Category Archives: Surveillance

The Assistance, Not the Resistance

As Amy Coney Barrett is expected to be confirmed today as the next Justice to the Supreme Court, one might expect to see more news coverage of the multiple ways Congressional Democrats have tried to block her confirmation. Given the massive groundswell of anguish and fury over her nomination to replace the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the corporate media and top Democrats, themselves, have seemed strangely silent, as if early on, they had already surrendered to the inevitable. Why this silence and why a lack of options, when progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have called for using “every tool at our disposal,” and when Congressional aides are circulating a memo on Capitol Hill outlining multiple tactics for stalling this confirmation?

For the past four years, the US news media has been dominated by Trump and his daily atrocities. Always on edge and on call, the US public has become captive to what sociopathic and outrageous act he will perform next… what racist, sexist, or fascist scandal will befall the nation with each passing day. These daily scandals come like clockwork, and while terrible for the country, they have made the corporate media very happy. Since ratings (and profits) rely on click-bait, scandal and spectacle, Trump has provided the media daily fodder since before the 2016 primaries, and news outlets have been more than happy to give him the lion’s share of the news coverage.

These crises and spectacles dominating our mediascape also serve a more covert political function in our broader politics. Trump is the perfect foil and a classic villain– easy to hate based on his sociopathic personality, his multiple crimes (for which he’s never punished), and his inflammatory, hateful rhetoric that keeps the media wheels spinning 24/7. While Trump and his terrible minions are always on the main stage, the corporatists of both parties are working behind the scenes in relative obscurity. What becomes hidden behind the curtain of Trump’s daily scandals is the fact that both parties are entrenched in oligarchy. And as our nation’s wealth consolidates at the top and our national politics move further and further to the right, the media spotlight is always on the villainous Trump, and not the ruling elite of both parties who are starving the masses. The fact the Democratic Party continually fails to be a real opposition party to oligarchy or fascism is hardly a profitable news topic, and so it falls off the radar into darkness.

Any objective political analysis of Congressional dynamics could readily conclude that Democratic complicity is just as dangerous as Trump, and perhaps even more so, since so few people are paying attention to it. And since the corporate media hardly covers the failings of the Democratic establishment, it’s left up to us, the independent media, to shine a light on these systemic failings.

Trump’s Rise to Political Power

Even before Trump was elected, top figures in the Democratic establishment assisted in his rise to power. In late May of 2015, in a phone call with Trump, former President Bill Clinton “encouraged Trump’s efforts to play a larger role in the Republican Party.” Trump announced his decision to run for president in June of 2015, only a couple weeks after this conversation.

Bill was not the only Clinton to help legitimize Donald Trump as a viable candidate. The Hillary campaign elevated Trump in the media even before he had announced his candidacy. In an infamous memo sent out on April 23, 2015, Assistant Campaign Manager Marissa Astor suggested, “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to them seriously.” The news media was more than happy to oblige with this request, as Donald Trump was given more than $2 billion worth of free media coverage during his run.

The Hillary campaign doubled down on this Pied Piper strategy in a meeting on July 29, 2015, when they discussed, “How do we maximize Trump and others?” It was their belief that Hillary matched up better against Trump than against other candidates and therefore, it would be to Democratic advantage to push Trump as a legitimate contender. There was little or no concern about what would happen if Trump actually won, and a far-right authoritarian became president. Their strategy of elevating Trump succeeded in helping him secure the Republican nomination, but their estimation that Hillary could defeat him failed, as Trump won with 304 electoral votes while losing the popular vote by almost three million votes.

The Electoral College

Winning the popular vote while losing the electoral college is not new for Democrats. Democrats have won the popular vote in six out of seven presidential elections from 1992 until today, and yet have secured the presidency only four times.

Even though a recent Gallup poll showed that 61 percent of the US public supports abolishing the electoral college, the Democrats have not made any serious, unified effort to reform the electoral college since 1979. Given the threat to actual democracy that the electoral college represents, the Democrats’ reluctance to tackle this issue is baffling, especially given that they’ve had the power to do so multiple times, such as Bill Clinton’s eight-year presidency or during Obama’s Democratic (filibuster proof) super-majority during his first term. One might think that after the catastrophic presidency of George W. Bush — who oversaw more than a million casualties in the Iraq invasion and whose “War on Terror” has cost the United States some $6.4 trillion and displaced some 37 million people — the Democrats might be interested in reforming or abolishing the electoral college. After all, Al Gore actually won the popular vote by some 500,000 votes in 2000, but Bush’s victory was facilitated by a 5-4 vote on the Supreme Court to halt the recount in Bush v. Gore.

The fight to abolish the electoral college has now moved to the states, where the National Popular Vote bill has to be passed in states totaling 270 electoral votes in order for it to take effect. This is a much slower, more cumbersome process that could have been avoided had it been taken up by Democrats when they were in power.

The Judiciary

While Democrats won the popular vote in six of seven last presidential elections, the GOP has stacked the judicial branch with judges during Republican tenure and has appointed 14 out of 18, soon to be 15 out of 19, Supreme Court seats, if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed.

On March 16, 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. This was almost nine months before the general election. Yet over this period, Republicans successfully blocked every effort to hold a hearing on Garland’s appointment. A key part of Mitch McConnell’s argument against holding hearings was the so-called Biden rule, which was based off a speech that then Senator Joe Biden gave in 1992, saying, “As a result, it is my view that if a Supreme Court Justice resigns tomorrow, or within the next several weeks, or resigns at the end of the summer, President Bush should consider following the practice of a majority of his predecessors and not — and not — name a nominee until after the November election is completed.” Even though their opposition left the court shorthanded, the Republicans presented a united front under McConnell and stonewalled the nomination.

Merrick Garland was by no means a progressive. He was a moderate who had bipartisan support from Republicans such as Orrin Hatch, Susan Collins, and John McCain, who all voted for him in 1997 when Clinton appointed him to the D.C. appeals court. McConnell’s choice to block the nomination was not about Garland’s ideology — it was about creating real political opposition for Obama. “One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy,'” McConnell said.

Where was the Democratic opposition during these nine months? NPR describes the Democratic strategic thinking during this time: “So it was safer, in the judgments of spring and summer 2016, to let the Republicans look intransigent and unfair and hope somebody noticed. Perhaps the injustice to Garland would help Democrats win seats in supposedly blue states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and even red ones such as Missouri and North Carolina.” Rather than putting up any kind of meaningful resistance, the Democrats acquiesced and allowed Mitch to have his way, gambling everything on a Clinton victory in 2016. The failure of the Democrats to win the electoral college would later result in Trump nominating Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and likely, Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Mitch McConnell’s use of the “nuclear option” to confirm Neil Gorsuch, changing the number of Senate votes needed to confirm a Supreme Court justice from 60 to 51, was first employed by Democrats in 2013 as a way to avoid Republican filibusters. While it seemed politically expedient at the time, it eroded the need for bipartisan consent and allowed a simple majority to wield more power. Even after McConnell invoked the nuclear option in 2017 to confirm Neil Gorsuch, three Democrats voted in favor of the confirmation of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The 51-vote majority would later be used to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, though one Democrat also voted to confirm him.

Democrats crossing over to confirm Trump-selected judges has been a pattern throughout the last four years. In October of 2017, the Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The vote was 55-43, with three Democrats voting to confirm. Not only have some Democrats been complicit in voting to confirm even the most right-wing of Trump’s judicial appointments, but Chuck Schumer actually cut a deal with Mitch McConnell to fast-track many of these confirmations. In late August of 2018, just before the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Schumer made this deal with the devil that gave 11 Trump nominees immediate approval and fast-tracked eight more for a vote. One of the judges that was fast-tracked in August of 2018 was Charles Barnes Goodwin, to become U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Oklahoma. The vote passed 52-42 with six democrats voting to confirm. This vote is noteworthy because Charles Goodwin had received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.

During the Trump administration, more than 200 Federal judges have been appointed. “Of the 202 confirmations, 154 have been men, and 173 have been white.” Trump’s lifetime-serving, judicial appointees have been the youngest ever, with an average age of 48. This demographic “cemented the gross mismatch between the federal judiciary and the public.” According to Vice News, “Democrats vote to confirm Trump’s nominees roughly 39 percent of the time.”

The consistent ratcheting of the judicial branch to the extreme right has been underway for decades. As the US Supreme Court has become more and more a corporate-friendly, GOP partisan weapon fueled by dark money, we have seen catastrophic decisions that have dismantled basic democratic protections, like Citizens United in 2010, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, and McCutcheon’s 2014 rejection of campaign finance limits. And with Amy Coney Barrett’s terrible record on labor rights, women’s and public healthcareLGBTQ and other civil rights, failing to effectively oppose an extremist, right-wing takeover of the US judicial system is a clear case of aiding and abetting fascism.

Emergency Border Security Funding Bill

In addition to their lack of opposition to judicial appointments, a majority of House Democrats have been passing legislation that supports Trump’s racist, xenophobic agenda. In May of 2019, the House passed H.R. 3401, a bill which gave $4.6 billion in emergency funding for border security. Included in this bill was $418 million for Immigrations Customs and Enforcement (ICE) operations and support. This is the same agency that has since then been revealed to have been forcing hysterectomies on detainees. Only 95 of 233 House Democrats voted against this bill and only eight of 45 in the Senate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged House Democrats to vote for the bill, saying, “In order to get resources to the children fastest, we will reluctantly pass the Senate bill.” These resources were earmarked for the very people who were separating and abusing the children at the detention centers.

Patriot Act

In November 2019, House Democrats passed an amendment to an appropriations bill that extended the Patriot Act by three months. Independent Congressman Justin Amash criticized this move, saying, “Democrats have highlighted Trump’s abuse of his executive powers, yet they’re teaming up to extend the administration’s authority to warrantlessly gather data on Americans.” Only ten House Democrats voted against this amendment. When the Patriot Act was once again set to expire in March 2020, the House came together to pass a further extension of these authoritative powers when they passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform bill, which included extending provisions of the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 until 2023.

In May of 2020, an attempt was made to amend the USA Freedom Act Reauthorization Bill to prevent the government from being able to conduct secretive warrantless surveillance of web browser history. This amendment required 60 votes to pass, but it came up one vote short. Ten Senate Democrats voted against it. Rather than fighting to prevent the Trump administration from having more tools with which to spy on US citizens, the Democrats have come together repeatedly to extend these bills and give the Trump regime additional powers.

Military Budget (NDAA)

The Democrats have repeatedly approved National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAAs) during Trump’s presidency — all of which have included increases in military spending. In December 2019, after the FY 2020 NDAA passed the Democratic controlled House with a vote of 377-48, Trump tweeted “Wow! All of our priorities have made it into the final NDAA: Pay Raise for our Troops, Rebuilding our Military, Paid Parental Leave, Border Security, and Space Force! Congress – don’t delay this anymore! I will sign this historic defense legislation immediately!” Everything that Trump wanted included a $738 billion price tag. Also included in this bill was continued material assistance for Saudi Arabia, after a failed battle to draw the line against further arms sales to the murderous regime. The US and Saudi-backed war on Yemen has killed some 233,000, with 60 percent of the dead as children under five. Eighty percent of Yemen’s population now relies on humanitarian aid, and Amnesty International cites 16 million waking up hungry every day. Nancy Pelosi released a final statement on the NDAA: “Democrats will always stand unified in support of a strong national defense For The People that honors our values, protects our security and advances our leadership in the world.”

Israel

Democrats have routinely come together in support of right-wing dictators and fascist regimes around the world, including the terrorist state of Israel. When Donald Trump moved the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May of 2018, Chuck Schumer called the move “long overdue.”

In 2019, Democrats came together overwhelmingly to support an appropriations act that increased funding for Israel to $3.8 billion. The only House Democrat to oppose this bill was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Nancy Pelosi explained her stance on Israel in March of 2019, when she gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), saying, “Israel and America are connected now and forever. We will never allow anyone to make Israel a wedge issue.”

The influence of pro-Israel lobbyists such as AIPAC is so strong that Joe Biden intervened in crafting the wording of the non-binding 2020 Democratic platform to make sure that the word “occupation” was not used in reference to Israeli troops in Palestine. Internationally known as a war criminal for expanding Israel’s illegal and brutal military occupation of Palestine, US Democrats have been more than happy to go to bat for Benjamin Netanyahu and his corrupt criminal regime.

When we step back and look at the Democratic Party’s deep enabling tendencies of not only Trump and his authoritarian rule in the United States, but also Democrats’ consistent political support and material assistance for murderous regimes internationally, we are led to conclude that corporate-funded political parties (both Democratic and Republican) align themselves first and foremost with ruling-class, colonial interests, and against the interests of the working-class and the poor, both at home and abroad. A 2014 Princeton University study declared the United States to be an oligarchy because “Congress supports the lobbyists and economic elites over the will of the people.” Given the Democratic Party’s ever-increasing allegiance toward the oligarchical forces operating inside the US government, it must also be noted that the Democratic establishment is complicit with this same government’s slide toward fascism.

Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and a whole class of corporate Democrats are so politically and economically aligned with oligarchy that they would rather stage false political protests as media ops than mount any kind of actual political opposition that could stop Trump’s increasingly fascist movement. At the end of the day, in order to mount real resistance to Trump, top Democrats would have to be willing to threaten their own cozy political and economic status with the corporations that fund and run the government. And that’s just not something they’re willing to do.

The post The Assistance, Not the Resistance first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Annual Alpine Crucifixions

Morgen in Riesengebirge, by Caspar David Friedrich

Sometimes it can be useful to be brief. Last year, the wave of worry, promoted by the Swedish Alberich, without at least the artistic virtue of her deceased compatriot, Birgit Nilsson, stimulated predictions of imminent Götterdämmerung. This virtually Wagnerian kitsch was further dramatised by the pretensious performers of troupes apocalyptical like Extinction Rebellion. As 2019 ended we were all to believe that indeed Valhalla lay around the corner- at least for the sustainable. Instead we should have anticipated the Götzendämmerung. Yet 2020 proved that the idols are worshipped more than ever, albeit with the collusion of the gods.

The general tendency (or intention) to focus public attention on phenomena which require religious faith is a very old means of exerting control and diverting attention from the destructive activities of those in whom control has been concentrated.

The reluctance to attribute climate change to universal — in the sense of phenomena in the universe — processes like solar activity, planetary motion etc. lies in the fact that this would weaken clerical claims to authority (whether as priests or scientists).

By attributing events — most of which we only “know” from mass media depictions — as “climate change” and due to CO2, it is possible to promote a pseudo-scientific argument that implicates the masses without necessarily subjecting the “clergy” to the same accusations. CO2 has the same function as “sin” for the Church. So the rich and powerful can say “we are all sinners” but there are only a few of us and many more of YOU — the masses of CO2 sinners. What is demanded then is submission and penance, while the rich — literally have recourse to indulgences.

The crimes of mass poisoning and destruction of the habitable environment — we need only remember that mega-cities are the product of land theft and wage or other forms of slave labour — are entirely withdrawn from the scope of specific (e.g. class) human responsibility. They become non-events.

Often it is said that climate activists are like religious fanatics. However, to adequately respond to the problem — not merely condemn it — one has to pay more attention to how religion as such functions, especially in a culture polluted by Christendom.

On another level, and levels are always being confused, the demands for less waste and unnecessary consumption — rooted in the Puritan morality of non-conformist clergy — has more appeal given the forty years of declining incomes for labouring people. It suggests to the frugal and ordinary that they could preserve what little they have accumulated if they could only live in an environment where conservation was a generally accepted practice and value. Meanwhile monopolies and cartels — the rulers of the economy — dress their business models in new garb like “sustainability” and “carbon neutrality”. For them sustainability is foremost sustainable profit and carbon neutrality a fiction achieved by trading in environmental indulgences (e.g. emission certificates). Having accrued their tonne of wealth, they would have us believe they will be satisfied with a few tonnes less.

(Well, a tonne of wealth comes from creating several tonnes of poverty too. But that has never stopped anyone interested in wealth for its own sake.)

A few years after the Club of Rome (1968) was founded and began its crusade, a German-speaking engineer was endowed with the resources to begin in 1971 what would become the World Economic Forum (WEF), a kind of ecumenical council for the episcopate and prelates of capitalism. In 1972, the Club of Rome published the eugenic epistel,  The Limits to Growth. Soon Klaus Schwab became a kind of permanent prefect of this college of cannibals. One is tempted to say pontiff. His role seems clearly to be that of a bridge between the rapacious, vicious, and obscenely wealthy and those who deliver their messages to the true believers and the masses compelled to be faithful. For nearly 50 years, the pontiff of profit has preached to the flock how they may expect to be sacrificed in future. The most recent version of this message is the encyclical “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

A particularly obnoxious aspect of the WEF theology is implicit in the call for a “fourth” industrial revolution, the blatant disregard for the violence of the previous three. Industrial revolutions were not revolutions so much as they were wars against labour at each time when the risk swelled that such labour would demand its share of the fruits it had produced.

Among others Andre Gunder Frank (e.g. in ReOrient) explained, the so-called Industrial Revolution (the first one) in the Western peninsula, in part, as propelled by a population shortage. In contrast to the centre of human civilisation, Asia, labour was always relatively expensive in what came to be known as Europe (except slaves, whose labour generated much if not most of the capital for the Industrial Revolution). In fact, what we now know as western capitalism and white supremacy are directly related to chronic shortages of reliable (subservient) labour in the West. However, the overproduction that soon resulted regularly from industrial manufacture also required the destruction of competitors and later the inducement to desire rather than need products. Massive industrial strength wars, leading to atomic weapons, were the other means by which profitability was restored and surplus population slaughtered, starved or killed by disease.

The WEF anticipates a “4th industrial revolution” because since the 1950s labour in the West has been considered too expensive at any price. Now having stripped almost all benefits of the wage/ salary and non-wage growth as well as pensions (employees’ deferred income- deceptively called a “benefit” by the State) from the declining labour force, there is a need to redesign industry again to eliminate all but the most essential workers at any educational level. It must be remembered that the WEF represents the pinnacle of profitability and control. The rhetoric of stakeholder v. shareholder notwithstanding, the overall social objective of the class represented in these alpine atrocities is the means by which wealth can be further amassed. It would be more useful to understand “stakeholder” as a reference to those who may be burned at the stake, to sustain the benefits to elite shareholders.

The apparent paradox is that this will eliminate the capacity for consumption and hence an economic model based on low or no consumption is needed in the West.

Hence drug addiction is the best model there is for this kind of economy. The never-ending wars in Latin America, the Middle East and South Central Asia assure the supply of illicit drugs. Expanding the drug addiction beyond narcotics to what might be called “life entitling” substances; e.g., medicines and vaccines, offers the potential to reduce political opposition/resistance while maintaining income streams as the population declines. This was, in fact, the business model of the British East India Company, producing opium in India to smuggle into China. That model has never really been abandoned, merely its legal forms have been changed.

The 4th industrial revolution will be just as criminally violent as the previous three but it will involve applying old techniques — religion and drugs — to subject at least 20-30 per cent of the world population. This is to be eased by the viral and climate crusades designed to prepare the pious masses to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the alpine conclave. The rest of us are just industrial waste, green indeed, like soylent green.

The post Annual Alpine Crucifixions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Reflections on white elections

In less than four weeks a nation that loves nostalgia will be entertaining an election not unlike those a century ago. The election on 3 November 2020 will be fundamentally a “white man’s election”, the penumbra of protest notwithstanding.

Donald Trump captured the Republican nomination and the election four years ago by appealing to the populist elements that were opposed to what can actually be called the Bush-Clinton gang in the GOP. With the necessary money and a salesman’s astute sense of how to hawk, he overwhelmed the GOP establishment candidates and placed himself on the wave of those who rightly hated Clinton and certainly had no love for Obama.

Neither Hillary Clinton’s horrid personality nor her legacy could possibly appeal to anyone except party diehards, gravy train parasites and the academic faux gauche; i.e., those who bought the synthetic brand Obama in 2008 and became addicted to the product.

Mr Trump’s unexpected win — although not surprising for those who had a sober view of Clinton — caused considerable upset in the Establishment. As I have noted, but apparently few others have, while Donald Trump is unsurprisingly rich, he is, in fact, the first POTUS to be elected in at least a century who was not previously a senior civil servant, military officer or professional politician. That, of course, means that he was not “trained” how to behave or instructed as to who really makes decisions for the White House. Although the mass media have focused on his business career and his wealth, they conspicuously ignore the fact that he is also the first person in the White House since 1980 not controlled by the Bush family!1

Since in the US no one likes to talk about power as it is really exercised and by whom, four years have been spent attacking a mediocre New York real estate gangster for stage performances that were largely spoiled by the crew behind the curtains. Never mind any virtues or defects of Donald Trump’s ostensible program or policies since these are not really important. The most serious problem has been that there was a policy and program adopted prior to his election that Ms Clinton was supposed to represent and failure to elect her meant this policy and program had to be pushed without her– against Mr Trump, if necessary.

Donald Trump’s failure to cooperate with those who, in fact, make policy was manifest in the frequent changes to high office appointments. Since the only power Mr Trump actually has had — not unlike Jimmy Carter — is to appoint and dismiss cabinet officers and some other senior bureaucrats, this is what he did. Although his appointments did not give him more control over the relevant departments, they did cause considerable irritation throughout senior echelons of the federal bureaucracy. The most obvious disruption arises when people whose careers have advanced by following certain superiors in a given structure find that they have a new boss and perhaps even that they are transferred to some part of the organisation less favourable to their future promotion. For outsiders these changes are scarcely noticeable but for career civil servants at the higher management levels such disruption is taken very seriously. The programs that were dependent for their smooth implementation on continuity from the Obama-Clinton management were now subject to administrative delays or even budgetary obstacles. Thus layers of official Washington had reasons to aggravate the obstructions and contribute to the attack on Trump.

As the impeachment proceedings finally demonstrated, the principal objections to Donald Trump were nothing more than his frustration of the Establishment program to which the Bush-Clinton gang was committed. Every effort has been made to show that Donald Trump as POTUS is neither entitled nor competent to exercise executive authority. Nor is he allowed to change Establishment policy (in the form of initiatives under his predecessors). Yet the US Constitution does not name failure to adhere to the policies of a previous administration as a violation of the law or an impeachable offense. None of those who claim that Mr Trump is the “worst ever” POTUS seem to have any recollection of George W Bush, a semi-literate son of the ruling dynasty, re-elected by blatant election fraud with at least one illegal war to his credit, not to mention the demonstrable corruption in office. No matter how mediocre he may be, Donald Trump’s record is snow white compared to that of his predecessors.

Failing impeachment and removal from office, the immediate effects of the 2015 pandemic plan were then turned against Mr Trump in a last ditch attempt to show that he is incompetent, if not the cause of the faux pandemic.2  Clearly a project, which under Ms Clinton would have been launched earlier (no doubt to profile her “leadership”), was now implemented in the hope that it would foil Donald Trump’s re-election chances. However, that was not sticking either.

A serving POTUS rarely has to seek party re-nomination for a second term, the micro-convention held by the Republicans was therefore a formality. For years,  however, the Democratic Party has had to contend with its dissident left wing (in the US sense of the word). Again Bernie Sanders was let into the bullring to take a few stabs at a Trump effigy to keep the restless in their seats until a suitable nominee could be appointed.

The lockdown — apparently supported mainly by Establishment jurisdictions — was bound to create a variety of social tensions. Hence the situation was ripe for some creative counter-insurgency work. It is no secret that police officers, especially — but not only — in urban forces, perform contract murders frequently for those who run the drug business in the area. It takes little fantasy to imagine that Mr Floyd was assassinated for propaganda reasons. The rather unusual spread of simultaneous demonstrations following his murder was quicker than even the Ferguson or Charleston killings several years ago could trigger.3 Moreover careful attention to the locations and the composition of the demonstrations ought to have raised suspicions.

The demonstrations in predominantly white cities like Portland, while forty years ago perhaps sensible venues, were selected for media-effectiveness. White folks demonstrating in cities, where Blacks form an insignificant portion of the population, that “Black lives matter” also makes sense. It is comparable to the US motivation for dropping atomic bombs on cities that had not yet been attacked. These demonstration venues also have advantages: The absence of any other distracting activity made the demonstrations the easy focus of cameras. There were no embarrassing Black neighbourhoods to film and maybe raise questions that did not fit the script. The scope of Black issues could be carefully defined without any real Blacks involved.

One of the tactics of counter-insurgency developed and refined from the Phoenix Program is the creation of armed propaganda teams that appear and behave like the enemy. BLM is such an organisation, as is Antifa. Remarkable about the conduct of these two groups — exhibiting traits of CANVAS coaching — is that they perform a mirror of what whites thought they saw in the 60s.4 The propaganda team composed the language by borrowing heavily from “white” depictions of the Civil Rights movement protests. The point of the operations was not to mobilize Blacks — on the contrary. The primary aim of the operation is consolidation of white votes for the Democratic Party. Instead of dressing like the Klan to intimidate Blacks, they are costumed like Civil Rights protesters to intimidate Whites who might vote for Trump.

There is another aspect of this campaign that is even more provocative. As the escalation of sexual identity/ gender based politics has overwhelmed nearly all other opposition issues, the classical and wholly unresolved issues of economic justice, the plantation prison system, housing and education, not to mention the militarism that drives US foreign (and domestic policy) have been obscured. If one considers the positions taken by arguably the most radical Black American of his day, Malcolm X, there is nothing in any of his speeches that would justify or promote the conduct under the banners of BLM and Antifa.5 Ironically — but I believe intentionally — the excited attention given to Black Lives Matter and its allies actually serves to suppress the fundamental issues of white supremacy upon which the US is based and that people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King consistently raised.

Historically elections have been fought for marginal shifts in the allegiance of white voters. Since the 50s these shifts were occasionally magnified by whether Blacks were able to vote or not. One could say that Black votes became the “swing” constituency in presidential elections. This was always a source of conflict within the historically racist Democratic Party. The mobilisation of Black voters was so contentious that it had even split the party.

Barack Obama conspicuously avoided mentioning King’s name in any of his speeches during the 2008 presidential campaign. Yet his speeches were saturated with subliminals that surely triggered the name in the heads of liberal listeners. (I frequently had to show people the speeches afterwards to prove that he had never said “King”.) This practice continued throughout his two-terms. Surely he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize so quickly to consecrate his election as if he were “Martin Luther King”, without being him. At the same time the “right Black man” was finally given the prize.

Black Lives Matter consortium was invented and funded to promote virtual Black protest with subliminal messages aimed at white voters in the same way the Obama campaign was contrived. In the view of the Establishment, real Black Americans are too offensive to whites and too unreliable politically. Moreover there is a standing policy in the Democratic Party not to mobilize Blacks except under the most controlled conditions. Ideally these are the conditions under which what Black Agenda Report calls the “Misleadership Class” can manipulate them. So what we have, in fact, is the product of a long-standing practice of the historical Democratic Party, a Black movement without any Blacks. The core of this armed propaganda has modernised the minstrel show in a violent and destructive manner.

These Democratic Party covert operations are designed to smear Donald Trump without staining the Democrats themselves. It is another strategy for capturing the “swing vote” without any obligation to serve the constituency whose ballots it needs. It aims — like in elections a century ago — to stuff the ballots for a Southern racist (Biden) against a carpetbagger (Trump) and, regardless of who wins, leave everything else just as the Establishment wants it.

  1. This author contends that essentially from the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 until 2016, the Bush family has directly or indirectly controlled the White House. GHW Bush exercised this control as vice president for two terms, as POTUS for one. Bill Clinton was essentially co-opted into the Bush gang while governor of Arkansas when the state was being used as a hub for drug running by CIA assets. GW Bush then served two terms and was relieved by Barack Obama, a person with a long and intimate relationship to the US intelligence services with which the Bush family also enjoys a historically strong connection. Hence “bipartisanship” in the US has been based upon domination of both major parties by an alliance of the Bush family and the Clinton couple. However, were the same configuration to be identified in another country; e.g., the Soviet Union/ Russia, the conclusion would be reached immediately that the intelligence agencies or even criminal syndicates have undue control over the executive. For example, it has been commonplace to identify Russian President Vladimir Putin as a former KGB officer. It was very rare that US President GHW Bush was introduced as a former head of the CIA. By treating the entire US system as sui generis there is virtually no analysis of power relationships and structures pertaining to the USA in categories or concepts that permit comparison with other regimes. This is deliberate and not accidental, another aspect of so-called “exceptionalism”.
  2. Although the extent to which prior planning exercises occurred and public statements were made by various prominent individuals suggest that the conditions for the so-called pandemic in 2020 could have been man-made, any culpability remains deniable.
  3. On 9 August 2014, Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a town in Greater St. Louis. On 17 July 2015, nine parishioners were murdered in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, including the senior pastor, by one Dylann Roof.
  4. CANVAS, the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies, is the successor organisation to OTPOR, a Serbian consultancy specialised in training for revolutions. It played a major role during the NATO war against Yugoslavia, coaching civilian opposition to the Serbian government.  Also see The Revolution Business.
  5. Malcolm X delivered a speech at the Oxford Union, 3 December 1964.

The post Reflections on white elections first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“None Of It Reported”: How Corporate Media Buried The Assange Trial

One of the most imposing features of state-corporate propaganda is its incessant, repetitive nature. Over and over again, the ‘mainstream’ media have to convince the public that ‘our’ government prioritises the health, welfare and livelihoods of the general population, rather than the private interests of an elite stratum of society that owns and runs all the major institutions, banks, corporations and media.

We are constantly bombarded by government ministers and their media lackeys telling us that ‘our’ armed forces require huge resources, at public expense, to maintain the country’s ‘peace’ and ‘security’. We do not hear so much about the realpolitik of invading, bombing or otherwise ‘intervening’ in other countries with military force, diplomatic muscle, and bribes of trade and aid deals to carve up natural resources and markets for the benefit of a few.

For those old enough to remember 2002-2003, who can forget the endless repeated rhetoric of the ‘threat’ posed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, of how his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ could be launched within 45 minutes of his order, and how ‘we’ simply had to remove him from power? Or how, in 2011, the US, UK and France had to launch ‘humanitarian intervention’ to stop the ‘mass slaughter’ of civilians by Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. And on and on.

Moreover, the public is saturated by obsequious ‘news’ about the royal family, allowing for the odd scandal now and again, to convince us of their ‘relevance’, the ‘great work’ they do for the country, not least ‘boosting the tourism industry’, and their supposedly vital role in maintaining a ‘stable society’ steeped in tradition and rich history.

But when it comes to arguably the most important political trial in our lifetimes, there is a not-so-curious media reluctance to dwell on it or even mention it, never mind grant it the kind of blanket coverage that celebrity trials regularly generate.

Thus, media attention given to the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and editor, was minimal and dwarfed by the coverage devoted to the actor Johnny Depp over the summer.

We monitored BBC News at Ten, the main evening BBC news programme on BBC1, during the four weeks of the Assange hearing. As far as we could tell, there was not a single substantive item (there may have been passing mention on the first day). We observed that the last time Paul Royall, the editor of BBC News at Ten, had mentioned Assange in his daily tweets giving the running order for that evening’s News at Ten was in November 2019. We challenged Royall politely several times on Twitter, but received no response. We received the same non-response from deputy editor Lizzi Watson and her colleague Jonathan Whitaker.

We also challenged Daniel Sandford, the BBC’s home affairs correspondent whose remit, according to his Twitter bio, includes law.

We asked him:

‘Hello @BBCDanielS

‘As Home Affairs Correspondent for @BBCNews, where is your reporting of the #JulianAssange extradition hearing?’

To his credit, Sandford did at least respond, unlike the majority of his BBC colleagues in recent years. He told us:

‘The case is being covered by our World Affairs unit. I have been in a few hearings, and it is slightly repetitive at the moment. It will return as a news story.’

Those words – ‘slightly repetitive’ – look destined to become Sandford’s journalistic epitaph. Ironically, they have been endlessly repeated back to him by members of the public who were understandably incredulous, perplexed, irritated or even angry at his dismissive response to Assange’s ordeal and the huge implications of the trial.

We asked Sandford why he had never mentioned the testimony of Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture:

‘Thanks for replying. The UN’s @NilsMelzer notes that “the case is a battle over press freedom, the rule of law & the future of democracy, none of which can coexist with secrecy”. Surely the requirement of impartiality means you should report this; not wait until it is too late?’

We received no further response from the BBC correspondent. However, Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns at Reporters Without Borders, followed up our challenge and told Sandford:

‘I find this disappointing, Daniel. Repetitive or not, the public needs to know what is happening in these proceedings. And meanwhile – NGOs have been barred access. I can only get in thanks to the support of a network of grassroots activists queuing from 5 am over four weeks.’

Sandford bristled:

‘So you decided to join the pile-on too Rebecca? Thank you. I politely explained to @medialens why I personally was not covering the case and added that I had attended some hearings from personal interest, and explained why it is not news every day. But you are disappointed?’

‘Pile-on’ is the pejorative term used when a journalist receives critical replies from the public. Unfortunately, Sandford had received some abuse, but most people made polite and rational points. As we have learned over the years, most journalists hate being challenged by informed members of the public. And any instances of abuse – usually in the minority – are often leaned upon as an excuse to ignore or dismiss all challenges.

The home affairs correspondent continued:

‘I don’t have great influence over what is covered each day except on those stories I am working on, but press freedom does include the freedom for a news organisation to decide what should be included in the news each day.’

Rebecca Vincent replied again:

‘Which very often does not seem to include stories of massively egregious press freedom violations – that will in turn set a precedent affecting said news organisation. As I said, disappointing.’

Teymoor Nabili, a former news presenter on Al Jazeera, BBC and CNBC, replied to Sandford:

‘That’s a particularly bizarre reading of “press freedom”’

Indeed. In the ‘mainstream’ media – BBC News included – ‘press freedom’ amounts to publishing power-friendly ‘news’ articles, biased ‘analysis’ and commentary, and diversionary pabulum and tittle-tattle.

Journalist Mohammed Elmaazi, who had been reporting daily from the trial, also replied to Sandford:

‘This is probably the most significant case involving press freedom, the right to know and the Rule of Law, in the Western world in half a century, if not more so. Though as an individual reporter I wouldn’t hold you personally responsible for BBC’s coverage (or lack thereof).’

As John McEvoy noted in a piece on The Canary website:

‘To write about the greatest press freedom case in recent history, it has been necessary to rely almost exclusively on the work of independent journalists.’

An extensive list of these journalists can be found here.

Richard Medhurst, one of the independent journalists reporting the trial, made a powerful short speech outside the Old Bailey on one of the final days. The trial, and the lack of media coverage, was ‘an abomination’, he said. So too was the fact that the West’s war criminals were not even mentioned in court – Tony Blair, George Bush, Jack Straw, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and the rest. In sum, the hearing was:

‘An absolute mockery of any kind of semblance of justice in this country’.

Former UK ambassador Craig Murray concurred when he too spoke outside the Old Bailey, saying of Assange:

‘His ordeal goes on and on. And all because he published the truth. There is no allegation in that court room that anything he published was a lie. Anything he published was true. And much of that truth revealed terrible crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity, and lies and corruption by government. And not one of the people who committed those war crimes is on trial anywhere. Instead we have the man who had the courage to reveal those war crimes is the one whose liberty is at stake.’

A Twitter commenter made a point about one of the independent reporters at the trial:

‘Kevin Gosztola has reported more on the Julian Assange extradition trial than the NY Times, WaPo, BBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, MSNBC have combined.’

Gosztola, editor of Shadowproof.com website, followed up with:

‘Fact-checked this and it only took a few minutes to confirm #AssangeTrial’

And yet, bizarrely, there was a BBC reporter present throughout the Assange hearing, according to both Rebecca Vincent and James Doleman of Byline Times, who was providing daily trial updates. As Vincent noted:

‘The BBC had a reporter in court (I could see him from the public gallery) who was apparently filing twice a day. There were 18 days of proceedings. Why weren’t more pieces published?’

So, what was happening to the reports that were presumably being submitted by the BBC reporter? Nobody could tell us, including the ever-silent editors of BBC News at Ten.

Investigative journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis of Declassified UK have extensively studied numerous aspects of the Assange extradition hearing and published seven articles concerning legal irregularities and conflicts of interest in the case. These articles revealed:

  1. Julian Assange’s judge and her husband’s links to the British military establishment exposed by WikiLeaks
  2. The son of Julian Assange’s judge is linked to an anti-data leak company created by the UK intelligence establishment
  3. Chief magistrate in Assange case received financial benefits from secretive partner organisations of UK Foreign Office
  4. UK minister who approved Trump’s request to extradite Assange spoke at secretive US conferences with people calling for him to be “neutralized”
  5. At risk from coronavirus, Julian Assange is one of just two inmates in Belmarsh maximum-security prison held for skipping bail
  6. UK government refuses to release information about Assange judge who has 96% extradition record
  7. As British judge made rulings against Julian Assange, her husband was involved with right-wing lobby group briefing against WikiLeaks founder

BBC News and other corporate media could certainly not be accused of being at all ‘repetitive’ about such deeply damaging aspects of the extradition hearing.

Observing the court proceedings from the limited space of the public gallery day by day, Murray warned:

‘It has been clear to me from Day 1 that I am watching a charade unfold. It is not in the least a shock to me that [magistrate Vanessa] Baraitser does not think anything beyond the written opening arguments has any effect. I have again and again reported to you that, where rulings have to be made, she has brought them into court pre-written, before hearing the arguments before her.

‘I strongly expect the final decision was made in this case even before opening arguments were received.’

Murray added:

‘The plan of the US Government throughout has been to limit the information available to the public and limit the effective access to a wider public of what information is available. Thus we have seen the extreme restrictions on both physical and video access. A complicit mainstream media has ensured those of us who know what is happening are very few in the wider population.’

In a superb piece for Consortium News, political commentator Alexander Mercouris demolished the shifting and nonsensical US case for extradition. He nailed the fundamental reason that Washington is pursuing Assange:

‘Julian Assange and his organization WikiLeaks, have done those things which the U.S. government and its national security apparatus most fear, and have worked hardest to prevent, by exposing the terrible reality of much of what the U.S. government now routinely does, and is determined to conceal, and what much of the media is helping the U.S. government to conceal.’

He continued:

‘the true purpose of the U.S. government’s relentless pursuit of Assange is to prevent him from exposing more of its crimes, and to punish him for exposing those of its crimes which he did expose, if only so as to deter others from doing the same thing, is perfectly obvious to any unbiased and realistic observer.’

Mercouris added:

‘Assange and WikiLeaks have exposed rampant war crimes and human rights abuses over the course of illegal wars waged by the U.S. government and its allies.  The death toll from these wars runs at the very least into the tens of thousands, and more plausibly into the hundreds of thousands or even millions.’

In conclusion:

‘In other words, it is Assange and his sources, first and foremost Chelsea Manning, who are the defenders of international law, including the Nuremberg Principles, and including in the case which is currently underway, whilst it is those who persecute them, including by bringing the current case against Assange, who are international law’s violators.

‘This is the single most important fact about this case, and it explains everything about it.’

At the end of the trial, RT’s Afshin Rattansi noted:

‘English magistrate Vanessa Baraitser declares at London’s Old Bailey that she will judge on Julian Assange’s extradition to a Virginia Court to face Espionage charges on 4 January 2021. The judgement will impact every journalist in the world.’

We highlighted that last sentence on our Twitter feed, adding:

‘As for stenographers and guardians of power in the “mainstream” media, they can just carry on as before…’

This, of course, is a central reason why state-corporate ‘journalists’ are so disinterested in the trial. The overwhelming majority simply do not – cannot – see themselves threatened by Washington’s assault on real journalism and truth-telling.

Closing Scene: A BBC Man Appears

On the penultimate day of the four-week hearing, the BBC’s avuncular veteran reporter John Simpson turned up (‘Still with BBC after 53 yrs, trying to make sense of a mad world’, says his Twitter bio): someone we had sparred with on the topic of Iraq in the early days of Media Lens.

He tweeted after his day at court:

‘I went to Julian #Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey today.  It will end tomorrow or Friday, with a decision expected in January.  Alarming witness statements today from whistleblowers about the bugging of Assange’s lawyers in Spain.’

Simpson’s comment was not entirely accurate or comprehensive. According to whistleblower testimony presented at the Old Bailey by former employees of UC Global, a Spanish security company, attempts had allegedly been made by the company to bug Assange and his lawyers inside the Ecuador embassy, under the auspices of the CIA. That fact alone should have been sufficient to throw out any court case against Assange, given the supposedly sacrosanct confidentiality of private legal conversations between lawyers and clients. There were even proposals by UC Global to kidnap or poison the WikiLeaks publisher on behalf of the CIA. Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal has done valuable work in exposing all of this, as he detailed in an interview with Deepa Driver of the campaign group Don’t Extradite Assange, and in an extensive article for The Grayzone website.

These shocking details appear never to have surfaced in BBC coverage, such as it was. On October 2 – the day after the hearing had ended – we observed that there had been just four articles published on the website during the hearing. One was a short, bland report of the first day of the case. Two were more ‘human interest’ pieces about Assange’s partner, Stella Moris, and their two children. A fourth piece was titled, ‘Julian Assange: Campaigner or attention seeker’. Perhaps ‘the world’s most trusted international news broadcaster’ believes the latter to be the case, thus deciding to all but ignore the hearing and its serious implications for justice, journalism and democracy.

It is worth noting that Stuart Millar is the digital news editor at BBC News, so presumably has responsibility for the website. He is the former head of news at the Guardian. This ‘comical’ tweet about Assange dates from Millar’s time at the Guardian:

‘I like to think that #Assange chose the Ecuadorean embassy because it’s so convenient for Harrods’

Yet more proof, if any were needed, of the groupthink that prevails among even the most ‘respected’ media outlets. If you need to demonstrate that your media credentials are bona fide – that you are ‘one of us’ – making a ‘joke’ at the expense of Julian Assange is a sure-fire way to show you can be trusted.

It would never do, for example, to give headline coverage to the CIA-instigated spying of Assange in the Ecuador embassy, the torture he is enduring by his incarceration, his parlous mental and physical state, the real risk of suicide should he be extradited to the US, almost certainly being dumped into the ‘hellhole’ of a ‘supermax’ US prison. All of this is to ensure that Assange serves as a warning example to anyone – anywhere in the world – who might dare to publish information that the US government does not wish to be made public.

Such grotesquely disturbing details did not even approach becoming ‘slightly repetitive’ to consumers of BBC News. Instead, they were buried. The BBC could, for instance, have interviewed Fidel Narvaez, former Ecuadorian Consul, to speak about the spying (which took place after Narvaez had been replaced in the embassy, following the election of Ecuador president, Lenin Moreno, who has been bending over backwards to do the US’s bidding under Donald Trump).

BBC journalists, and other ‘mainstream’ reporters could have included something of Noam Chomsky’s five-page submission to the hearing in support of Assange. They could have printed just one line, namely that Assange:

‘has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy’.

Reporters routinely behave as stenographers to power – the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg and ITV’s political editor Robert Peston are prime examples. But to be a stenographer to cogent commentary from Noam Chomsky is, of course, unthinkable. As we pointed out on Twitter on October 2, the day after the hearing ended, Kuenssberg has mentioned Assange a grand total of four times on her Twitter account – all back in 2014. Then, she had asked blankly:

‘What do you think should happen to him?’

Her silence on the extradition hearing spoke volumes: BBC News in a nutshell.

As far as we can tell from Twitter searches, Peston last mentioned Julian Assange on January 29, 2017. When we published a media alert last month that discussed Assange, we challenged Peston and Kuenssberg about their long-term silence on the WikiLeaks founder. Needless to say, they did not reply.

Likewise, other high-profile media figures including the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Huw Edwards, Andrew Neil and Nick Robinson, and Sky News political editor Adam Boulton, kept quiet when we asked them to explain their silence on Assange.

As US comedian Jimmy Dore said:

‘We need everybody exposing war crimes and the crimes of our government… So if you see a newsperson and they’re not screaming about this, the reason why they’re not is because it helps their career.’

‘Free Julian Assange’ campaigner John Mcghee, one of those protesting outside the Old Bailey on the day John Simpson was there, wrote an account of having met the BBC world affairs editor and enjoying a warm friendly exchange:

‘We talked for a few minutes and he revealed to me his incomprehension at the glaring absence of media representatives in or indeed outside the Old Bailey. He was genuinely shocked by the fact that a mainstream media embargo has apparently been imposed on the trial of the century that could sound the death knell for freedom of speech the world over.’

Certainly, some credit is due to John Simpson for reporting on the extradition hearing on that day’s BBC Radio 4 PM Programme. But it was a short segment of just 3 mins, 28 secs near the end of the hour-long programme, and it wasn’t even trailed at the start of PM. Shocked or not, Simpson certainly made no mention of his ‘incomprehension’ at the lack of media coverage.

Moreover, although it included short quotes from Stella Moris, Assange’s partner, and Jen Robinson, one of Assange’s lawyers, it was a thin piece that even repeated the debunked claim that US agents and informers had been harmed as a result of the work of WikiLeaks and Assange. It missed out so much of importance that was being diligently chronicled daily by Craig Murray. His detailed updates included copious vital facts that were glaringly absent from almost all ‘mainstream’ coverage; in particular BBC News.

Simpson reacted with short shrift (or silence) to those who complained to him on Twitter about the dearth of BBC coverage. He replied to one:

‘So how come I reported on this for the BBC yesterday? Find another conspiracy theory, is my advice.’

We are aware that the BBC did not totally blank Assange. But surely even Simpson could recognise that coverage had been pitifully inadequate given the importance and possible repercussions of the case? No ‘conspiracy theory’ is required. It is simply a fact.

Recently, when Tim Davie, the new BBC director general, tried to make his mark by declaring:

‘We are going to be publishing clear social guidelines… the enforcement policies will be very clear… we’ll be able to take people off Twitter’

he was asked by MPs ‘about the impartiality of those who work for the BBC’. But so far, none of them have asked about the impartiality of those who work for the BBC and have tweeted (or reported) nothing about a hugely significant political trial taking place in this country. It is what John Pilger rightly calls, ‘lying by omission’.

We sent an open tweet to any prospective BBC whistleblowers struggling with their consciences:

‘Most large organisations have whistleblowers who step forward when ethics, conscience and courage prevail.

‘Where are the whistleblowers inside BBC newsrooms? #JulianAssange

Nobody has responded, so far.

‘Shaming’

Afshin Rattansi interviewed John Pilger about the Assange hearing and its ramifications on the Going Underground programme on RT (which, as Twitter is keen to tell everyone, is ‘Russia state-affiliated media’. As yet, BBC News Twitter accounts have not been labelled as ‘UK state-affiliated media’).

Rattansi asked Pilger to respond to Daniel Sandford’s excuse for not reporting on the hearing as it was ‘slightly repetitive’. Pilger said:

‘For that BBC journalist to describe [the hearing] as “repetitive” doesn’t quite leave me speechless. But it leaves me with a sense that it’s over with much of the media.’

He explained:

‘To watch this day after day. This extraordinary, important trial telling us so much about how those who govern us, those who want to control our lives, and what they do to other countries, how they lie to us – watch this day after day and see none of it reported. Or, if you do see it reported, you’ll see something like “Assange told to pipe down” by the judge on a day – he only did this two or three times, I don’t know how he kept his mouth shut – where he stood up and protested at evidence that was clearly false and offensive to him. That was the headline. That was the story of the day.’

One vital example was when Assange was wrongly accused by the prosecution lawyers of having endangered the lives of US agents and their informers in releasing WikiLeaks documents that had not been redacted of names. This endlessly repeated propaganda claim was refuted by the famous Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg who testified on behalf of Assange:

‘I have also spoken to [Assange] privately over many hours. During 2010 and 2011, at a time when some of the published material had not yet seen the light of day, I was able to observe [Julian’s] approach. It was the exact opposite of reckless publication and nor would he wilfully expose others to harm.

‘Wikileaks could have published the entirety of the material on receipt. Instead I was able to observe but also to discuss with him the unprecedented steps he initiated, of engaging with conventional media partners, [to maximise] the impact of publication [so] it might [best] affect US government policy and its alteration.’

Award-winning Australian journalist Mark Davis was an eye-witness to the preparation of the Afghan War Logs in 2010 for newspaper publication, documented in Davis’s film, ‘Inside Wikileaks’. Davis spoke at a public meeting in Sydney last year and said that he was present alongside Assange in the Guardian’s ‘bunker’ where a team from the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel worked on the publication of articles based on, as the NYT put it:

‘a six-year archive of classified military documents [that] offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war.’

Davis attests that, far from being ‘cavalier’ about releasing documents that might endanger lives, it was:

‘Guardian journalists [who] neglected and appeared to care little about redacting the documents.’

Moreover:

‘They had a “graveyard humour” about people being harmed and no one, he stated emphatically, expressed concern about civilian casualties except Julian Assange.’

Assange had:

‘subsequently requested that the release of the Afghan War Logs be delayed for the purpose of redaction, but the Guardian not only insisted on the agreed date, they abandoned him to redact 10,000 documents alone.’

In fact, Assange worked through the night to do this, after the Guardian journalists had gone home.

Moreover, the claim that lives had been put at risk by WikiLeaks in publishing US cables could not even be substantiated by the US itself. As Patrick Cockburn observed in the Independent:

‘The Pentagon has admitted that it failed to find a single person covertly working for the US who had been killed as a result of the WikiLeaks disclosures. This failure was not for lack of trying: The Pentagon had set up a special military task force, deploying 120 counter-intelligence officers, to find at least one death that could be blamed on Assange and his colleagues but had found nothing.’

In the same RT interview mentioned earlier, Rattansi asked about the role of the Guardian in the Assange case; something we have documented at length. Pilger summed up their ‘campaign of vilification against Assange, the way they turned on their source, as ‘a disgrace’.

In an interview for the Australian magazine Arena, Pilger expanded on this important component of the Assange story:

‘How shaming it all is. A decade ago, the Guardian exploited Assange’s work, claimed its profit and prizes as well as a lucrative Hollywood deal, then turned on him with venom. Throughout the Old Bailey trial, two names have been cited by the prosecution, the Guardian’s David Leigh, now retired as “investigations editor” and Luke Harding, the Russiaphobe and author of a fictional Guardianscoop” that claimed Trump adviser Paul Manafort and a group of Russians visited Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy. This never happened, and the Guardian has yet to apologise. The Harding and Leigh book on Assange—written behind their subject’s back—disclosed a secret password to a WikiLeaks file that Assange had entrusted to Leigh during the Guardian’s ‘partnership’. Why the defence has not called this pair is difficult to understand.’

He continued:

‘Assange is quoted in their book declaring during a dinner at a London restaurant that he didn’t care if informants named in the leaks were harmed. Neither Harding nor Leigh was at the dinner. John Goetz, an investigations reporter with Der Spiegel, was at the dinner and testified that Assange said nothing of the kind. Incredibly, Judge Baraitser stopped Goetz actually saying this in court.’

True to their role as ‘leftist’ Guardian figleaves, neither Owen Jones nor George Monbiot published an article so much as mentioning Julian Assange during the four-week hearing. Jones tweeted ‘support’ by linking back to an article he published in April 2019. Monbiot stumped up the energy to send out three token tweets. But he tweeted nothing about Nils Melzer, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky or the shocking revelations from UC Global whistleblowers about spying on Assange, along with CIA-sponsored plans to kidnap or poison him.

One Twitter user asked:

‘Why are people “spooked” by the Assange case? It’s a genuine question, the media silence is weird, even on the left, @AyoCaesar @AaronBastani @GeorgeMonbiot to name a few.

‘What’s stopping them from screaming this from the rooftops? Are they scared, threatened, what?’

Monbiot at least replied:

‘I’ve tweeted about it many times. But for me it’s one of hundreds of crucial issues, many of which are even more important. It’s terrible, but compared to, say, soil loss, it’s a long way down my list.’

Challenged further about his near-silence, he said:

‘I have nothing to add to what others have already said. I never write about an issue unless I have something new and original to say. It’s not about ticking boxes for me, it’s about expanding the field.’

We responded:

‘What a happy coincidence that @GeorgeMonbiot can find nothing “new and original” to say about Assange, who has been targeted with a ferocious smear campaign by his employer. Try citing @NilsMelzer’s arguments, George, that would be “expanding the field” for most Guardian readers.’

As the former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook noted:

‘Monbiot could have served as a counterweight to the relentless maligning of Assange in the Guardian’s pages by pointing out how these smears were unfounded. Instead he has either echoed those smears, or equivocated on them, or remained silent.’

Cook added:

‘Monbiot is not the free thinker, the fearless investigator of difficult truths, the leftwing conscience he claims to be. It is not really his fault. It is in the nature of the function he serves at the Guardian …He enjoys the freedom to speak out loudly on the dangers of environmental destruction, but that freedom comes at a price – that he closely adhere to the technocratic, liberal consensus on other issues.’

In short:

‘Monbiot, therefore, treads the finest line of all the Guardian’s columnists. His position is the most absurd, the one plagued with the biggest internal contradiction: he must sell extreme environmental concern from within a newspaper that is entirely embedded in the economic logic of the very neoliberal system that is destroying the planet.’

This is supremely relevant to the Assange case. Because if the US wins, then journalism and the public’s ability to know what is going in the world will be even more crushed than they already are. And that spells disaster for avoiding worldwide environmental breakdown in an era of rampant global capitalism.

The post "None Of It Reported": How Corporate Media Buried The Assange Trial first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Morning in Hell

It’s the proper morning to fly into Hell.
― Arthur Miller, The Crucible, 1953

One of the greatest delusions of the average man is to forget that life is death’s prisoner.
— Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair, 1934

Increasingly, I think, the American public operates in a mild dissociative state. I wrote about it here (my blog). It is almost as if people are afflicted with a kind of PTSD — only one where the trauma is generalized, relatively low grade, but ongoing.

Any of us who have questioned the Covid narrative have had to put up with an inordinate amount of hectoring, name calling, ridicule, and ostracism. I remember when I signed on the artist appeal as part of the Milosevic Defense Committee, and the abuse and anger I faced whenever this topic came up. People who had no history with the region, knew little of the political landscape, would nonetheless wax irate, furious and near tears that I would hold such outrageous positions. Now a over a decade later two members of that committee have won Nobel Prizes (Harold Pinter and Peter Handke). You would think that might cause people to take a moment, reflect, recalibrate their thinking on the topic. But alas, it rarely does.

The Covid narrative has generated the same near hysterical indignation. The narrative, as it has been constructed by the WHO, CDC, and more likely a dozen or so billionaires (including Bill Gates) is so rife with contradiction and illogic that one might think cracks would begin to show. That many who accept the word of authority in general might, at this point, start to question why none of this story makes sense. But no. Not in America anyway. (or rather, to be more precise, there is a pushback, but it keeps to a low profile lest the little Cotton Mathers of the haute bourgeoisie put one in the stocks). Leave it to America to make the flu into a morality play. However, there are clear signs of people waking up. In Europe certainly.  See here and here.

And not only Germany, doctors and health care professionals in Belgium, too. But the governments are sticking to the story they were handed. In Norway here I still cannot drive to Sweden. Why? Who knows, there is no reason provided. The PM uttered something about better safe than sorry, and staying the course. Everything is discussed this way, in infantile baby talk, gibberish and slogans. Anti-democratic edicts delivered as if by a kindergarten teacher.

Someone wrote to me on social media the other day and said “Not everyone gets to live in Norway. Here we are surrounded by death”. Now he lives in Los Angeles. In a nice west-side area. He is not surrounded by death. Or rather only in his hallucinatory inner theatre of the mind is death present, surrounding him. But this language has a quality I associate with Hollywood. It’s kitsch image making. Never mind it’s literally not remotely true. But this is a version of something that I think happens all the time now. This man is in his own private movie. It is a movie made of diverse parts; there is something from all the various post apocalyptic zombie films (and TV, think Walking Dead).  There is something of Norman Rockwell in there, or even Thomas Kincaid.  There is Dr. Phil and Oprah and the cheapening of emotion. The snarky pedestrian thoughts of a Bill Maher, too.

This is what has come to pass for public intellectuals and intellectual discourse. All are almost impossibly banal. There are parts from a dozen disaster movies, too. I mean literally all the way back to Towering Inferno. And there is, perhaps most significantly, a quality that is harder to define or outline, but which I associate with JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon. It is a quality of comforting superficiality, of controlled threat in worlds of generic cheeriness. Interestingly both were born in NY and are only a year apart in age (mid-fifties). Both have a background in animation and computer generated affects. Both came out of a comic book sensibility and have, more than anyone else in contemporary media, helped to shape the manufactured nostalgia for a fantasy of America. It is the creation of a longing for a past that never was. But both have established a universe of whiteness and equilibrium where the threat is from without. For it cannot be from within because there is no ‘within’. In that sense these are the anti-psychoanalytic purveyors of a youth culture for adults. A comic or cartoon world view in which the sentimental plays an enormous role. It is a world without tragedy or real suffering. And just beneath the surface but always implied, is a respect for authority. It is also a world where one is encouraged NOT to grow up.

The Covid story takes place in a universe of Whedon and Abrams, with parts of The Hunger GamesBreaking Bad, and the films of John Hughes. (Hughes was really the precursor for both Whedon and Abrams). Covid is taking place on the streets where Breakfast Club was filmed. In people’s heads anyway. Covid, the virus, is an overdetermined symbol — and one that only makes even a tiny bit of sense if it is located in these personal streaming sites in your brain. (and I recommend Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production). There is a tendency toward fetishization, too, and hence the ubiquitous appearance and opinion of celebrities. It’s bordering on surreal much of the time: Hip Hop moguls are asked about climate change, Silicon Valley billionaires voice opinion on overpopulation or vaccinations, soap opera stars offer thoughts on stem cell research. Nothing is investigated, really. It is all driven by whatever is most lurid or sensationalized. The ruling class has clearly encouraged, if not mandated, a certain line of thinking on the pandemic. The ruling class has profited enormously from the lockdown, and is quite happy with a semi permanent state of crisis. In fact, it is likely that this was at least partly all planned. I mean what does one think those billionaires at the Bilderberg meeting talk about? Or at DAVOS or the like? The ruling elite anticipated crises in Capitalism, and the lockdown certainly provides cover for massive plunder of pensions, real estate, and really, most everything.

But the system, to some extent, does the work for the ruling class without instruction at this point. For revenue is generated by blood and violence, and secondly by sex. The template has already been put in place. (If it bleeds, it leads). Although something has happened to the ‘sex sells’ dimension of the Spectacle. People seem less and less in the throws of passion or lust. The societies of the west are declining into some form of neurasthenic bloodless onanism. The consumption of porn is up, but I’m pretty sure sex acts are actually down. And the allegorical dimension of the Covid narrative serves as both substitute gratification and as a symbolic purification ritual.

This week Trump announced he had “tested positive”. He had been campaigning for the previous week and felt fine. Then he tested positive and is described as having flu-like symptoms. That this is part of a strategy I have no doubt, but I also could not begin to describe that strategy. But the magical appearance of symptoms the minute he tested positive echoes the overall magical thinking involved in this entire narrative. There is a veritable mania, now, concerning testing. And yet even the NYTimes admits the tests are virtually meaningless. But no matter. We must test more !!

(Just one aspect of the testing problem.)

Magical thinking permeates the climate discourse, as well. Never in history, or never since the Enlightenment, have so many people pretended to know so much. For the educated thirty percent (white and reasonably affluent) it is the era of the TED talk. Nothing dare last longer or be more demanding than a quick (and entertaining) ten minutes. The fires in California have come primarily from downed power lines (badly out of date and rarely serviced), but exacerbated by homeless encampments (rarely mentioned) and fireworks — and, of course, the drought that has extended backward a decade. California has always burnt. It was part of the ecosystem to rid the hills and forests of dead shrub and trees.

Climate is clearly a part — snow-pack is down, and summer heat has dried out shrubbery. But much of what is dried out is shrub not native to California (stuff like cheat-grass, a native of Asia and parts of Africa, and notoriously invasive) whose forests are overstocked anyway. Infrastructure in America is rotting, and per California, the wild areas have been neglected for almost a hundred years. But that is not a part of the narrative. The narrative must be about the rebellion of Earth itself and population. And population matters only in terms of who can afford to over-consume. The problem is that the most obvious pollution issues (militarism and the packaging industry) are never addressed. US imperialism is the cause of most of the suffering in the world. Most of the instability. But the infantile anthropomorphizing of much green discourse is just more baby talk. I often hear “we are waging war against ourselves”. This is a dangerous bit of mystification. (Note that this riff goes all the way back to the Pogo comic strip in the 1960s}. It’s more simplistic sloganeering and like most such chestnuts, class analysis is absent. I have written a good deal on the psychological appeal of certain hi-tech fantasies, the seductive aspect of AI, and yet the world is more proletarianized than ever.  See here and here.

The issue of the seducing aspects of tech…from my blog.  See here and here.

Yes, people, in a very general sense, can be seen as self-destructive. It’s one of the most troubling byproducts of the habituation to screens, the loss of literacy and numeracy and the loss, really, of an ability to think critically. But this cultic hysteria is driven by the increasing precarity and desperation in contemporary life. The loss of unions plays a part, the absence of a real left party, a radical Marxist party. For all the terrific work activist groups do (prison abolishment groups, criminal justice reform, and stuff like the Innocence Project) there remains a vacuum in terms of electoral politics. Perhaps that is just going to be the way this goes. Maybe the entire electoral apparatus is dead. And maybe that is a good thing.

There is a quality of suffocating sameness and emptiness that permeates daily life. People don’t look at each other on the street, they look at their phones. One is walking, all the time, among the pod people. America’s mental health is in a dire state. The U.S., and really this is increasingly true in Europe, too, but not nearly to the same extent, is an excruciatingly lonely country. People have lost the ability to make, and more, to sustain friendships. And how the role of social media plays into that is an open question. Or media in general.

So while, yes, the marketing of technology serves to manufacture an appeal, on one level there are troubling numbers of people who seem, all by themselves, to *want*, to desire, ravishment by our robot overlords. Android sex is a thing, and it’s growing. And it’s not just men who want “pleasure model” androids (okay, for now they have to settle for this), but many want to not just fuck androids– but to get fucked *by* androids.

The engine is capitalism.

A number of world leaders have contracted Covid. Much as many get the flu. There is something curiously similar in nearly every one of these cases. Boris Johnson, Bolsanaro, the fascist interim President of post coup Bolivia Jeanine Anez, Mikhail Mishustin of Russia, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, and India’s Amit Shah, the #2 strongman behind Modi, and also in India, Pranab Mukherjee, former President, who subsequently died (age 84) from the virus (no, actually he died from a blood clot on his brain). I only mention this because I experience an unsettling vertigo when trying to parse all this and make it into something comprehensible. The way Covid tests work one might well think everyone on the planet has the virus.

Already there has been significant psychological harm done to children.  See here.  The clear lesson is to fear the other. That humans are contagious and potentially lethal. Intimacy is officially discouraged. I cannot imagine that message were I fourteen or sixteen. Growing up in the sixties the idea was to promote intimacy, feelings, and to exactly *not* fear emotional openness. The English speaking west has gone from Paul Goodman to Theresa Tam. The resurgent Puritanism is not restricted to odd ducks like Tam…. Even bourgeois pundits are noticing. This is Zoe Williams in The Guardian:

There remains, in public life, a rich seam of puritanism that you notice only when times are so bleak that you could really do without it. A sense that frivolity is immoral, even if it is 95% of your economy; a feeling that they had it coming, all those people dedicating their lives to the generation of fun. Puritans tend not to announce their disapproval except in the most roundabout ways, so you can rarely pin it on them. But standing on the precipice of a year that ends without dancing, bears, dancing bears, playhouses, ale houses, music or Christmas, all I can think of is how happy Oliver Cromwell would have been. It is like all his cancelled Christmases come at once. He would be dancing (not dancing) in his grave.

This is a lament from the privileged class, but perhaps that’s actually a good sign.

The ruling class don’t wear masks or have travel restrictions imposed on them.

There is no longer even a pretense. The rich are entitled to special treatment. The rich deserve a clean depopulated world where they can cavort on the green, frolic in elysian fields by murmuring brooks, and to not be troubled by darkies and riffraff. Remember it was a mere hundred years ago that Belgium brought Congolese from their African home, to be paraded in human zoos. Those they hadn’t already murdered.

Covid is the final act in the transference of wealth to the top 1%. And culture is being destroyed along with everything else. Cinemas are closing, permanently, theatres, too, permanently, and museums. Galleries and other art spaces are shuttered, likely to never reopen. Something like 30 million jobs have been lost. There is an acute desperation across America.

Who survives? Amazon, Netflix, Google, Comcast, Facebook, et al. Those who control the screens control the world. It is a new morning in hell.

The post Morning in Hell first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Assange’s Seventeenth Day at the Old Bailey: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping

September 30.  Central Criminal Court, London.

Today will be remembered as a grand expose.  It was a direct, pointed accusation at the intentions of the US imperium which long for the scalp of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.  For WikiLeaks, it was a smouldering triumph, showing that the entire mission against Assange, from the start, has been a political one.  The Australian publisher faces the incalculably dangerous prospect of 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.  Stripped to its elements, the indictment is merely violence kitted out in the vestment of sham legality.  The rest is politics.

Witness statements were read from a veritable who’s who of courageous investigative journalism (Patrick Cockburn, Andy Worthington, Stefania Maurizi and Ian Cobain) and an assortment of legal freight from Guy Goodwin-Gill, professor of law at the University of New South Wales, Robert Boyle, well versed in the dark practices of grand juries and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

These statements, pointing to the value of the WikiLeaks publications, the care taken in releasing them, and the terrifying prospects for press freedom, deserve separate treatment.  But Wednesday’s grand show was stolen by two anonymous witnesses, occasioned by a change of plans.  Originally scheduled for Thursday, testimony of the witnesses from the Spanish security firm UC Global S.L. were moved a day forward.  Both speak to the aims and ambitions of the company’ owner and director, David Morales, who passed information on Assange and his meetings with allies and associates to the US intelligence service while the Australian was resident in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  Judge Vanessa Baraitser had relented on the issue of keeping their anonymity: to have not observed the convention would have been a mark of disrespect for the Spanish court.

Their material is part of a current investigation into Morales being conducted by a magistrate of the Audiencia Nacional court. That process was instigated at the behest of Assange’s legal team, whose filed criminal complaint alleges breaches of privacy and the violation of attorney-client privilege, amongst other charges.

Illegal agreements are born

Witness #1 informed the court of a man determined: Morales “showed at times a real obsession in relation to monitoring and recording the lawyers who met with the ‘guest’ (Julian Assange) because ‘our American friends’ were requesting it.”

The first witness added stitching to the account linking the UC Global with US intelligence.  In July 2016, with UC Global already contracted and providing security services to the Ecuadorean embassy, Morales “travelled to a security sector trade fair in Las Vegas, which I wished to accompany him”.  This would not be.  Morales “insisted he had to travel alone.  On this trip, Mr Morales showcased the company UC Global in the Las Vegas security sector trade fair.”

What followed was UC Global obtaining “a flashy contract, personally managed by David Morales, with the company Las Vegas Sands, which was owned by the tycoon Sheldon Adelson, whose proximity to Donald Trump is public knowledge (at the time Trump was the presidential candidate).”  Morales’s point of contact at Las Vegas Sands was its chief of security, Zohar Lahav.  Lahav is also the subject of interest for the Audiencia Nacional, which has asked the US Department of Justice to seek a statement from him.  The investigating judge, José de la Mata, is keen to examine details of the Morales-Lahav association and whether their meetings involved discussing information illegally obtained from Assange.

UC Global was hired to provide security services to Queen Miri, the luxury vessel owned by Adelson.  “The contract did not make sense,” claimed the witness.  Morales seemed to be overegging the pudding.  “The most striking thing about it was that the boat had its own security, which consisted of a sophisticated security detail, and that the contract consisted in adding an additional person, in this case David Morales, for a very short period of time, through which David Morales would receive an elevated sum.”

Thrilled at getting the contract, Morales was in celebratory mood, gathering employees in the Jerez company office to say that “we have moved up and from now on we will be playing in the big league”.  What did “big league” mean?  Morales, replying to the query from the first witness, claimed that “he had switched over to ‘the dark side’ referring to cooperating with US authorities, and as a result of that collaboration, ‘the Americans will get us contracts all over the world’.”  In 2017, Morales asked for a secure phone and encrypted computer to communicate with his American contacts.

Along with news of the contract came an uncomfortable revelation: “that we had entered into illegal agreements with US authorities to supply them with sensitive information about Mr Assange and [Ecuadorean President] Rafael Correa, given that UC Global was responsible for the embassy security where Mr Assange was located.”  As a result of this parallel agreement, “reports would also be sent to ‘the dark side’.” Morales made regular trips to the US to facilitate this, “principally to New York but also Chicago and Washington” where he would “talk with ‘our American friends’.”  The first witness pressed Morales at points who these “‘American friends’ were”.  “US intelligence,” came the reply.

When confronted by the first witness that UC Global should not be engaged in such activities,   Morales huffed.  He would open his shirt in defiance, and claim with brio that he was “a mercenary, through and through”.

The first witness also testified that Morales’s trips to see his “American friends” increased with frequency in 2017.  Trump’s victory seemed to be the catalyst.  By June or July 2017, “Morales began to develop a sophisticated information collection system outside the embassy.” He asked employees “physically inside the embassy to intensify and deepen their information collection.”  The internal and external cameras of the embassy were to be changed.  Morales, according to the first witness, had also “instructed a team to travel regularly to London to collect the camera recordings.”

Tasks forces and surveillance

Witness #2, an IT expert, told the Old Bailey how he was asked to “form a task force of workers at our headquarters in Jerez” between June and July 2017.   “The purpose of this unit was to execute, from a technical perspective, the capture, systematization and processing of information collected at the embassy that David Morales requested.”  Witness #2 was responsible for “executing David Morales’s orders, with technical means that existed in the embassy and additional measures that were installed by order of Morales, in addition to the information gathered in the embassy by the UC Global employees who were physically present in the diplomatic mission.”

The second witness sensed inconsistencies.  Morales told the task force that the contract with Ecuador necessitated the replacement of the embassy’s cameras every three years.  “This made no sense because the contract had been in force for longer than three years and the clause had not been fulfilled to date.”  While he was unaware of the clause, the second witness considered that the circuit operating CCTV security cameras at the time “were sufficient to provide physical security against intrusion inside the building.”

But Morales was adamant.  Security cameras with concealed audio recording capabilities were to be acquired and installed.  “Because of this, and in accordance with the orders of David Morales, who claimed that all of this was necessary to fulfil the contract, I sought providers for these types of cameras, insisting in, to the extent possible, concealing audio-recording capabilities.”

The extent of Morales’s zeal alarmed the second witness.  “Around June 2017, while I was sourcing providers for the new camera equipment, David Morales instructed that the cameras should allow streaming capabilities so that ‘our friends’ in the United States’, as Morales explicitly put it, would be able to gain access to the interior of the embassy in real time.  This request alarmed me greatly, and in order to impede the request, I claimed that remote access via streaming via the camera circuit was not technically achievable.”  The witness did not “want to collaborate in an illegal act of this magnitude.”  He noted Morales’s wish to have the entire embassy bugged and suggested that the purpose of installing microphones had been “per the request of the United States” to target Assange’s defence team.

Stunned by its illegality, the second witness tried to dissuade Morales by suggesting that Assange would detect the recording facilities.  But in early December 2017, the cameras, enabled with audio-recording means, were installed.  When asked by Assange and the Political Counselor Maria Eugenia whether the new devices recorded sound, the second witness had his orders: to not “share information about the system and to deny that the cameras were recording audio.”  Once in place, “the cameras began to record sound regularly so every meeting that the asylee held was captured.”

The second witness was also heavy on detail in various specific operations designed to frustrate Assange’s own countering efforts.  He had been asked by Morales in January 2018 to place rigid stickers on the external embassy windows at the top left hand corner.  It transpired that this seemingly idiosyncratic exercise had one express purpose: to neutralise the disruptions to recording conversations caused by Assange’s white noise machine, which “produced a vibration in the window that stopped the sound being extracted via the laser microphone, which US intelligence had installed outside.”  The stickers served to eliminate the vibration, enabling the laser microphones to “extract conversations.”

Morales had also impressed upon the IT specialist that he install a microphone in the PVC folder of the fire extinguisher in the embassy meeting room used by Assange.   The same was done for “the toilet at the end of the embassy” as it had become a venue of “strategic” importance: Assange “who suspected that he was the subject of espionage, maintained many of his meetings there in order to preserve confidentiality.”

While a whole range of targets were of interest, the Spanish former judge and member of Assange’s legal team, Balthasar Garzón, was particularly important.  “The security guards at the embassy were requested to search for evidence of travels to Argentina and Russia in Garzón’s passport pages, which were photographed.”

Nappies, contemplated kidnappings and proposed poisonings

Such behaviour at the embassy conformed to a consistent pattern of instructions that verged on the comic and grotesque.  On one occasion, recalled Witness #2, Morales had asked him to “steal a nappy of a baby which according to the company’s security personnel deployed at the embassy, regularly visited Mr Assange.” The pilfering of the nappy was for reasons of identifying whether the baby was, in fact “a child of the asylee.”  It was “the Americans”, Morales claimed, “who wanted to establish paternity.”

Not content merely with establishing paternity, Morales’s “American friends” were also suffering from states of desperation, keen to bring Assange’s stay in the embassy to an end.  According to the second witness, “the Americans were desperate [in December 2017] and that they had even suggested that more extreme measures should be employed against the ‘guest’ to put an end to the situation of Assange’s permanence in the embassy.”  Suggestions were made to Morales by his US contacts: the door of the embassy would be left open; an “accident” could be claimed for covering an operation “which would allow persons to enter from outside the embassy and kidnap the asylee”.  Another option was put on the table: “the possibility of poisoning Mr Assange”.  Such suggestions, Witness #2 claimed, “shocked” the employees, who “commented amongst ourselves that the course that Morales had embarked on was beginning to become dangerous.”

The eviction and arrest of Assange followed.  Witness #1 informed Assange’s legal team that Morales had “betrayed both the terms of the contract and the trust that had been given to him by the Government of Ecuador, by systematically handing over information to US intelligence agencies.”  He came to realise that information on the security of the embassy and Rafael Correa had been sold to “the enemy, the United States, which is the reason I put an end to my professional relationship with him.”

These revelations excited Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, having already etched his name into legal history at these proceedings with supporting testimony.  In his optimistic view, such evidence of surveillance by the CIA of Assange’s conversations with his legal team “and everyone else” in the embassy, along with suggestions of poisoning and kidnapping, might mean him walking free. “That’s essentially the same information that ended my case and confronted [President Richard] Nixon with impeachment, leading to his resignation!” Convincing to Ellsberg it may be, but will it sway the icy temperament of Judge Vanessa Baraitser?

The post Assange’s Seventeenth Day at the Old Bailey: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why is the World going to Hell? Netflix’s The Social Dilemma tells only Half the Story

If you find yourself wondering what the hell is going on right now – the “Why is the world turning to shit?” thought – you may find Netflix’s new documentary The Social Dilemma a good starting point for clarifying your thinking. I say “starting point” because, as we shall see, the film suffers from two major limitations: one in its analysis and the other in its conclusion. Nonetheless, the film is good at exploring the contours of the major social crises we currently face – epitomised both by our addiction to the mobile phone and by its ability to rewire our consciousness and our personalities.

The film makes a convincing case that this is not simply an example of old wine in new bottles. This isn’t the Generation Z equivalent of parents telling their children to stop watching so much TV and play outside. Social media is not simply a more sophisticated platform for Edward Bernays-inspired advertising. It is a new kind of assault on who we are, not just what we think.

According to The Social Dilemma, we are fast reaching a kind of human “event horizon”, with our societies standing on the brink of collapse. We face what several interviewees term an “existential threat” from the way the internet, and particularly social media, are rapidly developing.

I don’t think they are being alarmist. Or rather I think they are right to be alarmist, even if their alarm is not entirely for the right reasons. We will get to the limitations in their thinking in a moment.

Like many documentaries of this kind, The Social Dilemma is deeply tied to the shared perspective of its many participants. In most cases, they are richly disillusioned, former executives and senior software engineers from Silicon Valley. They understand that their once-cherished creations – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat (WhatsApp seems strangely under-represented in the roll call) – have turned into a gallery of Frankenstein’s monsters.

That is typified in the plaintive story of the guy who helped invent the “Like” button for Facebook. He thought his creation would flood the world with the warm glow of brother and sisterhood, spreading love like a Coca Cola advert. In fact, it ended up inflaming our insecurities and need for social approval, and dramatically pushed up rates of suicide among teenage girls.

If the number of watches of the documentary is any measure, disillusion with social media is spreading far beyond its inventors.

Children as guinea pigs

Although not flagged as such, The Social Dilemma divides into three chapters.

The first, dealing with the argument we are already most familiar with, is that social media is a global experiment in altering our psychology and social interactions, and our children are the main guinea pigs. Millennials (those who came of age in the 2000s) are the first generation that spent their formative years with Facebook and MySpace as best friends. Their successors, Generation Z, barely know a world without social media at its forefront.

The film makes a relatively easy case forcefully: that our children are not only addicted to their shiny phones and what lies inside the packaging, but that their minds are being aggressively rewired to hold their attention and then make them pliable for corporations to sell things.

Each child is not just locked in a solitary battle to stay in control of his or her mind against the skills of hundreds of the world’s greatest software engineers. The fight to change their perspective and ours – the sense of who we are – is now in the hands of algorithms that are refined every second of every day by AI, artificial intelligence. As one interviewee observes, social media is not going to become less expert at manipulating our thinking and emotions, it’s going to keep getting much, much better at doing it.

Jaron Lanier, one of the computing pioneers of virtual reality, explains what Google and the rest of these digital corporations are really selling: “It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception – that is the product.” That is also how these corporations make their money, by “changing what you do, what you think, who you are.”

They make profits, big profits, from the predictions business – predicting what you will think and how you will behave so that you are more easily persuaded to buy what their advertisers want to sell you. To have great predictions, these corporations have had to amass vast quantities of data on each of us – what is sometimes called “surveillance capitalism”.

And, though the film does not quite spell it out, there is another implication. The best formula for tech giants to maximise their predictions is this: as well as processing lots of data on us, they must gradually grind down our distinctiveness, our individuality, our eccentricities so that we become a series of archetypes. Then, our emotions – our fears, insecurities, desires, cravings – can be more easily gauged, exploited and plundered by advertisers.

These new corporations trade in human futures, just as other corporations have long traded in oil futures and pork-belly futures, notes Shoshana Zuboff, professor emeritus at Harvard business school. Those markets “have made the internet companies the richest companies in the history of humanity”.

Flat Earthers and Pizzagate

The second chapter explains that, as we get herded into our echo chambers of self-reinforcing information, we lose more and more sense of the real world and of each other. With it, our ability to empathise and compromise is eroded. We live in different information universes, chosen for us by algorithms whose only criterion is how to maximise our attention for advertisers’ products to generate greater profits for the internet giants.

Anyone who has spent any time on social media, especially a combative platform like Twitter, will sense that there is a truth to this claim. Social cohesion, empathy, fair play, morality are not in the algorithm. Our separate information universes mean we are increasingly prone to misunderstanding and confrontation.

And there is a further problem, as one interviewee states: “The truth is boring.” Simple or fanciful ideas are easier to grasp and more fun. People prefer to share what’s exciting, what’s novel, what’s unexpected, what’s shocking. “It’s a disinformation-for-profit model,” as another interviewee observes, stating that research shows false information is six times more likely to spread on social media platforms than true information.

And as governments and politicians work more closely with these tech companies – a well-documented fact the film entirely fails to explore – our rulers are better positioned than ever to manipulate our thinking and control what we do. They can dictate the political discourse more quickly, more comprehensively, more cheaply than ever before.

This section of the film, however, is the least successful. True, our societies are riven by increasing polarisation and conflict, and feel more tribal. But the film implies that all forms of social tension – from the paranoid paedophile conspiracy theory of Pizzagate to the Black Lives Matter protests – are the result of social media’s harmful influence.

And though it is easy to know that Flat Earthers are spreading misinformation, it is far harder to be sure what is true and what is false in many others areas of life. Recent history suggests our yardsticks cannot be simply what governments say is true – or Mark Zuckerberg, or even “experts”. It may be a while since doctors were telling us that cigarettes were safe, but millions of Americans were told only a few years ago that opiates would help them – until an opiate addiction crisis erupted across the US.

This section falls into making a category error of the kind set out by one of the interviewees early in the film. Despite all the drawbacks, the internet and social media have an undoubted upside when used simply as a tool, argues Tristan Harris, Google’s former design ethicist and the soul of the film. He gives the example of being able to hail a cab almost instantly at the press of a phone button. That, of course, highlights something about the materialist priorities of most of Silicon Valley’s leading lights.

But the tool box nestled in our phones, full of apps, does not just satisfy our craving for material comfort and security. It has also fuelled a craving to understand the world and our place in it, and offered tools to help us do that.

Phones have made it possible for ordinary people to film and share scenes once witnessed by only a handful of disbelieved passers-by. We can all see for ourselves a white police officer dispassionately kneeling on the neck of a black man for nine minutes, while the victim cries out he cannot breathe, until he expires. And we can then judge the values and priorities of our leaders when they decide to do as little as possible to prevent such incidents occurring again.

The internet has created a platform from which not only disillusioned former Silicon Valley execs can blow the whistle on what the Mark Zuckerbergs are up to, but so can a US army private like Chelsea Manning, by exposing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so can a national security tech insider like Edward Snowden, by revealing the way we are being secretly surveilled by our own governments.

Technological digital breakthroughs allowed someone like Julian Assange to set up a site, Wikileaks, that offered us a window on the real political world – a window through we could see our leaders behaving more like psychopaths than humanitarians. A window those same leaders are now fighting tooth and nail to close by putting him on trial.

A small window on reality

The Social Dilemma ignores all of this to focus on the dangers of so-called “fake news”. It dramatises a scene suggesting that only those sucked into information black holes and conspiracy sites end up taking to the street to protest – and when they do, the film hints, it will not end well for them.

Apps allowing us to hail a taxi or navigate our way to a destination are undoubtedly useful tools. But being able to find out what our leaders are really doing – whether they are committing crimes against others or against us – is an even more useful tool. In fact, it is a vital one if we want to stop the kind of self-destructive behaviours The Social Dilemma is concerned about, not least our destruction of the planet’s life systems (an issue that, except for one interviewee’s final comment, the film leaves untouched).

Use of social media does not mean one necessarily loses touch with the real world. For a minority, social media has deepened their understanding of reality. For those tired of having the real world mediated for them by a bunch of billionaires and traditional media corporations, the chaotic social media platforms have provided an opportunity to gain insights into a reality that was obscured before.

The paradox, of course, is that these new social media corporations are no less billionaire-owned, no less power-hungry, no less manipulative than the old media corporations. The AI algorithms they are rapidly refining are being used – under the rubric of “fake news” – to drive out this new marketplace in whistleblowing, in citizen journalism, in dissident ideas.

Social media corporations are quickly getting better at distinguishing the baby from the bathwater, so they can throw out the baby. After all, like their forebears, the new media platforms are in the business of business, not of waking us up to the fact that they are embedded in a corporate world that has plundered the planet for profit.

Much of our current social polarisation and conflict is not, as The Social Dilemma suggests, between those influenced by social media’s “fake news” and those influenced by corporate media’s “real news”. It is between, on the one hand, those who have managed to find oases of critical thinking and transparency in the new media and, on the other, those trapped in the old media model or those who, unable to think critically after a lifetime of consuming corporate media, have been easily and profitably sucked into nihilistic, online conspiracies.

Our mental black boxes

The third chapter gets to the nub of the problem without indicating exactly what that nub is. That is because The Social Dilemma cannot properly draw from its already faulty premises the necessary conclusion to indict a system in which the Netflix corporation that funded the documentary and is televising it is so deeply embedded itself.

For all its heart-on-its-sleeve anxieties about the “existential threat” we face as a species, The Social Dilemma is strangely quiet about what needs to change – aside from limiting our kids’ exposure to Youtube and Facebook. It is a deflating ending to the rollercoaster ride that preceded it.

Here I want to backtrack a little. The film’s first chapter makes it sound as though social media’s rewiring of our brains to sell us advertising is something entirely new. The second chapter treats our society’s growing loss of empathy, and the rapid rise in an individualistic narcissism, as something entirely new. But very obviously neither proposition is true.

Advertisers have been playing with our brains in sophisticated ways for at least a century. And social atomisation – individualism, selfishness and consumerism – have been a feature of western life for at least as long. These aren’t new phenomena. It’s just that these long-term, negative aspects of western society are growing exponentially, at a seemingly unstoppable rate.

We’ve been heading towards dystopia for decades, as should be obvious to anyone who has been tracking the lack of political urgency to deal with climate change since the problem became obvious to scientists back in the 1970s.

The multiple ways in which we are damaging the planet – destroying forests and natural habitats, pushing species towards extinction, polluting the air and water, melting the ice-caps, generating a climate crisis – have been increasingly evident since our societies turned everything into a commodity that could be bought and sold in the marketplace. We began on the slippery slope towards the problems highlighted by The Social Dilemma the moment we collectively decided that nothing was sacred, that nothing was more sacrosanct than our desire to turn a quick buck.

It is true that social media is pushing us towards an event horizon. But then so is climate change, and so is our unsustainable global economy, premised on infinite growth on a finite planet. And, more importantly, these profound crises are all arising at the same time.

There is a conspiracy, but not of the Pizzagate variety. It is an ideological conspiracy, of at least two centuries’ duration, by a tiny and ever more fabulously wealth elite to further enrich themselves and to maintain their power, their dominance, at all costs.

There is a reason why, as Harvard business professor Shoshana Zuboff points out, social media corporations are the most fantastically wealthy in human history. And that reason is also why we are reaching the human “event horizon” these Silicon Valley luminaries all fear, one where our societies, our economies, the planet’s life-support systems are all on the brink of collapse together.

The cause of that full-spectrum, systemic crisis is not named, but it has a name. Its name is the ideology that has become a black box, a mental prison, in which we have become incapable of imagining any other way of organising our lives, any other future than the one we are destined for at the moment. That ideology’s name is capitalism.

Waking up from the matrix

Social media and the AI behind it are one of the multiple crises we can no longer ignore as capitalism reaches the end of a trajectory it has long been on. The seeds of neoliberalism’s current, all-too-obvious destructive nature were planted long ago, when the “civilised”, industrialised west decided its mission was to conquer and subdue the natural world, when it embraced an ideology that fetishised money and turned people into objects to be exploited.

A few of the participants in The Social Dilemma allude to this in the last moments of the final chapter. The difficulty they have in expressing the full significance of the conclusions they have drawn from two decades spent in the most predatory corporations the world has ever known could be because their minds are still black boxes, preventing them from standing outside the ideological system they, like us, were born into. Or it could be because coded language is the best one can manage if a corporate platform like Netflix is going to let a film like this one reach a mass audience.

Tristan Harris tries to articulate the difficulty by grasping for a movie allusion: “How do you wake up from the matrix when you don’t know you’re in the matrix?” Later, he observes: “What I see is a bunch of people who are trapped by a business model, an economic incentive, shareholder pressure that makes it almost impossible to do something else.”

Although still framed in Harris’s mind as a specific critique of social media corporations, this point is very obviously true of all corporations, and of the ideological system – capitalism – that empowers all these corporations.

Another interviewee notes: “I don’t think these guys [the tech giants] set out to be evil, it’s just the business model.”

He is right. But “evilness” – the psychopathic pursuit of profit above all other values – is the business model for all corporations, not just the digital ones.

The one interviewee who manages, or is allowed, to connect the dots is Justin Rosenstein, a former engineer for Twitter and Google. He eloquently observes:

We live in a world in which a tree is worth more, financially, dead than alive. A world in which a whale is worth more dead than alive. For so long as our economy works in that way, and corporations go unregulated, they’re going to continue to destroy trees, to kill whales, to mine the earth, and to continue to pull oil out of the ground, even though we know it is destroying the planet and we know it is going to leave a worse world for future generations.

This is short-term thinking based on this religion of profit at all costs. As if somehow, magically, each corporation acting in its selfish interest is going to produce the best result. … What’s frightening – and what hopefully is the last straw and will make us wake up as a civilisation as to how flawed this theory is in the first place – is to see that now we are the tree, we are the whale. Our attention can be mined. We are more profitable to a corporation if we’re spending time staring at a screen, staring at an ad, than if we’re spending our time living our life in a rich way.

Here is the problem condensed. That unnamed “flawed theory” is capitalism. The interviewees in the film arrived at their alarming conclusion – that we are on the brink of social collapse, facing an “existential threat” – because they have worked inside the bellies of the biggest corporate beasts on the planet, like Google and Facebook.

These experiences have provided most of these Silicon Valley experts with deep, but only partial, insight. While most of us view Facebook and Youtube as little more than places to exchange news with friends or share a video, these insiders understand much more. They have seen up close the most powerful, most predatory, most all-devouring corporations in human history.

Nonetheless, most of them have mistakenly assumed that their experiences of their own corporate sector apply only to their corporate sector. They understand the “existential threat” posed by Facebook and Google without extrapolating to the identical existential threats posed by Amazon, Exxon, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Goldman Sachs and thousands more giant, soulless corporations.

The Social Dilemma offers us an opportunity to sense the ugly, psychopathic face shielding behind the mask of social media’s affability. But for those watching carefully the film offers more: a chance to grasp the pathology of the system itself that pushed these destructive social media giants into our lives.

The post Why is the World going to Hell? Netflix’s The Social Dilemma tells only Half the Story first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Assange’s Tenth Day at the Old Bailey: Bolting Horses, Death Penalties and Plots of Eviction

September 21.  Central Criminal Court, London.

Today was one of reiteration and expansion.  Computer scientist Christian Grothoff of the Bern University of Applied Sciences supplied the relevant chronology on what led to the publication of unredacted US State Department cables, the subject of such concern for the prosecution.  This proved a mild taster of what was to come: the alleged deal brokered by Richard Grenell, when US ambassador to Germany, with the Ecuadorean government for the arrest and eviction of Julian Assange from the London embassy in April 2019.

Grothoff, publication and chronology

With three of the 18 counts against Assange trained on the issue of publishing unredacted cables, Grothoff’s testimony served to recapitulate the importance of timing.  By the time the organisation had published the archive, others had done so.  The horse, having bolted, would not be returning.  While WikiLeaks had taken steps to encrypt the relevant file with the documents, things went awry with its sharing with David Leigh of The Guardian in the summer of 2010.  Uploaded to a temporary website, it had a strong, decrypting passphrase.  Assange had committed only part of that passphrase to paper.

November 2010 arrived.  WikiLeaks and its media partners began releasing redacted cables.  “The embassy cables will be released in stages over the next year,” promised WikiLeaks.  “The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do so otherwise would not do this material justice.”

The organisation’s website then became the target of Distributed Denial of Server attacks.  Assange put the word out to supporters: replicate site data on various servers; create mirror sites.  In February 2011, Leigh and fellow Guardian colleague Luke Harding published their account working with Assange and WikiLeaks.  It was a hurried, and, it transpired, sloppy effort.  The full, decrypting passphrase had found its way into one chapter title.  Der Freitag caught the scent in August, supplying a few breadcrumbs to the enterprising, not least the sense that the password to the file was rather easy to locate.  Der Spiegel, one of the media partners, gave confirmation of the account.  Nigel Parry, self-described as “the first person out of the loop and in the wild to have unzipped the unreduced Cablegate cables,” merely sealed the matter.

Assange and Sarah Harrison, also of WikiLeaks, scrambled.  The US State Department was warned that the unredacted files were ready to course their way through cyberspace.  The US-based leaking outfit Cryptome gave the push along, publishing the archive.  By September 2, 2011, the deed for WikiLeaks was done: the archive was released on its site.  As Grothoff told the court, “[The password] was actually available on the internet in a way that would be virtually impossible to stop.”

In writing about the train of events, political commentator and former civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald thought the security measures taken by WikiLeaks poor and insufficient.  But “one point should be made absolutely clear: there was nothing intentional about WikiLeaks’ publication of the cables in unredacted form.  They ultimately had no choice.”  Releasing the cables in full was the reasonable, “safest course” of action, “so that not only the world’s intelligence agencies but everyone had them, so that steps could be taken to protect the sources and so that the information in them was equally available.”

Under questioning from the prosecution, Grothoff batted away suggestions that the publishing organisation had shared the entire archive with all 50 media partners involved with Cablegate.  “On the very specific technical point where you say WikiLeaks published those cables you are wrong, and you didn’t properly do your homework to find who first published those cables.”  WikiLeaks could not be considered the “primary publisher of the unredacted cables”.

Grothoff also faced questions about his partiality from Joel Smith QC.  Had he not appended his name to a 2017 letter to US President Donald Trump urging him not to charge Assange or other members of WikiLeaks?  “You are biased, you are partial?”  The professor could not recall adding his name, but saw Assange as a “sympathetic character” in exposing “war crimes”.  “No, I believe that looking at the indictment put forward, you’re confusing actions WikiLeaks took to hide and obscure the documents with them publishing it.”

Fairbanks, deals and evictions

Assange’s defence team then readied the dynamite: a statement from activist and Trump supporter Cassandra Fairbanks, dated June 7, 2020, describing communications with Republican donor Arthur Schwartz.  Schwartz, with close links to Trump, was charged with running Grenell’s communications.  Fairbanks shared membership with a direct message group on Twitter comprising “multiple people who either worked for President Trump or were close to him in other ways.”  Both Grenell and Schwartz were also members.

On October 30, 2018, Fairbanks shared an interview with Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, on the forum “hoping that someone would see it and be moved to help”.  The plea did not go down well with Schwartz, who called Fairbanks to berate her for such strident advocacy.  Stop it, he insisted, as “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen.” What instead followed were details about what was in store for Assange: charges were imminent over his connection with Chelsea Manning, not other publications (the Democratic National Committee correspondence; the Central Intelligence Agency’s Vault 7 publication). “He also told me they would be going after Chelsea Manning. I also recollect being told, I believe, that it would not be before Christmas.  Both of these predictions came true just months later.”

Fairbanks also disclosed the intention to finally deal with the issue of Assange’s political asylum.  Schwartz “also told me that the US government would be going into the Embassy to get Assange.”  This troubled her.  “I responded that entering the embassy of a sovereign nation and kidnapping a political refugee would be an act of war, and he responded: ‘not if they let us.’”  Unbeknownst to Fairbanks at the time, Grenell had, in October 2018 “worked out a deal for Assange’s arrest with the Ecuadorean government.”

The exchange upset Fairbanks.  The waterworks commenced.  Schwartz softened on the phone on hearing Fairbanks sobbing, though was hardly reassuring about what awaited the WikiLeaks publisher: Assange would “probably” only serve the rest of life in prison.

From that point on, the worm began to turn.  A visit to Assange on January 7, 2019 followed.  Fairbanks was keen to impress upon him what she knew.  Assange was concerned about surveillance.  “I know he was concerned about being overheard or spied upon and he had a little radio to cover up the conversation.”  Both she and Assange took “steps to communicate with each other to try to not be within the sight or hearing of surveillance cameras or microphones, by turning up a background of white noise and writing notes.”  Fairbanks had also paid a visit to Manning, speaking of fears “that they might come after her again.”

Within two months, embassy hospitality had chilled.  Fairbanks recalls being shocked at the treatment afforded her and Assange on that visit.  It was an encounter she wrote about, noting a progressively worsening atmosphere.  She was made to spend an hour in a cold meeting room; Assange was given harsh preliminary treatment, “subjected to a full body scan with metal detector before” being allowed into the room.  Her statement continues: “I described it at the time as ‘eerily similar to visits I have made to inmates at federal penitentiaries in the US.’ I considered at the time ‘it seemed our government was getting what they wanted from Ecuador, as a former State Department official told Buzzfeed in January.  ‘As far as we’re concerned, he’s in jail.’  I noted ‘in an interview with El Pais in July, President Moreno said his ‘ideal solution’ is that Assange may ‘enjoy’ being ‘extradited’ if the UK promises that the US will not kill him.”

The act of bringing a radio into the meeting room to frustrate audio surveillance was a cause of consternation.  “Only eight minutes of our two hour scheduled visit were in the end available because of the conflict with security staff at the Embassy.  We were told if we wanted to talk it must be done in the conference room and only two minutes were left.”

Fairbanks recalls the row in her March 2019 piece: how Assange had told embassy staff how “undignified” it was to be subjected to the body scan; why the staff were “afraid” of his meeting with Fairbanks.  “Is this a prison?” he inquired.  “It’s not,” came the reply. “You know it’s not.”

On March 29, 2019, Fairbanks contacted Schwartz, pressing him on what he knew about rumours of an imminent eviction from the embassy.  Schwartz called to say that he knew that Fairbanks had been less than cautious in revealing what he had told her.  He could no longer treat her as a reliable recipient.  The explanation was clear.  For Schwartz to have known, the conversations in the embassy had to have been recorded and relayed.  “It was obvious,” claimed Fairbanks, “that the US had been involved, including the State Department, and that Schwartz had been made a party to this information.”

The die was cast.  On April 11, 2019, Assange was evicted.  On April 15, ABC News ran a piece noting how the wheels for this action had begun in March 2018, “when the Ecuadoreans made their first request to the UK: a letter asking for written assurances that the UK would not extradite Assange to a country where he could face the death penalty”.  Six months followed.  The US was then approached via the offices of Ecuador’s ambassador to Germany, Manuel Mejía Dalmau, who sought “a private ‘emergency meeting’ in Berlin with the US Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, viewed as one of President Donald Trump’s closest envoys in Europe”.  During the course of one meeting, Dalmau, according to an unnamed “senior US official”, “asked whether the US would commit to not putting Assange to death”.  Grenell ran the query to the US Justice Department.  “According to the senior US official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein consented.”  A verbal pledge followed.

Fairbanks duly tweeted the ABC story.  Ambassador Grenell was exercised.  Fairbanks’ boss was messaged: delete the tweet.  Fairbanks refused, though eventually relenting.  Grenell also had another suggestion: sack Fairbanks.  In this miasma of panic, Schwartz rang.  “This time he was frantic,” Fairbanks recalled.  “He was ranting and raving that he could go to jail and that I was tweeting classified information.”  She was informed “that in coordinating for Assange to be removed from the Embassy, Ambassador Grenell had done so on direct ‘orders from the president.’  I believed this connected President Trump to those who have been reported as having secured the deal to arrest Assange.”  She believed the veracity of Schwartz’s comment, given his known close ties to Trump and Grenell.

Schwartz had also suffered an attack of blood lust.  Several messages to Fairbanks in the aftermath of the ABC news report focused on “how everyone involved with WikiLeaks deserved the death penalty.”  This was troubling to Fairbanks, as only an oral, not written agreement, had been secured protecting Assange from any death penalty.  “Schwartz’s response to this was to send me a shrug emoji and he continued his tirade about how Assange deserved to die.”

Fairbanks also imputed to Schwartz an extensive network of influence, being a regular visitor to the White House, a “fixer” for Donald Trump, Jr., a radiantly significant figure in the Trump cosmos including “Richard Grenell, Sheldon Adelson and others.” Mention of Adelson is telling: his Las Vegas Sands company, the world’s largest casino operator, is alleged to have provided cover with the security consulting firm UC Global for surveillance operations against Assange during his embassy stay.  These were sanctioned by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The UC Global CEO, David Morales, was subsequently charged by a Spanish High Court in October 2019 for violating Assange’s privacy, breaching lawyer-client privilege, money laundering and bribery.  The UC Global files, as Max Blumenthal has noted in The Grayzone, “detail an elaborate and apparently illegal US surveillance operation in which the security firm spied on Assange, his legal team, his American friends, US journalists, and an American member of Congress who had been allegedly dispatched to the Ecuadorean embassy by President Donald Trump.  Even the Ecuadorean diplomats whom UC Global was hired to protect were targeted in the spy ring.”

Joel Smith QC, representing the prosecution, would not stomach the claims being made by Fairbanks: “the truth of what Ms Fairbanks was told by Arthur Schwartz was not in her knowledge.”  Tactics deployed previously would be done again: Fairbanks was considered a biased witness for acknowledging her support for WikiLeaks.  For the defence, Edward Fitzgerald QC put it plainly: “We say what Schwartz told [Fairbanks] is a good indication of the government at the highest level.”

The approach of the defence will have to remain one of patient, constant reminder to the court: that the case against Assange is rancid with politics, trailing its way into the backlines of the Trump administration.

The post Assange’s Tenth Day at the Old Bailey: Bolting Horses, Death Penalties and Plots of Eviction first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Diary of a Smoke Refugee

As Arun Gupta tweeted the other day, “Pardon the catastrophic global warming, we now return you to your regularly scheduled state violence.”

It’s been quite a week here in Oregon. I know there are plenty of other horrors happening in the world. The invisible ones are the worst. Like tens of millions of children in the US going to bed hungry every night in recent weeks, or the tap water in Flint and Gaza continuing to be undrinkable, or the many people every night in Yemen and India dying alone at home of disease, knowing it’s pointless to go to a hospital that has no medicine and no equipment. The visible horrors are more dramatic, more newsworthy, and also deadly for some, devastating for many – Sudan and Alabama underwater. Siberia, California, and Oregon on fire.

The fires here in Oregon have further exposed the deep divisions in this society, as have all the other previous or ongoing catastrophes, from the 2008 financial crisis to the current global pandemic. They have also further exposed a government that, at every level – federal, state, county, and municipal – is deeply entwined with both corruption and incompetence. To be clear, I say this not to disparage the heroic efforts of firefighters and others in the course of this ongoing tragedy. As with the one thousand medical workers who have lost their lives in the course of their efforts to respond to the Covid-19 crisis in the US, the firefighters and others on the ground doing all kinds of mutual aid also suffer the consequences of corruption and incompetence higher up, for which they are by no means responsible.

Putting the broader current reality into some bit of context:

Huge swaths of the western US are made up of land that is controlled by the federal government, either by the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. The job of the Forest Service is to make the forests available for corporations to profit from logging it all, and then they use federal tax money afterwards to deal with the resultant erosion, mudslides, mercury poisoning, and destructive fires that result. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) makes federal land available for corporations to drill for oil and mine for coal, uranium and other things.

While old-growth forests also burn, the forests aren’t destroyed by them – on the contrary, they need fire to prosper. But over a century of reckless logging practices throughout the region and beyond has resulted in a patchwork of tree farms, which are very vulnerable to being completely destroyed by fire.

The land that’s not controlled by federal agencies is controlled by more local authorities, and, of course, much of it is privately owned. Real estate investment, speculation, and development are a huge part of the country’s economy, along with property management. In the same way that the main job of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management is to facilitate the exploitation of the land and forests by private corporations, the main job of local government authorities, it seems, is to facilitate real estate transactions.

After decades of government dis-investment in housing and the ongoing deregulation of the housing market, coupled with successful corporate-led campaigns to ban the practice of rent control in 48 out of 50 states, including Oregon, housing has become increasingly unaffordable in cities across the country, very much including all the major urban hubs of the west coast. The unaffordability of housing has resulted in people moving ever further from the urban centers, into areas that were undeveloped, as they say, until recently. First Portlanders unable to stay in their city were moving to Gresham and Oregon City. Then they were moving further out, to Molalla and Estacada, once the idea of the commute taking over an hour became a concept people were ready to swallow, if it meant the possibility of being able to afford decent housing.

Putting the past two weeks into the context of more recent events:

Since the videotaped murder of George Floyd by clearly sadistic police in Minneapolis on May 25th, Portland has been one of many cities across the US and the world where people have been protesting in one form or another, usually in multiple parts of the city at the same time, every day, against police brutality and racism, and increasingly around related issues that disproportionately impact the poor and people of color, such as access in this society to things like housing, health care, and, increasingly, food.

The protest movement here in Portland involves people from all walks of life, of all ages, from all the various racialized groups, genders, etc. The protests have been continuously met with massive police brutality. As time goes on, people are becoming more and more organized, with different networks becoming well established, taking on crucial responsibilities such as providing protesters with food, water, and medical care. Other groups take on the responsibility of making sure there’s a clear barrier around the gatherings, to make it harder for people to drive into the ranks of those assembled with motor vehicles. Others try to provide some semblance of security, keeping a lookout for suspicious characters laden with assault rifles and American flags, such as the member of Patriot Prayer who was killed in the course of the extremely tense atmosphere of the violent Trump Cruise that came to Portland on August 29th, during which time the police largely absented themselves, and allowed uncontrolled combat between fascists and antifascists to take place in the streets of the city. Michael Reinoehl was involved with doing security at the protests, and had been for a long time. Five days later, unmarked police vehicles pulled up at the apartment where Michael was staying, outside of Lacey, Washington, and executed him right there, in a hail of bullets.

Oh and, of course, then there’s also the pandemic, the various societal impacts of which probably need no introduction by now.

On the first weekend of September, a week after the deadly, 600-vehicle Trump Cruise, another Trump Cruise was planned. Hundreds of pickup trucks with over-sized US flags on the back of them, making them look a lot like those pickup trucks that get rigged up as mobile rocket launchers by groups in Afghanistan or Libya, were back in the Portland suburb of Clackamas, a county named after the Indian nation whose unceded land we are occupying now. So soon after they invaded Portland, so soon after the execution of Michael Reinoehl, this time they went from Clackamas to the state capital of Salem, bypassing the regional center of resistance that Portland has become.

By September 7th, the extreme wind event teamed up with the years of so-called drought, downed power lines, a multitude of dry lightning strikes, a century of terrible forestry practices, and decades of the cancerous suburban expansion caused by the exponential rise in the cost of housing over that time, all came together to cause the massive fires already ravaging California to do the same in Oregon. I was in Cathedral Park, where one of the last events related to Black Lives Matter was taking place, before all protest activities basically took a solid week off to focus on the apocalypse.

Mic Crenshaw and other great local hip-hop artists were performing, after the speeches were over. Several hundred were gathered beneath the very high bridge that is above the park, and the sky was completely shrouded in smoke from the fires that had begun burning around much of the state. Several people were talking from the stage about threats from fascists that people had been getting, folks threatening to come to the park and be violent. The decision was made to end the event early, but it continued, with a sort of “stay at your own risk” caveat. Some people left, but most stayed until all the performers on the sound truck were done.

I think there was one other, very scarcely-attended protest after that, before priorities really shifted. As large parts of Oregon were under evacuation orders, those being evacuated needed all kinds of assistance. The groups who had been providing food, water, medical care, and other things, generally began mobilizing to do what they could to help out with the broader effort that various elements of the government, churches, the Red Cross, and so on, were involved with, in terms of providing for basic needs.

The Trump Cruise elements of society were surely involved with fighting fires and feeding people, I’m just assuming, but some of them were and are also involved with setting up illegal roadblocks in various parts of the state, looking for people they consider suspicious, which seems to include anyone wearing black, and people of color with big cameras, such as OPB photojournalist, Sergio Olmos. One road block mentioned in the news was in Corbett, east of Portland, where I have recorded most of the albums I’ve put out since I moved to Portland 13 years ago, at Big Red Studio, which was even closer to being evacuated during the Eagle Creek conflagration of 2017.

As fires were increasingly burning in the less populated areas of Clackamas, threatening the biggest towns in the county, leveling some of the smaller ones, and threatening the main urban center of the state, Portland, just to the north of Clackamas County, local officials here in Multnomah County and in the city of Portland were very active on Twitter, and presumably in other media, encouraging us all to download an app called Everbridge, so we would make sure to get emergency notifications related to the spreading and uncontrolled fires, and possible evacuation plans.

Dwelling on this point for a moment: when a child is abducted and is being transported in a car, or when Portland was under a curfew because of what they call riots, my wife, my teenage daughter, and I all receive text notifications on our phones about these things. They come in with a loud noise, and then you have to look at the message before you can do anything else with the phone.

Given that the state seems to obviously have the capacity to send push notifications to residents of the state with phones, why do we now need to download this app? Who knows. But what can quickly be ascertained by anyone with half a brain are the following: on the Google Play store, the app has been downloaded 500,000 times or more, which is also an indication that it has been downloaded by fewer than a million people. Reviewers give the app a 2.3 star rating, with widespread complaints that it just doesn’t work. Since County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury was encouraging everyone to download the app, I did so, as did my wife, Reiko. She has an iPhone, I have an Android. We’re both proficient at this sort of technology, and neither of us could make the app work. Neither of us have ever received a notification from this app since we downloaded it and registered ourselves with it to the best of our abilities. Neither of us have received any other notifications on our phones regarding the ongoing fires through any other means, either.

In Jackson County, in southern Oregon, where the cities of Medford and Ashland are, and where the suburb of Phoenix used to exist, incredibly, the existing emergency alert system that interrupts local radio and TV programs to tell us what’s going on, was never used. Also never used were the emergency text notification system that has been used before in the state of Oregon, as I mentioned previously. The only notification system they were using was this app, Everbridge, which we were all supposed to have downloaded by now. But as you can see on the app store, even if close to a million people may have downloaded the app, that’s only a fourth of this state’s population. And the app doesn’t work, as anyone who tried to use it might have discovered long before this catastrophe.

My friend Jason Houk was one of thousands of people in Oregon whose homes were completely destroyed in the fires. His home was in Jackson County.

By the weekend of September 11th, the air quality in cities up and down the west coast was the worst in the world. All of us who have for months now been getting a crash course in epidemiology have lately been learning about the existence of something called the Air Quality Index. As the business press has had to discover new adjectives to describe the catastrophically dire state of the economy, so the meteorologists have had to start inventing new categories of bad weather. For the first time, that weekend the local air was no longer being described as “hazardous.” It had now graduated to a new term: “smoke.” It was no longer being called a type of air, it was a new gaseous substance with a different name altogether.

I looked upon my wife and teenage daughter with a combination of admiration and horror as both of them expressed a lack of interest in getting out of the city for a while. Fires were raging in the county just to the south, the air was virtually unbreathable, all activities that any of us had been involved with had been canceled for the time being, such as my protests, such as the toddler’s preschool, the teenager’s rock gym, my wife’s tennis sessions. But out of a sense of solidarity with the majority of the population of the city that was unable to get away from the smoke because they were too busy trying to keep their jobs or couldn’t afford a hotel room, they didn’t want to leave.

Admiration aside, I had different priorities. When two of my aunts teamed up to offer to pay for us to get a hotel room anywhere where the air quality was significantly better than Portland, until things improved, I insisted we leave town. Which worked with my wife and our youngest children, but not with the teenager, who insisted on staying in Portland with her other mother, sealing the doors and windows, and staying inside.

The four of us bailed last Sunday and headed to Astoria. I had studied Air Quality Index maps and fire maps, which all confirmed what I already suspected. In Oregon, the main fires were in the massive valley that goes up and down the state, on the other side of the mountain range that is beside the coast. The climate has always been much drier to the east of that mountain range, and then to the east of the next range, it’s desert. This is the case in all the three western states. This thin strip along the edge of the continent is kept moist and foggy by big weather patterns that tend not to change much, even in recent decades. The mountain range keeps the fog on the west side of it, and the hotter it gets east of the range, the more that keeps the fog from spilling over, thus trapping it along the coast. The northwest tip of the state of Oregon, the city of Astoria, has weather very reminiscent of the west coast of Ireland, for the same sorts of reasons having to do with what happens when trade winds meet land masses.

If you watched the weather reports, you would have thought the air was terrible throughout the western US. If you looked more closely, you’d see there were exceptions. My aunts, and others, were encouraging us to fly to the east coast – to the northeast, specifically, where I grew up, which thus far is well insulated from fires, if not from floods. Good that we didn’t consider that option, out of a combination of fear of flying during an out-of-control pandemic and various other considerations, because the airport soon closed to most flights anyway, due to the smoke.

We drove on the sparsely-populated streets, past the countless tents and the increasingly gray faces of the people still living in them, to the highway that leads north and west, and ends where the continent ends, in Astoria. As we got to the other side of the last of the mountains, the grass and all the other vegetation got greener, and soon we were at the ocean, enshrouded in fog which smelled only slightly of campfire. A slightly smoky fog, rather than just billowing, orange-tinged ash, passing as air.

The real refugees are those whose homes were destroyed. We were just temporary refugees, and very privileged ones. We had a sponsor paying for a hotel room. But this is also the case with refugees from Syria or Honduras or anywhere else. The ones with the means to escape are the lucky ones. The ones who can escape, in a private car, to a hotel room, are luckier still.

To compound the sense of guilt I was already feeling, as we settled into our hotel room, I heard from other folks who had already escaped to Astoria or some other town on the north coast, but who were heading back into the smoke because they could no longer afford the extortionist rates the hotels were charging. During our five days in Astoria, other folks joined us who hadn’t been planning to leave Portland, but who just couldn’t stay in the smoke any longer.

As has been the case for a very long time, I’m glued to news coverage in various forms. Hanging out with small children, as I’m usually doing in recent years, this takes the form of listening to radio and podcasts through an ear bud in one ear, while I’m at the playgrounds and such. The governor has been holding daily press conferences, which I’ve been listening to.

I’m sure they have a decent air filtration system at the capital, but I had an immediate sense of respect for the woman, if only for the fact that I think she was addressing us from Salem, which at the time had some of the most toxic air of any city on Earth. When we left Portland, the AQI was over 500.

The most notable thing about the governor’s press conferences was the fear of public speaking that you can hear in her voice and in the voices of every member of her staff. You can hear when the governor tries to sound like she’s emoting, and puts this breathy quality in her voice that we’re supposed to understand as empathy. Maybe she feels empathy, I’m not saying she’s a sociopath, necessarily, but the empathy fails to come through. At least she was audible, which was not the case with any of her staff members, speaking on Zoom or something, from their various locations. At the first conference there was nobody playing the role of host, so there were lots of awkward transitions, until the governor realized midstream that she better play that role herself, if no one else was going to do it. Which was good, because she was the only one who seemed to be using equipment at her office that allowed her broadcast to be audible through OPB’s feed. With a good headset on, listening on my phone to OPB, I could just barely hear the other speakers, such as the guy managing the overall fire response, who seems to have moved to Oregon quite recently from somewhere in Maine. What really shocked me was that day after day, the audio quality of these press conferences never improved.

The continually poor production values of their little fireside chats were compounded by much of the stuff they were saying, when you could figure out what it was. Apparently the Oregon Employment Department is starting a new Disaster Unemployment program, in addition to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, PUA. But after six months, tens of thousands of people in Oregon who qualify for PUA have yet to receive a dime from the Employment Department, which is running on 1980’s technology and has suffered from a Covid outbreak within the ranks of the staff, as well as having offices closed due to the fires. And now we’re supposed to believe any of us will receive timely assistance from them now? The governor made no mention of this reality, preferring her fantasy version, where she’s at the helm of a functional state.

Listening on many national news reports to the governor of California’s press conferences, while also making efforts to coordinate a response to the ongoing emergency, he has blown much of his hot air in the form of partisan political diatribes aimed at President Trump and the Republican Party.  Candidate Biden has done the same, inferring that if we want to avoid more such fiery calamities, we’d better not vote for the “climate arsonist” Trump, which Biden is apparently not, despite a long political career pointing to his culpability in our current ecological collapse.  Governor Gavin Newsom wants to blame climate change on the catastrophic situation, and federal policies around climate change, and thus deflect the lion’s share of responsibility for this mess, which lies at the doorstep of the capitalist system, and the real estate investment and unregulated real estate development that underpins it, from which he and most of his colleagues in government throughout the west coast profit from personally and politically.

If the exurbs such as Molalla and Paradise are the most vulnerable areas in this brave new climate, let’s be very clear that the biggest victims of these fires are the people who couldn’t afford to live in the places that get most of the firefighting resources, the places where most of the residents commute to to work, the bigger cities.  And any efforts to mitigate this situation with better forest management will suffer the same fate as efforts to solve the housing crisis through little band-aid solutions they come up with for that — they will fail, certainly as long as the underlying problem of unregulated capitalism that drives the ever-expanding exurbs to keep expanding as they are doing.

Roaming the streets of Astoria, on the boardwalk and in the outdoor seating areas of the cafes on the piers, we observed, met or overheard conversations of many different people. It’s a town with two centuries of history as an international hub of fishing, canning, and trade, there at the mouth of the gigantic Columbia River, which leads to the sprawling ports of Portland, through which much of the world’s trade has long passed on a daily basis. The canning and fishing is nothing like it was once, but there’s a big Coast Guard presence in town, along with some functioning industry, lots of fishing boats and other sorts of boats, and it reeks of history, with many of the buildings that played a prominent role in the labor wars of the early twentieth century still standing as they were, such as the Finnish social center, and the American Legion hall, with the river still filled with functioning, though soggy-looking, wooden pilings, with large buildings atop them, with cars and trucks and cafes and canneries and little ad hoc museums.

With this backdrop, the sidewalks and grassy knolls are filled with a wide variety of people. Some of them are to be found there in Astoria year round – like the middle-aged women frequenting the cafes in the morning, talking about goings-on at the arts center, and the many people living near the trolley shelters, drinking cans of beer, and the gothic-looking teenagers who clearly have no appreciation for the fact that they live in paradise, and wish their parents would move back to Portland, where there are protests and night life.

Then there are the visitors. Some of them are actual tourists, which Astoria would normally have more of this time of year, but for the pandemic. But most of the visitors were playing the role of tourist because they were smoked out of their towns. Many families crammed into pickup trucks with several dogs and too many suitcases. Along with them, guys who looked like they hadn’t left the pot farm in years, but were being put up there by the Red Cross, and had no idea what “a card for incidentals” meant, when asked for one by the hotel clerk. I felt like a snob for even noticing that interaction, but when you are a frequent traveler, it becomes easy to spot folks who have never stayed in a two-star hotel before, or who have never been through an airport security line.

Other visitors were clad entirely in black, like I generally am. In large urban centers throughout the world, this is a very common way to dress. Outside of those centers it’s less common. Less common still are people clad entirely in black, who also have visible tattoos, piercings, and white, punk rock or political slogans on their clothing. There were many people who fit this description around town, more than on previous visits to Astoria, and I got the impression that many of them were smoke refugees like us. I also got the impression that all the American flags around this Coast Guard town was making them uncomfortable. I wondered if anyone had yelled at them, as had happened to me in recent weeks, when postering in certain Portland neighborhoods east of the 205. I was pushing a stroller around Astoria, insulated from those types of interactions by the small children. The only comment I heard was a suburban-looking woman commenting to her friend that all the articles of clothing I was wearing were the same shade of black. They were clearly entertained by this, which made me smile.

Having returned to Portland, with the AQI at a much more reasonable level, back to the usual rating in the high double digits, the mayor’s ban on CS gas has proven to be the farce that it obviously was, since he didn’t ban the use of chemical weapons by the police, but only this particular one. As the air became breathable again and the fires were becoming contained, the protests resumed. Adding fuel to the fires of the ongoing social unrest in this country, news of ICE’s apparent forced hysterectomy ring inspired renewed efforts at abolishing that particularly onerous agency, along with the police in general. Copious clouds of tear gas and other forms of wanton police brutality have characterized the past two nights on the streets of Portland. As Arun Gupta tweeted the other day, “Pardon the catastrophic global warming, we now return you to your regularly scheduled state violence.”

The post Diary of a Smoke Refugee first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The End of Reality?

In 1888,  the year before he went insane, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote the following in Twilight of the Idols:

We have got rid of the real world: what world is left?  The apparent world perhaps? … But no!  Along with the real world we’ve done away with the apparent world as well.

So, if you feel you also may be going insane in the present climate of digital screen life, where real is unreal but realer than real, the apparent is cryptic, and up is down, true is false, and what you see you don’t, it has a history.  One hundred and thirty-two years ago, Nietzsche added that “something extraordinarily nasty and evil is about to make its debut.”  We know it did, and the bloody butcher’s bench known as the twentieth century was the result. Nihilism stepped onto center stage and has been the star of the show ever since, straight through to 2020.  Roberto Calasso puts it this way in Literature and the Gods:

Here we are, announces Nietzsche, and it would be hard not to hear a mocking ring in his voice.  We thought we were living in a world where the fog had lifted, a disenchanted, ascertainable, verifiable world.  And instead everything has gone back to being a ‘fable’ again.  How are we to get our bearings … This is the paralysis, the peculiar uncertainty of modern times, a paralysis that all since have experienced.

Obviously, we haven’t gotten our bearings.  We are far more adrift today on a stormy electronic sea where the analogical circle of life has been replaced by the digital, and “truths” like numbers click into place continuously to lead us in wrong, algorithm-controlled directions. The trap is almost closed.

Of course, Nietzsche did not have the Internet, but he lived at the dawn of the electric era, when space-time transformations were occurring at a rapid pace.  Inventions such as photography, the phonograph, the telephone, electricity, etc. were contracting space and time and a disembodied “reality” was being born.  With today’s Internet and digital screen life, the baby is full-grown and completely disembodied.  It does nothing but look at its image that is looking back into a lifeless void, whose lost gaze can’t figure out what it’s seeing.

Take, for example, the phonograph, invented by Thomas Edison in 1878.  If you could record a person’s voice, and if that person died, were you then listening to the voice of a living person or one who was dead?  If the person whose voice was recorded was alive and was miles away, you had also compressed earthly space. The phonograph suppressed absence, conjured ghosts, and seemed to overcome time and death as it captured the flow of time in sound.  It allowed a disembodied human voice to inhabit a machine, an early example of downloading.

“Two ruling ambitions in modern technology,” writes John Durham Peters in his wonderful book, Speaking into the Air, “appear in the phonograph: the creation of artificial life and the conjuring of the dead.”

Many people started to hear voices, and these people were not called deluded. Soon, with the arrival of cinema, they would see ghosts as well.  Today, speaking ghosts are everywhere, hiding in hand-held devices. It’s Halloween all year round as we are surrounded by electronic zombies in a screen culture.

This technological annihilation of space and time that was happening at a frenetic pace was the material background to Nietzsche’s thought.  His philosophical and epistemological analyses emerged from German intellectual life of his time as well, where theologians and philosophers were discovering that knowledge was relative and had to be understood in situ, i.e., within its historical and social place or context.

Without going into abstruse philosophical issues here, suffice it to say, Nietzsche was suggesting that not only was God dead because people killed him, but that knowledge was a fiction that changed over time and was a human construction.  All knowledge, not just science, had to be taken “as if” it were true.  This was a consoling mental trick but falsely reassuring, for most people could not accept this, since “knowledge” was a protection racket from pain and insanity. It still is. In other words, not only had people murdered God, but they had slain absolutes as well. This left them in the lurch, not knowing if what they knew and believed were really true, or sort of true – maybe, perhaps. The worm of uncertainty had entered modern thought through modern thought.

While the average person did not delve into these revolutionary ideas, they did, through the inventions that were entering their lives, and the news about Darwin, science, religion, etc., realize, however vaguely, that something very strange and dramatic was under way. Life was passing from substance to shadow because of human ingenuity.

It is similar to what so many feel today: that reality and truth are moving beyond their grasp as technological forces that they voluntarily embrace push everyday life towards some spectral denouement.  An inhuman, trans-human, on-line electronic life where everything is a parody of everything that preceded it, like an Andy Warhol copy of a copy of a Campbell’s soup can with a canned mocking laugh track that keeps repeating itself.  All this follows from the nineteenth century relativization of knowledge, or what at least was taken as such, for to say all knowledge is relative is an absolute statement.  That contradiction goes to the heart of our present dilemma.

This old feeling of lostness is perhaps best summarized in a few lines from Mathew Arnold’s 19th century poem, “Dover Beach”:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

But that was then.  Today, the Joker’s sardonic laughter would suffice.

*****

I am sitting outside as I write, sipping a glass of wine before dinner.  Although New England fall weather is approaching, a nasty mosquito is buzzing around my head.  I hear it.  I am in killer mode since these bastards love to bite me.  This is real life.  If I went into the house and connected to the Internet on the computer screen – news, social media, anything – I would be entering another dimension.  Screen life, not real life. The society of the spectacle. No real mosquitoes, no wine, no trees swaying in the evening breeze.

In his novel, The Sun Also Rises, written between Nietzsche’s time and now, Ernest Hemingway, a man who surely lived in the physical world, writes of how Robert Cohn, the boxing champion from Princeton University, wants Jake Barnes, the book’s protagonist, to take a trip with him to South America.  As they sit and talk in Paris, Barnes says no, and tells Cohn, “All countries look just like the moving pictures.”

Whether Hemingway was being ironic or not, or simply visionary, I don’t know.  For in the 1920s, before passports and widespread tourism, there were many places you could only see if you traveled to them and they would never appear in moving pictures, while today there is almost no place that is not available to view beforehand on the internet or television.  So why go anywhere if you’ve already seen it all on a screen? Why travel to nowhere or to where you have already been?  Déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra put it and everyone laughed.  Now the laugh is on us.

*****

This is neither an argument nor a story.  It’s real.  I am trying to get my bearings in a disorienting situation. Call it a compass, a weather-vane, a prayer.  You can call me Al or Ishmael.  Call me crazy.  Perhaps this writing is just an “as if.”

*****

About fifteen years ago, I was teaching at a college where most communication was done via email.  I was, as they say, out of the loop since I didn’t do email. I was often asked why I didn’t, and I would repeatedly reply, like Melville’s Bartleby, because “I prefer not to.”  Finally, in order to keep my job, I succumbed and with the laptop computer they provided me, I went “on-line.”  There were 6,954.7 emails in my in-box from the past three years.  In those three years, I had performed all my duties scrupulously and hadn’t missed a beat.  Someone showed me how to delete the emails, which I did without reading any, but I had entered the labyrinth. I went electronic.  My reality changed. I am still searching for Ariadne’s thread.

*****

But I am not yet a machine and refuse the invitation to become one.  It’s a very insistent invitation, almost an order.  Neil Postman (Oh such a rich surname!) sums it up well in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology:

The fundamental metaphorical message of the computer, in short, is that we are machines – thinking machines, to be sure, but machines nonetheless.  It is for this reason that the computer is the quintessential, incomparable, near perfect machine for Technopoly.  It subordinates the claims of our nature, our biology, our emotions, our spirituality.  The computer claims sovereignty over the whole range of human experience, and supports its claim by showing that it ‘thinks’ better than we can…John McCarthy, the inventor of the term ‘artificial intelligence’…claims that ‘even machines as simple as thermostats can be said to have beliefs…What is significant about this response is that it has redefined the meaning of the word ‘belief’ … rejects the view that humans have internal states of mind that are the foundation of belief and argues instead that ‘belief’ means only what someone or something does … rejects the idea that the mind is a biological phenomenon … In other words, what we have here is a case of metaphor gone mad.

Postman wrote that in 1992, before the computer and the internet became ubiquitous and longer before on-line living had become de rigueur – before it was being shoved down our throats as it is today under the cover of COVID-19.

There is little doubt that we are being pushed to embrace what Klaus Schwab, the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), calls COVID-19:The Great Reset, that involves a total acceptance of the electronic, on-line life.  On-line learning, on-line news, on-line everything – only an idiot (from Greek, idiotes, a private person who pays not attention to public affairs) would fail to see what is being promoted.  And who controls the electronic life and internet?  Not you, not I, but the powers that be, the intelligence agencies and the power elites. Goodbye  body, goodbye blood – “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in support of human estrangement.

Peter Koenig, one of the most astute investigators of this propaganda effort, puts it this way:

The panacea of the future will be crowned by the Pearl of the Fourth Industrialization – Artificial intelligence (AI). It will be made possible by a 5G electromagnetic field, allowing the Internet of Things (IoT). Schwab and Malleret [Schwab’s co-author] won’t say, beware, there is opposition. 5G could still be blocked. The 5G existence and further development is necessary for surveillance and control of humanity, by digitizing everything, including human identity and money.

It will be so simple, no more cash, just electronic, digital money – that is way beyond the control of the owner, the truthful earner of the money, as it can be accessed by the Global Government and withheld and/or used for pressuring misbehaving citizens into obeying the norms imposed from above. You don’t behave according to our norms, no money to buy food, shelter and health services, we let you starve. No more travel. No more attending public events. You’ll be put gradually in your own solitary confinement. The dictatorial and tyrannical global commandeering by digital control of everything is the essence of the 4th Age of Industrialization – highly promoted by the WEF’s Great Reset.

*****

Like everything, of course, this push to place life under the aegis of cyberspace has a history, one that deifies the machine and attempts to convince people that they too are machines without existential freedom.  Thus the ongoing meme pumped out for the past three decades has been that we are controlled by our brains and that the brain is a computer and vice versa. Brain research has received massive government funding. Drugs have been offered as the solution to every human problem. So-called diseases and disorders have been created through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of  Mental Disorders (DSM) and matched to pharmaceutical drugs (or the revers) for scandalous profits. And the mind has been reduced to a figment of deluded  imaginations. People are machines; that’s the story, marvelous machines.  They have no freedom.

If one wishes an example of techno-fascism, there is one from the art world. Back in the 1920s and 1930s there was an art movement known as Futurism.  Its leader proponent was an Italian Fascist, friend of Mussolini, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.  The futurists claimed that all life revolves around the machine, that the machine was god, that it was beyond human control and had to be obeyed.  They extolled war and speed and claimed that humans were no more significant than stones.  Patriotism, militarism, strength, method, and the kingdom of experts were their blueprint for a corporate fascist state.  The human eye and mind would be re-educated to automatically obey the machine’s dictates.

Now we have cyberspace, digital machines, and the internet, an exponential extension of the machine world of the 1930s and the rise of Mussolini, Fascism, and Hitler.  That this online world is being pushed as the new and future normal by trans-national elite forces should not be surprising.  If human communication becomes primarily digitally controlled on-line and on screens, those who control the machines will have achieved the most powerful means of mind control ever invented. That will be MKULTRA on a vast scale.  Surveillance will be complete.

Yes, there are places on the internet where truth is and will be told, such as this site where you are reading this; but as we can see from today’s growing censorship across the web, those power elites and intelligence forces who  control the companies that do their bidding will narrow the options for dissenting voices. Such censorship starts slowly, and then when one looks again, it is a fait accompli. The frog in the pan of slowly heating cold water never realizes it is being killed until it is too late. Free speech is now being strangled. Censorship is widespread.

The purpose of so much internet propaganda is to confuse, obsess, depress, and then repress the population. The overlords accomplish this by the “peculiar linking together of opposites – knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism – [which] is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society,” writes Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  “The official ideology abounds with contradictions even where there is no practical reason for them.”  One look into one’s life will suffice to see how the overlords have set people against each other.  It’s a classic tactic.  Divide and conquer. Trump vs. Biden, Democrats vs. Republicans, whites vs. blacks, liberals vs. conservatives. Pure mind games. Contradictions every day to create social disorientation.  Orwell describes Doublethink as follows:

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.  The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated.  The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt…To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary…If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality. [author’s emphasis]

Nietzsche said that along with the real world we have done away with the apparent as well.  Digital online life has accomplished that.  It has allowed the rulers – through the media who are the magicians who serve them – to create counterfeit news and doctored videos at will, to present diametrically opposed points of view within the same paragraph, and to push breaking news items so fast that no one half-way sane could keep up with their magic shows. Nietzsche obviously didn’t foresee this technology, but he sensed the madness that the relativity of knowledge and the technology of his day would usher in.

*****

The popular 1990s term “Information Superhighway,” meaning the internet and all digital telecommunications, was the perfect term to describe this lunacy. Get on that highway and go as fast as you can while trying to catch the meaning of all the information flashing past you as you speed to nowhere.  For not only does censorship, propaganda, disinformation, mixed messages, and contradictions line the road you are traveling, but contextless information overload is so heavy that even if you were stopped in a traffic jam, there is too much information to comprehend.  And if you think this Superhighway is a freeway, think again, for the cost is high. No one puts out their hand and asks you to pay up; but the more you travel down this road you’ll notice you are missing a bit of flesh here and some blood there.  And without a speed pass, you are considered road kill.

To make matters much worse, they say we need 5G to go much faster.

Paul Virilio, who has devoted himself to the study of speed (dromology), puts it this way in Open Sky:

The speed of the new optoelectronic and electroacoustic milieu becomes the final void (the void of the quick), a vacuum that no longer depends on the interval between places or things and so on the world’s very extension, but on the interface of an instantaneous transmission of remote appearances, on a geographic and geometric retention in which all volume, all relief vanishes.

*****

And yet I don’t have a simple answer to the internet dilemma. You are reading it on-line and I am posting it there.  It is very convenient and quick. And yet…and yet….

Can we just walk away from it?  Maybe.  Perhaps like those few who, in Ursula K. Le Guin’s excruciating story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” we may decide the price for our conveniences and so-called happiness is too high and that there are hidden victims that this techno-scientific “progress” creates beneath its veneer of efficiency.  Others, us, our children, all children, who are reaching out not for speed and machines, but for the human touch that the on-line propagandists hope to destroy.  In Le Guin’s story, the price nearly all the citizens of Omelas are willing to pay for their happiness and comfort is the imprisonment of a single child.  Perhaps we should consider what we are doing to all the world’s children and their futures.

My friend Gary recently sent me this letter.  I believe it sums up what many people feel. There is a vast hunger for reality and truth. The analog life. How to live it – the question hangs in the air as the artificial intelligence/digital controllers try to reduce us to machines.

Although apparently it isn’t clear if Twain ever said this, it’s still a great quote:  (“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed.  If you do, you’re misinformed.”)  To which “amen” is the only appropriate response.

I continue to daily stay abreast of events through the web, and these days much of what passed for “progressive media” simply regurgitates the covid madness as if it had been delivered on stone tablets – rather than by the same MSM that lie to us daily about literally ANYTHING of any importance.

There are days I wonder “why” I continue to bother to follow the unfolding madness as if it made some “difference.”  I could certainly play guitar more, and I might even get it together to write a few pieces on the nature of our collective madness, for which I have studiously assembled copious notes.  I really don’t need any more information or examples – I think I have things covered on that front.

Instead I find myself daily doing the little dance we’re all familiar with – uncomfortable with being “uninformed” – yet at almost every turn finding myself being routinely – “misinformed” – and so having to sift through the endless debris to have any chance at developing any coherent understanding of the world.

So yes, I totally get the draw of just saying to hell with the internet.  After years of shifting through the endless propaganda operations our generation has been subject too, I have no doubt you and I see through most the nonsense for what it is before we even have the proof in hand.  Once the rose-colored glasses of ‘American exceptionalism’ are off, one can almost sense and see through the lies in real time even as they are being uttered.

Reading Gary’s words reminded me of those of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s definition of the Unspeakable:

It is the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said, the void that gets into the language of public and official declarations at the very moment when they are pronounced, and makes them ring dead with the hollowness of the abyss.  It is the void out of which Eichmann drew the punctilious exactitude of his obedience…

Yes, real time, real life – as we do our little dances.

Can we do our little dances and preserve reality?  I’m not sure.

The post The End of Reality? first appeared on Dissident Voice.