Category Archives: Freedom of Expression/Speech

The NBA Backlash is Not about Freedom of Expression

Given the kind of responses I hear coming from both sides of the Pacific Ocean, I feel it’s necessary to say something more about what the NBA backlash in China is really about.

The NBA commissioner, both in his interviews in Japan and in his written statement to clarify himself, missed the point of what the Chinese people are actually angry about. It’s not about the freedom of an individual to express his or her personal opinions, but about the bottom line of what is acceptable in societies. In the U.S., you support freedom of expression, but do you support openly racist remarks?

At UN Session, US Empire In Decline And Global Solidarity On The Rise

As the United Nations General Assembly conducts its fall session, Popular Resistance is in New York City for the People’s Mobilization to Stop the US War Machine and Save the Planet. Themes of the mobilization are connecting militarism and climate change and raising awareness that the United States regularly violates international laws, including the United Nations Charter. These laws are designed to facilitate peaceful relationships between countries and prevent abuses of human rights. It is time that the US be held accountable.

The People’s Mobilization arose out of the Embassy Protection Collective after the US government raided the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC last May in blatant violation of the Vienna Convention to install a failed coup and arrested Embassy Protectors even though they were in the embassy with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela. This was an escalation of US regime change efforts – the coup failed in Venezuela but the US recognized the coup leader and started turning Venezuela’s assets over to him anyway. Members of the Collective sought to bring the message that it is dangerous for the world and a threat to the future of all of us if the US continues on its lawless path.

Join the Embassy Protection Defense Committee to organize around the federal prosecution of the final four Embassy Protectors and donate to their legal defense. Take action here.

We participated in the Climate Strike on Friday where our messages about the impact of US militarism on climate were well-received. On Sunday, we held a rally in Herald Square and on Monday, we held a public event: “A Path to International Peace: Realizing the Vision of the United Nations Charter.” We need to build an international people’s movement that complements work the Non-Aligned Movement and others are doing to bring countries together that are dedicated to upholding international law and take action together to address global crises.

In front of the United Nations after the rally and march with our message (By Yuka Azuma).

The US Military is a Great Threat to our Future

We wrote about the connections between militarism and the climate crisis in our newsletter a few weeks ago so we won’t go too deeply into those details here. The US military is the largest single user of fossil fuels and creator of greenhouse gases on the planet.

It also leaves behind toxic pollution from burn pits and weapons such as depleted uranium (DU). The use of DU violates international law, including the Biological Weapons Convention. As described in David Swanson’s article about a new study, which documents the horrific impact of DU on newborns in Iraq, “…every round of DU ammunition leaves a residue of DU dust on everything it hits, contaminating the surrounding area with toxic waste that has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, the age of our solar system, and turns every battlefield and firing range into a toxic waste site that poisons everyone in such areas.”

The US military poisons the air, land, and water at home too. Pat Elder, also with World Beyond War, has been writing, speaking and organizing to raise awareness of the use of Per and Poly Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) by the military across the US and the deadly effects it has. Elder states that the military claims to have “sovereign immunity” from environmental laws. In other words, the US military can poison whomever and wherever it chooses without risk of legal consequences.

As scary as the climate crisis and a toxic environment are, another existential threat is a nuclear war. The US military is upgrading its nuclear weapons so it can use them. The US National Security Strategy is “Great Power Conflict” and the new National Security Adviser to Trump, taking John Bolton’s place, Robert C. O’Brien, advocates for more military spending, a larger military and holding on to US global domination. These are dangerous signs. How far is the US military willing to go as US empire clings to its declining influence in the world?

In “Iran, Hong Kong and the Desperation of a Declining US Empire,” Rainer Shea writes, “There’s a term that historians use for this reactive phase that empires go through during their final years: micro-militarism.” Alfred McCoy defines micro-militarism as “ill-advised military misadventures… [that] involve psychologically compensatory efforts to salve the sting of retreat or defeat by occupying new territories, however briefly and catastrophically.”

Micro-militarism is on display in Venezuela, where the US has been trying for two decades to overthrow the Bolivarian Process without success. It is on display in US antagonism of Iran, a country that has never attacked the US and that upheld its end of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. When the US called for countries to join its escalation of military presence in the Straits of Hormuz, there was little enthusiasm from European allies. And when the US tried to blame the attack on Saudi oil refineries on Iran, even Japan refused to go along. Now, Iran is participating in INSTEX, a mechanism for trade that bypasses institutions controlled by the US.

Micro-militarism is manifested in the US’ failed attempts to antagonize China. With KJ Noh, we wrote an Open Letter to Congress, explaining why the Hong Kong Human Rights Act must be stopped as it will further entangle the US with Hong Kong and Mainland China, providing a foundation for US regime change campaign there. As China celebrates 70 years as the Peoples Republic of China, which ended over a century of exploitation by imperialists, it is in a very strong position and indicates it has no interest in caving in to US pressure. Instead, China is building its military and global relationships to rival US hegemony.

Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese at the People’s Mobe Rally (Photo by Ellen Davidson).

Holding the US Accountable

Micro-militarism is a symptom of the ailing US empire. We are in a period where the US military and government behave in irrational ways, consuming US resources for wars and conflicts that cannot be won instead of using them to meet basic needs of people and protection of the planet. The US is blatantly violating international laws that make regime change, unilateral coercive measures (aka sanctions) and military aggression illegal.

The US is conducting economic terrorism against scores of nations through illegal unilateral coercive measures (sanctions).  In the case of Cuba, the economic blockade goes back nearly six decades since the nation overthrew a US-backed regime there. The US blockade cost Cuba $4.3 billion in 2019, and close to $1 trillion over the past six decades, taking into account depreciation of the dollar. In Iran, sanctions have existed since their independence from the Shah of Iran’s US dictatorship in 1979 and in Zimbabwe, sanctions go back to land reform that occurred at the beginning of this century. The United States is conducting ongoing regime change campaigns in multiple nations among them Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran and now Bolivia.

The US is also abusing its power as the host country of the United Nations by ordering diplomats out of the country for spurious reasons and curtailing the travel of diplomats of countries the US is targeting. This week, the US ordered two Cuban diplomats to leave the United States. The reason was vague; i.e., their “attempts to conduct influence operations against the US.” This undefined phrase could mean almost anything and puts all diplomats at risk if they speak in the US outside of the UN. We expect this is one reason diplomatic representatives from some of the countries that planned to participate in the Monday night event stayed away.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza was the first Foreign Minister to be sanctioned while he was in the United States on official business.  Arreaza was sanctioned on April 25, just after he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly as a representative of the Non-Aligned Movement denouncing the US’ attempts to remove representatives of the sovereign nation of Venezuela from the UN.

On July 30, the US imposed sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif saying he was targeted because he is a ‘key enabler of Ayatollah Khamenei’s policies.’  Does that mean the Foreign Minister was punished for representing Iran? When Zarif came to the UN for official business this July 14, the US took the unusual step of severely restricting his travel, limiting him to travel between the United Nations, the Iranian UN mission, the Iranian UN ambassador’s residence, and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Traditionally, diplomatic officials were allowed a 25-mile radius around Columbus Circle. The US said Zarif “is a mouthpiece of an autocracy that suppresses free speech” and suppressed his freedom of speech in response.

As the United States becomes more brazen and ridiculous in its attempts to stay in control, it is driving other countries to turn away from the US and organize around it. There are growing calls for the United Nations to consider leaving the US and reestablish itself in a location where the US cannot sanction people for its own political purposes. Perhaps there is a need for a new international institution that does not enable US domination.

Civil society panel at the Path to International Peace event (by Ellen Davidson).

People are Uniting For Peace, Security and Sustainable Development 

The US’ actions point to the need for peace and justice activists to build an international network to demand the upholding the rule of law. Popular Resistance and its allies are contributing to the formation of that transnational solidarity structure through the new Global Appeal for Peace.

This July, delegations from 120 countries of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) united to oppose US policy against Venezuela and demand an end to sanctions as part of The Caracas Declaration.  NAM was founded in 1961 and the UN General Secretary described the importance of the movement highlighting that “two-thirds of the United Nations members and 55% of the world’s population” are represented by it, making it the second-largest multinational body in the world after the UN.

From August 29 through September 6, 38 countries and hundreds of foreign and local companies participated in Syria’s 61st Damascus International Fair despite the threat of US economic sanctions against corporations and countries that participated. The Damascus International Fair is considered the Syrian economy’s window to the world, re-started in 2017 after a 5-year hiatus due to the war against Syria. Despite a NATO bombing of the Fair in 2017, people kept coming and the Fair has continued.

Countries are also working to find ways around US economic warfare by not using the US dollar or the US financial industry to conduct trade. China is challenging the US by investing $400 billion in Iran’s oil and gas industry over 25 years and has added $3 billion investment in Venezuelan oil in 2019. Russia has also allied with Venezuela providing military equipment, and porting Navy ships in Venezuela as well as providing personnel. France has called on the EU to reset its relationship with Russia, and Germany and Russia are beginning to work together to preserve the Iran nuclear agreement.

The Global Appeal for Peace is uniting people to demand of our governments in their interactions with all nations – for the sake of world peace, international security and peaceful co-existence  – to respect the principles of the United Nations Charter and to follow and defend international law. The Global Appeal urges people to immediately join this initiative and help redirect the world toward an era of global stability and cooperation.

Sign on to the Global  Appeal for Peace: Take action to tell your government to respect and uphold the United Nations Charter as a tool for maintaining peace, guaranteeing human rights and protecting the sovereignty of nations.

We seek to build a transnational movement that is multi-layered. People and organizations from civil society representing different sectors, e.g. laborers, academics, doctors, lawyers, engineers, as well as representatives of governments impacted by violations of international law by the United States, need to join together. The seeds of such a network have been planted and are sprouting. If this transnational network develops and the rule of law is strengthened internationally, we will be able to achieve the goals of peace, economic sustainability, and human rights and mitigate the impacts of a dying empire gone rogue.

Watch part of the People’s Mobe Rally here:

 Watch the People’s Mobe March here:

Watch the “Path to International Peace” here:

Laws that Punish for Hypothetical Harm Must be Abolished

Given the state of laws in Canada, it has become necessary to state the obvious:

An individual legitimately can be punished solely for proven actual harm that is also proven to have been caused by the individual.

In a free and democratic society, laws that punish an individual for harm that is hypothesized to have occurred, or hypothesized to have been caused by the individual, or hypothesized to have both occurred and been caused by the individual, are pathological in that such laws attack democracy itself in its foundation, as explained below.

Canada and institutions and corporations sanctioned by the State enforce many laws and rules that punish individuals for hypothesized harm, in which the State or State-sanctioned actor does not have to prove actual harm or actual cause.  With these laws, proving actual harm is not relevant in the prosecution, and is considered inadmissible and unacceptably wasteful of court and tribunal resources.

Instead, the prosecutor merely needs to argue that there is “likelihood” that unspecified harm has occurred to unspecified “victims”, which is caused via an unspecified mechanism by the accused. Here, the prosecutor can rely entirely on the “judgement” of the court or tribunal, or can bring an “expert” witness to give opinion evidence about the said “likelihood” of harm.

No victim will testify or be cross-examined. No evidence of actual harm, physical or psychological, will be entered. No victim will even be named or identified to the court. There is a total absence of evidence of actual harm caused by the accused person.

The proceedings are separate and distinct from any criminal proceedings of responsibility for actual physical or psychological harm against an actual and identified victim.

What are these laws, you ask? These are the so-called “hate speech” laws, the codes of conduct, and also the common law of defamation.1,2.3  These laws include:

  • “hate speech” provisions of the Criminal Code
  • censorship codes, rules or “guidelines” enforced by social-media corporations
  • censorship rules and practices of employers regarding the personal actions of employees
  • professional-ethics codes or rules regarding personal expression on public media
  • codes of conduct on campuses
  • common law of defamation

In all of these laws — in a total absence of proven actual harm, from mere expression of comment, opinion, thought or belief, excluding criminal harassment, intimidation or threat against any actual and specific person, often made through the filter of a public social-media platform rather than any face-to-face interaction — the punishments range from fines, to unlimited “damage” awards, to workplace or professional-association discipline, to loss of access to education, to loss of employment, to loss of professional certification, to lengthy jail terms or house arrests, and include gag orders or compelled speech enforced by imprisonment.

Such is the status of Canadian law, despite the fact that Canada has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which expressly prohibits all such written or unwritten censorship laws.1,2.

As a result, Canada has spawned a legal landscape not unlike that of past eras having blasphemy laws to prevent the alleged deleterious effects of the most offensive and subversive utterances of the day. This legal landscape vitiates the fundamental right of freedom of expression and incapacitates democracy itself.

The fundamental right of freedom of expression is the right that allows the individual free expression, and the personal agency that derives from free expression, even though the individual is confined by society’s changing and democratically agreed-upon rules.  Free expression is the right to express.  It is essential for personal development and emancipation.  It does not, in itself, confine others, and it is up to the individual to seek and secure receptive listeners. This is the essence of both personal growth and society.

Beyond person growth within the fabric of society, freedom of expression plays a second role that is equally important. Democracy is susceptible to capture by a self-interested elite, and politics must not be solely a contest between dominant-elite special interests. The balancing force against runaway capture, in a democracy, is freedom of expression, together with freedom of association, which permit effective democratic participation, and are the true sources of the often touted “transparency” (whistle blowing) and “accountability” (popular opinion making).

Censorship, including censorship actuated with the pretext of preventing hypothetical harm, does not protect the individual.  It is a lockdown designed to frustrate the essential democratic process of expression, discussion, debate and argument, in an increasingly illegitimate and intolerant system. Its use by politicians in exploiting the oppression Olympiad in their partisan manipulations is unconscionable, as is its use in special-interest propaganda by litigation.

For these reasons, the State must not provide laws that enable an influential elite in-effect to neuter vehement individual expression that has transformative potential. The State must not be allowed to thus erode and suppress individual agency. Instead, it is the duty of the State to protect individual freedom of expression. If democracy cannot be trusted, then there is no democracy.

Relation to recent work

In her 2018 book,3 Nadine Strossen brilliantly reviews the research showing that “hate speech” laws are harmful to society. While this scholarship brings current empirical support for abolishing “hate speech” laws, I don’t find it to be satisfying. We should not be reduced to making policy arguments regarding harm reduction in order to justify preventing the State from suppressing fundamental human freedom, or preventing the State from enabling elite interests and corporations from suppressing the said freedom. If history itself and the study of sociology4 cannot inform us about the necessity to safeguard the fundamental human right of freedom of expression, then we are lost.5

Opposing “hate speech” law is not “free-speech absolutism”

Unfortunately, in the present climate of clamouring to ask the State to limit fundamental personal freedoms “for our own safety”, the arguments become polarized, and many have used the sophistry that the position of opposing the aberrant inherent features of “hate speech” law is equivalent to advocating for “free-speech absolutism.” This is a false equivalency.

If the State were to strike down all “hate speech” laws, limit the codes of conduct to exclude “hate speech”, and strike down the common law of defamation (which presumes falsity, damages and malice), then there would still independently exist: the civil tort of malicious falsehood, the Criminal Code provisions against threats, coercion, intimidation, harassment, and so on; and all the laws against discrimination. The individual would not lose any of these common law, statutory and constitutional protections.

Limiting the State’s power to prosecute victimless speech crimes (presuming harm at large, and presuming causation) does not limit the State’s power to enforce crimes that have proven victims and cause, irrespective of the role of expression in these offences, and does not limit the individual’s means to obtain redress.

  1. Canadian defamation law is noncompliant with international law”, by Denis Rancourt, Ontario Civil Liberties Association report, 1 February 2016.
  2. Towards a Rational Legal Philosophy of Individual Rights”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, 15 November 2016.
  3. HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship”, by Nadine Strossen, Oxford University Press, 2018, ISBN 978-0-19-085912-1.
  4. Self-organization and time-stability of social hierarchies”, by Joseph Hickey and Jörn Davidsen, 29 January 2019, PLoS ONE 14(1): e0211403.
  5. Cause of USA Meltdown and Collapse of Civil Rights”, by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, 7 September 2017.

On the Liberty to Teach, Pursue, and Discuss Knowledge without Restriction

It didn’t  take long for the American Administration to crudely interfere with an open society’s most sacred ethos, that of academic freedom.  We learned this weekend that the US Department of Education has ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake their joint Middle East studies program after concluding that they were offering students “a biased curriculum that, among other complaints, did not present enough “positive” imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region.”

Academic freedom is a relatively simple principle. It refers to the ”liberty to teach, pursue, and discuss knowledge without restriction or interference, as by school or public officials.”

This principle seems to be under attack in America. The American administration has openly interfered with the liberty to freely teach, pursue and discuss knowledge.

The New York Times writes:

In a rare instance of federal intervention in college course content, the department asserted that the universities’ Middle East program violated the standards of a federal program that awards funding to international studies and foreign language programs.

According to the NYT the focus on ‘anti Israeli bias’ “appears to reflect the views of an agency leadership that includes a civil rights chief, Kenneth L. Marcus, who has made a career of pro-Israel advocacy and has waged a years long campaign to delegitimize and defund Middle East studies programs that he has criticized as rife with anti-Israel bias.”

One may wonder why America is willing to sacrifice its liberal ethos on the pro Israel altar?  Miriam Elman provides a possible answer. Elman is an associate professor at Syracuse University and executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, which opposes BDS. Elman told the NYT that this “should be a wake-up call… what they’re (the Federal government presumably) saying is, ‘If you want to be biased and show an unbalanced view of the Middle East, you can do that, but you’re not going to get federal and taxpayer money.”

In Elman’s view academic freedom has stayed intact, it is just the dollars  that will be  withheld unless a university adheres to pro Israel politics.

Those who follow the history of Zionism, Israeli politics and Jewish nationalism find this latest development unsurprising. Zionism, once dedicated to the concept of a “promised land,” morphed decades ago into an aspiration toward a ‘promised planet.’  Zionism is a global project operating in most, if not all, Western states. Jewish pressure groups, Zionist think tanks and Pro Israel lobbies work intensively to suppress elementary freedoms and reshape the public, political and cultural discourse all to achieve Zionism’s ambitious goal. After all, Jewish power, as I define it, is the power to suppress criticism of Jewish power.

This authoritarian symptom is not at all new. It is apparently a wandering phenomenon. It has popped out in different forms at different times.  What happened in the USSR  provides a perfect illustration of this  symptom. In the early days of Soviet Russia, anti-Semitism was met with the death penalty as stated by Joseph Stalin  in answer to an inquiry made by the Jewish News Agency: “In the U.S.S.R. anti-semitism is punishable with the utmost severity of the law as a phenomenon deeply hostile to the Soviet system. Under U.S.S.R. law active anti-semites are liable to the death penalty.”

Germany saw the formation of Jewish anti defamation leagues attempted to suppress the rise in anti Jewish sentiments.* There’s no need to elaborate on the dramatic failure of these efforts in Germany. And despite Stalin’s early pro-Jewish stance, the Soviet leader turned against the so- called rootless cosmopolitans.” This campaign led to the 1950s Doctors’ plot, in which a group of doctors (mostly Jewish) were subjected to a show trial for supposedly having plotted to assassinate the Soviet leader.

In Britain and other Western nations we have seen fierce pro Israel campaigns waged to suppress criticism of Israel and Jewish politics. Different lobbies have been  utilizing different means amongst them the adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism by governments and institutions. In Britain, France, Germany and other European countries, intellectuals, artists, politicians, party members and ordinary citizens are constantly harassed by a few powerful Jewish pressure groups. In dark Orwellian Britain 2019, critics of Israel have yet to face the death sentence, but they are subjected to severe reprisals ranging  from personal intimidation to police actions and criminal prosecution. People have lost their jobs for supporting Palestine, others have been expelled from Corbyn’s compromised Labour Party for making truthful statements. Some have even been jailed for satirical  content. And as you might guess, none of this has made Israel, its supporters or its stooges popular. Quite the opposite.  

I learned from the NYT that the administration “ordered” the universities’ consortium to submit a revised schedule of events it planned to support, a full list of the courses it offers and the professors working in its Middle East studies program.  I wonder who in the administration possesses the scholarly credentials to assess the academic level of university courses or professors? Professor Trump himself, or maybe Kushner & Ivanka or Kushner’s coffee boy Avi Berkovitch, or maybe recently retired ‘peace maker’ Jason Greenblatt?

 It takes years to build academic institutions, departments, libraries and research facilities. Apparently, it takes one determined lobby to ruin the future of American scholarship.

Stockholm Syndrome: Julian Assange And The Limits Of Guardian Dissent

Nothing happened on September 2 in central London. Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, did not initiate a protest outside the Home Office. He did not sing and play the Floyd classic ‘Wish You Were Here’, or say:

Julian Assange, we are with you. Free Julian Assange!

The renowned journalist and film-maker John Pilger did not say:

The behaviour of the British government towards Julian Assange is a disgrace – a profanity on the very notion of human rights.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the persecution of Julian Assange is the way dictatorships treat a political prisoner.

None of this happened for any major UK or US newspaper, which made no mention of these events at all. Readers of Prensa Latina, Havana, were more fortunate with two articles before and after the event, as were readers of Asian News International in New Delhi. Coverage was also provided by Ireland’s Irish Examiner (circulation 25,419) in Cork, which published a Press Association piece that was available to the innumerable other outlets that all chose to ignore it.

Four months after he was dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy, Assange is still locked up in solitary confinement for 21 hours a day or more. He is still being denied the basic tools to prepare his case against a demand for extradition to the United States where he faces incarceration and torture. He is not allowed to call his US lawyers, is not allowed access to vital documents, or even a computer. He is confined to a single cell in the hospital wing, where he is isolated from other people. Pilger commented at the protest:

There is one reason for this. Julian and WikiLeaks have performed an historic public service by giving millions of people facts on why and how their governments deceive them, secretly and often illegally: why they invade countries, why they spy on us.

Julian is singled out for special treatment for one reason only: he is a truth-teller. His case is meant to send a warning to every journalist and every publisher, the kind of warning that has no place in a democracy.

On the Sydney Criminal Lawyers website, journalist Paul Gregoire discussed Assange’s declining health with his father, John Shipton, who said:

His health is not good. He’s lost about 15 kilos in weight now – five since I last saw him. And he’s in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, in the hospital ward of the gaol.

Gregoire responded:

‘As you’ve just explained, Julian is being held in quite extreme conditions. He’s isolated from other inmates. And as well, his visits are restricted and so are his communications with his legal representation. Yet, he’s only being held for breach of bail, which is a rather minor charge.’

‘Yes, very minor.’

‘How are the UK authorities justifying the restrictions around his imprisonment seeing he’s being incarcerated on such a minor offence?’

‘I don’t know if they feel the necessity to justify these decisions. Their decisions are arbitrary.’

‘So, they’re giving no explanation as to his treatment.’

‘No.’

It does seem extraordinary, in fact, medieval, for such brutal treatment to be meted out to someone for merely breaching bail, with almost zero ‘mainstream’ political or media protest. This is only one reason, of course, why the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, penned an article titled, ‘Demasking the Torture of Julian Assange’. Melzer commented:

What may look like mere mudslinging in public debate, quickly becomes “mobbing” when used against the defenseless, and even “persecution” once the State is involved. Now just add purposefulness and severe suffering, and what you get is full-fledged psychological torture.

Investigative journalist Peter Oborne courageously challenged conventional wisdom on Assange this month in a British Journalism Review piece titled, ‘He is a hero, not a villain’. Oborne described how, in July, the Mail on Sunday had published a front-page story revealing the contents of diplomatic telegrams – ‘DipTels’ – sent to London by the British ambassador to the US. The memos described President Trump’s administration as ‘inept’ and Trump himself as ‘uniquely dysfunctional’.

All hell broke loose. The May government announced an official leak inquiry. The Metropolitan Police launched a criminal investigation. The intelligence services got involved.

The Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu warned the press not to publish any further documents as this could “constitute a criminal offence”. The Mail on Sunday paid no attention. It published further leaks and other papers came to its support. So did politicians. Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were among those who criticised Basu’s comments.

Hunt, who was then foreign secretary, said: “I defend to the hilt the right of the press to publish those leaks if they receive them and judge them to be in the public interest…

Meanwhile, that leaker-in-chief Julian Assange continued to languish in Belmarsh prison, where he is serving 50 weeks for skipping bail…

Julian Assange is a controversial figure, to be sure. Many of those who have dealt with him have found him difficult. But I find myself wondering what exactly the difference is between his alleged crime of publishing leaked US diplomatic cables and the Mail on Sunday’s offence of publishing leaked Foreign Office cables.

Why is Assange treated by the bulk of the British media as a pariah? And the Mail on Sunday as a doughty defender of press freedom? After all, Julian Assange is responsible for breaking more stories than all the rest of us put together.

Oborne commented:

This looks to me like a monstrous case of double standards, even by the ocean-going standards of Britain’s media/political class.

Focusing on Other Issues

Assange was offered rare ‘mainstream’ support on September 12 when Guardian columnist George Monbiot tweeted:

Never forget: #JulianAssange is still in Belmarsh prison, facing the prospect of extradition and life imprisonment in the US, for the “crime” of releasing information that governments have withheld from us. This is not justice.

Tweeter jaraparilla was quick to spot what happened next:

George Monbiot just posted this tweet supporting Julian Assange then deleted it within minutes (before I could respond).

We asked Monbiot what had happened. He replied:

I realised that the US extradition issue was tangled up with the Swedish one, and that I don’t yet know enough about Assange’s legal situation, exactly what he is awaiting and why. I will read up and return to the issue.

In response, we recommended Melzer’s superb work in challenging the establishment smear campaign. Monbiot replied:

Thank you. Has he written a paper on the subject? I find it much easier to absorb information in writing.

We answered:

Amazed you need to ask, have you really not been following his interviews and written pieces? Mind you, according to ProQuest, @NilsMelzer has been mentioned twice in the Guardian this year – so maybe it’s not so strange. See here, for example

Monbiot tweeted: No, I’ve been focusing on other issues.

We commented again:

True enough. According to the ProQuest newspaper database, you’ve never mentioned Assange in your Guardian column. Is that right?

Monbiot confirmed: Yes, that is correct.

It was curious that Monbiot felt the need to ‘read up and return to the issue’. After all, as jaraparilla noted, Monbiot has tweeted about Assange and WikiLeaks dozens of times. Many of these comments make for grim reading. For example:

Moral line on #Assange is crystal clear: we shld support qu-ning on rape charges & oppose any extrad attempt by US. #wikileaks

In his latest piece on Assange, Oborne discussed this egregious error:

His critics attach special weight to rape charges laid against Assange in Sweden. But it’s important to remember there have never been any “charges” in Sweden.

This is a myth reported literally hundreds of times. There has only ever been a “preliminary investigation” in Sweden looking into allegations of rape.

In 2011, Monbiot tweeted:

To me Assange looks unaccountable, paranoid, controlling and prone to blame others for his mistakes. #wikileaks

As we now know, Assange’s ‘paranoia’ was actually astute awareness that ‘they’ really were out to get him.

And: ‘Why does Assange still have so much uncritical support? Seems to me he’s acting like a tinpot dictator.’

And: ‘#JulianAssange takes Kremlin’s dollar, reversing all he claimed to stand for: bit.ly/wT4PoO Love #wikileaks, not Assange’

To his credit, Monbiot subsequently tweeted the deleted tweet defending Assange a second time.

In April 2019, Monbiot won huge applause for using harsh language and calling for the overthrow of capitalism. He insisted that, to save the planet, we need to forget ‘pathetic, micro-consumerist bollocks’:

We have to overthrow this system which is eating the planet with perpetual growth…. We can’t do it by just pissing around at the margins of the problem; we’ve got to go straight to the heart of capitalism and overthrow it.

And yet, as Oborne noted, Assange is ‘responsible for breaking more stories than all the rest of us put together’, ‘each and every one in the public interest’, ‘which any self-respecting reporter would sell his or her grandmother to obtain’. One could hardly think of a more powerful example of someone not ‘pissing around at the margins of the problem’.

Monbiot is hardly alone in ‘focusing on other issues’, year after year, while Assange rots. Fellow Guardian great white leftist hope, Owen Jones, last mentioned Assange in his Guardian column in 2014. In fact, this was his only ever mention in the paper, a single comment in passing focused on then Respect MP George Galloway:

his past praise for dictators and appalling comments about rape following allegations against Julian Assange have left him largely isolated.

Like Monbiot, Paul Mason – a former BBC and Channel 4 broadcaster who has somehow reinvented himself as a war-supporting, NATO-loving, Trident-renewing ‘man of the people’ (with 618,000 followers on Twitter) – has never mentioned Assange in the Guardian.

It seems likely that Guardian columnists have felt under increasing pressure to back off from supporting Assange over the last five years. As Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis reported this month:

The Guardian has lost many of its top investigative reporters who had covered national security issues… The few journalists who were replaced were succeeded by less experienced reporters with apparently less commitment to exposing the security state. The current defence and security editor, Dan Sabbagh, started at The Guardian as head of media and technology and has no history of covering national security.

‘It seems they’ve got rid of everyone who seemed to cover the security services and military in an adversarial way,” one current Guardian journalist told us.

Kennard and Curtis concluded:

The Guardian had gone in six short years from being the natural outlet to place stories exposing wrongdoing by the security state to a platform trusted by the security state to amplify its information operations. A once relatively independent media platform has been largely neutralised by UK security services fearful of being exposed further.

Venezuela, Gaza and Yemen

This pattern of sparse, or non-existent commentary extends to other issues. In 2018, Monbiot tweeted of the Venezuelan President, Nicolas Maduro:

Just because Maduro claims to be on the left does not mean we should support him. There are far better ways of breaking the power of the old elites. #Venezuela

Monbiot thus simply wrote off the democratically elected President of Venezuela who had won entirely credible elections after the death of Hugo Chavez. Because Monbiot is respected by many readers as an honest, principled progressive, this will have looked to many like the final nail in the coffin of Maduro’s credibility. Many doubtless assumed that Monbiot knows and cares a great deal about Venezuela, that he has strongly supported the Bolivarian revolution. And in 2015, Monbiot did write this in the Guardian:

Between 1989 and 1991 I worked with movements representing landless rural workers in Brazil. As they sought to reclaim their land, thousands were arrested; many were tortured; some were killed…

In Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, similar movements transformed political life. They have evicted governments opposed to their interests and held to account those who claim to represent them. Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been inspired, directly or indirectly, by the Latin American experience.

Many readers will have hailed these comments as evidence that Monbiot is an outspoken leftist. After all, in 2003 he had written in the Guardian:

While younger activists are eager to absorb the experience of people like Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Lula, Victor Chavez, Michael Albert and Arundhati Roy, all of whom are speaking in Porto Alegre [the World Social Forum], our movement is, as yet, more eager than wise, fired by passions we have yet to master. (Our emphasis)

But according to the ProQuest media database, the single sentence from 2015 contains Monbiot’s only mention of Venezuela in his Guardian column in the last ten years. Monbiot has mentioned Hugo Chavez’s name exactly twice, in passing, in two articles. He has mentioned Maduro – who is facing relentless internal and external state-corporate attempts at regime change, not least by means of US sanctions – once, in passing, in July 2019. Monbiot has said not a word to challenge the military, economic and propaganda campaign to overthrow Maduro.

According to ProQuest, Owen Jones has never mentioned the Venezuelan President in his Guardian column. Paul Mason’s only mention of Maduro in the Guardian damned Maduro’s use of the ‘repertoire of autocratic rule’ in his supposed ‘crackdown’, being ‘clearly engaged in a rapid, purposive and common project to hollow out democracy’.

Ironically, corporate dissidents like Monbiot, Jones and Mason benefit enormously from the fact that they are published by tyrannical, monopolistic, unaccountable, power-friendly media that filter ‘all the news fit to print’. How so?

It is precisely because these systems of power function as such forensic, long-armed Thought Police that even tiny crumbs of compromised dissent – a single sentence on ‘landless rural workers’ here, a four-letter word on the need for revolution there – elicit pitiful shrieks of delight and admiration from corporately incarcerated consumers who need to believe that ‘mainstream’ media are not that bad, not that destructive. In other words, public awareness is heavily skewed by a version of ‘Stockholm syndrome’.

Consider Gaza as a further example. Again, we can find this dissenting comment from Monbiot in the Guardian in 2006:

I agree that Hizbullah fired the first shots. But out of the blue? Israel’s earlier occupation of southern Lebanon; its continued occupation of the Golan Heights; its occupation and partial settlement of the West Bank and gradual clearance of Jerusalem; its shelling of civilians, power plants, bridges and pipelines in Gaza; its beating and shooting of children; its imprisonment or assassination of Palestinian political leaders; its bulldozing of homes; its humiliating and often lethal checkpoints: all these are, in Bush’s mind, either fictional or carry no political consequences.

Again, leftists will have lapped up this rare supportive comment in a major UK newspaper. A search for further comments finds this sentence from Monbiot in November 2007:

In February 2001, according to the BBC, it [Israel] used chemical weapons in Gaza: 180 people were admitted to hospital with severe convulsions.

And a sentence from September 2013, when Monbiot wrote in passing of how Israel ‘refuses to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention’ having ‘used white phosphorus as a weapon in Gaza’. A further sentence appeared in September 2014:

In Gaza this year, 2,100 Palestinians were massacred: including people taking shelter in schools and hospitals.

Monbiot wrote again one month later:

Israeli military commanders described the massacre of 2,100 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians (including 500 children), in Gaza this summer as “mowing the lawn”.

But, remarkably, these are the only substantive comments Monbiot has made about one of the great crimes and tragedies of our time. The last quote above, his most recent, was published nearly five years ago, in October 2014.

While other progressives like Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Norman Finkelstein, Jonathan Cook and others have written whole books, made whole films, and written reams of articles about the catastrophe being inflicted on the people of Gaza, Monbiot has said virtually nothing.

According to ProQuest, Owen Jones’ sole, substantive article devoted to Israel’s assault on Gaza came in July 2014. Even this was a philosophical piece on the ‘moral corruption that comes with any occupation’, with few details about the suffering in Gaza. Stockholm syndrome ensured that the title alone, ‘How the occupation of Gaza corrupts the occupier’, persuaded many readers that here was a stellar example of a principled journalist who really cared about Gaza, who was shouting the truth from the rooftops. Jones’ last mention of Gaza in the Guardian was also five years ago, a mention in passing in August 2014.

Paul Mason’s last substantive mention of Gaza was, again, five years ago, in November 2014, an emotive reference to a harrowing report he made from Gaza while working for Channel 4 News, with little detail on conditions. Mason referenced the same Channel 4 coverage in August 2014.

Or consider Yemen – how much have Monbiot, Jones and Mason written about the blood-drenched, UK-backed Saudi Arabian war that began in 2015? Monbiot wrote in June 2017 of then Prime Minister Theresa May:

She won’t confront Saudi Arabia over terrorism or Yemen or anything else.

Ironic words, given that, according to ProQuest, this is Monbiot’s only meaningful comment on the Yemen war (in April 2019, he noted in passing that climate change ‘has contributed to civil war’ in Yemen). In the Morning Star, Ian Sinclair reported that the editor of the Interventions Watch website had conducted a search of Monbiot’s Twitter timeline in December 2017:

He found Monbiot had mentioned “Syria” in 91 tweets and “Yemen” in just three tweets.

To his credit, Owen Jones has written several substantial pieces focused on the war in Yemen here, here and here. In June 2017, Paul Mason wrote one substantial paragraph on the conflict:

Saudi Arabia is meanwhile prosecuting a war on Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen, using more than £3bn worth of British kit sold to it since the bombing campaign began. In return, it has lavished gifts on Theresa May’s ministers: Philip Hammond got a watch worth £1,950 when he visited in 2015. In turn, Tory advisers are picking up lucrative consultancy work with the Saudi government.

Again, we can celebrate an example of superficial dissent, or reflect on the fact that this is Mason’s only comment on the Yemen war in the Guardian.

It is important to remember that the most popular and revered British dissidents – including radical comedians like Russell Brand, Frankie Boyle and Eddie Izzard – were made famous by corporate media. The difference between a ‘cult’ following and national fame is often the difference between popular and ‘mainstream’ support. People willing to compromise from the start, to jump through the required corporate hoops to achieve fame, are (often unwittingly) stooges of a system that must allow glimpses of dissent, a semblance of free and open discussion.

The system needs an occasional honest paragraph on Gaza from a Monbiot, a comment on Yemen from a Mason, if it is to retain credibility. Nobody is fooled by total silence, by a complete lie – a half-lie is far more potent. We are complicit in this charade when we make dissident mountains out of molehills, loaves out of corporate crumbs, and keep buying the product.

Liberals use RCMP in Attempt to Silence Critics of their Foreign Policy

On Tuesday two RCMP agents came to my house. Two large men in suits asked for me and when my partner said I wasn’t there they asked who she was.

Why didn’t they email or call me to talk or set up a meeting? If they have my address, the RCMP certainly has my email, Facebook, Skype or phone number. My partner asked for their badges, took their photo and asked them to leave the hallway they had entered.

They returned the next day. Not wanting to interact, my partner ignored them. They rang the doorbell multiple times over many minutes. After she saw people at the restaurant across the street wondering what was going on – from the ground you can see into the front of our place – she poked her head down the stairway where they caught her eye. They asked why I didn’t call even though they didn’t leave a number.

The visits are a transparent effort to intimidate me from directly challenging the government’s pro-corporate and pro-empire international policies.

The day before their first visit to my house two RCMP officers physically removed me from a press conference when I asked Transportation Minister Marc Garneau about Canadian arm sales to Saudi Arabia. When I sat down at an event that was already underway an officer took the seat next to me. When I began to ask a question at the end of the press conference he used the cover of private property to try to block me. On this video one can see the RCMP agent asking the building security twice if I’m welcome in the space. Deferring to police, the security guard tells him I’m not welcome. The RCMP agent, who doesn’t have the right to remove me from the room without a directive, then uses the authority derived from a representative of the building to physically eject me and threaten arrest.

Last Wednesday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris and I were blocked from a talk by the prime minister at the Bonaventure Hotel in a similar way. In my case an RCMP agent called out my name as I entered the hotel and then accompanied me in the elevator, through a long lobby and down an escalator to ‘introduce’ me to hotel security. The representative of the hotel then said I wasn’t welcome, which gave the officer the legal authority to ask me to leave. Lascaris details the incident in “The RCMP’s Speech Police Block Yves Engler and Me From Attending A Speech By Justin Trudeau.”

After starting to write this story, I was targeted by the RCMP for removal from a press conference by Justice Minister David Lametti. On Thursday, a Concordia University security guard, who I walked past to enter the room, came up to me 15 minutes later and asked for my press credentials. There were two dozen people in the room who didn’t have press credentials and the release for the event said nothing about needing them. The RCMP agent admitted that he asked Concordia security to approach me. He also said he was only there for the physical — not political — protection of the minister, but refused my suggestion that he and the Concordia security agents sit next/in front of me to ensure the minister’s physical safety.

(Here is the question I planned to ask the Justice Minister: “Minister Lametti, you have an important decision to make in the coming days about whether you believe in international law and consumer rights. As you know the Federal Court recently ruled against your government’s decision to allow wines produced on illegal settlements in the West Bank to be labeled as ‘Products of Israel’. While anti-Palestinian groups are pressuring your government to appeal the decision, the NDP and Greens want you to stop wasting taxpayer money on this anti-Palestinian agenda. Will you commit to accepting the court’s sensible ruling that respects consumers, international law and Palestinian rights?”)

Over the past six months Lascaris, I and other members of Solidarité Québec-Haiti and Mouvement Québécois pour la Paix have interrupted a dozen speeches/press conferences by Liberal ministers/prime minister to question their anti-Palestinian positions, efforts to topple Venezuela’s government, support for a corrupt, repressive and illegitimate Haitian president, etc. We are open about our actions and intentions, as you can read in this commentary. We film the interruptions and post them online. (If any illegal act were committed the RCMP could easily find all they need to charge me on my Facebook page!) The interruptions usually last no more than a couple of minutes. No politician has been stopped from speaking, let alone threatened or touched.

Did the RCMP receive a directive from a minister to put a stop to our challenging their policies? The federal election is on the horizon and government officials will increasingly be in public. The Trudeau government is playing up its ‘progressive’ credentials, but the interventions highlight how on one international policy after another the Liberals have sided with corporations and empire.

From the government’s perspective, having their PR announcements disrupted is a headache, but that’s democracy. The right to protest, to question, to challenge policies outweighs politicians’ comfort.

Questioning the Extremely Online

This essay is in regard to a crime that too often goes unmentioned when the conversations turn towards political analysis, the contemporary journalistic scene, and broader social critique: the crime of being extremely online.

What does it mean to be extremely online? It mostly is as straightforward as it sounds. Generally, activities such as spending too much time on the web, scrolling through social media feeds out of habit, checking email or notifications dozens of times a day, all are symptoms of the extremely online person. Particularly, too much smartphone use is a devastating problem.

There is also a more specific version, which both mainstream journalists and alternative media commentators employ on both the right and left: constantly posting every news update; sharing a gazillion times every day each and every version and opinion on a current event/post/tweet about the lead news stories of the day, whether it is something interesting about global warming or something as ignorant and banal as the president’s tweets; prognosticating about the presidential election a year and a half before it happens;  using dubious polls or statistics to bolster weak arguments; and basically reacting to every media spectacle with behavior including, but not limited to, juvenile tantrums, posturing, faux outrage, jaded cynicism, pompous virtue-signalling, ironic detachment, and narcissistic self-aggrandizement.

Quite a few alternative media commentators tend to replicate and mimic the 24/7 spectacle that is mainstream news. That is to say, many have internalized the messaging style; the hyper-fast response time to current events…generally speaking, the norms of mainstream commentary and thus bourgeois values are being internalized. The more time spent posting for an online following on social media, the stronger the pull of an affinity to a certain type of power. Digital hierarchies become hardened, and the bourgeoisification of the web intensifies. As we shall see below, even those who identify as anti-capitalist or socialist are not immune.

The types of online behaviors regarding political debate exhibited above may be the exception, but with the expansion of social media along with its hyper-stratified tendencies, it may soon become the norm.

What research has shown is that digital literacy creates a path towards more open attitudes towards digital technology, which can be called Technophilia.1 This research points towards entertainment as one of the key drivers in promoting positive emotions and behavior when using digital technology, which results in a positive feedback loop leading to more intense and rewarding use.

If you extrapolate from this a bit, I’d suggest that the top online influencers in various political schools of thought will be more predisposed towards promoting digital technology, simply because they are benefitting from it financially. We have a situation where the most popular commentators are economically tied to social media, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that their naïve optimism regarding the power of digital media will not stop there, but rather, the naivety extends to industrial society as a whole.

The social media environment creates a logic of its own, just as most modern technology does. One obvious materialist analogy is to the medical industry. As long as for-profit companies are allowed to dominate pharmaceutical and research endeavors, the logic of the system will mean that more people are made sick, anxious, depressed, etc., to make more money for corporations. With social media, the logic of its internal dynamics precludes nuanced, informed, lengthy public deliberation in favor of sound-bite quotes, sloganeering, and focusing on personalities, along with the most shallow forms of identity politicking. Its logic depends on divisive, sensational, hateful, and ultimately fascistic rhetoric dominating political discourse.

Since the scope of Technophilia broadens and intensifies with continued use of labor-saving devices made under exploitative conditions, it ultimately results in many self-proclaimed anti-capitalists falling under the sway of propaganda emanating from mainstream technological society, as we shall see below.

Class is never taken seriously in our society. In many rural areas around the USA broadband internet access is still out of reach, and is expensive for many poor urban Americans as well, creating a digital divide. Thus it is no wonder that the rich and middle-classes are more “open” towards the web and smart-phone use. They derive more pleasure from them in terms of entertainment, increased digital literacy, and monetary success. The flip side of being more open is being more immature and blind to dangers, however. In contrast the poor and working classes respond to the digital life-world with more skepticism, as the above study indicates.

My contention here is that this digital literacy creates a new form of “digital spectacle” for technophilic Westerners on both the political right and left, especially for the middle classes. The elite implicitly understand that in a society based on artificial scarcity, only a certain amount of online influencers can vie for position in digital media. The professional and managerial classes, and their children ensconced in privilege, all too easily fall under the sway of the competitive forces in online media as well.

The poor and working class understand that in regarding to digital media, they are getting crushed under the weight of start-up costs, social capital which is either unobtainable or sleazy to get, and various online fees and hurdles to make it in a new rigged game of digital society. The digital divide is becoming a chasm, because it too it based on market forces.

As alluded to above, election cycle mania, the fascination with polling data, as well as fixation of GDP, job growth, and many other factors which the mainstream media focuses on are now internalized across the political spectrum, included much of Western Left analysis. This isn’t to say that socialists overly reliant on statistics and polling are wrong; simply that it’s mostly ineffective, as the tone is technocratic, academic, and is filled with the jargon that turns off the average citizen, even some of what is written here. I am not immune, this is a self-criticism as well, as the lack of engagement and overly analytical framework extends throughout journalism and academia across the entire social body.

Most of this behavior has been internalized and learned from mainstream media, which creates a market and manufactured interest in nonsensical statistics and banal news trivia, as Neil Postman points out:

Statistics create an enormous amount of completely useless information, which compounds the always difficult task of location that which is useful to a culture. This is more than a case of ‘information-overload.’ It is a matter of information-trivia, which has the effect of placing all information on an equal level.2

Once data becomes transmuted into a sort of holy substance, it is wielded by both the political Right and Left as a weapon: statistics back their cause and any deviation from the issue is irrational and illogical. This sets the table for false binaries and political polarization across the spectrum of political thought.

What being extremely online has done is given the very few big “influencers” in mainstream media as well as alternative spaces huge egos and warped their ability to think critically. This is most clearly seen in our “troll in chief”, Donald Trump. Time, space, and perception are distorted and it has led to a predictable and unimaginative online discourse.

When a post appears on social media, often if you know the contributor and some of the followers/friends, you can glean and predict what the reaction is going to be and who is going to say what. Depending on the news of the day, I can guestimate what the “takes” will be of my various friends and those I follow. I admit this can be sometimes comforting given the horrendous news we deal with daily. However, it also kind of implies that real people are reacting, thinking, and forming commentary algorithmically, as if our thoughts now mimic apps like Spotify and Pandora which play tracks from one’s favorite musicians; or at least similar artists which won’t offend the listener’s taste. How banal and horrifying all at once.

With podcasts or Youtube videos, as well as message boards, one can see political commentary forming a script, where individuals rattle off reels of their “greatest hits” of points, observations, and reflections, rather than engaging with the subject matter. No matter how hard we try, social media can never replicate oral traditions and real-life conversations. Dysfunction is baked into modern capitalist-based digital communication.

How being extremely online works to the advantage of the few at the expense of the many is easy to ascertain. We are told we are living in an “attention economy” and the extremely online predicate their behavior on this premise, even those who ostensibly identify as anti-capitalist. The extremely online mimic the 24/7 blather of mainstream media discourse, because nothing is too insignificant not to post, nothing too small not to get out in the lead as being “on top of” any given issue or current event. This is the sort of competitive striving absolutely essential to capitalism.

Outrage, shock, compassion, repulsion, empathy, and even “rational, objective” sober media analysis vie for our attention spans, and the extremely online prey upon those among their followers who due to loneliness, emotional issues, or escapism already spend too much time online, and are thus more vulnerable to screen addiction, sensationalist appeals, fear-mongering, gossip, consumer trends, etc.

Of course, the mainstream outlets have been deeply complicit, as it suits their financial interests. As seen by the CNN executive during the 2016 election gloating that the insane coverage of Trump was horrible for the country, but good for their bottom line, or something to that effect.

As for the reaction time of news sources, and thus political commentary, it may strain one’s memory to recall, but only twenty years ago any major news stories that broke after the evening news broadcast did not appear until the next morning, nearly an eight to twelve hour delay

Now, every media outlet is constantly bombarding us with every update and crisis in real time. The main reaction to this (notwithstanding the many sincere alternative media, community-level, and individual critiques) in the collective consciousness is shock and numbness, and it only compounds daily.

Now, many leftists tend to unconsciously mimic the same tendencies of mainstream media. This is done by copying the tactics of mainstream online influencers who use marketing, PR, and advertising firms to get ahead. This is done by pandering to the crowd and reacting to every Trump and establishment faux pas, whether Democrat or Republican. This is done by opportunistic virtue signaling and online activism viewed as a substitute for in person organizing. The virtual becomes more real than the real. Egos become more tied to the digital social environs, a derivative of a derivative.

Apparently the twisted logic is that if the extremely online use social media as a way for exposure and fame, it’s worth it. Social media becomes a tool, a means to an end to uproot the system. The downside tends to be that we become instruments of social media itself, not a new phenomenon in Western Civilization.

Posting dozens of times a day on social media simply is not in anyone’s best interest. It is in the best interest of capital, however. Why else would one post 30, 50, a hundred times a day if not to create an attention economy around oneself, to gain digital “followers” whose gaze will be diverted from possibly more important issues closer and dearer to their hearts…as well as to one’s family and friends, one’s material reality and ability to help the vulnerable and those in need close to them.

What should be obvious is every moment spent online is time away from the natural world and thus a huge time-suck where we exist as zombified, trance-induced crazy people for more information, useless updates, more drivel-data and bits of trivialities that do not change a thing.

Being online means being on the grid and the computing power needed to keep our information superhighway running is increasing like a runaway train. Despite the relatively low cost of powering one’s individual smartphone and computer/laptop/tablet etc., the internet via server farms, cell towers, etc. uses approximately 10% of the world’s total electricity consumption and the total energy use for the web increases by about 20% each year. The rollout of harmful 5G technology and internet of things only will accelerate the technological dystopia we’re enmeshed in.

Regardless of what technophiles and delusional people want to think, modern industrial civilization is a fad. We are going to have to go through an extended period of degrowth and lowering our power consumption and that will have to include less internet use. Most especially, too much smartphone use must be addressed head-on. Smartphones need to go away, for good, and it’s not too hard to imagine a workable society without them. It existed twenty years ago.

This should be simple enough to understand, but again, chronic habitual internet use and social media creates a form of addiction which leads to denialism. For those that do partake in nuanced forms of online discussion, in message boards or even in comment sections, yet limit, self-reflect, and moderate your use, congratulations. This is not directed at you. This is written is response to the serial social media addicts. For those in this group, I’ll posit that one of the root reasons for this malady is that our addict-Left comrades unconsciously identify with the system.

This isn’t meant to sound callous, these people are suffering to different degrees, and I do empathize. Boredom, loneliness, and lack of in-person human connection are endemic to our culture and these factors shouldn’t be minimized when understanding addictive behavior.

Part of the problem is the speed of society now. It’s understandable, people want to keep up with events and chime in with their two cents. It’s a human reaction. Part of the problem is also that the people who have convinced themselves they are part of the solution remain part of the problem. Mainly, because they are unable or unwilling to critically examine the technophilic ideology at the heart of the capitalist-based internet.

The “Left-opinion makers”, as the Situationists were wont to call them, thus fall hopelessly further into the spectacle.

Caveat

Social media use is not a horrible thing in and of itself. Although much of its use tends to replicate competitive and hierarchical relations, there are alternative visions of what the web could be like. Internet and social media companies could have been, and should be now, directed through public funding and non-profit models decades ago to engage and educate working class people, to provide jobs and new opportunities, and to raise the consciousness of the public sphere. This could easily be done even within the confines of a social-democratic system.

What we have now is a web and social media landscape that is largely, but not completely, irredeemable. Again, this does not mean one should completely ignore it, only that social media should be seen as a vessel to get people out of their homes and into the streets: like we saw in Tunisia, in Egypt and many other nations during the Arab Spring.

I don’t know if this metaphor is useful at all, but social media could be used as a sort of liberatory portals or gateways, networks to awaken the masses from their slumber, to take them out of the virtual and into the “natural” world. Web and social media technology can be used to “tune in” people to serious movement-building, to Marx, to environmental protests, to issues like climate change and nuclear war, through digital communication; but eventually there has to be a period when citizens step through to the other side and “drop out” to take the struggle onto the public squares. The thing is, many of those involved in just such struggles seem hopelessly “addicted” or too enamored with the power of internet technology itself, much like what has happened with the fetishization of the internal combustion engine, the printing press, the personal computer, and many other examples.

The Professional Bloviators

Sadly, quite a few self-professed anti-capitalist public intellectuals seem to be ensnared by bourgeois ideology today. Many rightly view our political and economic systems as hopelessly corrupt, yet still cling to the privilege, perks, and soapboxes offered by their academic positions (tied to student and faculty exploitation, which is either conveniently unmentioned or under-emphasized), viewing their own credentials as somehow a basis for a true and fair meritocracy, as if academia is somehow above the vagaries of blind chance, sheer luck, white privilege, and jockeying for power.

Any academic worth their salt should be either heavily insinuating, or outright stating to their students, that college is a huge waste of time and money, depending on how much “free speech” they can actually afford to say without getting canned. Universities function today as huge indoctrination camps to train the next generation of good “liberals” (or good Germans, it might be more appropriate to say) who will never question or threaten to overturn the system: the professional-managerial upper-middle class technocrats, financiers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

Thus, even some dissident academics manage to paint themselves into a corner with ineffectual arguments backing the college system, turf wars, theatrical posturing, lack of engagement with the working class, etc. This has all been said before, but again, it may be worth repeating. For instance, in 2011 in the US there were some “socialists” and “anarchists” supporting the US/UK/French bombing of Libya, and a few who equivocated and vacillated, citing the responsibility to protect civilians, parroting State Department propaganda. Oy vey.

The internet and social media has accelerated this trend, making things worse among the wider population, as even those with core anti-capitalist ideas fall into internecine bickering. This is peak aspersionary politics, or passive-aggressiveness if you prefer, which apes wider bourgeois culture. To recast Allen Ginsberg’s opening line of Howl for today, and I only mean this half-jokingly, we can think of something like: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by social media.” Some Left twitterati self-identify as being “extremely online”: brazenly, unashamedly, and unreflectively revealing the depths of their own screen addictions.

Aldous Huxley described the brain as a “reducing valve”, yet I’ve not heard a fully-encompassing phrase for the situation created by a digital milieu where web algorithms which reinforce harmful beliefs and behavior, prey on our addictions, amplify hatred, sow discord, polarize media and community; by devices that seize and sustain our attention long after we realize it no longer serves our interests; by neurotransmitter hijacking, empathy-deadening, critical-thinking atrophying smartphones and media built explicitly to mine us for money, use our thoughts/photos/creativity/etc. as free content while social media companies and those who advertise on the platforms make billions, and generally to simultaneously distract, outrage, and numb us. “Limbic capitalism3 is the closest term I’ve come across, but perhaps the more brutal, if less artful, phrase is more apt: mind control.

There is less and less nuance and space for radical dissent as many left-leaning alternative media and social media influencers close ranks and offer only very mild criticism of social democratic policies. Again, the striving is self-evident, is it not?

These are symptoms of unhealthy minds, formatted/manipulated/brainwashed to choose between false binaries no matter what contradictions follow from the starting premises of whatever topic is at hand. For instance, take the so-called socialist opportunists who offer very mild public criticism of the Green New Deal, or those who don’t mention the huge cuts in military spending needed to give the deal teeth, so as not to seem confrontational or radical, or perhaps to save what’s left of their perceived (yet, worthless) reputations. In other words, their take is: we don’t have time to build real socialism. Let’s form a coalition with the new social democrats, as if that didn’t end in complete disaster over 100 years ago.

Paths Forward

Now, of course it’s true that reform can indeed broaden and deepen the prospects for revolution, and it is not an either/or proposition, as Rosa Luxembourg explained so well. Yet, we cannot let the crass opportunism and striving for attention on digital media to enact important reforms derail us from steeping workers, students, minorities, and women in the rich intellectual tradition woven by the anti-capitalist Left.

Right in the introduction to the Social Reform or Revolution, Luxemburg states: “The entire strength of the modern labor movement rests on theoretic knowledge.” Despite big advances in the last three years, clearly there is a need for the deep type of work involving the framework for constructing and advancing a truly emancipatory Green New Deal, as well as fighting for open borders, the abolition of prisons and police, and the military-industrial complex.

Anything less than a systematic and intersectional approach will do a huge disservice to the movement and will replicate the cloistered, privileged milieu which unduly benefits the extremely online and their techno-utopian backers.

Reform is welcome because it can lead to tolerance, and its eventual byproduct, solidarity. Solidarity is a radiating emotional, behavioral, and intellectual stance from which flow social bonding and necessary healing mechanisms for our culture. The main ideals of environmental, social, and economic justice revolve around solidarity. Which gives us space to breathe, and here I’m reminded of Eric Garner’s last words. The minorities and the poor in this country have been suffocating for centuries. With no mass base, even the good intentions of those in Congress, such as the “Squad” who advocate for redistributive measures, will be for naught.

If some of today’s US socialist “thought leaders” are so spineless to feign from even mentioning how the prospect of renewable energy corporations left in the hands of private control will end in utter disaster, or to simply pretend it won’t, there’s not much left to say to these people. Then there are US socialists who advocate insanely for nuclear power. Forget theoretical knowledge.  This is basic common sense.  Nuclear energy is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. If there is intimidation by peers, or simply self-censorship, or to maintain a lifestyle by promoting such anti-life policies on the Left, well, it’s entirely understandable, predictable, and wretched. It’s also an abdication of responsibility: clearly these are bourgeois stances.

To sum up, pointing fingers at the ruling classes’ blatantly obvious sociopathic tendencies provides the convenient scapegoats and diversionary tactics from confronting the holes in many of our own thinking

Back to theoretic knowledge for a minute. First, we have to take into account the anti-intellectual climate here in the US. One encounters quite a few semi-influential figures, especially on the right but increasingly in anti-capitalist outlets, which are quick to criticize French postmodernists, or the Frankfurt School, or various strains of thought which are deemed too obscure or weighty.

There’s no time for theory is one of their complaints, because it is too time-consuming or turns off too many people. So whatever is too complicated for the gate-keeping digital left-liberal editors is thrown by the wayside, but it ain’t clear where this process is headed other than an even more dumbed-down society. What is clear is we are dealing with lightweights.  It’s pretty paternalistic too, because the subtext seems to be that regular people are just too dumb to be introduced to “Theory” and serious academic work.

The other side to this is that many of the same people who are wonderful at explaining theory or offering political critique, many of the “the Left opinion makers”, have absolutely no environmental or ecological knowledge base. You wouldn’t trust them with a shovel; never mind on a factory floor, a communal farm, starting an activist movement or union, or organizing a cooperative. The materialism part of the equation never kicked in. It’s a function of middle-class squeamishness that needs to be squashed.

Another point I want to mention is the US and UK analytic preference for social critique and philosophical investigation, in contrast to the continental style. And I cannot emphasize enough that the dominant Anglophone trend is to turn socialism into an equation, a formula. Put another way, to offer models of governance and even to organize in the technocratic style. Not only that, but to uncritically accept a model for the future based on unrestrained use of technology, with very little understanding of environmental impacts,  conservation, or basic ecology in general.

We see this techno-fetishism in some of the ideas floating around such as “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”, notably Aaron Bastani’s recent work of the same title. Bastani is close to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. And look who gives a plug for the book, Bhaskar Sunkara. And if you follow these connections down the rabbit hole you’ll see Sunkara’s most recent work gets a plug from Ezra Klein of Vox. So there are all these ties from UK socialists to US democratic socialists to elitist technocratic liberals. And what is in common is a shared naivety regarding technology.

Again, ideas around degrowth are never discussed by the automation admirers. It’s clearly a total dismissal of the idea to preserve their own affluence. Total energy use in the West will have to decrease immensely. The economy, which is inexorably tied to energy use, will have to contract. Nearly all large buildings will have to be retrofitted to remain cooler in the summer and warmer in winter using natural insulation methods. Many large office buildings, skyscrapers, malls, etc. will simply have to be abandoned because there is no way to heat/cool them even remotely efficiently. Modern agriculture will have to be dismantled and converted to decentralized permaculture community-worked gardens.

None of this is even mentioned by the automators. This is because their thinking, their ways of being online, have already started to slip into the manner of the automaton. Which many people acknowledged, where Brzezinski dispassionately saw it as an inevitability of modern life, and famously Marcuse saw it as a downright horror in his One Dimensional Man.

The majority of the world can see through all of this talk of AI, robot, quantum computer, 5G drivel. Most people understand, even if they cannot quite communicate their ideas as coldly or eloquently as the technophiles, that the mind cannot be reduced to a mechanical device or a computer processor. As below, so above, society cannot be viewed or treated as a factory floor for renewable energy powered robots to bring us to some Jetsons or Star Trek lifestyle.

The opportunities for control and manipulation of minds have already grown at a frightening pace in the past fifty years. Even further automation would simply open up more avenues for alienation and exploitation. Here’s how. A pro-automation society would be more open to new hierarchies created by divides among the digitally literate, could empower the pharmaceutical companies to create dangerous new drugs to control moods and perception, could open up more geo-engineering of the planet, to more spying and tracking of individuals, and generally more of the full-spectrum digitization of our lives.

This isn’t to suggest that those among the extremely online don’t have any good ideas, or that the FALCers don’t either. It’s simply a reminder that some of these people are being very naïve in regard to the future of technology, some are materially benefitting from the current toxic social media environment and are therefore biased, and others do not realize the internal logic of the system which engenders some of the very barriers they wish to destroy. In most cases high technology acts as a drug, with an intelligence of its own, and once you’re on the ride you don’t control where you’re going to get off.

  1. Ronit, Purian, “Technophilia: A New Model For Technology Adoption” (2011), UK Academy for Information Systems Conference Proceedings 2011, Paper 41.
  2. Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage Books, New York, 1992.
  3. Courtwright, David. “How ‘Limbic Capitalism’ Preys on our Addicted Brains”, Quillette, May 31, 2019.

CPAC Down Under

It was a time for Australian conservatives to be boring, and bore each other.  CPAC, otherwise known as the Conservative Political Action Conference, had arrived in Sydney.  The real entertainment bill was to be supplied by such figures as Brexiter supremo Nigel Farage and former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London, Raheem Kassam.  The rest was poor filling, the tired, cranky Fox and Sky News set.

CPAC 2019 was described in the usual, fun filled way on the organisation’s website.  “The American Conservative Union and LibertyWorks are proud to bring CPAC to Australia for the first time!” Participate, went the message; the “shy voters” might have kept the Australian Labor Party out of office, but, and here Ronald Reagan was quoted with gusto, “The future doesn’t belong to the light-hearted.  It belongs to the brave.”

For only the second time since coming into existence in 1974 with 400 registrants, CPAC was holding a gathering outside the United States.  Its existence owed much to the initial explorations of the conservative magazine Human Events, and the creation of the American Conservative Union. The ACU was itself a gathering spurred on by the defeat of Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964.  As Human Events described it, “The CPAC Conference was seen as a way of rebuilding the morale of conservatives and of refocusing the energies of the movement for future battles.”

Farage did not disappoint, filling the forum with the invective that keeps him afloat.  He, for instance, had little time for those he termed “fake” conservatives, the foremost of them being former Australian Prime Minister, the very much knifed Malcolm Turnbull.  He also demonstrated certain non-too conservative credentials of his own, aiming a few salvos at members of the Royal Family back home in conversation on a Sky News panel, and during a speech at a gala dinner on Saturday.

While describing the Queen as “an amazing, awe-inspiring woman”, her misguided, degenerate offspring and their issue were quite a different matter. “When it comes to her son, when it comes to Charlie Boy and climate change, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”  The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, had lost the plot in desiring a modest brood of two children, being worried about climate change.

Where had that old Harry gone, “this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all sorts of mayhem”?  Instead of putting this down to age and, unusually for some royals, the maturing process, Farage had the answer: Meghan Markle.  Once they met, his credibility fell off a cliff, ignoring, for instance “the real problem the Earth faces, and that is the fact the population of the globe is exploding but no one dares talk about it.”

This was a chance for Australian conservatives to feel loved and thought relevant by their Anglo-American cousins.  Noses were powdered, outfits tailored.  US-UK contingent could hardly have been that impressed. Senator Amanda Stoker’s speech on industrial relations was soporific; polemical scribe Janet Albrechtsen struck an odd note of insecurity by deeming contempt cold. “When someone treats another person with contempt, they’re putting that other person down and making themselves feel superior.” (Albrechtsen, take note.)

To the Anglo-American set went the guns, the demagogues, the reactionary ballast.  On the subject of guns, Kassam was happy to offer his own theory about the murderous bounty reaped by such devices in the United States: “the establishment media and the left”; and the pharmaceutical industry.  The children of America were being pumped “with these medications […] and these lies.  The want them to have a little anger, but not too much.”  Mental instability, anger, and the gun toting solution: all reasonable progressions in Kassam’s reckoning.

Otherwise, the current Human Events global editor-in-chief proved conventional, lobbing grenades at Islam, recalling his role in establishing an anti-radicalisation group seeking to prevent people “throwing homosexuals off buildings, FGM (female genital mutilation) and lightly beating your wife” and mocking gender politics.

The Australians, as they often do at events where Britannia and Uncle Sam hold hands, were eclipsed.  Former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson lamented “empathy culture” and the left’s abuse of “people who dare to disagree with you”.  Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has had his mild spell of demagoguery in Australian politics, took issue with Victoria’s assisted dying laws (“morally shocking”, no less), identity politics, and the loss of faith. “This is why it is so easy for people to put forward fundamentally inhuman ideas and have them taken much more seriously than they should be.”

The CPAC Conference tends to function like a reassuring echo chamber rather than an arena for debate.  Added publicity is only generated by those who fear its reach.  One such unwitting promoter of the event was Labor’s spokesperson for Home Affairs, Senator Kristina Keneally.  Having made it her personal, and failing mission, to prevent certain attendees from coming into the country, she was bound to make a mention at CPAC 2019. She did so by winning the CPAC Freedom Award, one earned for promoting the conference.

This is something she did repeatedly, suggesting that Kassam be banned for his “extensive history of vilifying people”.  Kassam, for his part, suggested that the senator, that model of Catholicism, had made him feel unsafe on the streets of Sydney.  “She should be ashamed of herself…  There is nothing Christian about silencing your opposition.”

What Keneally ended up doing was demonstrating, yet again, how free speech in Australia functions as a mutable construction, easily forgotten in the face of insult and the hold exerted by an odious opinion.  Just let them babble and fume.

CPAC Down Under

It was a time for Australian conservatives to be boring, and bore each other.  CPAC, otherwise known as the Conservative Political Action Conference, had arrived in Sydney.  The real entertainment bill was to be supplied by such figures as Brexiter supremo Nigel Farage and former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London, Raheem Kassam.  The rest was poor filling, the tired, cranky Fox and Sky News set.

CPAC 2019 was described in the usual, fun filled way on the organisation’s website.  “The American Conservative Union and LibertyWorks are proud to bring CPAC to Australia for the first time!” Participate, went the message; the “shy voters” might have kept the Australian Labor Party out of office, but, and here Ronald Reagan was quoted with gusto, “The future doesn’t belong to the light-hearted.  It belongs to the brave.”

For only the second time since coming into existence in 1974 with 400 registrants, CPAC was holding a gathering outside the United States.  Its existence owed much to the initial explorations of the conservative magazine Human Events, and the creation of the American Conservative Union. The ACU was itself a gathering spurred on by the defeat of Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964.  As Human Events described it, “The CPAC Conference was seen as a way of rebuilding the morale of conservatives and of refocusing the energies of the movement for future battles.”

Farage did not disappoint, filling the forum with the invective that keeps him afloat.  He, for instance, had little time for those he termed “fake” conservatives, the foremost of them being former Australian Prime Minister, the very much knifed Malcolm Turnbull.  He also demonstrated certain non-too conservative credentials of his own, aiming a few salvos at members of the Royal Family back home in conversation on a Sky News panel, and during a speech at a gala dinner on Saturday.

While describing the Queen as “an amazing, awe-inspiring woman”, her misguided, degenerate offspring and their issue were quite a different matter. “When it comes to her son, when it comes to Charlie Boy and climate change, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”  The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, had lost the plot in desiring a modest brood of two children, being worried about climate change.

Where had that old Harry gone, “this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all sorts of mayhem”?  Instead of putting this down to age and, unusually for some royals, the maturing process, Farage had the answer: Meghan Markle.  Once they met, his credibility fell off a cliff, ignoring, for instance “the real problem the Earth faces, and that is the fact the population of the globe is exploding but no one dares talk about it.”

This was a chance for Australian conservatives to feel loved and thought relevant by their Anglo-American cousins.  Noses were powdered, outfits tailored.  US-UK contingent could hardly have been that impressed. Senator Amanda Stoker’s speech on industrial relations was soporific; polemical scribe Janet Albrechtsen struck an odd note of insecurity by deeming contempt cold. “When someone treats another person with contempt, they’re putting that other person down and making themselves feel superior.” (Albrechtsen, take note.)

To the Anglo-American set went the guns, the demagogues, the reactionary ballast.  On the subject of guns, Kassam was happy to offer his own theory about the murderous bounty reaped by such devices in the United States: “the establishment media and the left”; and the pharmaceutical industry.  The children of America were being pumped “with these medications […] and these lies.  The want them to have a little anger, but not too much.”  Mental instability, anger, and the gun toting solution: all reasonable progressions in Kassam’s reckoning.

Otherwise, the current Human Events global editor-in-chief proved conventional, lobbing grenades at Islam, recalling his role in establishing an anti-radicalisation group seeking to prevent people “throwing homosexuals off buildings, FGM (female genital mutilation) and lightly beating your wife” and mocking gender politics.

The Australians, as they often do at events where Britannia and Uncle Sam hold hands, were eclipsed.  Former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson lamented “empathy culture” and the left’s abuse of “people who dare to disagree with you”.  Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has had his mild spell of demagoguery in Australian politics, took issue with Victoria’s assisted dying laws (“morally shocking”, no less), identity politics, and the loss of faith. “This is why it is so easy for people to put forward fundamentally inhuman ideas and have them taken much more seriously than they should be.”

The CPAC Conference tends to function like a reassuring echo chamber rather than an arena for debate.  Added publicity is only generated by those who fear its reach.  One such unwitting promoter of the event was Labor’s spokesperson for Home Affairs, Senator Kristina Keneally.  Having made it her personal, and failing mission, to prevent certain attendees from coming into the country, she was bound to make a mention at CPAC 2019. She did so by winning the CPAC Freedom Award, one earned for promoting the conference.

This is something she did repeatedly, suggesting that Kassam be banned for his “extensive history of vilifying people”.  Kassam, for his part, suggested that the senator, that model of Catholicism, had made him feel unsafe on the streets of Sydney.  “She should be ashamed of herself…  There is nothing Christian about silencing your opposition.”

What Keneally ended up doing was demonstrating, yet again, how free speech in Australia functions as a mutable construction, easily forgotten in the face of insult and the hold exerted by an odious opinion.  Just let them babble and fume.

Sur Baher Home Demolitions illustrate a Vicious Spiral of Oppression in Palestine

Recent events have shone a spotlight not only on how Israel is intensifying its abuse of Palestinians under its rule, but the utterly depraved complicity of western governments in its actions.

The arrival of Donald Trump in the White House two-and-a-half years ago has emboldened Israel as never before, leaving it free to unleash new waves of brutality in the occupied territories.

Western states have not only turned a blind eye to these outrages, but are actively assisting in silencing anyone who dares to speak out.

It is rapidly creating a vicious spiral: the more Israel violates international law, the more the West represses criticism, the more Israel luxuriates in its impunity.

This shameless descent was starkly illustrated last week when hundreds of heavily armed Israeli soldiers, many of them masked, raided a neighbourhood of Sur Baher, on the edges of Jerusalem. Explosives and bulldozers destroyed dozens of homes, leaving many hundreds of Palestinians without a roof over their heads.

During the operation, extreme force was used against residents, as well as international volunteers there in the forlorn hope that their presence would deter violence. Videos showed the soldiers cheering and celebrating as they razed the neighbourhood.

House destructions have long been an ugly staple of Israel’s belligerent occupation, but there were grounds for extra alarm on this occasion.

Traditionally, demolitions occur on the two-thirds of the West Bank placed by the Oslo accords temporarily under Israeli control. That is bad enough: Israel should have handed over what is called “Area C” to the Palestinian Authority 20 years ago. Instead, it has hounded Palestinians off these areas to free them up for illegal Jewish settlement.

But the Sur Baher demolitions took place in “Area A”, land assigned by Oslo to the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting – as a prelude to Palestinian statehood. Israel is supposed to have zero planning or security jurisdiction there.

Palestinians rightly fear that Israel has established a dangerous precedent, further reversing the Oslo Accords, which can one day be used to justify driving many thousands more Palestinians off land under PA control.

Most western governments barely raised their voices. Even the United Nations offered a mealy-mouthed expression of “sadness” at what took place.

A few kilometres north, in Issawiya, another East Jerusalem suburb, Israeli soldiers have been terrorising 20,000 Palestinian residents for weeks. They have set up checkpoints, carried out dozens of random night-time arrests, imposed arbitrary fines and traffic tickets, and shot live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets into residential areas.

Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights group, calls Issawiya’s treatment a “perpetual state of collective punishment” – that is, a war crime.

Over in Gaza, not only are the 2 million inhabitants being slowly starved by Israel’s 12-year blockade, but a weekly shooting spree against Palestinians who protest at the fence imprisoning them has become so routine it barely attracts attention any more.

On Friday, Israeli snipers killed one protester and seriously injured 56, including 22 children.

That followed new revelations that Israeli’s policy of shooting unarmed protesters in the upper leg to injure them – another war crime – continued long after it became clear a significant proportion of Palestinians were dying from their wounds.

Belatedly – after more than 200 deaths and the severe disabling of many thousands of Palestinians – snipers have been advised to “ease up” by shooting protesters in the ankle.

B’Tselem, another Israeli rights organisation, called the army’s open-fire regulation a “criminal policy”, one that “consciously chose not to regard those standing on the other side of the fence as humans”.

Rather than end such criminal practices, Israel prefers to conceal them. It has effectively sealed Palestinian areas off to avoid scrutiny.

Omar Shakir, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, is facing imminent deportation, yet more evidence of Israel’s growing crackdown on the human rights community.

A report by the Palestinian Right to Enter campaign last week warned that Israel is systematically denying foreign nationals permits to live and work in the occupied territories, including areas supposedly under PA control.

That affects both foreign-born Palestinians, often those marrying local Palestinians, and internationals. According to recent reports, Israel is actively forcing out academics teaching at the West Bank’s leading university, Bir Zeit, in a severe blow to Palestinian academic freedom.

Palestinian journalists highlighting Israeli crimes are in Israel’s sights too. Last week, Israel stripped one – Mustafa Al Haruf – of his Jerusalem residency, tearing him from his wife and young child. Because it is illegal to leave someone stateless, Israel is now bullying Jordan to accept him.

Another exclusion policy – denying entry to Israel’s fiercest critics, those who back the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement – is facing its first challenge.

Two US congresswomen who support BDS – Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who has family in the West Bank – have announced plans to visit.

Israeli officials have indicated they will exempt them both, apparently fearful of drawing wider attention to Israel’s draconian entry restrictions, which also cover the occupied territories.

Israel is probably being overly cautious. The BDS movement, which alone argues for the imposition of penalties on Israel until it halts its abuse of Palestinians, is being bludgeoned by western governments.

In the US and Europe, strong criticism of Israel, even from Jews – let alone demands for meaningful action – is being conflated with antisemitism. Much of this furore seems intended to ease the path towards silencing Israel’s critics.

More than two dozen US states, as well as the Senate, have passed laws – drafted by pro-Israel lobby groups – to limit the rights of the American public to support boycotts of Israel.

Anti-BDS legislation has also been passed by the German and French parliaments.

And last week the US House of Representatives joined them, overwhelmingly passing a resolution condemning the BDS movement. Only 17 legislators demurred.

It was a slap in the face to Ms Omar, who has been promoting a bill designed to uphold the First Amendment rights of boycott supporters.

It seems absurd that these curbs on free speech have emerged just as Israel makes clear it has no interest in peace, will never concede Palestinian statehood and is entrenching a permanent system of apartheid in the occupied territories.

But there should be no surprise. The clampdown is further evidence that western support for Israel is indeed based on shared values – those that treat the Palestinians as lesser beings, whose rights can be trampled at will.