Category Archives: Social media

The Wisdom Of Serpents

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
— Mathew 10:16

While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
— Eugene Debs, Statement to the Court upon being convicted of violating the Sedition Act, September 18, 1918

Last month I called Bernie Sanders’ Democratic party primary run “sheepdogging” my term for a move the national Democratic party seems to execute every presidential primary season when there’s no incumbent White House Democrat. The job of the sheepdog candidate is to herd leftish voters and activists back into the Democratic party one more time by giving perhaps sincere but limited and ineffectual voice to some of their issues.
— Bruce A. Dixon.  “This is what happens when we follow the Democrat sheepdog.  And what can happen if we don’t”, Black Agenda Report, June 3, 2015

I keep watching the ways in which people, left leaning liberals anyway, and even some I thought were leftists, fall over themselves to believe in the Alexandria Ocasio Cortez victory. Now, I don’t believe, I should make clear. But I find what is interesting is the ways in which this story became a kind of fairy tale and found traction. First, it’s New York. If this occurs in Port Huron or Tampa or Bakersfield — there is no story. Secondly, this woman came out of the Democratic Party machine, out of Ted Kennedy’s office and Bernie Sanders campaign. Does that not tell you something? But third, there is something curious about her whole story. And her web page says her father was a small business owner and other places it says he is an architect. None of this matters, mind you, except that she is certainly not well known in the Bronx by activists or anyone else. She strikes me, personally, as culturally a Westchester County product, not the Bronx. And I guess I find her a bit too telegenic, too perfect an image. Not to mention she is already parroting DNC rhetoric about Russiagate and already making friendly with the fascist opposition against Venezuela. One would think a Latina would know better, no? The U.S. is, after all, on the verge of possible military intervention in Venezuela — and house and senate Democrats are perfectly aligned with this thinking. When did anyone last hear a Democrat voice support for the Bolivarian revolution? Then there is the fact that her most intense support came from white affluent gentrifiers in her district. So a radical she is not.

Now this is not about Ocasio-Cortez. I think soon enough the reality will set in. Or maybe it is. I will return to that. But my question has to do with why anyone wants to believe in a Democrat in the first place? Now, the very first presidential election I ever voted in, yay those many year ago, was 1972. I voted for Democrat George McGovern of South Dakota. That was the last time I voted Democrat as well. And it is an interesting side bar note here that current Democratic Party shills like Maddow and Jonathan Chait love to compare all left leaning democrats to McGovern. And the truth is, Goldwater lost just as badly but the Republicans responded by doubling down on the extreme paleo conservatism of Barry and got themselves 8 years of The Gipper. But I digress.

Let’s take a look at what the Democratic Party has been up to lately…

Here, from Forbes magazine…:

…the Senate on Monday voted in favor of a $716 billion military spending bill for the 2019 federal fiscal year. The House had already passed it last month. This is $82 billion higher than the current budget, which itself was more than the Trump administration requested. Who says those in the Beltway can’t pull together for a common cause?  This year, 67.5% of House Democrats and 85% of Senate Democrats voted in favor.

Ponder that a moment. Over 700 billion. I mean that is getting close to double what it was under Bush or Obama. And yet people are living under freeway overpasses, in packing crates, and in make shift encampments on the edge of every city in America, literally. Over 42 million Americans, as of 2016, were listed as food insecure. 13 million children. Now the Democrats also defeated a proposal put forth by Sanders’ surrogates that looked for very tepid limited restrictions on fracking and an also mild statement on Palestinian rights. Both were shot down by the Dems.. (per Lauren McCauley):

Former U.S. Representative Howard Berman, American Federation of State, County, and Muncipal Employees executive assistant to the president, Paul Booth, former White House Energy and Climate Change Policy director Carol Browner, Ohio State Representative Alicia Reece, former State Department official Wendy Sherman, and Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden…

In other words the Democrats want no change.

Meanwhile the drinking water in Flint Michigan is no better than it ever was. Then we have the Democrats whole-hearted support of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, who, with U.S. approval and help and support have destroyed Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world. Dan Glazebrook wrote last year (it’s worse now):

And on 23rd January, the UN reported that there are now 22.2 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance – 3.4 million more than the previous year – with eight million on the brink of famine, an increase of one million since 2017.

The United States is directly helping a mass genocide of the Yemeni people. And very few Americans care. No Democrats care. Well, let me clarify, for this is a perfect example of the Democratic Party and its record. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Bernie Sanders introduced a bill to limit (sort of) U.S. involvement in the aforementioned genocide. It was soft stuff. But 15 Democrats helped Republicans table the bill. Little discussion came out of that. And it was bullshit legislation anyway.

Now, this is all sort of tweezing apart stuff that is so horrific and nightmarish that it’s hard to know how to describe it. The war against defenseless Yemen began under Obama. You remember him? That Democratic President. Trump, of course, intensified support for the genocide. And Democrats are not complaining. Children are starving and dying from famine and cholera…but there is no coverage of this, really. Why is there no outrage about Israel shooting down unarmed protestors? Well, Chuck Schumer signed a bill with other Democrats to make criticism of Israel a crime. Killing OK, criticizing NOT OK.

Now, ahead of Mike Pence’s (the Dominionist bat shit nuts VP) visit to Ecuador, a number of Democrats signed a bill to bring Julian Assange back to stand trial. James Cogan writes…

The signatories are a roll-call of leading congressional Democrats: Robert Menendez, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, Edward J. Markey, Michael Bennet, Christopher Coons, Joe Manchin, Jeanne Shaheen, Diane Feinstein and Mark Warner.

They went out of their way to get behind shutting up Assange and throwing him in a dark cell in Leavenworth and then just forgetting about him.

Cogan adds…:

…in a sweeping conspiracy theory, the CIA, FBI and NSA portrayed the 2016 publication by WikiLeaks of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and then emails sent by top Democratic Party figure John Podesta, as the product of a nefarious Russian plot to undermine Hillary Clinton and assist the victory of Donald Trump.

Many liberals, if not most, and certainly the majority of Democrats are all on board to prosecute Assange. Trump very usefully serves that purpose, you see. The hatred of Trump (who seems to work very hard to be hated) allows for the Democrats (and their liberal enablers) to escalate the new Russophobic propaganda and divert attention from things like the increased defense budget, the private prison complex that profits hugely from the ICE raids and illegal deportations, and the continuing (even growing) crimes of mass incarceration. No, people are given to partisan fighting over issues like gay marriage, or flag desecration, or gender neutral pronouns or whatever. They do not have public fights about foreign policy because both major parties are in total agreement. Trump is only carrying out policy that Obama started, largely, and that Hillary would have continued as well (only likely worse). For foreign policy is the black hole in American consciousness.

The US has been in Afghanistan for sixteen years. Why do people not talk about this? Sixteen years. That’s a permanent occupation. The U.S. under Democratic leadership and under the direction of Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, destroyed Libya and assassinated its leader Muammar Gaddafi. Clinton then famously laughed about it on TV. Libya is now holding outdoor slave sales. It is a failed state where once it was one of the most advanced and stable countries in the region. Or Syria. The targeting of the Assad government was a unanimous decision of both parties. Or sanctions against Iran…again both parties. Or militarizing Africa (or support for war criminal Paul Kagame), both parties. In fact, Democratic presidents Obama and Clinton were far worse than Republicans in terms of protecting western Capital in Africa and building up AFRICOM.

Or take the recent Democratic Party attack on the Trump/Kim Jong-Un summit. Ajamu Baraka wrote:

If more proof was needed to persuade anyone that the Democrats are indeed a war party, it was provided when Senator Chuck Schumer and other Democrat leaders in the Senate engaged in a cynical stunt to stake out a position to the right of John Bolton on the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

Schumer demanded terms that no nation anywhere on earth at any time in history, could accept. Ergo, he wanted this summit to fail. And that failure then would make it easier to justify an invasion of the DPRK.

You see, the Democratic Party is the party of finance capital, of Wall Street, and the only difference from Republicans is that Democrats tend to express themselves in the terms of identity politics. Trump’s presidency expresses itself in the terms of nativist xenophobic racists. But honestly, they all vote mostly the same.

Obama’s electoral coalition was driven by the professional class that had arisen to manage the various segments of the financialized economy. Since they derive significant benefits from late capitalism, the professionals eschew class-struggle based politics.
— Peter Lavenia. “The Revenge of Class and the Death of the Democratic Party“, Counterpunch, November 16, 2016

Never mention class. Things that have some importance, such as marijuana legalization were decidedly better under Democrats. And that certainly matters. But remember, all those small incremental gains by Democrats did little or nothing to change the staggering inequality of the system itself. But people are terrorized. That is why Ocasio-Cortez is embraced so uncritically. People are genuinely terrified. They are without protection at work, and they are unprotected by any sort of comprehensive medical program. They are unprotected from the militarized racist police forces of every American city and town. A militarization, it should be noted, that began in ernest under Obama.

But perhaps most important in any discussion of the Democratic Party are their ties to the CIA.

Patrick Martin writes:

An extraordinary number of former intelligence and military operatives from the CIA, Pentagon, National Security Council and State Department are seeking nomination as Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. The potential influx of military-intelligence personnel into the legislature has no precedent in US political history.

If the Democrats capture a majority in the House of Representatives on November 6, as widely predicted, candidates drawn from the military-intelligence apparatus will comprise as many as half of the new Democratic members of Congress.”

This is interesting for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that the DNC does nothing to hide this but rather sees it a sure fire vote getter.

Martin again:

The total of such candidates for the Democratic nomination in the 102 districts is 221. Each has a website that gives biographical details, which we have collected and reviewed for this report. It is notable that those candidates with a record in the military-intelligence apparatus, as well as civilian work for the State Department, Pentagon or National Security Council, do not hide their involvement, particularly in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They clearly regard working as a CIA agent in Baghdad, an Army special ops assassin in Afghanistan, or a planner for drone missile warfare in the White House or Pentagon as a star on their résumé, rather than something to conceal.

Among these new candidates running as Democrats are former CIA operatives (Abigail Spanberger), a military intelligence officer with two tours in Iraq (Patrick Ryan), a naval intelligence officer, who also served in the US European Command in Stuttgart, Germany (Jonathan Ebel), a deep cover op for the CIA in Latin America ( helly Chauncey), a twenty three year Navy Seal veteran with several tours in Iraq (Joel Butner), a Pentagon advisor to David Petraeus (Andy Kim), a former member of the 82nd Airborne and part of a Joint Special Operations Task Force on counter-terrorism in Afghanistan (Jason Crow). This is just a sampling. There are also a host of former State Department candidates, too.

One example (quoting Martin again…) is:

Sara Jacobs is another State Department official turned Clinton campaign aide, working on “conflict zones in East and West Africa,” particularly the campaign against Boko Haram in Nigeria, and helping to “spearhead President Obama’s efforts to improve governance in the security sector of our counterterrorism partners,” according to her campaign website. She was a foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign and is now seeking the Democratic nomination in California’s 49th District …

But, in fact, there are forty some others. The Democratic Party is now the party of the CIA and Pentagon, and in both cases with a heavy emphasis on intelligence. Career military and CIA veterans make up the best financed of Democratic Party candidates. Again, these bios are seen as a plus for the DNC — and this in no small measure is the result of Hollywood film and TV. The infiltration of Hollywood by the Pentagon, CIA, and FBI is now hardly even a secret. Almost every show with anything to do with the military has CIA advisors right there in the writers’ room. And if the story has to do with cops, you can count on veteran law enforcement advisors, too.

The anti-Trump fervor is understandable, and justified, but the Democrats are not the opposition. They are better spoken version of the same Imperialist state. And domestically, these veteran CIA operatives and military intel veterans are hardly going to embrace progressive causes. They are hardly going to look to dismantle the racist militarized police apparatus or challenge the racist judicial system. They are not going to seek reforms for mass incarceration. Most of them have experience with black sites and torture, with the pacification of entire populations, and with all manner of counter insurgency tactics.

The Democratic Party is the party of affluence. And these candidates reflect a growing hostility to the working class and a growing embrace of conservative law and order values. And in that sense Ocasio-Cortez fits right in.

Nick Pemberton wrote:

The Democrats have engaged in the deregulation of the economy. They have attacked unions. They have cut funding for public schools and replaced them with prisons. They have promoted pipelines and wars for oil. They have supported vicious trade deals that hurt workers and destroy the environment. If the world was to run as is with Democrats in place of Republicans we would still become extinct in the near future. If not by nuclear annihilation, then by climate change.

So, back to Ocasio-Cortez for a moment. Teodrose Fikre wrote:

Year after year, election after election, we keep falling for the latest fresh faces who promise to go to DC and drain the swamp of corruption and nepotism. The results always end up the same way, hope being paid back with hopelessness as the politicians we put our faith in sell their souls in order to retain power and celebrity. This is how the establishment remains fixed no matter who gets elected; the people in charge are not the politicians we elect but the donors who fund their campaigns and the insiders who determine rank and privileges within the party infrastructure. ( ) No more voting for the lesser of two evils and no more listening to people who try to convince you that supporting ideas outside of the Democrat/Republican divide is wasted energy. Don’t fall for the merry-go-round of personalities who keep being unleashed to sheepdog voters back to this two-party racket.

PS. More than 90% of mainstream media is owned by six corporations (read six people), they don’t allow true change agents to have access to the airwaves. Be cautious and twice skeptical when unknown candidates are given millions in free advertisement by the same interests they’re supposedly fighting.

Ocasio-Cortez was on Colbert, she was given a feature in Vogue. (Cynthia McKinney, who has a good deal more integrity than almost anyone else in her rotten party, was never invited on Cobert when she stood alone to call out President Bush on his Carlyle Group links, Saudi connections, and illegal invasion of Iraq. Why? Not telegenic or perky enough?).

So let me summarize…..The Democratic Party is now drawing heavily from military intelligence, the CIA, Pentagon and State Department (with specific emphasis on those with intelligence experience). These sorts of backgrounds suggest most of these candidates have knowledge of propaganda and psy-ops, as well as a basic value system that is consonant with American exceptionalism. They know a lot, we presume, about marketing strategies and about disinformation. So, is it not peculiar to anyone that this new face of pseudo socialism pops up right now — literally out of nowhere? See, to me it feels very Obama like. It’s perception management meets electoral long game strategic thinking. Honestly, all the talk of keeping an eye on her (Ocasio-Cortez) and making sure she honors her principles, etc…all of this feels wildly naive and almost delusional, frankly. One has to learn to read the codes. And since it is a proven fact that the Democrat Party is utterly corrupt, in bed with Wall Street and big corporate entities in agriculture, telecoms, and pharmaceuticals, as well as the military itself — why would one want to give a candidate FOR this utterly corrupt party the benefit of the doubt?

Now on my bullshit meter (a term I don’t really like but whatever) the needle went directly to red. In fact it broke and stuck in the red zone. So, the subjective side is I just found everything about her fake. I recoiled with that awful feeling of being faced with a fraud. Apparently many did not have that response. But I did. Bernie was called a *sheepdog*. The political slang for a left leaning candidate who cant and doesn’t want to win but who will draw disaffected voters back into the party. Bernie eventually endorsing Hillary Clinton, of course. I’m wondering why Ocasio-Cortez is not so perceived? Except I suspect she does want to win and to keep on winning. OC in 2024!!! That is what I think might well happen. She ticks off all the boxes. She has to wait until she turns 35 if I’m not mistaken, but this feels every bit a trial balloon. We shall see.

Meanwhile….here is something to support and make known: Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee

Nicaragua: Terrorism as an Art of Demonstrating

For two months, Nicaragua has been through a major political crisis, fueled by clashes between law enforcement and an insurgency. Humanitarian organizations report a terrifying record of nearly 200 deaths. This violence, compromising the attempts of political negotiations, makes it necessary to understand who has interest in paralyzing this Central America country. What are the motivations of protesters and opposition forces? Is the Nicaraguan government the symbol of absolute tyranny?

*****

It was a pension reform project that started the fire. To avoid privatizing social security as recommended by the IMF, the government wanted to increase contributions for both workers and employers. Faced with a public outcry, the government backtracked and withdrew its reform plan. But the protests continued without anyone being able to understand what was their objective. In order to stop the cycle of violence, government spokesmen called on the protesters to participate in peace commissions. They insisted on their willingness to listen to the various demands and to promote the expression of political opposition. To no avail. Calls for dialogue from the government have been shunned.

They were even perceived as a sign of weakness, galvanizing the young protesters of the M-19 movement. With no program, this movement simply calls for overthrowing the “dictatorship” accused of being at the origin of the “repression”. Moreover, the international media aligned themselves without reserve with these demonstrators, regarded as the quintessence of the civil society, in spite of their nihilism and extremism. But the attitude of the M-19 raises questions. By refusing any political solution and promoting violence, the movement offers an ideal motive for the proponents of “regime change” and “constructive chaos” already applied in countries like Libya, Iraq or Ukraine

On 14 June, the M-19 operation consisting of deploying “tranques” (barricades) in certain areas of the capital Managua, as well as in nearby cities such as Masaya or Granada, was supported by a “national strike” of 24 hours. This strike was convened by COSEP, the main employers’ organization. Yes, in Nicaragua, it is the bosses who call to strike! The world upside down? The fact remains that neither the majority of workers, nor the small and medium-sized enterprises followed suit. But it allowed an evaluation of the balance of power as well as maintaining the pressure until the next phase. On June 16, the day when the peace dialogue between the opposition and the government was to be revived, a new episode of extreme violence made the front pages of the international media.

The macabre fire of the Velasquez house

First, the facts. On June 16, a group of hooded people set fire to a building in Managua using Molotov cocktails, causing seven deaths, including a two-year-old child and a five-month-old baby. A mattress store occupied the ground floor of the building while the owner and his family lived on the first floor. Neighbors said they saw hoodlums throw their cocktails at the building, and said some shooters would have prevented the family from escaping. Accident as a possible cause was therefore immediately rejected.

But private media like Televisa or BBC immediately seized the case to blame the authorities for the crime. According to their information, paramilitaries on government payroll wanted to use the roof of the building to post snipers; the paramilitaries, having been denied access by the homeowner, would have locked him up in his residence with his family before setting it on fire. This is the same thesis defended by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH), which pointed out “their complicity with the national police”. For other governments, this argument would appear simplistic, implausible and irrational. Who would have defended the idea that the British government was behind the fire of the Grenfell tower for example? But in the case of Nicaragua, the complicity or even the responsibility of the government is put forth as a matter of fact.

To give credit to the story, the BBC used the testimony of the only survivor in the family: “Hooded people came with police officers and locked up nine people in a room on the second floor and burned us alive.” According to the same testimony, the offenders carried “mortars, weapons, and Molotov bombs”. We can only respect the bereavement of the survivor. But it cannot be dismissed that under shock, and calling for divine justice, she felt the need to find an immediate culprit. This is why it cannot be excluded that her testimony has been influenced in any way so as to channel her anger and to politically exploit it. In an effort to get closer to the truth, it is necessary to look for additional information and to cross-check them with other testimonies and documents.

The problem is that observers are facing a real war of images. Filmed from the balcony of the house burned, an amateur video was immediately relayed on social media. It aims at reinforcing the thesis of police forces and para-police organizations participation. Filmed by the eldest son of the family, Alfredo Pavon, one of the victims of the fire, this video is certainly interesting. But we see only a convoy of five police vans stopping near the house after a motorcycle chase, after which the police fires some warning shots and arrests a young biker. Hard to turn this into evidence. This document is nevertheless used to sow doubt, or even to point at the authorities as being responsible for the crime. Widely shared by the media in the aftermath of the crime, the video continues to be broadcast in a loop and feed hate comments…

However, these images have, in fact, been taken out of context: the recording was made on April 21, that is, at the very beginning of this crisis. What it reveals above all is that this precise area had been the scene of clashes between the two camps since the beginning of the crisis. This corresponds to information sent by Nicaraguan citizens, which indicates that the Carlos Marx district is controlled by the opposition. Indeed, it is hard to believe, as the opposition says, that police forces have surrounded the same neighborhood for two months, without being able to quell the protest movement until June 16, when they finally decided to use the roof of the Velasquez family to post snipers. And that’s not all. According to the same version, short of obtaining the family’s approval, the authorities acted brutally by setting the house on fire, without anticipating that it would cause a resurgence of tensions instead of calming them down.

Not really intimidated by the crime in the Velasquez house, four members of the M-19 were present on the scene the same day, to record a video where they accuse the government of “state terrorism” and call to support their movement. They take the opportunity to send a message to the negotiation table: “We are not going to remove the barricades, they are in our hands and those of the people, and we will not take them off. I want you to know: if the people do not unite, it will end up in new massacres like this one”. But have their accusations, carried by certain media and Internet users on social media, been the subject of a real inquiry gathering enough facts?

Retaliation against the right to work?

A journalist at TeleSur, Madelein Garcia reports a completely different version: the people responsible for the fire are “delinquents recruited by the opposition”, “hooded men who attacked with mortars and Molotov cocktails the family home, after reading in a media that snipers of the police were hiding there.” Garcia explains that according to a friend of the family, “the hooded men asked for mattresses, the owner refused and that’s when they burned the house for revenge.”

Moreover, a disturbing screen shot of the April 19 movement was relayed via social media, including several photos of the owner of the premises, the father Velasquez Pavon, accompanied by explicit threats against him. The document dates from 2 days before the fire, that is to say at the time of the strike organized by COSEP. The commentary indicates that he did not respect the strike directive, preferring to continue working. In the eyes of his attackers, that would have been enough to make him automatically suspicious of sympathy with the government. The M-19 would have then relayed the identity and address of one of the future victims, threatening to “disappear” these “infiltrated” Sandinistas who “refuse to strike by pretending to support the people”.

Since the release of this document, it appears that the text and photos have been removed from the account, the group administrators explaining that it could be a forgery. An explanation that did not convince everyone: some remember seeing these photos before the day of the fire, and point out that the area was under the control of the opposition, including through the “tranques” (barricades).

Who to believe? We only have amateur videos published by Velasquez Pavon on his Facebook account in recent months. He proudly presents his mattress making workshop and says he works tirelessly. Would the small business owner Velasquez Pavon have been the target of opposition or paramilitary forces? Two days after the employers’ strike, would there have been any reprisals against the right to work of the Nicaraguan people? The dead do not speak; it is difficult to answer these questions. But respect for the victims requires a real independent investigation, which is incompatible with political and media manipulation.

Who wants to eliminate the Sandinistas?

Without the same outrage from the media, other killings and attacks have clearly targeted citizens and buildings associated with Sandinismo.

On the same day that the Velasquez house was burned, a funeral home located a few meters from the house was also ransacked and set on fire.

Still near the scene of the incident, two men were spotted in the street dismantling the barricades of the opposition. They were shot dead on the spot. The killers sprinkled gasoline on one of the corpses and set it on fire. Before leaving, they put objects on the burned body to create a macabre scene. It was Francisco Aráuz Pineda, from a historical family of the Sandinista Revolution.

Here is a non-exhaustive timeline sequence of violent actions that took place in just three weeks:

  • On May 28, the public prosecutor’s office in Masaya was subjected to arson, while the police reported an attack on their offices.
  • On May 29 protesters set fire to the offices of Tu Nueva Radio Ya, considered a pro-government media.
  • On May 31, the offices of Caruna, a financial services cooperative, were set on fire.
  • On June 9 it was Radio Nicaragua’s turn, destroyed by the flames. That same day, a young Sandinista activist died in a motorcycle accident while trying to dodge a trap in a barricade in San José de Jinotepe, Carazo.
  • On June 12, a gang kidnapped and brutally tortured 3 workers at San José College in Jinotepe. In the context of the clashes, 2 historic Sandinista militants were murdered. Also that day, the mayor’s house was ransacked and burned.
  • On June 13, another group held captive and brutally tortured Leonel Morales, a leader of the National Union of Students of Nicaragua (UNEN). The emergency doctors at Bautista Hospital treated serious wounds caused by a bullet lodged in the young man’s abdomen, which would indicate a clear intention to kill. The authors of this attack had come from the vicinity of the Polytechnic University of Managua.
  • On June 15, the day after the employers strike, Sandinista lawyer and activist Marlon Medina Tobal was shot dead while walking beside a barricade in the city of Leon. On the same day, demonstrators armed with mortars were spotted in Jinotepe town.
  • On June 18, criminals threw a burning tire inside the house of Rosa Argentina Solís, a 60-year-old communal leader … for “totally supporting the government of the constitutional president Daniel Ortega and reminded that he had won the elections by a majority of votes.” The same day, the house of the mother of Sandinista MP José Ramón Sarria Morales was the subject of arson. Then nine members of his family were held captive and tortured.
  • On June 18, Sandinista activist Yosep Joel Mendoza Sequeira, a resident of Simón Bolivar Matagalpa neighborhood, was held captive and savagely tortured. The same day, a video was relayed via social media, where a young woman accused of sympathy with the government is humiliated and tortured during an interrogation.
  • On June 21, after being held by men manning barricades in Zaragoza, Stiaba, a young Sandinista youth activist named Sander Bonilla was savagely tortured under the impassive gaze of a priest.
  • On June 22, an anti-Sandinist group fired at the house of the teacher Mayra Garmendia in Jinotega and burned the building where her family was, who managed to escape.

The similarities with the crimes perpetrated in Venezuela by the anti-Chavista opposition a year ago suggest that this wave of violence is primarily motivated by a deep ideological hatred that goes beyond the framework of ordinary crime.

When the dead are brought back to life

To these brutal attacks that speak for themselves, we can add the confusion maintained by the protesters themselves with the complicity of the private media.

  • Thus, on April 23, at the very beginning of the protests, motorcyclists carrying Molotov cocktails shot at point blank range Roberto Carlos Garcia Paladino, a 40-year-old man who died on the spot. His mother, Janeth Garcia, denounced the opposition for using his image by making him a student victim of repression. “They are carrying the flag with his image, as if it were a flag of struggle, but he was not a student, you can verify it without problems.”
  • On May 4 a video with the testimony of José Daniel García is broadcast. He denounces the use of his own photo in a demonstration, looking as if he was killed in the clashes. Alerted by his mother, García demands that his photo be removed. According to him, this “manipulation is intended to deceive the people”. Similar cases where the dead are resurrected have been identified:
  • On May 13, a Frente Sandinista activist, Heriberto Rodríguez, was shot dead in the head near a cinema in Masaya. The private media say he was murdered during a protest, portraying him as a martyr of the anti-government struggle, while Sandinismo’s Voice media claims he was killed by gangs of criminals allied with the right.
  • On May 16, a group of demonstrators near the Metrocentro Mall in Managua threw down a metal art installation called “The Tree of Life”. After demolishing it, they stomped on it. The filmmaker of Guatemalan origin Eduardo Spiegler, who was there at the time of the incident, was crushed by the weight of the metal construction and died on the spot. His picture will be used to make it look as if he was a student victim of the repression, which some will denounce as manipulation.
  • On May 30, the 18-year-old Mario Alberto Medina’s family, who died in September 2017, condemns the “unscrupulous actions of people who are using the young man’s photographs to add them to the list of dead”.

Other people also discovered the presence of their name or photo in a list of dead claimed by the protesters: Christomar Baltodano, Karla Sotelo, Marlon Joshua Martinez, Marlon Jose Davila, William Daniel Gonzalez … Much like in Venezuela in 2014, the public was intoxicated by a massive campaign of fake news via social media.

Observers on the “good side” of the barricade

If we want to broaden the perspective, short of exposing the long history, it is necessary to return to the chronology of the facts. On June 15, the Catholic Church’s peace dialogue had just resumed after the talks had been interrupted since May 23. The new agenda between the government and the opposition renewed the authorization granted to a list of international organizations to participate in observation missions in the country, in order to identify all murders and acts of violence as well as their leaders, with an integral plan of care for victims in order to achieve effective justice. They included observers from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as the EU.

An organization dependent of the Organization of American States (aligned with Washington), the IACHR had already carried out a mission between May 17 and May 21. Then it continued to issue reports, the last of which coincided with the day of the strike. Its record attributed to the government of Daniel Ortega the central responsibility in this crisis, while recognizing the presence of armed groups with “homemade mortars filled with gunpowder” in the ranks of the demonstrators. The wording is not very eloquent: the reader of the release is unlikely to imagine the scenes of horror that these groups were responsible of.

On June 14, the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry replied in a letter that the work of the IACHR had still not taken into account “evidence of atrocious crimes, cruel and degrading treatment, kidnapping and other acts of violence committed against the population and especially against public officials and persons known to be Sandinistas “. Given the biased stance it is accused of, the authorization to visit the premises that the Ortega government granted to the IACHR on June 26, must be considered as a concession in the framework of peace negotiations between the two parties. Especially since institutions like Amnesty International have clearly shown that they are on the other side of the barricade, turning a deaf ear to the testimonies that are not aligned with the dominant narrative.

Caution is therefore required. If we assume the hypothesis of a political motive behind the frightening crime of the Velasquez house, the arrival of the investigators of the IACHR could have constituted a special motivation, in order to attract the international public opinion’s attention. Be that as it may, it did not take long to happen.

First, on June 18 the Civic Alliance, the political opposition movement engaged in dialogue with the government, announced its withdrawal from the negotiation table and demanded the presence of external observers. The reactions were immediate, notably that of the representative of the OAS Luis Almagro and the IACHR… and finally the unavoidable press release of the spokesperson of the US Department of State Heather Nauert, condemning the ‘current violence sponsored by the government, including the attack on June 16 against the residence and trade of a family…”. Nauert recommended that the government should carry on according to the points on the peace agenda, including the planned visit of observers of the IACHR. Her conclusion is quite significant: the United States “takes note of the general appeal of Nicaraguans for new presidential elections” and “considers that the elections would be a constructive way forward”!

This statement contains a thinly veiled threat: it is an interference with the sovereignty of Nicaragua. It relies on a new balance of power, starting from the mid-June sequence – the strike and the peace agreement, undermined by the new violence of the weekend, which has had as a result the opposition leaving the negotiation table. Nauert therefore puts pressure on the Ortega government, which is now confronted on the one hand with increased street violence and lack of dialogue with the political opposition, and on the other hand with the arrival of the observation missions – who have probably already decided in advance the conclusion of their report.

Is “regime change” a thing of the past?

Unless one is uncontrollably naive, everyone will have noticed that the United States continues to regard Latin America as its backyard. For we cannot dismiss the role played in Nicaragua by a certain international activism, which is centered on the United States Congress, where the Nica Act was approved last November. Under the initiative of Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban anti-Castro elected member of the Republican party, this law aims to stifle the Nicaraguan economy, blocking international loans. The reason? “Human rights violations, the regression of democracy in Nicaragua, and the dismantling of the free elections system in this country”.

When the United States presents itself as the defender of human rights and the champion of democracy in the world, it should be remembered that in recent years bodies dedicated to “promoting democracy”, such as USAID or the NED, showered opposition movements with dollars (support that the protesters do not hide). Simultaneously, Senator Marco Rubio proposed to use the Magnitsky Act as a weapon of financial sanctions against the Vice-President of the mixed enterprise Albanisa. What was Rubio’s aim? “Not only to support the desire for new elections as soon as possible to change the government, but also change the constitution, because a new government on the basis of corruption and dictatorship is more or less the same thing.” Helping to overthrow the government elected by the Nicaraguan people is not enough, so you have to write directly a new constitution in its place, to prevent these latinos from returning to bad habits!

All these mechanisms of destabilization correspond to the different phases of a real hybrid war. In the view of the neoconservative strategists, “constructive chaos” is far better than the loss of the areas of direct influence of yesteryear. If Nicaragua is again in the line of sight of US imperialism, the real reasons are mostly economic.

Nicaragua, theater of a long US strategic war

As early as 1825, the Federal Republic of Central America, a political entity stemming from the wars of independence, had commissioned a study on the creation of a canal on the Lake Nicaragua Canal route. It was a strategic project for the economic development and survival of the young republic. But following the creation of the Independent State of Nicaragua in 1838, the Central American Federation broke out, dividing it into six different political entities (Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica). What about the economic integration project in the region? It fell into oblivion.

For the United States, the break-up of Central America was therefore very advantageous from a strategic point of view. In 1846, the Colombian government signed with the United States the Mallarino-Bidlak Treaty, by which Colombia was to ensure free circulation in this region, where the United States planned to create an inter-oceanic canal. Following the vision of US Marine Corps Captain Alfred Thayer, the goal was to better control maritime trade. The new agreement offered US troops the pretext to intervene militarily 14 times, relying on the legal foundations of the treaty. Thus the United States played a decisive role in the separation of Colombia and the Department of Panama on November 3, 1903.

As a reminder, as early as 1823, the United States had issued a warning to the European powers who would be tempted to regain control over the young emerging republics. It was the famous Monroe Doctrine: “America for Americans”. Translation: The United States were keeping a “right of interference” on its southern neighbors. Well, in 1850 the United States signed a similar treaty with England, which since 1661 had established a protectorate over the coastal region of Mosquitia, allying itself with the indigenous Mosquito people against the Spaniards. The agreement between the two powers provided for the shared control of the coast and the circulation of goods in the future canal. But in 1860, Nicaragua signed another agreement with England, by which it formally renounced the protectorate. In its place, the Kingdom of Mosquitia was created, with a constitution based on English laws. In 1904, Mosquitia was finally incorporated in Nicaragua.

On December 6, 1904, facing the US Congress, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the “Big Stick” doctrine, also known as the “Roosevelt Corollary.” This foreign policy was practiced in the period between 1898 and 1934 where, in order to protect its commercial interests, the United States occupied several Latin American countries, in what would become known as the “banana wars”. William Howard Taft, who had been appointed Secretary of War in the Roosevelt administration, did not hesitate to use force in several countries. Significantly, the same Taft was responsible for overseeing the construction of the Panama Canal, which was finally inaugurated in 1914.

It must be remembered that the initial project for the construction of the Panama Canal was first granted by Colombia to France thanks to the signing of the Salgar-Wyse agreement. The works, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the engineer responsible for the Suez Canal in Egypt, began in 1878 and lasted ten years, but was abandoned in 1888. The abandonment of the project by the French led to the United States resuming the idea of the canal and commissioned a study of the American Congress at the Walker Commission. Finally, the choice was on Nicaragua and a construction treaty was signed. But this country opposed the granting of a route planned by the United States, and envisaged the possibility of granting it to Germany. In retaliation, in August 1912, the United States sent troops to Nicaragua. They would only return home after 21 years of occupation, turning the country into some sort of protectorate. The invasion served the purpose of preventing another country from building a canal in the area. In 1916, the newly elected Adolfo Diaz government, with the kind support of the US Marines, signed with the United States the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty, through which that country obtained the concession for the canal for a period of 99 years and the authorization to install a naval base.

The success of the Panama Canal and the long invasion of Nicaragua by the United States threw the other canal project into the dustbin of history. But not forever. Daniel Ortega, the historical leader of the Sandinista Revolution who was president of Nicaragua in the 1980s and re-elected in 2006, brought back the project. In 2013, the National Assembly approved a law granting the concession of the new Transoceanic Canal to the private Chinese company HKND. If it saw the light of day, it would be three times the size of the Panama Canal. In other words, there would be a serious competition issue.

• Translated from French by Tamarvlad

• First published in Investig’Action

Tatuy TV: A Revolutionary Munitions Factory

Logo commemorating Tatuy TV’s tenth anniversary

With a trajectory of over 10 years, Tatuy Televisión Comunistaria is a reference in Venezuela and abroad, producing a variety of content which is essential for everyone looking to understand and follow events in Venezuela. In this interview we talked to two of its members, Juan Lenzo and Iris Rodríguez, about the history of Tatuy TV, how it’s organized, how they see the role of community media in the context of the Bolivarian Revolution. We also talked about the series “Chávez the Radical”, one of the more recent projects by Tatuy TV.

*****

Ricardo Vaz:  Tatuy TV recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. How did it all begin?

Tatuy TV:  Tatuy TV was formally created in August 2007. But we had already been working since 2006, out of political motivations. We are a group of young revolutionaries from Mérida trying to make use of communication/media as a tool for political struggle.

Our project started off as a traveling cine-foro (cinema-forum). We would travel to different communities in Mérida, show a film, and then have a discussion with the people. Out of this work, which lasted for months, came the idea of a TV station. So a group of 14 people gathered around this project and became the founding members of Tatuy TV. These people came from social movements, some were journalists, AV producers, revolutionary militants, we had many different backgrounds.

RV: So you go ahead and launch a TV station?

TTV: We kicked off the project for the TV station in 2007. To broadcast on television in Venezuela one has to apply for a permit to broadcast in the radio-electric spectrum, which naturally belongs to the Venezuelan state. We started this process in 2007 but it wasn’t until 2012 that our request was approved and Tatuy TV went on the air as channel 48 in the spectrum.

What did we do between 2007 and 2012? Normally a TV station that’s not on the air doesn’t do much. But we had a lot to do! First of all we had to train ourselves, both in terms of the technical aspects and the conceptual, political/ideological ones. We also went on with the cine-foro activities, interacting with communities, taking part in community and political organization tasks, as well as gearing up for what was coming once the station was up and running.

RV: But were you already producing content?

TTV: Tatuy was born with the interview we did with the singer Manu Chao in 2006. That was the first production out of Tatuy. During these first years we did not produce much because we were still learning, but there was already some audiovisual production that essentially from 2009-2010 started to become more regular. And we also found ways to distribute content on the web, through Youtube and social media, which allowed us to distribute our content before our station went live.

RV: And then the TV channel went live in 2012?

TTV: That’s another story, and a tragic one! We started broadcasting on June 14, 2012, thanks to an endowment from RED TV through the Cuba-Venezuela agreement. But we were on the air for only one and a half to two years, because we had constant, and suspicious, technical problems with transmission.

Our first serious technical problem was before the presidential elections of October 7, 2012, which Chávez won. Tatuy’s signal went down for several days. At the time we managed to organize, solve the technical issues, buy new equipment, and with the help of RED TV, which is a state company that services public and community media, we went back on the air.

Then Chávez died and in the April 2013 elections, when Maduro was running, we suffered another sabotage. We recovered once more, and later during the guarimbas (violent street protests) in 2014 we lost the signal for good. From that point on we could not recover, we could not guarantee the technical stability of the station to go on broadcasting.

RV: Did this force you to rethink Tatuy TV’s mission?

TTV: Yes, at this moment we asked ourselves: what are we going to do? Because we did not have the resources to solve these technical problems. Even though the state has a policy of supporting community media, the support towards Tatuy was never reliable, despite the state having ample resources to ensure that an experiment like this one can go on.

This forced us to think about our vision for Tatuy. We knew that we had to keep producing content, to keep training ourselves, and to continue taking part in social and political struggles. And we understood that Tatuy is not an end in itself but an instrument of struggle. Therefore we started thinking and discussing, that if we conceive of the TV channel as a cannon that fires content, then let us reinvent ourselves and become a munitions factory.

In other words, we create content that is then fired by other cannons. That’s more or less the logic that we’ve followed in recent years now that we are no longer on the air. But this way we’ve had a bigger reach and a bigger impact, which has allowed us to place our content, our ideas, in community media, not just in Venezuela but also throughout Latin America, as well as in Venezuelan public media, where we have a chance of reaching a wider audience.

So in some sense this crisis ended up being a gift. It was a crisis that was enough to put a fledgling community station like Tatuy out of business, and, in fact, this has happened to almost all community media in Venezuela, which are struggling, broken, practically vanished. What allowed us to survive was this understanding of our role. And furthermore we did not want to become a private medium, where there’s an owner calling the shots, paying salaries. Rather this is a militant space.

RV: Let’s talk about the role of the media. It’s easy enough to understand it for private media, and the same can be said for state media. But what’s the role of community media, speaking of Tatuy TV in particular?

TTV: This has been a topic of constant debate, community media and their role. We have to go back to the origins of community media, which appear as expressions of concrete struggles, and not the other way around. At a certain moment the idea of a community medium was flipped on its head and fetishized, so first you created the outlet and then you went out to look for a struggle and a community. This inverted process hollowed out community media and many of them became private companies, with advertising revenues, salaries, titles, hierarchical separation of tasks (e.g. someone responsible for collecting cables, someone dedicated to cleaning, etc). They would also have a director, and quite often a given political backer behind the outlet, like a mayor or an MP.

Chavismo in Venezuela, having protagonist and participatory democracy as a premise, has tried to create many different organizational spaces. There have been lots of efforts, some successful and others not so much. But the goal has always been to strengthen this idea of protagonist and participatory democracy not as the end in itself, but as a stepping stone towards what Chávez proposed as the communal state. Therefore in principle a community medium should be charged with collaborating in this process of jumping from protagonist and participatory democracy to the communal state, to popular power, or what the classicists call the dictatorship of the proletariat.

These are then the tasks that a community outlet should embrace. We at Tatuy are very clear about our role. Tatuy is a weapon of communicational struggle, in the media and outside, with the goal of deepening the revolutionary process and building socialism as an historical project. This is our mission. If Tatuy does not fulfill this, and does not contribute towards this, then it ceases to make sense and we should look for different means of struggle.

Covering the May 20 presidential elections (Photo: Tatuy TV)

RV: How does Tatuy TV operate in terms of resources?

TTV: For us the most important “source” is voluntary work. Many of us work for the state (and right now the salaries are very low!), and the rest of our militant work is dedicated to Tatuy. There is a small group of people that currently work full time at Tatuy, either because they’re studying or looking for work. But that’s the basic principle, voluntary work and militancy. Another source of revenue for Tatuy are the contributions from these members that have jobs, as well as donations from comrades and collaborators.

We have also had projects financed by the state, but always in exchange for something. In other words, we are paid something in exchange for producing a series of contents, or workshops, or a community organizing process, etc. And we’ve produced lots of stuff with resources for example from the social responsibility fund of CONATEL (state telecommunications company), or from the federal government council, or from the Ministry of Communications, but always in exchange for something. Nothing has been gifted to us. But one thing that is very clear to us is that we have never accepted commercial advertising as a source of revenue, because we believe that amounts to surrendering principles. It would mean embracing a logic that would question the nature and political orientation of Tatuy.

Therefore that is how Tatuy has survived, with a militant, consistent and independent editorial line. Many people ask us: who is Tatuy’s “political godfather”? Which minister, or vice-minister, or MP, is behind Tatuy?

RV: In some sense it’s Chávez himself!

TTV: Yes, exactly, it’s Chávez and nobody else! That’s our response. Who is your godfather? Chávez! Everything that has been built, the conditions that allowed for a project like Tatuy, and our vision, they all emanate from Chávez’s legacy and the project of building socialism that he proposed.

RV: In a private outlet, like you said, there’s someone who is the director and someone charged with picking up cables. Is there a rotation of tasks in Tatuy?

TTV: Yes. There’s no boss here, nobody is going to tell you that you need to pick up the equipment or clean up, and, of course, we’re not going to hire someone to do those things. If we are looking to construct a new model, than it has to materialize in our practice, not just remain in speeches. So we started with basic things, rotating tasks like watching over the space, cleaning, putting away equipment, making sure everything is in good condition, ensuring that the spaces are well kept.

But moreover, nowadays in the current crisis situation, a new interesting experiment has emerged. In order for our material needs not to interfere with our work, here everyone needs to know how to cook! Every day someone is responsible for cooking for everybody else, so that the others can focus on work, and this is rotated. The same thing applies to buying food supplies, everyone has their turn.

And the same applies to the tasks that are more specific for a media outlet. There isn’t a single person in charge of taking photos because they are the ones that do it best. Here if someone doesn’t know how to use a camera they have to learn, just like they have to learn how do video editing and motage. Everyone needs to be an integral member, as well as develop politically. So there isn’t a division of labor, certainly not between manual and intellectual labor.

RV: How many members does Tatuy have at the moment?

TTV: We are 14, and 9 are women. That’s also something interesting, the fact that many comrades from revolutionary feminist movements have joined Tatuy, and we have looked to consider and develop awareness on the issue of the “care economy”. In other words, when we assign tasks we always need to be mindful of ensuring our collective well-being. How we take care of ourselves, our physical, intellectual and emotional integrity, so we can commit to our revolutionary work in the best possible conditions.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that we look to distribute work as fairly as possible, without any division of manual and intellectual labor, there are tendencies. There are people that feel more keen and comfortable, for example, doing photographic work, and therefore we also create the conditions so they can become good photographers.

Preparing to interview Venezuelan writer and historian Luis Britto García (Photo: Tatuy TV)

RV: Is there any relation between the work at Tatuy and the other jobs members might have?

TTV: That’s another interesting point. For example, I (Juan) am currently teaching political economy at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela. This task, of organizing a syllabus and teaching, was given to me by Tatuy. In other words, part of my responsibility at Tatuy is also to reach these spaces like universities. Similarly another member of Tatuy is in charge of audiovisual coordination at Unearte.

So then Tatuy has an impact on this front, which allows us to define study programs, methods, community programs. We have managed to increase our range of activities as a medium, and reach new spaces of struggle. That is to say that our impact is not just in producing audiovisual content but also in these other spaces, like classrooms, where we can socialize the knowledge and ideas that are being generated at Tatuy.

RV: In practical terms, how do you decide which contents to produce, and how tasks are distributed for each project?

TTV: Every January we shut ourselves here, and sometimes we overdo it. That has been part of our learning curve, sometimes we would be halfway through the year still working on a plan! But in recent years we have been much more disciplined and precise in elaborating a yearly plan. So every January we sit down and discuss. We take stock of the political developments of the previous year and do a prospective analysis: what do we expect from the upcoming year?

Based on that we do a political analysis of the current context, in terms of political relations, popular subjectivity, and from there we start thinking about production lines. And we also evaluate previous productions, what impact they had, which should continue, which should be dropped, which should be picked up again, and as a result of all that we draw the editorial policy for the year. This policy in turn should be adjusted to a document that outlines the editorial framework of Tatuy, the broad strokes of our mission.

RV: We have to ask: how did you come up with the idea of “Chávez the Radical“?

TTV: The starting point is the fact that Tatuy and its militants are political sons and daughters of Chávez. Our militancy, our process of political development, with the exception of a couple of older comrades, happens with Chávez. The thing is that, at first sight, Chávez looks like an ideologically eclectic figure, that one day meets with businessmen and the next day expropriates a company. So apparently he is a contradictory figure.

But we have an assessment, which we explained in an article that outlined our vision of “Chávez the Radical”, that essentially Chávez’s political trend as time went on was towards radicalisation. This doesn’t discard the fact that at certain moments he had to take a step back, make tactical alliances, negotiate in order to avoid conflicts with powerful actors that could not be confronted at the time. Nevertheless Chávez’s political trend was always towards radicalisation.

This radicalizing trajectory is actually the subject of our latest episode. Chávez kicks off his project convinced of the possibility of a “humane capitalism”, third-way politics. But after the coup in 2002, after the attacks from the US empire, Chávez said “I am forced to declare the anti-imperialist character of the revolution”. And following that, faced with the dynamics of class struggle in the Venezuelan political reality, Chávez sees it necessary to define a path, and the closest or more realistic way to guarantee the well-being of the people, was socialism. Therefore it was always a path of radicalisation. If one looks at Chávez’s speeches, right before falling ill, these are the clearest, deepest, most radical and most revolutionary speeches he produced.

RV: What is then the goal of this series?

TTV: Simply put, it’s to rescue and portray Chávez in this process of radicalisation, this radical Chávez, which from our point of view is the authentic Chávez. Chávez’s radicalism is not an attribute, an accessory, it’s immanent, inherent to the figure of Chávez and his political project. That’s how Chávez was. So this is an homage to Chávez, to the radical Chávez, and beyond that it’s a tool for our struggle, because it allows us to take part in the ideological battle inside the Bolivarian Revolution having Chávez’s thought and legacy as the starting point.

RV: In the current context of economic war and imperialist aggression, there’s a debate about the positioning of the media with respect to criticism. How does Tatuy manage this need to remain critical while at the same the tendency is to close ranks?

TTV: For us it’s clear that there are two enemies in every revolution. The direct, obvious enemy, starting with the US empire and the traditional capitalist right-wing forces. The bourgeoisie, as a class, is the historical, classical, open, obvious enemy. But there’s another enemy that’s typical of revolutionary processes and which emerges from within, which Chávez compared with this political figure of the Leopard1 (“gato-pardismo”), which is what we call reformism.

Tatuy believes the Venezuelan revolution has two main enemies, imperialism and the national bourgeoisie on one hand, and reformism on the other. These are two permanent battlefronts, chavismo cannot avoid it. Chavismo fortunately is not a homogeneous, obedient mass. It’s a space of conflict, where multiple visions are expressed; in short, it’s a space of class struggle. Therefore above all we recognize that any revolution in Venezuela from here on out will go through chavismo. That’s one of Chávez’s great achievements, that there is a critical mass that accepted socialism as an historical and emancipatory project. This is no small feat.

So we insert ourselves in that arena of struggle. We are chavistas and we consider that inside chavismo there’s a struggle to be waged. There are reformist sectors, capitalist sectors, popular revolutionary sectors, and the struggle is to conquer hegemony inside chavismo, to conquer the subjectivity of chavismo. And that’s the battle that we embrace. We critically assume the revolutionary political construction, but always, without a doubt, inside chavismo.

• First published in Investig’action

  1. This political term refers to the sentence “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same” said by one of the characters of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s book “The Leopard”, later made into a film. In a revolutionary context this reference is targeted at those that only look to make superficial changes, leaving the existing power structures untouched.

The Catholic Church in Resistance

The tradition is represented as noble, the confiding link between confessor and penitent, a bridge never to be broken, even under pain of death.  Taken that way, the confessional is brandished as the Catholic Church’s great weapon against the wiles and predations of secular power.  The State shall have no say where the priest’s confidence is concerned, for all may go to him to seek amends.  “The sacramental seal,” goes the relevant code of canon law, “is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for the confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Those points certainly have merits, even if these seem a touch faded after the sex abuse imbroglio the Church has found itself in.  Confession, which functions as a barometric reading of Catholic guilt, has developed its own succour and relish, an ecosystem of ritual and understanding resistant to the prying of the criminal law.  Not merely does its ironclad protection provide a dispensation from the laws of the land in certain troubling cases; the confession, in effect, serves as an economy of ordered guilt, reassurance for the next binge of sin. To remove it, or at the very least heavily qualify it, would be an unsettling challenge to a distinct Weltanschauung.

The process effectively permits all – including erring priests – to engage the process from either side of the grille. Historically, the process also imperilled children.  Pope Pius X, in decreeing in 1910 that confession should commence at the tender age of seven, permitted an army of celibates access to vulnerable, and in certain instances titillating flesh.

Legislators troubled by the enduring force and fascination with the seal of the confessional have gotten busy, most notably in Australia.  This was prompted, in no small part, by the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. “We are satisfied,” went the Australian report, “that confession is a forum where Catholic children have disclosed their sexual abuse and where clergy have disclosed their abusive behaviour in order to deal with their own guilt.”

One recommendation specifies that institutions “which have a religious confession for children should implement a policy that requires the rite only to be conducted in an open space within the clear line of sight of another adult.” But the members of the Royal Commission went beyond the spatial logistics of the confessional.  Institutional jolting was required.

Each state and territory government, argued Commission members, should pass legislation creating “a criminal offence of failure to report targeted at child sexual abuse in an institutional context”.  This, it was suggested, would extend to “knowledge gained or suspicions that are or should have been formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.”  The law would also exclude existing excuses, protections or privileges.

Despite treading delicately, such recommendations were not merely matters for demurral by the Church, but considerations to be sneered at from the summit of spiritual snobbery.  President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart reduced the matter to one of neat sophistry veiled by religious freedom.  “Confession in the Catholic Church,” he reasoned in August last year, “is a spiritual encounter with God through the priest” being “a fundamental part of the freedom of religion”.

Hart’s protestations did not go heeded in the South Australian legislature, making it the first in Australia to legally oblige priests to report confessions of child abuse from October 1.  Omitting to do so will result in a fine of $10,000.  Bishop of Port Pirie and acting Adelaide Archbishop Greg O’Kelly, much in Hart’s vein, saw the move as having “much wider implications for the Catholic Church and the practice of the faith.” Such comments could only come across as archaic and insensitive, given the conviction of his predecessor, Archbishop Philip Wilson, for concealing child sex abuse.

More to the point, the remarks by Bishop O’Kelly are brazenly selfish, permitting the priest an all-exclusive gold card for reasons of amendment, “that the penitent actually is sincere about wanting forgiveness, is sincere about wanting reparation”.  The conspicuous absentee here is the victim, always abstracted, if not totally hidden, by matters of the spirit.

While accounts such as John Cornwell’s, whose stingingly personal The Dark Box makes the sensible point that abolishing the confession and its lusty pull would essentially address the problem, the Church is already finding fewer penitents.  In a sense, it is already losing the appeal, the allure, and even the danger, of the confessional.  Musty physical convention has given way to digital releases and outpouring.  Social media, crowned by the confessional fetish that is Facebook, takes the disturbed soul and expresses it to the globe.

From the vacuity of the Kardashian phenomenon to the newly enlisted grandparent keen to reflect on banal deeds, these platforms have stolen an irresistible march on those in the land of Catholicity.  Such confessions of sin or achievement – the distinctions are not always clear – have become the preserve of Mark Zuckerberg and his technicians, rather than a local priest desperate to remain relevant. But that age old resistance against the laws of the civic secular domain remains the Church of Rome’s stubborn, practised specialty. The elusive spirit, in dialogue with an unverified Sky God, continues to be its invaluable alibi for crimes of the flesh.

Big Brother Facebook: Drawing Down The Iron Curtain on Yankeedom

Leading a double life

When my partner, Barbara, first opened an account on Facebook, she used it in a way that most people in Yankeedom use it. Her network was an eclectic assortment of family, current and former workmates, new and old friends, neighbors and relatives living in other parts of the country. Most of what was posted on this account were pictures of kids, dogs and kitty cats, vacations, dinner outings, jokes – nothing too controversial. Like most members of Yankeedom, religion and politics were off limits. However, there was a kind of politically unconscious assumption operating that liberal values prevailed and that somehow the Democratic Party embodied those values. I nicknamed her Facebook account the “Suzy Cream Cheese” account after the Mothers of Invention’s album because it only dealt with surface preoccupations.

As the most recent US presidential primaries heated up and people took sides about Hillary, Bernie and Jill Stein, the Suzy Cream Cheese page started to be “not nice”. The political unconscious became conscious. The assumption was that all women – in the name of feminism – should vote for Hillary. My partner thought this was a very shallow understanding of feminism and posted an article she wrote that was published in a number of online radical newsletters titled, “Feminism is Bigger Than Gender: Why I’ll Be Happy in Hell Without Hillary.” Oh dear. After she posted that article on Facebook, she got the cold shoulder and lost a couple of friends. Around that time she opened up a second “political” Facebook account and started adding to it a whole new group of far-left friends and acquaintances. She continued posting “suitable for family viewing” comments with her Suzy Cream Cheese account while posting and responding to socialist and communist posts on her political account.

The Two Faces of Facebook

Neither Barbara nor I are sociologists of social media or specifically of Facebook, so what follows is experiential. However, we do know a thing or two about how capitalist institutions operate in general and Facebook is no exception.

The primary purpose of Facebook is to sell ad space to marketers. But how do you reach the Yankee public? You make it easy for Yankees to set up individual accounts so that Yankees can do what we do best—talk about the micro world of family, dogs and friends. In the process, hopefully people will purchase some of the products or services touted in the ads. Facebook has also made it possible for individuals to join groups and set up pages that then allow them to place ads to publicize their group or organization. For Facebook, reading groups, hobbies and support groups are fine.

But Facebook has encountered a problem that many other capitalist institutions have. The problem is that you can set up the conditions for selling your products, but you can’t control people’s motivation for buying the product, (joining a group or setting up a political page) or what they will do with the product (what kind of group they will form). Facebook could even tolerate political groups. But the political imagination of Facebook consists of Republicans and Democrats. What Facebook had not counted on is the proliferation of political groups that exist outside both parties. As most of you know, there are many anarchist groups, Leninist groups, social democrats and even council communist groups. On the right there are all sorts of nationalist and fascists groups. It is safe to say that Facebook, as a capitalist institution, does not want to host these groups but until recently has not been able to do anything about it.

Planning Beyond Capitalism Meets Suzy Cream Cheese Facebook

Six years ago Barbara and I co-founded an organization called Planning Beyond Capitalism. The name pretty much says what we are up to. As an anti-establishment organization our main problem was, and still is, outreach. We stumbled and bumbled our way with the help of some anti-establishment social media whizzes who convinced us we could reach a lot more people through placing ads on Facebook. Facebook calls it “boosting”. At first, we were skeptical because the language used in placing an ad on Facebook seemed to have nothing to do with politics. They were ads for businesses. They encouraged us to “pick the right brand” and “target our audience” for best “market return”. We weren’t a business and we weren’t a non-profit. The best category we could find was “community organization”.

One of the things we do on Planning Beyond Capitalism is to select one article from a left-wing news source and write one post and commentary each day. We call this “Capitalist News Interpreted”. We publish these posts daily on Facebook, but don’t “boost” them. But every couple of months or so we write a longer article, in which we make an analysis of world events, mostly in the United States, from the perspective of our organization. We put these in the category of Perspectives. Over the course of two or three years we found four or five political newsletters in which to publish our perspectives. In addition, we decided to “boost” those perspectives on Facebook.

Our pattern was to boost our perspective for one week for the cost of $30.00 to run for one week. This money came out of our own pockets. We were able to select our demographics – age, gender, interests – and we could post it to almost any country in the world. In selecting our audiences when we first started boosting our posts, the choices of “anarchism” and “socialism” were available for us to select. Typically, in a single week we reached about ten thousand people – with a ratio of people in that audience of people who “liked” our perspective from about 20% to 33%. The number of “shares” in a week ranged from 75 to about 250 depending on the article. In the process of doing this, we began hearing from people in other parts of the world. Some of those people then began to write for us.

We were pretty amazed that Facebook approved of virtually all our perspectives in 2016 and 2017 despite our anti Democratic Party, anti-capitalist slant. Here are some of our titles:

No Pink Wooly Caps for Me

Open Letter to the Sandernistas: The Political Revolution Continues – Hearts, Bodies and Souls

Planning Beyond Capitalism meets Big Brother Facebook

Things began to change for us on Facebook when I published an article on April 1st of this year claiming the Democratic Party was worse than the Republican Party for 90% of the population. After we posted a link to it on our Facebook page we tried to boost it.

Greater of Two Evils: Why the Democratic Party is Worse than the Republican Party for 85% of the U.S. Population

Facebook rejected our ad and we contested that rejection. They said it was sensationalistic, involved hate speech and promoted violence. We contested this rejection and after two arguments from us, won our appeal. We ran the ad for two weeks because of its popularity. It reached 38,000 people, had many hundreds of shares and we gained about 100 new followers.

The next article we published was written by an Iraqi comrade of ours living as a citizen in Russia. The article was about why Russians are upset with Americans.

Why Russians are Upset With Americans – Seen Through the Eyes of an Iraqi

This ad was again disapproved by Facebook but for different reasons: it was “political”. We contested this as well. Below is our argument:

We have been boosting posts on FB for 2 years. Every single one of them has political content. Why is this particular one being singled out? However, this is the first article that we’ve published about Russia, written by someone living in Russia. We believe that you are not authorizing this ad because it is a favorable account of the Russian people, which does not conform to the Democratic Party’s anti-Russian ideology. This article was written by a Russian citizen and is written from his own observations and viewpoint. Furthermore, his sources are documented and it is neither sensationalistic nor violent. We are not advocating for Russian foreign policy. We are talking about average Russian citizens. If you read the article, you would see that your response is exactly the reasons Russians are upset with Americans. Their experiences are suppressed, while we maintain the stereotypes of them as in the cartoon image that leads the article. This, to us, constitutes blatant discrimination. 

Facebook’s response was a boilerplate line about what constitutes a political post. Their policy about political ads had changed as of May 7th, 2018. It implied that their disapproval had nothing to do with its content. It was because the category was “political”. We were told that in order to consider having our ad approved, we had to register as a political organization. In order to do this we needed to:

  1. Be citizens of the United States
  2. Provide proof of citizenship
  3. Provide a residential address
  4. Provide a drivers license number
  5. Provide a Social Security number

All this – simply to place a political ad. Doesn’t this sound like we are registering to be investigated by the FBI or CIA? Oh, no that’s just left wing paranoia.

Further, they said it would take up to six weeks to verify this and to approve our ad. But not to worry, they would delete all our information once it checked out.

As the author of the article on Russia, Jamal pointed out his other two articles that had been accepted by Facebook were far more political than the one they just rejected. But that was before their change of policy. Jamal rightfully pointed out that the rejected article was more historical, sociological and cultural than political. However, the upper middle class honchos of Facebook, having taken one class in political science in the United States, cannot tell the difference between sociology, political economy, and culture. Their formula is:

Russia = political = bad

America = Democratic Party = good

To paraphrase an old country tune, “Take this job and shove it”, we told Facebook to “take your political registration and shove it”.

No, there is no “Iron Curtain” in the US. That is for Russians.

Our Analysis of Facebook

We think it is reasonable to suspect that Facebook wants to get rid of its “political underground”, the groups that exist beyond the two party system. Why? For one thing people at both extremes of the political spectrum are likely to buy the products that are advertised on their pages. The second reason is that our ads are chump change for them. Getting rid of us will cost them close to nothing in revenue. The third reason is political. Facebook, like most media institutions, is committed to the Democratic Party. Cleaning its house of “Fake News” (the news and opinions of the socialist or fascist sides of the spectrum) will steer people back to reasonable choices like the Democratic Party. It is our belief that this change in policy requiring organizations like ours to register as political groups has occurred in 2018, in part, because this is an election year.

There are other indicators Facebook is closing ranks. In selecting an audience for our article, we noticed the choices given under political interests on the left, the furthest left available to choose was “very liberal”. There was no socialist choice even though a self-proclaimed socialist ran as a Democratic in the 2016 primaries.

If anyone reading this has recommendations for alternatives to Facebook that would allow us to place political ads to broaden our reach, please contact us. It’s time for those of us on the far left to find an alternative to Big Brother Facebook.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

Social Networks as Dead Ends for Activists

There was a time when the internet was an experiment in anarchy, but it is increasingly becoming an experiment in “stateness”, meaning police-order. Social networks are in crisis. Our governments are losing patience with them, grilling geek after geek to demand they be more loyal to the nation-state and take a more active role suppressing apparently foreign points of view.

The unplugging of the entire internet by NATO countries to stop vaguely defined “Russian trolls” – a nationalistic smear for rebellious social media users living not in Russia but our own countries – cannot be ruled out. As laughable as this possibility may seem to internet users, Western leaders are dead serious about the issue. They consider users who mock them online as existential threats. That they may eventually give up and unplug everything will be touched on here, but it also needs more consideration at a later date.

For now, the focus must be on what might happen to the major social networks. If they are profoundly reshaped by geopolitical tension and paranoia, will they be of any continued use for publishing anti-establishment slogans and views? How will the new Cold War affect the freedom of writers and independent creators to express themselves through social networks?

Lawmakers in the US, the UK, the EU, and other NATO-aligned political structures are wrathful towards social networks due to the influence they indiscriminately offer anyone who signs up to them. Since the US election of 2016, we have watched staff from Twitter, Facebook and Google get grilled by screaming American and British lawmakers. The ageing lawmakers, not willing to take any chances in the “neuland” of the internet (so described by Angela Merkel) treat social networks with the utmost disdain and hostility. For them, the internet is a war-fighting domain, a battlefield of states with fixed front lines, a red zone where insurgents snipe at them. For them, the objective must be to silence anyone who disagrees with them and glorify anyone who does agree with them.

According to the traditional paranoid geopolitical mindset, social networks have to even be regarded as unwitting hostile actors. By offering people the chance to choose their own sources of information and even reproduce those sources and share those sources to others, social networks undermine loyalty to the nation-state, making it harder to spread Nineteenth Century ideas of loyalty and incite new petty wars with other nation-states. Our fossilized politicians, longing for the day when every young man had to complete mandatory military service and longed to die for the flag, seek to lobotomize the youth and restore nation-state loyalty to execute warlike aims against geopolitical foes Russia and China.

While hostility of ageing politicians towards social networks may be worrying, their complete intellectual failure and lack of understanding of what they are dealing with is encouraging. Their obsession with the current major social networks – Twitter and Facebook – suggests that they regard social media in the same way that they view news media. In their view, social networks are just some other big companies that need to be reined in. Just one or two big actors need to be forced to conform to the regime’s ideology, like the well-behaved top news journalists broadcasters, and the politicians’ authority will be restored. The “trolls” will be defeated. The youth will start to respect the bleary-eyed generals and politicians who were kept awake at night by them.

Unfortunately for every internet creator, the reactions of Twitter, Facebook and Google have been cowed. All are eager to prove their nationalist loyalty, particularly to the US state, because their websites’ physical infrastructure is based on the territory of the US state. They have the American regime’s gun to their heads, just like the television stations. Google serves the Pentagon loyally, but may be incapable of preventing its platform’s exploitation by the Pentagon’s enemies and critics due to the sheer number of targets flooding their scopes.

It is possible that the frail politicians so concerned about “trolls” will be able to cower in safety very soon behind a wall of new media enforcement, but it will not last forever. If the power of individuals to express themselves freely at major social networks, chiefly Twitter and Facebook, is sabotaged, communities will move gradually to other social networks and continue their activity there. The centre of media attention will shift away from dullness and conformity to somewhere more interesting once again.

A major consideration for alternate media when selecting social networks has likely been the presence of third party applications that can amplify one’s views across social media by providing automated posting services. These upset the traditional dominance of the wealthy and the powerful over the press. Very low overhead is required to establish a publication using various automation and aggregation tools to create feeds that offer a wide different spectrum of news and commentary than the mainstream. Attacks against automation under the guise of fighting “fake news” and “bots” are therefore an excuse to hamper small and independent media projects that lack the staff to manually post every item of content to the social networks. This assumes that the social networks are really going to fight automation.  The BBC and its supporters are mindless bots, if we look seriously at Twitter’s rules, and yet the people whose accounts get suppressed by Twitter are not bots but real people targeted by the British regime for holding dissident views.

Perhaps the flight of dissenting users to some future alternative social network should settle the battle between politicians and trolls. But it would probably only anger Western politicians even more, as they regard all alternative media as extremist, so the counterinsurgency would rage on. Not able to pressure the alternate social networks, politicians may resort to the brute force of the law, seeking court orders to block every app or social network being used to hurt political egos or express disloyalty to the state. But websites can be cloned and mirrored, and insurgent networks would be continuously made available again, as is the case with the various “putlockers” endlessly springing up to avoid the court orders that are always too slow and ineffective to counter free streaming.

There is every reason to think that many of the most effective anti-government critics would still be able to thrive even on the mainstream social networks, merely by altering their choice of language and modifying aspects of their behavior to evade the automated tools being used to remove them. Resistance can vary between passive and active forms, and rejection of national loyalty and lack of support for war will always be possible in any forum even if everyone else is a bloodthirsty and rabid nationalist. Advocacy for the removal of censorship and the destruction of the yokes used to enforce conformity and faith on a social network would always be considered a moderate and neutral view, making it possible to support more rebellious creators without joining them.

The inevitable failures of an online counterinsurgency described above could eventually prove too much for some governments to bear, and the result would be the complete destruction of the internet – something states will always be able to do. They might first attempt “balkanization”, forcing users to only register for accounts at social networks if they reside in the country where the social network is based. If that occurs, websites like Twitter and Facebook would fall into the geopolitical space of NATO, and support of NATO war aims and propaganda would become a compulsory requirement of all users, with everyone lobotomized to be docile supporters.

Balkanization would fail to achieve anything. As recent hunts for “trolls” have demonstrated, they are not actually foreign, nor are they automated. The alleged Russian enemies, “trolls” and “bots” are real people. They are not hackers from Russian spy agencies, but independent authors, journalists and creative people – civilians located inside our own countries who hold anti-war and anti-colonial views on foreign policy. Such innocent people look like they will be the new targets in the next “accidental” rampage by our incompetent regimes against perceived anti-state threats.

If they pursue and yet fail to achieve anything against trolls through political pressure, court orders, and geopolitical militarization of the social networks, politicians who view trolls as a true threat to the state will inevitably advocate a total ban on the internet. It is for this final contingency that independent writers and serious activists must prepare themselves.

It is not enough to have a collection of friends and followers on some top social networks, and even a robust email list may not be enough to sustain one’s writing. Real contacts and a real publishing history outside the social networks, even in print, are a requirement to sustain anti-establishment momentum and the propagation of balanced views. Anything less, and the paranoid regime can delete you and all its other critics with the push of a button. The conservation of social media-based activists on lists and their transformation into published authors is one way for them to save themselves from simple bans, at the same time amplifying their voices ever more.

The development of the Mont Order society to connect and preserve dissenting influencers on social networks can only help. It may be that teaming up to use a variety of applications, technologies and email clients based under different geopolitical poles of influence (the US, the EU, Russia and China) may be the only route towards independent political writing and advocacy under the suffocating conditions of the new Cold War. Such a strategy, pursued early on before it is even necessary, would allow dissident gatherings on social networks to survive purges, hostility, court orders, balkanization and even the plug being pulled completely by these paranoid regimes we have tolerated.

Much of what is forecasted here is dark, and perhaps too dark. Perhaps the internet isn’t really doomed to die at the hands of paranoid and vain politicians trying to defoliate it to fight their critics. Perhaps police-order is not achievable across the internet. It could be that many of the stages of counter-insurgency would require so much legal reform and such a high budget that most of the politicians concerned will die of old age and be replaced by a more tech-savvy and relaxed generation before their aims are even close to being achieved. Nevertheless, it is prudent to seek out and imagine counter-strategies to survive even the most heavy-handed actions by politicians against critics.

The Syrian Observatory: Funded By The Foreign Office

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, journalist Peter Hitchens commented last month on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR):

Talking of war, and Syria, many of you may have noticed frequent references in the media to a body called the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, often quoted as if it is an impartial source of information about that complicated conflict, in which the British government clearly takes sides. The “Observatory” says on its website that it is “not associated or linked to any political body”

To which I reply: Is Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office not a political body? Because the FO just confirmed to me that “the UK funded a project worth £194,769.60 to provide the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights with communications equipment and cameras.” That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? I love the precision of that 60p. Your taxes, impartially, at work.

This figure was confirmed in communication with the Foreign Office by independent political journalist Ian Sinclair.1

In 2011, Reuters reported that Rami Abdulrahman is ‘the fast-talking director of arguably Syria’s most high-profile human rights group’, SOHR:

When he isn’t fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.

Given the tinpot nature of the organisation, SOHR’s influence is astonishing:

Cited by virtually every major news outlet since an uprising against the iron rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, the observatory has been a key source of news on the events in Syria.

Described by Reuters as an ‘opposition group’, SOHR is openly pro-regime change:

After three short spells in prison in Syria for pro-democracy activism, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term.

“I came to Britain the day Hafez al-Assad died, and I’ll return when Bashar al-Assad goes”.

In December 2011, Stratfor, an influential research institute formed of former US security officials, cautioned:

Most of the [Syrian] opposition’s more serious claims have turned out to be grossly exaggerated or simply untrue … revealing more about the opposition’s weaknesses than the level of instability inside the Syrian regime.

Reports from SOHR and other opposition groups, ‘like those from the regime, should be viewed with skepticism’, Stratfor argued: ‘the opposition understands that it needs external support, specifically financial support, if it is to be a more robust movement than it is now. To that end, it has every reason to present the facts on the ground in a way that makes the case for foreign backing.’

The Los Angeles Times described SOHR as ‘a pro-opposition watchdog’. And yet, as Reuters reported, Abdulrahman claims neutrality:

“I’m between two fires. But it shows I’m being neutral if both sides complain,” he said, insisting he accepts no funding and runs the observatory on a voluntary basis.

Two years later, the New York Times described a modified funding model:

Money from two dress shops covers his minimal needs for reporting on the conflict, along with small subsidies from the European Union and one European country that he declines to identify.

Thanks to Hitchens, we now know that the country in question is Britain and the funding in 2012 was £194,769.60.

In 2013, we compared the reflexive respect afforded SOHR with the earlier casual rejection of reports on the death toll in Iraq published in 2004 and 2006 by the Lancet, the world’s leading medical journal:

Figures supplied by SOHR, an organisation openly biased in favour of the Syrian “rebels” and Western intervention is presented as sober fact by… the world’s leading news agencies. No concerns here about methodology, sample sizes, “main street bias” and other alleged concerns thrown at the Lancet studies by critics.

In 2004, one of the Lancet co-authors, Gilbert Burnham of the prestigious Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told us:

Our data have been back and forth between many reviewers at the Lancet and here in the school (chair of Biostatistics Dept), so we have the scientific strength to say what we have said with great certainty. I doubt any Lancet paper has gotten as much close inspection in recent years as this one has!2

Despite this, the Lancet reports were subjected to ceaseless attacks from the US and UK governments, and dismissal by corporate journalists. David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times:

And Harold Pinter invents a statistic. “At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraqi insurgency began.” This is probably some mangling of a controversial estimate of Iraqi civilian fatalities published in The Lancet in 2004 and based, it was claimed, on standard epidemiological methods.3

An op-ed in the Washington Times commented in December 2004:

Or how about the constantly cited figure of 100,000 Iraqis killed by Americans since the war began, a statistic that is thrown about with total and irresponsible abandon by opponents of the war.4

As we described at the time, the ‘mainstream’ hosted all manner of confused and baseless criticisms of this kind.

By contrast, a recent BBC article noted of the Syrian war:

Over seven years of war, more than 400,000 people have been killed or reported missing, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

No-one, it seems, would dream of challenging such a high figure supplied by a clothes shop owner supporting regime change in Syria from Coventry. Nobody challenges SOHR’s methodology, or complains of statistics being thrown about with irresponsible abandon. Why? Because the 2004 and 2006 Lancet reports seriously undermined the US-UK case for conquering Iraq, whereas a high Syria death toll is used to damn the Assad government and to make the case for Western ‘intervention’.

In a 2015 interview with RT, Abdulrahman was asked how he could trust the hundreds of ‘activists’ supplying information from Syria. Claiming that ‘I know all of the activists working for the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’, Abdulrahman said that he had last visited Syria in 2000. He added: ‘But I know some of the Observatory activists through common friends.’

Innumerable ‘mainstream’ reports of atrocities blamed on Syrian government and Russian forces have used SOHR as a key source. One of the highest profile claims concerned an alleged massacre of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla, Syria on May 27, 2012. The claim dominated the Independent on Sunday‘s front cover, which read:

SYRIA: THE WORLD LOOKS THE OTHER WAY. WILL YOU?

The text beneath read:

There is, of course, supposed to be a ceasefire, which the brutal Assad regime simply ignores. And the international community? It just averts its gaze. Will you do the same? Or will the sickening fate of these innocent children make you very, very angry?

As so often, SOHR loomed large in these accusations. The BBC reported:

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 90 people had died in the 24 hours since midday on Friday.

The Guardian described how SOHR was condemning Western ‘silence’:

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued an unusually harsh statement in the wake of the deaths, accusing Arab nations and the international community of being “partners” in the killing “because of their silence about the massacres that the Syrian regime has committed”.

But the picture was not quite so clear cut. Two weeks later, the BBC reported the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, as saying of Houla: ‘the circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear’. Mood commented significantly:

Whatever I learned on the ground in Syria… is that I should not jump to conclusions.

On June 27, a UN Commission of Inquiry said that in apportioning blame, it ‘could not rule out any of these possibilities’: local militia possibly operating together with, or with the acquiescence of, government security forces; anti-government forces seeking to escalate the conflict; or foreign groups with unknown affiliation. In August of the same year, UN investigators released a further report which stated that they had ‘a reasonable basis to believe that the perpetrators… were aligned to the Government’. (Our emphasis)

SOHR is omnipresent in the great Syrian atrocity claims that have gripped our media for years. On April 14, Donald Trump bombed Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Douma one week earlier. Reuters reported:

Heavy air strikes on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma killed 27 people including five children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

On April 7, 2017, Trump launched a missile assault on Syria just 72 hours after an alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Reuters reported:

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack killed at least 58 people and was believed to have been carried out by Syrian government jets. It caused many people to choke and some to foam at the mouth.

Director Rami Abdulrahman told Reuters the assessment that Syrian government warplanes were to blame was based on several factors such as the type of aircraft, including Sukhoi 22 jets, that carried out the raid.

In August 2013, Barack Obama came close to launching a massive attack on Syria in response to an alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attack on Ghouta. The BBC reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based group that gets its information from a network of activists across Syria, later said it had confirmed at least 502 deaths.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women.

Last February, the BBC reported:

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said at least 250 people had been killed in [Syrian government and Russian] air strikes and artillery fire since then.

It said it was the highest 48-hour death toll since a 2013 chemical attack on the besieged enclave.

The power of these claims lies in the fact that Western journalists have been unable to report from ‘rebel’-held areas in Syria. Veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn made the point:

All wars always produce phony atrocity stories – along with real atrocities. But in the Syrian case fabricated news and one-sided reporting have taken over the news agenda to a degree probably not seen since the First World War… The real reason that reporting of the Syrian conflict has been so inadequate is that Western news organisations have almost entirely outsourced their coverage to the rebel side.

‘Rebel’ claims relayed by SOHR and others have been uncontested because they originated from ‘areas controlled by people so dangerous no foreign journalist dare set foot among them’.

Many atrocity claims relayed by SOHR and others have been sourced from the White Helmets group in Syria. Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook commented:

In the western corporate media narrative, the White Helmets are a group of dedicated and selfless rescue workers. They are supposedly the humanitarians on whose behalf a western intervention in Syria would have been justified – before, that is, Syrian leader Bashar Assad queered their pitch by inviting in Russia.

However, there are problems with the White Helmets. They operate only in rebel – read: mainly al-Qaeda and ISIS-held – areas of Syria, and plenty of evidence shows that they are funded by the UK and US to advance both countries’ far-from-humanitarian policy objectives in Syria.

In 2016, political analyst Max Blumenthal wrote:

The White Helmets were founded in collaboration with USAID’s Office of Transitional Initiatives—the wing that has promoted regime change around the world—and have been provided with $23 million in funding from the department.

Liberal corporate journalists and politicians have been impressed by the fact that SOHR and White Helmets claims have been supported by ostensibly forensic analysis supplied by the Bellingcat website, which publishes ‘citizen journalist’ investigations. As we noted in a recent alert, Bellingcat is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US government and is ‘a notorious vehicle for US soft power’.

We could link to thousands of corporate media articles citing SOHR as a source. As in the above examples, the vast majority of these claims are directed at the same targets – the Syrian government and its Russian ally. To monitor the BBC website in 2013, for example, was to witness what appeared to be a relentless propaganda campaign promoting yet one more Western ‘humanitarian intervention’.

This would seem to be an extraordinary scandal, not just for the BBC, not just for British corporate media and democracy, but for media and democracy globally. And yet, our media database search finds exactly one national UK newspaper article containing the terms ‘Peter Hitchens’ and ‘Syrian Observatory’. That, of course, was the original May 13 piece in the Mail on Sunday in which Hitchens reported the UK government’s £194,769.60 funding of SOHR. His report has been ignored.

  1. Email to Media Lens, May 17, 2018.
  2. Dr. Gilbert Burnham, email to Media Lens, October 30, 2004.
  3. Aaronovitch, ‘The great war of words,’ The Times, March 18, 2006.
  4. Helle Dale, ‘Biased coverage in Iraq,’ Washington Times, December 1, 2004.

Frankie Boyle: Your new show betrayed Gaza

Dear Frankie Boyle,

I’d prefer not to be writing this as an open letter, but you didn’t leave me much choice: I can no longer engage with you on Twitter because you blocked me (and many hundreds of others, it seems) for criticising the first episode of your New World Order TV show on Friday.

Since then, having purged your Twitter feed of critics, you have created a series of straw men. In the worst, you have suggested that those unhappy with the show are really closet racists for objecting to the fact that you spent half of your 30-minute schedule allowing your guests, led by David Baddiel, to flay Jeremy Corbyn for a supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in the Labour party. Presumably that offers you a comfortingly circular proof of Labour’s anti-semitism problem.

Another straw man is that those criticising you are simply Corbyn devotees defending their man. Well, that’s certainly not true in my case. Like you, I am dissatisfied with the Labour party as a vehicle for real change, and I think Corbyn is too moderate on a range of issues. But he is also a blast of fresh air in British politics, and the only party leader in living memory who has put anti-racism – and class solidarity – at the heart of his political agenda.

Which may be why some of us were infuriated watching a show hosted by you – probably the only true dissident currently given a show on mainstream TV – trash Corbyn in exactly the same terms used over the past two years by every section of the corporate media, from the Daily Mail and the Times to the Guardian and the BBC. Even were these anti-semitism allegations grounded in a verifiable reality, we really don’t need Frankie Boyle indulging prejudices we’ve heard almost every day since Corbyn was elected Labour leader.

Politically toxic

But sadly, that segment of your show was more than simply wasted airtime. Far worse, you peddled – or rather gave a platform to Baddiel and the other guests to peddle – allegations that are rooted in no reality at all, as people like me have been pointing out for a long time and in a great deal of detail. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

We are not saying there is no anti-semitism on the left (another straw man). Unfortunately, there are racists, including anti-semites, everywhere in life. We are saying that there is no anti-semitism crisis on the left. That is not my or anyone else’s opinion. It is documented fact. Surveys show that Labour is significantly better on the issue of anti-semitism than the right.

Your decision to echo the Murdoch press by focusing on a Labour/left anti-semitism “crisis” can have only two consequences, both of them politically irresponsible and socially toxic.

The first is that this allegation undermines – completely unfairly – the left, creating the impression among the wider public that there is a significant problem of anti-semitism in Labour, and implying, again unfairly, that Corbyn is the source of that problem. We understand very well why the corporate media is devoting so much time and energy to the character assassination of Corbyn. What we can’t understand is why you would use your own slot in the corporate media to steady the rifle for them.

But the irresponsibility of focusing on a confected Labour anti-semitism “crisis” extends beyond simply helping the right wing damage Corbyn and the left more generally. You have also assisted the right in deflecting public attention from its very real anti-semitism problem. And that kind of right wing anti-semitism isn’t about criticising Israel (in fact, the right increasingly loves Israel), but about promoting hatred of Jews simply because they are Jews. While you and everyone else in the corporate media are busy directing our critical gaze at the Labour party, the right can get on with stoking real Jew hatred. If you doubt that, let Donald Trump be a warning to you.

A history of ‘new’ anti-semitism

Doubtless, David Baddiel thinks he’s defending Jews by concentrating on a supposed left wing “anti-semitism” that criticises Israel or, as he was also allowed to argue on your show, vilifies a “global elite”. Maybe he’s right and the Occupy Movement’s talk about “the 1 per cent” was just a way to repackage the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But I rather think not, and you should have required some evidence for those insinuations rather than grinning approvingly as he made them.

(Baddiel exposed his own unconscious racism on the show by making an ugly analogy in which anti-semitism was treated as the equivalent of “cancer”, while other forms of racism – against blacks and Muslims, presumably – were only “shingles”. I have analysed the problem of creating hierarchies of racism that prioritise anti-semitism, and undermine class solidarity, here.)

I understand, Frankie, that you may not realise that anti-semitism began to be weaponised by Israel and its supporters nearly two decades ago – long before Corbyn became Labour leader. From my vantage point in Israel, I have been tracking the mischievious misuse of anti-semitism since Israel began exploiting it more aggressively to silence critics in the early 2000s.

Then it was known as the “New Anti-Semitism”, or sometimes Judeophobia, and the Israeli and US media dedicated acres of newsprint to this supposedly new “problem” on the European left.

One prominent exponent of the thesis was Daniel J Goldhagen, a scholar of the Holocaust, who feared Muslim and Arab immigration to Europe had unleashed a new kind of anti-semitism. In 2003 he wrote in the Forward, a prestigious US Jewish weekly:

Globalized anti-Semitism has become part of the substructure of prejudice in the world. It is relentlessly international in its focus on Israel at the center of the most conflict-ridden region today, and on the United States as the world’s omnipresent power. …

Essentially, Europe has exported its classical racist and Nazi anti-Semitism to Arab countries, which they then applied to Israel and Jews in general. …

Then the Arab countries re-exported the new hybrid demonology back to Europe and, using the United Nations and other international institutions, to other countries around the world. In Germany, France, Great Britain and elsewhere, today’s intensive anti-Semitic expression and agitation uses old tropes once applied to local Jews — charges of sowing disorder, wanting to subjugate others — with new content overwhelmingly directed at Jews outside their countries.

Silencing criticism of Israel

In fact, this theme was enthusiastically picked up by a group of British Jewish intellectuals, who produced a book that same year called “A New Antisemitism? Debating Judeophobia in 21st Century Britain”. The contributors included the Guardian’s executive editor Jonathan Freedland; far-right Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, formerly of the Guardian; novelist Howard Jacobson; and Britain’s then chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. A review in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz described its thesis in these terms:

The irreducible fact is this: something new is at work in Britain. But it’s not the old anti-Semitism. It’s not eliminationist. It’s not genocidal. Nor is it even a deep-seated, visceral hatred of individual Jews. …

Not widespread in “Middle England” at the moment, [Judeophobia] nevertheless resides among certain “cognitive elites” within the news media, churches, universities, and trades unions. … Today’s Judeophobia is an assault on the essence of the Jewish collectivity, both in terms of a Jewish sovereign state in its ancient homeland, and the nature of robust, emancipated, and self-aware Diaspora communities. …

The discriminatory outcome of this campaign of vilification is the demonization of Israel, and by association Jews wherever they may live. Such demonization contributes little to constructive dialogue over Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. In fact, it is another obstacle on the road to peace.

In Israel, a few analysts admitted at the time that this new kind of anti-semitism was intended to intimidate critics who were reacting to Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians in the early years of the second intifada.

And proponents of the “New Anti-Semitism” argument, of course, wilfully ignored other, more convincing explanations of the mounting criticism of Israel on the European left – not least the growing exposure of western publics to Israel’s abuses of Palestinians in an age of 24-hour rolling news and social media.

The New Anti-Semitism playbook was quickly updated after Corbyn became Labour leader. He is seen as an enormous threat to Israel: the first head of a major modern European party to prioritise the suffering of Palestinians over Israel’s right to colonise the Palestinians’ homeland. I have written about this in too much detail to do so again, so if you need to get up to speed, it’s all set out here.

Censured for Israel jokes

There are a number of additional reasons why some of your followers are so angry with you over this episode. Rather than shutting them up, it might have been wise to listen to them.

1. You have spoken in the past about the BBC censuring you for jokes you made that were critical of Israel on the grounds that those jokes were supposedly anti-semitic. Remember what you wrote in an open letter eight years ago, before the media had set up Corbyn as the fall guy rather than you. Then, you stated:

I think the problem here is that the show’s producers will have thought that Israel, an aggressive, terrorist state with a nuclear arsenal, was an appropriate target for satire. The [BBC] Trust’s ruling is essentially a note from their line managers.

It says that if you imagine that a state busily going about the destruction of an entire people is fair game, you are mistaken. Israel is out of bounds.

Well, your prediction is fully vindicated. Now you don’t get censured by the BBC for anti-semitism; instead they pre-emptively censor your jokes on the assumption that they are anti-semitic (see point 2).

It’s a bad look for you to claim you were defamed as an anti-semite, and then allow your show to be used to defame others as anti-semites. It’s an explosive and hugely damaging accusation. It needs serious evidence before you joke about it at the expense of others.

2. You admitted in a tweet that BBC executives cut sections of Friday’s show – in violation of promises to you that those segments would be kept in – in which you criticised Israel as apartheid state and spoke out against Israel’s actions in Gaza. It is commendable that you made such comments, and that you have alerted us to the fact that the BBC excised them. It is yet further confirmation that the British state-corporate media is deeply unbalanced and untrustworthy on issues relating to Israel.

But that’s the point, isn’t it. Israel, as I have explained, chose to weaponise anti-semitism to silence criticism of its actions. When the BBC censors material critical of Israel, (as it has done to others, such as Max Keiser) it does so because – as you, Frankie, noted in the video clip referenced in point 1 – it conflates that criticism with anti-semitism, just as Israel hoped.

The BBC and the rest of the corporate media have similarly ignored the fact that many of the most high-profile suspension cases in the Labour party for anti-semitism have actually been of anti-Zionist Jews outspoken in their criticisms of Israel. That important fact is not mentioned by the corporate media, or on your show, because it dramatically undermines the narrative of an anti-semitism “crisis” on the left.

Now censored for Israel jokes

You want to treat the fact that your show focused on anti-semitism as entirely separate from the fact that in the same episode the BBC censored your comments critical of Israel. However, everyone but apparently you, Frankie, understands that these two matters can’t be separated because Israel, the BBC and many others now blur any distinction beyond recognition. Just take Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian, who has argued that his Jewish identity is inextricably bound up in Israel, and therefore to criticise Israel is to attack him as a Jew.

When you play the anti-semitism card against Corbyn, you open the door for the BBC to play the anti-semitism card against you (as it has) and any routine you might want to perform that is critical of Israel. You threw Corbyn and the left under the bus with Friday’s show, while you whinge about the fact that you were censored on Israel. It simply won’t wash.

3. The anti-semitism allegations against Labour and Corbyn have been festering away for the best part of two years. Aside from all the other matters I have raised, it is not unreasonable to question why you would dredge them up now. The most topical issue of the week was the massacre by Israeli snipers of Palestinians protesting in Gaza, after a decade in which the enclave’s two million inhabitants have been slowly starved to death in line with Israeli policy.

You dismissed one of your followers who raised the incongruence of your priorities by suggesting that she was racist for holding the Jewish people collectively responsible for Israel’s actions. Yet another straw man. She did nothing of the sort.

But presumably she, like many others, has noticed that anti-semitism has been weaponised against Corbyn and the left more generally. It is intended to shut us up for talking too much about Israel. Quite how this has passed your notice is less easy to explain, given your double admisson that the BBC has censored your own criticisms of Israel and censured you by conflating such criticism with anti-semitism.

The very week when Palestinians need full-throated support, and Israel full-throated condemnation, you trotted out stale and bogus allegations of an anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour precisely designed (whether you understand it or not) to foreclose criticism of Israel. That is a betrayal of the Palestinian people in their time of need. I can’t think of a nicer way to dress it up.

Keeping you honest

There are those who say you, Frankie, are trying to do your best in a tough spot from within the corporate media, and therefore we should cut you some slack. Certainly, it is good that you have a platform that can reach far larger numbers of people than any of us social media activists.

But that is not a good reason for us to keep quiet. First, we need to keep you honest. You slipped up badly in this first episode, both in enthusiastically adopting the right’s anti-semitism “crisis” narrative and in not making a bigger noise about the censorship of your Gaza criticisms. If we don’t kick your arse over it, no one else will.

Second, we on the real left have to raise our expectations. Okay, it’s good to have you on the BBC, but we need to make as much noise as possible when we have a chance to remind viewers that you are a one-off, the exception that proves the rule; and that even so, you are being censored and doubtless forced to make other major compromises on your material to remain on the telly.

Our job is not to stand loyally by you while you trim your sails. It is to challenge you on your compromises and expose the difficulties you face to a wider public. That helps to raise awareness of how rarely alternative perspectives are available on the BBC, while at the same time deepening our own critical thinking.

The fact that you have blocked so many of us for simply pointing out what should have been obvious to you in the first place is a good sign that you do indeed need your arse kicked. We’ll happily do it again next time you play by the establishment’s rule book.

No one pays me to write these blog posts. If you appreciated it, or any of the others, please consider hitting the donate button in the right-hand column.

The Israeli Government Role in Promoting Islamophobia Internationally

Much of the study of Islamophobia is directed at the social and political causes and manifestations, including religious and political dimensions and racist characteristics.  However, Islamophobia is also used as a strategic tool or weapon; i.e., in pursuit of national agenda.

Many of us are familiar with Islamophobic movements within the Buddhist majority in Myanmar (against the Rohingya minority), and within Hindu nationalist parties in India. It is important to note, however, that it is characteristic of these movements that they direct their Islamophobia against particular groups of Muslims within their own societies, and are less concerned with creating an international movement against Islam.

This is what makes the case of Israel unique.  Although Israel, like Myanmar and India, seeks to marginalize and ultimately eliminate a specific population of Muslims – in this case the mostly Muslim Palestinians – part of its strategy for doing so includes encouraging and fostering Islamophobia internationally.  Thus, for example, Israel has successfully pursued strong military and diplomatic ties with the governments of Myanmar and India, and especially the Islamophobic movements within those countries.

It is clear, therefore, that Islamophobia within Israel is not only a matter of organized bigotry and social hatred, which one finds in other societies, but also of instrumentalizing or weaponizing Islamophobia as a strategic tool to legitimize and justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the territories under Israel’s control, as well as to support Israeli aggression towards other mostly Muslim countries in the region. Promoting and fostering Islamophobia internationally helps to increase and solidify international support for the Zionist genocidal project.  It is therefore treated as an important tool of Israeli and Zionist international influence.

My attention was first brought to this fact in casual but unusual circumstances. In early 1993 my family and I were on vacation at a Club Med in France where there were also Israeli intelligence officers and their families.  I got into a discussion with one in particular, who said that with the fall of the Soviet Union, Islam would replace communism as the new enemy.  It sounded a bit far-fetched, but in retrospect he knew what he was talking about, and more important, he was in a position to help make it happen, which of course it did.

The groundwork was laid much earlier.  As Deepa Kumar at Rutgers University reports, the effort to tie Islam to terrorism started at a Zionist funded neoconservative conference on international terrorism in 1979. Then, after a second such conference in 1984, “both US neocons and Zionists worked together to convince Western policy makers that ‘Islamic terrorism’ would replace communism as the West’s next great threat. By tying Islam to terrorism, neocons would gain political cover for their imperialistic ambitions in the Middle East, and Zionists would benefit from garnering Western sympathies for their struggle against Palestinian ‘terrorism.’”

Since then, researchers like Sarah Marusek, David Miller and others have cataloged international Zionist networks that sponsor Islamophobic propaganda and policies.  The work of Pamela Geller and the so-called American Freedom Defense Initiative is one of the well-known examples.  Geller’s anti-Islam billboards and bus advertisements are familiar to many, as well her so-called “Muhammed Art Exhibit and Contest” in Garland, Texas in 2015, resulting in the police killing of two armed men.

Geller is hardly alone, however.  According to the Center for American Progress, the US has six major organizations that manipulate Islamophobia in order to further US support for Israel. These are the Center for Security Policy, the Society of Americans for National Existence, the Middle East Forum, Jihad Watch, Stop Islamization of America, and the Investigative Project on Terrorism.  Sarah Marusek includes even more groups in her paper entitled “The Transatlantic Network: Funding Islamophobia and Israeli Settlements”, published in the anthology, What is Islamophobia?

These organizations constitute a network, as Marusek says, but the complete network is much wider and more diverse than the assets concerned with promoting Islamophobia.  They are known as the sayanim, the Hebrew word for helpers or assistants, and are composed of Zionists who have achieved important and useful positions in societies from which they can exercise powerful initiatives, especially when they operate in concert. Thus, for example, friendly journalists can work with lobbyists and others to quickly and massively spread influence, information, analysis and disinformation that are useful to Israel.

Such initiatives require coordination, intelligence, strategic planning, covert action, technical assistance, and other expertise.  For many years, the sayanim were coordinated by the Mossad. However, following a 2010 report from the influential Reut Institute (a prestigious strategic think tank in Israel), organizational changes were made that moved such responsibility to the Ministry of International Relations, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs – better known as the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.  The report also notes that there are as many as 4000 sayanim in each of the major centers of power and influence, such as London and New York. A concentration of sayanim in important sectors of society that inform the public, such as film, entertainment, journalism, education and social media permits them to help shape public opinion.

In line with Reut Institute recommendations, the Strategic Affairs Ministry has grown in size and secrecy over the last decade.  Reut projected that Israel’s main strategic threat would no longer be to its military security but rather to its image and influence in other countries, especially the US and Europe.  According to this view, BDS was to be regarded as a serious threat, as well as the human rights NGOs, Palestine solidarity groups and the critical alternative press.  The Ministry of Strategic Affairs was therefore selected to coordinate a major new effort to combat this perceived threat.

The Strategic Affairs Ministry has informally been called the Hasbara Ministry, using the Hebrew word for explanation or propaganda. It certainly is that, but also much more.  The reorganization of the Strategic Affairs Ministry can be compared in scope to that of the Homeland Security Department.  A lot of security and intelligence functions were transferred from or shared with Mossad.  The Ministry became responsible for propaganda, influence and manipulation in other countries.  Coordination of the sayanim became part of its purview, as did thousands of students who were paid or received scholarships in return for haunting social media and the comments sections of websites.  The purpose was to dominate the media, insofar as possible, in countries vital to Israel’s plans and intentions, and to sway public opinion toward outcomes determined by Israel’s strategic goals.

Many readers are familiar with the “Brand Israel” campaign. Its function, suggested by the Reut Institute, is to mold Israel’s image in the media of the US and other countries.  Its tactics are PR on steroids, such as, for example, slipping subliminal questions into the Jeopardy quiz program and idyllic holy land vacations into Wheel of Fortune, but permeating nearly everything we see, hear and read in film, entertainment, journalism, education and social media for the purpose of molding public opinion.  With enough effort of this kind, we will presumably think of Israel as Disneyland.

Another example is Facebook and the personal collaboration between Mark Zuckerberg and Benjamin Netanyahu. After a meeting with Netanyahu, Zuckerberg hired a former employee at the Israeli embassy in Washington to be in charge of censoring so-called “fake news” on Facebook.  Only Facebook has the actual figures of who gets censored, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that a lot more anti-Zionists than Zionists are affected.  Similarly, Islamophobic postings and Tweets seem to be at least somewhat resistant to censorship compared to ones that are labeled anti-Semitic (which are often merely critical of Israel).

But it’s not just about making Israel look like the good guys. Demonizing and dehumanizing Muslims also helps to justify Israel’s genocide of the Palestinians, as well as its belligerent policies toward its mainly Muslim neighboring countries. A successful program of Islamophobia helps to support Israel’s pogroms of Palestinians in Gaza, its settlements in and economic strangulation of the West Bank, its invasions of Lebanon, its attacks against Syria, and its promotion of US wars against Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  Making the US military a proxy for Israel greatly multiplies Israel’s capability, which is why Israel and its US lobby are working hard to create a new international war against Iran.

In order to provide the Strategic Affairs Ministry with all possible means of making such operations possible and successful, it has been assigned some important intelligence functions, including black ops and psy-ops capabilities, which used to be the exclusive purview of the Mossad.  This gives the ministry greater capability to engage in digging up or inventing dirt about people it wants to harm or discredit, especially in the BDS movement and other pro-Palestinian groups.

The hand of the Strategic Affairs Ministry is not always obvious, and it takes care to shun the light.  But occasionally its actions become known, as with the Aljazeera exposé of Israeli operative Shai Masot, working from the Israeli embassy in London and coordinating the actions of British citizens working with Israel. He coached them on how to demonize and “take down” members of parliament, including the Foreign Office Minister, Alan Duncan, who was considered insufficiently supportive of the effort to suppress BDS.

Al Jazeera has produced a similar exposé on the workings of Israel and its US lobby, but the release has been indefinitely delayed, which may be an indication of Israel’s power and influence and the effectiveness of the operations coordinated by the Strategic Affairs Ministry.  Nevertheless, a glimpse of such operations can be seen in the 2004 espionage indictments against AIPAC lobbyists Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman.  The indictments were ultimately dropped, partly because sensitive information would have to be revealed in order to successfully prosecute the cases (or perhaps that was just the excuse used to cover the fact that Tel Aviv gets to decide who gets prosecuted, not Washington).

France can be considered an extreme case.  People have been arrested there for wearing a Free Palestine T-shirt.  PayPal and several large banks in France recently closed the accounts of all organizations that support BDS, which has been ruled anti-Semitic.  Anti-Semitism is broadly defined, as you can see, and it is illegal in France.  You can be fined or jailed for practicing it.

But not for Islamophobia.  Islamophobia is free speech but anti-Semitism is racism. In fact, the French equivalent of AIPAC, known as CRIF, has publically declared that “Islamophobia is not a form of racism.  We have long drawn attention to the danger of conflating Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.  To do so would impede all criticism of Islam, such that the fundamental rights of [other] religions could not be respected. The CRIF will therefore block all resolutions against Islamophobia”.

The writings of Jacob Cohen are instructive in this regard. He has published a remarkable and very comprehensive exposé on the promotion of Islamophobia in France, including the actions of Israeli operatives and French Zionist organizations.  But there’s a catch.  In order to publish it in France without being arrested or sued, he has to disguise it as very thinly veiled fiction, in this case O.P.A. Kabbalistique sur les Nouveaux Indigènes. It is available only in French, but even in that language you have to know the persons and groups to which he refers with pseudonyms, and few outsiders know the French scene well enough to recognize more than a handful of them.

So what can we conclude from all this information about the involvement of Israel and the Zionist movement in sponsoring Islamophobia?  The point is that some sources of Islamophobia are not attitudes or social structures. We have to face the fact that there is a very potent, resourceful, well organized and well funded international movement that sees Islamophobia as a strategic tool in pursuit of its national interest. For this reason, it is largely impervious to education or negotiation or legal considerations.

In fact, Israel is also pursuing an apparently contradictory effort to encourage interfaith cooperation between Jews, Muslims and Christians, but with the same goal in mind.  That goal is to blunt criticism of Israel, whether by getting people to hate Muslims and thereby endorse Israel’s belligerence and ethnic cleansing, or by pressuring Muslims not to criticize Israel out of concern for potentially offending their Jewish brothers and sisters.  Since the two strategies are aimed at different populations, I suppose that they might be able to work simultaneously.  This is often how PR campaigns work.

The point is that in all the efforts at fostering tolerance and understanding we are faced with an adversary that is working quite diligently in the opposite direction for reasons that have nothing to do with how they view Islam as a religion or Muslims.  This is therefore a different type of challenge in trying to overcome Islamophobia.

• This article is a revised version of a paper read at the 9th Annual Islamophobia Conference in Berkeley, California, April 29, 2018.

The Moral Mask

It feels as if world events are in overdrive, and sometimes it’s hard to escape the thought that there is no longer much point in trying to analyse, or make sense of, a trajectory increasingly out of control.

I see little evidence that those of us in the segment of the world political spectrum likely to read these words need much persuasion — nor that those who consider us dupes of the Evil Vladimir, or apologists for what was once called the “Yellow Peril”, could ever have any inclination to even glance at the arguments and sentiments of those they consider so utterly deluded.

In fact, the plethora of information (both truth and lies), and the amazing communicative possibilities most of us now have at our disposal, have brought with them a world in which no one is very often persuaded of anything: for every fact we present, they have access to an official or cleverly crafted lie with convincing-looking documentation that demonstrates our ostensible mendacity and subversion.

What pre-internet thinker – is it possible that bygone age ended only 20 years ago for most of us? — would have ever thought that a technological world in which every voice can be heard worldwide would solidify, rather than threaten, the role of propaganda in public life? Or that near-universal access to technology enabling impressively thorough research at incredible speed would be one of the major factors in eliminating political consensus and rendering nearly obsolete the recognition of facts as such?

Well, perhaps there are brilliant minds out there who foresaw it all. But consider me dumbfounded. While there is a range of similarities between our world today and those described by Orwell and Huxley in their famous novels of future horror, there are other aspects that render this a different universe altogether, and one that continues to shock me.

Assuming that it WERE, in fact, possible to persuade people who accept their governments’ colossal lies and distortions that those same lies are, in fact, exactly that – lies — one would be required to acquaint most of them with the most basic facts of recent history. For remarkably, almost unbelievably, in a world where all of us have limitless information and history at our fingertips, most people know nothing about recent history – and the vast majority is not even curious about it.

Pointless though it may be, I continue to attempt to jog the memory of these amnesiacs. It seems somehow therapeutic to my own shaken sensibilities as well to see this recent history on paper or on the screen from time to time. Perhaps it is an act of self-defense against the fear that soon I, too, will be unable to remember what really happened. And so, repeatedly, I write about the real face behind the moral masks worn by the empire’s minions.

“Enemies” Custom Made to Order While You Wait

While I am not a Muslim, nor a Russian — as a matter of fact, I am American with no religion whatsoever — I feel it only fair to point out the following to those who view US-NATO-Israeli-Saudi propaganda as credible:

1. In 1953, American President Dwight Eisenhower used the CIA (which has admitted this) to overthrow Iran’s democratically-elected leader Mossadegh, who wanted to nationalize the oil companies. The CIA and its allies put Shah Reza Pahlavi on the throne. The Shah murdered and tortured opponents and/or imagined opponents via his secret police SAVAK. He was eventually overthrown by Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini and the mullahs who transformed the nation into the Islamic Republic of Iran. Everyone in Iran knows all about this, but most Americans and many Europeans do not. Obviously, the USA had a major role in shaping modern Iran, whatever one thinks of Iran’s policies (I for one consider most of what the USA and Israel and Saudi Arabia say about Iran to be utter bollocks, largely in support of Israeli angst and Saudi Wahhabi-Sunni hostility to Shi’ism).

2. ISIS evolved out of the terror group “Al-Qaeda in Iraq”, which emerged AFTER the US invasion of Iraq and was led by former officers in Saddam Hussein’s army, an army that was disbanded and left to its own devices by the American forces in Iraq. Some of these officers developed the newer ISIS model while they were held in the infamous American torture prison in Iraq, Abu Ghraib. Obviously, the USA bears major responsibility for the creation of ISIS, WHETHER OR NOT it is true that the US and Israel continue to work with ISIS consciously for strategic purposes. US ally Saudi Arabia is also known to have put much funding into ISIS through private channels, as Hillary Clinton and others have publicly admitted.

3. The original Al-Qaeda, like much else which is dangerous in today’s world, developed directly out of American — and interestingly, also Polish — hostility to the Soviet Union and Russia. US National Security Adviser to the President, Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Polish-American and passionate Russia-hater, persuaded US President Jimmy Carter to attack the Soviet-supported communist government of Afghanistan in the 1970s by arming and funding Osama bin Laden and other jihadis (sound familiar?). Later, bin Laden turned against America because (in his own words) the US stationed troops in Islam’s Holy Land of Saudi Arabia, and Al-Qaeda was born. A huge percentage of modern Islamist terror evolved from this seed, not only in the Hindu Kush and Middle East but now in Africa as well. Obviously American catastrophic imperial foreign and military policy are responsible, both directly and indirectly, for much of the unrest and violence in the Islamic world and exported out of it, not to mention the colossal refugee crisis associated with that violence and the American wars there.

Red Alert: Unfiltered Truth on MSNBC

I posted a video of it in social media twice because I consider it so significant: famous economist Jeffrey Sachs stated emphatically on national American TV this week (“Good Morning Joe”, MSNBC) that the US and President Barack Obama started the war in Syria via the CIA. I have a feeling that they would never have allowed him on the show if they had known he was going to say that. TABOO BROKEN … imperialist media twits sit stunned with egg on faces, military man stutters incoherent bullshit in response … Sachs is not exactly a radical, and he is too renowned and respected to simply be told he is full of it by such habitual sycophants. Too bad he didn’t go even further and tell the show’s co-host Mika Brzezinski that her father put into action the policies that resulted in the existence of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, and have left half of the Middle East and Hindu Kush in ruins and/or at war, millions dead, and created a horrific refugee crisis. But I am grateful for what he did say.

On the Value of Human Lives Outside of the USA and the EU

I should be used to it by now, but I continue to be stupefied by the following dynamic:  As John Steppling, in his recent article “The Sleep of Civilization” wrote:

Most White Americans, as a general statement, think they are better than the rest of the world. And most Americans have scant knowledge about the rest of the world. So the belief in cultural (and moral) superiority is based on what? The answer is not simple, but as a general sort of response, this trust in “our” superiority is built on violence. On an ability to be effectively violent. Most British, too, think they are superior to those “wogs” south of their emerald isle. But since the setting of the sun on Empire, “officially”, the British hold to both a sense of superiority and a deep panic-inducing sense of inferiority — at least to their American cousins. They are still better than those fucking cheese eating frogs or the krauts or whoever, but they accept that the U.S. is the sort of heavyweight champ of the moment. Meanwhile, the tragic and criminal fire at Grenfell Towers in London elicited a public discourse that perfectly reflected the class inequality of the UK, but also reflected, again, the colonialist mentality of the ruling party and their constituency … But that is exactly it. The colonial template is one etched in acid in the collective imagination of the West. At least the English-speaking West. Expendable natives…which is what Jim Mattis sees everywhere that he dumps depleted uranium and Willy Pete. It is what Madeleine Albright saw in Iraq or Hillary Clinton in Libya or Barack Obama in Sudan, Yemen, and…well… four or five other countries. It is what most U.S. police departments see in neighborhoods ravaged by poverty. As in those old Tarzan films, when the sound of drums is heard, the pith helmeted white man notes…”the natives are restless tonight”. When one discusses Syria, the most acute topic this week, remember that for Mad Dog and Boss Trump, or for the loopy John Bolton, these are just natives in need of pacification. Giving money to ISIS or Daesh, or whoever, as a cynical expression of colonial realpolitik, is nothing out of the ordinary. It is what the UK and US have done for a long while. It’s Ramar of the Jungle handing out beads to the *natives*.

Although every indicator and every new disaster outside of US-EU-NATO countries confirms once again, clearly and unmistakeably, that most citizens of the United States and Europe consider the lives of those in other parts of the world to be worth far less than their own … astoundingly (at least to me), it nonetheless continues to be possible for the US and European governments to build public support for military strikes in those parts of the world by feigning horror over civilian casualties in wars in such places – casualties occurring in many cases, as now in Syria, in wars for which the United States itself is responsible, wars which the USA encouraged quite deliberately with arms and money and CIA involvement.

But in this new presstitute House of Mirrors media world, no large media entities call the insane Nikki Haley to account when she stands in the United Nations Security Council holding up pictures of dead children in Syria – whether real (and there certainly are plenty of dead civilians there) or once again faked by Western-supported jihadis and their associates – and blames Russia for their deaths in a war organized and kept going by the US and Saudi Arabia. Recently Haley closed one such nauseating and vulgar mountebank performance by stating, “But pictures of dead children mean nothing to countries like Russia.” I’m sure that would come as news to the parents and families of the vast numbers of Russian children who died during World War II while the USSR was defeating Hitler, during most of which time America sat back and waited, hoping Hitler would conquer the Soviet Union. It is now estimated that 26 million Russians died before their time in that war, known euphemistically in the USA as “The Good War” and widely thought to have been won by the American military.

Ms Haley’s Dead Children Show contains no mention of Yemen where, according to the NGO Save The Children, 50,000 children are believed to have died from disease and starvation in 2017 alone as a result of the genocide against the Houthi people carried out by Saudi Arabia with massive support from allies including the USA, the UK, France, and Germany. But those who wear the Moral Mask are shameless and highly selective.