Category Archives: Freedom of Expression/Speech

The Corporate Media’s World of Illusions

For several years now, I have been writing these regular blog posts with one end in mind: to help open a door for readers and encourage them to step through. I select issues, usually those that dominate western media coverage and represent a consensus that we might term the Great Western Narrative, and try to show how this narrative has been constructed not to inform and enlighten but to conceal and deceive.

It is not that I and the many other bloggers doing this are cleverer than everyone else. We have simply had a chance – an earlier one – to step through that door ourselves, because of a jarring life experience that the Great Western Narrative could not explain, or because someone held the door open for us, or more usually because of a combination of the two.

My personal awakening

It is easy for me to identify my own process of awakening. It began with the dislocation of moving to Nazareth and being immersed in someone else’s narrative – that of the Palestinians. Then, I faced for the first time in my career as a journalist an impenetrable wall of opposition, even from my own former newspaper, the Guardian, as I tried to explain that counter-narrative. In fact, I found that the Palestinian narrative was invariably misrepresented as anti-semitism. These were dark years of disillusionment and the loss of a professional and ideological compass.

It is in such a moment of bereavement – deprived of the consolation of the Great Western Narrative – that one searches for a door to enlightenment. It can be a long journey to find it. My door appeared while reading about the Propaganda Model of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book Manufacturing Consent, as well as stumbling across a website called Media Lens. They helped me understand that the narrative problem was not restricted to Israel-Palestine, but was a much more general one.

In fact, the Great Western Narrative has been developed and refined over centuries to preserve a tiny elite’s privileges and expand its power. The role of journalists like me was to keep feeding these illusions to readers so they would remain fearful, passive and deferential to this elite. It is not that journalists lie – or at least, not most of them – it is that they are as deeply wedded to the Great Western Narrative as anyone else.

Once one is prepared to step through the door, to discard the old script, the new narrative takes its hold because it is so helpful. It actually explains the world, and human behaviour, as it is experienced everywhere. It has genuine predictive power. And most importantly, it reveals a truth understood by all figures of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment throughout human history: that human beings are equally human, whether they are Americans, Europeans, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Russians, Venezuelans, or Iranians, whether they are North or South Koreans.

The term “human” is not meant simply as a description of us as a species, or a biological entity. It also describes who we are, what drives us, what makes us cry, what makes us laugh, what makes us angry, what elicits compassion. And the truth is that we are all essentially the same. The same things upset us, the same things amuse us. The same things inspire us, the same things outrage us. We want dignity, freedom, safety for us and our loved ones, and appreciate beauty and truth. We fear oppression, injustice, insecurity.

Hierarchies of virtue

The Great Western Narrative tells us something entirely different. It divides the world into a hierarchy of “peoples”, with different, even conflicting, virtues and vices. Some humans – westerners – are more rational, more caring, more thoughtful, more fully human. And other humans – the rest – are more primitive, more emotional, more violent. In this system of classification, we are the Good Guys and they are the Bad Guys; we are Order, they are Chaos. They need a firm hand from us to control them and stop them doing too much damage to themselves and to our civilised part of the world.

The Great Western Narrative isn’t really new. It is simply a reformulation for a different era of the “white man’s burden”.

The reason the Great Western Narrative persists is because it is useful – to those in power. Humans may be essentially the same in our natures and in our drives, but we are very definitely divided by power and its modern corollary, wealth. A tiny number have it, and the vast majority do not. The Great Western Narrative is there to perpetuate power by legitimising it, by making its unbalanced and unjust distribution seem natural and immutable.

Once kings told us they had blue blood and a divine right. Today, we need a different kind of narrative, but one designed to achieve the same end. Just like kings and barons once owned everything, now a tiny corporate elite rule the world. They have to justify that to themselves and to us.

The king and the barons had their courtiers, the clergy and a wider circle of hanger-ons who most of the time benefited enough from the system not to disrupt it. The role of the clergy in particular was to sanction the gross imbalance of power, to argue that it was God’s will. Today, the media function like the clergy of old. God may be dead, as Nietzsche observed, but the corporate media has taken his place. In the unquestioned premises of every article, we are told who should rule and who should be ruled, who are the Good Guys and who the Bad.

To make this system more palatable, more democratic, to make us believe that there is equality of opportunity and that wealth trickles down, the western elite has had to allow a large domestic middle class to emerge, like the courtiers of old. The spoils from the rape and pillage of distant societies are shared sparingly with this class. Their consciences are rarely pricked because the corporate media’s function is to ensure they know little about the rest of the world and care even less, believing those foreigners to be less deserving, less human.

Nothing more than statistics

If western readers, for example, understood that a Palestinian is no different from an Israeli – apart from in opportunities and income – then they might feel sympathy for a grieving Palestinian family just as they do for an Israeli one. But the Great Western Narrative is there precisely to ensure readers won’t feel the same about the two cases. That is why Palestinian deaths are invariably reported as nothing more than statistics – because Palestinians die in large numbers, like cattle in an abbatoir. Israelis, by contrast, die much more rarely and their deaths are recorded individually. They are dignified with names, life stories and pictures.

Even when a moment arrives to single out a Palestinian from the mass of death, western corporate media show great reluctance to do so. Just take the case of Razan al-Najjar, the 21-year-old Palestinian medic executed by a sniper’s bullet as she tended to the unarmed demonstrators regularly being killed and wounded at the perimeter fence encaging them in the prison of Gaza.

Gaza is slowly sinking into the sea, but who cares? Those primitive Palestinians live like cavemen amid the rubble of homes Israel has repeatedly destroyed. Their women are hijabbed and they have too many children. They don’t look like us, they don’t speak like us. Doubtless, they don’t think like us. They cannot be us.

Even those young Palestinian demonstrators, with their faces covered with strange scarves, launching flaming kites and throwing the odd stone, look different. Can we imagine ourselves standing in front of a sniper to protest like that? Of course not. We cannot imagine what it is like to live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, in an open-air prison over which another nation serves as jailers, in which the water is becoming as saline as seawater and there is no electricity. So how can we put ourselves in the demonstrators’ shoes, how can we empathise? It is so much easier to imagine being the powerful sniper protecting the “border” and his home.

But al-Najjar undermined all that. A young, pretty woman with a beautiful smile – she could be our daughter. Selflessly tending to the wounded, thinking not of herself but of the welfare of others, we would love her to be our daughter. We can identify with her much better than the sniper. She is a door beckoning us to step through and see the world from a different location, from a different perspective.

Which is why the corporate media has not invested al-Najjar’s death with the emotional, empathetic coverage it would if a pretty young Israeli female medic had been gunned down by a Palestinian. It was that double standard in his own newspaper that outraged cartoonist Steve Bell last week as he noted in correspondence with the editor that the Guardian had barely covered the story of al-Najjar. When he tried to redress the imbalance, his own cartoon of her death was censored.

The Guardian’s editors argued that his cartoon was anti-semitic. But the deeper truth is that al-Najjar is dangerous. Because once you step through that door, you are unlikely to come back, you are unlikely ever again to believe the Great Western Narrative.

The true message of Israel

Israel-Palestine offered me that door, just as it has so many others. It is not, as Israel’s apologists – and the upholders of the Great Western Narrative – will tell you, because so many westerners are anti-semitic. It is because Israel lies in a grey zone of experience, one that is readily available to western tourists but can at the same time give them a chance to glimpse the dark underbelly of western privilege.

Israel is enthusiastically embraced by the Great Western Narrative: it is supposedly a liberal democracy, many of its inhabitants dress and sound like us, its cities look rather like our cities, its TV shows are given a makeover and become hits on our TV screens. If you don’t stand too close, Israel could be Britain or the US.

But there are clues galore, for those who bother to look a little beyond superficialities, that there is something profoundly amiss about Israel. A few miles from their homes, the sons of those western-looking families regularly train their gun sights on unarmed demonstrators, on children, on women, on journalists, on medics, and pull the trigger with barely any compunction.

They do so not because they are monsters, but because they are exactly like us, exactly like our sons. That is the true horror of Israel. We have a chance to see ourselves in Israel – because it is not exactly us, because most of us have some distance from it, because it still looks a little strange despite the best efforts of the western media, and because its own local narrative – justifying its actions – is even more extreme, even more entitled, even more racist towards the Other than the Great Western Narrative.

It is that shocking realisation – that we could be Israelis, that we could be those snipers – that prevents many from stepping through the door to see what is on the other side. Or, more troubling still, halting at the threshold of the doorway, glimpsing a partial truth without understanding its full ramifications.

Equally human

To explain what I mean, let us digress for a moment and consider the allegorical film The Matrix.

Neo, the hero played by Keanu Reeves, starts to realise that the reality around him is not as solid as it once seemed. Things have become peculiar, inconsistent, inexplicable. He is shown the door to an entirely different reality with the help of a mentor, Morpheus. Neo discovers that in truth he exists in a dark world taken over by computer-generated life forms that feed off the consciousnesses of him and the rest of mankind. Until then, he had been living in a dream world created to pacify him and other humans as they are exploited for their energy.

Neo and a small band of others who have liberated themselves from this false consciousness cannot hope to defeat their opponents directly. They must wage war through the Matrix, a digital world in which the computer life-forms always triumph. It is only when Neo finally grasps that the Matrix is an illusion too – that these life forms he is battling are simply binary code – that he becomes strong enough to triumph.

Back to us. On the other side of the door lies a truth that humans are all equally human. From this vantage point, it is possible to understand that a privileged westerner or Israeli would react exactly like a Palestinian if he had to endure the experiences of living in Gaza. From this location, it is possible to understand that my son might pull the trigger, just like most Israeli teenagers do, if he had been bombarded, like them, with brainwashing all his life from his media, school and politicians depicting Palestinians as primitive and violent.

From the other side of the door, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad look as irrational, or rational, and as criminal as George W Bush, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump. In fact, they look less criminal – not because they are better humans than their western counterparts, but simply because they enjoy less power and face more constraints in trying to impose their will. The issue is not about who is better. They are the same as humans. It is about who has more force at their disposal – and more will to use it – to perpetuate their power.

Enslaved to power

The conclusion from this is that the way to change our societies fundamentally for the better depends on a change in our consciousness, on liberating ourselves from false perspective, on stepping through the door.

If we remain in a world of illusions, of false hierarchies of virtue, oblivious to the role of power, we will continue to be like Neo living in his dream world.

And if we step only to the threshold, glimpsing the shadows on the the other side, we will be equally in thrall to illusions, just as Neo took his battle back into the Matrix, fighting ghosts in the machine as though they were flesh-and-blood enemies.

This danger can be seen in the case of Israel-Palestine too, where the horrors that Israel inflicts on Palestinians justifiably radicalise many observers. But not all step fully through the door. They linger at the threshold, angry with Israel and Israelis, and beatifying Palestinians as nothing more than victims. Some manage to find false consolation again, this time accepting ready-made conspiracies that “the Jews” are pulling the levers that make such outrages – and western inaction – possible.

To stand in the doorway is as bad as refusing to step through. The illusions are as dangerous, the false consciousness as profound.

Our planet and our children’s futures depend on us liberating ourselves, seeing the ghosts in the machine for what they truly are. We have to begin rebuilding our societies on the basis that we share a common humanity. That other humans are not our enemies, only those who wish to enslave us to their power.

Twats and Tweets: Roseanne Barr and the Issue of Proportion

Can anything be said that doesn’t warrant an empaneled jury of twitting twats to determine the fate of an individual?  It is evident that branding, marketing and selling can only be done in a context of controlled hypocrisy.  Companies long happy to use celebrities as fronts for promoting products and the image of a television network have become obsessed with the idea of sensitivity.

While Roseanne Barr’s tweet describing former President Barack Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett in simian terms (“Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj”) was stingingly rude, the hammer option adopted towards her by the ABC was manic.  Was the Roseanne Barr slated to return in her show meant to have been reformed, one more economical in her rattled, and rattling, opinions?

The sense among the writers and producers was to fall in line.  People were all meant to be horrified at this new creation, this new Barr.  Executive producer David Caplan claimed to be helpless before the implications of the tweet.  “I really wasn’t sure what to do because I didn’t feel like there was really any response to it.  It was so far over the line and so loathsome that I suspected there might not be any coming back from it.”

Caplan recounted Barr during season 10 of the program.  She was found to be “reasonable with the writers.”  Despite disagreements regarding her political beliefs, she proved “reasonable to work with at that point.”

This suggests a bit of hand washing on Caplan’s part in anticipation of future employment: Barr’s tweet had nothing to do with work matters, and certainly nothing to with the scripting of the show.  Keep new freaky marginalised, isolated, for fear of being contaminated.

This stomach-turning sanctimony can be found in the idea that the ABC network is magically tolerant (family values and all that), and that Barr was somehow out of step.  Take Hal Boedeker, who happily marches to a tune that is not only discordant but silly.

In the Orlando Sentinel, the righteous Boedeker made the following observation held down by the assumptions of pure fantasy: “Disney sends the message that it welcomes all. Barr violated the Disney philosophy with her racist tweet about former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.”  As if it made any difference whatsoever, “Barr also had a history of bashing others with tweets, and she trafficked in conspiracy theories.”

What makes such mind addled assessments even more unearthly is the remark that Barr’s conspiracy theories do not cut it in the world of fantasy. (What runs for fantastic these days?)  “Disney deals in fairy tales, not conspiracy theories.”  A good reading of the text, subtext and inner meaning of many a fairy tale repudiates such a view.  In-between readers such as academics keen to secure their next grant constitute, it could be said, a conspiracy of interpretation, finding a spectral hook upon which to hang upon the next questionable interpretation.

True to corporate form, the production vultures at the ABC are trying to find ways to move beyond RB for what is enthusiastically being proclaimed a salvation.  Spin-offs are being sought, though they must be emphatic on one point: the absence of the protagonist that made it to begin with.  In the manner that resembles something of a theft, Barr, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “would not be able to financially benefit from any new incarnation of the series.” (Legal minds, ready yourselves.)

The point about Barr is that she never changed, which might well be the problem.  To understand the market and the nature of one’s employer is to understand how hypocrisies and cant might change at any given moment in time.  The fury directed against her is the misplaced anger of the trend follower with the attention span of a light lured moth.

Treating Barr in such a manner is also bound to encourage others to come out with their scything swipes.  An example is provided by Jonathan S. Tobin in The National Review, who has asked for “an amnesty for speech offenses.” If Barr can be sent to the television’s salt mines for a racist tweet “why shouldn’t Samantha Bee lose hers for a presumably scripted line on her show in which she called Ivanka Trump a cunt and implied that she could get her father to change her mind about an issue by wearing something tight and low cut?”

Ironically enough, in the age of Trump, where the ad hominem remark has been given a whole new lease of life, becoming total, normal and unstoppable, mechanisms of control and punishment are finding their bearings.  Trust broadcasting to be one of them in their righteous corrections.

Those familiar enough with Barr would have taken her comment as deserving of a chastising, disturbed rebuke, a point she would have been more than capable of accepting.  But debate before the lynch mob is nigh impossible.  The noose speaks volumes, and expression can gradually slide into a dull, controlled oblivion.

When Things Fall Apart: A Graduation Message for a Dark Age

When the rivers and air are polluted, when families and nations are at war, when homeless wanderers fill the highways, these are the traditional signs of a dark age.

— Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, September 26, 2000

Those coming of age today will face some of the greatest obstacles ever encountered by young people.

They will find themselves overtaxed, burdened with excessive college debt, and struggling to find worthwhile employment in a debt-ridden economy on the brink of implosion. Their privacy will be eviscerated by the surveillance state. They will be the subjects of a military empire constantly waging war against shadowy enemies and government agents armed to the teeth ready and able to lock down the country at a moment’s notice.

As such, they will find themselves forced to march in lockstep with a government that no longer exists to serve the people but which demands they be obedient slaves or suffer the consequences.

It’s a dismal prospect, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we who should have known better failed to guard against such a future.

Worse, we neglected to maintain our freedoms or provide our young people with the tools necessary to survive, let alone succeed, in the impersonal jungle that is modern America.

We brought them into homes fractured by divorce, distracted by mindless entertainment, and obsessed with the pursuit of materialism. We institutionalized them in daycares and afterschool programs, substituting time with teachers and childcare workers for parental involvement. We turned them into test-takers instead of thinkers and automatons instead of activists.

We allowed them to languish in schools which not only look like prisons but function like prisons, as well—where conformity is the rule and freedom is the exception. We made them easy prey for our corporate overlords, while instilling in them the values of a celebrity-obsessed, technology-driven culture devoid of any true spirituality. And we taught them to believe that the pursuit of their own personal happiness trumped all other virtues, including any empathy whatsoever for their fellow human beings.

No, we haven’t done this generation any favors.

Based on the current political climate, things could very well get much worse before they ever take a turn for the better. Here are a few pieces of advice that will hopefully help those coming of age today survive the perils of the journey that awaits:

Be an individual. For all of its claims to champion the individual, American culture advocates a stark conformity which, as John F. Kennedy warned, is “the jailer of freedom, and the enemy of growth.” Worry less about fitting in with the rest of the world and instead, as Henry David Thoreau urged, become “a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”

Learn your rights. We’re losing our freedoms for one simple reason: most of us don’t know anything about our freedoms. At a minimum, anyone who has graduated from high school, let alone college, should know the Bill of Rights backwards and forwards. However, the average young person, let alone citizen, has very little knowledge of their rights for the simple reason that the schools no longer teach them. So grab a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and study them at home. And when the time comes, stand up for your rights before it’s too late.

Speak truth to power. Don’t be naive about those in positions of authority. As James Madison, who wrote our Bill of Rights, observed, “All men having power ought to be distrusted.” We must learn the lessons of history. People in power, more often than not, abuse that power. To maintain our freedoms, this will mean challenging government officials whenever they exceed the bounds of their office.

Resist all things that numb you. Don’t measure your worth by what you own or earn. Likewise, don’t become mindless consumers unaware of the world around you. Resist all things that numb you, put you to sleep or help you “cope” with so-called reality. Those who establish the rules and laws that govern society’s actions desire compliant subjects. However, as George Orwell warned, “Until they become conscious, they will never rebel, and until after they rebelled, they cannot become conscious.” It is these conscious individuals who change the world for the better.

Don’t let technology turn you into zombies. Technology anesthetizes us to the all-too-real tragedies that surround us. Techno-gadgets are merely distractions from what’s really going on in America and around the world. As a result, we’ve begun mimicking the inhuman technology that surrounds us and have lost our humanity. We’ve become sleepwalkers. If you’re going to make a difference in the world, you’re going to have to pull the earbuds out, turn off the cell phones and spend much less time viewing screens.

Help others. We all have a calling in life. And I believe it boils down to one thing: You are here on this planet to help other people. In fact, none of us can exist very long without help from others. If we’re going to see any positive change for freedom, then we must change our view of what it means to be human and regain a sense of what it means to love and help one another. That will mean gaining the courage to stand up for the oppressed.

Give voice to moral outrage. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” There is no shortage of issues on which to take a stand. For instance, on any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. There are 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, and 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. With more than 2 million Americans in prison, and close to 7 million adults in correctional care, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. At least 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison. At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Americans are now eight times more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. It costs the American taxpayer $52.6 billion every year to be spied on by the government intelligence agencies tasked with surveillance, data collection, counterintelligence and covert activities. All the while, since 9/11, the U.S. has spent more than $1.6 trillion to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and police the rest of the world. This is an egregious affront to anyone who believes in freedom.

Cultivate spirituality, reject materialism and put people first. When the things that matter most have been subordinated to materialism, we have lost our moral compass. We must change our values to reflect something more meaningful than technology, materialism and politics. Standing at the pulpit of the Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. urged his listeners:

[W]e as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motive and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Pitch in and do your part to make the world a better place. Don’t rely on someone else to do the heavy lifting for you. Don’t wait around for someone else to fix what ails you, your community or nation. As Gandhi urged: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Say no to war. Addressing the graduates at Binghampton Central High School in 1968, at a time when the country was waging war “on different fields, on different levels, and with different weapons,” Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling declared:

Too many wars are fought almost as if by rote. Too many wars are fought out of sloganry, out of battle hymns, out of aged, musty appeals to patriotism that went out with knighthood and moats. Love your country because it is eminently worthy of your affection. Respect it because it deserves your respect. Be loyal to it because it cannot survive without your loyalty. But do not accept the shedding of blood as a natural function or a prescribed way of history—even if history points this up by its repetition. That men die for causes does not necessarily sanctify that cause. And that men are maimed and torn to pieces every fifteen and twenty years does not immortalize or deify the act of war… find another means that does not come with the killing of your fellow-man.

Finally, prepare yourselves for what lies ahead. The demons of our age—some of whom disguise themselves as politicians—delight in fomenting violence, sowing distrust and prejudice, and persuading the public to support tyranny disguised as patriotism. Overcoming the evils of our age will require more than intellect and activism. It will require decency, morality, goodness, truth and toughness. As Serling concluded in his remarks to the graduating class of 1968:

Toughness is the singular quality most required of you… we have left you a world far more botched than the one that was left to us… Part of your challenge is to seek out truth, to come up with a point of view not dictated to you by anyone, be he a congressman, even a minister… Are you tough enough to take the divisiveness of this land of ours, the fact that everything is polarized, black and white, this or that, absolutely right or absolutely wrong. This is one of the challenges. Be prepared to seek out the middle ground … that wondrous and very difficult-to-find Valhalla where man can look to both sides and see the errant truths that exist on both sides. If you must swing left or you must swing right—respect the other side. Honor the motives that come from the other side. Argue, debate, rebut—but don’t close those wondrous minds of yours to opposition. In their eyes, you’re the opposition. And ultimately … ultimately—you end divisiveness by compromise. And so long as men walk and breathe—there must be compromise…

Are you tough enough to face one of the uglier stains upon the fabric of our democracy—prejudice? It’s the basic root of most evil. It’s a part of the sickness of man. And it’s a part of man’s admission, his constant sick admission, that to exist he must find a scapegoat. To explain away his own deficiencies—he must try to find someone who he believes more deficient… Make your judgment of your fellow-man on what he says and what he believes and the way he acts. Be tough enough, please, to live with prejudice and give battle to it. It warps, it poisons, it distorts and it is self-destructive. It has fallout worse than a bomb … and worst of all it cheapens and demeans anyone who permits himself the luxury of hating.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the only way we’ll ever achieve change in this country is for the American people to finally say “enough is enough” and fight for the things that truly matter.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your political ideology is. If you have something to say, speak up. Get active, and if need be, pick up a picket sign and get in the streets. And when civil liberties are violated, don’t remain silent about it.

Wake up, stand up, and make your activism count for something more than politics.

Anti-semitism: Israel’s get-out-of-jail-free card

The silencing of critics of Israel using anti-semitism as the pretext is far from restricted to the current wave of attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party. It is now used to intimidate anyone who steps out of line on Israel. Once we raged against the conflation of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism. We have so lost that battle that it is now standard operating procedure for Israel’s apologists to conflate anti-semitism with simple criticisms of the current ultra-nationalist Israeli government.

Here is an illustration of our defeat, reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz. It concerns what would in other circumstances be a fairly standard satirical cartoon: this one published by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung about Israel winning the Eurovision song contest last week. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown on stage dressed as Israel’s winning singer, Netta, and proclaiming “Next year in Jerusalem!”.

After the usual outcry, the cartoonist, Dieter Hanitzsch, was sacked. No Charlie Hebdo-style concerns about free speech on this occasion, it seems.

As has become familiar in these cases, Wolfgang Krach, editor-in-chief of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, seemed unsure himself whether the cartoon was actually anti-semitic. But presumably he thought it better to fire the cartoonist just to be on the safe side. Let’s hope Hanitzsch can take Krach and his newspaper to the cleaners at a labour tribunal.

One critic, Jonas Mueller-Töwe, who sounds like Germany’s version of Jonathan Freedland, has claimed that “a Jewish star” – that would be Israel’s emblem of the Star of David – on a rocket held by Netanyahu suggests that “behind every war, Jewish interests are hiding”. Instead we could simply trust our eyes, which provide a different meaning: that Israel, a highly militarised state, won the Eurovision song contest at the same time as it was devastating Gaza – again – and will now be able to use its hosting of a popular cultural event in Jerusalem next year to whitewash its war crimes.

Before we get too exercised about the significance of every detail, we should remember that political cartoons, by their very nature, need to use symbols as shorthand for more complex ideas. We demand the impossible from a cartoonist if we expect them to offer us political satire while denying them the possibility of using symbols.

So what is anti-semitic about the cartoon? It’s not about Jews, it’s about the Israeli prime minister and his war agenda. And Netanyahu’s purportedly “oversized nose, ears and lips” are surely well within the normal bounds of a caricature. Do we really want to impose a unique demand on cartoonists when dealing with Israel’s leaders of drawing anatomically precise images?

The problem here, as with the anti-semitism “crisis” debate about the Labour party, is that it is totally divorced from any sense of proportion or reality. The question we ought to be asking in a case like this is: what kind of satirical cartoon lambasting Israel could ever satisfy the criteria being demanded by the current anti-semitism watchdogs?

And in consequence, what cartoonist is going to dare to deploy their satirical skills against Israel when the response is invariably going to lead to their being accused of anti-semitism and possibly losing their career and their reputation?

That is precisely what weaponising anti-semitism means. It hands Israel a get-out-of-jail-free card. It intimidates opinion formers – journalists, cartoonists, comedians, politicians, civil society leaders, human rights activists – by making the issue of Israel so toxic that none dare touch it. One need only look to the BBC to see the result: a mix of anaemic fence-sitting and outright censorship when covering Israel.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously reminded us: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” A submission to those who abuse anti-semitism to make Israel unassailable entails terrifying consequences for the Palestinians. It requires that, after decades of betraying them, we in the west once again turn a blind to their suffering. And, as was highlighted last week in Israel’s slaughter of Gaza’s unarmed protesters, it clears the path to a future in which Israel can and will commit ever graver outrages against the Palestinians.

Dial T for Tyranny: While America Feuds, the Police State Shifts Into High Gear

Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility.

— Professor Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Discourse in the Age of Show Business

What characterizes American government today is not so much dysfunctional politics as it is ruthlessly contrived governance carried out behind the entertaining, distracting and disingenuous curtain of political theater. And what political theater it is, diabolically Shakespearean at times, full of sound and fury, yet in the end, signifying nothing.

Played out on the national stage and eagerly broadcast to a captive audience by media sponsors, this farcical exercise in political theater can, at times, seem riveting, life-changing and suspenseful, even for those who know better.

Week after week, the script changes—Donald Trump’s Tweets, Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Michael Cohen’s legal troubles, porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit over an alleged past affair with Trump, Michelle Wolf’s tasteless stand-up routine at the White House correspondents’ dinner, North and South Korea’s détente, the ongoing staff shakeups within the Trump administration—with each new script following on the heels of the last, never any let-up, never any relief from the constant melodrama.

The players come and go, the protagonists and antagonists trade places, and the audience members are forgiving to a fault, quick to forget past mistakes and move on to the next spectacle.

All the while, a different kind of drama is unfolding in the dark backstage, hidden from view by the heavy curtain, the elaborate stage sets, colored lights and parading actors.

Such that it is, the realm of political theater with all of its drama, vitriol and scripted theatrics is what passes for “transparent” government today, with elected officials, entrusted to act in the best interests of their constituents, routinely performing for their audiences and playing up to the cameras, while doing very little to move the country forward.

Yet behind the footlights, those who really run the show are putting into place policies which erode our freedoms and undermine our attempts at contributing to the workings of our government, leaving us none the wiser and bereft of any opportunity to voice our discontent or engage in any kind of discourse until it’s too late.

It’s the oldest con game in the books, the magician’s sleight of hand that keeps you focused on the shell game in front of you while your wallet is being picked clean by ruffians in your midst.

Indeed, while mainstream America has been fixated on the drama-filled reality show being televised from the White House, the American Police State has moved steadily forward.

Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, over-criminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all of which have been sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—our constitutional freedoms have been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded.

Our losses are mounting with every passing day.

Free speech, the right to protest, the right to challenge government wrongdoing, due process, a presumption of innocence, the right to self-defense, accountability and transparency in government, privacy, press, sovereignty, assembly, bodily integrity, representative government: all of these and more have become casualties in the government’s war on the American people.

All the while, the American people have been treated like enemy combatants, to be spied on, tracked, scanned, frisked, searched, subjected to all manner of intrusions, intimidated, invaded, raided, manhandled, censored, silenced, shot at, locked up, and denied due process.

None of these dangers have dissipated.

They have merely disappeared from our televised news streams.

The new boss has proven to be the same as the old boss, and the American people, the permanent underclass in America, has allowed itself to be so distracted and divided that they have failed to notice the building blocks of tyranny being laid down right under their noses by the architects of the Deep State.

Frankly, it really doesn’t matter what you call the old/new boss—the Deep State, the Controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex—so long as you understand that no matter who occupies the White House, it is a profit-driven, an unelected bureaucracy that is actually calling the shots.

In the interest of liberty and truth, here’s an A-to-Z primer to spell out the grim realities of life in the American Police State that no one is talking about anymore.

A is for the AMERICAN POLICE STATE. A police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

B is for our battered BILL OF RIGHTS. In the cop culture that is America today, where you can be kicked, punched, tasered, shot, intimidated, harassed, stripped, searched, brutalized, terrorized, wrongfully arrested, and even killed by a police officer, and that officer is rarely held accountable for violating your rights, the Bill of Rights doesn’t amount to much.

C is for CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE. This governmental scheme to deprive Americans of their liberties—namely, the right to property—is being carried out under the guise of civil asset forfeiture, a government practice wherein government agents (usually the police) seize private property they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then, whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property.

D is for DRONES. It is estimated that at least 30,000 drones will be airborne in American airspace by 2020, part of an $80 billion industry. Although some drones will be used for benevolent purposes, many will also be equipped with lasers, tasers and scanning devices, among other weapons—all aimed at “we the people.”

E is for ELECTRONIC CONCENTRATION CAMP. In the electronic concentration camp, as I have dubbed the surveillance state, all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents and all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.

F is for FUSION CENTERS. Fusion centers, data collecting agencies spread throughout the country and aided by the National Security Agency, serve as a clearinghouse for information shared between state, local and federal agencies. These fusion centers constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected: the CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police.

G is for GRENADE LAUNCHERS and GLOBAL POLICE. The federal government has distributed more than $18 billion worth of battlefield-appropriate military weapons, vehicles and equipment such as drones, tanks, and grenade launchers to domestic police departments across the country. As a result, most small-town police forces now have enough firepower to render any citizen resistance futile. Now take those small-town police forces, train them to look and act like the military, and then enlist them to be part of the United Nations’ Strong Cities Network program, and you not only have a standing army that operates beyond the reach of the Constitution but one that is part of a global police force.

H is for HOLLOW-POINT BULLETS. The government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration stockpiling millions of lethal hollow-point bullets, which violate international law. Ironically, while the government continues to push for stricter gun laws for the general populace, the U.S. military’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

I is for the INTERNET OF THINGS, in which internet-connected “things” will monitor your home, your health and your habits in order to keep your pantry stocked, your utilities regulated and your life under control and relatively worry-free. The key word here, however, is control. This “connected” industry propels us closer to a future where police agencies apprehend virtually anyone if the government “thinks” they may commit a crime, driverless cars populate the highways, and a person’s biometrics are constantly scanned and used to track their movements, target them for advertising, and keep them under perpetual surveillance.

J is for JAILING FOR PROFIT. Having outsourced their inmate population to private prisons run by private corporations, this profit-driven form of mass punishment has given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep their privately run prisons full by jailing large numbers of Americans for inane crimes.

K is for KENTUCKY V. KING. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that police officers can break into homes, without a warrant, even if it’s the wrong home as long as they think they have a reason to do so. Despite the fact that the police in question ended up pursuing the wrong suspect, invaded the wrong apartment and violated just about every tenet that stands between us and a police state, the Court sanctioned the warrantless raid, leaving Americans with little real protection in the face of all manner of abuses by law enforcement officials.

L is for LICENSE PLATE READERS, which enable law enforcement and private agencies to track the whereabouts of vehicles, and their occupants, all across the country. This data collected on tens of thousands of innocent people is also being shared between police agencies, as well as with fusion centers and private companies. This puts Big Brother in the driver’s seat.

M is for MAIN CORE. Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has acquired and maintained, without warrant or court order, a database of names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation. As Salon reports, this database, reportedly dubbed “Main Core,” is to be used by the Army and FEMA in times of national emergency or under martial law to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security. As of 2008, there were some 8 million Americans in the Main Core database.

N is for NO-KNOCK RAIDS. Owing to the militarization of the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for routine police matters. In fact, more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually possession of some small amount of drugs.

O is for OVERCRIMINALIZATION and OVERREGULATION.  Thanks to an overabundance of 4,500-plus federal crimes and 400,000 plus rules and regulations, it is estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. As a result of this overcriminalization, we’re seeing an uptick in Americans being arrested and jailed for such absurd “violations” as letting their kids play at a park unsupervised, collecting rainwater and snow runoff on their own property, growing vegetables in their yard, and holding Bible studies in their living room.

P is for PATHOCRACY and PRECRIME. When our own government treats us as things to be manipulated, maneuvered, mined for data, manhandled by police, mistreated, and then jailed in profit-driven private prisons if we dare step out of line, we are no longer operating under a constitutional republic. Instead, what we are experiencing is a pathocracy: tyranny at the hands of a psychopathic government, which “operates against the interests of its own people except for favoring certain groups.” Couple that with the government’s burgeoning pre-crime programs, which will use fusion centers, data collection agencies, behavioral scientists, corporations, social media, and community organizers and by relying on cutting-edge technology for surveillance, facial recognition, predictive policing, biometrics, and behavioral epigenetics in order to identify and deter so-called potential “extremists,” dissidents or rabble-rousers. Bear in mind that anyone seen as opposing the government—whether they’re Left, Right or somewhere in between—is now viewed as an extremist.

Q is for QUALIFIED IMMUNITY. Qualified immunity allows officers to walk away without paying a dime for their wrongdoing. Conveniently, those deciding whether a police officer should be immune from having to personally pay for misbehavior on the job all belong to the same system, all cronies with a vested interest in protecting the police and their infamous code of silence: city and county attorneys, police commissioners, city councils and judges.

R is for ROADSIDE STRIP SEARCHES and BLOOD DRAWS. The courts have increasingly erred on the side of giving government officials—especially the police—vast discretion in carrying out strip searches, blood draws and even anal probes for a broad range of violations, no matter how minor the offense. In the past, strip searches were resorted to only in exceptional circumstances where police were confident that a serious crime was in progress. In recent years, however, strip searches have become routine operating procedures in which everyone is rendered a suspect and, as such, is subjected to treatment once reserved for only the most serious of criminals.

S is for the SURVEILLANCE STATE. On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears. A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. This doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.

T is for TASERS. Nonlethal weapons such as tasers, stun guns, rubber pellets and the like have been used by police as weapons of compliance more often and with less restraint—even against women and children—and in some instances, even causing death. These “nonlethal” weapons also enable police to aggress with the push of a button, making the potential for overblown confrontations over minor incidents that much more likely. A Taser Shockwave, for instance, can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button.

U is for UNARMED CITIZENS SHOT BY POLICE. No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, often attributed to a fear for their safety. Yet the fatality rate of on-duty patrol officers is reportedly far lower than many other professions, including construction, logging, fishing, truck driving, and even trash collection.

V is for VIPR SQUADS. So-called “soft target” security inspections, carried out by roving VIPR task forces, comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams, are taking place whenever and wherever the government deems appropriate, at random times and places, and without needing the justification of a particular threat.

W is for WHOLE-BODY SCANNERS. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves, scanning devices and government mobile units are being used not only to “see” through your clothes but to spy on you within the privacy of your home. While these mobile scanners are being sold to the American public as necessary security and safety measures, we can ill afford to forget that such systems are rife with the potential for abuse, not only by government bureaucrats but by the technicians employed to operate them.

X is for X-KEYSCORE, one of the many spying programs carried out by the National Security Agency that targets every person in the United States who uses a computer or phone. This top-secret program “allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

Y is for YOU-NESS. Using your face, mannerisms, social media and “you-ness” against you, you can now be tracked based on what you buy, where you go, what you do in public, and how you do what you do. Facial recognition software promises to create a society in which every individual who steps out into public is tracked and recorded as they go about their daily business. The goal is for government agents to be able to scan a crowd of people and instantaneously identify all of the individuals present. Facial recognition programs are being rolled out in states all across the country.

Z is for ZERO TOLERANCE. We have moved into a new paradigm in which young people are increasingly viewed as suspects and treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, often for engaging in little more than childish behavior. In some jurisdictions, students have also been penalized under school zero tolerance policies for such inane “crimes” as carrying cough drops, wearing black lipstick, bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades. The lesson being taught to our youngest—and most impressionable—citizens is this: in the American police state, you’re either a prisoner (shackled, controlled, monitored, ordered about, limited in what you can do and say, your life not your own) or a prison bureaucrat (politician, police officer, judge, jailer, spy, profiteer, etc.).

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the post-9/11 America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.

We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age.

You can call it the age of authoritarianism. Or fascism. Or oligarchy. Or the American police state.

Whatever label you want to put on it, the end result is the same: tyranny.

How Anti-semitism Row MPs turned Lynch Mob

If you force me to choose – and tragically, the mischievious confection of an “anti-semitism crisis” in the Labour party does require me to choose, because it turns racism into a competition between worthier “victims” – Marc Wadsworth, a black activist and the founder of the Anti-Racist Alliance, is a much bigger victim of racism than Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth.

The proof is in the 50 Labour MPs who marched with her to an internal party hearing that they expect will expel Wadsworth. The MPs wanted to give the impression of serving as a bodyguard; in fact, they looked more like a lynch mob.

Wadsworth’s “crime” is his accusation at a meeting to unveil the Chakrabarti report nearly two years ago that Smeeth had been leaking stories to the right wing press to harm Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

We can argue the facts about whether Wadsworth’s claim is true: whether Smeeth did indeed connive with the anti-Corbyn press. But even if he is wrong, that would not make his allegations anti-semitic.

Furthermore, the accusation itself is hardly far-fetched. The Blairite wing of the parliamentary party, of which Smeeth is very much a part, barely bothers any more to conceal its desire to oust Corbyn from the leadership.

In fact, the Blairites now seem determined to terminally wound not just Corbyn but their own party, as they did at the instigation of the Conservative government last week in a debate on anti-semitism. The opportunistic pummelling of Corbyn, jointly conducted by Labour and Conservative MPs, comes just days before local authority elections that were supposed to be Labour’s chance to seize the initiative from the government.

Smeeth and other Labour MPs have relied on personal anecdotes to argue that anti-semitism is far worse in Labour than any other party, and worse than in British society generally. That is the only possible meaning of the term “crisis”. But the actual statistics give the absolute lie to their claims.

Anti-semitism in Labour is so dire, so endemic, according to Smeeth and her allies, that the party must be eviscerated in public day after day, its energies sapped in the hunt to root out any traces of Jew hatred, and its political programme (and the chances of beating the Tories) set aside until the purges are complete.

But the Wadsworth case illustrates quite how sham the “anti-semitism crisis” is.

His attack on Smeeth was political, not racist. If she took offence, it should have been because she regarded his comments as a political insult, and an untrue one, not a racist insult.

But Smeeth preferred to mischaracterise the attack, not least because she would have been hard pressed to offer a political defence. Instead she weaponised anti-semitism to divert our attention from the real issue at the heart of the spat between herself and Wadsworth. She accused him of promoting “vile conspiracy theories about Jewish people”. Wadsworth pointed out that he did not even know Smeeth was Jewish until she brought the issue into play.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Smeeth believes, because she is Jewish, that any criticism of her is anti-semitic by definition. And she now has 50 MPs on her side, trying to bully Wadsworth out of the party – and by implication, not only him but anyone else who might try to unmask their McCarthyite tactics.

Smeeth, it should be remembered, is not a credible witness in the prosecution of Wadsworth. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy Smeeth’s parliamentary privilege, so I will have to be more circumspect in what I say than Smeeth makes a habit of being. But as I pointed out in an earlier post, at least one of her major claims cannot withstand the most cursory scrutiny, once it is fact-checked.

After her row with Wadsworth she claimed to have been inundated with anti-semitic abuse, some 25,000 messages, most of them on Twitter – though given her own inflated and egocentric ideas about what constitutes anti-semitism, she can hardly be viewed as a competent judge.

But you don’t need to rely on my scepticism. The Community Security Trust, a British Jewish lobby group ever-vigilant about anti-semitism, has discredited her claims too, even if in their case they did so inadvertently. Their study of anti-semitic activity on Twitter for a year-long period that included the few days in which Smeeth was supposedly overwhelmed with abuse found only 15,000 anti-semitic tweets – in a whole year, for the whole of the UK. Smeeth’s self-serving figures simply don’t add up.

But if Labour is now committed to witchhunts, as it seems to be, then it needs pointing out that there are more serious problems of racism in Labour than the current “anti-semitism crisis”.

How about Labour launching an investigation into its “anti-black racism crisis”? It should not be hard to identify. It is being led by the Blairite wing of the party, which has been using anti-semitism as a pretext to hound out of the party black anti-racism activists like Wadsworth and Jackie Walker who support Corbyn, also a lifelong anti-racism activist.

These are people who are concerned about racism in all its guises, and about real victims in all their shades of colour. Not opportunists like Smeeth who have hijacked racism narrowly to serve their political cause.

Equally serious is Labour’s real anti-semitism crisis – the one no one talks about. That is being led by an unholy alliance of Labour’s Blairite MPs, right wing Jewish establishment bodies like the Board of Deputies, and the corporate media to vilify individual Jews and Jewish organisations like Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas because they dare to be critical of Israel.

Again unmentioned, Jews are being hounded out of the party on the ridiculous pretext that they are anti-semites – just ask Moshe Machover, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker (black and Jewish!), Glyn Secker, Cyril Chilson and others.

The disturbing implication is that these are not “proper” Jews, that their voices not only don’t count but their arguments are dangerous and must be shunned. And further, that those who “consort” with them, as Corbyn has done, are contaminated and guilty by association.

Ruth Smeeth is not a victim of the Labour party “anti-semitism crisis”, because that crisis does not exist. It is a political construct. There are doubtless examples of anti-semites and other racists who are members of the Labour party, as there are in all walks of life, but there is no crisis.

Real victims of racism suffer because they are isolated, vulnerable and easily vilified. The Labour party should stand with such people. Instead it is allowing privileged MPs and party bureaucrats to promote the demonisation, abuse and persecution of black activists like Marc Wadsworth and anti-Zionist Jews like Cyril Chilson. We are living through a truly shameful period in Labour’s history.

YouTube, Censorship and Nasim Aghdam

People like me are not good for big business, like for animal business, medicine business and for many other businesses.  That’s why they are discriminating and censoring us.

Nasim Najafi Aghdam discussing YouTube

She claimed to have detested it, issuing fiery calls on her social media outlets, and asserting that this creature was demonic in its effort to limit talent, expression and the profits of others.  Nasim Najafi Aghdam of San Diego spoke with a steely confidence that certitude brings, a self-perceived clarity of thought on such topics as veganism, the right to protest and animal rights.

“For me,” she stridently told the San Diego Union-Tribune at a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest in 2009 outside Camp Pendleton, “animal rights equals human rights.”  In Iran, she came to be known as Green Nasim, commanding a certain degree of social media heft.

On Tuesday, that mind of screened clarity manifested itself in a shooting spree at YouTube headquarters.  Three were wounded, with the sole death being Aghdam, who took her life after the bloody spray.  On Wednesday, San Bruno’s police chief Ed Barberini claimed rather laconically that the suspect was expressing her anger at “the policies and practices of YouTube.”

Prior to that, a point confirmed by a Mountain View police representative, Aghdam had been found sleeping in a car on Tuesday morning.  “Our officers made contact with the woman after the licence plate of her vehicle matched that of a missing person out of Southern California.  The woman confirmed her identity to us and answered subsequent questions.”  Nothing, according to the officers conducting the interview, suggested future intentions.

The attack showed no evident discrimination. There were no set agendas against specific employees, nor was it even clear at first instance whether those wounded were, in fact, employees.  What the alleged shooter seemed to see was a ruthless target in the abstract, a brutal tech giant that had betrayed its mission.  Aghdam’s father, Ismail Aghdam, warned police that she might well be paying the technology company a visit, so disgruntled was she.

Her personal website spoke of there being “no equal growth opportunity on YouTube or any other video sharing site”. Growth would only take place “if they want you to.”  That particular point was stimulated by a change in YouTube policies requiring that individual channels have 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 “watch hours” over the previous twelve months before qualifying to run advertisements.  One of Aghdam’s channels sported 1,579 subscribers, but in failing to meet the other threshold requirements, the account was demonetised.

Other restrictions were also the subject of Aghdam’s opprobrium, who attempted over time to build up the image of the technology company as an arbitrary censor.  One video she posted received an age restriction. She railed against those “new close-minded YouTube employees [who] got control of my Farsi YouTube last year in 2016 & began filtering my videos to reduce views & suppress & discourage [sic] me from making videos!”  The result of imposing such a limit precluded the video from receiving moneys.

So we return to that same problem: the digital frontier, far from flat in its egalitarian access, is vertical, hierarchical in its hold.  Power only devolved to the mass community of users in an artificial sense, giving that charming impression that the plebs controlled the production and creation of content.

Community standards are always cited, but these are ultimately set and determined by the particular provider, cajoled in parts, reviled in others.  In YouTube’s case, such policies zero in on vulgar language, violence or disturbing imagery, nudity and sexually suggestive content, or videos portraying harmful or dangerous activities.

YouTube, as a provider of content generated by individual users, has found itself in a brutal middle, harried by a range of groups keen to limit or advance particular platforms.  The morally righteous and surveillance-minded take issue with its permissiveness, seeking controls over such content as “hate speech”; other individuals find it unduly controlling, limiting engagement, debate and speech.

Last year, its “restricted mode” setting designed to permit libraries, schools and parents filter out content deemed inappropriate to children invariably screened other sources.  The videos of gay pop duo Tegan and Sara, fell foul of the provision. Vlogger Calum McSwiggan’s video featuring his coming out display to his grandmother also became the object of digital filtering, while Rowan Ellis would suggest a “bias somewhere within that process of equating LGBT+ with ‘not family friendly’.”

YouTube’s initial response contained a steadfast denial. “The intention of Restricted Mode is to filter out mature content for the tiny subset of users who want a more limited experience.  LGBTQ+ videos are available on Restricted Mode, but videos that discuss more sensitive issues may not be.” Experiments by various users testing this claim suggested otherwise.

It its subsequent and hurried note was the tone of a servant to numerous lords, seeking to placate and improve upon previous erring.  “We recognise that some videos are incorrectly labelled by our automated system and we realise it’s very important to get this right.  We’re working hard to make some improvements.”

These provide cold comforts to those recipients of bullet wounds, and certainly did nothing to calm the disturbed an impassioned Aghdam, self-proclaimed as “the first Persian female vegan bodybuilder.”  But again, where the gun is a logical extension of frustrated rights and social impotence, furious redress has come to be an almost reasonable, if predictable expectation.

America’s Descent Into Despotism: Finding Our Source of Power Within

The United States is in a major upheaval. Trump’s cabinet shake-up moves the country into an alarming direction. From the nomination of torturer Gina Haspel as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency to Mike Pompeo, former CIA Director and a vocal opponent of the nuclear deal with Iran as new secretary of state, his selection exposes the White House’s dangerous kill instincts.

An ultimatum came with the president’s appointment of John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations as his 3rd national security advisor. Bolton, who served in the George W. Bush administration is notorious for his hawkishness, with a great zeal for military action against Iran and North Korea. This rearranging of the deck chairs in the sinking empire signals the great calamity of foreign policy ahead with potential threats of war.

In this seeming free-fall toward despotism, what can ordinary people do? Tackling corruption of our political system and averting a doomed future requires us to truly understand the problems we are facing. The crisis of representation didn’t just arise with Trump, the new commander in chief. A glimpse of it was shown during the 2008 financial meltdown, which was covered up swiftly by bank bailouts and politics of ‘hope and change’. The truth is that seeds for dystopia have been inside this country all along. The roots of the issues that are now emerging in Trump’s America go back to the very beginning of this nation.

In its modern formation, the United States inspired the world with its torch of liberty and equality. At the same time, this beacon of light had its darkness within. From the onset, America contained internal contradictions manifested as the founder’s hypocrisy and the violation of its own ideals with genocide of natives, slavery of blacks and suppression of women. The Founding Fathers of the United States brought a victory of rejecting the power of the King’s monarchy and pioneered a path for one’s own self-determination. The concept of “a government of laws, not of men” was groundbreaking at that time. Yet without reconciling its own shadow, this nation of law failed to fully shield the republic from the tyranny of the Old World.

Supremacy of reason

The unredeemed darkness found in America’s troubled past was a force inside Western civilization that tries to define history, subjugating other perspectives to its single vision. Europe, with its ethos of separation and objectivity set out to conquer the world, spreading its influence across many continents. This domineering power of reason found its new front of exploration in the New World.

America, driven by the monotheistic goal of Manifest Destiny, expanded its territory with brutality. It swallowed what is edible, assimilating immigrants one by one to its conception of what is civil, while spitting out those that it considered impalatable, relegating them into three-fifths of a person or exterminating them from the earth altogether as savages.

This maddened head centricity was manifested in the structure of a new government. Sheldon Wolin, author of Democracy Inc noted how the framers of the Constitution created a so-called managed democracy, a system that favored elite rule and that “the American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy” (2008, p. 228).

The intellectual elites regarded the democratic majority rule as an irrational force and they feared the tyranny of popular majorities. While the faculty of reason positioned itself as a supreme force, a potential to account its autocratic power was found inside America.

The sovereign power of We the People

Expressed in the preamble of the Constitution “We the People” was faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. This was an intention to shift from the model of government that acts as authority of their lives to one that places power in the hands of ordinary people. In this government established under the rule of the people, the source of legitimacy was not derived from a god or king, but was meant to come from people themselves.

This arrangement of governance was not granted from above. It was first demanded by those who opposed the ratification of the 1787 Constitution that lacked the guarantee of individual liberties. The proponents of the Bill of Rights articulated essential parts of the sovereign power of We the People as a freedom of expression; freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. By building upon First Amendment rights, further efforts emerged from below. From abolitionists’ defiance and the women’s suffrage movement to civil rights and free speech movements, people’s determination for individual autonomy persisted.

Assault on this power of ordinary people intensified with the rise of corporate power in the ‘60s. Manifest Destiny is now carried out with Nike’s slogan of “just do it”. With limited liability and having no human beings in charge, the abstraction of the head inside transnational corporations took flight from the communal ground, plundering their way into the globe, without ever having to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Giant corporations became a sponsor for this managed democracy, gaining control over media to manipulate public perception, keeping American voters in hostage with the lesser of the two evils charade politics.

WikiLeaks, the rise of cryptographic direct action

In the political winter of the post-911 war on terror, as fear and apathy spread around the globe, a new civic force surfaced online. The waves of whistleblowers began shedding light on the collaborative secrecy of elites that deceive and manipulate the public behind a façade of democracy.

WikiLeaks, with its motto of “privacy for the weak and transparency for the powerful”, opened a floodgate of a free flow of information. This world’s first global Fourth Estate embodies the philosophy of cypherpunks– a loosely tied group of online privacy advocates who saw the potential of cryptography to shift the balance of power between individuals and the state. With the idea that cryptography is the “ultimate form of non-violent direct action” (2012, p. 5), WikiLeaks founder and editor in chief Julian Assange built the system of scientific journalism that would give everyday people around the world tools to combat military might and confront the madness of fallen reason that censors free speech.

The invention of the anonymous drop box was truly revolutionary. It enabled anyone to send information securely without a trace of his or her identity. Through the robust decentralized infrastructure built around this game changing technology, WikiLeaks was able to provide unprecedented source protection in the history of journalism. Here, the organization that derived its source of inspiration in American founding ideas, freed the First Amendment that had been captured through a corporate monopoly and co-optation of the media, making it available to people all around the world.

It is through WikiLeaks’ adamant commitment to the principle of free press that former U.S. Army intelligence analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning was able to exercise uncompromising free speech and engage in the American tradition of civil disobedience. Manning, whom the late attorney and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner described as the “conscience of our nation”, let the American public see the US imperialism in action in the Middle East.

In her request for a presidential pardon, Manning stated her commitment to the ideal of America, saying how she was willing to pay the price if it would make this country be “truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.” Through her non-violent cryptographic direct action, she helped America find its conscience.

One individual’s act of courage brought another. Inspired by Manning, Edward Snowden came forward to inform people about the NSA’s mass surveillance. In one of the addresses he made, Snowden also described his act as a public service and connected it with Dr. King’s non-violent civil disobedience. Through his whistleblowing, the former NSA contractor defended individual privacy as fundamental civil rights for all people and tried to preserve the world where people can share creativity, love and friendship freely without every conversation and interaction being monitored and recorded.

Whistleblowers and their faith in ordinary people

From WikiLeaks disruptions to Snowden revelations, courageous act of truth-tellers renewed the faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. Both Manning and Snowden believed in the public’s right to know and held a view that when people are informed, they can make changes and determine their own destiny.

Faith is different than mere belief. It is not about one blindly trusting or passively accepting something. Faith is an active will that requires one to choose out of themselves to believe in something. When established media and trusted institutions failed, Manning chose to put her trust in the journalistic organization that was little known at that time. When the government’s internal mechanisms of accountability were broken, combined with the betrayal of Obama’s campaign promises and his war on whistleblowers, Snowden turned to American journalists whom he could trust by his own judgment of the integrity of their work. They placed faith not in political leaders or authority but in fellow men and women.

It is to this faith in the ability for the wise and knowledgeable public to govern themselves that fearless journalism responded. WikiLeaks, the publisher of last resort, kept its promise to the source by publishing full archives with maximum political impact and bringing information back to the historical record. By doing so, it has become an enemy of the most powerful government in the world, being subjected to legal and extra-legal pressure. Through honoring Snowden’s wishes, journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman broke the story of NSA surveillance and led the Guardian’s independent journalism, making the established media fulfill its duty. In the aftermath of Snowden’s disclosures, when this young whistleblower was stranded in Hong Kong, WikiLeaks demonstrated its extraordinary source protection with journalist Sarah Harrison risking her own liberty to help Snowden attain asylum.

With this faith given by peers, citizens around the world who have been distrusted by their own governments and made powerless began to claim their own power. By recognizing that someone believed in them and sacrificed their lives so that they can be free, they were able to believe in their own ability to protect those they love and preserve rights that they cherish. The will to respond to this faith in one another made it possible for ordinary people to carry out extraordinary acts.

Bitcoin, Innovation without Permission

Contagious courage lit by people’s faith created a fellowship that can withstand the state violence. It began to shift the balance of power, replacing the source of legitimacy from trusted institutions to ordinary people’s trust in one another. As the network of resistance grew, new attacks emerged. Following the release of U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010, WikiLeaks faced the unlawful financial blockade imposed by Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union. When this economic sanction starved the whistleblowing site, destroying 95% of their revenue, the flow of autonomy that helped the organization circumvent economic censorship came from fellow cypherpunks.

Bitcoin, as a peer-to-peer electronic cash was the holy grail of cypherpunks. With its defining feature of censorship resistance and permissionlessness, Bitcoin makes free speech an app that can be distributed across borders and used by anyone regardless of nationality, religion, race, gender or economic status. Here, imagination from computer science redeemed the reason that lost its connection to the heart, by synthesizing bits of isolated knowledge that had created separation and injustice, transforming them into a higher order of unification.

Networks of equal peers emerging around this invention opened up a new avenue of dissent in a form of decentralization. Adam Back, notable cryptographer whose work was cited in the Bitcoin white paper, described cypherpunks as “a state of mind” and explained its philosophy of “writing code” as a “proactive approach to societal change by doing: building and deploying tech – rather than by lobbying politicians or asking permission.”

This path toward decentralization was first taken by the creator of this technology. The anonymity of Satoshi Nakamoto represents the power of ordinary people. Through an act of publishing the white paper under a pseudonymous name and making the protocol open source, the mysterious author gave up ownership and simultaneously gave users control of the software, making it possible for each individual to use it as a tool to govern themselves.

What is enshrined in a piece of mathematics is wisdom of ordinary people that understands that man is corruptible, as well as perfectible and recognizes the security holes inherent in the existing model of governance that requires trust in third parties. It is the wisdom of history that teaches us how the best way to secure the system is not to have levers of control in the first place through which power concentrates, leading to despotism. With a consensus algorithm placed as a foundation, laws can be built that is more immune to man’s fallen nature. With this, idea of a government of laws, not of men can be truly realized. Governance of We the People now becomes possible, where rules of law are validated by consensus of ordinary people as opposed to elected officials having power over them.

Andreas Antonopoulos, a technologist and one of the respected figures in Bitcoin, in his talk titled “Courage to Innovate”, captured new enthusiasm and passion ignited around this technology in a phrase “innovation without permission” and connected it with civil disobedience. He reminded the audience how “almost every important innovation in history starts out being illegal or unregulated” and interesting technology started out with people who forgot to ask permission. Describing technology’s core invention as a platform to scale trust, Antonopoulos described how this is a system that makes it possible for people to make social decisions without hierarchy, whether it is government bureaucracy, corporations or any other institution. This system Antonopoulos characterized as “rules without rulers” is being built by people around the world without central coordination.

Claiming our revolutionary spirit

Our Founding Fathers, no matter how imperfect they were, brought us ideas conceived in a revolutionary spirit. The genius of the Constitution is that it makes fundamental laws and principles of government amendable. The highest law of the land preserved space for people to not accept authority imposed on them and even to revolt against it when it is necessary, by giving ordinary people means to change rules. America indeed was founded on rebelliousness and distrust of their own government, demonstrated in the Declaration that reads “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive… it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and institute a new Government…”

The government brought by our forebears not only allowed dissent, but depended on our rebellion. The realization of the Constitution as the fulfillment of ideals in the Declaration required individuals with a strong and independent mind. It demanded people to develop moral courage to defend these ideals against special interests of single groups or nations and any adversarial forces that try to deny them.

From the civil rights movement to whistleblowers at the frontier of digital liberation, we have seen the awakening of revolutionary spirit in people’s courageous civic action upholding the ideals of this country. The networks from below expands, converging together to build a new global civil society. Bitcoin developers around the world put their knowledge and skills together, making improvement proposals and fixing bugs, striving to meet the demands of all users.

Innovation without permission is enlivening entrepreneurship. Instead of waiting for problems to be solved by politicians or corporate CEOs, working class began to have faith in their ability to make changes, finding strength and resources within themselves. Around this currency, a new economy is now being bootstrapped, with startups and new businesses hiring people and providing them with skills and knowledge, while many other industries are stagnating.

Solutions to the crisis of representation are within us. Ordinary people, through freely associating with one another, can now give birth to the rule of a real democracy, securing Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for all.

Psychiatrist Louis Morissette Should Be Barred From Practice

Quebec medical tribunal will decide if psychiatrist-for-hire Louis Morissette was allowed to provide a hatchet job based on hearsay

The review committee of the medical tribunal of Quebec will decide within 90 days whether or not anyone anywhere, such as a political party or institution or individual in any province or state, can hire a Quebec expert psychiatrist to render a medical opinion about an opponent without interviewing or even informing the individual.

The said medical opinion could be made without any medical record or clinical evaluation or verification of information, and then used publicly or otherwise for political or institutional purposes.

This happened to me, with devastating consequences.

I only found out by chance, years later, thanks to an investigation into my 2008 dismissal from the University of Ottawa, which is still in litigation.1,2,3

I filed a complaint to the medical tribunal as soon as I could. I have publicly posted the entire complaint, the intake investigator’s conclusions, and my appeal of the said conclusions.4

This is what occurred, in the most neutral terms I can muster.

Dr. Louis Morissette, a psychiatrist licenced by the province of Quebec, agreed to conduct a secret medical evaluation of an individual who was critical of his employer.  The psychiatrist evidently agreed to the employer’s request that he work without informing the individual.  The psychiatrist never contacted the individual, never tried to contact him, and never even claimed that he tried to contact him.

The psychiatrist did not use any medical records whatsoever. Instead, he relied entirely on false intimate personal information provided by the employer, which he never attempted to verify, and on media reports selected by the employer.

On this basis alone, the psychiatrist wrongly labelled me a dangerous person, causing me to be exiled from my community, following his definitive recommendations to that effect.  Years later, when I found out that the psychiatrist had medically evaluated me, he refused to give me a copy of his report.

Morissette has a long documented record of evidence-based alleged and proven violations that the Collège des médecins du Québec has ignored.

These include the following that I added to my complaint, with the evidence:

  • judicially proven lying while giving expert testimony in court;
  • giving expert opinion in a criminal proceeding without consulting the relevant scientific research literature;
  • an appellate court finding of his reprehensible behaviour;
  • giving an in-court expert opinion of the harmlessness of mass-murderer Karla Homolka based on 3½ hours of interview;
  • being in conflict of interest while recommending release of double-child-murderer Guy Turcotte;
  • destroying his appraisal-session interview notes immediately and prior to termination of criminal legal proceedings and engaging in such disallowed practice since 1983;
  • requesting double payment for the same service by claiming the same accused person both as patient and legal client;
  • performing such a large amount of opinion-for-hire contracting for clients as to affect his professional independence, put him in conflict of interest, and influence the quality of his practice; and,
  • exercising his profession in a jurisdiction in which he is not a certified practitioner.

After eight months, the medical tribunal’s intake analyst, Dr. Michel Jarry, summarily dismissed my entire complaint, writing that there is no cause to bother the disciplinary committee since I am not a “patient” of Morissette. This remarkable result was handed down despite the many and repeated unambiguous violations by Morissette of the statutory rules of professional ethics.

I filed an appeal on April 2, 2018, and the review committee has 90 days to make its decision about whether this sort of thing is allowed.

It must not be allowed. Otherwise, we are no better than any totalitarian regime that mines rumours and false accusations to legitimize state actions, and psychiatrists are no better than opportunists-for-hire in such a system.

It is also of note that the vice-president-governance of the University of Ottawa who coordinated the collection of hearsay about my intimate personal information, for use by the hired psychiatrist to render his secret “psychiatric opinion”, was Nathalie Des Rosiers.

Des Rosiers subsequently became Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) for a time and is now an elected member (MPP) of the Ontario parliament and a minister in the government.

The university did not inform me of its actions, and vigorously opposed my access to the psychiatric report until the final hour of an appeal in litigation for access in 2017.5

  1. Academic Freedom? How Nasty Can a University Be?” by Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, February 17, 2018.
  2. Denis Rancourt’s letter to president Jacques Frémont, University of Ottawa”, with three attached supporting letters from Hazel Gashoka, Jean-Marie Vianney, and Cynthia McKinney, January 8, 2018.
  3. Did University of Ottawa Persecute a Professor on Its Faculty? A Petition in Support of Denis Rancourt”, March 2018.
  4. Book Of Complaint Against Psychiatrist Louis Morissette With Appeal To CdR CMQ”, by Denis Rancourt, April 2, 2018.
  5. Book: All arguments of parties and intervener in Dr. Denis Rancourt’s constitutional challenge of Section 65(6)3 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, at judicial review, in the Divisional Court for Ontario, Court File No.: 17-DC-2279”, Ontario Civil Liberties Association, March 2018.

The Isolation of Julian Assange is the Silencing of Us All

In this letter, twenty-seven writers, journalists, film-makers, artists, academics, former intelligence officers and democrats call on the government of Ecuador to allow Julian Assange his right of freedom of speech.

If it was ever clear that the case of Julian Assange was never just a legal case, but a struggle for the protection of basic human rights, it is now.

Citing his critical tweets about the recent detention of Catalan president Carles Puidgemont in Germany, and following pressure from the US, Spanish and UK governments, the Ecuadorian government has installed an electronic jammer to stop Assange communicating with the outside world via the internet and phone.

As if ensuring his total isolation, the Ecuadorian government is also refusing to allow him to receive visitors. Despite two UN rulings describing his detention as unlawful and mandating his immediate release, Assange has been effectively imprisoned since he was first placed in isolation in Wandsworth prison in London in December 2010. He has never been charged with a crime. The Swedish case against him collapsed and was withdrawn, while the United States has stepped up efforts to prosecute him. His only “crime” is that of a true journalist — telling the world the truths that people have a right to know.

Under its previous president, the Ecuadorian government bravely stood against the bullying might of the United States and granted Assange political asylum as a political refugee. International law and the morality of human rights was on its side.

Today, under extreme pressure from Washington and its collaborators, another government in Ecuador justifies its gagging of Assange by stating that “Assange’s behaviour, through his messages on social media, put at risk good relations which this country has with the UK, the rest of the EU and other nations.”

This censorious attack on free speech is not happening in Turkey, Saudi Arabia or China; it is right in the heart of London. If the Ecuadorian government does not cease its unworthy action, it, too, will become an agent of persecution rather than the valiant nation that stood up for freedom and for free speech. If the EU and the UK continue to participate in the scandalous silencing of a true dissident in their midst, it will mean that free speech is indeed dying in Europe. This is not just a matter of showing support and solidarity. We are appealing to all who care about basic human rights to call on the government of Ecuador to continue defending the rights of a courageous free speech activist, journalist and whistleblower.

We ask that his basic human rights be respected as an Ecuadorian citizen and internationally protected person and that he not be silenced or expelled.

If there is no freedom of speech for Julian Assange, there is no freedom of speech for any of us — regardless of the disparate opinions we hold.

We call on President Moreno to end the isolation of Julian Assange now.

List of signatories (in alphabetic order):

Pamela Anderson, actress and activist
Jacob Appelbaum, freelance journalist
Renata Avila, International Human Rights Lawyer
Sally Burch, British/Ecuadorian journalist
Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to the United Kingdom 2012-16
Naomi Colvin, Courage Foundation
Noam Chomsky, linguist and political theorist
Brian Eno, musician
Joseph Farrell, WikiLeaks Ambassador and board member of The Centre for Investigative Journalism
Teresa Forcades, Benedictine nun, Montserrat Monastery
Charles Glass, American-British author, journalist, broadcaster
Chris Hedges, journalist
Srecko Horvat, philosopher, Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25)
Jean Michel Jarre, musician
John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Lauri Love, computer scientist and activist
Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst, Presidential advisor
John Pilger, journalist and film-maker
Angela Richter, theater director, Germany
Saskia Sassen, sociologist, Columbia University
Oliver Stone, film-maker
Vaughan Smith, English journalist
Yanis Varoufakis, economist, former Greek finance minister
Natalia Viana, investigative journalist and co-director of Agencia publica, Brazil
Ai Weiwei, artist
Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer and activist
Slavoj Žižek, philosopher, Birkbeck Institute for Humanities