech industry say that labelling would send out the wrong message; it would amount to fearmongering; it would confuse the public; it would raise food prices; and you can eat organic if you don’t want GMOs. To those involved in the GMO debate and the food movement, these industry talking points are all too familiar.

Signalling the presence of GMOs in food through labelling is about the public’s right to know what they are eating. But the film makes clear there are other reasons for labelling too. To ensure that these products are environmentally safe and safe for human health, you need to monitor them in the marketplace. If you have new allergic responses emerging is it a consequence of GMOs? There’s no way of telling if there is no labelling. Moreover, the industry knows many would not purchase GM food if people were given any choice on the matter. That’s why it has spent so much money and invested so much effort to prevent it.

During the film, we also hear from an Iowa farmer, who says GM is all about patented seeds and money. He says there’s incredible wealth and power to be had from gaining ownership of the plants that feed humanity. And it has become a sorry tale for those at the sharp end: farmers are now on a financially lucrative (for industry) chemical-biotech treadmill as problems with the technology and its associated chemicals mount: industry rolls out even stronger chemicals and newer GM traits to overcome the failures of previous roll outs.

But to divert attention from the fact that GM has ‘failed to yield’ and deliver on industry promises, the film notes that the industry churns out rhetoric, appealing to emotion rather than fact, about saving the world and feeding the hungry to help legitimize the need for GM seeds and associated (health- and environment-damaging) chemical inputs.

In an interview posted on the film’s website, Aube says that genetic engineering is an important technology but “should only take place if the benefits truly outweigh the risks, if rigorous adequate regulatory systems are in place and if full transparency, full disclosure and the precautionary principle are the pillars on which our food policies are based.”

Health Canada has always claimed to have had a science-based GMO regulatory system. But the Royal Society’s report showed that GMO approvals are based on industry studies that have little scientific merit since they aren’t peer reviewed.

For all her attempts, Aube failed to get an interview with Health Canada. Near the end of the film, we see her on the phone to the agency once again. She says, “Well I guess I find it extremely concerning and puzzling that Health Canada is not willing to speak with me… you guys are our public taxpayer funded agency in this country that regulates GMOs, and so you’re accountable to Canadians, and you have a responsibility to answer questions.”

Given this lack of response and the agency’s overall track record on GMOs, it is pertinent to ask just whose interests does Health Canada ultimately serve.

When Aube Giroux started this project, it was meant to be a film about food. But she notes that it gradually became a film about democracy: who gets to decide our food policies; is it the people we elect to represent us, or is it corporations and their heavily financed lobbyists?

Aube is a skilful filmmaker and storyteller. She draws the viewer into her life and introduces us to some inspiring characters, especially her mother, Jali, who passed away during the making of the film. Jali has a key part in the documentary, which had started out as a joint venture between Aube and her mother. By interweaving personal lives with broader political issues, Modified becomes a compelling documentary. On one level, it’s deeply personal. On another, it is deeply disturbing given what corporations are doing to food without our consent – and often – without our knowledge.

For those who watch the film, especially those coming to the issue for the first time, it should at the very least raise concerns about what is happening to food, why it is happening and what can be done about it. The film might be set in Canada, but the genetic engineering of our food supply by conglomerates with global reach transcends borders and affects us all.

Whether we reside in North America, Europe, India or elsewhere, the push is on to co-opt governments and subvert regulatory bodies by an industry which regards GM as a multi-billion cash cow  – regardless of the consequences.

Modified won the 2019 James Beard Foundation award for best documentary and is currently available on DVD. It is due to be released on digital streaming platforms this summer.

Mark Field and the Danger of Getting Sidetracked

I really do not wish to write about Mark Field, the British government minister who assaulted a climate change activist this week, grabbing her by the neck and violently marching her out of a City of London dinner while all the hundreds of other wealthy diners watched either impassively or approvingly. But whatever my wishes, it seems I must.

I don’t wish to write about Mark Field, because the media have constructed a debate that is limited to one matter only, even if there are apparently innumerable variations of that one issue to be raised.

Did Field behave like a gentleman or a knave? Is it reasonable that he believed the woman posed a danger? Is his apology enough? Were the climate change activists trespassing and, if they were, did that justify Field’s actions? Has he broken the ministerial code of conduct? Would we still be outraged if the activist were a man? Should he resign? Is his outburst evidence he is a wife beater? And so on.

When we engage in these debates, they seem important. As if we are fighting for the health of our societies; or upholding key values, or at the very least the rule of law. As if it shows we care. As if it can make things a little better.

Which is exactly why I don’t want to write about Mark Field. Because the reality is that things won’t get better while we allow ourselves to be manipulated into these kind of ring-fenced debates.

There is a reason why the corporate media quickly escalate simple stories like Mark Field’s into such apparently elaborate and polarising public discussions. And the reason is to stop other kinds of debates, much more vital ones, from taking place that these stories would naturally provoke if we had a truly free media. We are being offered the modern version of bread and circuses.

Strip away the narrow, sectarian party politics in play here, and there is nothing debatable about Mark Field’s actions. He is caught on camera – his face full of rage, not fear – violently grabbing an activist who clearly poses no threat to him and who is, in fact, simply walking behind his chair. Field pushes her up against a wall, then seizes her by the back of the neck and frogmarches her out of the dining hall. If you feel it necessary, you can also factor in that the activist is a woman and the government minister a man.

Either way, what is shown in the video is an entirely unjustified attack on a peaceful protester. Had the roles been reversed, the activist (whether a man or woman) would have been immediately arrested for assaulting a government minister. The activist would now be in jail with lawyers arguing over whether bail should be allowed. So why isn’t Mark Field now in the same predicament?

The point is that anyone who wishes to make the argument any more complex than the one I just outlined is doing so either in bad faith or because they have listened too credulously to others who have spoken in bad faith. Which includes the entire spectrum of the state-corporate media, including its supposedly liberal components like the BBC and Guardian.

What the story about Mark Field really illustrates is how effective the corporate media is in derailing meaningful debates about the state of our societies. The media offer us a placebo – a public arena for largely empty arguments that we are encouraged to become deeply invested in emotionally. We are offered two easy options and must choose to rally to the cause of one of those tribes – left or right. And through righteous anger, for or against, we feel temporarily cured of a deeper dissastisfaction or sense of foreboding.

The reality is that these public debates are simply gladiatorial contests offering instant – and hollow – gratification. They have as much concrete meaning in terms of changing the substance of our societies, of addressing the injustice and unsustainability of our political and economic systems, as does cheering a football team.

That is not to argue that denouncing an assault on a peaceful protester is wasted energy, or that rationalising it – as so many people on the right are currently doing – is not deeply ugly. The treatment of protesters by the state and its agents, or of women by men, are important matters for public discussion. But that is not why the media are so willingly fuelling the row about Mark Field’s actions.

The debate is not being used as an opportunity to clarify how our society should view acceptable behaviour; it is being actively promoted by a ruling class to deflect our attention from the deeper contextual issues the Mark Field episode highlights.

Allowing two sides in a debate about whether he behaved appropriately is already to have conceded the progressive argument. It is to accept that there is room for discussion, that the video evidence is not conclusive in itself.

This is a contest where the stakes are so immaterial to the corporate media that each outlet can afford to take either side of the debate and know it will make no meaningful difference. They can berate Mark Field or sympathise with him, and it will make no odds to anyone or anything but Field and possibly the victim of his assault.

And the very cynical fuelling of this debate by the state-corporate media, one that may last days or even weeks, can then be cited as seemingly persuasive evidence that the media truly is a pluralistic forum for public discussion, where all sides are represented, where everyone is given a voice. Contrived debates like this one will be used as ammunition to shunt media critics like myself further into sidings, showing how vigoruous, relevant and on the side of the underdog the “mainstream” media really is.

This is the primary purpose of the state-corporate media. To draw our energies away from real issues hiding in plain sight towards obvious ones of only specific or marginal significance, and then persuade us that we are, in fact, engaged with the most vital issues of the day.

This is precisely why the media are obsessed with individuals and personalities – celebs, sporting heroes, royal family members, actors, politicians, world leaders – not the actual power structures that dictate the patterns of our lives, that determine the chances of us gaining redress or justice, that offer the key to extricating ourselves from the economic and environmental ruin we are hurtling towards.

If necessary, Mark Field can be sacrificed by the power structures that dominate our lives (though usually only temporarily – think of other government ministers who have found themselves briefly ousted from power and then quickly rehabilitated, such as Boris Johnson or Liam Fox) because the mechanisms that protect these power structures are far more important than the punishment or humiliation or any lone individual.

Consider two much deeper issues desperately struggling to gain any traction as they are smothered by the media’s gleeful furore over the Mark Field story.

One concerns the event Mark Field attended. It was an annual dinner at Mansion House, the official residence of the mayor of the City of London. The City of London is not the Mary Poppins’ way of saying “London”. It is a tiny, secretive enclave within Britain, a state within a state located in the heart of London. Seen another way, it is a kind of British Vatican, though one that worships money alone.

It abides by its own rules, financial and criminal, creating effectively a tax-haven within the UK that cannot be policed by any of the usual watchdogs. The City of London has managed to continue unreformed from its medieval origins into the modern era for one reason alone: it is the perfect way for a wealthy elite to maintain their power and privilege by bypassing the imperfect democratic system operating outside its concrete shores, in the rest of the UK. The City of London is a deeply corrupt fiefdom inside a slightly less corrupt Britain. If the mafia were given the chance to make themselves look legit, they might create in Italy something very much like the City of London.

Those attending the dinner are drawn from either Britain’s wealth elite, or those who serve them and aspire to join them. Figures like Field, a minister in the Foreign Office, and Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, who addressed the dinner, oil some of the wheels of this exclusive club partially out in the open, through UK politics. But they oil other wheels in the shadows, through their activities in the City of London. What precisely they get up to in the City is difficult to know given the secrecy, and all the harder to now learn about after Field’s ruling party has worked so assiduously to hobble Julian Assange and the Wikileaks platform that was established to help whistleblowers expose the more shadowy activities of our rulers.

The City of London is the biggest weapon in the armoury of the ruling elite’s class war against the British – and global – public. It is a vacuum sucking up public finances to further enrich the wealthy and leave the masses reeling from austerity policies, while using the media to bolster the impression that it is a hub of wealth creation.

That’s why you almost never hear anything about the City of London. Our supposed representatives, politicians and corporate media alike, are happy to keep the veil mostly drawn across this pocket of power. It is not just that they do not want to take it on, they are already very much part of the power structures it has designed both to preserve itself and shield itself from meaningful criticism.

As long as we are talking about Mark Field’s attitude to women, we are not talking about his and his government’s active collusion with the most regressive, secretive, unaccountable rotten borough in the UK – a city-state located geographically inside Britain, but operating outside its strictures.

Mark Field’s attack could have provided an opportunity to examine this powerful relic of medieval Britain, to consider who the City of London really serves, and to wonder why the political class are cosying up to it rather than trying to eradicate it as a dangerous behemoth of Britain’s surviving feudal order. The City of London is integral to a system of ever-accelerating wealth hording by a global elite that is economically unsustainable. But in response, the media willingly amplify a loud culture war and simplistic identity politics precisely so no other kind of debate stands a chance of being audible.

The other, even more obvious issue the activists were trying to draw attention to was the threat posed to the environment, to other species and to our own future by the preposterous, self-serving premise – espoused by the City of London and its politician and media cronies – of endless economic growth based on the exploitation of the planet’s finite resources.

We are now facing a climate emergency – or rather some of us are finally and very belatedly waking up to a climate emergency that has been many decades in the making. We have come to it so late because the wealth elite represented at the City of London dinner have used the key power structures at their disposal – the political and media establishments – to deceive us, to keep us sleepwalking towards oblivion as they have carried on plundering the planet, destroying the biosphere, and stashing away their inordinate wealth.

The state-corporate media has not only downplayed climate change but is still doing so, as credibly as it can manage given the relentless scientific evidence that human society is hurtling towards an abyss.

In fact, many of the journalists responding to Mark Field’s attack have lost no time in using it as a way to further alienate the public from climate change activism. They have presented those prepared not simply to wait quietly for us all to be driven over the cliff-edge as a nasty, uncouth, potentially violent rabble. They have done this even as the video footage shows the women who protested at the Mansion House dinner were dressed in evening gowns and remained entirely peaceful as they sought to gain attention for the most urgent and catastrophic issue of our time.

There should be no debate that they are right, that we live in a rotten and rotting system of power that has blindly invested all its energies in perpetuating a feudal system of wealth creation for a ruling class, even as the futures of our chldren – all our children – hang in the balance.

Yes, Mark Field, his face red with indignation, looked like a man who had lost the plot, who was filled with an overwhelming sense of his own entitlement, and who was deeply threatened – not by violence from the protesters but by arguments he simply has no way of addressing rationally.

The real debate we need urgently to engage with is not whether Mark Field is a wife-beater or misogynist. It is how we deal with the power structure he represents, the system he is a loyal servant of. For that psychopathic system is ready to beat us all, men and women alike, into the dust, to keep extracting the last ounce of wealth from a dying corpse, to obliterate our futures.

For Israel, Annexation of the West Bank is a Long-established Goal

When Israeli prime ministers are in trouble, facing difficult elections or a corruption scandal, the temptation has typically been for them to unleash a military operation to bolster their standing. In recent years, Gaza has served as a favourite punching bag.

Benjamin Netanyahu is confronting both difficulties at once: a second round of elections in September that he may struggle to win; and an attorney general who is widely expected to indict him on corruption charges shortly afterwards.

Mr Netanyahu is in an unusually tight spot, even by the standards of an often chaotic and fractious Israeli political system. After a decade in power, his electoral magic may be deserting him. There are already rumblings of discontent among his allies on the far right.

Given his desperate straits, some observers fear that he may need to pull a new kind of rabbit out of the hat.

In the past two elections, Mr Netanyahu rode to success after issuing dramatic last-minute statements. In 2015, he agitated against the fifth of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian asserting their democratic rights, warning that they were “coming out in droves to vote”.

Back in April, he declared his intention to annex large chunks of the occupied West Bank, in violation of international law, during the next parliament.

Amos Harel, a veteran military analyst with Haaretz newspaper, observed last week that Mr Netanyahu may decide words are no longer enough to win. Action is needed, possibly in the form of an announcement on the eve of September’s ballot that as much as two-thirds of the West Bank is to be annexed.

Washington does not look like it will stand in his way.

Shortly before April’s election, the Trump administration offered Mr Netanyahu a campaign fillip by recognising Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in 1967.

This month David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel and one of the chief architects of Donald Trump’s long-delayed “deal of the century” peace plan, appeared to offer a similar, early election boost.

In interviews, he claimed Israel was “on the side of God” – unlike, or so it was implied, the Palestinians. He further argued that Israel had the “right to retain” much of the West Bank.

Both statements suggest that the Trump administration will not object to any Israeli moves towards annexation, especially if it ensures their favoured candidate returns to power.

Whatever Mr Friedman suggests, it is not God who has intervened on Israel’s behalf. The hands that have carefully cleared a path over many decades to the West Bank’s annexation are all too human.

Israeli officials have been preparing for this moment for more than half a century, since the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza were seized back in 1967.

That point is underscored by an innovative interactive map of the occupied territories. This valuable new resource is a joint project of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and Forensic Architecture, a London-based team that uses new technology to visualise and map political violence and environmental destruction.

Titled Conquer and Divide, it reveals in detail how Israel has “torn apart Palestinian space, divided the Palestinian population into dozens of disconnected enclaves and unravelled its social, cultural and economic fabric”.

The map proves beyond doubt that Israel’s colonisation of the West Bank was never accidental, defensive or reluctant. It was coldly calculated and intricately planned, with one goal in mind – and the moment to realise that goal is fast approaching.

Annexation is not a right-wing project that has hijacked the benign intentions of Israel’s founding generation. Annexation was on the cards from the occupation’s very beginnings in 1967, when the so-called centre-left – now presented as a peace-loving alternative to Mr Netanyahu – ran the government.

The map shows how Israeli military planners created a complex web of pretexts to seize Palestinian land: closed military zones today cover a third of the West Bank; firing ranges impact 38 Palestinian communities; nature reserves are located on 6 per cent of the territory; nearly a quarter has been declared Israeli “state” land; some 250 settlements have been established; dozens of permanent checkpoints severely limit movement; and hundreds of kilometres of walls and fences have been completed.

These interlocking land seizures seamlessly carved up the territory, establishing the walls of dozens of tightly contained prisons for Palestinians in their own homeland.

Two Nasa satellite images of the region separated by 30 years – from 1987 and 2017 – reveal how Israel’s settlements and transport infrastructure have gradually scarred the West Bank’s landscape, clearing away natural vegetation and replacing it with concrete.

The land grabs were not simply about acquisition of territory. They were a weapon, along with increasingly draconian movement restrictions, to force the native Palestinian population to submit, to recognise its defeat, to give up hope.

In the immediate wake of the West Bank’s occupation, defence minister Moshe Dayan, Israel’s hero of the hour and one of the architects of the settlement project, observed that Palestinians should be made “to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave – and we shall see where this process leads”.

Although Israel has concentrated Palestinians in 165 disconnected areas across the West Bank, its actions effectively won the international community’s seal of approval in 1995. The Oslo accords cemented Israel’s absolute control over 62 per cent of the West Bank, containing the Palestinians’ key agricultural land and water sources, which was classified as Area C.

Occupations are intended to be temporary – and the Oslo accords promised the same. Gradually, the Palestinians would be allowed to take back more of their territory to build a state. But Israel made sure both the occupation and the land thefts sanctioned by Oslo continued.

The new map reveals more than just the methods Israel used to commandeer the West Bank. Decades of land seizures highlight a trajectory, plotting a course that indicates the project is still not complete.

If Mr. Netanyahu partially annexes the West Bank – Area C – it will be simply another stage in Israel’s tireless efforts to immiserate the Palestinian population and bully them into leaving. This is a war of attrition – what Israelis have long understood as “creeping annexation”, carried out by stealth to avoid a backlash from the international community.

Ultimately, Israel wants the Palestinians gone entirely, squeezed out into neighbouring Arab states, such as Egypt and Jordan. That next chapter is likely to begin in earnest if Mr Trump ever gets the chance to unveil his “deal of the century”.

• First published in The National

Forevergate: The Pernicious Persistence of the Russian Collusion Delusion

The official investigation into Russian collusion is over, after three harrowing, nerve-wracking years. I kid, of course. After endless news cycles, and various non-stories and wild-goose chases disseminated by mainstream media, one would think the country could move on. Yet this hasn’t been the case. It seems pretty straightforward: delusions about Russia continue because they serve empire.

Most serious people who have not had their brains parasitized by the ridiculous hand-wringing and caterwauling of mainstream media pundits understood Russiagate for what it was: a bunch of half-baked allegations against obviously corrupt yet incompetent stooges of the Trump campaign and administration, cobbled together to appear as some sinister, shadowy plot against America. That does not mean that Donald Trump is not a repugnant, amoral, serial liar who would do anything within his power to engage in damage control in regards to the behavior of his corrupt and incompetent lackeys, as well as himself. It simply means, in regards to collusion, there is no there, there.

Examine nearly any foundational element of the alleged Trump-Putin collusion fairy tale and it falls apart immediately. When Donald Trump acts illegally, as he has in the past with various real estate scams, he does it out in the open, in full view. He does not seem to have the mental capacities to collude and conspire, he is simply a billionaire: he gives orders, even if often he does not have to state them openly, as Michael Cohen told us, and he gets what he wants. Partially this is why liberals vilify him so much, obviously: he has removed the curtains of empire to show how things are really run, how white supremacy and unchecked greed and corruption has always been at the core of US hegemony.

Moreover, I do not see anyone even in alternative media circles asking about Russia’s side of the equation. Would Vladimir Putin look at the pro-con, cost-benefit analysis of conspiring with a clown such as Trump and determine, let’s do this? I would say probably not. What would the endgame be? Would Trump pull out of NATO, would Trump give his tacit approval of the transfer of Crimea, or even attempt to thaw relations concerning Ukraine? Hell, no. These are liberal fantasies: demented, fevered nightmares of the national security state falling apart at the hands of an ignoramus. US imperial rule does not allow for any significant aberrations in foreign policy, regardless of who is president.

To some degree, US imperial policy is on rails, and who is in charge simply doesn’t matter. Presidents are puppets, figureheads. Putin must understand this on some level. Although to an extent post-Soviet Russia has been seeking approval from the West, and forming tacit alignments with such basket cases as Orban’s Hungary, as well as becoming more engaged with other xenophobic nationalist-populists in Europe, the Kremlin simply does not vitally need US approval. It may, however, broach certain topics in specific policy areas where overlapping interests are well-established.

The costs of Russia getting caught by actually concretely, materially, and intellectually conspiring with any incoming US administration (by setting the entire US on wild Neo-McCarthyite witch-hunts and restarting a New Cold War, which is essentially what has happened anyways without any collusion) would vastly outweigh the benefits.

I mean, come on, the Steele document, Wikileaks being pawns of the Russians, a handful of Facebook ads having any significant effect on election results? It’s frankly ridiculous that these fabricated fairy tales could send any rational group of people into an investigative furor. It’s even more absurd considering, frankly, that probably lots of corporate leaders, Democratic “elite” consultants, spooks at Langley, national security “experts”, and political operatives were taking a look at this 3rd-rate paperback fiction before any investigation was launched, and deciding, yes, let’s go with this.

What it does seem to mean, and what hardly anyone wants to admit, is that this steaming pile of horseshit was, in fact, concocted by our intelligence agencies (and possibly at the behest of the Clintons’ networks within the national security state to avert eyes from the Clinton Foundation scandal) to help  to distract, divide, and hypnotize the public. This is what is called a disinformation campaign/psychological operation, a “psy-op”.

Every media story devoted to the Russiagate hoax takes away from any and all of the failed policies and spinelessness of the Democrats. It also benefits conservatives and elite corporate interests as well, because there is less time to cover things like global warming, militarism, increasing income inequality, Trump’s deregulations which have gutted federal agencies, etc.

The hypocrisy is astounding, and the analysis is completely ahistorical, considering the nefarious meddling, subterfuge, coups, and death the US has doled out for decades by interfering in overseas elections. Not to mention the assassinations, funding death squads, the massacres and genocides committed in the wake of US covert foreign policy. There is no existent US democracy to interfere in.

If you’re biting on the “Russian hackers” and “Russian spies” nonsense, well, there’s not much hope for you either. It is well within the possibilities of many intelligence agencies to fake an attack or make digital signatures appear to be coming from other countries. As for whether any of these so-called Russian “agents” actually has any significant influence in the Kremlin hierarchy, it is pure speculation. From an examination of the Mueller report, which is all we can do with all the redacted evidence, it appears many of these shadowy Russian figures are marginal figures, and/or are simply sponges and spivs vying for a wee bit of influence in Moscow, rather than member of some deep-cover GRU operation.

The vast majority of citizens understand that Hillary Clinton lost because of her hubris, her frigid personality, and, most obviously, her stupidity as she failed to campaign in key battleground states.

Further, if we are asking questions as to what countries influence our elections, the obvious answers would have to be NATO allies and Israel. Even Bill Clinton faced charges of election subterfuge due to his supposed backing from Chinese money.

Hands down, you can pretty much guarantee that Cambridge Analytica, Facebook’s and Youtube’s own algorithms which favor sensationalist and hateful content, and probably a host of other unknown shady corporations influenced the election far more than Russia could have. I can guarantee that Russiagate has been the biggest boon for cybersecurity, surveillance, and counter-terror corporations since 9/11.

Another point is the issue of “back-channels” from the Trump campaign and transition teams to the Putin administration. As if nearly every leader of a sovereign nation does not establish back-channels with other allies and enemies (see: Nixon to China, among many examples), simply because national leaders have enemies within their own government who will leak or sabotage any efforts at dialogue, whether they are corrupt or not.

How naïve does one have to be to recoil in shock at the notion that the most powerful governments in the world establish diplomatic back-channels with shady, corrupt officials and spies?

If you want to open the book on political corruption, you will probably find every member of Congress, every high-level member in State and Defense, every Cabinet member and their top-tier underlings, every senior financial person at Treasury and the Fed have conflicts of interests if they are not openly taking bribes, stock buybacks, or whizzing in and out of corporate positions (the “revolving door” phenomenon) to deregulate and consult for the industries which stand to benefit from the wanton dismemberment of our regulatory agencies.

The elites are not honest in public, but I’d assume most of them are self-aware enough to realize what they are doing occurs in a legal gray area, if not being outright criminal. The liberal and some “never Trump” and “principled” conservative media, however, cannot even be bothered to reflect on whose interests are being served by pandering to the national security state. These mainstream journalists have managed to rehabilitate the image of our abhorrent domestic and foreign security and intelligence agencies.

When your beliefs align with those who support US Empire, you might want to critically question them. There was absolutely no “objective” reporting (an abstract fantasy these hacks hang their hats on) regarding alleged election interference in mainstream sources. What almost certainly happened was that key figures in DC, whether politicians, technocrats, or intelligence assets or agents fed running lies to their puppet mouthpieces such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, etc.

Elite interests threw chum in the water and watched as the mainstream journalist feeding frenzy ensued. Not only did they take the bait hook, line, and sinker; there were no internal checks among news agencies about the origins of the hogwash theories they disseminated.

If one hazards to take a best guess as to where this all originated, it’s as simple as three letters: C-I-A. US intelligence involvement in concocting the collusion yarn is conspicuously absent in media analysis, a telling omission.

The psychology of this nonsense is interesting insofar as it reveals deep-rooted liberal tendencies: rather than engaging in self-reflection as to the reasons of Clinton’s loss, Trump’s victory can only be an aberration. In this dream-world impeachment is always on the horizon, and America can undergo a return to normalcy by replacing Trump with a “rational”, neoliberal democratic centrist.

The denialism of mainstream liberals knows no bounds and we should not be hesitant to laugh at the ridiculousness of allegations of Russian hacking and collusion. What might also be helpful is to remind the chattering classes that their thoughts are not their own. By examining the historical and material forces at play, one is forced to confront the facts that only very elite interests in the military-industrial complex could be responsible for stringing along our compliant media for so long.

Again, every multinational corporation, every authoritarian government agency, every arms dealer, fossil fuel emitter, financial speculator, agribusiness corporation, medical and insurance company, as well as the FBI, CIA, and our vast imperial apparatus stood to benefit as mainstream media devoted so much time, energy, and bandwidth towards such a ridiculous, divisive, and painfully obvious intelligence disinformation ploy.

That, in fact, may have been the point, and the initial culprits in the US security state may never be found. Nor does the Russiagate hoax require any specific people directing the media. The deviousness of our system is that it does not need individual conspirators. To paraphrase Gore Vidal: “There is no need for the elite to conspire. They all think the same.” The system vomits forth new idiotic post-truth narratives on both liberal and conservative sides to sooth frayed nerves by offering palliatives to those frightened by resurgent racist and nationalist tendencies, and to satiate a public beholden to spectacle. Rather than trying to untangle the contradictions and travesties inherent to capitalism and empire, any fairy tale will do. No one can seem to figure out who is responsible for our nation’s slow collapse, and there can’t be a public reckoning for whoever was disseminating this collusion nonsense either, because the national security state is cowardly and faceless. Empire and capitalism cannot bear to have their true faces unmasked.

The faceless people behind the scenes are not heroic American spy-warriors or clever, righteous assassins we see portrayed in popular TV, movies, video games, etc. Nor does any real power reside in the “Russian hacker”, a classic case of US projection (Stuxnet anyone?). What the stereotype does play into is a racist and absurd caricature of seedy Slavic programmers deviously plotting to destroy democracy in America from troll-farms in St. Petersburg.

The real faceless people of today are khaki-wearing doofuses overseeing server farms in Northern Virginia, the uniformed killers wandering the corridors of the Pentagon E-ring whose schemes lead to genocide abroad, free market-worshipping chauvinist tech-bros in Silicon Valley constructing our ever-surveilled digital hellscape who mine the need for human connection and community for profit, diplomat dilettantes plotting coups in US embassies which increasingly resemble bunkers, the stuffed-suit lawyers and financial parasites who plunder whole continents and construct tax havens for the super-rich, and the anonymous shareholders, CEOs, and owners of nesting-doll conglomerates which oversee trillions of dollars stolen from workers and direct trillions more from public treasuries.

Russiagate will continue on to provide cover for ruling class criminality. It functions in US political discourse to evade the examination of capital’s true nature, to lead down blind alleyways in the long tradition of America’s “paranoid style”. As the climate crisis intensifies, as the rising tides of authoritarianism destroy lives and sap energy from ordinary workers and citizens, the simulation of democracy must be maintained at all costs. What better way than for the elites to distract and confuse the public, remain in the shadows, and feign responsibility for their crimes against the planet and humanity than to foment unrest between the two leading nuclear powers, simultaneously enrage and anesthetize the public with a feel-good story about a former FBI director taking down a President, and shift away public attention from the imperial paroxysms of violence erupting all over the globe?