Sunday, October 26, 2014

Branded! Anatomy of the Media Smear

“A Halloween-haired, Sachsgate-enacting, estuary-whining, glitter-lacquered, priapic berk… How dare I, from my velvet chaise longue, in my Hollywood home like Kubla Khan, drag my limbs from my harem to moan about the system? A system that has posited me on a lilo made of thighs in an ocean filled with honey and foie gras’d my Essex arse with undue praise and money.” - Russell Brand on himself

“I shook George Osborne’s hand once by accident. It was like sliding my hand into a dilated cow.” - Russell Brand

The media backlash that struck Russell Brand's call for a revolution last year is back in full swing as he promotes his new book, 'Revolution'. The commentariat - those fifth-estate warriors who serve as civil society's last line of defence against the depredations of unchecked political and corporate power - are quite literally lining up to ridicule, sneer and smear.

Journalist Jonathon Cook draws attention to (Liberal Conspiracy writer) Sunny Hundal's take:

But (Evan) Davis has a more profound question that Brand clearly doesn’t want to answer. My version of that question goes like this: If you want to replace the current system of capitalism with something else, who is going to make your jeans, iPhones and run Twitter?

Cook responds to this:

Here, in a nutshell, is what the liberal’s concern amounts to: I am doing fine in the current system. I like my privileges. How can you promise me that in a fairer society I will not lose any of those privileges?

One has to credit Hundal for his honesty. When I speak of gatekeepers, this is exactly what I mean. If Brand wants to get a fair hearing in the media, he needs first to reassure people like Hundal that they will not lose their iPhones. If Brand doesn’t think such reassurances are a priority as we try to address climate meltdown and social collapse, he will be dismissed as a simpleton or court jester.

I have no doubt Brand can answer this question, as can I. But not in a way Hundal or anyone in his blinkered generation of coopted liberals could understand. That is why Brand is talking about a revolution: not in the facile sense of cutting off our rulers’ heads, but in consciousness – consciousness about who we are and where we live. In short, to drop our God-complexes and learn a little humility and humanity before it is too late. That revolution is coming whether we like it or not because our consciousnesses are going to be forced to understand the answers by far superior forces – those of the natural world. Mankind in a fist-fight with the planet is going to lose.

Hadley Freeman writing at the Pulitzer Prize-winning bastion of the 'liberal left' implores: 'Britain, don't put your faith in Russell Brand's revolution' with the following criticism:

Anyway, Brand returned this week to the seat of his great triumph by granting an interview to Davis to promote his political treatise, Revolution. Whereas last time Brand had the laconic ease of a man who knew he was starting from a place of low expectations, this time around he displayed the kind of ecstatic hypomania you’d expect of a celebrity who long ago exceeded the outer limits of his knowledge on this particular subject and is now coasting on the adrenaline of his own messiah complex. Watching this interview reminded me not of a firebrand in his full pomp but of the 1971 Woody Allen film Bananas, when the president of San Marcos has been overthrown and replaced with a hirsute revolutionary leader. This leader promptly goes mad with power, which in this case is expressed by changing the official language of San Marcos to Swedish, and ordering all citizens to change their underwear every half hour.

Not to be outdone, Simon Walters, the UK Mail On Sunday's political editor wrote a remarkable smear piece based on unconfirmed reports that Brand is considering running for Mayor of London.

A year ago this blog analysed the initial Brand backlash, noting the common themes running through the criticisms:

Here we have it all. Ad hominem attacks, smears, misrepresentation, and a patronizing tone suggesting that Mr Brand - who has on numerous occasions demonstrated his impressive intelligence and awareness - is an embarrassment for using 'big terms'. We are also informed that there is a 'vague sense' of global injustice, implying that we are mistaken about the millions of furious people in Spain, Italy, Greece and multiple other nations around the world and that in fact they just like joining protests for a laugh. We learn that capitalism has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty; sadly with no mention of the billions now suffering inequality, poverty and exploitation in almost every corner of the globe while a tiny group of already insanely wealthy people take almost all the pie. We discover that it is 'sad' that Russell is 'right about a lot of things too' because of the 'way' he 'went at it', meaning presumably that citizens who make jokes and have unruly hair really don't have any business demanding change to how their society is run.

Readers' comments below articles broadly reflect these criticisms, along with allegations of sexism, narcissism, and even Brand being 'controlled opposition', with dark hints regarding his relationship with heiress Jemima Khan, daughter of financier Sir James Goldsmith.

In other words: mission accomplished! A prime objective of commercial media is to protect the establishment that needs/allows it to thrive. The concerted media backlash against Brand has succeeded in getting vast numbers of people complaining about his perceived personality flaws instead of discussing how to tackle the deadly reality of rampant crony capitalism. THAT is what must be averted at all costs, and that is precisely what has occurred.

While the hundreds of 'obscure bloggers' from the 'dark net' (like me) who call for radical change can be easily and safely dismissed as 'crackpots', dissidents with enormous popular reach like Brand are a far bigger problem and so they must be ridiculed and smeared. Simultaneously, their views must be marginalized as 'unrealistic' by more sober commentators.

The standard tactic for demonstrating that Brand is unrealistic is the oft-repeated demand made to him for an alternative to the system. First, even if Brand actually did come up with a detailed system for a new kind of society, it would be torn apart by proponents of capitalism. Indeed, one can almost hear the howls of derision. Any 'weakness' (in other words, any suggestion that challenges the idea of relentless, unsustainable economic 'growth') would be seized upon and sneeringly dismissed as 'naive' and any other negative adjective you can think of. Second, this challenge is unreasonable in that successful societies do not simply wink into existence: they require time, effort, development, trial and error, as well as neutral media and strong education systems. The question is loaded, a rhetorical tool designed to serve an agenda, setting the target up to fail whatever he says.

Media observers will note that this treatment of Brand is not unique: one other clear example of a serious threat to the corrupt status quo is Julian Assange, whose WikiLeaks organization has shone a light with the help of whistleblowers on the crimes and corruption of state governments and their corporate paymasters, providing millions of citizens around the world with a rare glimpse of truth.

Like Brand, Assange can cause (and has caused) serious damage to the reputations of the entities shamelessly portraying themselves as forces for democracy and freedom. For Assange, this means it is open season for lies, baseless accusations, misrepresentation and personal smears against him.

People like Brand and Assange speak in detail and with eloquence on complex topics and refuse to restrict themselves to the soundbites that modern news consumers have become accustomed to. This stark contrast makes it all too easy for propagandists to portray them as eccentric and outlandish weirdoes. In a fine (and recommended) piece related to this topic, Media Lens illustrated this soundbite culture by quoting the astute comedian Frankie Boyle:

I've never been surprised by low voter turnouts. In fact, I'm surprised anybody ever votes at all. Politicians seem so alien to us, their insincerity taken as a given, behaving inhumanely while they pretend to be human in some symbolic way. If, instead of a nation, we were 500 people living as a tribe, or a bunch of survivors in a lifeboat, would anyone elect Miliband or Cameron as a leader, with their choppy hand gestures, lack of conviction and bizarrely automated range of emotions? In a normal social gathering, most of our leaders would seem to suffer from a hysterical personality disorder.

Yet the likes of Brand and Assange, by speaking naturally, are the ones portrayed as hysterical, while the catchphrases and platitudes produced by establishment representatives are taken unerringly as unquestionable evidence of gravitas.

One may dislike or criticise Brand as much as one likes based on a belief that he is a sexist or narcissist, but such allegations are utterly unrelated to the issue of revolution and radical change. Brand is a comedian, not a revolutionary leader. In his own words, he has stated that he is merely using his celebrity to draw attention to the idea of revolution. The intellectually honest approach, therefore, is to ignore the media-imposed cult of celebrity and consider Brand's words on their merit alone. Time spent decrying him for personal flaws is time lost for positive discussion about his valid contentions. Further, it plays right into the hands of the enemies of democracy - corporate power and its gatekeepers in the media - by dragging other people into irrelevant debate and pointless flame wars.

Brand has brought the idea of revolution of consciousness to millions of people who would never otherwise have been exposed to it. This rare and unexpected boon should be seized upon by activists who actually are working on serious models for fair, just and humane societies.

Written by Simon Wood

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scotland: Yes Means Democracy

“I think the Scots will come to a good conclusion in the referendum. They’ll get what they deserve." - Billy Connolly

In order to examine the case for Scottish independence, a fundamental question on democracy and self-determination must be addressed: are the 5.3 million people of Scotland currently represented democratically through their electoral process?

Because if they are not adequately represented, the need for independence is paramount.

The coalition government of the UK led by the Conservative Party has inflicted an extreme ideology upon the public - so-called 'austerity' - a euphemism for cutting services to the poor and vulnerable against a backdrop of massive privatization of public services. While the government may be a coalition on paper, the partner Liberal Democrats, who are by public mandate obliged to put a rein on the Tories, have failed utterly to do so, and despite promises to the opposite.

412,855 Scottish citizens voted Tory in the 2010 general election, and just one seat is held by the Conservatives, meaning only a very small proportion of Scottish citizens have the government they voted for. This is not in any way, shape or form a representative democracy.

So the two options - yes or no - represent a choice between living in a democracy that represents its people...or not.

Establishment power- a byword for the interests of capital - is desperate for Scotland to remain in the union, and not for stated reasons of sentiment: shared history and other rhetoric. When the recent YouGov poll that showed the Yes campaign leading for the first time was published, the world was witness to the unprecedented spectacle of all three major UK party leaders travelling together to Scotland to campaign against independence.

The assertion that the three main parties represent different people and elements in society has long been laughable, easily debunked, but this desperate ploy put the reality out there for all to see: the fact that each party represents only one thing: capital - corporations. When establishment power is threatened, the response is a marketing blitz - massive campaigns throughout media owned by the very same entities of control; campaigns intended to confuse, deceive and frighten.

PR is the response of corporate power to any perceived threat, and PR is propaganda. The purpose of propaganda is to deceive people into acting against their own interests, and the classic tactic has always been the strategic deployment of fear. As anyone barely aware of the independence 'debate' can attest, there has been no shortage of articles and commentary intended to sow fear (expertly summarized by Media Lens here).

On the morning of one of the most important days in the nation's history, the people of Scotland need to be aware of this propaganda and its aims. They need to know that whenever fear is employed on such a vast scale by people with vested interests in keeping the union, it means that the No camp is trying to pull a fast one - with the explicit aim of making Scottish voters falsely and baselessly believe that choosing independence would be catastrophic, when the reality is that independence would ensure a society that can actually represent its people's interests and not those of the rich - as it does currently.

A No vote will only keep the status quo: a government with control over the purse strings of Scotland that is far, far removed from the ideology of the vast majority of the people. And any promises of more power and freedom for Scotland made by politicians since the YouGov poll 'scare' can be thrown into the same dustbin as all the other promises made before the last election on tuition fees, NHS privatization and other important issues.

Do not allow the rich, with their lavishly funded organs of deception and bought establishment lackeys like the disgraceful Nick Robinson to win this battle. Do not let fear hold you back. Because the only possible choice for anyone who wants a democratic Scotland is Yes.

[Further Note: Please allow writer John Hilley to add eloquently to the case for independence]

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Gaza's Ghosts

"I don't think Hamas will be satisfied simply ruling the Gaza Strip" - John Bolton

The world's leaders, politicians and assorted dignitaries have this week come together to mark the centenary of the First World War. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron had this to say:

"We remember the reasons behind this conflict. Too often it has been dismissed as a pointless war, fought by people who didn't know why they were fighting. But that is wrong.These men signed up to prevent the domination of a continent, to preserve the principles of freedom and sovereignty that we cherish today."


"We should never fail to cherish the peace between these nations and never underestimate the patient work it has taken to build that peace. So, 100 years on, it is right that collectively we stop, we pause, and we re-pledge this for the next 100 years.

"We will never forget. We will always remember them."

Back in March this year, US President Barack Obama paid tribute at Flanders Field in Belgium to the US soldiers who died in the war.

From the article:

Obama has laid a wreath at a memorial at Flanders Field in Belgium. That's where hundreds of fallen troops who helped liberate Belgium are buried.

Obama says the visit reminds us never to take progress for granted. He says Belgium and the U.S. stand together forever for freedom, dignity and the triumph of the human spirit.

To those buried at the site, Obama says, quote, "We can say we caught the torch. We kept the faith."

Obama says the war's lessons are still relevant. He's pointing to ongoing efforts to rid Syria of chemical weapons, which were also used [] in the wider area Obama visited.

The leaders of the free world and other dignitaries will have made their speeches and may even have shed their tears. They will have spoken of courage, sacrifice, honour. World War I, we will have once again been told, was a war in which the brave Tommies signed up to 'fight German imperialism and expansionism', to 'win for us all the freedoms we enjoy today'.

The purpose of these solemn occasions is not to honour those who died, but instead to perpetuate the myth that peace is the priority for warmongering powers that profit hugely from the deeply corrupt war industry, and the myth that war is somehow a noble endeavour, resorted to only in defence of freedom and human rights.

We need only examine the words and actions of these same speakers in the modern era to expose their gross insincerity as Israel commits daily atrocities and war crimes in the tiny strip of land accurately (and surprisingly) described by David Cameron in 2010 as a 'prison camp'. The average age of the population of Gaza is 17, and half the population are under 16. According to the UN, more children than adult fighters have been killed in this assault. Despite these facts, both the UK and the US continue to provide massive support to Israel.

Glenn Greenwald reveals on the Intercept website further details.

From the article:

The U.S. government has long lavished overwhelming aid on Israel, providing cash, weapons and surveillance technology that play a crucial role in Israel’s attacks on its neighbors. But top secret documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden shed substantial new light on how the U.S. and its partners directly enable Israel’s military assaults – such as the one on Gaza.

Over the last decade, the NSA has significantly increased the surveillance assistance it provides to its Israeli counterpart, the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU; also known as Unit 8200), including data used to monitor and target Palestinians. In many cases, the NSA and ISNU work cooperatively with the British and Canadian spy agencies, the GCHQ and CSEC.

The relationship has, on at least one occasion, entailed the covert payment of a large amount of cash to Israeli operatives. Beyond their own surveillance programs, the American and British surveillance agencies rely on U.S.-supported Arab regimes, including the Jordanian monarchy and even the Palestinian Authority Security Forces, to provide vital spying services regarding Palestinian targets.

The new documents underscore the indispensable, direct involvement of the U.S. government and its key allies in Israeli aggression against its neighbors. That covert support is squarely at odds with the posture of helpless detachment typically adopted by Obama officials and their supporters.


The new Snowden documents illustrate a crucial fact: Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the U.S. government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks. And the relationship between the NSA and its partners on the one hand, and the Israeli spying agency on the other, is at the center of that enabling.

The UK also plays its part:

The Government has been accused of failing to regulate arms sales to Israel following evidence that weapons containing British-made components are being used in the bombardment of Gaza.

Documents shown to The Independent reveal that arms export licences worth £42m have been granted to 130 British defence manufacturers since 2010 to sell military equipment to Israel. These range from weapons control and targeting systems to ammunition, drones and armoured vehicles.

Among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. One of the two companies also supplies components for Israel’s main battle tank.


Israel is one of the biggest customers for British exports of so-called “dual-use” equipment capable of both civilian and military deployment in a trade worth more than £7bn last year.

But documents obtained by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal for the first time the full extent of sales of military-only equipment, along with the names of the companies granted export licences by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Of the £42m of so-called “military list” exports approved since 2010, some £10m has been licensed in the last 12 months.

The data reveals that dozens of highly specialised UK defence companies have secured deals with Israeli partners and the Israeli military, ranging from bulletproof garments to naval gun parts and small arms ammunition. The sales are entirely lawful and form part of Britain’s £12bn annual arms export trade.

But evidence exists that British-made components feature in weapons being deployed during Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli military has been criticised for what some see as heavy-handed tactics during its assault on Gaza. Some 1,460 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died, alongside 63 Israelis, including three civilians.

This latest Israeli attack on Gaza has aroused unprecedented horror and outrage from ordinary people around the world. The reason for this is not only the brutality inflicted upon hundreds of defenceless children by a heavily armed military power: but the fact that this is the first major military campaign to occur during the mass social media age.

[Aside: while the bombing of Libya was technically the first campaign conducted during the mass social media age, this failed to generate significant outrage outside activist circles, probably because Western media demonization of Gaddafi was so successful in its aims]

Images of mind-numbing horror - children cut to pieces by Israel's Western-supplied weaponry - flit around the ether, shared on all social media platforms so that almost every social media user is exposed to them whether they want to be or not. Efforts to convey the 'human side' of this horror have also been made throughout various media:

From an article:

“In the night, I am frightened by the bombings, missiles and the thought of the blood of injured people in the street,” says 8-year-old Karam Abu Shanab.

“I can’t sleep in the night, my mind is filled with bad images from the Israeli bombs,” he tells his mother, who says her other three children: Saleh, Malak and Sjoud are all unable to sleep - after hearing how children were bombed in their sleep at the UNRWA schools in Jabalyia.

Karam is now taking shelter at the al-Rafdeen school in Gaza City. Among the children there is constant talk about it being bombed and how parents cannot put a stop to it all.

Here, another piece conveys the thoughts of a selection of residents of Gaza.

Noam Chomsky also provided valuable insights in an extended (and superb) essay:

Israel’s goal had long been a simple one: quiet-for-quiet, a return to the norm (though now it may demand even more). What then is the norm?

For the West Bank, the norm has been that Israel carries forward its illegal construction of settlements and infrastructure so that it can integrate into Israel whatever might be of value to it, meanwhile consigning Palestinians to unviable cantons and subjecting them to intense repression and violence.

For the past 14 years, the norm has been that Israel kills more than two Palestinian children a week. The latest Israeli rampage was set of by the brutal murder of three Israeli boys from a settler community in the occupied West Bank. A month before, two Palestinian boys were shot dead in the West Bank city of Ramallah. That elicited no attention, which is understandable, since it is routine. “The institutionalised disregard for Palestinian life in the West helps explain not only why Palestinians resort to violence,” the respected Middle East analyst Mouin Rabbani reports, “but also Israel’s latest assault on the Gaza Strip.”


The norm in Gaza was described in detail by the heroic Norwegian trauma surgeon Mads Gilbert, who has worked in Gaza’s main hospital through Israel’s most grotesque crimes and returned again for the current onslaught. In June 2014, immediately before the latest Israeli onslaught, he submitted a report on the Gaza health sector to UNRWA, the UN Agency that tries desperately, on a shoestring, to care for refugees.

“At least 57 % of Gaza households are food insecure and about 80 % are now aid recipients,” Gilbert reports. “Food insecurity and rising poverty also mean that most residents cannot meet their daily caloric requirements, while over 90 % of the water in Gaza has been deemed unfit for human consumption,” a situation that is becoming even worse as Israel again attacks water and sewage systems, leaving over a million people with even more severe disruption of the barest necessity of life.

Gilbert reports that “Palestinian children in Gaza are suffering immensely. A large proportion are affected by the man-made malnourishment regime caused by the Israeli imposed blockage. Prevalence of anaemia in children <2yrs in Gaza is at 72.8%, while prevalence of wasting, stunting, underweight have been documented at 34.3%, 31.4%, 31.45% respectively.” And it gets worse as the report proceeds.


A 72-hour humanitarian truce was supposed to go into effect at 8am on August 1. It broke down almost at once. As I write, a few hours later, there are conflicting accounts and a good deal remains unclear. According to a press release of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, which has a solid reputation for reliability, one of its field workers in Rafah, at the Egyptian border in the south, heard Israeli artillery firing at about 8:05am. By about 9:30am, after reports that an Israeli soldier had been captured, intensive air and artillery bombing of Rafah was underway, killing probably dozens of people and injuring hundreds who had returned to their homes after the ceasefire entered into effect, though numbers could not yet be verified.

The day before, on July 31, the Coastal Water Utility, the sole provider of water in the Gaza Strip, announced that it could no longer provide water or sanitation services because of lack of fuel and frequent attacks on personnel. Al Mezan reports that by then, “almost all primary health services have stopped in the Gaza Strip due to the lack of water, garbage collection and environment health services. UNRWA had also warned about the risk of imminent spreading of disease owing to the halt of water and sanitation services.” Meanwhile, on the eve of the cease-fire, Israeli missiles fired from aircraft continued to kill and wound victims throughout the region.


Could US policy change? It’s not impossible. Public opinion has shifted considerably in recent years, particularly among the young, and it cannot be completely ignored. For some years there has been a good basis for public demands that Washington observe its own laws and cut off military aid to Israel. US law requires that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” Israel most certainly is guilty of this consistent pattern, and has been for many years. That is why Amnesty International, in the course of Israel’s murderous Cast Lead operation in Gaza, called for an arms embargo against Israel (and Hamas). Senator Patrick Leahy, author of this provision of the law, has brought up its potential applicability to Israel in specific cases, and with a well-conducted educational, organizational, and activist effort such initiatives could be pursued successively. That could have a very significant impact in itself, while also providing a springboard for further actions not only to punish Israel for its criminal behavior, but also to compel Washington to become part of “the international community” and to observe international law and decent moral principles.

Nothing could be more significant for the tragic Palestinian victims of many years of violence and repression.

Brian Eno wrote an impassioned open letter to the American people here:

Today I saw a picture of a weeping Palestinian man holding a plastic carrier bag of meat. It was his son. He'd been shredded (the hospital's word) by an Israeli missile attack - apparently using their fab new weapon, flechette bombs. You probably know what those are - hundreds of small steel darts packed around explosive which tear the flesh off humans. The boy was Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra. He was 4 years old.

I suddenly found myself thinking that it could have been one of my kids in that bag, and that thought upset me more than anything has for a long time.

Then I read that the UN had said that Israel might be guilty of war crimes in Gaza, and they wanted to launch a commission into that. America won't sign up to it.

What is going on in America? I know from my own experience how slanted your news is, and how little you get to hear about the other side of this story. But - for Christ's sake! - it's not that hard to find out. Why does America continue its blind support of this one-sided exercise in ethnic cleansing? WHY? I just don't get it. I really hate to think its just the power of AIPAC… for if that's the case, then your government really is fundamentally corrupt. No, I don't think that's the reason… but I have no idea what it could be.

The America I know and like is compassionate, broadminded, creative, eclectic, tolerant and generous. You, my close American friends, symbolise those things for me. But which America is backing this horrible one-sided colonialist war? I can't work it out: I know you're not the only people like you, so how come all those voices aren't heard or registered?

While these insights, especially those of Noam Chomsky, are vital for common understanding, no written description can hope to convey the horror and desperation of those living in constant fear of violent death with practically no hope for any kind of decent future, especially with regard to the children - half the population, as already observed. Readers outside this nightmare can not possibly understand the feelings elicited in a small child by the distinctive sounds of armed drone aircraft as they approach or circle overhead, or the sound of artillery, just as no one can truly appreciate how it really was to be in the trenches in World War I.

Media Lens provides us with an expert analysis of the corporate media's coverage of the Gaza 'offensive':

Soon after Malaysian Airlines MH17 crashed near Donetsk, Ukraine on July 18, killing 298 people, the BBC website quickly, and rightly, set up a 'LIVE' feed with rolling reports and commentary on the disaster. This was clearly an important and dramatic event involving horrific loss of life with serious political implications. The public would, of course, be searching for the latest news.

However, since July 8, ten days prior to the crash, Israeli armed forces had been bombarding the trapped civilian population of Gaza with airstrikes, drone strikes and naval shelling. As the massive Israeli assault ramped up on July 9, the World section of the BBC News website had this as its headline:

'Israel under renewed Hamas attack'

By July 18, around 300 people had been killed in Gaza, 80% of them civilians. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a key political issue of our time, one that was clearly developing by the minute after July 8. And yet at no point had the BBC set up a 'LIVE' feed with rolling news.

That finally changed on July 20 after so many days in which so many Palestinians had been killed. Why July 20? The answer appears to be found in the fourth entry of the live feed under the title 'Breaking News':

'Some 13 Israeli soldiers were killed overnight in Gaza, news agencies, quoting Israeli military sources, say. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the nation shortly.'

Despite this small number of military deaths compared to the Palestinian toll, it seems clear that the killing of the Israeli troops triggered the BBC live feed.


Remarkably, on the morning of July 23, when 18 Palestinians were killed, the BBC set up a live feed for the wrecked Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia, which showed the ship being towed to Genoa. There was no live feed for Gaza.

The BBC has supplied names, ages, pictures and emotive background stories of the Malaysian air crash victims while, with rare exceptions, Palestinian dead have been presented as nameless figures, briefly mentioned, then forgotten.

The level of BBC bias was emphasised by an article headline that placed inverted commas around the siege in Gaza, as if it were a matter for debate: "Palestinian PM says lift Gaza 'siege' as part of ceasefire". The BBC subsequently changed the title, but a tweet promoting the article with the original wording remains.

[Aside: the full alert is very enlightening and highly recommended (as always)]

The MSM is also exploiting the current focus on war to hype up pointless fluff pieces to capitalize on public outrage and generate more clicks (to drive up advertizing revenue) like the Russell Brand-Sean Hannity dust-up, divisions in Hollywood over the issue, and - inevitably - 'wreathgate'.

The UK's bastion of the 'pacifist, liberal left', the Guardian must be singled out for criticism. The message 'Winner of the Pulitzer Prize' is carried proudly at the top of the front page, and it is true that this newspaper has carried some superb reporting, but the true barometer for judging a media organ is not the heights to which is rises, but the depths to which it falls, and in the case of the Guardian, with its smear campaign against the brave and pioneering Julian Assange and its long history of support for Western warmongering, those depths are low indeed.

Beyond the fluff, and with the MSM desperate to avoid terminology that will have irate Israeli representatives on the phone ('We wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis'), it is left to ordinary observers of this tragedy to find the correct term to describe it.

That term is 'genocide'.

From a 99.99998271% article last year (on the Rohingya genocide):

Daniel Goldhagen's harrowing documentary on genocide, 'Worse than War', sheds light on factors common to all genocides:

Leaders choose to initiate the killing.

Ordinary people make a conscious choice to participate.

Killers can be friends and neighbors.

Genocide is always the decision of one leader or one small group of leaders. Leaders' goals vary depending on time, place and circumstances.

Killers frequently believe the victims will come to kill, enslave or dominate them if they do not strike first.

Other common themes: target population is expelled from the country, herded into camps, and subjected to planned rape and slaughter. Cruelty is a key element. Victims are often 'brutalized in a way that far exceeds what is needed to kill them'.

Genocide is never just about killing. Perpetrators want to eliminate all or a substantial part of the group. After all, if the purpose is just to wipe people out, why do we see so much cruelty and murderous passion, especially against women and children?

Genocidal leaders have learned that, in the main, the international community rarely intervenes (at least not until it is too late) and therefore that they can act with impunity.

Gregory H Stanton, Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia, United States and President of Genocide Watch wrote a report entitled 'The Eight Stages of Genocide'. The report is summarized briefly here but it should be read in full as it also contains suggestions of preventive measures at each stage of the cycle. The eight stages of genocide are:

1. Classification: An 'us and them' mentality in which there is little or no common ground

2. Symbolization: Target groups are given specific names or distinguished by colors or dress.

3. Dehumanization: One group dehumanizes the other, comparing them to 'animals, vermin, diseases or insects'. This helps overcome the natural human revulsion toward killing. Hate propaganda vilifying the target group is found throughout various media.

4. Organization: Genocide is always organized, usually at the state level, with local militias often used in order to aid in government denials of responsibility.

5. Polarization: Groups are driven physically apart by extremist groups. Moderates from the perpetrators' own group can be targeted and killed as they are the main threat to the genocide proceeding at this stage.

6. Preparation: Victims are identified and separated out; death lists are drawn up; property of victims is expropriated; victims are segregated or deported into ghettos or camps - or confined to famine-stricken regions and starved.

7. Extermination: Mass killing begins - called 'extermination' by the killers because they see victims as less than human. It is sponsored and organized by the state but security forces often work with local militias to kill. If the victims are organized or have access to weapons, this can result in bilateral genocide. At this stage, only rapid and/or large-scale intervention can hope to end the cycle of killing.

8. Denial: Perpetrators dig up mass graves, burn bodies, intimidate witnesses and/or attempt to cover up evidence. Crimes are denied and the victims are often blamed. Official investigations are blocked and perpetrators continue to govern until removed by force.

A significant number of the above points will be familiar to anyone following the situation in Gaza, both in the long and short-term. Indeed, as journalist Jonathon Cook notes, genocidal language is now entering the mainstream in Israel. The shocking reports of Israeli civilians viewing from hillsides and cheering as bombs drop are only too credible when one understands that Israel is engaged in a genocidal campaign against a trapped and helpless people.

One that would not be possible without the active support, in terms of both matériel/surveillance and mass media propaganda, of the elected governments of the self-proclaimed beacons of democracy: the UK and the US. The adjective 'Orwellian' no longer suffices to describe the hubris and insanity that now dominates world affairs through these amoral, malignant and voracious imperialistic entities and their powerful proxies and allies.

When the leaders of the enlightened, peace-loving West made their speeches to mark the centenary of the 'Great War', what they did not do was reveal the truth: that they countenance industrial murder for the enormous profits engendered by the arms industry and the strategic, geopolitical benefits garnered; even the murder of small children and babies. This murderous farce has afflicted humanity for centuries, sometimes openly in military dictatorships, other times hidden behind the glossy sheen of freedom and democracy, enforced always by thugs who possess the fatal, unfortunate ability to beguile and deceive the (sometimes voting) public.

More than anything, Gaza underlines the murderous passivity and powerlessness [read: complicity] of the very organs charged with ensuring world peace like the United Nations. The citizens of the world are now all too aware that no entity has the power to rein in neo-imperialism.

Only one thing can hope to end this, but it requires a brave decision: a decision to speak up against an entity with the power to crush you. However, it becomes easier when one recognizes that the little children of Gaza as well as the little children dying in the silent holocaust of poverty and starvation (21,000 people every day), and the little children trafficked into sexual slavery have no other advocate but you.

It becomes easier still if everyone speaks up against this outrage in unity. Even just sharing articles to spread awareness is a vital action - an important start. But if the indiscriminate slaughter of toddlers in Gaza is not sufficient to move you to action, however small, it is time to ask yourself just what will.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

[Special Note: If you are an editor of a widely-read magazine or newspaper and would like this author to contribute articles, please contact me directly at The human rights and democracy issues covered by this daily blog (and the main blog) desperately need a wider audience]

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Farcical Case Against Julian Assange

"Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed - and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment - the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution - not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply 'give the public what it wants' - but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion." - John F. Kennedy

Thursday this week marks the second anniversary of Julian Assange's refuge in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. Mr. Assange has been detained in the United Kingdom against his will without charge for almost four years. This anniversary should serve as an opportunity to once again attempt to inform the many millions of people made ignorant or uncaring of the realities of this complex case thanks to a concerted media disinformation and smear campaign against both WikiLeaks and its founder.

Readers who are open to the possibility that they may have been misled on this issue should first follow these links and read/watch in full:

A FAQ here explains some of the general circumstances of the case.

This short animated video also provides a clear, informative summary.

Writing in USA Today, Michael Ratner also took the opportunity to raise points that highlight the farcical nature of this standoff:

Harassment, targeting and prosecution of whistle-blowers, journalists and publishers have become a dangerous new normal — one we should refuse to accept, especially in a time when governments are becoming more powerful and less accountable. It's time to end this assault, starting with granting Snowden amnesty and withdrawing the threat of U.S. criminal prosecution of Assange.

In the two years Assange has spent cloistered in the Ecuadorian Embassy, the British extradition law under which he was ordered to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct has changed. With this change, the allegations that originally secured Assange's extradition order to Sweden would no longer suffice. Now, a decision to charge Assange with a crime is necessary for extradition, but Sweden has never made that decision.

That hasn't kept Britain from ignoring Assange's right to asylum by clinging to the now-invalid law. Instead, British police and security forces keep watch on the entrance, windows and surroundings of the Ecuadorian Embassy around the clock, which has cost $10 million.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to investigate Assange and might have secretly charged him without his knowledge. A grand jury empaneled in 2010 remains open, keeping Assange in legal limbo. Under such conditions, leaving the embassy would mean a stop in Sweden before Assange is given a one-way ticket to a U.S. prison to likely face inhumane treatment and a sentence similar to Manning's, including extended solitary confinement.

Similar harsh treatment and excessive punishments haven't applied to the people in government who perpetrated the crimes exposed by these whistle-blowers and published by WikiLeaks. In fact, people such as national intelligence director James Clapper, who lied under oath to Congress, have avoided consequences altogether.


Britain should respect Assange's asylum and allow him to leave the embassy unmolested. Whistle-blowers such as Snowden and Manning should not face the impossible decision between living in exile and spending decades imprisoned. We deserve a justice system that holds governments accountable and considers the public service done by whistle-blowers and the people who publish their information.

Sweden can end this standoff easily by questioning Assange by video or by sending investigators to the embassy. Both of these options are permissible under Swedish law, and indeed both have been utilized in the past. Meanwhile, the UK Foreign Office maintains it has a 'legal duty' to extradite Mr. Assange, despite, in a clear instance of double standards, resisting (and preventing) the extradition to Spain of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, arrested in 1998 in London under an international arrest warrant (issued by a Spanish judge) on multiple counts of murder, torture and war crimes.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the often hostile public reaction to the plight of Julian Assange is the assumption by so many of benign intent on the part of the US and its close allies, the UK and Sweden. Despite the mass intrusive surveillance apparatus exposed by Edward Snowden, under the umbrella of which strategies reminiscent of the East German Stasi have been laid out for the world to see; despite the long documented history of illegal, covert operations undertaken by agencies of the United States like COINTELPRO, Operation Mockingbird, Operation CHAOS and many others; despite dozens of illegal interventions and bombings of foreign sovereign nations; despite multiple CIA-sponsored coup d'etats that replaced democratically elected leaders with murderous dictators; despite the numerous fake FBI terror plots to justify the enormous dedication of resources to the 'war on terror'; despite the quite insane double standards displayed in the 'intelligence' arena...despite all these documented realities, perplexing it is indeed that any serious person could assume any benign intent whatsoever. Indeed, given the above list, an intelligent person would surely assume the precise opposite.

The myth persists that Julian Assange is somehow the malign party ('He 'stole' the documents' etc.) for enabling the cables leaked by Bradley Manning and others to see the light of day, documents that contain thousands of accounts of mind-boggling criminality perpetrated by officials elected in our democratic systems and the people under their command.

Did you know, for example, that WikiLeaks informed the world's people of the following (from an earlier article on this blog):

It was official government policy to ignore torture in Iraq.

U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan.

Guantanamo prison has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives.

There IS (despite government claims to the opposite) an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US Military officials withheld information about the indiscriminate killing of Reuters journalists and innocent Iraqi civilians.

The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.

The U.S. Government had long been faking its public support for Tunisian President Ben Ali.

Known Egyptian torturers received training from the FBI in Quantico, Virginia.

The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.

The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.

The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing campaign.


The U.S. Army considered WikiLeaks a national security threat as early as 2008, according to documents obtained and posted by WikiLeaks in March, 2010.

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commanders repeatedly, knowingly lied to the American public about rising sectarian violence in Iraq beginning in 2006, according to the cross-referencing of WikiLeaks' leaked Iraq war documents and former Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief Ellen Knickmeyer's recollections.

The Obama administration worked with Republicans during his first few months in office to protect Bush administration officials facing a criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies that some considered torture. A "confidential" April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid obtained by WikiLeaks details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

A U.S. Army helicopter allegedly gunned down two journalists in Baghdad in 2007. WikiLeaks posted a 40-minute video on its website in April, showing the attack in gruesome detail, along with an audio recording of the pilots during the attack.

US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished..

US special-operations forces have targeted militants without trial in secret assassination missions, and many more Afghan civilians have been killed by accident than previously reported, according to the WikiLeaks Afghanistan war document dump.

Five years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross told U.S. diplomats in New Delhi that the Indian government "condones torture" and systematically abused detainees in the disputed region of Kashmir. The Red Cross told the officials that hundreds of detainees were subjected to beatings, electrocutions and acts of sexual humiliation, the Guardian newspaper of London reported Thursday evening.

The British government has trained a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organizations as a "government death squad", leaked US embassy cables have revealed. Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which has been held responsible for hundreds of extra-judicial killings in recent years and is said to routinely use torture, have received British training in "investigative interviewing techniques" and "rules of engagement".

Secret U.S. diplomatic cables reveal that BP suffered a blowout after a gas leak in the Caucasus country of Azerbaijan in September 2008, a year and a half before another BP blowout killed 11 workers and started a leak that gushed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The United States was secretly given permission from Yemen's president to attack the al Qaeda group in his country that later attempted to blow up planes in American air space. President Ali Abdullah Saleh told John Brennan, President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, in a leaked diplomatic cable from September 2009 that the U.S. had an "open door" on terrorism in Yemen.

Contrary to public statements, the Obama administration actually helped fuel conflict in Yemen. The U.S. was shipping arms to Saudi Arabia for use in northern Yemen even as it denied any role in the conflict.

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest origin points for funds supporting international terrorism, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged U.S. diplomats to do more to stop the flow of money to Islamist militant groups from donors in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government, Clinton wrote, was reluctant to cut off money being sent to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan.

A storage facility housing Yemen's radioactive material was unsecured for up to a week after its lone guard was removed and its surveillance camera was broken, a secret U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks revealed Monday. "Very little now stands between the bad guys and Yemen's nuclear material," a Yemeni official said on January 9 in the cable.

Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, constructed with apparent help from North Korea, fearing it was built to make a bomb. In a leaked diplomatic cable obtained by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice wrote the Israelis targeted and destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor just weeks before it was to be operational.

Diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks indicate authorities in the United Arab Emirates debated whether to keep quiet about the high-profile killing of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January. The documents also show the UAE sought U.S. help in tracking down details of credit cards Dubai police believe were used by a foreign hit squad involved in the killing. The spy novel-like slaying, complete with faked passports and assassins in disguise, is widely believed to be the work of Israeli secret agents.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Al Jazeera network that some of the unpublished cables show "top officials in several Arab countries have close links with the CIA, and many officials keep visiting US embassies in their respective countries voluntarily to establish links with this key US intelligence agency. These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries."

Pope Benedict impeded an investigation into alleged child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Not only did Pope Benedict refuse to allow Vatican officials to testify in an investigation by an Irish commission into alleged child sex abuse by priests, he was also reportedly furious when Vatican officials were called upon in Rome.

Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness carried out negotiations for the Good Friday agreement with Irish then-prime minister Bertie Ahern while the two had explicit knowledge of a bank robbery that the Irish Republican Army was planning to carry out, according to a WikiLeaks cable. Ahern figured Adams and McGuinness knew about the 26.5 million pound Northern Bank robbery of 2004 because they were members of the "IRA military command."

Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has infiltrated the highest levels of government in Nigeria. A high-ranking executive for the international Shell oil company once bragged to U.S. diplomats, as reported in a leaked diplomatic cable, that the company's employees had so well infiltrated the Nigerian government that officials had "forgotten" the level of the company's access.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a U.S. official last year that Latin America "needs a visible U.S. presence" to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's growing influence in the region, according to a U.S. State Department cable leaked to WikiLeaks.

McDonald's tried to delay the US government's implementation of a free-trade agreement in order to put pressure on El Salvador to appoint neutral judges in a $24m lawsuit it was fighting in the country. The revelation of the McDonald's strategy to ensure a fair hearing for a long-running legal battle against a former franchisee comes from a leaked US embassy cable dated 15 February 2006.


Much of the information in the cables had nothing to do with national security and was most definitely in the public interest - a seemingly endless litany of illegal behavior by the US and its proxies or allies. And yet, while the instigators of these acts walk free, many enjoying promotions, lucrative jobs and book tours, Julian Assange is denied freedom of movement, despite being granted political asylum by the respected sovereign nation of Ecuador over legitimate concerns of possible human rights violations and political persecution.

What, then, is the cause of this baffling hostility towards Mr. Assange, when, given the scope and depth of criminality he has uncovered, he would in a sane world be receiving with our deep gratitude the world's most prestigious honors and awards for services to the public and democracy?

Culpability clearly lies with the corporate-owned media. Numerous articles have appeared throughout the mainstream press that have printed lies, inaccuracies, lazy reporting, smears and personal insults. [Note: one such article was analysed on this blog last year]. Comments below the line on these pieces published in major newspapers often mirror the incorrect factual statements made by the writers and the general confusion is added to by the input of obvious astroturfers drawn to the fray with every new assault.

Julian Assange, recognised by the UK high court as a journalist and a recipient of several prestigious journalism awards (including the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism and the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism), is the victim of an obvious fit-up, a crude, clumsy, clearly bogus attempt to force him into the clutches of those who want not only their revenge, but also - mafia-style - to 'send a message' to deter anyone else who might entertain the forbidden desire of informing the public of the secret evils carried out behind their backs in their name and with their taxes.

In the interests of law, of protecting press freedoms and the essential democratic ideal of holding those with great power accountable, not to mention the human rights and freedom of a man unjustly held against his will, right-thinking people of conscience must raise their voices and hands in defense of Julian Assange.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

[Special Note: If you are an editor of a widely-read magazine or newspaper and would like this author to contribute articles, please contact me directly at The human rights and democracy issues covered by this daily blog (and the main blog) desperately need a wider audience]

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Sliding Scale Fallacy

"All the blood is drained out of democracy - it dies - when only half the population votes" - Hunter S. Thompson

Those reading establishment media in the UK following the European elections will be now well accustomed to 'earthquakes', the metaphor of choice for the depiction of a political landscape stunned by the surge into the limelight of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which became the first political party other than Labour or the Conservatives in modern history to win a British election, a miracle achieved despite the well-publicised racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and hate conveyed by some of its representatives.

Dave Small, for instance. Recently elected to Redditch borough council in local elections, Mr. Small was fired after it was claimed he had posted racist and homophobic remarks on social media:

It was reported at the weekend that, in February 2013, Small referred to gay people as "perverts" and expressed opposition to "poofs and dykes" being allowed to marry. And he predicted that "thousands more scroungers" would soon arrive in the UK from Mali as a result of a range of government policies.

Small, who won his seat in the Church Hill ward topping the poll with 665 votes, also complained in a November 2012 post that he was not allowed to use the term "Paki".

In June that year, he wrote: "I visiting the city of Birmingham recently and felt like a foreigner in the city of my birth, all around me I could hear the sound of jabbering in an alien voice... we also have the Pakistani's and the Somali's. Tell me Mr Cameron Why? the men wear their Pyjamas."

The sentiments expressed by Mr. Small and other UKIP members such as, perhaps most famously, Godfrey Bloom have aroused revulsion on a massive scale as well as consternation that anyone in their right mind could even consider voting for such people. It has also revived the debate thrust into the spotlight last year by Russell Brand, who attracted significant condemnation from establishment figures when he told Jeremy Paxman that people should not vote at all in protest of a rotten and corrupt system.

This has been an opportunity for some to slip into I-told-you-so mode, citing the rise of UKIP as an example of what can go wrong when one does not vote. Such people, notably those describing themselves as 'liberal left', now condemn people who believe that Brand has a valid case, and urge everyone to vote Labour to ensure the Ukip and other right-wing parties are prevented from gaining power.

This attitude betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of democracy.

Democracy (noun): a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally - either directly or indirectly through elected representatives - in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.

This definition does not include the word 'corporations', 'business' or 'industry' and yet in most Western democracies, big business with its overwhelming financial power has its claws inextricably embedded in the planning and implementation of the policies of those elected to represent civilians.

From an article this month by the Guardian's George Monbiot:

What do you have to do to fall out of favour with this government? Last month, the security company G4S was quietly rehabilitated. It had been banned in August 2013 from bidding for government contracts after charging the state for tagging 3,000 phantom criminals. Those who had died before it started monitoring them presented a particularly low escape risk. G4S was obliged to pay £109m back to the government.

Eight months later, and before an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office has concluded, back it bounces seeking more government business. Never mind that it almost scuppered the Olympics; never mind Jimmy Mubenga, an asylum seeker who died in 2010 after being "restrained" by G4S guards, or Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old who died while being held down at a secure training centre in 2004; never mind the scandals at Oakwood, a giant prison it runs. G4S, described by MPs as one of a handful of "privately owned public monopolies", is crucial to the government's attempts to outsource almost everything. So it cannot be allowed to fail.

Was it ever banned at all? Six days after the moratorium was lifted, G4S won a contract to run HMRC services. A fortnight later it was chosen as one of the companies that will run the government's Help to Work scheme. How did it win these contracts if in the preceding months it wasn't allowed to bid?


A real Mr Green – Stephen, this time – was ennobled by David Cameron and appointed, democratically of course, as minister for trade and investment. In July 2012, a US Senate committee reported that while Lord Green was chief executive and chairman of HSBC, the bank's compliance culture was "pervasively polluted". Its branches had "actively circumvented US safeguards … designed to block transactions involving terrorists, drug lords and rogue regimes".

Billions of dollars from Mexican drug barons, from Iran and from "obviously suspicious" travellers' cheques "benefiting Russians who claimed to be in the used car business" sluiced through its tills. Out went dollars and financial services to banks in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh linked to the financing of terrorists. The Guardian reported that HSBC "continued to operate hundreds of accounts with suspected links to Mexican drug cartels, even after Green and fellow executives were told by regulators that HSBC was one of the worst banks for money laundering."


There has seldom, in the democratic era, been a better time to thrive by appeasing wealth and power, or to fail by sticking to your principles. Politicians who twist and turn on behalf of business are immune to attack. Those who resist are excoriated.

Here's where a culture of impossible schemes and feeble accountability leads: to cases like that of Mark Wood, a highly vulnerable man who had his benefits cut after being wrongly assessed by the outsourcing company Atos Healthcare as fit for work, and starved to death – while those who run such companies retire with millions. Impunity for the rich; misery for the poor.

Democracy is not a sliding scale. Either you have a democracy, in which citizens are equally represented, or you do not. It is a common misconception, fueled by initiatives such as the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, that democracy is a comparative quantity; that some countries are 'more democratic' than others. This is a supremely damaging logical fallacy. Any nation which permits big business to exert influence over policy making on a scale any different to those means available to ordinary citizens is not more or less democratic than anywhere: it is simply not a democracy. Any arguments to the contrary are cosmetic and should be discarded as incidental.

In addition, modern 'democracies' suffer various problems that make the idea of equal representation a sick joke.

From an earlier article on this blog:

Each so-called 'representative democracy' has its own unique election system. To take a relatively well-known example, in the US the winner of the presidential election is determined by the electoral college system, in which each state is allocated a number of points to be awarded to the winner of the state in an election. This leads to a series of issues:

Firstly, because the winner-takes-all system is used in all states except for Nebraska and Maine, the winner of the national popular vote is not guaranteed to win the election. Secondly, elections often come down to a focus on so-called 'swing states', giving candidates a huge incentive to focus only on states where there is no clear favorite. Thirdly, voter turnout is greatly discouraged in states where one party traditionally dominates, essentially disenfranchising millions of people. And fourthly, the winner-takes-all system means third parties have no chance whatsoever of even making a dent on any election.

So the two main parties in US politics are the only possible winners. Given that these parties now share bipartisan consensus on a huge range of issues such as NSA surveillance, government secrecy, contempt for whistleblowers, indefinite detention of anyone deemed a 'terrorist suspect', endless war, murdering multitudes of Muslim civilians and their children in foreign sovereign states with drones etc., what choice is there for any US citizen who happens to disagree with his or her tax dollars going toward the funding of any of the above?

The UK employs the 'first-past-the-post' electoral system. This system also leads to a society that does not in any way reflect the attitudes of the electorate. The main problems with this system are as follows:

First, this system encourages tactical voting, where in a given constituency, if a voter's preferred candidate has no chance of winning, he or she is likely to vote for another candidate who is more likely to defeat the least preferred one. This more than anything leads to a society that is woefully unrepresentative of the true sentiments of its citizens. Further, gerrymandering thrives in the first-past-the-post system as it allows a high number of so-called 'wasted votes'. And finally, under this system, smaller third parties can suddenly find themselves in an extremely powerful position if the main parties require a small number of extra votes to get their bills through parliament. This gives third parties, which could possibly be extremist and representative only of a tiny minority, the power of blackmail over more moderate parties.

Using the rise of the Ukip as an excuse to vote yet again for the traditional political parties that have enabled the dismantling of the welfare state, creating poverty and misery for millions, and led the nation into disastrous wars despite massive public opposition ignores the reality that governments, whatever their stripe, are rotten to the core with corruption, incompetence and greed, dependent on corporate donations to survive. A vote for any major party is a vote for the status quo, and any differences between them are cosmetic, illusory. As for the idea that UKIP is some kind of 'alternative', allow this detailed article to demolish it.

Almost 66% of the UK electorate did not vote in the European elections. THAT is the true earthquake. When the establishment paints its rosy pictures of democracy, any discussion that omits the largest demographic: those who support 'none of the above' - including those who regard the political classes as morally bankrupt - is invalid and dishonest.

The vast majority of us now live in oligarchies that use state governments as a means to achieve ends that have nothing to do with the welfare of citizens. It is delusional to believe voting for any establishment political party will ever bring about true democracy; it will in fact entrench the very opposite.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

[Special Note: If you are an editor of a widely-read magazine or newspaper and would like this author to contribute articles, please contact me directly at The human rights and democracy issues covered by this daily blog (and the main blog) desperately need a wider audience]

If you would like to donate to the author of this blog, Bitcoins can be sent here:

Address: 1BMnkhwgPap2NVNiyKGTP1gfBuMtZQVYUo

Dollars of an amount of your choice can be sent (via Paypal) on the website that hosts my free book:

It is not necessary to download the book if you wish to donate, although please feel free to do so (it is a little out of date now).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Led Around By The Nose

"The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses." - Malcolm X

“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.” - George Orwell

Hypothesis: Corporate-owned media organs, which massively dominate the dissemination of news in the modern era, craft narratives that serve the economic/military/geopolitical interests of owners and related entities (transnational corporations, global and central banks, selected billionaires, powerful lobby groups, global institutions, owners/controllers of means of production, and state governments). These narratives are filtered in order to ensure stories that contradict them are either downplayed or omitted entirely. Vigorous debate is encouraged within acceptable parameters, with prominent media figures sometimes in violent opposition on such issues, but anyone stepping out of these boundaries is marginalized, presented as a lone voice or smeared as a 'crank' or 'conspiracy theorist', or even an apologist for an official enemy du jour.

This hypothesis is nothing new to anyone who has studied the history and methods of the mainstream press, and can be found practically word for word in the seminal Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. Yet the very act itself of presenting this hypothesis remains subversive to many within the media establishment, and is indeed likely to elicit eye rolling, derision and even smears.

Such reactions are - of course - natural due to the phenomena of confirmation bias, system justification and the cognitive dissonance that inevitably result when one is exposed to competing narratives, particularly when being forced to change a view jeopardizes one's career, standing or reputation - as is often the case with prominent media figures.

Chomsky and Herman used paired examples to empirically prove the existence of filtering, famously comparing the aggressive Western media coverage of Pol Pot (an 'official enemy') to the almost utter silence that accompanied the invasion by Indonesia (a US ally) of East Timor, in which between 100-180,000 soldiers or civilians died, at the same time. When David Newsom, the US Ambassador to Indonesia, recommended (pdf) a 'policy of silence' on the issue of invasion and was supported by Henry Kissinger, the media - for whatever reason - played along. Note, as predicted in our hypothesis above, that Chomsky was duly smeared in the 1970s as an apologist for Pol Pot.

These paired examples (among others) provided empirical proof of the existence of filtering in Western media, a process which - by pure coincidence - served the interests of the US government. Destroying this coincidence, however, was the coming to light of aircraft and weaponry provided by the US to destroy the East Timor resistance, and documents detailing the full support of the invasion and occupation by five consecutive US administrations.

One need look no further than three ongoing 'crises' that feature prominently in corporate-owned media - those in Venezuela, Syria and Ukraine - to witness media filtering in full swing. That they feature at all over multiple other major crises around the world is itself an indication of how vital these arenas are seen to be by those with editorial control over media organisations.

This analysis will compare, with examples, the establishment/corporate media narrative with reality.

1. Venezuela


One would expect traditional right-wing media to malign and deride the Bolivarian Revolution led first by the late President Hugo Chávez and now by President Nicolás Maduro, but what about media organizations that are viewed as social liberal, social democratic or left? Rory Carroll in his latest article in the Observer led with the following:

Hugo Chávez's dream world has become a nightmare of shot-down protesters, jailed oppositionists, economic meltdown and a brutal war waged against a defiant middle class

Throughout the corporate media, there are repeated mentions of government censorship of Venezuelan media, massive anti-government demonstrations, the inflation rate, shortages of basic foods and other daily necessities and the murder rate. Carroll himself routinely features these elements. Yet a thorough fact-checking [Note: please read this] by News Unspun of an earlier (January 2013) Carroll article illustrates clearly how crucial facts are omitted or twisted to serve the narrative he and his employers desire: that of Venezueula as a violent, crumbling, socialist basket case.


Opposition leader Leopoldo López is described in glowing terms by Carroll as an 'ambitious, Harvard-educated politician, [who has] steered student protests against crime and economic problems into a wider challenge to authority'. No mention is made of López's role in the 2002 attempted coup (that he has since tried to distance himself from), where it was clear he orchestrated the public protests against Chávez and played a key role in the citizen's arrest of Chavez's interior minister, Ramon Rodriguez Chacin. [Note: the duplicitous role and tactics employed by the US and the 'opposition' in the unsuccessful coup are described in John Pilger's must-see 2007 documentary, The War on Democracy]. No mention is also made of the fact that both Chávez and Maduro won democratic elections in an electoral system described by former US President Jimmy Carter as among the best in the world and a model for other democracies.

The nature of the protests themselves?

From the Center for Economic and Policy Research [see original for sources]:

Venezuela’s latest round of violent protests appears to fit a pattern, and represents the tug-and-pull nature of the country’s divided opposition. Several times over the past 15 years since the late, former president Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, the political opposition has launched violent protests aimed at forcing the current president out of office. Most notably, such protests were a part of the April 2002 coup that temporarily deposed Chávez, and then accompanied the 2002/2003 oil strike. In February of 2004, a particularly radical sector of the opposition unleashed the “Guarimba”: violent riots by small groups who paralyzed much of the east of Caracas for several days with the declared goal of creating a state of chaos. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has explained, then – as now – the strategy is clear: a sector of the opposition seeks to overturn the results of democratic elections. An important difference this time of course is that Venezuela has its first post-Chávez president, and a key part of the opposition’s strategy overall has been to depict Nicolás Maduro as a pale imitation of his predecessor and a president ill-equipped to deal with the country’s problems (many of which are exaggerated in the Venezuelan private media, which is still largely opposition-owned, as well as the international media).


Venezuela’s opposition receives funding from U.S. “democracy promotion” groups including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and core grantees such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NED, which the Washington Post noted was set up to conduct activities “much of” which “[t]he CIA used to fund covertly” has made a number of grants directed at empowering youth and students in Venezuela in recent years, and USAID has also given money to IRI, NDI and other groups for Venezuela programs. These organizations have a history of destabilizing elected governments and working to unify and strengthen political opposition to left-wing parties and governments. IRI notably played a key role in destabilizing Haiti ahead of the 2004 coup there, and also has engaged in activities aimed at weakening Brazil’s governing Workers’ Party, to name a few. In Venezuela, they funded groups involved in the 2002 coup, and IRI spokespersons infamously praised the coup after it happened.

As Mark Weisbrot points out in a recent article, the US, which as noted has a proven track record of attempting regime change in Venezuela, makes no effort to hide its current efforts:

[]...there's $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.

Weisbrot also stresses that this is a revolt of the well-off, not by any means the massive popular uprising as portrayed In the West:

Major media outlets have already reported that Venezuela’s poor have not joined the right-wing opposition protests, but that is an understatement: it’s not just the poor who are abstaining – in Caracas, it’s almost everyone outside of a few rich areas like Altamira, where small groups of protesters engage in nightly battles with security forces, throwing rocks and firebombs and running from tear gas.

Walking from the working-class neighborhood of Sabana Grande to the city center, there was no sign that Venezuela is in the grip of a “crisis” that requires intervention from the Organization of American States (OAS), no matter what John Kerry tells you. The metro also ran very well, although I couldn’t get off at Alta Mira station, where the rebels had set up their base of operations until their eviction this week.

I got my first glimpse of the barricades in Los Palos Grandes, an upper-income area where the protesters do have popular support, and neighbors will yell at anyone trying to remove the barricades – which is a risky thing to attempt (at least four people have apparently been shot dead for doing so). But even here at the barricades, life was pretty much normal, save for some snarled traffic. On the weekend, the Parque del Este was full of families and runners sweating in the 90-degree heat – before Chávez, you had to pay to get in, and the residents here, I was told, were disappointed when the less well-to-do were allowed to enter for free. The restaurants are still crowded at night.

2. Syria


Syria's Bashar al-Assad is routinely described as a brutal dictator who must be urgently removed from power. The struggle in Syria is portrayed as a simple battle of 'regime forces' against 'rebels'. The chemical attack in Ghouta is portrayed as having been carried out (with little or no doubt expressed) by Assad forces. US Secretary of State John Kerry certainly had no doubts about the identity of the perpetrators, saying Syrian government involvement was 'undeniable':

"What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality[.] Make no mistake, President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people."

This expression of supreme confidence may ring a bell with those who recall the run-up to the Iraq War:

Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
Dick Cheney
August 26, 2002

Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.
George W. Bush
September 12, 2002

If he declares he has none, then we will know that Saddam Hussein is once again misleading the world.
Ari Fleischer
December 2, 2002

The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it.
Ari Fleischer
December 6, 2002

We know for a fact that there are weapons there.
Ari Fleischer
January 9, 2003

Our intelligence officials estimate that Saddam Hussein had the materials to produce as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.
George W. Bush
January 28, 2003

We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.
Colin Powell
February 5, 2003


A 2013 article on the 99.99998271% discussed smoking-gun proof that the US has long planned 'regime change' in Syria, and that the US had trained 'rebels' since 2011.

From the article:

An article at the Information Clearing House website has drawn attention to an internal email (dated December 2011) of the Stratfor 'global intelligence' company that was published by WikiLeaks. It is a remarkable email, in that it clearly demonstrates the intent of the US to intervene in the affairs of Syria, and strongly implies that - among many other things - agents from the US, France, Jordan, Turkey, and the UK were already on the ground carrying out reconnaissance and the training of opposition forces.

On the issue of human rights violations, by employing paired examples it is clear that the human rights concerns so strongly expressed by the US and the West in general is bogus. President Obama last month visited Saudi Arabia to reassure one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world that the US remains a close friend and ally. UK Prime Minister David Cameron is also a big fan.

From the article:

[]...David Cameron – the person accusing Galloway of supporting every “brutal Arab dictator” he can find – is easily one of the world’s most loyal, constant, and generous supporters of the most brutal Arab despots. He has continuously lavished money, diplomatic support, arms and all sorts of obsequious praise on intensely repressive regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Egypt. That this steadfast supporter of the worst Arab dictators could parade around accusing others of supporting bad Arab regimes was about as stunning a display of western self-delusion as I could have imagined.

More evidence - as if it were needed - of fake Western human rights concerns can be seen in this graphic depicting the number of Syrian refugees accepted by EU states in comparison to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The stark narrative of 'rebels' fighting for democracy against an evil dictatorship also falls apart with scrutiny. Read the words of Ed Husain, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations quoted in a 2013 Syria article from the 99.99998271%:

Military intervention in Syria is ill-conceived, short-sighted, counter-productive, and likely to generate more killings and massacres rather than stop them. Unlike any other Arab nation, Syria is home to varied and numerous assortments of religious sects, tribes, ethnicities and historic rivalries. In contrast to the uprisings in Yemen, Egypt and Libya, we have not witnessed high-level political and military defections inside Syria. And the largest cities in Syria — Damascus and Aleppo — have so far been relatively calm. Whatever the reasons—fear of, or support for, Bashar Assad—the opposition has thus failed to mobilise key constituencies inside Syria that would indicate to us that the regime is losing control.

Mr Assad retains a tight grip on the Ba’ath party. Its control of mosques, schools, businesses, police and local government means that it can still marshal large crowds of supporters in Damascus and Aleppo. Prominent Sunni Muslim clerics with regional weight, including Ramadan al-Bouti, have come out in support of the regime. At Friday prayers across the country they still pray for the strength of the government and call for “the destruction of its enemies”— Islamic reinforcement of Mr Assad’s government in a deeply religious country should not be underestimated.

Just as Mr Assad’s supporters use religion in Syria, so do his opponents. The footage coming out of Syria showing opposition forces killing soldiers and publicly torturing any who are accused of “spying” for the regime is deeply troubling; these are not the actions of democracy activists. In Tunisia and Egypt we heard cries for freedom, democracy and human rights. Sadly, in Syria, we are hearing shouts of “Allahu Akbar” and “jihad”. Al-Qaeda has now officially entered this conflict. Military intervention assumes that we will support one side. Granted, Mr Assad is an Iranian stooge. But at least we know the nature of that enemy. The debilitating differences among the opposition, the lack of leadership, the taking up of arms, the torture and killing of opponents, and the co-ordination with al-Qaeda and jihadists from Iraq and the Gulf should force us to stop and take stock. Who are we being asked to support, much less arm? And with what consequences?

Then we come to the chemical attack. Seymour Hersh, one of the most famed, highly respected journalists in the world, with a near unmatchable record of breaking vital, world-changing stories like the My Lai massacre and its cover-up during the Vietnam War as well as the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal. Hersh recently published a bombshell of an article, one which - if verified - blows out of the water the bald-faced lies of John Kerry and other Western officials, not to mention the tepid theorising of Google/Twitter 'experts' like Eliot Higgins (Brown Moses).

Where was this bombshell by one of the world's most famous journalists published? The New York Times? The Guardian? No: The London Review of Books. While this is a respected journal, it is telling indeed that the major newspapers chose to ignore the story completely.

Hersh's findings were summarized in a (must-read) recent article at Interventions Watch:

British scientists at Porton Down had established that the Sarin used in the attacks didn’t match any Sarin known to exist the in Syrian regime’s Arsenal, and then told their U.S. counter-parts that the case against the Assad regime would therefore not ‘hold up’.

That actors within the Turkish military and intelligence establishment thought they could make Obama enforce his ‘Red Line’ on chemical weapons usage by ‘dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria’.

That when the Obama regime claimed after the attacks that only the Assad regime had access to Sarin, they knew this to be incorrect, as it was contradicted by a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment from June 20th 2013.

That a senior CIA Official had sent a message in August 2013 stating that the attacks were ‘not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this’.

And most explosively of all, that the U.S. Intelligence community had reason to believe, based on communications intercepts, that the attacks were ‘a covert action planned by Erdoğan’s people to push Obama over the red line’. That is, a false flag attack designed to draw the U.S. into an open war with Syria

The backlash from those invested in the standard narrative was predictable, but these are serious allegations by a journalist who has proved his credibility on multiple occasions. Yes, his claims come from anonymous sources, and it is indicative of how much credibility these 'experts' have to lose that instead of spending time spraying Hersh with invective, they are not spending their time and energy demanding investigations into these claims to see if they actually stand up. Just imagine CNN spending as much time and resources investigating these allegations as it has done with its opportunistic and witless Malaysia Airlines coverage. Hersh could be vindicated or proved wrong. So could his critics. And - God forbid - the public would know the truth.

3. Ukraine


The evil Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of the 'revolution' in Ukraine to reclaim territory lost with the break-up of the Soviet Union. The people of Ukraine are fighting for democracy and - after succeeding in removing the illegitimate (actually democratically elected) President Yanukovych - were well on their way to achieving their desires, only to be thwarted by Putin's aggression and opportunism. The West is merely expressing support for democracy by applying punitive sanctions against Russia and authorizing the IMF to provide significant loans to help restore the crippled Ukrainian economy.


This useful timeline published by Counterpunch provides ample evidence of US meddling, including a leaked phone conversation between Assistant US Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and the disclosure of Nuland telling a 'meeting of the International Business Conference sponsored by the US-Ukrainian Foundation that the US had "invested" more than $5 billion and "five years worth of work and preparation" in achieving what she called Ukraine’s "European aspirations".'

Russia's 'invasion' of Crimea ignored the reality that the 16,000 strong invasion force had already been there quite legally for fifteen years under the terms of a 1997 treaty between Russia and Ukraine that further allows a Russian troop presence of 25,000. A Russian naval presence in the port city of Sevastopol dates back to 1783. Given how far NATO has advanced into Russia's backyard since the breakup of the USSR, Putin is quite justified - as any sane leader would be - in reacting to preserve key strategic interests. The Sevastopol naval base, the principal base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet, certainly counts as that. As this article states: 'Sorry, Putin Isn't Crazy'.

Other Crimea facts here.

It is a staggering display of both the power of media programming and the cognitive impediments to clear-minded analysis that the false, simplistic media narrative is aggressively defended (when challenged) by millions of sometimes intelligent people who permit themselves to heed only sources of information that confirm internalized beliefs. When one further considers the record of Western nations, particularly the US and UK, on past interventions, many of them violent and leading to the murder, rape and disappearances of millions, it simply defies belief that so many persist in yet again swallowing the professed benign intentions of the self-proclaimed Western beacons of democracy.

Despite voluminous evidence out in the open for anyone to see that the West has engaged countless times in aggressive economic and military neocolonialism, many journalists at major, award-winning, widely-respected media organizations, even those who proclaim themselves 'anti-war' nonetheless respond to sincere, serious challenges to their views with disdain, impatience and often personal smears. [Note: Those requiring a quick demonstration of this need only present any of the 'conspiracy theories' detailed here to the Guardian's Owen Jones on Twitter]. It is unforgivable that major journalists wilfully ignore the reality that - when victims of economic factors are also taken into account - Western imperialism is demonstrably the most destructive and violent force in human history.

Is our hypothesis proven? In these three cases, as in so many others in the past, media filtering has served on every occasion to serve the desires and interests of the West and their political, economic and military institutions...and this is no coincidence. Those who seriously challenge this - like Seymour Hersh, John Pilger, Julian Assange and other major or even less well-known dissidents - are marginalized, ridiculed or smeared as apologists for mass murderers.

There is therefore one logical conclusion: no reader can trust corporate-owned media, or the vast majority of their wilfully ignorant employees, to provide an honest picture of the world. The corporate media model, which has been leading everyone around by the nose for decades, must be abandoned...and high-quality independent media embraced and supported.

Written by Simon Wood

Twitter: @simonwood11

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