Monday, 15 April 2019

The war on freedom of expression: the arrest of Julian Assange

Julian Assange was arrested last week. He was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the police. According to Prime Minister Theresa May, he was arrested on the grounds of bail violation and an extradition request from the American government. Assange later appeared before a magistrates' court, where the district judge, demonstrating his impartiality, described Assange as a narcissist. The arrest of Julian Assange is part of a much larger war on freedom of expression, and especially, the war on any attempt to challenge official narratives.

The US charge against Assange does not even make sense. The US allege that Assange conspired with Bradley Manning (as he then was) to hack a US Department of Defence computer. This charge is undermined by the fact that Manning had first tried to release the documents to the New York Times and the Washington Post. Neither outlet was prepared to publish these damning documents. Manning only then provided WikiLeaks with the documents. This sequence shows that Manning was in possession of the documents before any contact with WikiLeaks, which disproves the allegation. Furthermore, the US charge would require Manning to give evidence against Assange, but it is clear Manning is unwilling to do so. Manning is in fact being held in indefinite detention precisely because he has refused to provide any such testimony. The imprisonment of Chelsea Manning (as she is now) should in itself be a scandal. Manning is being held in indefinite detention until she provides a US prosecutor with testimony to indict another person. When prosecutors can use such tactics, no one is safe.

It is clear that the US charge against Julian Assange is simply a trumped up charge designed to provide the verisimilitude of due process, when the motive is really revenge for his publication of evidential proof of US war crimes.

The US persuaded Ecuador to go along with this travesty by a mixture of money and diplomatic support. Following a visit by Mike Pence, Ecuador received ten billion dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other international financial institutions dominated by the US. Ecuador also received ringing endorsements from western political leaders and much praise in the western corporate media. In return, Lenin Moreno revoked Assange's asylum and the Ecuadorian ambassador in London invited the police into the embassy to arrest Julian.

The British government went along with Washington's plan without any such obvious inducements. However, some members of parliament, whilst keen to participate in the persecution of Assange, were somewhat squeamish about being seen to be involved in such a blatant attempt to criminalise the publication of accurate information. Instead, they called for Assange to be extradited to Sweden on the basis of allegations of sexual misconduct, even though the Swedish prosecutor dropped the case years ago and there is no such extradition request. Whilst this move is patently absurd, it has not only the benefit of enabling them to pretend they are not persecuting Assange for journalism, it also enables them to attack Jeremy Corbyn as someone who is a supporter of sexual predators, an entirely new smear in the library of baseless smears against the Labour leader.

In the midst of all this propaganda, the facts that the documents WikiLeaks published revealed are silenced. The shocking images of helicopter gunship shooting down civilians are not shown in the television broadcasts on the story. This silence speaks volumes. Those who are participating in the persecution of Julian Assange are intent on silencing any and all challenges to the official narratives. They are engaged in a war on freedom of expression.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Soldiers shoot Jeremy Corbyn image

A video of British soldiers using an image of Jeremy Corbyn for target practice was posted on the Internet. The political media elite are outraged. The soldiers have been condemned by parliamentarians, government ministers and journalists. The Ministry of Defence issued an immediate statement. The ministry stated that the action was a clear violation of its standards and was unacceptable. There have been calls for the soldiers to be disciplined for conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.

This incident exemplifies the warped values of the elite. They send our soldiers to foreign lands to fight illegal wars of aggression and celebrate. But when a few paratroopers in Kabul fire wax bullets at an image of a politician, they jump up and down with moral outrage. John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, declaimed he was horrified. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, condemned the behaviour as unacceptable. Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, assured parliament that the incident was being investigated. Apparently, shooting an inanimate object is beyond the pale.

Whilst the hypocrisy of the elite is beyond belief, the howls of excoriation also reveal a complete lack of empathy. These British soldiers were sent to a foreign land to fight an illegal war of aggression. They were told they were going to protect the people. But they found the people do not want them. Indeed, they found some of the people were trying to kill them. They found little in the way of recreation - because people were trying to kill them. So they decided to make target practice a little more interesting by shooting the image of the VIP rather than the images of the assailants - for a laugh; a touch of light relief in the midst of a sea of boredom punctuated by moments of stress, fear and anger. And the political media elite demand an investigation, although they have already judged the behaviour to be completely unacceptable.

This rush to condemnation means it will be impossible for these soldiers to be treated justly. They are already publicly accused by the Ministry of Defence of conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline. This is a charge that the witch-finders would have well appreciated: it is an accusation that is itself proof. Indeed, it is an outrage that this military law still even exists. What is and is not contrary to good order and military discipline is clearly a subjective judgement. There is no way a soldier can defend himself from such a charge when it is made by the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary, the Ministry of Defence, a general in the field and a host of corporate journalists. The accusations prove that the behaviour is contrary to good order and military discipline. It is legal equivalent of a tautology.

The values of the elite are so warped as to defy rational explanation. How can shooting an inanimate object by worse than illegally invading and occupying a foreign country? If anyone knows the answer, do tell.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Brenton Tarrant, the corporate media and censorship

Brenton Tarrant shot and killed forty-nine people on Friday in Christchurch. The corporate media love this story. News programmes have been dominated by the story. However, it is not the facts of the case that they are particularly concerned to report. Rather, their interest is in the narratives they can spin.

Brenton Tarrant is, according to the corporate media's so called journalists, a white supremacist. He live-streamed his attack. He had published a manifesto on the Internet prior to the attack. He used rifles for his attack. He was influenced by things he had read on the Internet. These few characteristics make the story endlessly fascinating for the corporate media. These details allow them to push their propaganda against freedom of expression, especially on social media. These details allow them to push their propaganda against dissenting views. These details allow them to push their propaganda against citizens having the right to bear arms. These details allow them to push their propaganda against any criticism of Islam. These details allow them to push their propaganda against Donald Trump and all the politicians they characterise as populists.

The use of this tragic event for propaganda purposes is not an aberration: this is normal practice for the corporate media. Exploiting tragic events is their stock in trade; their standard operating procedure.

In all the noise and emoting around this story, one theme is central: their fear of freedom of expression, especially on the Internet. Journalists, pundits, politicians and various forms of experts are rolled out demanding censorship of the Internet. Within hours, video of the attack was taken down. Within a day, Tarrant's manifesto was taken down.

The censorship of the manifesto is significant. It was his rationale for his actions, in his own words. And that is precisely what the corporate media did not want anyone to know. The last thing they want is someone else being able to define the narrative. In their view there is only one legitimate narrative: and it is theirs. The idea that people should have access to primary sources and be able to make up their own minds on the basis of the facts is something the whole of the elite agree should never happen. When WikiLeaks published Democratic Party documents Chris Cuomo told CNN's viewers that it was illegal for them to look at the documents and they could only know about them from the media. Bare-faced lying is also a norm in the media.

I read Tarrant's manifesto before it was taken down. There is nothing in it to justify the corporate media's assertion that he is a white supremacist. It would be more accurate to characterise him as a segregationist. His concern is with mass migration of Muslims into lands occupied by Europeans and people of European descent. His fear is that such migration will inevitably result in the host society having its culture and traditions undermined and eventually replaced. His fear is that the newly arrived will destroy the indigenous culture (apparently the irony of an Australian of European descent holding this view is lost on Tarrant).

Tarrant's manifesto contains other material that would fit uncomfortably with the corporate media's narrative. For example, he claims Candace Owens as a source of inspiration. She is what in the corporate media's racist world view is called black; an unlikely hero for a white supremacist. Tarrant also compared himself with Nelson Mandela. He did this in acknowledgement that his attack would be an act of terrorism. The point he was making was that now that the ANC's struggle has been won, Mandela is no longer regarded as a terrorist. The notion that terrorists are only terrorists when they are the losers but are heroes and emancipators when they are the victors is not a discussion the media wish to see discussed: it would raise far too many uncomfortable issues. No in the media wants to talk about Jewish terrorism, for instance.

The major problem for the corporate media with Tarrant's manifesto is simply that it sounds far to reasonable, too rational, too dispassionate. This is, of course, the exact opposite of the corporate media portrayal. Clarissa Ward (who infamously pushed jihadi propaganda for CNN) has appeared on television, waving the manifesto, claiming it is a deranged, hate-filled rant. There are many criticisms would could make of the manifesto, but deranged and rant are so far off the mark as to render the language meaningless.

The corporate media are afraid of Tarrant. They do not want anyone to hear his voice, his narrative. And so they immediately demanded that his words be removed from the Internet. And this is what they do to anyone who expresses a competing narrative. They describe themselves as liberals in favour of freedom of speech, but their consistent practice is to push for ever more censorship. They not only regret the passing of the days when they were the gatekeepers of public discourse, they are determined to re-establish that hegemony.

I am reminded of Pastor Neimoller's words. "First they came for the Communists, And I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist." Today they censor Brenton Tarrant, and they know you will not speak out. Yet if the right to freedom of expression means anything, it means the right to say things that are disagreed with.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Democracy dies when the losers refuse to accept the result

It was Harold Wilson who famously stated that a week is a long time in politics. This week must have seemed like an eternity to Theresa May. On Tuesday, parliament again voted down her Withdrawal Agreement. On Wednesday, parliament voted against leaving the European Union without a deal. And on Thursday, parliament instructed the government to seek an extension to Article 50. Three resounding defeats on the government's flagship policy.

At anytime in previous parliamentary history such defeats would have brought down the government. However, the Fixed Term Parliament Act allows Theresa May to cling to the trappings of power. Yet it is obvious to all that she is no longer in control of events. Indeed, on Thursday members of her own Cabinet defied a three line whip and did not resign, repudiating the doctrine of collective responsibility. Worse still, she is now having to work against her constantly reiterated (more than one hundred times from the despatch box) assertion that the country will leave the European Union on the 29th of March and having to ask the European Union for more time.

Even worse, this new policy position that parliament has forced on the executive is utterly incoherent, as it does not specify the purpose nor the duration and the European Union has repeatedly made it clear that they would only consider a request for an extension if there is a clear purpose. This lack of clarity can only cause further uncertainty and confusion. If the request is for a short extension, it would only be granted if the European Union were assured that the current Withdrawal Agreement would be accepted by parliament - something parliament has repeatedly declined by massive majorities to do. Any other reason for an extension would require a much longer delay, which would mean that the United Kingdom would have to participate in the European parliamentary elections - something wanted by neither the European Union nor the United Kingdom.

These three days of government defeats in the House of Commons have shown that parliament is strong enough to prevent the executive from governing but too divided to wrest control and direction of the executive from the government. This outcome is a direct result of the clash between direct democracy and representative democracy which was set in train by David Cameron's decision to hold a referendum on the issue of membership of the European Union. When he made that decision, he was sure that the result would be Remain. If he had been right, there would have been no problem. But the people ignored all the warnings and exhortations and voted for democracy: a result that is unacceptable to the elite. But the political class cannot just simply and plainly tell the people their votes count for nothing: it would strip away the image of consent and reveal the stark truth that parliamentary democracy is merely an illusion.

The actions of parliament this week have partially stripped away the mask. The events of the next two weeks will determine whether or not the mask will be discarded completely. The only way to prevent that disillusion would be for the country to leave on the 29th of March, the current legal default. Theresa May could still bring about that outcome, but only if she is prepared to defy both parliament and her own Cabinet. Will she? I doubt it.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Javid exploits May's correlation gaffe

Last Friday night a seventeen year old girl, Jodie Chesney, was stabbed to death in a leafy London suburb. The political media elite immediately went into moral panic mode. In the midst of this moral panic Theresa May asserted that there is no "direct correlation" between the numbers of police officers and violent crime. Politicians, senior police officers and the corporate media all immediately poured scorn and contempt upon her assertion. Yet, the prime minister is undoubtedly and obviously correct.

For decades crime, including violent crime, has been declining. Yet over the same decades the number of police officers has risen and fallen. Any dispassionate analysis of the figures would lead to the conclusion that there is no direct correlation between the number of police officers and the incidence of criminal acts. Crime clearly has causes that are at least partially independent of the number of police officers.

Yet, the prime minister's claim is being treated with withering contempt, as though it is the height of foolishness, by the elite. News programme after news programme is filled with supposed experts, and people who obviously have no expertise, asserting that there is an obvious (albeit unexplained - indeed, completely contradictory rationales are offered) link between the number of police officers and the rate of violent crime. However, if this constantly repeated assertion were correct, the statistical evidence would show declining crime consequent to increased police numbers and increasing crime consequent to reduced police numbers: there is no such statistical evidence.

This lack of evidence is, however, completely unimportant, as the "debate" is not about evidence. It isn't even a debate. It is, in fact, a moral panic. The death of Jodie Chesney was only one in a series of such incidents, but it triggered the moral panic because her death showed the elite that it could affect them (rather than just poor people). This triggered an emotional response and ensured that thinking by the elite on this subject was now confined to the level of intuition. In this context, merely pointing to disconfirming evidence is, at best, proof of idiocy and, at worst, downright evil.

Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, who is doubtless well aware that there is no direct correlation between police numbers and crime, has decided to side with the herd and repeatedly asserts that there is a link, even though his government has been responsible for reducing police numbers by more than twenty thousand.

Javid is obviously positioning himself for a bid to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. He is using the tried and tested law and order card, making a direct appeal to the members of the party across the country. He knows they will, just like the corporate media so called journalists, be taking that view that more police officers would mean less crime. He knows that they will not be considering the statistical evidence and would dismiss it out of hand even if it were presented to them. He knows May's accurate assertion was a serious political gaffe and, out of ambition to be the next leader, he is prepared to exploit that gaffe for all it's worth.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

May and Corbyn try to hold their parties together

Today Theresa May yet again returned to parliament to make a statement on her deal to leave the European Union. And, yet again, she was unable to announce any progress. Instead, she announced that the government would put her deal back to parliament in the middle of March - the deal that was supposed to have been decided upon by parliament back in December.

However, she did present parliament with some variations. She promised to allow parliament to vote, not only for her deal, but if they voted it down, they could also vote on leaving without a deal, and, if they voted against doing so, they could vote to instruct the government to seek an extension of Article 50, so as to delay our leaving. This was a massive concession to the Remainers in parliament, as could be seen from the fact that Oliver Letwin immediately after the debate posted a tweet saying the Cooper/Letwin proposed bill, which would seek to ensure the government seeks a delay, is no longer necessary.

The prime minister's change of position was clearly motivated by the public threats of members of her government to resign if leaving the European Union without a deal was to become government policy or even merely an inevitable consequence of not being able to secure a parliamentary majority for her deal. Yet, from the sequencing she set out, it is clear that she was determined to use this u-turn that her own ministers had forced upon her as leverage to force Leavers to vote for her deal, regardless of the concessions that she might be able to squeeze from the European Union.

Theresa May was also assisted by the Labour Party leadership in this tactic. They had announced last night that they would now support a second referendum. Whilst this move by the Labour Party is unlikely to be capable of commanding a majority, it can only act to put further pressure on those who wish to leave. Thus, the effect of the changes in positions by the two front benches has been to strengthen the Remainers and to frighten the Leavers with the prospect of our remaining in the European Union.

For Theresa May, this is a high risk tactic. She is risking creating a civil war within her own party. The Remainers in her parliamentary party are a small minority. Even more significantly, the Remainers are a tiny minority in her party in the country. A failure to deliver (and in the near future) our exit would almost certainly make it impossible for her to govern.

Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn's change of position is one that has been forced upon him in an effort to maintain party unity, but equally runs the risk of causing a serious split in the party. Whilst the majority of the Labour Party, both in parliament and the country, are Remainers, this is not the case with Labour voters. Many Labour members of parliament represent Leave constituencies and all of them were elected at the last general election on a manifesto that promised to respect the result of the referendum. Thus, in trying to hold his party together, Corbyn is risking alienating his electoral base and ensuring that Labour lose the next general election - something his enemies, all of whom are Remainers, in his own parliamentary party would consider to be a price worth paying, as they would assume that they would then be able to be rid of him.

The paradoxes are the inevitable result of the clash between representative democracy and direct democracy that was unleashed when David Cameron decided to call the referendum on the issue of the European Union: an issue that does not neatly fit into the traditional party politics. The referendum was bound to create serious problems for both the Conservatives and Labour. But the political elite were sure that Remain would win and the problem would be shelved for at least a generation. However, once Leave won the vote, it was inevitable that the issue would be all consuming. And so it has proved to be.

It is three years since the contest was set in motion and, throughout those three years, the political elite have been obsessed by the issue. Even now, a mere month before we are scheduled to leave, there is no certainty about what will happen, other than the arguments will continue.

Monday, 18 February 2019

SDP MkII

This morning a group of seven members of parliament announced their resignations from the Labour Party. They cited concerns about leaving the European Union, anti-Semitism, Jeremy Corbyn and the failure of the major political parties to listen to the electorate as their reasons. The rationale was that mixture of the truth and dishonesty that so often characterises contemporary political discourse.

The concern about leaving the European Union, for example, is both true (they are all Remainers) and highly misleading, as they all stood on a manifesto in the 2017 general election that promised to respect the 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union. The expressed concern with anti-Semitism is even less truthful, as they all know that it is a confected issue, which was created after Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party as part of an attempt to over turn that decision. Indeed, all seven of these members of parliament have constantly opposed Corbyn and have engaged in the repeated attempts to institute a party coup. But even more disingenuous is the claim to be concerned about the failure of established parties to listen to the electorate. All of these members of parliament have consistently ignored the wishes of the electorate. They have supported wars of aggression and regime change operations. They have sought to deny the result of the referendum. They have consistently supported the neoliberal globalist agenda. And now, having resigned from the Labour Party, they refuse to resign from parliament and stand in by elections, denying the electors the opportunity to either endorse or reject them. On this latter point, it is noteworthy that whilst they all claim there is a demand for a re-run of the referendum, they all claim that the last thing the electors want is another election. The special pleading and motivated reasoning could hardly be more blatant.

This move by these members of parliament is highly reminiscent of the breakaway of the gang of four back in the early 1980s. However, there are significant differences. The gang of four were high ranking members of parliament, with substantial following. They had a great deal of money. They immediately established a new political party, the SPD, and they had a coherent manifesto. This new version has none of these advantages. The only thing it has going for it is the corporate media's anti-Corbyn stance, which will doubtless ensure that the seven can be sure of as much air time and news coverage as they could wish for. This was, of course, something that the SDP also enjoyed. Yet it did them no good at all.

The prospects for this new Independent Group, as the seven are styling themselves, look decidedly bleak. The notion that there is significant support for them inside the Labour Party or the wider electorate is little more than wishful thinking. Whilst there is significant scepticism and even hostility towards the established political parties, these seven are actually the embodiment of the reasons for such hostility. The policy positions they support are precisely the policy positions that the vast majority of the electorate reject. This can be seen clearly, and ironically, in the fact the policies of Jeremy Corbyn, which they are so implacably opposed to, are precisely the policies that approximately seventy percent of the electorate support.

Whilst the future is unknowable, it nevertheless seems highly likely that after a short period of media limelight, the breakaway seven will find the move has effectively ended their political careers, condemning them to irrelevance and impotence.