Category Archives: UK Politics

As the Israel Lobby in the US Weakens, its UK Counterpart Grows More Fearsome

For decades it was all but taboo to suggest that pro-Israel lobbies in the United States like AIPAC used their money and influence to keep lawmakers firmly in check on Israel-related issues – even if one had to be blind not to notice that that was exactly what they were up to.

When back in February Ilhan Omar pointed out the obvious – that US Representatives like her were routinely expected to submit to the lobby’s dictates on Israel, a foreign country – her colleagues clamoured to distance themselves from her, just as one might have expected were the pro-Israel lobby to wield the very power Omar claimed.

But surprisingly Omar did not – at least immediately – suffer the crushing fate of those who previously tried to raise this issue. Although she was pressured into apologising, she was not battered into complete submission for her honesty.

She received support on social media, as well as a wavering, muted defence from a Democratic grandee like Nancy Pelosi, and even a relatively sympathetic hearing from a few prominent figures in the US Jewish community.

The Benjamins do matter

Omar’s comments have confronted – and started to expose – one of the most enduring absurdities in debates about US politics. Traditionally it has been treated as anti-semitic to argue that the pro-Israel lobby actually lobbies for its chosen cause – exactly as other major lobbies do, from the financial services industries to the health and gun lobbies – and that, as with other lobbies enjoying significant financial clout, it usually gets its way.

Omar found herself in the firing line in February when she noted that what mattered in US politics was “It’s all about the Benjamins” – an apparent reference to the 1997 Puff Daddy song of the same name – later clarifying that AIPAC leverages funds over Congressional and presidential candidates.

The claim that the pro-Israel lobby isn’t really in the persuasion business can only be sustained on the preposterous basis that Israeli and US interests are so in tune that AIPAC and other organisations serve as little more than cheerleaders for the two countries’ “unbreakable bond”. Presumably on this view, the enormous sums of money raised are needed only to fund the celebrations.

‘A one-issue guy’

Making the irrefutable observation that the pro-Israel lobby does actually lobby on Israel’s behalf, and very successfully, is typically denounced as anti-semitism. Omar’s comments were perceived as anti-semitic on the grounds that she pointed to the canard that Jews wield outsized influence using money to sway policymaking.

Allegations of anti-semitism against her deepened days later when she gave a talk in Washington DC and questioned why it was that she could talk about the influence of the National Rifle Association and Big Pharma but not the pro-Israel lobby – or “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country”.

That pro-Israel lobbyists – as opposed to Jews generally – do have dual loyalty seems a peculiar thing to deny, given that the purpose of groups like AIPAC is to rally support for Israel in Congress.

Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a key backer of Republican candidates for the presidency, has never hidden his passion not only for Israel but specifically for the ultra-nationalist governments of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In fact, he is so committed to Netanyahu’s survival that he spent nearly $200 million propping up an Israeli newspaper over its first seven years – all so he could assist the prime minister of a foreign country.

Similarly, Haim Saban, one of the main donors to Democratic presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, has made no secret of his commitment to Israel. He has said: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Might Saban and Adelson’s “Benjamins” have influenced the very pro-Israel – and very anti-Palestinian – positions of Democratic and Republican presidential candidates? You would have to be supremely naïve or dishonest to claim it has not.

‘No Bernie-like approach’

This point really should be beyond doubt by now. This month the New York Times published an unprecedented essay in which author Nathan Thrall quoted political insiders and lobbyists making plain that, as one would expect, the pro-Israel lobby uses its money to pressure Congressional candidates to toe the lobby’s line on Israel.

Some of the lobby’s power operates at the level of assumption about what Jewish donors expect in return for their money. According to the NYT, some three-quarters of all donations over $500,000 to the major political action committee supporting Democratic nominees for the US Senate race in 2018 were made by Jews.

Though many of those donors may not rate Israel as their main cause, a former Clinton campaign aide noted that the recipients of this largesse necessarily tailor their foreign policy positions so as not to antagonise such donors. As a result, candidates avoid even the mild criticism of Israel adopted by Bernie Sanders, the Democratic party’s challenger to Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

“There’s no major donor that I can think of who is looking for someone to take a Bernie-like approach,” said the aide. Sanders raised his campaign funds from small donations rather these major funders, leaving him freer to speak openly about Israel.

Fight for donors, not voters

Other insiders are more explicit still. Ben Rhodes, a former confidant of Barack Obama, says the lobby effectively tied Obama’s hands domestically on efforts to promote peace. “The Washington view of Israel-Palestine is still shaped by the donor class,” he told Thrall, adding: “The donor class is profoundly to the right of where the activists are, and frankly, where the majority of the Jewish community is.”

Joel Rubin, a former political director at lobby group J Street and a founding board member of the centrist Jewish Democratic Council of America, concurred: “The fight over Israel used to be about voters. It’s more about donors now.”

All of these insiders are stating that the expectations of major donors shape candidates’ US foreign policy positions in line with Israel’s interests, not necessarily US interests. It is hard not to interpret that as reformulation of “dual loyalty”.

Out of the shadows

What’s so significant about the NYT article is that it signals, as did the muted furore over Omar’s comments, that the pro-Israel lobby is weakening. No powerful lobby, including the Israel one, wants to be forced out of the shadows. It wants to remain in the darkness, where it can most comfortably exercise its influence without scrutiny or criticism.

The pro-Israel lobby’s loyalty to Israel is no longer unmentionable. But it is also not unique.

As Mondoweiss recently noted, Hannah Arendt, the Jewish scholar and fugitive from Nazi Germany, pointed to the inevitability of the “double loyalty conflict” in her 1944 essay “Zionism Reconsidered”, where she foreshadowed the rise of a pro-Israel lobby and its potential negative impacts on American Jews. It was, she wrote, “an unavoidable problem of every national movement of a people living within the boundaries of other states and unwilling to resign their civil and political rights therein.”

For that reason, the US-Cuban lobby has an obvious dual loyalty problem too. It’s just that, given the Cuban lobby’s priority is overthrowing the Cuban government – a desire shared in Washington – the issue is largely moot.

In Israel’s case, however, there is a big and growing gap between image and reality. On the one hand, Washington professes a commitment to peace-making and a promise to act as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians. And on the other, the reality is it has offered full-throated support for a series of ultra-nationalist Israeli governments determined to destroy any hope of peace and swallow up the last vestiges of a potential Palestinian state.

Doing the Lord’s work

It’s important to point out, however, that advocates for Israel are not only Jews. While the pro-Israel lobby represents the views of a proportion of Jewish Americans, it is also significantly comprised of Christians, evangelicals in particular.

Millions of these Christians – including Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – can be accused of dual loyalty too. They regard Israel’s role in Biblical prophecy as far more important than the future of the US, or mankind for that matter.

For many of these evangelicals, bringing about the end of the world by ensuring Jews return to their Biblical homeland – triggering a final reckoning at the Battle of Armageddon – is the fulfillment of God’s will. And if it’s a choice between support for Washington’s largely secular elites and support for God, they know very definitely where they stand.

Again, the NYT has started to shine a light on the strange role of Israel in the US political constellation. Another recent article reminded readers that in 2015 Pompeo spoke of the end-times struggle prophesied to take place in Israel, or what is often termed by evangelicals as “The Rapture”. He said: “We will continue to fight these battles.”

During his visit last month to Israel, he announced that the Trump administration’s work was “to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains. I am confident that the Lord is at work here”.

Divorced from reality

If the debate about the pro-Israel lobby in the US is for the first time making a nod to truth, the conversation about the pro-Israel lobby in the UK is becoming more and more divorced from reality.

Part of the reason is the way the Israel lobby has recently emerged in the UK – hurriedly, and in a mix of panic and damage limitation mode.

Given that for decades European countries largely followed Washington’s lead on Israel, pro-Israel lobbies outside the US were much less organised and muscular. European leaders’ unquestioning compliance was assured as long as Washington appeared to act as a disinterested broker overseeing a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. As a result, Europe was in little need of vigorous pro-Israel lobbies.

But that illusion has now been shattered, first by the explicit Greater Israel ideology espoused by a series of Netanyahu governments, and latterly by Donald Trump’s occupancy of the White House and his vehement backing of Israeli demands, however much they violate international law.

That has left European policy towards Israel – and its enabling by default of Netanyahu and Trump’s efforts to crush Palestinian rights – dangerously exposed.

Conflating Jews and Israel

Popular backlashes have taken the form of a rapid growth in support for BDS, a grassroots, non-violent movement promoting a boycott of Israel. But more specifically in Britain’s case, it has resulted in the surprise election of Jeremy Corbyn, a well-known champion of Palestinian rights and anti-racism struggles generally, to lead the opposition Labour party.

For that reason, Jewish leadership groups in the UK have had to reinvent themselves quickly, from organisations to promote the community’s interests into vehicles to defend Israel. And to do that they have had to adopt a position that was once closely identified with anti-semitism: conflating Jews with Israel.

This, we should remember, was the view taken 100 years ago by arch anti-semites in the British government. They regarded Jews as inherently “un-British”, as incapable of assimilation and therefore as naturally suspect.

Lord Balfour, before he made his abiding legacy the 1917 Declaration of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine, helped pass the Aliens Act to block entry to the UK of Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Balfour believed Jewish immigration had resulted in “undoubted evils”.

A lobby cobbled together

Also significantly, unlike the US, where the pro-Israel lobby has maintained fervent support for Israel as a bipartisan matter over decades, the need for an equivalent pro-Israel lobby in the UK has emerged chiefly in relation to Corbyn’s unexpected ascent to power in the Labour party.

Rather than emerging slowly and organically, as was the case in the US, the British pro-Israel has had to be cobbled together hastily. Israel’s role in directing this immature lobby has been harder to hide.

Most of the UK’s Jewish leadership organisations have been poorly equipped for the task of tackling the new sympathy for Palestinian rights unleashed in the Labour party by Corbyn’s rise. The Board of Deputies, for example, has enjoyed visible ties to the ruling Conservative party. Any criticisms they make of the Labour leader are likely to be seen as having an air of partisanship and point-scoring.

So unusually in Britain’s case, the chief pro-Israel lobby group against Corbyn has emerged from within his own party – in the form of the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM).

The JLM is trumpeted in the British media both as a venerable Jewish group, more than a century old, and as one that is widely representative of Jewish opinion. Neither claim is true.

Revived to deal with Corbyn

The JLM likes to date its origins to the Poale Zion organisation, which was founded in 1903. A socialist society, Poale Zion affiliated itself not only with the British Labour party but also with a wide range of anti-Palestinian Zionist organisations such as the World Zionist Organisation and the Israeli Labour party. The latter carried out the ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of Palestinians in 1948 and the party’s leaders to this today publicly support the illegal settlement “blocs” that are displacing Palestinians and stealing their land.

But as the investigative journalist Asa Winstanley has shown, before the unexpected ascent of Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015, the JLM had largely fallen into dormancy.

It was briefly revived in 2004, when Israel was facing widespread criticism in Britain over its brutal efforts to crush a Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories. But the JLM only really became active again in 2015.

According to a covert recording of a private JLM event in late 2016, its then chair Jeremy Newmark said he and other activists had agreed to reform the group in September 2015 in response to “the rise of Jeremy Corbyn” and “Bernie Sanders in the States”. Corbyn has been elected Labour leader only days previously.

According to the transcript, Newmark told the other activists that it would be the “start of a struggle and a battle we will all be engaged in for months and probably years ahead of us”. He added that the JLM would be a suitable vehicle for their work because of the “rights and privileges” it enjoyed as a Labour party affiliate organisation.

Front for Israeli embassy

The motive behind the JLM’s resuscitation was also revealed by an undercover documentary made by Al-Jazeera, aired in early 2017. It showed that the JLM was acting as little more than a front for the Israeli embassy, and that the mission it set itself was to weaken Corbyn in the hope of removing him from the leadership.

Early on, the JLM and other pro-Israel lobbyists within the party realised that the most effective way to damage Corbyn, and silence solidarity with the Palestinian cause, was to weaponise the charge of anti-semitism.

Support for Palestinian rights necessarily requires severe criticism of Israel, whose popular, right wing governments have shown no interest in making concessions to the Palestinians on self-determination. In fact, while westerners have debated the need for urgent peacemaking, Israel has simply got on with grabbing vast tracts of Palestinian land as a way to destroy any hope of statehood.

But pro-Israel lobbyists in the UK have found that they can very effectively turn this issue into a zero-sum game – one that, in the context of a British public conversation oblivious to Palestinian rights, inevitably favours Israel.

Identifying with Israel

The thrust of the lobby’s argument is that almost all Jews identify with Israel, which means that attacks on Israel are also attacks on Jewish identity. That, they claim, is a modern form of anti-semitism.

This argument, if it were true, has an obvious retort: if Jews really do identify with Israel to the extent that they are prepared to ignore its systematic abuse of Palestinians, then that would make most British Jews anti-Arab racists.

Further, if Jewish identity really is deeply enmeshed in the state of Israel, that would place a moral obligation on Jews to denounce any behaviour by Israel towards Palestinians that violates human rights and international law.

And yet the very Jewish leaders claiming that Israel is at the core of their identity are also the ones who demand that Jews not be expected to take responsibility for Israel’s actions – and that to demand as much is anti-semitic.

Could there be a clearer example of having your cake and eating it?

‘Institutionally anti-semitic’

Nonetheless, the JLM has very successfully hijacked the debate within Labour of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to silence criticism. It has worked hard to impose a highly controversial new definition of anti-semitism that conflates it with criticism of Israel. Seven on the 11 examples of anti-semitism used to illustrate the new definition relate to Israel.

Arguing, for example, that Israel is a “racist endeavour”, the view of many in the growing BDS movement and among Corbyn supporters, is now being treated as evidence of anti-semitism.

For this reason, the JLM has been able to file a complaint against Labour with the Equality and Human Rights Commission arguing that the party is “institutionally anti-semitic”.

Labour is only the second political party after the neo-Nazi British National Party to have been subjected to an investigation by the equality watchdog.

Counterweight to the JLM

Despite its claims, the JLM does not represent Jewish opinion in the Labour party. The JLM says it has 2,000 members, though that figure – if accurate – includes non-Jews. Attendance at its annual general meeting this month could be measured in the dozens.

As one Jewish critic observed: “There are some 300,000 Jews in Britain. The Jewish Labour Movement claims to represent us all. So why were there fewer people at their AGM [annual general meeting] than at my Labour Party branch AGM?”

Many Jews in the Labour party have chosen not to join the JLM, preferring instead to act as a counterweight by creating a new Jewish pressure group that backs Corbyn called Jewish Voice for Labour.

Even a new JLM membership drive publicised by former Labour leader Gordon Brown reportedly brought only a small influx of new members, suggesting that support for the JLM’s anti-Corbyn, pro-Israel agenda is very limited inside Labour.

Speaking for ‘the Jews’

The re-establishment of the JLM has one very transparent aim in mind: to push out Corbyn, using any means at its disposal. At its annual general meeting, the JLM unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in Corbyn, describing him as “unfit to to be Prime Minister”. The resolution declared that “a Labour Government led by [Corbyn] would not be in the interests of British Jews”.

One Jewish commentator derisively noted the JLM’s arrogance in speaking for all British Jews at a time of Conservative government-imposed austerity:

“I would not presume to proclaim what is in the interests of ‘the Jews’, but I really cannot imagine that the person who drafted this resolution had any real experience of meeting unemployed Jews, Jewish pensioners and single mothers just scraping by, or Jews who are struggling as they use under-resourced mental health services.”

Scoring Labour candidates

In other circumstances, a group of people operating inside a major political party using underhand methods to disrupt its democratic processes would be described as entryists. Some 2,000 pro-Israel fanatics within Labour are trying to overturn the overwhelming wishes, twice expressed at the ballot box, of the Labour membership, now numbering more than 500,000.

Nonetheless, last week the JLM started to show its hand more publicly. It has been noisily threatening to disaffiliate from the Labour party. In the circumstances that would at least be an honourable – if very unlikely – thing for it to do.

Instead it announced that it would begin scoring local and national Labour politicians based on their record on anti-semitism. After the JLM’s frantic lobbying for the adoption of the new anti-semitism definition, it seems clear that such scores will relate to the vehemence of a candidate’s criticism of Israel, or possibly their ideological sympathy with Corbyn, more than overt bigotry towards Jews.

That was underscored this week when a senior Labour politician, Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, came under fire from the JLM and Board of Deputies for comments he made in 2014, during Israel’s attack on Gaza, that only recently came to light. He was recorded saying: “The enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Jewish people, the enemy of the Palestinian people are Zionists.” He had previously denied making any such comment.

Mike Katz, the JLM’s new chair, responded: “Insulting a core part of their [Jewish people’s] identity and then dissembling about it is shameful behaviour from a senior frontbencher in our party, let alone someone who aspires to administer our justice system.”

Marginal prejudice

According to the Labour party’s own figures, actual anti-Jewish prejudice – as opposed to criticism of Israel – is extremely marginal in its ranks, amounting to some 0.08 percent of members. It is presumably even less common among those selected to run as candidates in local and national elections.

The JLM has nonetheless prioritised this issue, threatening that the scores may be used to decide whether activists will campaign for a candidate. One might surmise that the scores could also serve as the basis for seeking to deselect candidates and replace them with politicians more to the JLM’s liking.

“We have got elections coming up but we are not going to put that effort in unless we know people are standing shoulder to shoulder with us,” said Katz.

Need for vigorous debate

Paradoxically, the JLM appears to be preparing to do openly what pro-Israel lobbyists in the US deny they do covertly: use their money and influence to harm candidates who are not seen as sympathetic enough to Israel.

Despite claims from both US and UK pro-Israel lobby groups that they speak for their own domestic Jewish populations, they clearly don’t. Individuals within Jewish communities are divided over whether they identify with Israel or not. And certainly, their identification with Israel should not be a reason to curtail vigorous debates about US and UK foreign policy and Israeli influence domestically.

Even if the vast majority of Jews in the US and UK do support Israel – not just in a symbolic or abstract way, but the actual far-right governments that now permanently rule Israel – that does not make them right about Israel or make it anti-semitic for others to be highly critical of Israel.

Chipping away at democracy

The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews support a narrow spectrum of politicians, from the militaristic right to religious fundamentalists and fascists. They view Palestinians as less deserving, less human even, than Jews and as an obstacle to the realisation of Jewish rights in the whole of the “Land of Israel”, including the Palestinian territories. Does that make them right? Does their numerical dominance excuse their ugly bigotry towards Palestinians? Of course not.

And so it would be the same even were it true that most Jewish members of the Labour party supported a state that proudly upholds Jewish supremacism as its national ideology. Their sensitivities should count for nothing if they simply mask ugly racist attitudes towards Palestinians.

Lobbies of all kinds thrive in the dark, growing more powerful and less accountable when they are out of view and immune from scrutiny.

By refusing to talk frankly about the role of pro-Israel lobbies in the UK and the US, or by submitting to their intimidation, we simply invite Israel’s supporters and anti-Palestinian racists to flex their muscles more aggressively and chip away at the democratic fabric of our societies.

There are signs that insurgency politicians in the US are ready for the first time to shine a light into the recesses of a political system deeply corrupted by money. That will inevitably make life much harder for the pro-Israel lobby.

But paradoxically, it is happening just as the the UK’s Israel lobby is pushing in exactly the opposite direction. British politics is being plunged into a stifling, unhealthy silence on the longest example of mass human rights abuses, sanctioned by the west, in modern history.

• First published at Mondoweiss

The Price of Participating in Society is the Sacrifice of Privacy and Self

In what is arguably one of the most craven opportunistic moves by a business/media group to increase its circulation/profitability, on 10 April the New York Times (NYT) embarked on what it describes as its Privacy Project. A day later on 11 April, no doubt with the NYT’s foreknowledge of what was to come thanks to an unofficial US government tip, Ecuador revoked Julian Assange’s (Wikileaks founder) asylum in its UK Embassy and fed him to the British Police dogs eagerly awaiting to arrest him and dump him in jail.

In May 2017 I wrote that Assange was doomed from the get-go to be arrested and handed over to the US Government and that it would only be a matter of time before Edward Snowden befell a similar fate.

Chelsea Manning’s leaked information made WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, a household name. It also made them permanent enemies of the US State. In 2010, Assange released a video that he called Collateral Murder. The video shows an airstrike in which Iraqi journalists are killed. Other releases based on Manning’s leak were known as the Afghan Diary and Iraq War Logs. The diplomatic cables exposed some of the silly machinations of the US State Department and the over classification of documents.

Meanwhile, mainstream media (MSM) outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post feasted on the leaks and gave them prominent coverage daily, even as they excoriated Assange and his merry band of leakers. The MSM believes that WikiLeaks is not “real” journalism even as they used the classified material Assange provided to bolster their subscription numbers. Aren’t they accessories to Assange’s crime? Apparently they are not.

Assange has been living for the past five years under diplomatic protection in the Embassy of Ecuador in the United Kingdom. He has been accused of rape in Sweden and, if he leaves the embassy, would be arrested by UK authorities and, ultimately, end up in the USA. To make matters worse, now he is a target of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director.

Pompeo once praised WikiLeaks. Whatever data he has seen that made him go ballistic can’t be good for Assange, obviously. [Former] Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions over at the Justice Department has hinted that an arrest warrant is in the works.

He will never get a get out of jail card and is trapped in Ecuador’s Embassy in London. The trip from the UK to Sweden to the USA would be swift if he capitulates. ‘It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state, hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,’ [then] CIA director Mike Pompeo said at a May event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. ‘Assange is a narcissist who has created nothing of value and he relies on the dirty work of others to make himself famous: He’s a fraud.’

Assange continues to dig a hole for himself with the CIA Vault leaks even as he enlightens us all, apparently, about the machinations of governments around the world.

Hello Clipper

The New York Times Privacy Project’s mission statement is essentially a rehash of a privacy and encryption issue that began on 16 April 1993 over the National Security Agency’s proposal to embed a Clipper Chip in the nation’s communications networks and nascent Internet/World Wide Web (WWW). The chip would have allowed NSA and US Law Enforcement Agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation to easily access foreign and domestic public communications. The proposal was the brainchild of President Bill Clinton’s administration but a wide awake American public and anti-Clipper Chip groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) opposed the technology and by 1996 the US government gave up on the technology.

There is grave doubt whether the American public or pro-Assange interest groups have the voice and staying power of those like the EFF that a couple of decades ago opposed the Clipper Chip.

According to the New York Times project mission statement:

The boundaries of privacy are in dispute, and its future is in doubt. Citizens, politicians and business leaders are asking if societies are making the wisest tradeoffs. The Times is embarking on this months long project to explore the technology and where it’s taking us, and to convene debate about how it can best help realize human potential.

Privacy in Dispute? Convene a debate? You’re Kidding!

Only those in cryogenic freeze or in solitary confinement for the past couple of decades would not know that privacy is already dead, a quaint relic from a time long since past. In today’s world, the price of participating in society is the sacrifice of privacy and self. It is not so much that technology is the culprit, it’s that a networked world, whether through stories told around a campfire that are passed on in an oral tradition, or instantly via Facebook/Twitter, appears to be a necessary human craving. Wanting to belong to something or some group, to be able to identify with an ideology or fad is apparently irresistible.

What do you really have to trade with your fellow human beings other than your deepest secrets, knowledge and individuality?

Humans are merrily merging with machines or rather the software and interfaces that allow textual and vision immersion, and the light speed acquisition of knowledge that the networked world provides. The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution be damned. Who needs it? The government or marketplace will always find a workaround to that relic of a bygone era.

All of this seems preordained by some Universal Machine God. We bow our heads whilst on the mobile device. The Internet/WWW is a sort of public confessional where there is no mediating priest to talk to God for you. It is straight talk with the Public God who dispenses likes or dislikes like the number of prayers a priest tells you to recite to regain a clean soul. And the Internet/WWW is a vengeful God with a long memory. Past sins from youth, or once though well hidden, find their way onto the network with punishment meted out by a hash tag with a name linked to it.

Sickness of the Future

The NYT Privacy Project, or even my musings here, are not necessary to understand future diseases at work right now in 2019. For a better description of that we can turn to a short story written by Chinese Sci-Fi writer Chen Qiufan titled “A History of Future Illnesses.” The story is located in the book Broken Stars, Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation (Ken Liu translator).

Technology allows ritual to become an indivisible part of everyday life. Its implanted into you and becomes part of your genetic heritage to be passed on to your children and they children multiplying and mutating, more vigorous that its host. You cannot control the impulse to refresh the page. Information explosion brings anxiety but can fill your husk of a soul. Every fifteen seconds you move the mouse, open your social networking profile, browse the comments, retweet and reblog, close the page, and do it all over again fifteen seconds later. You cant stop.

You no longer talk to people in real life. Air has lost its role as the medium for transmitting voice. You sit in a ring, your eyes glued to the latest mobile device in your hand as though worshiping the talisman of some ancient god. Your thoughts now flow into virtual platforms at the tips of your fingers. You are auguring, laughing flustering joking. But reality around you is a silent desert.

You cannot free yourself from the control of artificial environments. Ritual is omnipresent. It is no longer restricted to sacrifice, sermon, mass, concert, or game performed on a central stage where the classical unities hold. Ritual itself is evolving, turning into distributed cloud computing, evenly spread out to every nook and cranny of your daily life. Sensors know everything and regulate the temperature, humidity, air currents and light around you; adjust your heart rate, hormonal balance, sexual arousal, mood. Artificial intelligence is a god: your think it is there for your welfare bringing you new opportunities, but you’ve become the egg in the incubator, the marionette attached to wires. Every second of every minute of every day, you are the sacrifice that completes the unending grand ritual. You are the ritual.

Radical thinkers obsess wove how to withdraw from all this. The power of ritual comes from repetition, not its content. Day after day, the repetition of poses and movements gradually seeps into the depth of consciousness like a hard drive’s read-write-head repeatedly tracing the patterns of an idea, until the idea becomes indistinguishable from free will itself…Romantic love is ritual’s most loyal consumer along with patriotism. The radicals try to imitate the Luddites of old [but]…the only thing that can be done is nothing.

Grim Britain

If the whole ghastly debacle over Brexit has proven anything at all it’s how totally unfit for purpose the British parliament is. For those of us who have known that for a long time and campaigned vigorously for many years for its complete reformation this comes as no surprise. The whole shambolic system of Britain’s so-called democracy must be scrapped and replaced with a real democracy.

Somewhere at the heart of the Brexit farce lies the real nub of the problem – the fact that our parliament cannot cope with a truly democratic decision if it doesn’t like that decision. When the British people voted for Britain to quit the EU — a result that most of parliament opposed and never expected — the thing should have been quite straightforward: Britain quits the EU. But as everyone now knows that is not what happened. The last few weeks leading up to what was supposed to be the day Britain left the EU provided an endless series of incredible displays of parliamentary time-wasting and incompetence that turned Britain into a global laughing stock. Surely it is now abundantly clear that this whole creaking anachronism must go. Apart from being institutionally corrupt — its most important fault — the pseudo-democracy it practices is now clearly ludicrous.

Britain’s Green Party is the only significant political organisation I know of in the country which has not only known about this problem for many years, it also has a number of important radical policy proposals for putting it right. These include the drafting of a written constitution, scrapping the institution of monarchy and unelected parliamentarians, proportional representation, and creating direct democracy throughout a system of massively decentralised government. Far from being simply an environmentalist pressure group, their substantial policy document clearly states: “The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics”. And its proposals for total constitutional reform, creating real democracy for the first time in our history, clearly show their intentions.

Written Constitution

Possibly the most important item on this list of proposed Green changes is their intention to create a written constitution. Britain is almost alone in the world in terms of not having one of these. The thing itself is not necessarily significant. After all, most countries have written constitutions, but this doesn’t prevent many of them from being badly run. So at least as important as a written constitution itself is the need to ensure mechanisms are in place for enforcing its provisions.

This might seem obvious, but to cite just one and perhaps the most important example — the United States, supposedly the global role model of freedom and democracy — serious breaches of its own constitution by its own rulers are not unusual. Henry Kissinger, for example, once the US Secretary of State, said, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer”.1 So it’s clear to see that having a written constitution is one thing, making sure it’s effective is often something very different.

A constitution is supposed to be a written statement of the rules of a country’s government, a legally binding document applying to ALL its citizens, listing the rights and responsibilities of the government, and usually the country’s people too. It’s interesting to speculate as to why Britain has resisted having one throughout its history. The most obvious possibility is that if there are no written rules of how a government should conduct itself, the rulers may conduct themselves anyway they like. Given Britain’s long and blood-soaked history of barbaric oppression, in its own country and all over the world, this is clearly not a strong recommendation for allowing rulers to have such uncontrolled powers.

Scrapping Monarchy and Unelected MPs

It’s patently obvious that a government whose head of state is unelected and appointed by hereditary right, and whose parliament comprises a large decision-making body of people who are similarly unelected (the House of Lords), cannot seriously call itself a democracy. Yet Britain has managed to trick the world into believing this falsehood for a couple of hundred years.

The main reason this ludicrous farce has been so successful is because Britain’s monarchy and its unelected House of Lords have always supported the interests of a tiny handful of super-rich individuals above the interests of billions of other people around the world, as well as tens of millions of British people. The great genius Tom Paine accurately nailed this phenomenon, as he accurately nailed so many others. Writing in the introduction to “Common Sense”, the booklet that stirred the hearts of American settlers to fight for their independence from Britain, he said,

[A] long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom.

Because this tiny group of super-rich individuals have always been very careful to control the information that people receive they have nearly always been successful tricking people into thinking and acting against their own best interests. For many centuries this information-control was achieved by forging a tight alliance with religion. Priests were allowed to communicate with the masses, and profit from them, providing they communicated the right messages. Village churches throughout Britain, for example, occupied land owned by wealthy aristocrats. A priest was allowed to base himself in a church and extort impoverished parishioners — the position was called a “living” — providing he never upset the landlord. But given that most priests were themselves sons of rich fathers and landed gentry, that was seldom likely to be a problem. Therefore many generations of people came and went firmly believing in the divine right of monarchs and aristocrats to keep them in miserable subjugation – a widely-held view that survives to this day.

The scrapping of unelected monarchs and unelected MPs is, in itself, no guarantee of good government. After all, the most powerful rogue nation on Earth is ruled by an elected president, and there are many other failed states around the world that are ostensibly led by elected leaders. But the principle of elected leaders rather than unelected ones is unquestionably a superior concept. The very obvious flaws that currently exist are directly attributable to the corrupt practices of those supposedly democratic systems, rather than the principle itself. Therefore it’s very obvious that the constitution must be drafted, and enforced, in such a way that these anomalies are prevented.

Direct Democracy

No doubt many people would react with horror, given the farcical debacle over Brexit, to any suggestion that Britain should permanently be governed by a system of continual referendums – which basically is what direct democracy is. I mean, many people might reasonably argue that if direct democracy means more Brexit-type chaos, on a daily basis, then obviously we don’t want it. Although that reaction is perfectly understandable, it overlooks a couple of very important points.

Firstly, there’s the fact that direct democracy works perfectly well, as Switzerland, which has used the system for a long time, continually shows. Secondly, and possibly more importantly, providing that people are well and properly informed – which was not the case with the Brexit referendum – the people can usually be relied upon to make good and humane decisions. After all, trial by jury which, despite its numerous faults, is still better than any other way of resolving court cases, is direct democracy in miniature. So the principle of normal people, properly informed, making important decisions is clearly a very sound one.

The concept of democracy — as most people understand it — is not only a bad method of government. It’s also demonstrably corrupt. It’s based on the practice of people electing politicians who, in theory, are supposed to represent their best interests. So far from conforming to the widely used definition of democracy as being government for the people by the people, it is in practice government for the super-rich by the super-rich – which is pretty much how people have always been ruled – only the existing system is far more cynical and dishonest than outright tyranny, because it pretends to provide people with real political power whilst actually ensuring they don’t have it. Elected representatives who, for the most part, are simply paid employees of the super-rich, provide the veneer of democracy when what they’re actually doing is preventing it.

No doubt many who sincerely believe they live in a real democracy would react with horror to such a suggestion, but all they need to do is ask themselves who pays for election campaigns. Are they paid for by the people, or are they paid for by the super-rich? Given that democracy should be a public service, it should be paid for by the public like any other public service. But the reality is that the election campaigns of most governments have been bought and paid for by the super-rich. These people are not well known for their generosity or love of public service – which is why so many of them avoid paying their taxes — so why do they spend millions on election campaigns if not for the fact that they expect to be very well compensated by the winners? Which is, of course, exactly what happens  as countless accounts of corruption in high places verify on an almost daily basis.

Proportional Representation

Many people with progressive tendencies have long championed the cause of proportional representation. Many so-called democracies use the “first-past-the-post” method of deciding election winners and losers, a system whereby the person with the most votes wins and gets elected to public office whilst whoever else competed in the election is forgotten about. Proportional Representation, on the other hand, takes account of every vote cast in an election and then allocates seats in proportion to the numbers voting for each political party. It is unquestionably a much fairer way of deciding elections, and should be implemented in any country that calls itself a democracy. However, direct democracy, which effectively bypasses elected representatives altogether and allows the citizen direct control of their government’s decisions, is even better yet — providing the citizen is properly informed — and should be the primary goal for all political activists.

Subsidiarity

One of the Greens’ most important policies is that of subsidiarity – democratic decision-making provided at the source of wherever a decision needs to be made. It’s the polar opposite of centralised government — the model practised by most countries — where some all-powerful regime effectively controls all decisions throughout the country. Whilst Britain, like many other countries, has some decentralised government functions in the form of local councils, the effective decision-making powers of local councils is significantly controlled by central government. This is achieved by central government having considerable control of money supply, and by having the powers to simply overturn any decisions made by local councils if they feel like it.

Decentralisation, effectively another word for subsidiarity, is a fine principle for the simple reason that it provides real decision-making power to people organised in small communities, communities which, when added together, comprise society as a whole. Switzerland provides a good working example of the model in practice.

Swiss cantons are similar in size to some English counties, but there the similarity ends, for cantons have considerably more power than their English equivalents — particularly regarding tax collections. As with their federal government Swiss citizens use direct democracy to control their cantons too, and may initiate referendums or veto new laws they’re not happy with.

Contrary to what opponents of direct democracy may claim, no doubt citing the British Brexit debacle to reinforce their argument, this considerable and direct power that Swiss citizens have over their government has done Switzerland no noticeable harm whatsoever. In fact, it’s made Switzerland one of the most stable, free, peaceful and well-respected nations in the world. It has achieved this whilst being relatively poor in natural resources, completely landlocked, without doing any imperial looting of distant lands, and surrounded by two of the worst wars in human history. Therefore their political model obviously has useful lessons for almost every other country to learn from.

The Party’s Over

There is absolutely no justification for maintaining the anachronistic and institutionally corrupt system of government that Britain uses. It must be totally scrapped and a new model created based on the principles outlined in this essay. The seat of government should be moved away from London to somewhere more central to the whole country — like Northampton, say. Building a brand new parliament where no monarch or chamber of unelected MPs have any official role, and where a network of decentralised local councils controlled by direct democracy may be efficiently coordinated will be a huge step in the right direction.

But there are two other essential changes that need to be made. Although they’re very different to each other they are quite possibly equally important.

The control and supply of money must be removed from the private banking system and placed where it belongs — in the hands of the new democratic state. Although money may not be absolutely essential to an economy, it unquestionably enables the economy to work more efficiently. Throughout history the availability of money has always been ruthlessly controlled by a tiny handful of super-rich individuals. There is absolutely no economic necessity for this. It happens only because that’s how the super-rich controllers of money want it to stay. But money should be seen as a human right, and the supply viewed as public service totally controlled by the state.

The second vitally important change that needs to happen is that the supply of public information must be vastly improved. A successful system of direct democracy would be largely determined by the quality of information that voters receive upon which to form their opinions and make their decisions. Most people will make good decisions if they are given good information, and they will make very bad ones if given bad information — as the catastrophic Brexit fiasco proves beyond any reasonable doubt.

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence that the British state does not provide its citizens with good information — or even allow them to find it for themselves — is the fact that the state’s obsession with secrecy borders on the psychotic. As I write these words the outrageous treatment being meted out to the heroic publisher Julian Assange by the British state, probably on behalf of its US controllers, is providing graphic evidence of how the state treats those who try to reveal its secrets for public inspection. Ian Cobain’s The History Thieves, for example, is a fine study of the extent to which this problem affects us. It is quite impossible to obtain good information about the actions of the state when so many of those actions are deemed too secret for the public to know about for very considerable periods of time. Therefore two of the easiest steps to take to ensure the public receive good information is to scrap the odious Official Secrets Act, and for the state to open for public access all of its vast archives of secret files.

The ability to access good information is also dependent on a fundamental change to our system of education. British schools serve as an important first step in the process of brainwashing British people. The most obvious piece of evidence of this is the teaching of history. History is a vitally important subject because it teaches us about how our country became what it is. Or that’s what it should teach. But the history that’s taught in most schools, a history of Britain’s supposed greatness, is totally different from the history taught by historians such as EP Thompson, say, or Al Morton, or the Hammonds, John Newsinger, Mark Curtis or Ian Cobain. These writers all explain British history in a very different way to the history taught in most British schools, a way which would teach most children to understand that far from being the great champions of justice, liberty and humanity that they’re taught to see most British kings and queens, lords and ladies, general and admirals, they would learn instead how many of these people were indistinguishable from psychotic murderers and thieves.

It would teach people to acquire a far more humble belief about Britain’s true role in history and teach them a far more humane and tolerant attitude to others. It would also create a desperately needed contempt for the super-rich ruling classes of today – instead of the fawning sycophantic subservient attitude that is instilled by the existing education system. The obvious evidence of this institutionalised brainwashing is apparent in the very name of the country – “Great” Britain. There’s very little about British history which deserves to be called great. If the name Britain needed an adjective at all, “Grim” Britain would be closer to the mark.

Also badly lacking in our current education system is teaching the ability to think clearly and logically, but also with humanity, compassion for all living things, and awareness of the desperate existential threat our planet is enduring — mostly because of human overpopulation together with the capitalist economic model that drives it and which ridiculously demands infinite growth from finite resources.

To complete the picture of essential changes to make to the quality of public information we also obviously have to look at the providers of so-called news, the information about daily events that affect our lives. There is now a vast quantity of evidence that proves how the so-called news is manipulated by the rich and powerful to manipulate people to think and behave in a particular way. This must change. It should not be necessary to censor this information, which is actually mis-information. All that’s needed is to provide a more accurate, honest and humane alternative. The great journalist John Pilger, quoting the American historian and journalist TD Allman wrote.

Genuinely objective journalism’ is that which ‘not only gets the facts right, it gets the meaning of events right. Objective journalism is compelling not only today. It stands the test of time. It is validated not only by “reliable sources” but by the unfolding of history. It is reporting that which not only seems right the day it is published. It is journalism that ten, twenty, fifty years after the fact still holds up a true and intelligent mirror to events. (my emphasis)2

A state-provided news service, guided by this principle — or something very near it — is all we need to combat the vast quantities of misinformation and fake news provided by the mainstream media. Combined with the incredible new information technologies that are now available, and a totally reformed education system, people would be properly prepared and able to cope with sweeping constitutional changes to the way we have been misruled for thousands of years.

The one useful thing that the Brexit fiasco has done is to reveal how utterly useless and unfit for purpose the British parliament is. As I said at the start of this essay, that is not news to those of us who have long campaigned for reform. Our parliament has always been primarily about protecting the interests of the super-rich, rather than doing what’s best for most British people.

The future will not forgive us

One of the most obvious pieces of evidence of this is clearly visible in the vast array of antiquated procedures that accompany almost every action carried out in the Houses of Parliament. From the annual state opening of parliament, an ancient and highly ritualised performance designed to show the supremacy of an unelected head of state appointed by hereditary succession, to the daily routine business of parliament where supposedly serious debates take place in what sounds more like a children’s playground than the most important decision-making forum in the land.

This ridiculous farce of a system, ludicrously masquerading as a global model of democracy, must go. It has caused infinitely more harm than good, and now, with Britain and the world in general facing a perfect storm of the most serious existential crises since dinosaurs disappeared, we have to have an entirely new system of government — a system that is both wholly and truly democratic, as well as being compassionate and humane. If we do not do this, now, the future will not forgive us — and rightly so.

  1. New York Times, October 28, 1973.
  2. Hidden Agendas, John Pilger, p. 525.

The Prosecution Of Julian Assange Is A Threat To Journalists Everywhere

Supporters of Julian Assange gather outside Westminster Court after Assange’s arrest (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz for AFP-NurPhoto)

Take action to protect Julian AssangeClick here to read about what you can do.

Support the Embassy Protection Collective. The United States is recognizing its fake coup president, Juan Guaido, in Venezuela and we understand that his people will try to take over the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC when the current diplomats leave. We and others are staying at the embassy to protect it from the opposition. Follow us on Facebook here. And please donate if you can to purchase food and supplies for people staying at the embassy.

The arrest of Julian Assange not only puts the free press in the United States at risk, it puts any reporters who expose US crimes anywhere in the world at risk. As Pepe Escobar wrote

Let’s cut to the chase. Julian Assange is not a US citizen, he’s an Australian. WikiLeaks is not a US-based media organization. If the US government gets Assange extradited, prosecuted and incarcerated, it will legitimize its right to go after anyone, anyhow, anywhere, anytime.

The Assange prosecution requires us to build a global movement to not only free Julian Assange, but to protect the world from the crimes and corruption of the United States and other governments. The reality is that Freedom of Press for the 21st Century is on trial.

There are many opportunities for a movement to impact the outcome of this process and to free Julian Assange.  The extradition process includes political decisions by both the UK and US governments. Courts are impacted by public opinion. If courts are convinced this case is about political issues, extradition could be rejected.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen after was arrested by British police outside Westminster in a police van on his way to Magistrates Court in London, Britain April 11, 2019 (Photo by Peter Nicholls for Reuters)

Next Steps, Next Opportunities

Last week’s arrest begins the next phase of Assange’s defense as well as the defense of our right to know what governments do in our name. It may seem like this is now a matter only for the courts, but, in fact, the prosecution of Assange is political. The extradition case is not a hacking case, as the US is trying to present it; it is a prosecution about exposing war crimes, corporate corruption of US foreign policy and other violations of law by the United States and its allies. The government is trying to change the subject to avoid the facts that Assange exposed.

In fact, the indictment does not even allege hacking. As Glenn Greenwald writes: “the indictment alleges no such thing. Rather, it simply accuses Assange of trying to help Manning log into the Defense Department’s computers using a different username so that she could maintain her anonymity.” Assange lawyer Barry Pollack described why journalists everywhere are threatened: “The factual allegations … boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source. Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges.”

The extradition process is likely to last months, most likely more than a year. The Assange case could go into 2020 or beyond. Issues that could prevent extradition include Assange’s health conditions, human rights concerns, and whether there is a political motivation behind the US request. Not only can Assange appeal through the UK courts, but he may also appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

While we should not limit our mobilizations to legal filings, hearings, appeals and administrative decisions, those are all opportunities to educate and mobilize people. The next court date on the extradition will be a preliminary hearing on May 2 where Assange will appear by video link.  Next, the United States must produce its case for requesting the extradition of Julian Assange from Britain by June 12.

These are just initial steps. Lawfare reports, “It may be years before Assange sees the inside of a U.S. courtroom. The initial Swedish request to extradite Assange from the U.K. came in November 2010. Assange successfully slowed the process until June 2012.”

Lawfare also points to the case of Lauri Love, who faced extradition for hacking US government computers. It took three years for the extradition case, and then Love raised health issues that would be impacted by a long sentence and  two years later, he won on appeal with the court ruling it would be “oppressive to his physical and mental condition.” Assange has also developed health issues over the last seven years of living in the Ecuadorian embassy.

Then, there is the case of another British hacker, Gary McKinnon, who was indicted in 2002. The extradition proceedings dragged on for a decade. In the end, then-Home Secretary Theresa May, withdrew the extradition order because of McKinnon’s diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and depression: “Mr. McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr. McKinnon’s human rights.”

That’s right, in one case the court ruled against extradition due to health issues, and the other, Theresa May (yes, the current prime minister) withdrew the extradition due to health reasons. Beyond health, there are other issues that could be persuasive in Assange’s case.

Someone cannot be extradited from the United Kingdom if the extradition is for “political purposes.” The US Department of Justice has tried to avoid the obvious politics of Assange’s case by alleging in the indictment that it is a hacking case. In reality, and everyone knows this reality, Assange is being prosecuted because he exposed war crimes including the wanton killing of journalists and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the violation of human rights in Guantanamo Bay and the corruption of US foreign policy by transnational corporations. These are the big elephants in the room that the United States is trying to hide.

The U.S. prison system is seen around the world as inhumane. The UN Committee against Torture issued a report strongly criticizing the US prisons on a number of issues, among them torture and the extensive use of solitary confinement. The U.S .uses long-term solitary more than any other country in the world, on any given day, at least 80,000 people are held in solitary confinement in the US. The US holds political prisoners in long-term solitary confinement as demonstrated by the imprisonment of black liberation activists who were held in solitary for decades. And whistleblowers have been held in solitary as was Chelsea Manning during her prosecution, including her most recent incarceration for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigating Assange. The European Court of Human Rights has prevented extradition to the U.S. from the U.K .in a case involving an alleged terrorist because of inhumane prison conditions.

The US put forward a flimsy indictment that even on its face did not prove the allegation of assisting Manning with the password to access secret documents. The US put forward this weak and relatively mild charge probably to make extradition easier. They sought to avoid the political issue, which could have stopped the extradition. But, they are skirting extradition law with this approach, and if they hit Assange with a superseding indictment when he is extradited, it would be a violation of the doctrine of specialty, which means a person can only face trial for offenses presented to justify that extradition.

Assange on steps of High Court in London, December 2010 (Photo by Stefan Wermuth for Reuters)

The Politics of the Assange Prosecution

The reality of the Assange prosecution being about his journalism is obvious to all. Those in the media making the claim that this is about hacking, know they are stretching the truth in order to side with the U.S. government. People should know media that make this claim cannot be trusted to report the truth.

The editor of White House Watch, Dan Froomkin, pulls the thin veil off of this lie writing: “Julian #Assange has been charged with conspiracy to commit journalism. The free press has not ducked a bullet here; it’s taken one to the chest.” The Assange prosecution is about the criminalization of journalism. The Committee to Protect Journalists writes, the indictment would “criminalize normal journalistic activities.” This obvious truth will become more evident as the case proceeds and the movement educates the public and mobilizes support to free Assange.

Already, in USA Today, Jonathan Turley clarified what the prosecution is really about: “WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be punished for embarrassing the DC establishment.” The “embarrassment” really is complicity against crimes that in an effective international judicial system would result in prosecution of US officials and members of the US military who committed them. And in a US justice system that sought justice, there would have been prosecutions of members of the military for torture and of lawyers providing legal cover for these actions.

The US election season is upon us and this presents opportunities for mobilization and making Assange’s case an election issue. One presidential candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, Tulsi Gabbard, has already come out against extradition. More candidates need to be urged to oppose extradition.

Candidates can be pressured from the outside as well. Green candidate, Howie Hawkins already wrote that he opposes extradition and urges people to defend Freedom of the Press. Hawkins is in the exploratory phase of a potential campaign. The Green Party has also published a statement that “unequivocally condemns the arrest of Julian Assange and calls for his immediate release.”

President Trump has kept his options open. Trump said in the Oval Office, that he “knows nothing” about the prosecution and “It’s not my thing.” Sean Hannity, a Trump media cheerleader has offered to let Assange host his show and reach his 15 million viewers. Assange is a wedge issue that divides Trump loyalists.

If the movement does its job and builds a national consensus against the prosecution of a publisher for reporting the truth, Trump may side with those in his voting base that is against extradition; and the leading Democratic candidates may also come out against prosecution and to protect a free press that reports crimes of the US government.

In the United Kingdom, things are in flux as well. While the next election is scheduled for 2022, the government is ever closer to being forced to hold an election as it is trapped in a Brexit quandary and showing its inability to govern. Jeremy Corbyn has already said, “The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government.” Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, said Assange should not be extradited: “It is this whistleblowing into illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians and corruption on a grand scale, that has put Julian Assange in the crosshairs of the US administration.” In the end, a new government could end the extradition as the Home Secretary can choose to reject the extradition.

There are also international politics impacted by the Assange prosecution. Assange’s lawyer Jen Robinson said “extradition will set a very dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists around the world.” This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States,

The US is seeking to prosecute a foreign reporter, working from a foreign country about US war crimes. What would happen if a US reporter wrote about crimes in a foreign country? Could that country prosecute a US journalist? That is the precedent the US is setting. And, how hypocritical for the US to seek to prosecute a foreign journalist in the same week that the US celebrated evading an investigation by the International Criminal Court of alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan.

Free Assange protest outside of British Embassy in Washington DC from News2Share.com

Free Assange Campaign Will Be A Global Campaign For The Right To Know

At least five times, the UN, through various committees and special rapporteurs, has called on Assange not to be prosecuted or extradited to the United States. A campaign to stop the prosecution of Assange will build into a global movement because the US has created chaos and havoc around the world, and has killed more than a million people this century and made many millions into refugees.

The people of the world are impacted by the actions of the United States and they have a right to know what the United States is doing. The people of the US are told we live in a democracy, but there can be no democracy when the people are not allowed to know what the government is doing in our name.

Protests occurred immediately on the day Assange was arrested and continued this weekend. We have started a campaign to Free Assange. As people understand the dramatic implications of this prosecution, protests will grow. Daniel Ellsberg described this unprecedented prosecution as a threat to the future of the republic and said it was time “to join ranks here now to expose and resist the wrongful–and in this country unconstitutional–abuse of our laws to silence journalists.”

In court, Assange showed his defiance of the national security state, which seeks to destroy him, by sitting calmly in the dock, reading Gore Vidal’s History of the National Security State and holding it up obviously to give everyone in court a view.  We must be in solidarity with that defiance and build the campaign that is needed to free Julian Assange.

Why Julian Assange Matters for the Freedom of the Press

There is no one issue that unites those of us on the left so firmly with the right as the topic of freedom of the press. And the case of Julian Assange, Wikileaks co-founder, encapsulates perfectly this dilemma that seems to have many drinking the Kool-Aid of Russiagate which seems to have an endless season renewal. Like so many current events, the case of Julian Assange divides many within political camps as the feminists are shouting “believe the women” and those analyzing the meta-narrative in all its intricacies see no crime has been committed by Assange whom they view as being demonized for bringing to light the crimes of the U.S. government. Worse, mainstream media is acting as the mouthpiece for the government efforts to shut down Wikileaks, or as Craig Murray writes, that the collaboration of the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post in the hunt for Assange “is clear evidence that the idea of the “liberal media” no longer exists in the new plutocratic age. The press are not on the side of the people, they are an instrument of elite control.”

Yet, the media continues its onslaught of information through inundation. And, of course, sharing anything on social media by RT will land you with comments like, “He works for the Russians.” For those confused about what to do or think related to the Assange affair, here are some items we need to put on our ethical to-do list. First, read articles from a wide array of political spectrums. Don’t take my word for it that this is a stitch-up. Basic human rights have been denied Julian Assange that even Isis fighters under interrogation have from the barring of Julian Assange’s lawyer, Per Samuelson, when questioned at the Ecuadorian Embassy by the Swedish prosecutor in 2016 to the evidence that suggests that the so-called “accusations” made against Assange for sexual assault and rape seem to be highly contested. Reading the history of this case and there is a yo-yo effect from the Swedish Prosecutor’s Office in 2010, regarding the veracity of the allegations where Eva Finne, the chief prosecutor, states that the rape accusation was without merit to when Swedish Director of Prosecution, Marianne Nye, later re-opened the case issuing an international arrest warrant for Assange when he offered to answer questions at the Swedish Embassy in London.

Reading news reports of this initial stage of the investigation, however, and the major media tells a different story to include the elision of basic facts such as the two “accusers” stating in text messages to each other that the police started the accusations, that the “police made up the charges”, and that “the police were keen on getting their hands on him.” It is even hard to call these two women “accusers” since even this part of the story is entirely muddled by what seems to be an usurpation of basic legal protocol as both women, known as AA and SW, went to the police to see if Assange could be obliged to get a test for STIs since they had unprotected sex with him.

As many gleefully scream on social media “Got him!”, these individuals are oblivious to the dangers of Assange’s arrest. And most of the Americans in favor of Assange’s capture are perfectly molded sycophants—in true cookie-cutter fashion—of the Obama administration. You know, the kinds of liberals who saw Obama as a leftist (he wasn’t) and believed the lie that Obama perpetuated about Assange: that publishing classified documents on Wikileaks amounted to espionage. Of course, this was during an administration where a record number of reporters’ sources were imprisoned. Still, the Obama administration, while critical of Assange, weighed on the side of the First Amendment as it realized that charging Assange with a crime would call up the central issue of freedom of the press. As Paul Waldman writes in The Washington Post, “That’s because, whatever you think of WikiLeaks, if we criminalize receiving classified information, some of the most important works of journalism in American history would be transformed into crimes, and every reporter who works on national security would be a potential criminal.”

So, if you notice among the crimes Assange was charged with yesterday, both the previous espionage and 2016 hacking claims are nowhere to be found. Why? This goes back to the Obama administration’s reason for not pursuing this line of attack: where does the freedom of the press end and a journalist instructing an informant how to hack information to later hand over to him. This seems to be the crux of the issue at heart. Even former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti, has weighed in on this, stating that despite the impetus on the UK government to extradite Assange, the federal government must “prove a criminal conspiracy between Manning and Assange, and Manning does not appear to be cooperative.” Even Robert Mueller’s indictment of Russian intelligence officers for crimes related to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta where batches of the hacked emails were released by Wikileaks excluded Assange for this very reason. Did Assange conspire in the hacking? This is the question that needs to be answered.

Given that Mueller hasn’t pressed for this investigation to be re-opened ought to be a clue as to how much evidence is lacking to make such a link. From Guccifer 2.0 to the Russian military intelligence to the 2016 presidential election, Mueller’s probe has not confirmed that Assange is key to unlocking this enigma. As for the sexual assault probe in Sweden, it was long ago dropped with chief prosecutor Marianne Ny officially revoking Assange’s arrest warrant. Given his arrest yesterday, however, the investigation may possibly be reopened given that the statute of limitation does not expire until August 2020.

As for those banging on about Assange’s guilt, I can only recommend to revisit the basic civics lessons that most of us had in high school. In the United States, not only is due process sort of part of the deal when assessing someone’s guilt, but the history of the world is replete with false allegations made to frame journalists and whistleblowers. Using accusations of rape to ensnare or entrap innocent men is hardly new—from the use of the rape myth as a political tool during the antebellum and postbellum American South used to keep black men under control, false accusations of rape are astonishingly effective in reframing who is oppressed by whom. Even sex has long been a tool of intelligence agencies with the Israeli government catching Mordechai Vanunu through a “honey trap” operation and the recent revelation of British spying operations using  GCHQ’s SIGINT (signal-intelligence) program which monitors diplomats’ hotel bookings.

The recent EU Copyright Directive is part of the greater assault on independent journalism which views digital media as a huge threat to the monolithic powers of government and major media. As both state and media agencies are buttressing each other in order to tighten their hegemonic grip on information and democratic expression, it is time for people to check their knee-jerk reactions of glee in reaction to Assange’s arrest. Instead, we should seriously reflect upon how supporting his arrest only feeds to legitimate yet another chapter of state-sponsored censorship.

UK Media, MPs Unveil Latest Assange Deception

In my last blog post, I warned that the media and political class would continue with their long-running deceptions about Julian Assange now that he has been dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy. They have wasted no time in proving me right.

The first thrust in their campaign of deceit was set out on the Guardian’s front page today.

There should have been wall-to-wall outrage from public figures in the UK at the United States creating a new crime of “doing journalism” and a new means of arrest for those committing this “crime” overseas, what I have termed “media rendition”.

Remember that all of the information contained in the US charge sheet against Assange – the supposed grounds for his extradition – were known to the previous Obama administration as far back as 2010. But Barack Obama never dared approve the current charges against Assange because legally there was no way to stop them being turned against “respectable” journalists, like those at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian.

This was the same Obama administration that had the worst record ever for prosecuting whistleblowers. Obama was no friend to investigative journalism but he understood that it would be unwise to so overtly subvert the notion of a free western press.

That the Trump administration has cast all this aside to get Assange behind bars should have every journalist in the world quaking in their boots, and loudly decrying what the US is seeking to do.

And yet the reaction has been either quiet acceptance of the US extradition request as a simple law enforcement measure or gentle mockery of Assange – that the scruffy outlaw dragged from the embassy was looking even scruffier after seven years of extreme house arrest and “arbitrary detention”. What a laugh!

Now we can see how the media is going to collude in a narrative crafted by the political class to legitimise what the Trump administration is doing.

Rather than focus on the gross violation of Assange’s fundamental human rights, the wider assault on press freedoms and the attack on Americans’ First Amendment Rights, UK politicians are “debating” whether the US extradition claim on Assange should take priority over earlier Swedish extradition proceedings for a sexual assault investigation that were publicly dropped back in 2017.

In other words, the public conversation in the UK, sympathetically reported by the Guardian, supposedly Britain’s only major liberal news outlet, is going to be about who has first dibs on Assange.

Here’s the first paragraph of the Guardian front-page article:

Political pressure is mounting on [Home Secretary] Sajid Javid to prioritise action that would allow Julian Assange to be extradited to Sweden, amid concerns that US charges relating to Wikileaks’ activities risked overshadowing longstanding allegations of rape.

So the concern is not that Assange is facing rendition to the US, it is that the US claim might “overshadow” an outstanding legal case in Sweden.

The 70 MPs who signed the letter to Javid hope to kill two birds with one stone.

First, they are legitimising the discourse of the Trump administration. This is no longer about an illegitimate US extradition request on Assange we should all be loudly protesting. It is a competition between two legal claims, and a debate about which one should find legal remedy first.

It weighs a woman’s sexual assault allegation against Assange and Wikileaks’ exposure of war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It suggests that both are in the same category, that they are similar potential crimes.

But there should only be one response to the US extradition claim on Assange. That it is entirely illegitimate. No debate. Anything less, any equivocation is to collude in the Trump administration’s narrative.

The Swedish claim, if it is revived, is an entirely separate matter.

That the Guardian and the MPs are connecting the two should come as no surprise.

In another article on Assange on Friday, the Guardian – echoing a common media refrain – reported as fact a demonstrably false claim: “Assange initially took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden.”

There could be no possible reason for its reporters to make this elementary mistake other than that the Guardian is still waging its long-running campaign against Assange, the information revolution he represents and the challenge he poses to the corporate media of which the Guardian is a key part.

Assange and Wikileaks always said that he entered the embassy to claim political asylum so as to avoid extradition on to the US.

For seven years the political and media establishments have been deriding the suggestion that Assange faced any threat from the US, despite the mounting private and public evidence that he did. Assange again has been proved conclusively right by current events, and they decisively wrong.

The Guardian knows that Assange did not need political asylum to avoid a sex case. So reporting this not as a claim by his detractors but as an indisputable fact is simple, Trump-supporting propaganda meant to discredit Assange – propaganda that happily treats any damage to the cause of journalism as collateral damage.

Second, the only major politicians prepared to highlight the threats to Assange’s personal rights and wider press freedoms posed by the US extradition request are opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his ally, Diane Abbott, the Labour shadow home secretary.

They have rightly noted that the US is using the extradition demand to silence Assange and intimidate any other journalists who might think about digging up evidence of the crimes committed by the US national security state.

Abbott commented on Friday that Assange’s current arrest was not about “the rape charges, serious as they are, it is about WikiLeaks and all of that embarrassing information about the activities of the American military and security services that was made public.”

Abbott has faced a storm of criticism for her statement, accused of not giving enough weight to the Swedish case. In fact, her only mistake was to give it more weight than it currently deserves. She spoke of “rape charges”, but there are, in fact, no such charges. (Additionally, although the case is classed broadly as a rape allegation in Sweden, in the UK it would be classed at most as sexual assault. Forgotten too is that the evidence was considered too weak by the original prosecutor to bring any charges, Assange was allowed to leave Sweden and the investigation was dropped.)

Rather, Assange was previously wanted for questioning, and has never been charged with anything. If the Swedish extradition request is revived, it will be so that he can be questioned about those allegations. I should also point out, as almost no one else is, that Assange did not “flee” questioning. He offered Swedish prosecutors to question him at the embassy.

Even though questioning overseas in extradition cases is common – Sweden has done it dozens of times – Sweden repeatedly refused in Assange’s case, leading the Swedish appeal court to criticise the prosecutors. When he was finally questioned after four years of delays, Swedish prosecutors violated his rights by refusing access to his Swedish lawyer.

Further, the MPs and media getting exercised that Assange “took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden” are forgetting that he did not object to extradition as long as he received a promise that he would not then be extradited on to the US. Sweden refused to offer such assurances. We can now see only too clearly that Assange had every reason to insist on such assurances.

I don’t have space here to analyse the Swedish case on this occasion (that’s maybe for another time), though it is worth briefly noting that most of the problematic details of the case have been disappeared down the memory hole.

Given that the political and media class are still speaking in terms of “charges”, rather than questions about allegations, we should recall that there were glaring problems with the evidence in the Swedish case. Not least, the key piece of evidence against Assange – a torn condom produced by the woman – was found to contain not a trace of DNA from either Assange or from her.

Those at the forefront of the attacks on Abbott and Corbyn, echoed by the Guardian, are the same Blairite Labour MPs who have been trying to oust Corbyn as Labour party leader, despite his twice being elected overwhelmingly by the membership.

These MPs, who dominate the Labour parliamentary party, have spent the past four years focusing on smears that Labour is “institutionally anti-semitic” in an obvious effort to terminally wound Corbyn. Now they have found another possible route to achieve the same end.

They are suggesting that Corbyn and Abbott are disregarding the Swedish woman’s right to justice. The clear subtext of their arguments is that the pair are rape apologists.

As I have pointed out, Abbott has actually overstated the current status of the Swedish case, not sidelined it at all.

But what Corbyn and Abbott have done is to make a clear political, legal and moral demarcation between the Swedish case, which must be resolved according to accepted legal principles, and the US extradition, which has no legal or moral merit whatsoever.

What these UK MPs and the Guardian have done in this front-page story is muddy the waters yet further, with enthusiastic disregard for the damage it might do to Assange’s rights, to Corbyn’s leadership and to the future of truth-telling journalism.

Media Smoothed Way to Corbyn Target Practice

It is time to stop believing these infantile narratives the political and media establishment have crafted for us. Like the one in which they tell us they care deeply about the state of British political life, that they lie awake at night worrying about the threat posed by populism to our democratic institutions.

How do they persuade us of the depth of their concern? They express their horror at the murder of an MP, Jo Cox, and their outrage at the abuse of another, Anna Soubry.

But they don’t really care whether politicians are assaulted, vilified or threatened – at least, not if it is the kind of politician who threatens their power. These political and media elites don’t seriously care about attacks on democracy, or about political violence, or about the rottenness at the core of state institutions. Their outrage is selective. It is rooted not in principle, but in self-interest.

Is that too cynical? Ponder this.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t faced just shouted insults from afar, like Soubry. He was recently physically assaulted, hit on the head by a man holding an egg in his fist. But unlike Soubry, our media expressed no real concern. In fact, they could barely conceal their sniggers at his “egging”, an attack they presented as little more than a prank. They even hinted that Corbyn deserved it.

Shown as Kremlin stooge

The media have been only happy too to vilify Corbyn as a Kremlin stooge and a former Soviet spy. Senior Tory Iain Duncan Smith today called Corbyn “a Marxist whose sole purpose in life is to do real damage to the country” – a remark that, as ever, went entirely unchallenged by the BBC giving him a platform. Just imagine a Labour MP being allowed to accuse Theresa May of being a fascist whose only goal is to destroy the country.

But the BBC has never bothered to conceal its intense dislike of Corbyn. Its news shows have even photoshopped the Labour leader to make him look “Russian” – or “more Russian”, as the BBC and the rest of the media mischievously phrased it. Those who protested were told they were reading too much into it. They needed to lighten up and not take themselves so seriously.

The Conservative party, including the former defence secretary Michael Fallon, has regularly portrayed Corbyn as a threat to national security, especially over concerns about the Trident nuclear missile system. Many senior members of Corbyn’s own party have echoed such smears – all amplified, of course, by the media.

Those who suggested that the government and media needed to engage with Corbyn’s well-grounded doubts about the safety of nuclear weapons, or the economics and practicalities of the Trident programme, were derided – like Corbyn – as “pacifists” and “traitors”.

Then Corbyn became the target of another sustained demonisation campaign. It was claimed that this lifelong, very public anti-racism activist – who over decades had forged strong ties to sections of the British Jewish community, despite being a steadfast critic of Israel – was, at worst, a secret anti-semite and, at best, providing succour to anti-semites as they overran the Labour party.

Was there any factual basis or evidence for these claims? No. But the British public was assured by rightwing Jews like the Board of Deputies and by “leftwing” Jewish supporters of Israel like Jonathan Freedland that evidence wasn’t necessary, that they had a sixth sense for these things.

Corbyn’s supporters were told that they should not question the wildly inflammatory and evidence-free denunciations of Corbyn and the wider Labour membership for a supposed “institutional anti-semitism” – and, with a satisfyingly circular logic, that to do so was itself proof of anti-semitism.

Too toxic to lead Labour

The weaponisation of anti-semitism through political spin by Corbyn’s political enemies, including the Blairite faction of the parliamentary Labour party, was and is a dangerous assault on public life, one that has very obviously degraded Britain’s political culture.

The smear was meant to override the membership’s wishes and make Corbyn too toxic to lead Labour.

It has also politicised the anti-semitism allegation, weakening it for a section of the population, and irresponsibly inflaming fears among other sections. It has deflected attention from the very real threat of a rising tide of rightwing racism, both Islamophobia and the kind of anti-semitism that relates to Jews, not Israel.

Then, there was the serving British general who was given a platform by the Sunday Times – anonymously, of course – to accuse Corbyn of being a threat to British national security. The general warned that the army’s senior command would never allow Corbyn near Number 10. They would launch a coup first.

But no one in the corporate media or the political establishment thought the interview worthy of much attention, or demanded an investigation to find out which general had threatened to overturn the democratic will of the people. The story was quickly dropped down the memory hole. Those who sought to draw attention to it were told to move on, that there was nothing to see.

And now, this week, footage has emerged showing British soldiers – apparently taking their commanders’ expressed wishes more seriously than the media – using a poster of Corbyn as target practice out in Afghanistan.

Questioning ‘security credentials’

Do the media and politicians really care about any of this? Are they concerned, let alone as outraged as they were at Soubry’s earlier discomfort at the verbal abuse she faced? Do they understand the seriousness of this threat to British political life, to the safety of the leader of the opposition?

The signs are still far from reassuring. Theresa May did not think it worth using prime minister’s questions to condemn the video, to send an unequivocal message that Britain’s political choices would never be decided by violence. No one else in the chamber apparently thought to raise the matter either.

Sky News even used the footage to question yet again Corbyn’s “security credentials”, as though the soldiers might thereby have grounds for treating him as a legitimate target.

The clues as to where all this is leading are not hard to fathom. The white nationalist who drove into a crowd at Finsbury Park mosque in London, killing a worshipper, admitted at his trial that the real target had been Corbyn. An unexpected roadblock foiled his plans.

The fact is that no one in the political or media class cares much whether their constant trivialising of Corbyn’s political programme degrades British political life, or whether their smears could lead to political violence, or whether four years of their incitement might encourage someone to use more than an egg and a fist against Corbyn.

So let’s stop indulging the media and politicians as they cite Jo Cox’s murder and Anna Soubry’s intimidation as evidence of their democratic sensibilities and their commitment to political principle.

The truth is they are charlatans. They will use anything – from the murder of an MP to confections of anti-semitism and smears about treason – to incite against a democratic politician who threatens their domination of the political system.

It is their refusal to engage with a political argument they know they will lose, and to allow a democratic process to take place that they fear will produce the wrong result, that is setting the scene for greater polarisation and frustration, and ultimately for violence.

From Brexit to Trump, it’s Death by 1,000 Cuts

Has anyone else noticed how over the past few years the corporate media has been dedicating ever more space to articles on how to deal with loneliness, anxiety and insomnia, as well as ways to immerse ourselves in escapist new technology?

Our attention is being diverted away from the political to the cultural, medical and technical. When our elites have no solutions to the most pressing problems of the day, when all the objective evidence indicates that the political system they oversee and have designed to enrich themselves is driving us over a cliff edge, with our economies going bankrupt and our planet dying, they desperately need to rechannel our energies. Instead of blaming them, we are told to fix ourselves – or at least to pacify ourselves with entertainment.

That, of course, all sounds a lot more plausible when we clearly do need to fix ourselves. We are more anxious, more isolated, more confused than ever before. And for very good reason.

A new poll finds that 83 per cent of Britons are exhausted by hearing blow-by-blow news of Brexit, Britain’s interminable struggle to find a credible way to leave the European Union. Two-thirds believe that the anxiety provoked by this slow-motion plunge into the unknown is bad for people’s – presumably including their own – mental health. They are not wrong.

Heavy emotional toll

Meanwhile, Russiagate – the establishment-promoted conspiracy theory that Donald Trump stole the 2016 presidential election by colluding with Russia – has similarly sucked out all oxygen from the US political arena. For more than two years pundits there have spoken and thought about little else.

I suspect surveys of US public opinion would find a similar ennui among most Americans about these wildly improbable, and now disproven, claims against Trump. American friends who consider themselves part of the so-called #resistance to Trump tell me they wish they could just shut their eyes and the whole mess go away. It’s clearly not helping their mental health either.

A heavy emotional and psychic toll is being inflicted even on those fronting these establishment narratives, as was evident when Rachel Maddow, TV cheerleader-in-chief for the Russiagate conspiracy theory, had to announce on air that the Mueller investigation she had so excitedly played up for two years was a dud. Robert Mueller had found zero evidence of collusion.

Maddow’s pained facial contortions, her manic laughter as she tried to prop up the last vestiges of a narrative that had just been discredited by the very establishment she is a key pillar of was distressing to watch. Here was a woman who looked more in need of therapy than a major TV show.

Boring us to death

But maybe it’s too simple to see this as nothing more than an example of mass cognitive dissonance. Maybe the emotional, mental and spiritual breakdown is actually the point. Maybe the goal is to frustrate and bore us quite literally to death.

Politically and ideologically we are stuck. Capitalism has failed – and not marginally but ignominiously. Any ideology premised on an outcome that burns the planet to a crisp, or grows the world’s population until the resources to support it are exhausted, or both, is not only mistaken but dangerously deluded. Insanity, in fact.

But for decades we have all been caught up in that spell. Think of the Thatcher and Reagan years, of how most of us lapped up the idea that there was no such thing as society, that each of us was an island as our governments sold off public infrastructure and the common good. And at some level we all absorbed those mantras, even those of us in the UK who railed against Thatcher’s poll tax and supported the miners.

We all watched “serious” debates on TV in which eminent intellectuals told us that history had ended and that free-market capitalism had triumphed. We were on our journey to nirvana. Even when some of us wondered whether such arguments might be wrong or too simplistic, we rarely greeted them with the derision they so obviously deserved.

Now the delusion, the insanity cultivated in us over those past decades, is coming home to roost. We have so deeply imbibed the ideology of those who exploit us that we cannot imagine – we even fear – the possibility of being liberated from it.

Distracted by baubles

The elites whose power and wealth derives from the current system have absolutely no interest in changing course, in allowing new ideas, new paradigms to emerge. They are no more likely to provide a platform for radical or experimental thinking either in the establishment media or in our legislative echo-chambers than they are to fund Extinction Rebellion or shut down the offshore tax havens where they hoard their gargantuan wealth.

Even efforts to return us to the order that predated Thatcher and Reagan – one that placed some value in the collective – is being aggressively snuffed out by our elites, whether it’s Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or Bernie Sanders and the Congress’s insurgency lawmakers in the US.

The self-destruction of capitalism – the signs of its internal contradictions, its need for endless economic growth on a resource-finite planet – has been evident for some time. Once we could be distracted with baubles, with new iPhones and home entertainment systems, and by politics as fun-filled spectacle. Trump in the US and Boris Johnson in the UK may be the logical endpoints of that political process.

Political paralysis

Now we are moving from spectacle, from politics as entertainment, to politics as death by a thousand cuts.

Britain cannot leave the EU, but also it cannot stay. The UK cannot move forward, and it has no possibility to move back. It is trapped, politically paralysed. A decision either way will tear the fabric of the social contract to shreds.

Does Brexit not offer us a parable for our times? It is in miniature our predicament as a species. We cannot move forward with capitalism because it is killing us and most life on the planet, but the capitalist class will not allow us the space or resources to find another way out of the mess they created. And brainwashed for so long, we fear even a modest diversion from our current suicidal path.

So we aimlessly watch TV unfold as if we have no power over either our individual fates or our collective fate. We stare into the abyss, a mixture of boredom and creeping anxiety our only responses to our own imminent demise.

We feel lonely, anxious and confused. We medicate ourselves with trivia, with entertainment, and we allow ourselves to be briefly distracted with establishment shadow plays that invert reality, from Corbyn’s supposed anti-semitism to US war criminals assigning themselves the right to pick Venezuela’s president.

No time for boredom

We have been on this path to collective insanity for a while, as the renowned psychologist Erich Fromm warned decades ago. It is at least a sign of hope that it is finally dawning on many of us that we are immersed in delusion, that we are mentally, emotionally and spiritually at a dead end.

That requires understanding that Trump isn’t the enemy, he is a symptom of our collective illness. Similarly, Brexit isn’t really the end of the world, it is grand displacement activity – our effort to distract ourselves from much deeper questions. Whether the UK stays in Europe or leaves, capitalism will still be herding us towards extinction. Brexit is unlikely even to affect how quickly we bring about such end-times.

The deeper questions we have been evading force us to address who we are as individuals and as a society, and whether we wish to have a future, to belong to a planet that possibly uniquely in our small corner of the universe can sustain higher life forms and the supreme achievement of our evolutionary branch-line, human beings.

Only in facing those questions can we rid ourselves of our political confusion and our individual anxiety. Standing on the edge of an abyss should be no time for boredom. It is time for deep reflection, and rapid personal and collective growth.

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.

Three Lessons from the “Failed” Mueller Inquiry

Here are three important lessons for the progressive left to consider now that it is clear the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russiagate is never going to uncover collusion between Donald Trump’s camp and the Kremlin in the 2016 presidential election.

Painting the pig’s face

1. The left never had a dog in this race. This was always an in-house squabble between different wings of the establishment. Late-stage capitalism is in terminal crisis, and the biggest problem facing our corporate elites is how to emerge from this crisis with their power intact. One wing wants to make sure the pig’s face remains painted, the other is happy simply getting its snout deeper into the trough while the food lasts.

Russiagate was never about substance, it was about who gets to image-manage the decline of a turbo-charged, self-harming neoliberal capitalism.

The leaders of the Democratic party are less terrified of Trump and what he represents than they are of us and what we might do if we understood how they have rigged the political and economic system to their permanent advantage.

It may look like Russiagate was a failure, but it was actually a success. It deflected the left’s attention from endemic corruption within the leadership of the Democratic party, which supposedly represents the left. It rechannelled the left’s political energies instead towards the convenient bogeymen targets of Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Mired in corruption

What Mueller found – all he was ever going to find – was marginal corruption in the Trump camp. And that was inevitable because Washington is mired in corruption. In fact, what Mueller revealed was the most exceptional forms of corruption among Trump’s team while obscuring the run-of-the-mill stuff that would have served as a reminder of the endemic corruption infecting the Democratic leadership too.

An anti-corruption investigation would have run much deeper and exposed far more. It would have highlighted the Clinton Foundation, and the role of mega-donors like James Simons, George Soros and Haim Saban who funded Hillary’s campaign with one aim in mind: to get their issues into a paid-for national “consensus”.

Further, in focusing on the Trump camp – and relative minnows like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone – the Russiagate inquiry actually served to shield the Democratic leadership from an investigation into the much worse corruption revealed in the content of the DNC emails. It was the leaking / hacking of those emails that provided the rationale for Mueller’s investigations. What should have been at the front and centre of any inquiry was how the Democratic party sought to rig its primaries to prevent party members selecting anyone but Hillary as their presidential candidate.

So, in short, Russiagate has been two years of wasted energy by the left, energy that could have been spent both targeting Trump for what he is really doing rather than what it is imagined he has done, and targeting the Democratic leadership for its own, equally corrupt practices.

Trump empowered

2. But it’s far worse than that. It is not just that the left wasted two years of political energy on Russiagate. At the same time, they empowered Trump, breathing life into his phoney arguments that he is the anti-establishment president, a people’s president the elites are determined to destroy.

Trump faces opposition from within the establishment not because he is “anti-establishment” but because he refuses to decorate the pig’s snout with lipstick. He is tearing the mask off late-stage capitalism’s greed and self-destructiveness. And he is doing so not because he wants to reform or overthrow turbo-charged capitalism but because he wants to remove the last, largely cosmetic constraints on the system so that he and his friends can plunder with greater abandon – and destroy the planet more quickly.

The other wing of the neoliberal establishment, the one represented by the Democratic party leadership, fears that exposing capitalism in this way – making explicit its inherently brutal, wrist-slitting tendencies – will awaken the masses, that over time it will risk turning them into revolutionaries. Democratic party leaders fear Trump chiefly because of the threat he poses to the image of the political and economic system they have so lovingly crafted so that they can continue enriching themselves and their children.

Trump’s genuis – his only genuis – is to have appropriated, and misappropriated, some of the language of the left to advance the interests of the 1 per cent. When he attacks the corporate “liberal” media for having a harmful agenda, for serving as propagandists, he is not wrong. When he rails against the identity politics cultivated by “liberal” elites over the past two decades – suggesting that it has weakened the US – he is not wrong. But he is right for the wrong reasons.

TV’s version of clickbait

The corporate media, and the journalists they employ, are propagandists – for a system that keeps them wealthy. When Trump was a Republican primary candidate, the entire corporate media loved him because he was TV’s equivalent of clickbait, just as he had been since reality TV began to usurp the place of current affairs programmes and meaningful political debate.

The handful of corporations that own the US media – and much of corporate America besides – are there both to make ever-more money by expanding profits and to maintain the credibility of a political and economic system that lets them make ever more money.

The “liberal” corporate media shares the values of the Democratic party leadership. In other words, it is heavily invested in making sure the pig doesn’t lose its lipstick. By contrast, Fox News and the shock-jocks, like Trump, prioritise making money in the short term over the long-term credibility of a system that gives them licence to make money. They care much less whether the pig’s face remains painted.

So Trump is right that the “liberal” media is undemocratic and that it is now propagandising against him. But he is wrong about why. In fact, all corporate media – whether “liberal” or not, whether against Trump or for him – is undemocratic. All of the media propagandises for a rotten system that keeps the vast majority of Americans impoverished. All of the media cares more for Trump and the elites he belongs to than it cares for the 99 per cent.

Gorging on the main course

Similarly, with identity politics. Trump says he wants to make (a white) America great again, and uses the left’s obsession with identity as a way to energise a backlash from his own supporters.

Just as too many on the left sleep-walked through the past two years waiting for Mueller – a former head of the FBI, the US secret police, for chrissakes! – to save them from Trump, they have been manipulated by liberal elites into the political cul-de-sac of identity politics.

Just as Mueller put the left on standby, into waiting-for-the-Messiah mode, so simple-minded, pussy-hat-wearing identity politics has been cultivated in the supposedly liberal bastions of the corporate media and Ivy League universities – the same universities that have turned out generations of Muellers and Clintons – to deplete the left’s political energies. While we argue over who is most entitled and most victimised, the establishment has carried on raping and pillaging Third World countries, destroying the planet and siphoning off the wealth produced by the rest of us.

These liberal elites long ago worked out that if we could be made to squabble among ourselves about who was most entitled to scraps from the table, they could keep gorging on the main course.

The “liberal” elites exploited identity politics to keep us divided by pacifying the most marginalised with the offer of a few additional crumbs. Trump has exploited identity politics to keep us divided by inflaming tensions as he reorders the hierarchy of “privilege” in which those crumbs are offered. In the process, both wings of the elite have averted the danger that class consciousness and real solidarity might develop and start to challenge their privileges.

The Corbyn experience

3. But the most important lesson of all for the left is that support among its ranks for the Mueller inquiry against Trump was foolhardy in the extreme.

Not only was the inquiry doomed to failure – in fact, not only was it designed to fail – but it has set a precedent for future politicised investigations that will be used against the progressive left should it make any significant political gains. And an inquiry against the real left will be far more aggressive and far more “productive” than Mueller was.

If there is any doubt about that, look to the UK. Britain now has within reach of power the first truly progressive politician in living memory, someone seeking to represent the 99 per cent, not the 1 per cent. But Jeremy Corbyn’s experience as the leader of the Labour party – massively swelling the membership’s ranks to make it the largest political party in Europe – has been eye-popping.

I have documented Corbyn’s travails regularly in this blog over the past four years at the hands of the British political and media establishment. You can find many examples here.

Corbyn, even more so than the small, new wave of insurgency politicians in the US Congress, has faced a relentless barrage of criticism from across the UK’s similarly narrow political spectrum. He has been attacked by both the right-wing media and the supposedly “liberal” media. He has been savaged by the ruling Conservative party, as was to be expected, and by his own parliamentary Labour party. The UK’s two-party system has been exposed as just as hollow as the US one.

The ferocity of the attacks has been necessary because, unlike the Democratic party’s success in keeping a progressive left-winger away from the presidential campaign, the UK system accidentally allowed a socialist to slip past the gatekeepers. All hell has broken out ever since.

Simple-minded identity politics

What is so noticeable is that Corbyn is rarely attacked over his policies – mainly because they have wide popular appeal. Instead he has been hounded over fanciful claims that, despite being a life-long and very visible anti-racism campaigner, he suddenly morphed into an outright anti-semite the moment party members elected him leader.

I will not rehearse again how implausible these claims are. Simply look through these previous blog posts should you be in any doubt.

But what is amazing is that, just as with the Mueller inquiry, much of the British left – including prominent figures like Owen Jones and the supposedly countercultural Novara Media – have sapped their political energies in trying to placate or support those leading the preposterous claims that Labour under Corbyn has become “institutionally anti-semitic”. Again, the promotion of a simple-minded identity politics – which pits the rights of Palestinians against the sensitivities of Zionist Jews about Israel – was exploited to divide the left.

The more the left has conceded to this campaign, the angrier, the more implacable, the more self-righteous Corbyn’s opponents have become – to the point that the Labour party is now in serious danger of imploding.

A clarifying moment

Were the US to get its own Corbyn as president, he or she would undoubtedly face a Mueller-style inquiry, and one far more effective at securing the president’s impeachment than this one was ever going to be.

That is not because a left-wing US president would be more corrupt or more likely to have colluded with a foreign power. As the UK example shows, it would be because the entire media system – from the New York Times to Fox News – would be against such a president. And as the UK example also shows, it would be because the leaderships of both the Republican and Democratic parties would work as one to finish off such a president.

In the combined success-failure of the Mueller inquiry, the left has an opportunity to understand in a much more sophisticated way how real power works and in whose favour it is exercised. It is a moment that should be clarifying – if we are willing to open our eyes to Mueller’s real lessons.